Monday, 5 March 2012

Stand-up comedy courses in London - Good or bad idea?

Stand-up comedy has seen an explosion in popularity both as a potential career and as an extreme passtime in recent years, it has been heralded as the new rock and roll, with our top comics selling out sports stadia nationwide and their DVD & autobiography sales in the hundreds of thousands, the potential for rock star earnings has been noted, a growing number of hopefuls desire a piece of that cake

The wonderful 2007 movie The Bucket List seem to have inspired a generation of people with lists of challenging THINGS TO DO BEFORE I DIE a lot of these are extreme adrenaline rides like bungee jumping, paraglidng, mountaineering etc. Public speaking and indeed stand-up comedy are regularly listed in the TOP TEN MOST TERRIFYING things to try, subsequently, box ticking bucket listers and comfort zone pushing adrenaline junkies seem to make up a large percentage of folks who pay for a comedy course because they just want to give stand-up a single try, more than 60% of stand up comedy course graduates complete the showcase performance at the end of their few weeks course, tick the box on their list and never desire that solitary space in the spotlight again, a further 20 odd percent do a handful of open-mic gigs and then quit, but the remainder who get the bug go on to make up the bulk of new acts on London's burgeoning open-mic stand-up comedy scene, a community of approximately 300 regularly performing new acts seeking fame and fortune being funny

Should I just start gigging or do I need to go on a course?

Another one of those frequently recurring questions amongst newbies on the London open mic scene is "should I go on a stand up comedy course?" or indeed "which stand up comedy course should I go on?"

Like many of the most important questions the simple answer is "what do you think you need?" it really is horses for courses (no intentional pun I promise) and only you can be the judge of what you need

Over the past couple of years I've done more than one of the "beginners" or "introduction to" stand up comedy courses in London and indeed have gone on to do an advanced course on writing for stand up too, from my own perspective I'm sure that going on these courses has been helpful over all, mainly because I'm the man of many voices and countless characters I have problems trying to find my own voice as me, I also have a tendency to over intellectualise, my first stand-up course was envisioned as a remedy to a mental block I had, you see, I first attempted stand-up as an 18 year old kid in a working mens club in a post-industrial Northern town, in the late 1980's club comics told traditional "Jokes" these were often shared amongst comics who rarely wrote their own, this makes me sound dated but I recall seeing a regular JOKES LIST being passed around on Telex paper! I gigged at a few variety nights, ran out of jokes they'd not already heard, did a few impressions, the gigs were tough, confrontational, often violent but with the benefit of hindsight an incredible experience, after being hit in the face by countless flying ashtrays I soon quit and over the following decade took more of an interest in character comedy, sketches, voice acting & impressions

So 22 years after being ushered out of the back door of the Tivoli by the bouncer and saved from a mob of 200 redundant mine workers I wanted to return to stand-up, a completely different world to the one I left behind in Rotherham in 1987, now a 40 year old in a huge, cosmopolitain and politically correct city my challenge was firstly to stop defaulting to the character comedy I had so comfortably dabbled in for the previous decade, I wanted to do straight stand up, as me and not some whacky character, I wanted to do "alternative comedy" not gags, puns or traditional jokes, I wanted to notice things and tell stories, go off on surreal flights of fancy, riff with audience members in jolly banter, bring them the gift of laughter and be loved and appreciated by my adoring public

Why do you want to do stand up comedy?

My first comedy lesson was part of a 6 week course with The London Comedy Course, I was one of 12 potentially funny people all with different stories, our tutor Harry Denford is a working comedian who is also into serious acting, it was reasonably priced at under £200, most of lesson one was spent fumbling with microphones and mic stands learning "Mic technique" this turned out to be quite frustrating, I always want to be behind a mic stand and have two hands free to gesticulate, most courses teach you to immediately move it to one side of the stage and take the mic in your hand, in any event the main thing I got out of lesson one was quite a profound series of questions Harry asked us, they were along the lines of


Your answers to these three key questions will be the guiding light on you comedy journey, determining your motives and drive will help you focus and understand what you're playing at, it may help you chose the type of material you write the stage persona and delivery style you adopt, I would heartily recommend this kind of soul searching to anyone starting a comedy journey

We had homework, we were given a random item out of a catalogue, earrings in my case, then sent off to write material on that subject, tough! I wrote a heap of drivel, most fellow students didn't laugh much, I later tried some material about divorce that just came out as an angry rant, I remember delivering it with irate passion to a sea of worried faces, then once I'd finished Harry asking "was anyone else a bit disturbed by that?" another valuable lesson I learned was "This is not therapy" an eye-opening statement that got a sigh of wistful disappointment from a couple of the other students who'd envisaged using comedic rants to exercise some demons, vent their frustrations and get certain things off their chests

How do you generate new material?

