County Louth was crossed off my to-gig list with a gig a few weeks ago in The Phoenix Bar in Dundalk, which is only about a twenty minute drive away from my home town Carrickmacross. I would consider Dundalk my second home town; I went to college there, I’ve worked there, I go out there whenever I’m home. I’ve a lot of friends around the town, and along with most of my mates from Carrickmacross, they have yet to see me do a gig (unlike my Dublin friends, who have been to so many of my gigs that frankly they could do my set for me) . That my hometown pals haven’t seen me is mostly down to logistics; I just haven’t performed anywhere nearhand (apart from the hundreds of Dublin gigs, which is a whole HOUR away), so I always keep them up to date with gigs that I have a bit closer to them. When I booked the Phoenix gig, I put out the word: I’m coming to town.
Now, if your friends are like mine, then when you first outed yourself as a stand-up comedian, they probably had a few questions for you (on top of demanding that you tell them a joke, immediately). This has happened with just about everyone I’ve ever told about my comedy sideline: friends, co-workers, family, they all have basically the same questions. See if any of this lot sounds familiar…
First of all, most people will want to know HOW. If they know you at all, then they won’t really be that surprised that you started doing comedy/ acting/ politics/ singing/ performance art/ hooker-murder, but the vast majority of people won’t know just HOW you got started. The public don’t seem to know how comedy in this country works. By and large, its run by… well, the comedians themselves: just a bunch of lads who run gigs and book people they’ve seen and rate highly. Most people ask if I have an agent… me, who has been doing comedy in my spare time for a little over two years.
But that’s the Irishness coming out in people, refusing to believe that anyone can do anything without someone helping them along the way. I just tell them the truth, that any gig I do, is a gig I’ve booked either myself (by sending out e-mails, making phone calls, meeting people) or been asked to do (by people who have seen me perform, or have been given the glad word about me from someone else). As for agencies, well, I don’t really know a whole pile about them. The one agency I do hear about from time to time is the Lisa Richards agency, and it’s normally in conversations with a bunch of comedians who badmouth the shit out of it (you know, the same comedians who if offered representation by Lisa Richards in the morning, would kill each other with pool cues to get it).
As to how to get signed up to this (or any other agency)… well, I’m assuming that when you’re wanted, you’ll be sent for. There was a time last year, however, that I struck upon what I believed was a cunning plan. I fell across a girl called Lisa Richards on Facebook, with whom I had dozens of friends in common (all comedians). Figuring this was the Lisa Richards of Lisa Richards fame, the following plan emerged…
1) Add her as a friend
2) Make with the hi-fookin-larious status updates for a few weeks, until my MaD SKILz were recognised
3) Get signed, be on easy street.
Call me psychic, but I reckon right now a lot of you are thinking the following-
Yep. No sooner than I had added this girl, we had the following converstion on Facebook chat.
Hello! Do i know u?
I added you, we have a bunch of friends in common. I always add people who facebook suggests in the top corner, LOL
Are u a comedian too?
yep, do a bit LOL
I get added by lots of comedians
They mistake me for some agency
There is some lisa cook who runs an agency with her brother richard, they call it lisa richards.
Yeah tink I heard of them LOL
So loads of comedians add me! Ha ha!!
Ha ha! LOL!!
So do u live in dublin?
Gerry is offline
So once you’ve convinced your friends that you’re winging it on your own without representation, the next thing they’ll ask is how much you get paid (because God forbid someone in this country would do something solely because they love doing it). Up until recently, I was like everyone else doing open slots for no money, but this year I’ve started to see a few euro here and there. Most of the time, by the time I drive to the gig and back (counting tolls and speeding fines) I just about break even, or failing that I make enough from one paid gig to take me to some that I’m not getting paid for. My friends look at me like I’m cracked for doing something that I’m not profiting from, so I usually hit them with a figure that has emerged from the following equation…
1: Take the MOST money ever earned for a gig
2: Add to that the MOST money I’ve ever been given for petrol and expenses, even if it was for a different gig. If the was accomodation for the night, add what that room WOULD have cost.
3: Divide that by the amount of minutes usually spent onstage (say, 15minutes).
4: Multiplty that by 60, and present it as an hourly rate. Say: this is what I earn in an hour.
Don’t bother mentioning that you might have to drive hundreds of miles and incur several penalty points to actually DO an hour of comedy. Most of my friends back home became more accepting of my hobby when they thought it was making me shitloads of money (even my friends who have played GAA every Sunday since they were six without any form of payment at all).
