It’s just two little words. Or “That was good” would do. Sometimes that’s all it takes to keep you going when you’re starting out in stand-up. You’re doing every unpaid open mic gig you can get booked for, playing to single figure audiences made up of mostly other comedians and one night, you find yourself on the same bill as someone further up the ladder. Maybe they’ve been on TV or they’re a headliner on the circuit, that you really admire? They’ve arrived in time to see your set and when you come off stage, they’re kind enough to say something encouraging. Just as you’ve been thinking you’re getting nowhere, someone who does this for a living says you were good or that they liked a joke or even liked your whole set. The thing is, it might not mean much to them but in some cases it can give a new comedian the fuel to keep going for another 6 months. It’s such a simple thing and it doesn’t happen as much as you think. Often the headliner will turn up just as they need to go on or wait in the green room looking at their phone. They do this job nearly every night so watching another open mic comedian isn’t always the biggest priority for them. But sometimes they do.
I remember doing a compilation gig in Edinburgh a number of years ago. I’d only been doing stand-up a couple of years and I was on the bill with a well-known comedian who’s work I really admired. After my set, he came over and said he really liked my material. He didn’t have to do that, but it made my week in Edinburgh to know that someone I respected and thought was incredibly funny, rated me as a comedian.
So, if you’re a veteran comedian and you’re on the bill with some new comics, just remember the power that position gives you. A few words may not mean much to you but they can mean the world to someone just starting out. Unless they’re shit. Don’t tell them they’re good if they’re shit. Please. Otherwise it’s another shit comedian in an already crowded market. In fact, the market is too crowded for any more comics, good or bad. We don’t need them. So, probably best to just say nothing. Fuck it. Forget I said anything.
Written by Christian Talbot. Illustrated by Lise Richardson. Article originally published in issue one of The Independent Comedy Appreciation Magazine, May 2018.