Of all the speaking jobs, and there are indeed many, none strike me as more nerve-wracking as stand-up comedy. For the simple reason that it is just you and your voice entertaining a crowd of slightly drunken locals looking for a good night out. Add to that, the fact that what ‘funny’ is, is difficult to define. So it takes a set of brass balls to pull it off.
But indeed some people do pull it off, night after night, in hostelries and clubs up and down the country. Prominent among them is an old Twitter friend of mine, Dave Twentyman. He is, as I write, somewhere between North Yorkshire and Hull, gigging. If he can make a Yorkshireman laugh, he knows no fear.
Do you have a natural fear of public speaking and how did you overcome it?
I was petrified at the thought of public speaking. I was always the centre of attention amongst my social circle, and I always felt I could transfer that to the stage with performing comedy. However, I had no experience of talking to an audience. I’d never done drama in school, and I was never given talking roles in school plays. So in my first few months of standup, alcohol was very much my crutch. However, I knew I had to stop and face my fear head on. I would sometimes be crippled with nerves. My hands would shake and my voice was such that you’d have thought someone was holding a gun to my head.
I overcame it gradually by structuring what I was going to say. I don’t mean word for word, I believe that’s counterproductive as you end up focusing on a script in your head, so instead of projecting outwards, your looking inwards and thus you’re more disconnected from the audience. I used bullet point words so I could talk more loosely around the subject. So for me, it was structure and knowing the subject I was talking about really well (not word for word). I also found that it was good to hold something in my hand, like a bottle top, small bouncy ball, a coin or something which I could fidget with in my hand without them noticing. It was like it was absorbing the nervous energy and also reminding me to slow down, and talk more slowly. I still do this now if I feel a little out of my comfort zone. However, 10 years later I’m so relaxed before a performance I could quite easily eat a big meal before I go on stage.
Do you have a pre-show warm up process?
There’s no point fidgeting and pacing around beforehand, it makes your heart rate go up more and instils that feeling of panic. I sit down and relax. Even though I know my material I will still have a quick glance at my bullet points. It sounds crazy but I find having a nice cup of tea before you go on stage really settles me.
Are there any words that you trip up on?
Yes, I really struggle with the word ‘comfortable’. I’ve no idea why so I just say ‘comfy’ instead.
As a comedian you have played some pretty scary places. Give us a good ‘rough gig story’?
I’ve done gigs in all sorts of places. The gig that mostly sticks in my head though was when i was in my first year of comedy. I was at a pub in Manchester in an area so rough the UN probably wouldn’t go in. It was about as friendly and welcoming as that bar in Star Wars. I was on stage and this big fella starts heckling me. He didn’t appreciate my offer to get him some crayons and started threatening me. Thankfully the other ‘locals’ kicked him out. I thought that was the end of it but then a brick came through the window, glass shattered everywhere. I had no idea what to do so I just introduced the next act on stage. I’m still very good friends with him. He just looked petrified. He has a very broad, scouse accent. The last thing this Manc audience wanted, right after the confrontation and the window being smashed in was some Scouser. They made him feel about as welcome as Nick Griffin doing the moonwalk in a mosque.
If you want to book him, drop him a line via firstname.lastname@example.org
Or even stalk him on twitter at @davetwentyman