Lessons two & three introduced us to the comedy fundamentals like set-up / punch, callback and running gags, they gave us a brief couple of methods of brainstorming ideas for material, by now we were told exactly what was expected of us over the next 3 weeks before the showcase at comedy Mecca "Up The Creek" a hallowed stage in Greenwich that at the time had no open-mic way to access it

We were being tutored to have a tight 5 minute set of tested material that we knew would get laughs, precisely what you'd need to hit the ground running on the London open mic stand-up comedy scene, the next 3 weeks were pretty much pure rehearsals, we were tutored on performance skills which most of us found very useful yet our potty mouthed group only seemed to laugh at gags about wanking, jism and dogging, subsequently most of us ditched our ideals about preaching valuable & insightful messages and knuckled down to write populist filth,

The night of the showcase performance came, I hadn't got over my mental block or risen to my own challenge, I'd defaulted back to character comedy, I performed a 6 minute set as a pervert with dyslexia in a dirty raincoat talking about breasts, bdsm & bukkake, I hated it, in my own head I had failed, I have the showcase video, it's not easy for me to watch but you can at least count a handful of solid laughs throughout the set from the invited audience of 150 supportive punters, and WOW what a buzz to have stood on my favourite comedy stage in a legendary comedy club and entertained a packed house. The pervert character never saw the spotlight again, incidentally my mother passed away the following day, as a youngster she frequently told me I should be on the stage, I was able to rush down to her hospice on the south coast and tell her I'd been back on stage before she finally slipped off, I'd like to think that if she had a bucket list perhaps getting her son back on stage might have been on it

Was it value for money? in fairness I'd have to say it was yes, half the people on the course evangelised about it afterwards, the other half felt some degree of personal failure like I did, but in the final analysis for the money we paid I don't think many of us could complain, incidentally 4 of these 12 students are well established acts now, one runs her own comedy night and a couple are lucky / good enough to be occasionally doing it for money, that I guess is the acid test and in this regard Harry Denford has much to be proud of, the ones who got the most from this course already had a good idea of their material, style and stage persona, they made an effort to get on well with Harry because 12 attention seeking students can't all benefit from his direct, personal attention all the time, the course helped to tighten their gags and crank their laughs per minute up, it showed them the fundamentals of how to perform gags instead of just telling them, for many this was enough of a confidence boost to provide the launch pad their comedy journey required, lets have a reality check here, stand-up comedians typically take 6 to 10 years of dedicated writing and performing to become "Professionals" so don't expect to be Richard Pryor hilarious after just 6 weeks

Is FUNNY an inherent condition or can you teach it to anyone? whilst everyone has the potential to come out with funny things a comedy course won't necessarily make you funny, what it will do is give you some structure, some practice and some tools to deliver what your typical audience wants to hear, in brief it's an insurance policy against the one thing that all budding stand-ups dread the most, humiliating themselves in front of a stony faced, silent audience or "dying on your arse" as it's more popularly known.

How many comedy courses does it take to change a lightbulb?

During my first London comedy course we had an outing to the Cavendish Arms Stockwell, home of the (now twice) weekly "comedy virgins" open mic night with a prize for the audiences favourite performer, I got chatting to an act who was about to go on stage for the first time in his life, smart city fellah with an upper class accent, he rocked the show and got into the "clap off" finishing second on the night to regular winner and excellent comic Tim Shishodia, he told me all about the 10 week course he was still attending with comedy tutor Chris Head it was about the same price but a few weeks longer, an extra 10 weeks to try different things out and safely fail, just what I thought I needed to accomplish my personal mission.

Chris has been involved in many forms of comedy, he's an active writer and producer / director and has been a regular at Edinburgh fringe, whilst not currently a performing stand-up himself, Chris is more like a professor of comedy, this course was very different from the first, it was much more highbrow, academic and scientific in its approach, one of the great things was homework, each week we were given a new subject to write material about so everyone got into the weekly discipline of writing new of material, we also watched clips of famous stand-up comics and analysed the many tools, performance styles and techniques they used, we learned big words like anthropomorphism and again got to try out our newly written bits in front of a friendly-ish group of our peers, for the first few weeks of this course I remained conflicted and pretty poor, but week by week began to approach material from different angles and get bigger and better laughs from my course mates

The showcase performance was at the Wilmington Arms, a nice big room for comedy, my 5 minutes turned into 12 nine of which I was pretty pleased with, I had accomplished my mission, I liked Chris and his teaching style and have been back for more of his courses, he also introduced us to Geoff Whiting who runs Mirth Control, possibly Britain's biggest comedy booker, a useful guy to know for many aspiring comics who routinely queue up to get on his radar

An interesting side note about this course was the high number of 29 year olds who were doing it, I can't really remember being 29 but "Turning 30" seemed to be the motive for a lot of them, it was also full of singletons whose choice of material gave the impression that they were thinking of taking up stand-up more as a  from of mass speed dating than anything else

Would I recommend Chris Head's course? I certainly have done in the past, but again I have to say it really is horses for courses, (no running gag intended) if you're wanting a longer and more cerebral approach then yes he can truly help you, if all you need is help trimming down your existing set, some fundamental performance skills and you're eager to get it over with quickly with less homework to do there are shorter, simpler courses probably better suited to you.

