How Not To Be A Stand-Up Comedian


One of the things that comedians have to face is that if you're funny in Liverpool and the next night you're in Manchester and they're not laughing then you're not funny. It doesn't matter if you were funny yesterday. If they're not laughing today then you're not funny, you've never been funny and you never will be funny. And there's no way you can convince an audience otherwise. 

I remember one poor comedian, dying a death, saying to a hate-filled audience, “You might not think I’m funny, but they liked me last night in Sheffield.” The people in the audience looked at each other, looked back at the comedian, then said as one, “Well, fuck off back to Sheffield then.”

A joke once popped into my head from wherever jokes come from. It went like this: “Cats can speak, you know. Oh yes. Cats can say the word ‘immediately’. Ask a cat when he wants its tea and the cat will say, “Naooow.”

I know. This is a crap joke. But let’s not blame the joke. There might be an occasion when that joke could actually be funny. Not that I can think of one. 

I’d got to a Polytechnic somewhere, back in the early 80s, where I was due to play a Student Ball. At two o’clock in the morning. Half way through a disco. The audience consisted of about eight hundred metalwork students whose principal idea of a good time was to inject liquid concrete into one another’s rectums and see how long it took to reach the brain. Also, the lager was free. I went on stage and my act was not going well. And I was doing what I always did in those conditions: Sweating. Talking faster and faster, swearing, my voice getting higher and higher, my eyeballs sticking out of my face like ping pong balls on sticks. Eight hundred metalwork students are looking at this sweating, swearing, bug-eyed maniac … and they can't make up their minds. Is he trying to be funny? Or is he just mad?

It was then I decided to tell the Cat joke. 

“Cat's can speak you know.”

And I’m thinking, “Not the cat joke. Don't tell these people the cat joke. These people don't care if humans can speak, let alone cats.” But I was stuck with it. I'd started. I had to finish. 

“Oh yes. Cats can speak all right. Fucking hell. I should say so. Fuck me. Oh yes. Cats can say the word ‘immediately’. Ask a cat when it wants its tea and the cat will say, ‘Immediately’. No! I mean – ”

At which point an eighteen-year fresher tugged the bottom of my trousers and said, “Could we have the disco back on please?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I had no control over these matters, and that we were stuck with each other for another thirty minutes. Or at least until the booing began. 

It didn’t take long.

The Freewheeling book is here © John Dowie 2013