Friday 27 April 2018

Comedian Neil Delamere on the terror of his first gig: 'Like a bank robbery, I wanted as few witnesses as possible'

Neil Delamere
Neil Delamere

Chris Wasser

Comedian Neil Delamere has described how he arranged his first comedy gig "like a bank robbery" to protect himself if anything went wrong.

The Offaly man recalled how his first gig was in the International Bar in Dublin, and he had his material well prepared.

"My first gig was in the International Bar on Wicklow Street in Dubin. I knew I'd be so unbelievably nervous that anything out of the ordinary would stop me in my tracks, so I learned the set by heart. When I say by heart, a bomb could have hit the building and I would have been able to finish the jokes. I only had one person I knew in the audience because, like a bank robbery, I wanted as few witnesses as possible if it went wrong."

"I can't remember much but it must have gone well because I went back. That's the really odd thing about stand-up. Every comic 'dies' in the first few gigs. Most of us agree you just have to get a few nice onces under your bet so you can withstand the terrible one. I sometimes wonder who gave up because they got unlucky and gigs one and two were terrible rather than gigs nine and ten. They had no reservoir of good experiencs built up," he added.

Speaking to the Guardian recently, comedian Jason Byrne recalled his first stand-up gig at the Coach House in Dublin where he’d been asked to MC a gig “for two local nurses going to Romania”.

“I didn’t even want to do the gig,” he explained. “When someone tells you you’re funny in the pub, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be funny on stage. It’s a craft, for God’s sake.”

“So I arrive in flared, pin-striped trousers, braces, with a big badge on my silly shirt screaming: ‘I am 1.’ I looked like an idiot and I thought this was what you did… I’d seen Billy Connolly do his stage act, so I thought I’d be blue like him.”

Apparently, Jason’s mother was in attendance — she wasn’t best pleased with her young fella afterwards. It could have been worse (British comic Omid Djalili recently recalled how he’d fallen off stage at his first stand-up show). Stand-up comedy isn’t a science; it’s an art form. Some performers get into it on a dare (the great Reginald D Hunter, for example). Others realise that they were born to tell stories for a living (Dylan Moran, or the incomparable Tommy Tiernan).

What makes a great stand-up comedian?

Decent material, for a start; strong comic timing; punchy anecdotes and one-liners; ingenious observational skills — luck, basically. There is no definitive answer, and even the greats still have bad nights.

In 2014, Tommy Tiernan decided to give improvisational comedy a bash, heading off on a two-week tour of Europe without a single scrap of material to his name. Things got awkward — audiences were left scratching their heads. But when you’ve been playing the game as long as Tiernan has, a little experimentation every now and again gets the blood pumping. Just like that first night all over again, when anything could have happened and the world was yours for the taking.

For Dublin comedian Gary Lynch (52), the memory of Stage Night Number One is still reasonably fresh. Probably because it was just seven years ago. “The first gig I ever did was in the Ha’penny Bridge Inn,” recalls Lynch. “It went really well — so much better than I expected.

It went so well, I actually thought that I would be giving up my job and appearing in the Royal Albert Hall within six months. I thought I was the next Billy Connolly. And then I did a gig eight days later in Bray and I died so bad, I actually nearly quit. The contrast was frightening.”

Nobody laughed, basically. Afterwards, Lynch had to walk through the audience to return to his table at the back of the club.

“Nobody could look at me. People were embarrassed for me. Eventually, I got down to the bar, I took a sip of my pint and thought, ‘Oh, this is as bad as dying is ever going to be, and nobody has actually died.’

“So, while it was a horrific experience, it was quite a reassuring experience. I said ‘Okay, this is as low as I’m ever going to feel and it ain’t that bad.’ I was wrong, of course. I’ve died worse deaths since.”

Lynch has just set up shop in Edinburgh for his fifth consecutive Fringe stint (his show is called Middle Age Came Quick). In fact, he’s one of several Irish comics appearing at the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which kicks off this weekend, running all the way through August.

Foil, Arms & Hog, David O’Doherty, Des Bishop, Grainne Maguire, Panti, Al Porter and the aforementioned Alison Spittle are just some of the names on the bill. That’s quite the line-up — fingers crossed nobody has a bad night. But hey, if they do, what’s the worst that could happen? Wait, don’t answer that…

Making people laugh isn’t easy, you know. Doing it for a living — now that’s a different story altogether. It’s just you, the microphone, the audience and your words. Get it right, and you’ll feel like a superstar. Get it wrong, and you risk public humiliation of the highest order.

So, why do people put themselves through it? For the buzz, probably. The admiration. A love of the craft.

Listen, if you’re funny, you’re funny, but do you honestly think that some of the best comedians in the world perfected said craft overnight? Nah.

Some of our favourite comics have, in fact, died on their arses. It usually happens at the beginning of their careers.

I know what it’s like to share a few jokes with a room full of strangers. A couple of years back, I decided to give stand-up comedy a try for a magazine feature.

You know the type: journo steps outside comfort zone, tries their hand at (insert activity here), you’ll never believe what happened, etc.

I somehow landed a sold-out, mid-week slot at the International Comedy Club on Wicklow Street, alongside Alison Spittle and Neil Delamere (no pressure, like). Crikey, I spent two weeks in ‘training’ and everything. Dublin comedian and MC Andrew Stanley was my coach for the fortnight, with several others chipping in and lending a helpful hand, including Eric Lalor, Paul Tylak and Sharon Mannion. A great bunch of clowns, the lot of them.

Each of them shared useful tips and not-so useful horror stories. Keep the filth to a minimum, lengthy anecdotes require killer punchlines, avoid shock tactics, it’s surprisingly easy to slip on stage, so on and so forth.

Basically, I’d have eight minutes up there — an eternity in the comedy world. ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ I thought. Well, I could fall over and die. I mean, literally die from embarrassment (I’m sure it’s happened at least once). But you know what? It went rather well. Mind you, it was one of the most terrifying and, indeed, sweatiest experiences of my life. But in a fun way.

I learned two things about myself that evening. One: self-deprecation is the way to go (half my set was about the tragedy of hair loss, a subject close to my heart). Two: my voice goes up an octave when I try to be funny. But people laughed; some even cheered. The buzz was something else. And to think, I almost backed out of it at the last minute. That sort of behaviour is normal.


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