Comedy Blogedy: How long have you been gigging in stand-up?
Al Cowie: Two and a half years. (400+ gigs)
Comedy Blogedy: How would you describe your comedy?
Al Cowie: My compering is friendly, my sets are fairly gag heavy with some storytelling. I am trying to be more storytelling and ridiculous as well as to build up my bank of cleaner material.
Comedy Blogedy: Which comedians influence your comedy?
Al Cowie: Those that I admire for their work ethic – the harder you work at this game, the better you get, and I am firmly of the belief that this skill has a 10-year apprenticeship. The only shortcut is to put more hours effort into your comedy each day and less hours everything else. There are several incredibly hard working comics, obviously Jimmy Carr, but also Hal Cruttenden, Patrick Monahan, Imran Yusuf, Andi Osho and many others.
I’m less influenced by individual comics, but I see things that other comics do that makes me think about different ways I can look at subjects myself. For instance I saw Carey Marx doing an incredible piece with logic that was purely beautiful, and Joel Dommett turns ordinary stories into great, laugh out loud comedy sets. I would love to be able to tell a story as well as Billy Connelly for instance.
Comedy Blogedy: Did you always want to go into comedy?
Al Cowie: Yes, but until I did a comedy course (Logan Murray’s) I had absolutely no idea how to go about doing so.
Comedy Blogedy: How do you go about writing your material?
Al Cowie: Necessity is the mother of invention. Either I have to write something new for a particular type of gig, or I write a speech for Toastmasters (a club I go to that focuses on developing supreme public speaking skills) and then go through it trying to add funny comments and changing the content round. I also try a number of other tricks, such as those described in Sally Holloway’s book “The serious Guide to Joke Writing” or recording myself compering and mining my ad libs for the material I came up with on the hoof.
I try to come up with a few jokes daily and I am trying to build up the amount of honed material I create each day. I would love to reach the stage where I am writing for about 4 hours a day. When I do, if I am focused I should be able to turn that into half an hour of beautifully polished material each week. I aim to be half way to that point by Christmas.
Comedy Blogedy: Do you gig as a stand-up full time or is it more of a part-time hobby? If so, do you find that your main job influences your material?
Al Cowie: Full time. I have a great deal of weird and wonderful life experiences that I draw on, from breaking my neck in Hyde Park to being beaten with a spatula whilst wearing womens underwear, reciting poetry in an Irish castle at 4 in the morning. I’ve had a fairly diverse work life too, but so far I have not tended to write about the jobs I have done, altough I am sure that I will one day.
Comedy Blogedy: What do you find the most enjoyable and frustrating parts of the amateur comedy circuit?
Al Cowie: It is very social. I’ve made some lovely friends on the circuit and you get to see them fairly regularly which is great. As with anything, there are dicks, but compared to any other walk of life, I have found generally there are fewer of those, most people are generally supportive and nice. That is not to say that comedians are normal, I think most comedians I know are some of the oddest people on the planet, it’s just that I like them!
Comedy Blogedy: What’s your favourite type of audience to perform to?
Al Cowie: An audience that has paid, is lubricated but not drunk, that expects to have a good time and wants to be involved in the good time, that has been warmed up well by the compere and are acting like a unit and so all have the same energy level, that feels comfortable (so is not too hot or cold, are facing the right direction, doesn’t have light shining on them, etc), that is relatively intelligent and knowledgeable, and that are not eating food.
Comedy Blogedy: Have you been heckled a lot since you’ve started gigging? Do you enjoy being heckled? What’s the best heckle you’ve had?
Not massively and not much. The best heckle I have had is now in my set (this is not encouragement to your readers to heckle, most hecklers are dicks who don’t realise how they are robbing the rest of the audience of prepared material that almost always is better than whatever they say, but by them having made their comment at the wrong time, maybe 5 minutes of material is no longer able to be used).
Heckles are like flies flying into a painting. 99 out of 100 would look better circling a turd, and only one will hit the painting in a way that adds to the image.
Hecklers themselves seem to fall into a few broad ranges.
The “helpful” heckler – thinks that they are adding to the night. The rest of the audience think they are an idiot, and they often step on a great punchline. They are also sometimes quite tricky to deal with as you can’t be too harsh on them or the audience may turn on you for attacking the “harmless” git.
The aggressive heckler – trying to have higher status than the person on the stage. They must be stamped on hard and if necessary removed. They tend to think it is all about them.
The drunken heckler – often unintelligible, talks over material, makes life difficult. Get them ejected.
The low level chit chat heckler – annoys the rest of the audience, can be really tricky to deal with as they are often not actively heckling, but they are still spoiling the experience for the audience. Silence is often quite a good weapon in the arsenal against them.
The funny heckler – most hecklers believe they are this, but they are not. This is a bird so rare that it only comes out when there is a blue moon. The worst thing about this heckler is that once they have said one funny thing they feel encouraged to try again. However, as with films, sequels tend to be worse than the originals, and then the act must then go off course to generate something funny out of it, which distracts them from delivering their really good material.
I realise that this comes across as quite strong, and actually I do sometimes quite enjoy the challenge of dealing with a heckler. I suppose my dislike of hecklers comes more from running nights, when it is less about me and more about my acts and my audience.
When I put on a night, I care, possibly too much, that my acts and my audience to have the best experience possible. I want my acts to show themselves off as the superb comedians they are, and I want my audience to be able to experience their brilliance and go away having had a fantastic and memorable night of comedy. And I don’t want anyone to spoil that.
On a more positive note, Speakers Corner, Hyde Park, on a Sunday, is a great way to learn how to handle hecklers and have fun doing so. If you go up there with a couple of other people, then you don’t feel quite so alone talking to strangers from your stepladder (and even if you do, there are normally several pretty Scandinavians offering free hugs).
Comedy Blogedy: What advice would you give to new acts thinking about starting out in comedy?
Al Cowie: Write more, remove the waffle. Make the joke as short as possible. If you are telling a story, try to write several jokes for each line and keep the best. Remember, for every 100 jokes you come up with, maybe only 10 will be good and only one will be great, so write hundreds of jokes and don’t worry that most will need chucking. And gig as much as you can, there is no substitute for stagetime.