The Useful Agony Of Doing New Material

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Going out on stage with new material, some of which you know is destined to fail, is a difficult thing to do. I often think it would make life easier if I wore a flashing neon sign above my head. A massive, literal disclaimer which read DANGER: UNTESTED MATERIAL AHEAD. GO SLOW. It’s tempting to say to friends/family/audience members, “Listen guys this may well be shit and I’m fully aware that a lot of it won’t work so please don’t judge me yeah? Please don’t walk out of the theatre or walk out on me, please don’t leave me, I’m sorry I’m not doing a proper job, I know it’s weird to still be doing this, I’m sorry it’s not good YET but it will be and I’m sorry I’m so apologetic and neurotic but I honestly didn’t used to be yeah? It’s this. It’s doing this. D’you know what I -? Why are you walking away from me? What d’you mean you just came in to get a drink…….? ”

Some comedians take a different approach to new material and go out on stage with script in hand. Sometimes when Jimmy Carr is testing new material he simply reads each joke from a clipboard and monitors then and there whether he gets a laugh or not. This is very sensible. It means he doesn’t have to get stressed about remembering lots of new lines and it makes the audience relax if some things fall flat. They know it’s all just part of the process. But this is harder to do if you’re a character comedian. Unless you are very self referential and come out of character a lot (a few people are and it can work brilliantly if this is your style but it’s pretty rare) it can’t really be done. A character wouldn’t get up on stage with a script unless he or she were actually the character of a comedian or an actor you see…..

So really, as a character comedian, you just have to grin and bear it. You have to step out bravely with your new words in your cloudy head and just do your best. That’s all you can do. And when you play back the audio the next day and slice up the script and cut lines which bombed it’s a good idea to try to be kind to yourself. This is easier said than done but it’s essential if you’re going to keep going. Be generous to yourself and acknowledge that it’s the first step and that everything and everyone has to start somewhere.

It’s a tricky thing to fail. Trickier still to fail publicly and by choice. Improvisation teaches that failure is absolutely fine, but improvisation is a meadow of sunflowers and laughter through accidental discovery, compared to the arduous task of actively trying to write sentences which are funny. I do my best to remember the Improv ethos as I step out on stage with freshly written words as it is very valuable when you do (inevitably) forget your brand new lines or get a different response from what you were expecting. Still, there are some things which Improv can’t solve. Mistakes are a gift in improvisation, but when you’re trying out a comedy script for the first time, if you fluff the rhythm of a punchline it is not a gift. Unless it is a gift of poo through the letter box of your mind.

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One thought on “The Useful Agony Of Doing New Material

  1. Pingback: Susan Harrison – The Useful Agony Of Doing New Material | Rogues & Vagabonds

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