I made a couple of good friends on these courses, another benefit of doing them, a lot of your early open-mic gigs are "bringers" where you can only perform if you bring a friend or two as audience, as you quickly exhaust your pool of willing friends who've seen you and your shtick a couple of times. buddying up and reciprocating with your course mates helps you get more stage time, both these courses regularly sell out and seem to go from strength to strength

Horses for courses, but which one?

Logan Murray's excellent book
At the premium end of the scale the Amused Moose "Standup & Deliver" course is perhaps the most famous, I know a lot of folks who have graduated this one after parting with almost £500, as with all other comedy courses you get those who evangelise about it and those who were disappointed, often not mainly with the course but with themselves for not being immediately "made funny" by it, what I can say first hand is that tutor Logan Murray is a widely regarded and well liked comedian who still performs stand-up as character act Ronnie Rigsby, he is also author of what I consider to be THE required read "Be a great stand up" an invaluable book for all new comics

What is worthy of note is the sheer amount of money these guys are making, on a course with say 20 or 30 students paying anywhere from £150 to £480 each, you can see why it's an attractive business venture, who else earns a few thousand pounds from a few nice evening gigs in the world of comedy?

Another course I often meet graduates from The Comedy School is tutored by Mr Cee, a funny urban comic, as with all the other course graduates I hear both the evangelists and the disappointed, I have observed Mr Cee giving sage advice to some of his gigging graduates after they've left his care, he strikes me as a mentor type with a genuine interest in nurturing some of his alumni on their continuing journey.

Comedy brand Comedy Bin are starting up a new course of their own, Kiwi Ben Crellin, an awesome stand up is going to be tutoring this one, on paper it looks great, its unique selling point seems to be its speed and intensity, it's 8 evening sessions over just four weeks, perfect for the instant gratification generation, another pull is the promise of open spot gigs at the string of London comedy bin gigs afterwards

Another comedy "Brand" Laughing Horse do some courses, I've never actually met anyone who has done one so can't even offer much hearsay about them other than the fact that like the other comedy brand Amused Moose these guys run a yearly new act competition, there are often whispers that acts who have done these comedy brands courses seemingly do better in the more arbitrary stages of the competition heats, how much of this is simply myth I really cannot guess

There are a couple of other lesser known courses I know very little about too, one funny lady told me she was put off booking a course because the tutor was widely know as a political activist whom she believed would not like her political colours and therefore stifle her choice of material, ultimately which comedy course you chose will be for your own personal reasons, perhaps as simple as the easiest venue to get to, the quickest start date, the heritage, politics or gender of the tutor, the practical working comic versus comedy professor equation, whichever one you chose you need to understand this to save you from post comedy course cognitive dissonance (buyers remorse) they won't make you funny, only YOU can make you funny, the best courses however will give you the tools and the method of doing it in a safer and cosier environment and the confidence to get out there and do it, the financial and time commitment you make when you sign up for a course is also a bit of a springboard, those who worry too much about jumping out of planes may buy a parachute as an investment towards actually doing it

Like other extreme sports you get the box ticking thrill seekers who discover that  their one off venture and its associated adrenaline buzz is highly addictive, there are some prolific open-mic acts who gig almost every night of the week, often double dipping on weekends, some are akin to addicts who'd do anything to secure the next fix of ego inflating audience love and validation, cringing, fawning & buttering up promoters, coercing "plus ones" into joining them at "bringer" gigs, PAYING TO PERFORM at pay-to-play gigs and walking into random gigs uninvited on the off-chance that they may need a substitute comedian.

I have the utmost admiration for anyone who has the bottle to stand up in front of a room full of people and try to keep them laughing, I'm certainly not ridiculing the addicts either, their ambition and drive is admirable and indeed it needs to be because satisfying a constant hunger to perform stand-up comedy usually involves a huge investment in time, nationwide travel and money that often eats away at your effectiveness in the day job or conflicts with your partners needs for stability and financial security, yes,even the multi-millionaire stand-up royals like Jimmy Carr & Michael McIntyre had to almost bankrupt themselves for long periods of time in order to get their careers financial viability truly established, with so many talented performers willing to entertain folks for free you need to get really very good before people start wanting you to do it for money, so are you still sure that this is the dream you truly wanted?

