Today I’m pleased to have actor, writer, stand-up comedian, and all round good guy, Angelo Marcos, visiting us. Angelo interviewed me a while ago for his Creative Minds feature and I thought it about time I returned the gesture.
What I’ve always found interesting about Angelo is how as a comedian he takes people to a happy place through laughter, but as a novelist he goes in the opposite direction and taps into the darker recesses of our minds. So imagine the intrigue when he decided to combine the two in his latest book Victim Mentality.
I can’t imagine this was an easy task, I mean how do you describe stand-up comedy through prose?
Thankfully, here’s Angelo to tell us how he dealt with this.
Angelo, over to you…
Describing the funny…
People love good comedy. I think that’s pretty safe to say.
I mean, yeah, there are some people who don’t really ‘do’ jokes, and not everyone likes the same comedy shows or comedians, but who doesn’t like to laugh?
(That was rhetorical. Please put your hand down at the back.)
For me, one of the purest forms of comedy is stand-up.
Full disclosure: I am a stand up comedian, so may well be biased here.
A big problem with being a stand-up comedian and a fiction writer, is finding a way to adequately convey a comedy gig through prose. Stand-up comedy is so affected by timing, voice inflection, tone of voice (and so on and so on ad infinitum) that writing it down and reading it back just looks, well, unfunny. On top of that, everybody laughs at different jokes. So the same one-liner that causes an involuntary bowel movement in one audience member might cause nothing more than an agitated “Humph!” in another.
So, as a writer, how do you both convey the mechanics of a comedy gig and make it hilarious to the reader?
The answer is simple. You don’t.
In my novel Victim Mentality, the main character is a stand-up comedian who suffers from mental health problems. I wrote these sections of the book in the first person, in order to give the reader a feel for what it is like inside his head (and, as the story progresses, he meets an incarcerated criminal who also manages to get inside his head. What can I say? He’s got a big head.) Now this is a problem in itself, because if written stand-up comedy isn’t particularly funny, then how exactly can I show the reader that he is hilarious while also describing his act from his own point of view?
As before, the answer is simple. I can’t.
“So,” I hear you shout at your screen, “what did you do?”
I’ll tell you since you asked. Essentially, I looked to find the nearest approximation of stand-up comedy possible that allowed for the various nuances and differences from one comedy gig to another.
This in itself was easier said than done though. A lot of people talk about stand-up comedy in terms of a confrontation – usually a war or a boxing match. This view is true to a point, but given that Victim Mentality is a crime thriller, I wanted to limit the amount of fighting to the actual crimes committed rather than adding to the bloodshed in the more light-hearted sections of the book. Also, as my main character Nick says, “Comedy can feel like a bit of a fight sometimes, but you’re trying to make people laugh, not knock them out… seeing [the audience] as an opponent in a boxing ring is just off-putting.”
So the way I finally chose to describe each comedy gig in the book was through, of all things, a coach journey.
It might sound strange, but the more I broke it down the more sense it made to me.
The comedy performance is essentially one long coach journey, and each joke represents a stop on that journey.
At some stops everybody gets on, at others only a few people do, and then at others some people actually get off.
There are times when the driver – the comedian – might need to take a detour, or hurry up and get to the next stop because the passengers are itching to get there. And if the driver doesn’t get there soon, most of the passengers won’t even bother waiting, they’ll just jump out through the windows.
I like this description as I find it quite apt, especially concerning the poor driver, who in the midst of everything is trying to keep the passengers happy, trying to pick up new ones along the way, and trying to get everybody to their destination without crashing and dying. Although in this scenario, the only real risk is to the driver. The audience will always be safe – the worst that’ll happen to them is that they won’t laugh. It’s only the driver/comedian who might die.
So, what do you think? Does a coach journey sound like a good substitute for stand-up comedy, or can you think of something that fits better?
Feel free to let me/Suzie know in the comments!