What’s the point of stand-up comedy? No, really, why on earth do people do it? A friend of mine who’s given it a go called it “positively bowel-quaking” and compared himself to a Christian at the Colosseum when describing his gig experiences. Can the business of telling a few jokes to a roomful of potentially hostile patrons really be worth the frayed nerves and possible humiliation?
Well, yes, apparently it can, and one man who’s in the position to know is Ardal O’Hanlon, who’s been tickling ribs from Dublin to New York since the early 1990s. In fact, you can see him holding forth on Dave tonight, alongside one-liner merchant Gary Delaney and idiosyncratic comic Josie Long, in the first of a new series of Dave’s One Night Stand.
I had a chat with Ardal recently, whose enthusiasm for the medium was more than palpable, and he explained why he thinks stand-up’s both brilliant and, for those who get it right, addictive. Here are his reasons for pursuing a career behind the mic.
Sure, stand-up’s a bit intimidating to those not accustomed to performing, but if you can get over the stage fright, the rewards are plentiful:
“It’s fun! I think it’s a great way of making sense of the world and it’s very immediate. It can be quite exciting. It can be quite nerve-racking, but that’s part of the attraction. And the fact that it’s bitty by nature means that it’s not like writing a novel or a movie script. Stand-up’s something that, if there’s something in your mind that day, you can do it that night. It’s got that lovely immediacy about it and it’s very therapeutic.”
It sharpens you up
Hunter S Thompson once said, “By putting things in writing I can understand them and see them a little more objectively.” Apparently the same can be said of the stand-up comedian...
“It’s a type of amateur philosophising, I suppose. You can’t lose sight of the fact that [your act] has to be funny, but you have to be very up on current affairs and popular culture. It helps to be interested in some of the bigger social issues and so on. You don’t become an expert in anything, but you allow yourself to have a broad range of interests and be reasonably clued in with what’s going on, which I think is healthy.”
There’s no limit
Because a stand-up act doesn’t rely on collaboration or need approval from anyone, it means that a performer’s free to talk about whatever they’re genuinely interested in, no matter how controversial:
“For me, there are lots of things that are off limits, because I’m not interested in the subject or I don’t think I could do the subject justice. But if you can do it sensitively or meaningfully, or you’re genuinely expressing some outrage or whatever, that’s fine. You have to take each joke or routine on its merits. But there’s no reason why any subject is taboo – it’s just what you’re interested in. I have no interest in shocking people for the sake of shocking them; I think you have to be honest as a stand-up and do whatever you’re genuinely interested in. There’s infinite possibilities in stand-up, which is one of its attractions.”
You’re part of a community
Not only is it a perk of the job to feel like you’re part of a real-life movement - sometimes doing stand-up means you get to meet your idols:
“I did a gig a few years ago for Comedy Central in America, and I did a warm-up gig in a small club the night before and Jerry Seinfeld was on the bill. It was one of those open-mike nights where there are loads of people doing 15 minutes each, and he just walked in off the street in a pair of tracksuit bottoms. He got up on stage and did 20 minutes of great stuff and I had to go on directly after him, which was hugely intimidating, but it was a good story so I didn’t mind.
“One of the things that keeps me interested in stand-up is the opportunity to do stuff all over the world – not just New York, but doing festivals in Montreal or Melbourne, or wherever. It’s always exciting when you’re part of a big gang of comics. It’s just very exciting to be part of a scene, I suppose, and seeing what your peers are up to, and seeing new acts. It’s a good time to be a comedian.”
It’s cathartic and binds people together
If ever you’re feeling alone and irritated about life, stand-up will prove that you’ve got plenty of sympathetic comrades:
“It’s a great outlet for your frustrations. If the world was perfect, there’d be no reason to have stand-up, but because the world isn’t perfect, we need to try to pinpoint what’s wrong with it, and that’s where stand-up comes in. You put your finger on the pulse and express your frustrations, which you quickly find are shared by many others.”
Catch Ardal’s gig at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre on TV tonight at 9:00pm on Dave.