Being a comedian is weird. In a normal job you carry over some of your achievements from the previous day, your colleagues remember, you’ve got some credit in the bank, you’ve got respect. Comedy isn’t like that. It all resets every time you leave the stage. The next night you have to start from scratch and try to win everyone over again. It’s the very definition of madness. You can’t be onstage when a joke doesn’t land and just scream at the audience, “But this worked last night in Hull!”
I think AI technology will change comedy. You’ll have comedians stopping gigs when a joke doesn’t work and pausing to consult VAR. They’ll turn, wait for the result, and a big word will come up on screen, ‘FUNNY’ they’ll then turn back to the audience and demand that they laugh.
My mum worried that being a performer would make me arrogant. I think she’s got a very skewed view of the level of fame I have. When I started this career one of my ambitions was to sell out Wembley, now I’d just like to turn up at a venue and for the staff on the door not to ask if I’ve got a ticket. That happens at least once a week, it’s humiliating. I’ve had to pay to see me!
There was a poster of me on the wall behind the bouncer who wouldn’t let me in.“Have I got a ticket? I AM THE TICKET!”
I was once searched before going into a gig I was booked to perform at. I know they have to be vigilant but come on, I mean there’s radicalisation and then there’s being ridiculous. Every comedian wants to take the roof off, but not literally. It did make me laugh, how undercover do you think I am? That’s some long game terrorism isn’t it? Spend over ten years driving up and down the country, infiltrating the open mic scene, living on pasties and Red Bull, just waiting for the perfect moment on a Friday night in Newbury and BANG! ACTIVATE THE CELL!
Recently on a tour show the promoter came up to me afterwards and gave me a thick booklet stapled together. It was all the tickets I hadn’t sold. He said that he thought I might like them as a souvenir. I was stunned, how is this a souvenir? It’s a flick book of failure! That’s like waking someone up after they’ve had their appendix out and giving it to them in a jar. Why would I want to be reminded of that moment? I could show the children. “Come on kids, look at these, every one of these is where Daddy let you down, there’s your school trip, there’s your cinema trip, all thrown away on Daddies relentless vanity project.”
When I started comedy back in 2009, it was just a hobby, but it soon became more than that. Baking cakes is a hobby, playing golf on a Sunday that’s a hobby, driving to Aberystwyth on a Wednesday night to perform to two people and a dog for no money at Bobby Wingnuts Cackle Dungeon, that’s not a hobby that’s probably an illness. Although if you’re ever in Aberystwyth do check out that venue, it’s really good.
Comedians are a little odd. During the pandemic, the government said performers should consider retraining. As what? This is all we can do! You can’t really put a comedian in a normal job. We’ve made a career out of saying things that are outrageous, you don’t want that in your office do you? “Before Claire shows us her monthly sales figures, we’ve got Scott here who is going to tell us all about the time he soiled himself on a coach trip back from Glasgow.”
Next time you’re at a live comedy gig, just watch comedians watching other comedians. It’s fascinating. It’s like Gogglebox but with more bitterness.
Comedians watch comedy in a different way. They never laugh, they mainly feel two emotions, jealousy and resentment. They just tend to analyse it instead. Audiences could be clapping and whooping, and comedians are just sat the back, with a lime and soda, stroking their chins.
My dad was a fireman for twenty five years. On a Sunday evening as a family we used to sit down and watch the ITV drama London’s Burning. We had to stop in the end, because my dad would be sitting there just heckling the screen.
“Well this isn’t accurate is it?”
“No Dad, it’s a drama, they are all actors, it’s not real”
He’d be sat there in his full gear, shouting through a breathing apparatus!
“It’s a good job lives aren’t at stake. They are using the wrong ladder! You can’t put that fire out with that water pressure! What are they waiting for? Get the Jaws of life out, this is basic training!”
A lot of people bring their work home with them and my dad was no different. It was quite an adrenalin rush let me tell you. You’d just be sitting there watching Thundercats and he’d casually just set fire to the curtains. Do you know how stressful it is as a nine year old to cut your mother out of a recliner?
As an artform comedy is scrutinised and judged more than any other. Audiences can be very unforgiving. A lot of people hate stand up comedy. I mean truly despise it, it’s just annoying that these people keep coming to my gigs.
When a gig doesn’t go well for a comedian , do you know what people call it..? A death! A death! That’s so final isn’t it? For what is essentially just a bad day at work.
You don’t get this in other industries. You’d never hear someone talking about a plumber they’d had round. “He was awful mate, proper died on his arse in that bathroom. The towel radiator wasn’t put on straight, he got the hot and cold the wrong way round, and his butt crack was on show for the whole time!”
It’s such an over the top term for just someone doing jokes. We should at least try and soften it. “Well at least they died doing what they loved?” Even if the thing he loved was getting stared at by twenty angry people in Stoke.
People judge comedians, pull apart what they say. We’re in extremely sensitive times now. You’d think that if you’re holding a microphone in your hand, and stood on stage in front of a banner with the word ‘COMEDY’ on it in a massive font it would be obvious that you are joking. A lot of audiences take everything you say as the truth, I just wish they’d scrutinise politicians in the same way.
As a career it’s quite strange how it fits around normal life. I didn’t do comedy when I met my wife Jemma, about three mattresses ago. I inflicted it on our marriage, introduced it like a mistress. Jemma actually went back to work to support me, which I still find difficult to process. It’s like I’d taken the families savings and put them on a racehorse, and if that wasn’t bad enough, I’d forced my own wife to be the jockey.
There’s a romance to being an artist, but there’s a reality to being a parent.
