There’s a certain child like spirit that drives the imagination and creativity of comedians, who are more curious than most to find the silliness in everyday objects and behaviours to embellish them out on a stage to near perfect strangers, that makes one think are these people grown up in comparison to their audiences? The life of a comedian is more than often late evenings in habitats oozing with alcohol from dirty dens in Dingwall to the green room of the Hammersmith Apollo. When the Edinburgh Fringe comes calling, performers are lifted to celebrity status in a city that is partying to all hours for the whole of August. I was curious to ask a few highly regarded comics about how they exist in comedy today and how they’ve changed over the years because of their jobs or how life has changed their comedic direction. Jack Barry, one half of sketch duo Twins, is still in his twenties and his show this year High Treason, is an hour of anecdotes and musings about legalising cannabis. Stuart Laws has been doing comedy for over ten years but has a job that is perhaps too good to turn down to be a full time comedian, as one of the heads of Turtle Canyon Media and Turtle Canyon Comedy, he has produced a multitude of short films and sitcoms with some of the biggest names in comedy today. Stuart Goldsmith has been on the circuit for quite a bit now and hosts one of the most reputable podcasts concerning comedy, The Comedian’s Comedian Podcast. His Leicester Comedy Festival award winning show this year covers a bit about recent fatherhood.
What have been the main differences from going full time as a comedian compared to those whose lives are mainly nine to five?
I suppose the main thing that I separates me doing comedy from my other friends is Monday mornings. I’m never constrained on a Sunday to head home after a couple of pints like all the squares. I’ve usually been working on Friday and Saturday night while everyone else is out partying, so come Sunday I’d rather stay in the pub for a bit longer and sleep in Monday morning. I’m not sure if that shows that comedy has kept me young or if I just have a different timetable to everyone else, but it’s certainly a difference! I suppose I did quit the day job and start doing comedy, mainly because I couldn’t stand going to an office 9-5 5 days a week. I was miserable and knew I wouldn’t have been able to sustain it. The two jobs I’ve always felt my soul has yearned for were being a comedian or being a marijuana farmer. I’m not savvy enough for a life of crime, so until marijuana becomes legal in the country I only really had one option.
I’ve chosen to write an entire show about taking drugs this year, partly because I think legalisation is an important issue and partly because it would be great to be able to tell my parents that all the drugs I’ve taken in my life were research for work. And now taking drugs is a vital aspect of my job.
In what ways has being a comedian perhaps matured you?
In terms of growing up in ways I wouldn’t expect. I suppose I have to pay more attention to my taxes than I did when I had an office job? Back then is was all handled by some square in finance, but now I’m self-employed and have to sort my own tax. Luckily my dad’s and accountant, and helps me out, but he’s never been the kind of dad to just do everything for me, so I still have to do a bit of work. That’s definitely a very non-rock and roll aspect of being a comedian that I wasn’t expecting.
I suppose I’m slowly maturing as I get older, but it’s definitely not reflected in my comedy. I think deep down, everyone knows that the funniest things in the world are farts and dicks. When you’re younger you try not to talk about those things so people think you’re clever, but the older you get the less you give a shit and more you give into the temptation of writing nothing but toilet humour.
In the ten plus years of doing comedy, has it changed you as a person since starting out?
It’s definitely changed me, I have friends in comedy, I spend a large chunk of my life looking for funny things to talk about and I have to chastise myself when I go for a comedy response to an actual, genuine human interaction. In terms of changing me and what I value and the sort of person I want to be? Comedy has certainly shown me lots of examples of people I wouldn’t want to be like, or ways that comedy has brought out the worst in someone. I try to maintain a non-comedy life because having it swell over you isn’t pleasant, and doing comedy because you feel like you should is degrading.
How has your comedy matured over the years? Is there stuff you would never do now on stage since starting out?
When I started out I made some classic new act mistakes: cheap pull back and reveals along the lines of “and I said: Dad! Stop doing that!” and even a joke that used the word rape as a punchline in a way I would be much more careful about now. I also went through a period of time doing comedy about the mechanics of comedy, way before I was qualified to do that – I’m not even qualified now so 7 years ago it was an act of madness. That act of madness reached a zenith at the Green Man Festival in 2010 when a crowd of 700 people let me know how poor my meta-comedy was. The one thing I’ve gotten more comfortable with is having an opinion on stage, or on film. I will still agonise over wording and contextualising anything approaching serious as I’m terrified of being publicly shamed for an opinion I have that isn’t completely the correct opinion to have within my social media bubble. I also used to talk to the audience a lot more, I still do it but then I got better at writing routines and so didn’t have to lean on crowd work so much.
