Mid-Life Crisis = Standup Comedy RoutineSo in September my twin boys went off to University and suddenly my wife and I had the house to ourselves again for the first time in eighteen years. Empty nest syndrome? Not on your nelly. Mid-life crisis (my parents divorced after 25 years once their only child disappeared off up to uni), no, not on your life. I don't just seem to have a richness of free time, I seem possessed of more focus and energy with them gone. After not a single live reading through until the start of September, by Christmas I would have hit double figures. I've written a lot, including starting a new project and coincidently landed a first publishing deal for one of my novels with a small independent publisher (more of which in future). So I guess I'll be busy with preparing a marketing and promotion campaign for the book in the new year.
So business as usual for me, except maybe more so. Only... a couple of nights I performed my first ever stand up comedy routine. Now that surely is a symptom of mid-life crisis, bursting out into new territory, trying something completely different from what has gone before? Except writing and performing a comedy routine really wasn't that much different from writing and reading live. Unless you're one of those comedians like Tim Vine who just gets up on stage and tells joke after joke without much in the way of narrative, comedians are story tellers. More often than not, their stories are based around the character of themselves that they project on stage. So in many ways little different from a protagonist created by an author in any novel. Except that there is this tension between the character they present on stage and the true life person, as the audience try and figure out how much of the act is an act and how much they are really like the persona coming through the mic. I make the same calculations as a writer, because I believe no matter how far seemingly removed from yourself a fictional character may be, it still represents some part of your psyche. So for my routine, I did draw on my own life and then had great fun playing and distorting it into, well a fiction. The character is a 50+ year old geezer (that'll be moi) looking back to his youth and the influence of punk rock. That much is true, as is maybe the character taking a slightly sad hypocritical, non-dewey eyed look at what he is now compared with the ideals of punk. But in doing so I exaggerate for comic effect a lot of that tension between then and now, (for example this character talks about no longer being able to pogo on account of a skiing accident, when in fact I have never been skiing in my life). I also bring punk ideals up to date in a way that is probably completely specious, in talking about them in the context of Trump's election and the influence of social media. The Jam get a hammering in the routine but at the time they were the band I saw play live more than any. Sham 69 getting a pasting is in fact representative of my true feelings about them.
In terms of the genesis of the routine, I was watching a live show by my favourite standup comedian Stewart Lee, who deconstructs his comedy even as he performs it (echoes with plenty of my own fiction writing). And in the middle of it - I can't remember the exact prompt - I started composing a routine about punk lyrics (I know, heresy to be writing material of your own when watching your favourite standup performing his act). I mean these were songs I've been listening to and occasionally singing aloud for the past 40 years, so I was able to put my hand on to their lyrical content and started imagining performing a running commentary on some of them. Added into the mix was a couple of twitter hashtag puns I'd made in the past when the hashtag is band or lyric themed and suddenly a whole routine was coming together. Was I really going to try and perform this myself, live in front of an audience? Well if it stood up to the test of me writing it out and it still seeming like a good thing then I already had the perfect open mic night for trying it out. So on my tube journey home from Stewart Lee I wrote out in my notebook what had been in my head in the course of that Thursday evening. On the Saturday I sat down to transcribe those notes and write a full version. Since that was completed by Sunday, I felt this thing was a goer. Now the only thing was to memorise it.
That is the main difference between performing comedy and reading prose live. You don't have the book/script in your hand. Now I'm used to acting out my own stories with gesture and expression, so that aspect didn't pose me an issue. But here I'd had to learn 1500 words perfectly, because as all good comics show, the exact word choice can be very important and funny in itself. So I rehearsed all week. At night with my head on my pillow, I went through the routine in my mind. Didn't get much sleep last week. But I managed to memorise it all and at the show last Friday was pretty much word perfect and raised a few sniggers and snorts from the audience. A couple of people came up afterwards and said they enjoyed the set. I don't think this represents a career change, but was both a really useful thing to do from a writing point of view and though I don't have a bucket list, I think it was something I'd always had a sneaking desire to do at least once.
One final point, I knew that if I was going to perform it live, I would also record a version back home to put on YouTube. Yet there is a huge difference between performing into a microphone where you only get one shot at it in real time and recording to camera where just a few hours after I'd been word perfect in front of an audience, it took about 15 takes just to get through the first 2 of 7 sections. There's is nothing quite like the prod of a microphone and an audience to keep you tightly focused.
So here is the probably one-off standup routine for your delectation and pleasure.
The songs referenced in the routine:
Sex Pistols "God Save The Queen"
The Clash "White Man In Hammersmith Palais"
Talking Heads "Psychokiller"
Ramones "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker"
The Adverts "Gary Gilmore's Eyes"
The Jam "Down In the Tubestation At Midnight"
Gang Of Four "Guns For Butter"