I don’t really force myself to write material, certainly not very often. Instead, I will automatically and reactively generate humour from some true-life encounter or brush with authority, incompetence, hypocrisy, absurdity, or other occurrence. It is not the best or most productive way to regularly come up with new bits, but I often find that I can come up with a series of related jokes from the back of one incident.
By way of illustration, the so-called “Gladiators” bit that has long been a staple in my set came about after my brother-in-law genuinely did some plumbing work for one of the former TV Gladiators. A couple of throwaway lines in conversation led me to realise there was potential, and with a little bit of development I had a short story that had a semblance of narrative, with nostalgia, observation, and absurdity thrown in. It remains one of my most popular bits, regularly drawing laughter from audiences and praise from comedians. In short, I don’t seek out areas and situations from which to derive comedy, I derive comedy from the things that happen.
This is how I fortuitously came to have some new material for my first gig at The Halt’s new material night. Having worried and wondered what the hell to do, and considered whether it may be time to try and develop the Jerry Generic character into something for stage use, instead I was blessed with a half-asleep telephone conversation with a friend. She called me up and invited me to join her and another friend on their morning run. Being back on something of a fitness kick, at the time anyway, I agreed.
The experience had humour to it, further throwaway lines that I was later able to adapt and use. It also introduced me to an almighty chest-cold caused by gulping in vast quantities of near-freezing air. Accompanying this brief dalliance with a new form of exercise, as I spent various days that week running alongside the canal in my neighbourhood, was an unexpected reminder of a former flatmate. On the third day, I glanced across one of the locks as I passed it, and unconsciously slowed as I noticed the bunches of flowers attached to the rails, at the centre of the gates. Suddenly I realised, or remembered, that this is the same canal where – further north – they once fished out an old flatmate and one-time friend of mine. It was cause for reflection, and on my other blog I have previously documented his legendary no-nonsense approach to ill-mannered customers.
Armed with an unforeseen slew of jokes about running, tied too to the then-topical news story about Olympian Oscar Pistorius, I found myself in possession of something worthy of a new material night.
The second part of my set would be a series of older jokes, including the resurrection of the “fish” bit from my very first sets, mixed with newer jokes and others that I have long been happy with but which hadn’t seen the light of day. All they needed was an audience willing to approve them, or not. They didn’t even need a big audience, which is fortunate because they didn’t get one. Aside from a few friends, some of whom had never seen me before, the usually-packed bar was barely a third full.
Not only that, but the twenty people populating the room were all standing towards the back, with no front row to speak of. This enabled me to start by imagining that we were all on a sinking ship, listing at such an angle that everyone had fallen down to that end of the room. The sinking ship was a useful metaphor, as it turned out, and I returned to it a couple of times during my set.
Being very out of practice, my delivery was affected by my lacklustre attempts at remembering my set, having opted to write a series of aide-memoires on my hand which I then largely read through. I also, as so often before, changed the order of various bits that I know well and interspersed additional related one-liners into an established routine – and then had to constantly remind myself what went where.
The lesson here, I believe, is to heed the advice given regularly and freely to all aspiring comedians – keep writing and keep performing, because as soon as you stop doing either you become very rusty very quickly. Luckily, I have some other gigs lined up for the near future. Time to get back on the horse.