Comedy Cues #1: Angela Barnes
Many a Comedy Chord reader and many of our writers are budding comedian so we took it upon ourselves to ask established comedians for tips of the trade that they have picked up on the circuit. We’ll be providing a series of these articles and hope all budding comedians find something of help here or that convinces them not to throw in the towel.
To start the ball rolling comedienne Angela Barnes kindly offered five useful tips she’s learned from working the comedy circuit. Here’s what she had to say:
5 Fings wot I have learned in my short time on the circuit
1. Never forget how lucky you are to be paid to be a comedian. It’s a brilliant and ridiculous way to make a living. I believe I will spend my entire career waiting for the tap on my shoulder and someone telling me “there’s been a terrible mistake”. If comedy was your first job out of education, well done you. But most of us have lived a bit of life first. Whenever I find myself moaning about the travel, or the isolation or not getting booked for something, I remind myself that at least I am not attending a team meeting in a soulless conference room on a sunny Friday afternoon with people I hate. And I get over myself. Quickly.
2. If you want to make friends in comedian car-shares or green rooms, NEVER talk about: gigs you have smashed, all the attention you are getting from promoters/tv people/fans etc or how VAT registered you are. Remember, schadenfreude is the new comic’s best friend. Tell a story about your most humiliating death, how you royally embarrassed yourself (without slipping in a humblebrag, no “It was terrible, I almost tripped up on my way onto the stage at Live at The Apollo”), or how you are struggling to make ends meet, and you will have comedy friends for life.
3. Don’t panic when a comedian tells you they spend 8 hours a day writing. They are either a) lying, or b) the sort of person who can do that. I used to get into such a state over the tyranny of sitting at a blank page/screen. Then I realised that that is just not how I write. Not one of the things I have written has come to me when sitting at a desk. There are a million ways of skinning the comedy rabbit. Find the one that suits you, and don’t worry your pretty little head about the others. Do talk to other comics for tips, but bear in mind you can’t and won’t use all of them.
4. Select the advice that you take very carefully. Everyone that sees your set will have an opinion on how they think it could be improved. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are not. Trust your instincts. Peoples’ opinions on comedy vary as much as their taste. Just smile sweetly, say thanks for the advice, then decide later whether to ignore it or not. This is, of course, rock solid advice right here.
5. Don’t be a dick. Be someone that people want to work with. Before you say anything to anybody that works in a comedy club, say to yourself “if I were them, would I think I was a dick for saying/asking this?”. If the answer is “probably”, then don’t say it. Be punctual, don’t run over your time, be polite to EVERYBODY, say your goodbyes and thank yous when you leave, and DON’T BE A DICK.