An actor performing stand-up comedy

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Edinburgh festival
1st week
The Edinburgh festival is a funny place, sprawling and bohemian it is never without diversity . Various communities gather after dark for long, destructive nights of debauchery and the public participates in much needed cultural proactive endeavours viewing what is usually quite a large gamble. Skimming through an Edinburgh festival guide is much like viewing a menu at an over ambitious fast food joint offering every type of cuisine from pizzas to kebabs, how can you tell if something has been sitting in the back room for the past six months over processed and rotting by the minute or whether it is genuinely fresh off the rack and is surprisingly refreshing? With close to or perhaps more than 1000 shows, common sense will tell you that talent does not lend itself to such a great number of people on such a consistent basis. But perhaps that's the great thing about it, how bright a candle can burn amongst the darkness especially when it is lit at both ends.

The festival is famous for it's test of endurance, comedians in particular flex their social virtuosity beyond the call of duty, indulging in the most fauverant and colourful networking of any profession. Partying long into the morning, structuring jokes out of every day chit chat, offering the best small talk in which a person can engage.

I spent the first week easing into the customary banter that can often be a very good social experiment for the betterment of ones communication skills. I also came armed with a character that has previously brought down the house (high school house that is) on a consistent basis in the context of Brecht's Threepenny opera, a character called Jake who is an obese ex assassin and is the embodiment of sloth. After some mingling I managed to find a platform for Jake on stage at the gilded balloon, it was at a late night show called Phat Caves, a once legendary nightly event at the festival made famous by the brigade of comics that would hang out there until the early hours of the morning now still well attended but competing with a number of very decent late night shows. Performing with me on the bill was Dwight Slade (Bill Hick's comedy partner), Reggie Watts, Brendon Burns (my close friend and uncle), Matt Kirschner, and me. I was put amongst probably some of the most respected comedians on the circuit from all over the world and it felt wonderful. I must stress that prior to this I had only done stand-up maybe 5 times and never as this character let alone the material. So the stage was set.

People ask me if I want to be a stand-up comedian when I tell them about my ventures into this strange extravagant world and my answer is, no. I treat my time on stage performing in the medium of comedy as a fantastic experiment, one in which I can be free and ridiculous, I can play with outrageous characters and try out some of my ideas without going through the very tedious process of auditioning. As I am friends with some of the comics on the circuit, my stand-up job can come from a phone call from a mate rather than a mountain of interviews.

So the date of the gig was Sunday, the time was 1am. I invited a few comedians and industry people to come and watch. I arrived early, put on my costume and paced up and down in front of the mirror backstage reciting the pre-prepared mixture of mime and voice work with word precision. The audience staggered in many in a half human half alcohol fuelled instinctive state. My guests arrived with much enthusiasm and anticipation glimmering in their pupils. Other's expectations began to well up inside ‘No! nerves are the aphrodisiac of insecurity' I said to myself, I repressed them somewhere deep down inside my belly left to churn the content of my stomach. The first act went on, a formidable array of boundary pushing material delivered with spot on timing
‘Good night ladies and gentlemen you've been wonderful'
Bang! Dwight Slade had brought the house down and I was on next. Mickey-D (The host of the night) sat down beside me and peered at me through a distinctive gaze that sort out comfort and measured my condition, he leaned over and whispered calmly in my ear.
‘I'm gonna turn it over pretty quick, what am I introducing you as?'
‘Jake'
He giggled comfortingly, stood and waltzed back on stage with his characteristic laid back optimism and began the banter.
‘please welcome to the stage our very special guest Jake' When he told me he would turn it over pretty quick I at least thought he meant maybe after a minute or two but it was with great speed that I was introduced. Showtime! The adrenalin kicked in and I was in survival mode, my body spoke for itself moving my legs confidently out on to the stage, my consciousness sitting somewhere in the audience with a beer in its hand chuckling to itself
‘hey this was your idea don't blame me'
‘surely your not just going to sit there and watch as I leap into the gladiatorial pits of modern culture'
‘ummm yes I think I will. If you want to go bungee jumping in Africa, getting caught up in coupes in Mauritania, GETTING ARRESTED IN SENEGAL AND PERFORMING COMEDY AT THE BLOODY EDINBURGH FESTIVAL, YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN!'
My consciousness had put it beautifully, I was on my own and there was no turning back, a situation I consistently seem to seek out. I walked out on stage steaming with focus, I seized the mic in my hands and landed my first joke, silence. Alright, alright lets hit them again, giggle, I sensed the room had a particular focus on what I was doing but were not necessarily reacting physically to it, so I continued my pace focusing on character and movement. The audience seemed somewhat reticent perhaps they were confused by the extravagance of the character, they did not dislike it as they certainly would have no problem in expressing that fact if they did. My consciousness heckled me from the audience but perhaps it was more advice than a heckle
‘This can go two ways pal, either you brake, stand there naked and awkward feeling immense tension and pressure or you reach down inside and you pull this off'
I dug inside the deep contents of my nerve and I delivered a line that for one reason or other just worked perhaps the timing was right perhaps it was the words but the audience reacted with a heavy and consistent laugh as appose to the chuckles at random moments that had occurred until that point.
‘They get it, they like it, unless I fuck up now I have little chance of loosing them, ok I can relax' I thought.
I began to find the jokes, they were with me I carried them threw to the finish ducking in and out of absurd characters, darting and hurtling across the stage in a variety of ridiculous situations, pure silliness and they were right there with me. I got off stage to a strong applause and was met with the kindest reception I have ever received, given by the other comedians. Hug after hug filled with a genuine basis of understanding and comradery. A fellow comic and director pulled me aside, his name is Paul Provenza a very enterprising man in terms of the subjects he wishes to explore.
He was very kind and seemed quite excited by what he had seen, stressing to me that I had tapped into something that had taken him 20 years to learn, holding a strong and defined sense of character and living inside of that no matter what happens. That was the reception I truly wished to receive not a multitude of giggles or even an ego boosting clapping of hands but an honest and positive response from someone I look up to, that's what truly matters.

What he said got me thinking and perhaps it is the difference between an actor and a comedian, they approach it from opposite ends, the actor is primarily concerned with character and a sense of inner truth and the comedian is primarily concerned with drawing a specific reaction from the audience and the details of performing. At some point these paths cross but the two professions take very different journeys. In my opinion both can learn a great deal by dipping into each others mediums just for a short while and returning with the exotic fruits and seeds they acquire. This is exactly what I intend to do and I hope I have done to some degree already.

After our chat round a back alley of the theatre accompanied with my good friends Misha Crosby, Igor Antonov (two young men at very similar stages in their lives as myself) and celebratory refreshments we returned inside for the rest of the acts.

The next two Reggie Watts and Matt Kirschen were consistently brilliant only adding to my general atmosphere of relief and joy. Closing the night was wonderful Brendon opening with
‘that was my nephew in the fat outfit, that was his first gig ladies and gentlemen and I can tell you my first gig was nothing like that, my dad was filming at my first gig and afterwards I asked ‘did you get it dad? Did you get it?' ‘son I switched off the camera when the first tear of shame rolled down my cheek' SO F**K YOU LAURENCE I HAD TO SUCK C**K FOR YEARS!'

The rest of my first week consisted mainly of a good deal of debauchery and merriment with fellow performers and industry professionals accompanied with a quickly resolved identity crisis and rounded off by climbing a mountain with a large number of people and setting fire to a wicker man. I returned to London and began final rehearsals for two plays, leaving Edinburgh to develop without me for two weeks. I would return for the last weekend with a different character, a different gig and a very different experience.


  • 15 years ago
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