There's no demand for this... but I don't care

Chris Stokes on his DIY recording

In a couple of weeks I am doing a live recording of my debut solo stand-up show An Opera Written on Napkins... but you won't have heard of me. I am one of those comedians that other comedians know, that a very small cross-section of comedy nerds may be vaguely aware of and that baffles not only a lot of the stags-and-hens that frequent weekend comedy clubs, but also many of the industry gurus they turn to to be told what it is that they should like. 

The gigs I do aren't theatres or arenas full of adoring disciples, they are among a bill of other acts in function rooms, cellars and comedy clubs trying to let those that notice know I'm there.

There is zero demand for a live album of my work yet I am doing one.

It has nothing to do with expecting to be able to pay my Council Tax for a couple of months off the back of it so don't panic if you are reading this fearing that I am setting myself up for a fall. No, it is to do with the splendid flexible parameters of DIY distribution.

The do-it-yourself approach has been well documented. Louis CK has made the practice widely recognised by reaping as much financial reward, if not more, from it as he would have done by travelling the received route.

Of course the key here is that everyone knows who Louis CK is and there is clearly demand there, whereas if you Google 'Chris Stokes' you'll get hits that refer to the former director of the Strategic Rail Authority, a skinny young comedian who hasn't been on 8 Out Of 10 Cats and an alleged child molester. Who is anxiously awaiting a live album from any of these three men?

If we thought like that, us anonymous comics with our Moleskine-bound dreams, then the do-it-yourself approach would remain - like DVD deals, TV specials and the blue tick - the domain of the famous. Its very nature means we can take advantage of it and if we can do it ourselves then we should.

An oft-cited appeal of stand-up is its autonomy. Rafts of comics have responded to questions posed by Sunday supplement writers that the notion that you can have an idea in the morning and perform it on stage that night is a beautiful one.

They are not wrong. It is fantastic that stand-up allows you to do that with no need to run anything by anyone. It is all down to you. Although, there is absolutely no need for that to cease with the creative aspect of it.

If you can think of the joke, hone the joke and perform the finished joke by yourself then why stop there?

The show I am recording  began as my first attempt at a full length solo show and loosely follows the above formula. I originally performed it purely to overcome an anxiety and see if I could do an hour of stand-up comedy. Encouraged that I could – and unable to resist tinkering with bits I thought I could improve – I performed it again at the Dave Leicester Comedy Festival where, completely by accident, it won Best Show. On the back of that I was offered a lovely room for the full run of the Edinburgh Fringe that year at the Pleasance Courtyard.

I thought I'd try it, I did it, it got good. It had evolved organically and - now that it is probably time to say goodbye to performing the show - it seems a shame to not at least have a record of it. Not least because it all happened quite under the radar.

So even though it has neared the end of its performance shelf life I would still like it to at least have the chance to find an audience after I have stopped performing it, no matter how small that audience may be.

This is why DIY distribution is embraced so many comics, of various standing. Richard Herring has been producing his own live sketch shows, audioblogs and chatshows as podcasts for years, and Andrew O'Neill and Diane Spencer both make their previous solo shows available for those enticed by the delights of their current ones.

Last year, my friend Michael J Dolan (the reformed sexist) put out an album of his solo show online, which meant more people were able to experience it, and discover him, than would have had he just moved on to the next show.

They have all been able to build or begin to build an audience through independent distribution and Louis CK has been able to please an ocean of adoring fans. No matter your level of fame or obscurity, DIY distribution benefits you.

For me, how could there be a need to satiate a rabid demand from a sizeable mob? It isn't about that. My show is not expecting to  be released into the public arena with a bombastic fanfare knowing it will be adored, it is just hoping it will be a humble beginning with the tiniest wave letting the few that notice know it's there.

  • An Opera Written On Napkins will be recorded at XS Malarkey in Manchester on April 7 (Tickets) then released on Chris Stokes’ websitehere.

Published: 29 Mar 2013

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