The worst thing about stand-up comedy is what it can do to you as a person. For the most part, people only see the public faces of the acts they see on stage. They don’t hear the bitching, the whining, and the hateful comments that go on back stage and in the car. A lot of comics car share to save petrol money and it is on these late-night tours of the service stations of Britain that they show their true colors. I’ve heard comics speak of their “best friends” on the circuit in terms I wouldn’t employ in a discussion about Ian Huntley.
When you first start, it’s exciting. You get to meet a load of cool new people, make some friends, do some traveling, and see places you wouldn’t otherwise have a reason to visit. If you’re unlucky, you’ll bump into a self-important failed comic who runs a gig above a pub and thinks that this gives him carte blanche to misunderstand what you’re trying to do, to pull your fledgling act apart, to tell you exactly where you went wrong and how to fix it, and to make you feel like shit. You watched him MC the gig and he died every time he took the microphone. You wonder why the fuck this audience put up with him.
If you’re a young comic reading this: you WILL bump into these cunts, the people who can’t do what others can do and take delight in lording it over you because they hold the keys to a twenty-seat room above a real ale pub with a wooden fucking pallet for a stage.
Hardly The Comedy Store, is it? But these gigs, and these people, are everywhere in comedy. Watch out for them and treat them for what they are. If they don’t book you? So fucking what?
At first it seems like it’s an amazing community to be part of. Everyone seems so friendly and supportive. You honestly start to believe that “we’re all in this together” and that the friends you make on the circuit know what you’re going through and have your best interests at heart.
Most of them hate you.
They either hate you because you’re better than them or they love you because you’re not. Most comics are the most selfish, insecure people you could ever wish to meet, especially in the lower leagues. Sociopaths who delight in watching others fail and then damn them with faint praise. I would love to know what the people who shake my hand and hug me like a brother say about me when I’m not there. I may be depressed but I’m not fucking stupid. They don’t fool me any more.
Some people say that this par for the course. It’s called “earning your stripes”. Fuck off. These are the people who think Gordon Ramsey is a “legend”. You shouldn’t be able to make a living without being treated like shit and made to feel alone and isolated? Give me a fucking break.
You MUST guard against this. To quote Norman Stanley Fletcher, “try to remember who you once was (sic). Just keep a little bit of it intact up here.” You would not believe how easy is it to become like them. The first time you catch yourself laughing along at some poor first-timer who got ripped apart by some drunken cunt who just wanted to be the big man in front of his mates, remember this: that could have been you.
If you’re honest, it may very well have been at some point in your career. The odds are against you on this one. Remember how you felt? Standing up there looking stupid, the words catching in your throat, the sweat running down the small of your back. Remember going home and laying awake all night embarrassed, ashamed, and utterly, utterly alone? Remember the next day when you fronted it out and told your family and friends that you’d had a great gig? Remember that ice-cold feeling in the pit of your stomach even as you smiled and lied through your fucking teeth?
If you’re struggling to survive on this emotional roller-coaster and you find a fellow comic who is honest, humble, and supportive, hold on to them tight. Treat them well and allow them to treat you well in return.
There aren’t that many of you.