How not to write a comedy show

jarrodbaker_470x270Every year it’s the same thing, more or less.

We reach the end of May; the comedy festival is done and dusted. Exhausted, I swear I’ll never go through THAT again – the last minute slog to get a presentable show together for the deadline I foolishly booked in months earlier; the anxiety that precedes the opening night of a completely untested, brand new solo performance; the post-festival crash.

Never. Again.

But as the months roll by I start to forget the difficult bits, remembering only the elation I felt when the opening night audience rewarded my efforts with their first burst of laughter. I think to myself that maybe I could do it again, but only if I have a good idea.

And then, in about September, I have a good idea. No: a GREAT idea. To my mind, anyway.

Of course for best results I should start working on the show right there and then… but I don’t. Instead I sit on it until the comedy festival application deadline looms. I hurriedly type it into a sales pitch for the festival staff… and I’m accepted (I’m pretty good at writing applications).

Of course for best results I should start working on the show right there and then… but I don’t. Instead I sit on it until the comedy festival itself is becoming uncomfortably close – close enough to spur me into action. Except in this case ‘action’ means that every night I lock myself into the room in my house designated as my office, and fuck around on the internet for several hours while pretending to write. And every night I go to bed guilty that I haven’t done more work on it. Sure, I’ve got plenty of ideas, and numerous hastily-scrawled notes, but there’s nothing even vaguely resembling a finished product.

People will repeatedly and inevitably ask me how the show is coming along, and it’s all I can do to hold back the FUCK YOU that rises, unbidden, in the back of my throat. Instead, I manage, through gritted teeth, to say “it still needs a lot of work” while hoping they leave it at that.

I begin to have fantasies of a catastrophic event that could befall me, thereby providing a legitimate reason for me to cancel, thereby saving my no doubt meagre audiences from the catastrophic event that will surely be my show.

Thankfully no such event arises. And eventually, begrudgingly, and way too late for comfort, I begin the actual work. Shutting down Twitter and Facebook and actually writing some damn comedy songs.

I end up down a few research rabbit holes – for some reason my brain insists that my “jokes” be based on “facts” instead of “shit I made up”, meaning that sometimes I’ll end up spending hours scouring obscure corners of the web without committing a single word or note to paper. And my musical ambitions almost always outstrip my musical abilities, meaning that I have to cut some stuff because I’m just not as good as I hope I am, and I’m too proud and too poorly socialised to ask for help or collaborate with others.

But finally, usually at the eleventh hour, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. The show is almost complete! Except it’s not, because it turns out that I’ve only written 40 minutes of a one hour show and I hurriedly need to write some more. So I do. Then I practice, practice, practice, all alone in my office, facing the wall, until I’m 100% certain that what I’ve written is the least funny drivel ever produced by a human being – and trust me, normally I’m well qualified to make that comparison, as I’ve experienced some truly fucking awful comedy in my time, not all of it made by me. But at least I know the show well enough to perform it, and it’s way too late to fix it now, so I go to the venue, and pack in, and soundcheck, and wait for the opening night audience to arrive.

And then it turns out to go a hell of a lot better than I was expecting. Passable. Good, even. Someone (a family member) will tell me that it’s the best show I’ve ever done. By the end of the season I’m feeling pretty great about the show, and looking forward to performing it. But as the applause at the end of the last show fades, so does my enthusiasm.

Exhausted, I swear I’ll never go through THAT again – the last minute slog to get a presentable show together for the deadline I foolishly booked in months earlier; the anxiety that precedes the opening night of a completely untested, brand new solo performance; the post-festival crash.

Every year it’s the same thing, more or less.

This year my show in the NZ International Comedy Festival is called We Are Doomed – Songs for the end of the world and it is true to its title in that it primarily features songs which are about the end of the world. It runs from 13 – 17 May at the Cavern Club in Wellington at 7pm each night, and I promise/hope that it will be funny and that it will be more or less finished by then, despite the fact that I wrote this when I should have been working on it. Please come along.

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One Comment

  1. Eesh, flashbacks to writing my shitty thesis. Excruciating.

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