Conversations with comedians

A question I’ve been wrestling with is if I need to develop a standup routine ancillary to the pursuit of a comedy writing career.

The thought of going on stage makes me want to vomit. I just picture myself getting called up, hopping up on stage and vomiting.

Sure, vomiting is funny, and not many comedians are making a career of it right now, so I would be unique. But I don’t think I could ever come up with enough vomit for an entire five-minute set, let alone a 20-minute act in front of a festival crowd.

A kitty!

Ooooh, a kitty!

Nevertheless, the argument for developing a standup act is compelling. I can’t rely strictly on comedy writing to make ends meet. It’s a small country. And considering the fact that my writing is mostly a tedious litany of things I hate about people, and my arguments in favor of a global thermonuclear war, the audience for my writing will be quite narrow.

So, thinking about ways to supplement my career, I investigating the Auckland standup scene.

Auckland isn’t exactly bursting through the sphincter with comedy venues. The Classic is the only game in town, singularly referred to as “the club”.

There is, however, a growing list of open mic nights, including Snatch Bar’s Snatch Comedy, every Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., free admission, Ponsonby Road, for more information what do I look like, the fucking Yellow Pages? Click on the link. I’m not your mother.

Parnell accountants' office

Sorry, wrong slide.

Snatch (I will not make a cheap joke, I will not make a cheap joke) is a tight little hole in the wall where anybody can penetrate the comedy scene. It brings together performers of various experience levels, from clueless neophytes to clueless veterans.

Snatch has a great vibe. The crowd is warm and supportive, making it a perfect launch pad for deluded people like me. And despite my sheer terror, it looks kind of fun. Stepping up on stage in front of that crowd with those lights in your eyes is probably as exciting as being told by a cop to kneel beside your car with your hands behind your head. But I’m willing to try anything twice.

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Snatch also presents an element of risk. The stage is set close to the door, and people walking in during a set can throw a comedian off his game.

This is what happened last Wednesday, when one comedian had just been introduced, and was about to start when two drunken cows slammed into the bar. The guy was so close to the door that they hit him with it on the way in. And before the comic can say anything, the lead cow screams, “Where’s the party!?”

She even continued to talk as the comedian, with justified rage, cut her down. He started screaming, saying things like, “What kind of cum catching whores come into the middle of a set screaming….How fucking stupid are you?…”

Subbasement car park, plus conference room

Yes, I know, completely irrelevant.

I talked about what happened with Snatch’s organizer, Jarred Fell, 23, a comic-magician who dropped out of school at 17 to go professional. His act centers on magic tricks and the back-and-forth he improvises with volunteers from the audience. Fell agreed to be the first subject of a new, regular feature on Basement Life called Conversations with Comedians.

Q: How would you deal with hecklers like that?

A: You want to hit them back. Because the crowd is behind you, the crowd knows that person is being a dick. Let’s mock them, shut them down, and 80 percent of the time, they go “ok”, and they shut up. And then you get bitches like that. And when [comedian] stopped [his set], she won. I don’t know if a comic should do that.

Q. Is the worst kind of disruption the volunteer who thinks they’re funnier than you?

A. Nah. They usually shut up very quickly right after you put them in their place. It’s the really drunk people that get aggressive. I had a guy punch me in the face in Palmerston North. Another place, a guy threw a bottle at me. I didn’t see it at first but as I turned I saw it and I caught it. People got up and clapped because how did you catch that bottle?

Q. Your comic delivery kind of reminds me of Jerry Lewis. You don’t know what I’m talking about.

A. <puzzled, perhaps mildly annoyed expression>

Q. I hate Jerry Lewis. It’s just that you remind me of him. Don’t get me wrong, I like your stuff. I’ll stop now.

A. My style is camp, normally. Hit on the volunteers. It’s very Tommy Cooper style. He’s an idol. Tommy Cooper is from the same time as Paul Daniels, who was the magician that always failed. I want it to look like everything is going wrong, and in the end it all works out.

Q. So who did you learn magic from?

A. Me, myself, and I, man. I saw Copperfield when I was 11 in Vegas. I was amazed and I wanted to do that. I started doing research, magic clubs, and just practicing. In my spare time, I masturbated a lot, too. I was in theatre. When I was seven, I was doing theatre, musical theatre. That’s where I got my stage time. Then I added the comedy and magic about seven years ago. There’s no one over here that does it. And so I keep that unique difference and in a year, I turned pro, and was just working. It usually takes a comic a good three or four years. Alternative acts make it faster because they want to slip someone else into the mix.

Q. Do you think the small population of New Zealand, and its general lack of sense of humor makes it easier?

A. Uh, yeah. When you do comedy lineups they want alternative. you can only listen to an all comedy show of just talking for so much. Someone like myself or like Gish it breaks it up, it’s more of a show, I find, anyway.

Q. So what do you have coming up?

A. I’m doing a one-night only show at the Classic on August 16 called Fellon. And I’m touring that one in August, in Wellington, Nelson, Matamata. All the big places, mate. Goodbye Vegas. Hello Matamata.

Q: So, how do you develop and prepare your acts?

I think of something impossible to do and learn how to do it. And what I use on stage and how I can make that funny, a lot of that is improv. And a lot of it depends on the volunteer. A bad volunteer can ruin an act.

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