The next question I get asked is about what it’s like to have a crowd of people cheer when your name is called, for an audience to laugh until they cry at the jokes you tell… nah, I’m just kidding. Most of my friends are only interested in what it feels when a comedian dies. Again, this may be a rural Ireland thing, but nearly everyone asks me what happens when no-one laughs, or what happens when someone starts heckling. I don’t mind so much the question, but the implication that it’s something that happens regularly… as if they don’t really believe that you can get up onstage and bash out your material without SOMEONE heckling you.
See, for most people, public speaking is their worst nightmare. So when you tell them that you regularly get up in front of rows of drunken people to tell jokes, their brains can’t comprehend it. Get up and not die? Not get nervous, not stutter, not get heckled or booed? Surely some mistake. Tell people you do comedy, they’ll say “I could NEVER do that!”… which suggests we comedians are either especially courageous, especially brave, or just a bit special (in my mothers “Ah-bless-he’s-a-bit-special” sense of the word”).
Of course, you’ll fall across the occasional nay-sayer who’ll slate you from the get: who sneer at the mention of your comedy ambitions. Not friends, of course, just the occasional bollox you meet along the way: this is Ireland, after all. I’ve met a few along my way, who’ve told me that anybody who does comedy is a clown and should be ashamed of his life for getting up and humiliating himself week after week. To them I say, sell that bullshit elsewhere. I’ve wasted enough of my time listening to the opinions of these pricks in my time, to arrive at the conclusion that they can kiss the high hole of my arse. Small-minded rubes that have never done anything nor never will, trying to pull everyone down with them. Humiliation? Mortification? Let me tell you this: I’ve done things in life that even to this day make me SQUIRM with embarrassment. Burst the seams of the arse of my trousers at work, fall over at mass on the way up for communion, get my jacket caught in the door of a taxi and get dragged up a street… mortifying shit from years and years ago that if I think about it even today I gasp and freeze. But in the mix of all those scarlifying moments, there is NOTHING that features me onstage with a mic in front of me: not even my worst deaths. They wash off me like water off a duck. Does not affect me, except teach me how to be a better comedian. And nothing anyone can say will change that, especially some asshole who was sitting at home watching The Late Late Show while I was getting paid to rock the shit out of a 300 seater venue.
The last thing most people will ask you is the old classic: where do you get your material? Do you write it yourself? Again, I believe this is down to the majority of people not understanding the way a comedy show works. Perhaps they expect to go to a club one night and hear a Billy Connolly tribute, or a bunch of old playground classics? A lot of people I talk to think that it’s a case of making everything up on the spot, and totally don’t understand the concept of having a fixed set that goes from town to town, verbatim (of course, if you can make that set sound like something you just thought of, all the better). What is annoying though, is friends who believe that you are trying to coax them along to a show, so you can destroy them from stage. “Here, don’t be saying anything about me from the stage!” is a half-threat, half-plea I hear from a lot of mates before a gig starts. Jesus… like the lives of my friends emit comedy gold, that I can riff on for a half hour.
After that, you have the friends who think that what you need for your set is… some joke they heard the other night. “Here’s one for you…”, they’ll start, before regaling some godawful yarn they heard in the pub, finishing it with gusto and then telling you that you can “change it, tell it your own way”. I always say thanks, and leave it at that. People think they are helping, but again if they went to a comedy club just once, they’d see that it’s a world away from the hoary old stuff you hear told on the street… although as we’ve discussed, there are lots of hack comedians who actually DO take those jokes and put them in their set, and are glad when their mates help them out.
So most of the time, I manage to happy my friends enough that they feel they might actually have a good time at a gig, and they agree to come to the next one that happens anywhere at all local… and usually, whenever such an occasion arises, such as my gig in Dundalk, they don’t show. Hey, I’m the same; if I had a Friday evening to myself and 0ne of them wanted me to go to one of their pursuits, I’d be wholly enthusiastic but at the same time, wondering how I could duke out of it. That’s how we do things in the country- if it was happening in our gardens, we’d have an excuse not to go to it. As it turned out with the Dundalk gig, it was actually a blessing in disguise that nobody I knew came to it: it turned out to be one of THOSE gigs. You know THOSE gigs, don’t you?
Yeah. One of THOSE gigs.