Maturing with age?

David Bratchpiece (aka Bratchy) wonders if comedy really is a young man’s game

Chortle recently reported Phill Jupitus making an assertion that I have heard, perhaps too many times, before: that stand-up comedy is ‘a young man’s game’.

This statement, from his new book, was made in the context of his feelings towards Simon Amstell taking over as host on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, so I wonder if Amstell’s youth had flavoured his attitude. Because, personally, I feel the converse may be true.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I ain’t exactly an old man, although I did recently stroll past a group of sportswear adorned, Buckfast-swilling hoodlums on a street corner, and uttered an audible ‘tut’. I ain’t exactly a young man either – I recently had a party and found myself turning the music down before any neighbours prompted me to do so. If this isn’t a sure sign of getting older then I don’t know what is. I’m 34, and have been performing stand-up since I was….well, a fair bit younger.

I can see where Jupitus is coming from. In recent times there seems to have been a preponderance of youthful stand-ups making waves – notable examples would be my fellow Scots Kevin Bridges and Daniel Sloss (23 and 19, respectively). Youthful they are indeed, but they have also risen to the fore because they are damn fine stand-ups, and possess a stagecraft that belies their years.

I compered some of Kevin’s earliest open spots, when he was 17, and realised straight away that I was watching something rather exceptional. In both cases, however, I don’t think their comedy will suffer or become redundant as they get older – it will simply develop and potentially be enriched as their lives and careers progress. Or maybe they’ll go mad on drugs and booze and sue their parents, like Corey Feldman. But I doubt it. (NB: some of you reading this may be too young to remember 80’s child icon Feldman. If you are, then the irony is tangible.)

One aspect of stand-up that I’ve always appreciated is that, indeed, there doesn’t seem to be an upper age limit. That’s one thing that differentiates it from, say, music, where as many performers get older it’s easy to become less relevant or less palatable. Nobody wants to see Madonna rolling around in a leotard, wrinkly bingo wings a-flapping, trying to convince herself she’s still a feisty young hussy. Nobody wants to see Joan Rivers do that either (god forbid!), but they still want to hear her tell jokes.

George Carlin, in my opinion one of the all time greats, just seemed to get better, and angrier, with age.

Many successful stand-ups first took to the stage at what may be considered ‘too old’ in other forms of performance. Greg Davies won The Laughing Horse New Act competition in 2002 (the same year I was a semi finalist in said comp), at the age of 32, after leaving behind the presumably thankless task of being a full-time teacher. Rhod Gilbert was 34 when he first became a professional comedian.

My own father is a stand-up, who didn’t do his first gigs until the tender age of 50. He’s now 63, and still gigging. My younger brother is also a comedian, who’s been performing in various capacities since his mid-teens. We are mentioned in the autobiography of another Caledonian old geezer whose age never de-railed his career – Sean Connery. I wonder if these facts are what have prompted me to write this piece?

Could be that, or it could be the fact that I’ve recently asked myself the same question of stand-up being the preserve of young(er) ‘uns. I recently performed a solo show at the Glasgow Comedy Festival, partly about the surrendering of youth to the responsibility and potential dull-ness of adulthood. Ironically, I found myself having such a good time during it, that the youthful enthusiasm for stand-up I experienced as a newbie returned with vigour. I now look forward to performing for many years to come, hopefully improving with age, even if it means suffering the arrogance of all of the foetal open spots that seem to view stand-up as a fast track to fame, clogging up the circuit around me.

Mmmm. Seems I’m not beyond a wee grumpy old man rant. But that’s okay. I still don’t believe this is completely a young man’s game. And one last thing, as somewhat of a plea to Phill Jupitus himself – many people (including myself) would love to see you return to stand-up. You were great when you were younger.

Published: 11 Aug 2010

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