Learning to chill

Ted Shiress on coping with the heat of the moment

If you’re starting out in the comedy-world you will probably be seeking advice on how to write, deliver, banter, remember your stuff etc, however there is one factor which often gets forgotten in this set of essentials: heat. Can you stand the heat of performing?

No, that is not a metaphor, I’m talking about genuine Celsius. As I’m gradually picking up a few bigger gigs after three years of performing, I am finding myself, on occasion, reaching boiling point.

Pub-gigs are often easy, you find yourself in a small room, no lighting to speak of and a mere scattering of audience members, these rooms can often be so chilly that getting up on stage and performing an energetic set will be your main source of warmth. However, you only have to take one little step up the comedy-ladder until you find yourself in rooms with lighting rigs and my god, does the stage get rather warm!?

Being a comedian with cerebral palsy, which affects my rate of speech, I know that as soon as I get on stage I have no time to relax and have to keep my foot on the gag-pedal as hard as I can without being a *cringe* one-liner. However having cerebral palsy also means that when I’m uncomfortable (ie having armpits turn into Niagara Falls and salty-sweat gushing into my eyes) it shows!

When I’m too hot I often find myself panting and, that alone, throws out the window my three years of developing a strong delivery to counter the problems I have talking. I’m understandable [just] when this happens, but I find myself breathing uncontrollably in the most undesirable places and feel I’m merely half of the comedian I want to think I am.

Now, I’m not expecting most comics to struggle quite as much in these situations as me, still I imagine they will be less than comfortable and therefore find it hard to relax and therefore give the gig quite as much as they would like. So here are some tips:

1. Avoid centre-stage! As I perform on a stationary chair, this is often easier said than done for me, nonetheless it is one I’m highly envious I can’t do. Yes, the very centre of the stage is the most well-lit place to be but it is also by far the warmest – taking a mere half-foot step to the side will barely decrease your visibility but decrease your temperature tenfold.

2. Dress smart – but not too smart! Countless times I’ve found myself wearing one of my favourite t-shirts at a gig and instantly regretting it when I walk on stage. At home, my chest of draws is a surreal routine waiting to be written: you have T-shirts graded, ranked and arranged from ‘interview or trying to impress a girl’ quality right down to, the lowest of the low, gym shirts! I always try to go for a mid-range choice on stage, one that looks fairly nice but I wouldn’t be too hung up on if it maintained a residual sweaty-muskiness, Oh and make sure it’s light and loose too! This is also why I’ve taken to wearing sleeveless T-shirts on stage (Absolutely nothing to do with the fact i work out and like to show my arms ofF, OK??!!)

3. Pace the energetic shouty bits of your set out wisely. Being too angry too soon can easily bring on what the advert describes as premature-perspiration; so if you have certain moments when you get intense make sure they are spaced out wisely instead.

4. And, most importantly, never be afraid to take a brief breather. At a recent sweltering gig I was suffering an acute case of the sweats and pants, and it just suddenly occurred to me that the audience could wait a second or two. So, after I got to the end of a routine I just decided to milk the punchline’s laughter for an extra few seconds while I got my breath back. This did the trick perfectly as I was then able to perform the remaining routine with the composure I desired.

And, club-owners: do the stage lights really need to be so fierce? A slight bit of dinginess can often increase the gig’s atmosphere, not to mention help the comics perform to their best abilities.

So, keep cool.

Published: 1 Aug 2012

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