And then the real learning begins

Father O'Malley,back to character comedy again
Once you've left the relative comfort of your group of fellow stand-up students the real learning begins, stand-up comedy is one of those skills that is mostly acquired by frequently doing it, stage presence and confidence follows with plenty of material in the bank and regular stage time, most newbies expect to have a handful of pretty awful gigs in their first few months and many of these expectations are justified once the real world learning begins, "gig gig gig" is the mantra, keep hitting that stage, get as much stage time as you can, keep exercising the writing muscles, be mindful of what audiences are laughing at and you will carry on improving, in London we have several open-mics to chose from almost every night of the week, some better promoted, attended and run than others, stage time shouldn't simply be your goal, QUALITY STAGE TIME (with some genuine audience) is what you need but to start off with embrace them all, the shitty little rooms with three punters and a dodgy mic, the West end pub basement with exclusively non-English speaking audience, the Camden pub loft full of gothy emo students, the big comedy clubs and the rowdy gong show hecklers, whatever happens, good gig or bad gig it's all experience, genuine learning experience and every bit of it teaches you valuable lessons

Stand-up Comedy Factories & Identikit performers?

This is a frequent allegation and indeed a subject touched on in a separate blog post below, the claim is that the formulaic approach or set methodology a lot of comedy courses employ produces identikit performers, acts who all enter the stage the same way, move the mic stand to stage right, shout out "Clapham are we well?" they proceed to tell the audience that they come from a shitty town and look like the result of a sex act between two famous lookalikes and go on to do a set full of clichéd gags on hack subjects  in exactly the same order as all their comedy course peers before them

It has to be said that I and many of my comedy chums can very often tell which particular course a new act has been on by their choice of subject matter, the way they structure their set & use the stage and several other nuances of their performance, having said that, I don't really accept that these courses are factories churning out standardised product, we are all individuals who learn differently,  on any course you still have to write your own material and find your own style, some of us stay on script, some of us are rebels, ultimately any free thinking individual will go with what they think works best for them having taken into account all of their tutors wisdom

Can't I just go out and gig?

There's no law that says you have to do a comedy course, there are a number of decent acts that simply got up and did it, they learned on the job and now have bragging rights over those who had the security of an insurance policy type course, much of stand-up comedy is perfected by trial and error, you fail first in order to succeed and never really know how funny your material is or isn't until it's been tried in front of an audience, often you get surprise laughs where you weren't expecting them and deathly silences where you were, instead of failing in front of a group of fellow students the course-less wonders have that pleasure in the real world in front of less forgiving "proper" audiences, some are great comics from day one, many take much longer to learn by trial and error what a course would have given them by week two, we're all very different

As I mentioned before I grew up in a shitty town, (hack comedy cliche #1) I knew kids who taught themselves to drive in stolen cars, some of them make decent drivers eventually but much of what they learn comes from scrapes with the law, high speed chases and spectacular crashes

We're all going to die!

Some of the biggest faux-pas I've seen at open mic gigs are from these course-less wonders, I've cringed at vilifying and bullying material, unwarranted verbal attacks on audience members, I've sat through entire performances of material lifted from Roy Chubby Brown and even heard of a Bill Hicks "Tribute Act" who not only nicked Bill's Material but impersonated his dress sense, voice and physicality, I've witnessed terrifying rants and detestable stage personas, done poorly these are all massive no-no's, beginners errors that usually get weeded out safely in a comedy course environment.

Most comics will happily tell you about their bad gigs, most concede that the worst place to die on stage is in your own local community, you see those punters daily, shop with them, commute with them, pass them on the street, if you've made a rookie error on your own doorstep you will probably want to leave town, dying on stage makes you feel dirty, you can cope with it much better in a far away place, dying in a classroom full of peers however is a shared bonding experience, if you have the choice always go for the latter

There's also an unspoken etiquette on the stand-up circuit and not knowing "the rules" can attract much derision and disdain from more experienced open-micers, the community as a whole is quite supportive and welcoming but cosy cliques certainly do exist, the potential for being ostracised, mobbed or cyberbullied by a clique you've somehow offended is quite tangible too and in a close knit community of creative sharp witted egos that can turn pretty ugly, comedy isn't a competition but many comics are very competitive, you'll notice that none of your colleagues are laughing at your set in any competition final they are in, politicking to try and win a bigger share of scare resources can be another sad fact of life on the circuit, I would encourage all newcomers to not get too stuck in the headspace of "open-micer" mentality, associate with as many pro comics as you can and you'll find wiser, less bitchy perspectives on the key questions that most newcomers to stand up seek answers to.

