On the Rocks Interview: Without a Punchline

So guys, what is Without a Punchline all about? Rory: Comedian Norman Sullens is just trying to do what all creative people try to do, create something that isn’t complete shit. […]

So guys, what is Without a Punchline all about?

Rory: Comedian Norman Sullens is just trying to do what all creative people try to do, create something that isn’t complete shit. (I can relate.) Ultimately I think it is about the cathartic power of laughing. There are some quite dark things in the play and the way Norman deals with them is to turn them into jokes. Now, whether this is the flippancy of a trivial man or a legitimate and admirable way to view the world is up for the audience to interpret.

Olly: I think for me the play is about a comedian’s true relationship with the audience, which isn’t what the audience might expect. Norman wants the audience to like him since he relies on their constant feedback when he’s working, but he also resents them for that in a big way. I think it also explores the irony of being a comedian: you have to be extrovert and larger than life, but by depending on constant audience reassurance stand-up can also be a symptom of quite deep insecurity.

Emma: A struggling comic, obsessed with writing the perfect act. His wife, who loves him despite everything and his mother-in-law, who absolutely hates him! Oh… and a doctor, who really isn’t very helpful.

Jamie: It is all about a Doctor and a Booming Voice. The other characters are irrelevant.

Lee: One man’s battle with some uncompromising inferiority issues and a debilitating bout of writers block.

Rory, were there any specific sources of inspiration?

Rory: There is a famous moment in Martin Scorsese’s film The King of Comedy (well it’s famous to me) where Robert de Niro, playing oddball comedian Rupert Pupkin, turns to a massive picture of an audience on his wall and simply performs to them. It was this idea of a performer summoning up an entire audience within his imagination (something we’ve all done. Nope. Alright. Just me then) so that the audience would exist inside the world of the play but only as figments of the protagonist’s imagination, that really got me excited. Other sources of inspiration? I know that comedy heroes of mine like Woody Allen and Stewart Lee will have found their way into the play somehow and in some mangled fashion. I can’t help that at all.  

I understand that you have written pieces of prose before, but that this is your first foray into playwriting. How have you found writing dialogue as opposed to prose – harder, easier? Do you need to bear different things in mind?

Rory: I’m finding it easier, much easier. In prose every time a character gets up from a table you need to find an interesting way of saying “he gets up from the table,” which can be really hard. I cannot stress that enough. Tears have been shed and hair has been pulled trying to make characters get up from tables. But in theatre these magical things called actors do all that work for you. I love them.

How have you found working on a piece with the writer?

Olly: It’s not my first time, as Joanna will remember from Acts of the Bedroom. You have to be sensitive to their vision for the text, like with all directors, but also take away your own interpretation of it in your character. There’s a balance to be had.

Emma: I feel privileged to be in Rory’s first play. I am loving the rehearsal process and think he is a fantastic director and writer. Watch this space. I hear Rory is writing his next one at the moment… Back off girls!

Jamie: It has been really interesting, originally I was worried that Rory would have a vision in his head about how he wanted it to be and that he would be very stubborn about it, but has very much allowed us to play with it and try different things to work out the best way to do things. He is obviously a very talented writer, but he has been equally adept at being a capable and adaptable director.

Lee: Simply too distracting, seriously have you seen Rory Mackenzie’s jaw line? I can barely control myself in rehearsals.

Rory: I have been an utter delight to work with.

If you think you can get your kicks at Without a Punchline, be sure to make it to Venue 2 on Wednesday night at 8pm for just £3. You can also buy tickets at Our Story café on Bell Street from 2-5pm.