A lot of my anxiety comes from the responsibilities I have. Now It’s my job, comedy feels different, the way I feel about an audience has changed. When you go to see a musician, you clap at the end of a song whether you like it or not, it’s almost a Pavlovian response. But comedy isn’t like that, if you don’t laugh at one of my jokes it’s instant feedback and I feel that. In my head, I can see the shoes being removed from my children’s feet, “That’s for Liverpool, that’s for London,” little hands clutching onto an iPad for warmth as the bailiffs try and take it away, a spoon full of Weetabix just being reversed out of a starving mouth.
I imagine conversations with my kids in the future. “Daddy, one day can I go to university?” “Ah, yeah, bit awkward that mate, you see what happened is, Daddy nearly made it to forty but then he had a bit of crisis, decided to follow his dreams, and now you can’t….but don’t worry here’s three jokes! They’re absolute bangers though mate, cherish them!”
One thing you quickly realise as a performer is that everything is for sale. I had a really happy childhood. Both parents at home, they showered me with love and affection and I didn’t want for anything. I’ve got to say, I’ve thought about this and I totally resent them for it. Happiness is useless in this job, you need damage! Richard Pryor, grew up in a brothel, Eminem, lived in a trailer park, Fifty Cent was a drug dealer. This gave them the fire in their belly, the anger to drive them to the top. What have I got? A couple of holidays to Skegness. Yes, it’s obviously traumatic, but you don’t win comedy awards with that!
I do a podcast with my wife Jemma. It’s a great idea but it does mean we are committed to each other now. When we did our vows, we said ‘in sickness and in health’ but not ‘on iTunes’. Someone said “What if you get divorced, won’t it ruin it?” No, because that will go on Patreon, people will love it, a real time podcast of a marriage falling apart! It’s a solid gold hit!
The other week we had a blazing row and then halfway through we both just stopped and looked at each other and said, “This is silly.” “I know.” “SAVE IT FOR THE PODCAST!”
I can barely function in society now. I’ll be out in the park with my kids, I should be making memories, but instead I’m frantically tapping an idea for a joke about climbing frames into my phone.
The thing I love about comedy is also it’s major weakness. Because it’s quite low-fi, a microphone and a speaker, there is a tendency for people to try and put on shows in places that they really shouldn’t bother with. Some promoters would walk into an abattoir and think it would be a great room for comedy. “We’ll push the hanging meat to one side, it’ll be fine!” There are promoters who would look at a crematorium and think, “We’ve got the seats, we’ve got a small stage and a curtain, all we need is a mic and this is a gig!” They’d even have a catchy marketing line, ‘Cematorium Comedy Club, where everyone dies!’
Comedians are so excited by even the basic trappings of glamour. They are excited when the toilets at the venue have an air freshener in them, you offer them a drink it blows their mind. Most comedians would do a gig for Kim Jong Un, if it was cash on the night and came with a free buffet.
Most comedians have a never say die attitude. I always think I can get a win out of a gig even if it looks unplayable. There’s no scenario I haven’t encountered in my years on the circuit. Hen nights, stag doos, someone stopping the gig to point out that I had a prominent neck vein and should get it looked at. This was annoying, but I’ve got to say, it’s so difficult to see a doctor now this was better service than the NHS.
Here’s a quick run down of some of the moments I’ve encountered at gigs:
A man complaining that because I’d got an encore he’d now have to pay more for parking.
Someone shouting at me because they were forty three and still enjoyed camping.
A voice in the darkness at the back of the room declaring, “I KNOW YOUR WIFE.”
Vomiting, defecation, urination and someone falling asleep on the front row, this was all at the same gig.
A gig where the host said “He’s said he’s a comedian, but if he isn’t at least we can still watch the end of the football.”
There are two gigs as a comedian that make a cold sweat run down my back. The first one is a corporate gig. These are the ones that make you realise that you aren’t nearly as funny, talented or popular as you think you are.
Normally held in a brightly lit function room, with a crackling microphone and an audience seated at round tables like the most depressing wedding of all time. These are the gigs you feel sick when you see them coming up in the diary. Round tables are like kryptonite for comedy. You don’t laugh when you’re staring into the face of Malcolm from accounts. I’ve been on the other side of this fence, I know what it’s like. No-one wants to be there. You work with these people, eight hours a day is enough, they shouldn’t be stealing your social life too.
Sometimes you can feel the tension in the room. Most of the audience just cope with this by drinking, which makes a difficult gig almost impossible. These people need a strong coffee, a nap and an early night, not a comedian coming on in an ill-fitting tuxedo and shouting from a carpet.
It’s all so alien, it makes your jokes feel weird as they fall out of your mouth. Your tie starts to tighten, strangling you, and those black shoes feel like they are pinching your feet.
The best you can do is get away with it. You lower the bar, a smile is like a round of applause. And a titter, well that’s like a standing ovation. You’re like a general in the army. If you can go over the top and still have the same number of people left at the end, you’ve won.
You are asked to join them for the meal. Some comedians avoid this, but you’re making your job even harder. It’s often a sign of disrespect to turn down the meal. You’re better to go along, it’s imperative that you have the chance to sit there at the table and have the CEO tell you about all the other acts they’ve booked over the years that have died on their arses.
It’s like you’re being fattened up for your own slaughter. You thought you were going to die surrounded by your family, maybe seeing one more sunset, but no. You’re going to die here, in a Holiday Inn, on a Tuesday, in front of a hundred men from the sheet metal and fabrication federation.
At least you’re getting paid though. There is one gig that is way worse than this one. A gig that offers no money, no progression and has the potential to ruin your life. It’s the one all comics dread. It’s a Saturday night and you have to go out in public, with other people you know and be a normal human being, and that is utterly terrifying.
Scott Bennett Comedian