It surely has to be a mother’s worst nightmare – her son coming to her and gently breaking that devastating news.
No mother wants that for her child. It’s a mother’s job to protect him; it’s a mother’s job to steer him through the perilous hormonal sea of adolescence; to teach him how to navigate around the submerged rocks of drugs dependency, unprotected sex, and Peugeot 205 ownership; to help him stand firm as identity confusion swirls around him until he reaches the safe harbour and calmer waters of adulthood.
But you learn he has chosen another path, one upon which he will undoubtedly face ridicule. Finger-pointing. Abuse.
Let me grip your hand in mute terror as I tell you my son … wants to be a stand-up comedian.
Which is why, dear Surfer, last night we found ourselves at The Laughing Bear Comedy Club in the Henry Travers Studio at The Maltings Theatre. The spirit of research, see? My son is psyching himself up to audition for Cambridge Footlights so what better way to prepare than watching those further along the comedy path ply their trade?
The Laughing Bear Comedy Club (presented by Ha Ha Hearty Comedy & Red Hot Comedy) appears at The Maltings, Berwick-upon-Tweed on second Saturdays of selected months. It’s a great idea – an evening of up-and-coming stand-up acts in a relaxed and slightly blootered atmosphere. There’s very little like it between Newcastle and Edinburgh and the thought of Berwick participating is, well, bloody exciting actually. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to say, “Jongleurs, schlongleurs.”
But research is a funny thing. It can either lead you down avenues wondrous to behold or confirm your worst nightmares. It can exalt or cast low; buoy or send you to the bottom in concrete overshoes.
Oh, you so know where this is going …
To be fair, an unnamed source informed me that there were last-minute changes to the line-up – Gus Lymburn, Nathan Thompson, Les Sinclair, Sir Reginald Tweedy-Duffer, and Tony Jameson – with Gus Lymburn being called up for hosting duty at the eleventh hour and Tony Jameson stepping into the position of headline act. Late changes often unsettle the energy of a show, altering rhythm and dynamic, and sadly last night was no exception.
I’ll start by eliminating Nathan Thompson from the line-up as the same source mentioned that this was Nathan’s very first public performance. Eek. Nathan is a ‘psychological illusionist’. Think Derren Brown, then stop it.
It’s fair to say Nathan still has a lot to learn and I don’t think a comedy show is where he should learn it, and certainly not as the first turn – somebody’s very poor planning. The expectations of the audience were confused, meaning it was harder for Nathan to connect with us. Better luck next time, Nathan, and my advice? Dress your age; that suit must die. Also remember that your tricks not coming off is less important than how you deal with it.
I’m going to gloss over Shetland-based Les Sinclair and Secretary of State for Youth Affairs, Sir Reginald Tweedy-Duffer. Les had some good lines poorly delivered, while Sir Reg needed to invest in some originality – a passing resemblance to Iain Duncan-Smith is no longer enough to base an act on; time to update. There were a few chuckles but nothing more than that, leaving plenty of time for tumbleweeds to roll unhurried across the stage accompanied by the gentle scratch of toes curling.
In their defence, we were a weird audience. Weird. But Berwick audiences always are, aren’t they? We’re quiet. We watch. Evaluate. This gives us time to form grudges. We silently tick items off a mental ‘Things We Know & Like’ list before deciding whether to unfold our arms and let an act in.
What a relief it was then whenever Gus Lymburn stepped on stage.
Time after time he had to restart the audience’s heart after we’d coded. Time after time he managed to find a pulse and bring us back to life. An excellent ad-libber, he deftly headed off the bid of a drunken Glaswegian couple to mount a heckling coup from behind me, the litmus test of a real stand-up.
Then lasting relief was found in the headline act, Tony Jameson.
Looking like the love-child of Aslan and a PDSA mascot, his self-assurance and likeability enabled the audience to relax and finally start laughing. He knew he had a lot of ground to make up but took it all in his stride, without a whiff of the desperation he surely must’ve been feeling by that time. Quirky with an easy touch, he’s not quite the finished article – the second half of his set needed a bit more spit and polish – but definitely one to follow so at some point in the future you can say, “Yeah. Like, I was there.”
Comedy is brutal; an unforgiving business. It’s not like am-dram where it doesn’t matter if you’re a bit pants. Members of the audience will still come up to you afterwards and lie to your face that you were “really, really” good.
But stand-up? There is no harder craft to learn. You can’t duck the basic fundamental – if they’re not laughing, you’re dying. There is no compassion to be found in the heart of a comedy gig audience, and looking for it is futile. They are there to laugh so, beginner or not, you better bloody make it happen or be subject to a silence so profound it’s like the end of the world has come early in a Prius.
Would I recommend you catch Hale and Ha Ha Hearty Comedy & Red Hot Comedy’s Laughing Bear Comedy Club?
Definitely. Yes, the quality of material is hit-and-miss and ability swings wildly. But what all the acts have in common is the most amazing courage. Go, be entertained and humbled in equal measure, and let’s give Berwick a reputation for encouraging comedy talent and bravery wherever it is found.
And as for my son? He left the gig feeling terrified.
Which was nice …
(Catch the Laughing Bear Comedy Club at The Maltings Theatre, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, on 10th Sept, 8th Oct ’11, & 11th Feb ’12)