Tab Guide to doing a one man show

We met the men behind Beluga and Hippo Concerto, both on at Corpus this week

ADC beluga Comedy Corpus Playroom Footlights hipp concerto one man show
The Corpus Playroom’s Comedy scene opens this week with two one-hour, one-person shows: Theo Wethered’s ‘Hippo Concerto (A Stand Up Show)’  and Jordan Mitchell’s ‘Beluga‘.
Hippo Concerto is an hour of stand-up – with a twist, naturally; while Beluga is a blend of character comedy, physical comedy and storytelling. We spoke to them to get an insight into the experience of doing a one-person show.
Theo: I wanted to do a solo stand up show [because] I wanted to write and complete a show. When you do other stand up sets you just do a segment of time and try to make it funny, but with a show to yourself you have the chance to do much more creative stuff, try more daring material – you get to have a beginning, a middle and an end. There’s just a lot of room to do something more interesting.
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Jordan: I agree. One of the most enticing aspects of doing a solo thing is that you have complete creative control. With Beluga, my aim was to create a world that, although being quite absurd, sort of makes sense in its own way. I think it’s easier to do that on your own, because you follow your own logic, and then you use the audience to help you build it during the performance.
Theo: There’s also –
Jordan: And there’s no one to say ‘that idea won’t work’, which can be good and bad. It’s certainly very freeing, but when you collaborate, there’s multiple voices melting into one, which is perhaps more accessible to the audience because they balance each other out.
Having written almost exclusively with other people since I’ve been at Cambridge, it feels a bit like being a naughty child that’s finally allowed to try it their way. But then after a while you begin to internalise those voices, and rein yourself in. Because a child might think ‘I want spaghetti hoops for breakfast and I want to cover them in jam’, and if they’re allowed to, they’ll soon realise how weird that tastes.
Other times it feels like it works really well. I think honesty goes a long way in comedy, and if you present an idea that you honestly find funny, then it will often hit. In that sense an unadulterated idea can be quite charming.
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Theo: The shows aren’t entirely solo, I’ve had some help – Jordan’s looked over a lot of the show and been directing. Also him mum is my costume and set designer.
Jordan: You get to play all the best parts, but you also have to play all the worst parts. So there’s never a point where you’re offstage thinking ‘that looks really fun to perform’. But equally there’s bits where you’re thinking ‘I’m not so sure about this’. The spotlight is always on.
If a joke doesn’t work there’s no sharing out the blame, it was clearly you who wrote it. You thought it was funny and there’s no denying it. You have to own it. It also means you can’t do a costume change or take a break, so the energy has to be high.
Theo: But it’s worth it because –
Jordan: Yeah, and there’s no one to bounce off, both as a writer and a performer. Usually we find writing really fun and easy, because we just mess around in a room until we make each other laugh and then write it down. But when you’re on your own there’s much less of that energy. If you manage to make yourself laugh, then you find yourself sitting alone… laughing… And developing ideas is a longer, more demanding process – you’re often bouncing off something you wrote down a week ago, rather than someone in the room. Then when you’re onstage there are no characters to play off, so it’s about finding interesting, alternative ways to create scenes. Often I’ll try and create an imaginary character, or an object becomes a character, or I’ll play off the audience, which is really fun.