32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 16; Derry
What’s most annoying to me is the fact that from a very young age, I had great interest in perhaps not comedy, but in acting and storytelling. I could read from a very early age, and loved TV and movies. Whenever I would watch something on TV, I would always try and figure out better ways to end the story (although your description of the word “better” and mine may vary, depending on how much “better” you think a story is when you add helicopters). My favourite part of school was writing stories in English class, and I watched enough funny shows on TV to guarantee that anything I wrote was probably going for a humourous angle. As for stage work, I got my first role as Joseph in a Christmas nativity (hardly a laugh riot) , and I seem to vaguely recall being the wolf in Red Riding Hood at a school panto in High Infants or something. The part was written for laughs and I had a great time, but it didn’t strike me as something I wanted to do later in life (I wanted to be a stuntman, which seems to be a common ambition of people my age, probably due to the awesomeness that was ‘Stuntmasters’ on Saturday morning ITV). As a kid, the pieces hadn’t fit together that if I liked being on stage, and I liked writing things, maybe I should aspire to write things that I could perform on stage when I grow up?
Fast forward a few years into secondary school, and this is where the real groundwork started. I went to secondary school in the early nineties, and was put in a class with none of my old classmates from primary school. So straight away, I wouldn’t have been all that quick to make new friends. Coming out of primary school, I would have been fairly clever (which attracted more than a few kickings on the playground, great for the ol’ self-esteem), and big things were expected from me at home (mainly because my sister was VERY studious). So in secondary school, I felt I had two choices; either knuckle down at studies, or ingratiate myself with the other kids. I had watched enough Saved by the Bell (and learned enough on the primary schoolyard) to know that the clever kids were dorks and had no pals, so any aspirations I had of being an A-student fell by the wayside. As the years at secondary school went on, I did enough schoolwork to pass every test and stay in a top-flight class, but goofed around enough and gave enough cheek to teachers to stay in with the rest of the kids. My big love at this stage was comedy on TV, so I the “funny” kid in class… Not the naturally funny kid in class who doesn’t have to try so hard, but the other type, y’know… the borderline annoying attention seeking type. But I felt I had to do something; I was holding no other playground currency. I was shit at all sports so I wasn’t on any teams, and I was pretty fat and dorky.
One thing I will say for secondary school is that I got plenty done creatively; I did very well in English, particularly essay and story-writing. Every year the school would put on a Christmas concert, and every year I would be doing something onstage, including one year performing in a play with the rest of my class which I had written myself (no-one wanted to do it and I volunteered/ insisted that I do it). Although when I went to college, it wasn’t to do Arts (like I should have done), I instead went and did an Electronic Engineering course(three years with nothing added to my life except the ability to play a card game called 25). This, I feel was where I fucked up a bit, and something I wish I could change. I didn’t gain anything from college career wise (I’m basically doing the same job now as I was doing part-time during school) and I fell that if I’d done a course in, I dunno… maybe journalism or something, I’d be a lot further on right now. In my three years at college, I didn’t do anything creative in the slightest (except maybe a few tall tales when chatting up girls). I still had the same vague notion of doing SOMETHING creative with myself, but the drive had been sidetracked in a fit of laziness and/ or waiting for the world to fall at my feet without working for it. Plus, no-one told me that when you go from being a teenager to a young adult, what initially was boyhood cheek morphed into adolescent arrogance. I was still playing the wiseguy, but it didn’t really work anymore. I was coming across an an asshole, and wasn’t overly liked in town. Leaving college to go out and work, the twenty-one year old Gerry had made no advances at all at any sort of a stand-up career.