A perception for many audiences that the lifestyle of comedians are late nights and parties. How does your lifestyle choices perhaps differ from that and do you find a pressure of not being a part of the rock’n’roll side of it?
Most people in comedy strive to make it their full-time career. But you have a job that is maybe more interesting or hard to turn your back on. How have you juggled the two and has trying to be a full-time comedian ever been in your thoughts?
Ha, yeah, I have a full-time job that is definitely more hours and work than a full-time job and then stand up which is probably more than a part-time job. That’s too many jobs, I should be opening up the job market and letting other workers have the opportunity to do at least a percentage of my jobs. I run a production company and we’re about 50% corporate filmmaking and 50% creative filmmaking, including comedy. So I feel that it’s a complementary couple of jobs – I do stand up comedy and it makes me better at writing and directing films. It certainly gives me an understanding of how comedy works for a broad range of people – I get the instantaneous response to my writing and I can then use that to know whether something might work in a film. It also helps me to understand other comedians or writers, I’m making films and knowing the creative process that got the script or idea developed in the first place. I’ve also done some sweet acting before, which I think has helped me to understand how to direct performances. I mainly just really enjoy it all, that’s why I’m doing everything I do: would really hate to think that I hadn’t tried something that looked fun because I was a bit busy.
What big changes did you make, if any, did you make when becoming a father?
Well the obvious one is time. There’s much less time available to me in which to write, and what time there is I now feel very guilty for squandering on art when there’s a small boy who wants to hang out with me!
I suppose the biggest change I made was to start trying to work smarter. So for example rather than give hours per week to the writing of my new show, I’ve tried to “Tim Ferris” my working life, and use shorter more intense bursts of work. I’m writing far more onstage now too, as well as in the car. The bit I was really unprepared for was the time that one spends with one’s child IS one’s allotted free time. Although it can be very demanding, it can’t be written off as a day’s work, after which you deserve a pint and some telly. If you played with him for an hour, that was your time off, so get back to work mate.
How has having a family affected you in terms of being a jobbing comedian and also as a performer?
I used to do it all for myself! Now I do it a bit for myself, but mostly for two other people. Which is weird given that comedy started off as an inherently selfish job. The lifestyle used to be all-encompassing and feel like a calling; now it’s something that often gets in the way of spending good family time at e.g. a Saturday neighbourhood barbecue. I can’t help but visit some of the negative aspects of the comedian’s lifestyle on my family.
Being on the road used to be a slight hardship that made me feel like I was earning my stripes, now it’s a time-thief which takes me away from my baby… but it’s also a rare opportunity for some time to myself, to catch up on half-understood American politics podcasts.
Has it changed the way what you write or made you feel more relatable to audiences with kids?
My life is a lot harder now; I have more to complain about, which helps for comedy. Also there is something about becoming a dad that feels very adult, and I think gives me a greater insight into the stresses and hangups of my audiences. Anyone can glibly say to a heckler “hey pipe down, the people around you have paid for babysitters” but once you’ve paid for a few babysitters yourself, it means a lot more to you! You also get much more of a sense of how real people live. For someone like myself who always managed to swerve having a real job, parenting is a greater connection to the majority of the room. Same with getting older. I could cheerfully punch the next person in their twenties who laments the loss of their youth onstage – which means I’m in the same camp as much of the audience…
As a younger comedian or man, what would you look back on and think you’d never do that now?
Well politically there’s lots of stuff because of the speed of our discourse about fairness. I have a perfectly good comedy album from 2012 that I can never release because the big reveal punchline at the end boils down to basically a fat joke, and I’ve moved on from that in terms of my social conscience…
Also I didn’t realise until too late that the industry fetishises youth; if you’re a young comic and you’re good and also ambitious, you may not realise that your youth can be a weapon you can wield in the pursuit of your goals. People always said “it’s a marathon not a sprint” and that’s true, but if you really hit the ground running you might get more opportunities to train with better coaches…