“Yeah okay, I’ll do it I suppose”
With those words, spoken down a mobile phone whilst sitting in my student digs in 2002, my brief career as a stand up comic began. A local bar had set up a comedy gig which was being headlined by a local comic who had recently discovered the art. Whilst she was good to go it was decided she needed support acts. The gig organiser drank in the same bar that my flatmate worked at. My name came up in conversation as somebody who might be able to do it and when the phone call came I responded in a positive manner without having a great deal of positivity. I didn’t harbour any great desire to be a stand up comic in my youth which is an idea many people thought once I started doing it. I did not ‘perform’ in school to avoid being beat up as, regardless of how funny I was, I got beat up anyway. I did not enter stand up comedy because I had some kind of inner demon I had to do battle with. I did it because I fancied a go and I was young and dumb enough not to think about the consequences first.
I sat up late at night attempting to come up with something I could talk about for five minutes. A couple of years previously I had crashed my Mum’s car whilst driving from Carlisle to Gretna. Four cars were involved and nobody died (a key factor in using it as a source of comedy). It culminated in two Glaswegian handymen, whose van was at the front of this pile up, asking if I wanted a bag of Quavers a mere two minutes after impact. I was in a state of shock in my driver’s seat whilst they offered me cheese flavoured snacks. Plenty of other stuff happened too but the Quavers gag was pretty much what this was pinned on.
Cafe Sol in Carlisle was the scene of the crime (on Castle Street if you ever want to do the Cameron Phillips tour of Carlisle). Upon arrival I discovered that I wasn’t the only support act. There was another Mancunian student who was on the performing arts course at the time (so therefore used to stages, not like old Media Production me). He went first and opened his set with something along the lines of…
“Right, well…..shark attacks eh?”.
Out of context it sounds rubbish but, for some reason, he got a laugh out of it which was absolute fair play to him. I went up after and did the ‘car crash’ set. Let nobody tell you otherwise, the first thirty seconds of a stand up gig are the worst experience you can have as far as social interaction goes. You’re standing in front of all these people just hoping for some kind of level of acceptance. You’re hoping that the stuff you have lined up hits the mark because you’ve got nothing else. On that night, I got lucky because the build up to the Quavers gag went really well. I spoke at around a hundred words a second due to nerves but it made the performance more frantic. Once the first laugh ripples through the room then you’ve got something to build on and it feels fantastic. I was probably helped by the fact that I approached the mic stand to find it was set far too tall for me and I pretended to bang my forehead off it. Mics being set too high was a common theme throughout my short lived stand up career, I’m only 5 foot 6 in my trainers.
I got offstage to be greeted by a girl who pointed to her stomach and said “Your jokes made me warm right there” which I took as a positive even if she did seem steaming drunk. The main event came and went and we drank the night away, I went back to my room and sat up for a bit trying to wait out the adrenaline build up. It felt great, like something you can truly tick off the list of things you have to try in your life. Even to this day I can say yes to anybody who asks if I’ve tried stand up comedy. I’d made no money out of the gig but I had a great experience and proved to myself I could hang with it. I got invited back the month afterwards for more of the same and I, thinking I knew what was best, decided to write another set from scratch. Rather than attempt to improve on my set list from before I went for something completely different. My reasoning at the time was that I thought I’d be playing to pretty much the same audience so I needed something different. ‘Different’ became ‘random’ which gave rise to ‘weird’. It’s what became known by myself and my friends as ‘The Family Coconut Gig’.
Put simply, an elderly relative had decided to come up North to Scotland and present my Dad with a coconut. This was brought over by a family member who was fighting in the war and took it upon himself to keep a coconut he had found and bring it back to Britain. Obviously, in those days, it wasn’t a case of nipping down to Tesco to get such an item so this was held in great curiousity. By the time it had reached Gretna though it had become infested with various insects which aforementioned elderly relative was blissfully unaware of. My sister and I spent a whole afternoon trying to kill the bug with a variety of chemical sprays and powders. It was like Starship Troopers only much worse.
I took the coconut in a bag, produced it once I hit the stage and proceeded to talk about how it came to be in my possession and why generations of my family thought this was something worth holding onto. Once again it seemed to do okay, getting a few good laughs and hitting a few high notes. This was also the gig which featured my first heckler in the shape of a very drunk man who came in, walked to the front of the stage, raised his fist in the air and yelled “British Army!” before collapsing in a heap in the ground. He was something special indeed.
The first couple of gigs had me riding on a high cloud of wonderment. I had tackled stand up comedy and came out unscathed on the other side. I was considering a couple of offers with bookings and I was looking at going up to The Stand Comedy Club in Glasgow. It was then, whilst waiting for some footage to render in my college edit suite one day, that I pondered what to do next.
‘What Carlisle really needs right now’ I thought to myself ‘is a comedy night’. The sad truth is that I seriously thought I was the guy to supply this. What followed including lost iguanas, a mini war with the student newspaper, an interview by now Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton, a theatre in Cockermouth, story telling wizards, bad jokes about cancer, a gig in Edinburgh and annoying a field full of hippies.
It’ll have to wait for now though.