Charlie Palmer – Everyone should try stand-up
This week, CHARLIE PALMER wants to convince you to give stand-up a chance.
Like many other people here, I turned up at Cambridge with a naively specific idea of how I was going to spend my three years here. I was going to get a first, play for my college football team, direct some plays and get a girlfriend. I knew that there were people who came here with the intention of doing comedy and being in the Footlights. As far as I was concerned, though, that sort of thing was the preserve of the prodigiously talented few who had been writing sketches since they were eight.
But then I drunkenly signed up for Trinity’s comedy society during freshers’ week. Two and a half years later, perhaps at the expense of the first, the football (although I have played a bit, I have the skills of Diana Ross combined with the fitness of, well, Diana Ross), the plays and the girlfriend, I’ve done about fifty stand-up gigs, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
It’s one of those things that seems so scary, so unattainable to those who haven’t tried it. Normal people couldn’t possibly come up with the kind of material that real comedians perform, and surely they aren’t “naturally funny” enough to perform it? It turns out that isn’t true. If you’ve ever spent half an hour in the pub coming up with puns about fish, or if you’ve taken the piss out of a stupid advert, or done an impersonation of Sean Connery, you could probably do stand-up. All you have to do is take the jokes you’re already making and extrapolate – add in extra details, related jokes, a stupid voice. Then all that’s left is to deliver it confidently and you’re there. Easier said than done, but not that much easier.
What I’ve loved most about stand-up is its lack of pretentiousness. It’s just you, on a stage, with a microphone, trying to entertain an audience. There are no rules. If you want to sing, you can sing. If you want to chat to the audience, you can do that. If you’d rather lie down on the stage and pretend to be a cat, that’s fine too. What you come up with is entirely your own creation, from start to finish. If your sole aim is to make the audience laugh, go for it. If you want to convey a more serious message, you can do that through comedy as well. I’ve never done anything so liberating.
The most common reaction I get to telling people I do comedy is “That’s really brave” or “I could never do that”. What scares people, compared to other art forms, is the lack of anything to hide behind – it’s just you, literally putting yourself in the spotlight, waiting to be judged.
And that’s what makes comedy so addictive. It’s incredibly difficult not to take criticism or a disastrous gig personally (it’s as if it’s you as a person, not just your routine, being judged), but when a show’s gone well there’s no better feeling. You feel like you could just head into town and talk a guy out of armed robbery before calling that girl who’s our of your league to tell her you’ve always loved her and, in that moment, in that mindset, everything would work out.
There are a hundred and fifty people leaving the ADC in a great mood and it’s you that’s done it. Not a character someone else has written, not a play someone else has directed. You’ve spent hours, days even, working out how best to make a room full of people laugh and it’s worked. I defy you to feel that buzz and not want to do it again.