Now, there's a few obvious answers to this it would be impossible to ignore, I like to call them 'the big two,' i.e
- be really funny
- get gigs.
However, it would be churlish and annoying of me to post that as a blog. Insulting almost. In much the same way a great haircut and inability to put on weight is a pre-requisite to being a rock star, here's a few things I've noticed from gigging over the previous four years, which I wish I'd been told back in January 2005. They're a few pointers on how to look the part, at least.
- You'll need a man bag. It must be a classy leather one however, the type of hand luggage you imagine Jeremy Irons would have on a short trip to Provence. The Puma King holdall you used to keep your football boots in back in 1994 simply won't do I'm afraid. In your bag of course you keep various essential items - receipts from a gig in Derby you haven't put in your receipts box yet, a three day old newspaper, your notebook and forty pens.
- A copy of The Complete Prose of Woody Allen. On bringing this out of your manbag an hour before showtime, people who work at the venue will go 'aaah,' comics over the age of 38 will say 'good... but have you read the new stuff?' and the open spot will take you to one side and whisper 'I'm trying to read that...but I'm not sure I like it?' Whenever this happens just try to look confident, no matter how you choose to respond.
- Have an expensive notebook. The old 'Black and Reds' were big on the scene a few years ago, but it's now de rigueur to have a moleskine. For the non-notebook buyers amongst you, a moleskine was apparently the type of notebook used by Ernest Hemingway, Henri Matisse and Picasso (you're even provided with a little pamphlet when you buy one, that discusses the history of the company). I was given mine as a leaving present when I left my old job, and whilst it is bloody lovely (and full of great ideas, obviously) I did find myself wondering if Picasso also bought his in WHSmiths.
- A mental health problem of some sort. I'm currently working on this. If I keep practising I reckon I can nail the pretence of bi-polar disorder by Christmas, even if I remain mentally stable. Failing this (for the non performer, more gag-orientated amongst you) just drink a lot and be morose.
- Being able to criticise a promoter (who the open spot will never have heard of) for being a 'slow payer.' Something along the lines of 'don't mention the name Eugene Landerhawk in front of me - three and a half years I've been waiting for a cheque after MCing his now defunct gig in Tavistock.'
- Criticising a modern comedic phenomeon, but having the good grace to accept that they were 'good in 1998.' The Mighty Boosh for instance, is a great way to start doing this. On hearing mention of the Boosh, look wistfully into the middle distance. Then say you saw them do a preview of 'Arctic Boosh' (their Perrier nominated 1999 Edinburgh show) at the Hen and Chickens in North London, and reminisce that it was 'raw, but good - they definitely had something.' It's then important to describe the first series as 'the culmination of years of hard work,' the second series as 'rushed,' and the third series 'insulting,' but mention that you still catch up with Fielding for a drink 'from time to time.' Peter Kay is another cracker, although you need to be in your early thirties at least to do this convincingly. Remark on him doing an embryonic version of 'the wedding routine' when he compered for you at The Frog and Bucket in Manchester eleven years ago, before chuckling 'at what he's become.'
- Claim that the Avalon Comedy Zone (a new act showcase at the Edinburgh Festival) 'isn't what it used to be' and that the 'brand has lost its way in recent years.'
- Complete the Guardian cryptic crossword seconds before going on stage - words are of course, your tool. NOT the quick crossword in the G2 however. Any old twat can do that.
- Be jaded, even after a good gig. This is something I'm really struggling with to be honest. I had a cracker in Barnstaple a few weeks ago and even phoned my mum, waking her up in the process to tell her.
- Sit around a table with other comics, laughing at awful gigs you have done. You'd think that this sort of bonding was only possible after years in the business, but this method of anecdote swapping is open to even the most inexperienced of comics - chances are the gigs you do in your first year are more exercises in despair than platform for your talents. Being able to hold court about Mirth Control Andover is a must, although my friend Martin recently drove three hours to do a gig on a stairwell, which I must admit - in anecdotes of this genre, takes some beating.
- The step up from the conversations described above however, is slightly more difficult to achieve - you could liken it to the gulf between the Coca Cola Championship and The Premier League, or a small town solicitor who specialises in conveyancing, meeting a criminal lawyer from Los Angeles and 'feeling a bit out of his depth.' These conversations revolve around people nodding sagely, as someone mutters 'that Avalon gig in Northampton? I wouldn't do that for £500. In fact, I was offered £500, and I turned it down.' If you're an open spot hearing this do try to take it in your stride, and for God's sake don't let on that you're thinking 'five hundred quid! Five hundred quid?! I'd happily push my nan into a bath of fucking acid for five hundred quid.'
Right. As long as you have a 'bullet proof twenty' (material that's consistently good) you're ready to be a comedian. I will admit, I doubt any of this advice is relevant to say, the black circuit in North America (would Chris Rock have a moleskine? Surely he'd have an Apple Mac, permanently running dictaphone and a PA?) but I've done what I can. Don't be too good though. I'm struggling for work as it is, and the MOT's up on my Ford KA in November.
All the best,