I am putting myself through it and today was my first trip to Glasgow this week. I was going to be performing at The Comedians at the King’s, the brain-child of John Moloney (as discussed on the podcast I did with him). Basically, fed up with the fact that the many older and more experienced comics on the circuit weren’t getting on Live at the Apollo, he thought he’d just make the show that he wanted himself. We all chipped in to help with the funding and bang, today the vision came to reality.
There is no broadcaster lined up at the moment, but the genius of this is that John and his team can take this finished product to them and hopefully the comedians who’ve put their faith into this idea can get their money back. And I’d never really complain about having too much work, even if in this case it was a pay to play - I was lucky to be asked and to have scraped into the required age range by a mere nine months, making me (I think) the youngest comic on the bill)
On the train up I was maybe mildly regretting not taking this day off, but I wanted to support this endeavour and also get the chance to get some stand up on the telly, which aside from Unspun hasn’t happened for a good half a decade or more.
I have already been at the centre of one happening this month with the remarkable Brian Blessed podcast, but I quickly realised that this was also something extremely special. Whilst TV are understandably always trying to find new talent, whilst keeping their old familiar talent employed, any comedian who has got to 50 and is still working on the circuit is, pretty much by definition, going to be excellent at what they do. They’ve not only had decades of experience, but are working in a job that has a self-policing system. You can’t tread water or hide at the back in the profession, or spend a day smoking on the staircase and hope no one finds you. If you are not getting the laughs, at least 95% of the time, then you don’t work.
And you haven’t got lazy and rich appearing on panel shows where most of your stuff is written for you, you can’t get by on people knowing who you are - every night, most of the comics on this bill, have to go out and prove to another group of strangers who don’t necessarily know who they are that they are funny.
OF COURSE THIS SHOW WAS GOING TO BE BRILLIANT.
It’s not surprising that TV executives hadn’t necessarily thought of this obvious truth, because it only really struck me properly tonight as I watched comedian after comedian (a couple of whom I had never seen before myself) smashing it in front of over 1000 Glaswegians. One of the guys told me he had performed to 8 people on Sunday. If you can perform to 8, then 1000+ is easy. Well, comparatively at least. I rarely get nervous, but I was feeling it as I stepped out on to the stage tonight. I had warned the producers how hard it is to get comics to stick to their 10 minutes when they are getting big laughs from a big audience. I assured them they’d have no problem with me. But in the end I did over two minutes more than I was meant to (partly because I was committed to a routine that I couldn’t properly exit until the end). I had failed to start my stopwatch and had no idea how long I’d done, but it felt a bit too much, so I went a bit too quickly and gabbled a bit as my brain simultaneously tried to tell me that I was going to forget the name of the act I had to introduce when I was done. But my brain was an idiot. Of course I wasn’t going to forget.
I loved hanging around with the comedians backstage. There was a proper sense of support and camaraderie and an awareness that this was something special. Some of these people have been working for four or five decades. What other industry would ignore that level of experience?
There is much to be done in show business in terms of promoting equality, but the problem at the heart of it all might well be the laziness of producers booking from the same pool of people. It’s understandable, of course, because the people that belong to that pool become big enough names to ensure viewing figures and box office, but there’s also an element where they are creating that appeal by having them on so much. Also if someone has proven they can do a job then it’s a risk to take on someone who might not be as good. But there’s also the danger of newer panel shows having nothing new to offer because they’ve got the same cast as the established ones. If there was a limit to the number of times the same person could appear on a panel show in a year, or if everyone agreed that if you were the host or team captain of one show, you couldn’t be the host or team captain of another, then the bookers would have to actually do their job, get out and find new people and a knock on consequence would certainly be a more representative sample of people.
Maria Bamford mentioned on the podcast on Monday that she was happy to take a back seat now that Lady Dynamite has finished and seemed to suggest that America was already attempting something along the lines of the above. Ultimately it would probably be up to the established acts themselves to turn down the offers and I can see why that would be difficult. Your spot in the sun might be brief and you have to try to make the most of it while people are interested. And maybe the answer is for everyone else to do what John and me are doing and just make our own shows and invite along the people that we think deserve the break. Because unlike the TV bookers (I am guessing) we are actually in the comedy clubs and venues and seeing what’s going on and talking to other comedians about who is breaking through.
None of this is ever going to be fair, but it’s good to see inroads being made. Would it be too much for the acts that have been established for years and who do two or three panel shows a week to tell their producers that they are only going todo one or two panel shows a week and that they should give the job to someone newer or not from the current pool. More diversity makes these shows more interesting and funnier anyway.
I don’t know what will happen with Comedians at the King’s, but even if it’s nothing at all (which I very seriously doubt) then it was still a miraculous night. John was totally vindicated and there were a dozen acts who got to prove, if only to 1000 people in Glasgow, that they were excellent at what they do.
Being a stand up comedian is the prize in its own right. Doing it your whole life is proof of your efficacy. TV exposure is not the end goal for people like the ones on the bill tonight, it is a way to bring more people to their stuff, maybe even lead to them being able to tour in their own right. But still, everyone likes to be told they are doing a good job every now and again. It was so great to see these hard-working comics getting the acknowledgment they deserve and the relief and happiness on their faces afterwards.
The audience stayed with the show throughout the night and three episodes were recorded. There are another three on Wednesday and if you’re in town I’d recommend you going along. It’s genuinely extraordinary.