Originally not aired on ??/??/????
What makes someone do comedy?
It’s an absolute grind, especially in the first few years. You travel hundreds of miles for gigs, multiple times a week, for 10 minutes of stage time, and – if you’re lucky – a bit of petrol money. You get home late and rise early the next day to go to work at your full-time job, where you’ll spend the day barely able to function due to lack of sleep, walking around like a zombie. Not so much burning the candle at both ends, as sticking the lit-candle into your eyeballs and burning out your retina just to snap you out of your comatose state.
Then there’s the emotional toll it takes on you. You can smash it one night and feel like you’re in touching distance of Live At The Apollo, then the next night you can die on your arse and feel worthless, like you’re the worst person ever to have stood in front of an audience, and that includes Hitler and Stalin – at least they knew how to work a crowd.
And then on top of all the gigging and holding down a job and worrying you’re worse than the 20th century’s most evil totalitarian dictators, comedians now have to be entrepreneurs with social-media and public-relations expertise. They have to spend what spare time remains carefully cultivating an online brand. Some even release their own unrecorded podcast that takes them hours to write every day, just to increase their reach.
How is this a thing that people go into? But even more bizarrely, you won’t meet many comedians who view it in these terms. Most comedians I speak to are just focused on getting more gigs and improving. They all seem so determined and hard working. Why?
One person who has a theory as to why people do comedy is today’s guest, Hannah Weetman. 23 and less violent than she looks, Hannah is gaining a reputation on the circuit for her prickly punchlines and say-it-how-it-is persona. Hannah has eight months experience in comedy, which is a massive achievement for someone who started in April, and she told me that’s she’s never been happier.
“I love it,” she said. “Getting up on stage is so addictive.”
“What about it?” I asked.
“But why’s that good?”
“Because it makes people happy.”
I sighed, not quite happy with her response. Most of Hannah’s stand-up set is about how her face looks like the moon (it really really does), and with her bland, clichéd responses I was beginning to worry that she too was made out of cheese.
“No, but seriously, Hannah, why do people do comedy? I can’t figure it out.”
“Well, if I’m honest, Eric,” she said. “I think every comedian has something horrifically wrong with them. And the reason they do comedy is to make up for it.”
Now we were getting somewhere. Her giant moonface was causing the tides of the conversation to change.
“And what’s the thing that’s wrong with you?” I asked.
“Irritable Bowel Syndrome.”
“What’s funny?” she said.
“Oh, I thought it was a joke.”
“No, it really does cause me a lot of grief. I honestly think it has a massive influence over what type of person I am.”
“I suppose I can’t argue with that,” I said. “Is there anything else that you think has driven you down this path?”
“My brother. Definitely.”
“He was better than me,” she said. “Well, still is. He’s smarter, more athletic, better looking. He’s the golden child of the family.”
“So you almost feel like you have to compensate with comedy?” I asked.
“At first it was like that,” she said. “It was about trying to show my parents that I have worth too. But now it’s about embracing being shit. In comedy, if your life is shit and you’ve had a bad day, then you can talk about it and everyone laughs. You just go up on stage and say ‘I’ve had a right palaver today’ and everyone laughs.”
It was an interesting point. Maybe comedy is a way of inverting the normal hierarchies. The socially awkward, the spotty, the unwashed, the people who look like the moon – suddenly on stage these people are more interesting than life’s traditional winners. The biggest losers become the biggest winners. People who have no right to have anything to shout about become heroes. Maybe that’s what makes people sacrifice so much to pursue it. I like this way of viewing it.
When I think about my own story, it’s not so different from Hannah’s. At school, my best mate Josh was much cooler than me. He was better with girls, better with boys, and Sports Day might as well have been renamed Josh Day the amount of cheap Wilko-bought 1st place medals he’d have round his neck by the end of it.
But I was funny. I made self-deprecating jokes and people liked it. In fact, I suspect some people found themselves more drawn to me than Josh. Good looking, gladiator types can be intimidating. There’s something endearing about someone saying they’ve had a rubbish day and they’ve got Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I certainly felt drawn to Hannah and not just because of the gravitational pull of her moonface. I just felt comfortable around someone who’s willing to make light of their flaws. Maybe this is why people sacrifice so much for comedy, because of the way it can turn weakness into strength like no other profession I know of.
“What if our lives become too good, Hannah? What if we become successful and cool”
As she was about to respond, I went to take a sip of my gingerbread latte but completely missed my mouth, causing the delicious beverage to spill all down my jumper.
“I don’t think that’s gonna happen, Eric.”
Tune in next time!