Ben Keenan is an aspiring stand-up comedian and comic actor from Northern Ireland, living in London for 15 years. Here, he tells us what all that means in reality.
So I’ve been asked to write a wee blog about what it’s like to be a stand-up comedian in London at the minute. So here goes…
1. Writing. The hardest part of comedy in London, or anywhere in my view, is the writing; coming up with that magical little nugget that you just know will go down a treat and hoping none of the ‘seven million’ other comics have thought of it first, but when you’re self-conscious like me it’s even harder as you self-edit every idea and thought until you’re staring at a blank screen on the brink of tears (again maybe it’s just me). Sometimes you’ll come up with a joke or a sketch and you’ll think eureka!( or another cooler word), write it down, come back to it the next morning and declare yourself mentally ill for ever thinking you where funny. This is where you really need to dig deep and carry on, or spend time with that mate that laughs at everything you say. It helps. But when you do find that perfect gag and you deliver it and the room erupts, my friends there is no greater feeling than that instant gratification you feel. It’s addictive, and it’s why I continue going back for more. Like a sad junkie….
2. Finding your voice or USP. I know. that term really makes what is essentially an art form seem more like a business plan on a power point. Yuk. But in London it’s so important you have a clear(ish) idea of who you are as a comic as it’s a saturated field, be you a one liner type or the observational kind, or, like me, an anecdotal comic with a penchant for accents and mimicry (official definition). When I first started writing comedy I wrote about growing up (albeit) briefly in Northern Ireland and witnessing crap the IRA did. The poor audience didn’t know whether to laugh or give me a cuddle and a Valium, luckily they did both! As a child I was hooked on Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams and Richard Pryor, no big surprise there. But it was their ability to take on different accents and characters that made me want to be a comic, to imitate my teachers and manipulate my accent would stop bullies and impress girls. It was an easy life choice from that point.
3. Assumptions. Everyone thinks if you’re a comedian you’re a happy go lucky Harry Hill type. Wrong. There are a lot of miserable s.o.b’s on the open mic scene. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps they aspire to be the next Jack Dee or they’ve long ago realised it’s a flooded scene with little realistic hope of advancement unless you really commit or you are lucky to have a funny voice like Josh Widdecombe.
4. Reality. The reality of the open mic circuit is that it can be a highly competitive and sometimes extremely cliquey scene. Certain nights have become like a clubhouse for select comics to go and hang out together and chat while other poor comics are onstage spilling their guts metaphorically and literally. It can be very dismaying. Most though are really encouraging and can be a great place to make new friends and broaden your comedy connections and most importantly try new material without the fear of being heckled or bottled by a baying mob of pissed up angry punters. They’re super cool and fun.
5. Perseverance. Okay so I was talking s**t when I said that writing was the hardest part of comedy in London. No, it’s most definitely not quitting after a rather sh**ty gig in a sh**ty pub with a sh**ty MC who forgets your name and spends 20 mins between each act trying in vain to be funny. D**k. Knowing that there are 16 other ‘’comics’’ on the bill including at least seven whose workmate said it would be a crime if they didn’t try stand up. Thanks workmate. It can be so demoralising playing to a room of three people a night after playing to a room of over a hundred. But what you must remember is most will fall by the wayside. So stick at it, Timmy! Don’t.
6. Hobby or career. I think a lot of young comics starting out think they will make it big in comedy or at least make a living from it. Sadly this is very far from the truth. The current comedy mafia simply won’t allow that. Time will tell I suppose.
For now I’m enjoying myself, I’m headlining more and more gigs, getting more stage time and once in a while I even get paid. This year I’ll be up in Edinburgh for the first time and I hope it will be the catalyst into the only career I’ve ever wanted, well that and being a rock god. Same rules apply really. Work hard, don’t be a d**k to anyone. And above all, make people laugh. And throw panties. Simple.
Get the latest in new talent and current touring comedians at Ticketmaster.co.uk/comedyguide.