Before we were cynics

Matt Price is reminded of the simple joy of stand-up

I don’t want to be cynical. I really enjoy comedy. But there is always something to complain about. Most comics I know are unhappy in one way or another. This isn’t a criticism but merely an observation that I believe to be true.

As a comic, it’s so easy to spend your life looking at other people and wondering how they got to where they are, or what it is that motivates other performers when the only people laughing are other comics. It’s easy to ask yourself, ‘How did that lightweight, jokeless bland guy get that gig when I can’t?’ The War Against Terror spells T-W-A-T, come on now.

Anyone who has been in a car with other comics can list the conversations and the people who are mainly talked about. So and so is crap, but he’s doing well. It’s his good looks or his tattoos that make him. If this person didn’t book lots of clubs, he wouldn’t have any friends and nobody would book him. Even his girlfriend hates his act. Have you seen his YouTube clip? It’s rubbish.

The biggest irony is that we often talk about other comics and criticise them because of their lack of social skills and self-awareness.

I have often felt that between them, Bill Hicks and Eddie Izzard have ruined circuit comedy because of all the acts who aspire to be like them, but can’t because they don’t think about what they say.

None of these things have bugged me in a long time, until recently. However, my annoyance wasn’t fuelled by anything cynical.

Earlier this summer, I was asked to run three one-day workshops as part of the Cardiff Comedy Festival. Six teenagers per group and budget of well, zero. I was the only comedian available and if I'm honest, I was dreading it. The library gave us a conference room and free coffee and biscuits. I had the support of my two friends, Scott and Johnny Disco who offered to assist me, but I had never taught before.

I was also warned that teenagers can be difficult. That they probably wouldn't listen. That there would be walkouts, arguments and at best, apathy from a bunch of latchkey kids whose parents would be happy to have me look after them for a day.

Three days later, we had the workshop showcase. Eleven out of 14 new acts turned up to Cardiff Central library to perform in front of an audience of about 40. There are obvious limitations – no alcohol, bright lighting, a mere six hours of discussion with the three groups who attended, and none of them had performed stand-up before. We were in a library for goodness sake.

But it worked.

Anyone reading this might think: ‘Oh. I see what Matt’s trying to do. He’s moving away from last year’s Edinburgh show and re-inventing himself as a more upbeat comic. He’s gone for the “isn’t life great shtick.”’ No. These kids (15-19 year olds) were great. I’m not going to take any credit for it either.

They spent six hours in a workshop and then performed for the first time. The most interesting part for me was that most had seen comedy in one form or another, but weren’t hung up on anything, other than getting up there and giving it a go. Most didn’t know who Bill Hicks was.

They each had their own style and their own material and the most impressive part was how they all bonded. There were no agendas, no whispering in the corner about other acts and no real understanding of the journey ahead – just the sheer joy of being on stage for the first time.

One act decided that he didn’t need a surname and simply wanted to be introduced as Dave. He was the quietest guy in all the workshops and didn’t want to perform. He looked so painfully shy. On the night he was brilliant. They all were. Even though they attended the workshops in three different groups, they exchanged email addresses and phone numbers.

They congratulated each other without thinking about themselves or wanting anything in return. Just before we left Dave came over to speak to me. He looked a bit awkward and said to me, 'I erm, just want to say thank you, from all of us.'

I really don’t want to be cynical and after an experience like that, how could I be?

Published: 6 Sep 2010

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