And so my twenties were spent in the usual way; working, going out, dating girls, breaking up with girls. My nine-to-five job was fine, I liked it, it was well paid, so I was alright for money (even if in hindsight, I didn’t invest it all that well). After college, my group of friends all scattered to their own pursuits; jobs, relationships, the usual. That meant less and less time in groups where I could be myself and let loose; telling stories and jokes and having a laugh. This, I think, was where the real urge to start working on something more creative started to grow roots, a serious feeling of being just another face in a crowd, not standing out or being special (and being just needy and insecure enough to want to do so). I tried my hand at acting in local productions of plays, but being one piece of a larger performance never really suited me. By 23, I was trying my hand at writing works of my own, and knocked out several scripts for plays, short stories etc… but as an arrogant man, I struggled to take constructive criticism, or just lost patience in the whole endeavour. If I spent six months working on a script and it got rejected (or I sent it off, never to hear from it again), then fuck it; move on to the next project. I had a short play produced locally, but didn’t get the kick I had wanted from it. Again, this is when the penny should have dropped that stand-up comedy was what I really wanted, but instead I just got sullen and dejected, and wasted a few more years doing nothing except sporting increasingly absurd hairstyles.
And then a revelation; the internet! A few years ago, I started writing blogs online. This is way before I started No Punchline (or indeed my Chronicles blogs from last year), and was a real easy solution for my attention seeking; instead of spending six months working on a script and presenting it to an uncaring public, I could spend an hour knocking out a blog, post it online, and wake up to a chorous of LOL’s in the comments section. I became OBSESSED. For a few years, I wrote hundreds of blogs and articles, and did it all anonymously so as to be free to say whatever I liked. My style was a very caustic, snarky look at life (in the vein of Charlie Brooker, except more vicious and less intelligent). As the readership grew, I felt more and more confident in myself, although hours spent writing will take it’s toll on all other aspects of life, and it’s here that I feel the cracks in my then-rock steady relationship started to show. And then came along a whole other raft of issues in life, which left me with no time for even my beloved blogging, leaving me back to square one, with no outlet to express myself. I was turning 28 soon, and I had run aground. The pieces still didn’t fit into place until one night I watched on RTE what I belive was a the Liffey Laughs (or some other stand-up show, I can’t remember). The idea of doing stand-up had briefly occurred to me before, but I’d never considered myself able to do what those guys did. However watching Liffey Laughs, I watched one comedian get up, and instead of being hit with a lightening bolt of that’s-it-I-want-to-be-like-that-guy, I watched him die on his arse and thought that’s it; If he can do it, I sure as fuck can do it too. It suddenly made sense, it was the most direct adrenaline to the heart way to address all my issues; neediness + depression + self-esteem problems + arrogant outspokenness + cockiness…
And so before I turned 28, I googled around and got myself up onstage. And looking back as I did this week gone by, I always ask why this couldn’t have happened sooner, until I accept that for me, it REALLY couldn’t have happened sooner. The first year of comedy is ridiculously tough, and whatever you think you’re going to achieve, you are NOT. The first year of comedy is hardship and rejection, it’s graft and disappointment. If I’d tried comedy any younger, I wouldn’t have stuck it. I’d have said fuck this after the first death. I wouldn’t have worked like I do now; if you asked the 22 year old me to drive to Derry to do seven minutes in order to see if I was worth booking for other gigs, he’d have told you to get fucked. Now, with a wee bit more maturity on my side, I do it gladly. If you told the 24 year old me that he wasn’t that good, and needed to work more on his material before he got booked for a gig, he’d have gotten thick and indignant and stormed off cursing you from a height. Now, I take criticism on board and accept when I do fuck up, it’s usually my own fault.
And as for comedy in general; age doesn’t matter in the slightest (apart from some very young audiences who are ageist little fucks, excuse my french). There’s no age limit on comedy, whether you’re 30, 40, 50… worry about being funny and the rest will sort itself out. As for my own thinking that perhaps I’ve left it too late to ever get to the higher reaches… well, if that’s the case, then my new thinking is that I’d better work that damn sight harder to make up lost ground. Where I am in life now isn’t a hindrance, it’s a kick-off point; my point-of-view on the world these days seems to be more attractive to audiences than my point-of-view on life would have been five years ago (when I would have been doing some very dodgy “clever” material which I’m sure would have stunk up every venue I played). You can’t learn experience. So I’m heading into my thirties now, considering myself not to have wasted my time up until now, but having spent my time getting off to a good start. All I gotta do is take what I’ve learned from life and work it into my material, and we’ll see where we go from there.