‘My knees went weak and my hands were shaking…’

2 Aug 2012 @ 8.37 pm
| Entertainment
Taking risks: James isn't sure how Edinburgh audiences will react

Comedian James Christopher is hitting Edinburgh with a new show, Bring Me The Head of Russell Kane. In his first despatch for YorkMix, he wonders why the Fear has got him again…

Everyone who does comedy dies on their arse at some point. It’s rarely, if ever, very hostile. The crowd want to enjoy themselves, they’ve given up their evening after all – and why kick someone when they’re down?

But every new comic dreads that moment when the jokes fall flat, you can’t get the crowd back on side, and you’ve lost this one. Your pulse quickens, you start sweating, your voice starts to shake with fear…

[column width=”65%” padding=”5%”]It can actually be a very positive thing – you develop a thick skin. You realise that dying on your arse isn’t really that bad after all and you’ve nothing to fear, which prompts you to edit your set, take more risks, write better material. And if a joke doesn’t work, it’s only a joke, and you can just write better ones.

Slowly, the fear of performing subsides, but it took years to happen for me. All too often, this new-found confidence is accompanied by another demon of the comic mind – jealousy. [/column][column width=”30%” padding=”0″]

[/column][end_columns]Confidence in one’s ability can lead to a sense of entitlement, and in such a public activity, it is all too easy to note the success and progress of your peers.

I usually try and repress these feelings, as other people’s achievements are nothing to do with my path, and it’s a very ugly and arrogant attitude to have. However, shortcomings and weaknesses are at the core of most comic characters, so for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, I decided to explore this instead of repressing it. Would I exorcise the demon, or would it consume me?

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I put the opening joke from this year’s show on the edfringe.com website. It was recorded at The Stand in Newcastle. You can hear it here:

(For context, I look a little like Russell Howard!)

In the set that followed, I went on to offer my critique on the comedy circuit, bemoan my lack of success and denounce the success of others, aping and mocking other styles of comedy which I deemed less worthy than my own.

I gave full voice to the demon. And something strange happened. I started to feel scared again. My knees started to go weak and my hands were shaking.

I’ve no idea why this is, as I wasn’t ‘dying on my arse’, by any means! It was certainly one of the bigger gigs I play (around 250), but I’d not felt like that for years. Maybe it’s because in part, what I’m saying isn’t just a joke, and there is some honesty there.

I would find it very difficult to take if I did my new show and it went badly! (No doubt that will happen at some point, it’s a long festival!) Maybe it’s because I know that what I am doing is a bit naughty.

The crowd would be quite justified in collectively rejecting it – by simply not laughing, or by an individual taking vocal exception. Again, it’s a long festival, so…

It now seems strange to me that I’ve only just realised that, from a comedic point of view, weaknesses and flaws are among a comic’s best assets. Introducing other emotions such as anger or melancholy can actually accentuate the humour, giving it more depth – and paradoxically making it much funnier.

At what cost, remains to be seen!