Course or no course it's all down to your personal choice, other than saving a few quid and attaining "self-made comic" bragging rights, there's little advantage in not doing a course, if you're skint you should at the very least get a book from the library and give it a thorough read before diving in with the sharks, forewarned is fore armed, the most important thing to remember though is to enjoy yourself, laugh and have fun, comedy can be a very serious business, focus on enjoying the ride, oh and if character comedy is fundamentally your thing, why fight it? be true to who you are and don't try to follow the crowd, stand-up is a solo discipline and the best comics are true to themselves

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

"Sexism" in comedy, those poor downtrodden lady comics


This is a highly emotive subject that rears its ugly head every few months without fail, I'm tired of getting involved in the shit storm that follows each time it comes back around so I think it warrants a one off blog that can be recycled each time the tiresome debate re-emerges

It usually starts with a lady comic (comedienne as some like to style themselves) being incredibly affronted & then making a big stink over :-

  • Not being able to get a gig at a certain club
  • Not being able to get gigs with certain promoters
  • Being hit on, invited for drinks or having romantic advances made towards them 
  • Not going down well in a room with a "blokey" or allegedly "sexist" audience
  • Being introduced by "sexist" comperes as "Pretty" or "Lovely" instead of funny
  • Living with a notion that "Women aren't funny" is purportedly a commonly held view
  • Being treated more as a sex object than an artist by certain audiences
  • Outrage over edgy material from blokey comics, rape gags, porn gags, nob gags etc
  • Why aren't there enough women in comedy?
  • Stand-up comedy being so much harder for a woman than it is for a man, yadda yadda yadda

Each time I have been involved in these debates they degenerate in a wider macro-squabble about "sexism" misogyny or feminism in general and you usually end up with "Girls are better than boys" and vice versa being the crux of the polarised argument

Every time I have been involved and put forward my opinions I have been labelled a chauvinist, sexist or misogynist by the bigoted hardcore misandrists that always seem to hijack the debate and try to make it their own

Interestingly I have encountered a small number of "Great White Knight" male feminists in these debates too so it's not always split GIRLS vs BOYS either

"Women just aren't funny"

Jo Brand, funny but you wouldn't shag her
Women aren't funny? There are some very funny female comics at every level on the London stand-up circuit, pro, semi-pro and open mic, I'm sure everyone can think of a number of funny women that have made them roar with laughter at some point in their lives, facts also speak volumes, Victoria Wood has sold out the Royal Albert Hall several nights in a row, Sarah Millican has sold almost 200,000 copies of her latest DVD and the widely adored, (pun pun) BAFTA award winning Jo Brand has pervaded and enjoyed success in most areas of comedy

On the open mic & semi-pro scene I have been literally reduced to tears of laughter by the genius of up-and-coming  musical comedian Kate Lucas, delighted by ballsy & hysterically funny Essex girl Hannah Deasy and was once a  fan of manic posh girl Lindsay Sharman.

Bottom line? anyone who uses the "Women aren't funny" slogan is either a truly bigoted dullard or a massively playful troll out on some huge leg-pulling marathon, from a comedy writing perspective the real humour lies in the extreme reaction this provocative "Female comics just aren't funny" statement never fails to generate, usually from lady comedians who ought to know a lot better, and some might say, ought to have more of a sense of humour or at the very least an endearing streak of self-deprecation about them.

Sexist Google
Why aren't there enough women in comedy?

Who says there aren't enough? there's a massive amount more than there was back in the late 1980's when I first stepped on stage, back then I could count every female stand-up in Britain on my own hands, most interestingly stand-up comedy courses attract almost a 50 / 50 male female split which proves the interest in becoming a stand-up is equally spread, so why do more than two thirds of that female 50% drop out before completing their first year of slog on the open mic stand-up circuit? is it a matter of resilience? do they want it badly enough? is the prospect of many years of travel & hard work before finally earning enough to break even just too daunting? your guess is as good as mine

There are ten times as many submissions from male sketch writers than female on BBC's newsjack which invites submissions from all comers, why is that? are women ten times lazier writers than men?

