Four years in, and what have I learned?

Ted Shiress on his comedy experiences

Last Friday marked a notable anniversary: my first gig! Four years ago I took to the stage for the first time at The Drones Club in Chapter Arts Centre. The gig is on YouTube, Michael McIntyre is apparently ‘bland and palatable’ yet many detest him.

  • There’s no practice like performance. It’s a cliché but it’s true; when you write a routine you will have a rough idea of how it sounds on stage but you may be completely wrong. As I’ve mentioned, I have to be punchy in delivery but, as you’re probably aware, I often waffle needlessly in writing. My brain is pretty good at finding the quickest way to say things when talking, so often I’ll perform a new routine differently to how I wrote it; sometimes I’ll kick myself after I realise the speed-increase was due to dropping two gags, other times I’ll jump with joy realising I can now get between two laughs quicker.

  • Some promoters are jizz-lords. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of lovely people that run superb gigs mainly out of passion but once and a while you do come across an unsavoury character who won’t give you a gig because you’re female/disabled/gay/lacking on the rape-joke count.

  • Jizz-lords or not, it may be unlikely your email asking for a gig gets replied to – or even read. Think of it like free online dating, swarms of desperate near-virgins desperately trying to get one girl/gig that may not turn out half as good as it sounds. Most promoters have nine-to-five jobs that eat up most of their lives and simply cannot reply to every email they get.

  • I’m not Stewart Lee. Stewart Lee is popular with people like me, raised by Guardian-readers and who appreciates an abrasive ‘say it like it is’ attitude. It is no surprise he has influenced many. However, there is so much about his style that just can’t be impersonated – especially in a voice that is already slow and awkward to listen to. I went through a phase of toying with unnecessarily big words on stage once, but after a while I realised it wasn’t for me.

  • ‘The dark-side’ is often more enjoyable from within. As you know I do like being dark and the image of ‘edginess’, but I discovered the best way to be dark is simply to be honest. I have never stooped as low as rape gags but I used to do a few jokes which after breaking them down targeted people that shouldn’t have been targeted (eg a group of people with Down’s Syndrome I was mistaken for being among). Yes, these jokes did get laughs, and sometimes good ones, but in the end I wasn’t comfortable making vulnerable and innocent people the butts of the joke – even in a context of irony.

  • Hack structures are there to be used. I won’t explain this here as I have done previously in much more detail, but they are, so use them.

  • Competitions, more often than not, suck. I’ve been entering them ever since starting comedy and every time I promise myself I won’t care if a decision doesn’t go my way or I have a bad gig (yes, it can happen!) and every time I end up caring. In competitions how ‘well’ you’ve done is often only up to a few people or sometimes just one. You not may go through due to being weak on the night/in material or you may just not be what the judges are looking for; either way, it’s nothing to be taken personally.

  • Gong shows are on a par with scrotal acupuncture. Gong shows are without doubt the most pointless and soul-destroying part of comedy – they involve you doing a short set while selected audience members can gong you off at any time... and ‘any time’ usually means when you’re five words from a killer punchline. Getting gonged off in such a way gives you such a horrible feeling of rejection when all it really means is that you’re not to one drunk’s taste.

  • Lastly, and most importantly, believe in yourself. There will be dark times when you can’t get any gigs (I’ve spent the last two months gig-less and I’m still writing this very big-dick-swinging article) or your jokes don’t hit like you had hoped.

So where do I hope to be in the next four years, providing I don’t decide to pack in comedy altogether? I’ll be lying if I didn’t say signed by an agent, or picking up three to four gigs every week that pay well enough so that I can at least break even on transport. But more importantly, I’d like to still be being ‘me’ on stage doing what I believe in – providing it’s funny –  because I like it. Seeming jaded is a big part of my act/humour but if I ever become genuinely jaded I’ll know that it is time to stop.

Published: 7 Feb 2013

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