We sent former teacher Andy McRobbie on a quest to turn himself into a stage-ready funnyman and perform at the Leicester Comedy Festival before a panel of vicious judges...
*SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM TO SEE ANDY'S PERFOMANCE*
I read somewhere that 1 in 4 men in the UK would describe themselves as funny. As far as I was aware, to be funny just meant the ability to make your friends laugh. Right?
Farting is universally and undisputedly hilarious, so by my calculation every man in the UK is funny. Watching stand-up on TV I used to think, "That's just getting up on stage and saying a load of gags. Pffft, I could do that." If you're one of those 25% of British men, then next time a gag of yours is met by roaring laughs down the pub, note it down and read it back to yourself the next day. You will be shocked at how profoundly unfunny it actually is.
This is what I found when FHM put me forward for a course of comedy coaching that would eventually lead to a performance for Dave Turns The Tables at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival.
In just five weeks, stand-up veteran, comedy tutor and all-round legend Mark Blake would apparently mould me into a fully fledged stand-up comedian. With Mark, I was made aware of how quickly my comedy turned to crass references to genitalia which, much like sarcasm, is considered by many ‘in the biz’ to be the lowest form of wit. I quickly found that the more I analysed, practised and rehearsed my set, the less funny I felt. Was I losing my mojo?
A few days before my performance, I met the inimitable Russell Kane – a lovely bloke, who took a genuine interest in refining my set and was effortlessly funny. When I asked Russell how he overcame stagefright he told me it was something “you never truly get over”. According to him, even the most experienced comedians still got that pounding-heart feeling before each gig.
He described it as being on a plane: “The only nervy bits are the take-off and landing; once you get that first laugh you're away and flying.” His overriding advice was to “let them see the real person behind the performer”, a nugget of wisdom thatstayed with me. So, armed with a couple of extra gags featuring Professor Stephen Hawking and Imodium, I felt I was ready.
My performance is a blur and was not helped by the drunk heckling hooligans in the front row. That first big laugh I expected did not come when I planned and I could not stop rampantly pacing the stage and scratching my head like a confused school kid outside the headmaster’s office.
I rushed through my set of gags about estate agents, Pret A Manger and supermarket reduced sections, not pausing for a breath. I could not stop swearing and had completely forgotten to mention my best gag about PE teachers. My only comfort was that I hadn't completely crashed and burned, but having fully expected to feel pumped up and exhilarated, I felt bizarrely numb once it was all over.
Stand up really is an art form and I now have the upmost respect for all those comedians who make it look so easy to chumps like me.
10/10 on confidence, 9/10 for science knowledge, 8/10 for that T-shirt, 7/10 for comedy. Overall, not a bad effort for a bloke who was supposedly completely out of his comfort zone.
Sure, we could have done with a few more gags thrown in and a lot less high-pitched dalek impressions, but generally the boy done good – especially considering he was clearly shitting it and had his time cut because another bloke from The Guardian ran over...
5 steps to being a comedy genius by the pros
01 Self-deprecate. Self-analyse your flaws almost to the point of breakdown. You are then armed with the ability to create a scenario where an audience is both laughing at you and with you.
02 Turn devastation on its head. While most of us undergo a slow, painful recovery from heartbreak, a true comedian will already be thinking of ways to turn the pain into humour.
03 Be an exhibitionist. A comedian, in many ways, is a professional attention seeker. You have to love being the centre of attention to some degree to keep your passion alive.
04 Be human on stage. The ability to steer an audience's emotions is a great skill. The audience wants to see a person, not a script. If they see a human behind the jokes, an invisible barrier is lifted.
05 Be naturally funny. Probably the most important and obvious one. If I've learned anything during this experience, it's that to be a comedy genius you have to be born with some kind of funny gene. It’s like rhythm: you either got it or you haven't.
Dave Turns The Tables is an initiative created by UKTV for Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival. For more info, check out comedy-festival.co.uk.
Words by Andy McRobbie. Check out and heckle him on Twitter.