Women, stop pressing flowers & baking cupcakes, write some sketches

Improv is full of female performers and some very funny ones too, every bit of impro I've ever been involved in has had an equal male / female split in numbers, why? is it more girly? easier? less frightening because you have the comfort of a group and the knowledge that you can't fail? who knows, character and sketch comedy also have higher female quotas than stand-up so I'm pretty sure the debate isn't really WOMEN IN COMEDY per se, rather it's WOMEN IN STAND-UP, the toughest of comedy genres

"It's so much harder for women than it is for men"

Obviously I'm not a woman so I can only speculate as to whether there's any truth in that sweeping generalisation or not, conversely the funny women that frequently make this claim aren't men either, so how the heck do they know? why do they think they're special and everyone else has it so easy? stand-up is by its very nature a tough game and audiences can be quite intolerant of anyone that doesn't entertain, but from all I've observed I'm pretty damned sure it's just as tough for a bloke as it is for a female, see, that's the great thing about comedy, it's either funny or it's not, you're either good or you fail, it truly is one of the last great meritocracies where all sections of society can triumph regardless of age, gender, creed, skin tone, class or a host of other demographic labels

Do audiences treat male and female comics differently? in some areas I guess they do yes, in the 1980's compering variety nights in Northern working mens clubs I had ashtrays and pint glasses thrown at me by rowdy crowds who were only there to see the strippers, would they throw pint-pots and bakelite ashtrays at female acts? never! I've seen male comics violently assaulted during and after gigs but I've yet to see a female comic leave a hostile comedy gig with anything but a fractured ego, indeed the most recent assault I witnessed was on open micer Luke Capasso who had a cider bath and a pint glass thrown at him by a "Feminist" who took violent offence to his remarks about  her girlfriend

Totally outrageous to see that this psychotic woman could launch a potentially deadly assault on a comic  right in front of my eyes and then storm out of the building, almost taking the door off it's hinges with ZERO consequences, watch the slow motion footage you can clearly see her push him away take a step back, raise the pint glass high (watch the shadow on his T-shirt) and launch it right at him, fortunately the glass bounces off Luke's chest and smashes on the floor, if it had smashed on his chest he would certainly have been seriously injured.

Imagine that scene again where a MALE punter throws a glass at the MALE compere, what do you think would be different if that were to happen? OK now imagine a MALE punter glassing a FEMALE compere, would he have been able to leave the building  unmolested and without any further consequence for his potentially deadly assault? I very much doubt it, I'm willing to bet my shirt he'd be serving 5 years in prison, my point here is twofold, women get away with violence towards men routinely, empirical research backs me up fully on this fact EVIDENCE secondly, women in comedy are far less likely to be victims of violence than their male colleagues FACT!

It's a struggle to buy into this "Women have it so much tougher than men" myth, mainly because for every perceived disadvantage a female comic tells me she thinks she has I can see how it can be turned into a positive advantage 

Are men and women different? hell yes, but most of the time in the comedy world the differences work more in a ladies favour than against her, so why do we so often hear women playing the poor downtrodden victim? if a man can't get gigs at a certain club  or with a certain promoter he doesn't blame it solely on his gender so why do so many women feel the need to pull out the "Sexism" card so frequently when they're not getting their own way?

I think the bottom line is that women are far more political and manipulative than men and therefore much more likely to self-victimise in order to make political capital and thereby gain greater access to scarce resources, e.g. stage time, paid gigs, competition placings etc

Sexism in the UK comedy scene? Oh yes, big time!

No cocks allowed
There's an old saying "The squeaky wheel gets all the grease" and by bitching, nagging and politicking by lobbying, guilt tripping and protesting against this perceived "sexism" in comedy women have actually made it a much more sexist business, what on earth do I mean here? well how many ALL FEMALE comedy nights, comedy clubs and comedy competitions have arisen in the last ten years? I'm talking about LAUGHING COWS, FUNNY WOMEN, FUNNY'S FUNNY, FEMALE COMEDIAN OF THE YEAR et al

Yes it's somehow blatantly acceptable for women to have female only comedy clubs and indeed female only comedy competitions, something which would be totally unacceptable and "sexist" if men were ever to do it, why is that? politicking about perceived sexism by men against women has given women the license for this blatant gender apartheid, they have responded to alleged social injustice with extreme and exclusive social injustice of their own

Laughing cow, cheesy and easy to spread
Nobody wants to be branded a sexist these days and many segments of society bend over backwards to promote "Diversity" a quest that ironically only seems to cause greater divides, Lindsay Sharman & Rachel Parris fell victim to positive discrimination this week when their booking offers for a green party fundraiser gig were withdrawn because in the words of an organiser, "I was asked to increase the diversity of the acts so we got a 63 year old transsexual comic instead of a second female act"  Lindsay Sharman angrily blogged her subsequent hissy fit over the way it was handled and the surprisingly honest way she was bumped, this lead not only to her offending a number of trans comics but yet again to more tales of sexism & woe from the usual feminist comediennes, quotes about the evil things horrible male comedy promoters have affronted them with are as silly as

"I have had bookers say to me Sorry – We had a woman before and they were shit.” 
I'm pretty sure that must have been a wind-up, sweetheart!

