I am a stand up

I am a stand up (from my autobiography My Name is Daphne Fairfax)

ARTHUR SMITH SINGS LEONARD COHEN (VOLUME TOO) AT EDINBURGH FRINGE PLEASANCE CABARET BAR : 3-18 AUGUST 2013

ARTHUR SMITH SINGS LEONARD COHEN (VOLUME TOO) AT SOHO THEATRE – JAN/FEB 2013

I am a stand-up comic. Even now, after a couple of thousand gigs, making this statement gives me a bristle of pride and a bump of self-importance. ‘That must be the hardest job in the world,’ people say routinely to stand-ups. It is not of course, but it is the most singular job in show business and, in some ways, the most glamorous. The stand-up comedian is a solitary warrior, ignoring the theatre’s fourth wall in a direct Brechtian assault on his (or her) audience, the one performer whose success or failure is determined instantly and audibly. He does not sit down in timid informality, he stands up, like you stand up against bullies or for your rights. He has come to banish cant, bullshit, hypocrisy and the straight face. He does not hide behind costumes, music, cameras, props or masks, he relies on no-one but himself, he is not edited or enhanced after the event, he strides onto the middle of the stage and addresses the crowd, like a politician with no party on his back, like a preacher without God, a gladiator come to slay a roomful of lions and Christians. He ‘kills’, he ‘rips the room apart,’ he ‘storms it’ and the world applauds at his feet. I am a stand-up comic. Who would not be proud to be able to stand up and say that?

 

But when he fails, when no laughs come, when he ‘dies’, ‘goes down the toilet,’ why then he is an arse and he must get the first train out of town. The stand-up is a con artist who will dance to any tune that gets him a gig and pander to any prejudice that keeps him in the spotlight. He distributes prejudice with a smile, disseminates the lie that laughter redeems or that it is, as Nietzsche said, ‘the one true metaphysical consolation,’ when really it is a way of hiding from the serious business of life – the tragedy of existence.

 

The first time I tried stand-up I died. I also went down the pan at gigs numbers five, twelve, thirty-seven and so on, until just two weeks ago when, in a large, bland businessmen’s hotel near Derby, my quips left a roomful of car salesmen indifferent to the point of belligerence. To add to my shame, the shape of the room meant that after my public humiliation, when every part of me screamed to get out quick, I had to skirt around the edge of my former audience to reach the exit. They turned in their seats to consider me. Every comic knows this walk of shame. You try to avoid eye contact with anyone. You know what they are thinking; they are thinking you are a useless, unfunny cunt. They are wondering how much you’ve been paid for pissing them off  and how the hell you ever persuaded someone to book you. Like the golden-duck batsman’s long walk back to the pavilion, or the defendant’s grim passage from the dock to the cells, the cry of `take him down` pounding in his ears, it is a head-down procession of despair.

In stand up comedy when you die you are a zero but when you kill you are, briefly, immortal.

Mostly, though, it’s somewhere in the middle.

 

Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen (Volume Too)  Soho Theatre, London – 16th Feb to 2nd March 2014