Kevin Bridges: How I learnt to be a stand-up comedian

He used to be too terrified to take to the stage. Now he’s making millions laugh every week...

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The first time I ever stood on stage I had just been sick. I remember making myself ill to get the day off primary school on the morning of my debut in a play about my hometown of Clydebank during the Depression.

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My mum and dad told me to stop being silly and to not over-react to a little bit of fun. The story, the characters, the script made no sense to me. The only line I can remember was the one that earned me my first laugh from a paying audience, “What do you mean you wonder… sure it’ll be steak, as usual” – a reply to my impoverished and malnourished classmate’s crestfallen enquiry of, “I wonder what’ll be for dinner tonight.”

Before high school I was a nervous, anxiety-ridden and overwhelmingly shy wee guy. The thought of even going to school in the morning had me in tears and trying to run away from teachers. So the idea of standing on a stage in front of a few hundred adults and fellow schoolchildren to deliver lines genuinely terrified me.

The first person I ever spoke to about stand-up was my brother John, when I was 14. John is ten years older than me, so I can only imagine how irritating a 14-year-old frustrated, creative little brother must have been. I was bored in my room one night and went in to annoy him, telling him I’d written some comedy routines.

He wasn’t interested. I remember him throwing a trainer at me – tough crowd. I went away and wrote myself a little script and returned to his room for my performance. I started by saying, “Good evening, good to be here” in a deliberately rigid – this is how comedians talk – delivery.

He started laughing, very much at me rather than with me. I punched him in the knee, in response to which John gave me my first-ever bit of feed- back – if you want to make it in comedy, assaulting people for laughing could prove to be a setback.

Comedy club

Aged 17, I performed stand-up for real, my anger management issues resolved, this time in a comedy club. I arrived with my dad, having been told I’d only be allowed on the premises if I was accompanied by an adult.

The bar staff had a printed email saying that there was an under-ager performing and under no circumstances was he allowed to consume alcohol in the venue. I had no script, really, so I used this as my opening line, “I just got sold a pint at the bar, so get it up ye.” “Get it up ye” being a Scottish version of “In your face” or a Nelson Muntz-style “Ha ha!”

It got a laugh and led me into a whole routine about being 17, being old enough to have sex but too young to buy porn. “You can no doubt tell by looking at me that I don’t get my fair share of the action – I’m not even allowed to watch the topless darts,” being one of my early crowd-pleasers.

My entire set was jokes about being a 17-year- old but then I turned 18 and I was snookered – should have seen it coming.

Since then my joke writing has evolved, but I always try and keep the raw, real-life edge to my material, with most of my routines firmly based on my experiences – which in many ways remain the best joke.

Crimewatch

“I saw a sign that said, ‘Have you seen this man?’ So I phoned up and said, ‘Naw…’”

“Naw” being no. This joke was just me and my mate watching Crimewatch. We heard the “Police would to like to know if anyone has seen this man…” witness appeal and he flippantly said, “No.” It was just a throwaway, half-listening to the TV, half- trying to stop his dog rip his couch apart remark — but about a year later, at a gig in Dublin, it came into my head before the show and I used it as an opening line — and it got a massive laugh.

I had to stand and wait on the audience to stop laughing before I went on and I think the long pause just made it funnier. I had so much time to think on the spot, so I added the line, “Tell them nothing. I might be a few things but I’m not a grass.”

Kevin Bridges: What’s the Story? is on Wednesday at 10:45pm on BBC1

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This is an edited version of an article in the issue of Radio Times magazine published 7 February 2012