“I have been introduced as The very pretty young lady Laura Lexx"
Shock horror! have you considered the fact that you may possibly actually be "pretty"? lucky thing! no sympathy from me for that one

Smurthwaite, "really pretty"
Why on earth anyone professing to be a comic would express such outrage and indignation over a complement is way beyond me,
but nothing takes the cookie quite like this quote from busybody, leftist, anti-religionist, anti-masculist & pro-abortionist activist Kate Smurthwaite...

"I do want to book you, though, cos I think you’re really pretty – Do you want to come for a drink with me?

Awww poor Kate, I can see how that would so mortally offend an Oxbridge leftist feminist, if Kate fancied him she'd have been straight out for that drink with him mind, after all she is actually now MARRIED to  "really handsome" male comedy promoter, David Mulholland.

Some Fundamental Truths

In any public speaking scenario there's a golden maxim "First Impressions Last" it is often quoted that an audience will make up its mind about a performer within the first 5 seconds of them being on stage, if you put yourself in a spotlight in front of an assembled audience EXPECT TO BE JUDGED!

There are bundles of old clichés like "You never get a second chance to make a first impression" that support all the scientific evidence that proves this, so if you go on stage dressed to thrill don't be surprised at the impression you make, I've seen female comics introduce themselves as single, do material about their sexual frustration, rampant rabbits and desperate need for sex whilst dressed in revealing, alluring clothes and then have the gall to complain that the compere introduced them as "pretty" or the men in the front row were only interested in ogling their cleavage and not focussed on appreciating them as artists, I often hear women saying certain promoters make advances towards them or look at them in lecherous ways, is that really surprising? do other performance artists feel the same way? your image is a key part of your stage presence / persona / like-ability equation, you alone are responsible for it and the kind of attention it brings with it

But get this ladies, you're not special, I've seen plenty of women ogling sexy male comics, I've heard female comics chatting about handsome male colleagues, of course, IT IS PERFECTLY NATURAL we are all evolved monkeys, sexual attractions and tensions exist in every walk of life, I know of at least 2 cougar female promoters and one competition organiser who routinely hit on handsome young male comics, nobody calls them "sexists" why is that?

You will be judged on your appearance FACT
Attractive comics may get hit on or wolf whistled at, get ugly or deal with it
You may be positively discriminated for or against in the name of "Diversity"

What really actually matters is how you deal with it, when life appears to throw you lemons do you suck them and pull a sour face or do you make Lemonade?

As comics we have a duty to always find the funny, most good comedy is borne out of pain, politics are for politicians, some of the least entertaining people on the planet, let them do what they're supposedly good at and focus on doing your job, take a look at your pain and FIND THE FUNNY!

Promoters don't want to book acts who politick, whinge, call them isms or diss their clubs, why should they? who want's to book acts that are so tetchy they take offence at simple complements? who wants to have to tiptoe around on eggshells to avoid upsetting overly sensitive primadonna artistes who should actually be having a laugh and giving the gift of laughter to the assembled masses?

If you are a funny lady and you have experienced genuine "Sexism" I'm very sorry for you, but hey, you can write some great material about it can't you? find a way to make it entertaining, maybe even make it enlightening to middle aged male misogynists.......but in a funny way, that's what you're there for after all isn't it? good, now run along and make us a cup of tea ; o )

All of the above

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Open Mic Stand-Up Comedy CLICHÉS

I go to a lot of open mic comedy nights in & around London, quite often I'll do a bit of stand-up either as myself or as some character act or other, heck I've even been known to MC an entire gig or two, I enjoy it and the London open mic scene is a vibrant and never ending social life as well as a hobby for a great many people (probably 300 active regulars) and indeed a career springboard for a select few who go on to get paid for doing what they love

There's a plethora of comedy courses available in and around London too,  they all seem to sell out and they pump out 50 or so new contenders every other month, in the few years I've been taking notes I'd say that for every 40 comics who quit the open mic circuit there's 50 along to replace them so it's a growing scene with several gigs to choose from practically every night of the week

I've done a couple of stand-up courses myself, one of which I thought was really very good and I've got to the stage where I can more or less tell what course a given act has been on by looking at the structure of their set and the nature of their material, anyhow comedy courses is another subject and a pretty big one too!

As an exercise in OBSERVATIONAL COMEDY *fanfare* I have compiled a set list for a clichéd open mic performer fresh out of comedy school, hope it gives you open mic folks a few laughs of recognition

hello ****town are we well? .... Oh that was perrrthetuck! ****town are you GOOD???? (mumbles)

It's great to be here!!! (mumbles)

Lovely basement, just like FRITZL'S! (attic, just like Anne Franks)

My name is Fred Bastard like the compere just said, big round of applause for your compere...yay whoop whoop isn't he ace?


