What theatre could learn from comedy

Charlie Baker on taking a gamble

This coming Edinburgh (my eighth if you count the four I did as a precocious 11-15 year old) I am independently presenting my play Wedding Band, at the Gilded Balloon.

This is the most expensive, exhilarating, stupidly brilliant thing I have done in a career of stupid things.

I started in stand-up eight years ago because I was a very unhappy Rep actor. Whenever I was in a play somewhere I would have a heavy heart the day after the read-through at the thought of the next few months and would invariably disrespect the work and all around me until the final curtain.

That doesn’t sound much of a sob story but I had been doing ‘my drama’, as my Nan calls it, since I was five.  To get to 25 and realise you had made a 20-year mistake was quite a difficult epiphany.

I had always loved and watched comedy, going to live gigs as often as possible from the age of 16, and the realisation that I didn’t want to be Hamlet and instead wanted to be Max Miller came - as most life changing realisations do - when I was at my lowest ebb.

Stand-up has given me the life that I always dreamed of - not financially or status-wise, but creatively. It is the greatest art form for performer and audience alike and, as a married father, it fits beautifully with my home life. Living at home and not in some impersonal digs somewhere, I have seen my son Grow Up day in day out, going to work when he (eventually) goes to bed. These are days you don’t get back and no big telly role can replace them.

Also it’s hard. REALLY hard. So to get anywhere feels like a personal achievement that you have genuinely earned as opposed to life as an actor which, it often feels, works on which way the wind is blowing.

As a stand-up you need never have an unproductive, uncreative, unemployed day. Nothing in your diary? Write, create.

As an actor you have endless cruel empty days waiting for someone to offer you three months in Walsall for Equity minimum or desperately fighting to be fourth cover Simba, all the while working on reception or selling boxes on the phone.

So if it’s so perfect why am I opening up this bleak forbidden window again?

I want to apply stand-up rules to theatre and see if it makes it better. Because theatre, especially in Edinburgh, needs to learn a lot from comedy.

Actors - get up, create something, write something and read it out loud to each other. Don’t wait for the phone to ring. Stop ringing your agent and asking if there is ‘anything going’. Call them and tell them what your doing. Stop moaning on about how you got down to the last two for something, write something for yourself and be the one.

You can do it yourself - you know loads of people who want to work, so work. ‘Oh but I’ve never written anything or put anything on it might be rubbish’. I know, exciting isn’t it? So let’s find out. Stop doing nothing or go and be a regional supervisor somewhere where everyone will be impressed that you used to be an actor.

I realise by saying this, before successfully putting on Wedding Band, I am opening myself up to a world of critical pain if it’s bad, but its going to be a very exciting summer. Why not come and have a look?

  • Charlie Baker’s Wedding Band is at the Gilded Balloon from August 3 to 29 August at 2.45pm.

Published: 1 Jul 2011

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