I LOOK LIKE the illegitimate love child of (Ho Chi Minh & Mary Whitehouse)

I'll tell you a bit about myself...... (because that's my favourite subject)

I'M SINGLE!!! haven't had sex for ever, wank a lot, use a sock (desperate for a shag hey isn't this like speed dating?)

I come from Shitborough, you know Aldi, inbred chavs & Liebfraumilch, Chlamydia capital of Europe

GIVE ME A CHEER IF... (several questions with 50/50 answers e.g you're gay?'re straight? .... you hate fucking cheering?)

Gag one, NIGHT BUS


Gag three, FACEBOOK! (what's that all about hey?)




Here's my impression of some WIGGA YOOT

I'll finish with this..... MY GRANNY'S SO RACIST....

OK that's my time, I've been Fred Bastard, I don't get paid for this so you can buy me a drink, YOU'VE BEEN A LOVELY AUDIENCE (all fucking three of ya) Thank you & goodnight!

Ahhh yes the footnote! I sketched out the rough draught of this on a Facebook group called "The Comedy Collective" my pal Simon Caine was saying he was writing some new set about clichés which is what lead to my post, poor Simon  tried a gag about "something like that only funny" and he got ONE thumby uppy likey bless him, ten less than me so far *Smug, self satisfied grin*

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Video Game Character Voice Actor - James Mason Impression

OK so I've just had an exciting gig doing voiceovers for multiple characters in the same video game, I was pretty confident with nearly all of them, Scottish, Cockney, Street Yoot, Movie Trailer Guy (Don LaFontaine) Yorkshire, Deep South USA, West Country, a parrot voice LOL a female (Python pepper pot) Mexican wrestler, Camp Old Wizard....all well within my comfort zone, they also needed a James Mason Impression and I have to admit that I struggled for some time to get his voice right and couldn't quite work out why, I kept sounding more like Prince Charles who has a very similar manner of speaking, I tried hard to drift out of the Prince Charles Zone and in doing so I drifted into Tim Shishodia territory, Tim is a lovely man and a rising star of the London stand-up comedy circuit, he won a few major competitions and was New Comedian of the year in 2010, here's a video of him performing at the awesome TNT Comedy Club when I was MC'ing there, his hilarious stage persona has quite a hint of James Mason in the voice at times

Oddly enough I find it easier to learn a new voice not by listening to the subject themselves but by listening to an impressionist mimicking them, I could barely find any inspiration on this front either, I watched a couple of old James Mason movies, his voice was very rich and he had quite a range, I struggled to find many videos of decent impressions of him though, there were only two half decent examples on Youtube who's attempts I would say bettered my own by only a tiny margin

Interestingly I found an Eddie Izzard routine where he uses Mason's voice as the voice of God, I was comforted that Izzard can't do a better Mason than me and he's mega successful ; o )

So, after sweating on it for quite some time I think I managed a noble attempt in the end, I won't be adding it to my voice reel as it's not as awesome as I'd like it to be, the client feedback has not mentioned it and I can rest in the knowledge that my effort, whilst a slight disappointment to me personally is better than Eddie Izzard's and certainly in the top 3 James Mason impressions I can find on the tubes

UPDATE June 2013 the game in question has now been pre-released in alpha mode so I'm permitted to talk about the voice acting and character development I did during the earlier stages of this video games development, I voiced all the character roles helping to develop an audio story board, flesh out the characters and build the narrative, below is the video showing a prototype cut scene from the development stage where I voice all the characters, a miner (South Yorkshire accent) Lumberjack (Deep South USA accent) Bernard, the games protagonist (Gruff cockney gangster a la Ray Winstone or Bob Hoskins) and Stone Mason (James Mason impression) The clip contains an interview with Games Foundry's project lead Simon Dean who speaks very highly of my talents, bless him

You can download and play this awesome new game on steam early access

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Sean Ruttledge OFFICIAL BLOG! Comedy voices 2012

Hi I'm Seanie, well known as "The man of over 9000 voices" welcome to the first ever post on my OFFICIAL SEAN RUTTLEDGE BLOG

I'm a voiceover artist & character comic from the UK, my new years resolution is to blog frequently about the major passions in my life which are

  • Comedy
  • Impressions
  • Voiceovers
  • Character voices for cartoons, animations, video games etc
  • Accents & Dialects

My comedy goals for 2012 are to perfect 3 new 7 minute comedy routines based on my ability to do impressions, accents & character voices, I will be perfecting these on the London comedy circuit and you may even see a couple on TV later in the year, I'll keep you posted