Comedy Blogedy: How long have you been gigging in stand-up?
Philip Simon: I did an 8 week course with The Comedy School in Camden in February/March 2011, which culminated in a showcase at the end of March. My first gig was at the start of April 2011. Since then I have done about 70 gigs/competitions/gong shows in London, Oxford and New York.
Comedy Blogedy: How would you describe your comedy?
Philip Simon: Bloody hilarious! Oh, I see, sorry. Well, every joke I tell comes from personal experience, either something that has happened to me, or something that was said during banter with friends and family and got a laugh. I don’t write ‘gags’ as such, but twist real situations to give them a funnier edge if they need one, which means that my stand up is narrative rather than a series of one-liners. I would say I was self-deprecating observational comic.
Comedy Blogedy: Which comedians influence your comedy?
Philip Simon: I’m quite old school so the comedians I used to love watching included Tommy Cooper, Dave Allen, Morecambe & Wise and Tony Hancock. Also, though I was really surprised to discover how prolific his stand up was since my generation really only knew him as a smarmy game-show host, I think Bob Monkhouse was one of the most innovative and entertaining stand up comedians ever. I’m also a big Carry On fan (watch people immediately lose interest in this interview now I’ve said that) and really enjoyed the work of such comedy actors as Sid James, Bernard Bresslaw, Hattie Jacques and, of course, my favourite of all, Kenneth Williams. Modern comics would include more mainstream comics like Lee Mack, Tim Vine, Michael McIntyre, Miranda Hart and Nina Conti – who I would marry if only Natalie Portman would agree to leave my fantasy world first!
But then these are just comedians I like. If we’re talking about influences then there are some I have met on the circuit who have supported and encouraged my writing and performing far more than anyone listed above has. In fact, none of those people mentioned before even know I exist. Not even Michael McIntyre, and he went to my school! That’s something I really enjoy about the open-mic circuit in London though, is how supportive everyone is…more about that later!
Comedy Blogedy: Did you always want to go into comedy?
Philip Simon: Comedy acting, yes, stand-up comedy, no. I trained at the Guildford School of Acting as an actor, and whilst everything I did tended to have a comedic stance, I resisted every suggestion made by friends and family that I should do stand up comedy. I knew I was the funny one in the group and that I could make people laugh (though because I’m a repressed North London Jew it took me ages to actually admit that), but the thought of writing material that I would then present to a paying audience for their approval wasn’t something that really interested me at all. That said, I did write material and stored it in a safe place on my computer, but not knowing how to go about structuring a joke, it was really just a series of thoughts. Then at the start of 2011 I was reading Peter Kay’s autobiography (Saturday Night Peter) and after chapter 1 I put the book down and booked myself on the Stand Up Comedy Course at The Comedy School.
Comedy Blogedy: How do you go about writing your material?
Philip Simon: When I did the course I was quite religious about writing out a monologue of the jokes I wanted to perform and then learning them. I think that’s the actor in me. I know it’s an accepted practice, but I don’t like it when comics read from notes on stage, or write reminders on their hands. Now I am constantly thinking about jokes and scribbling notes when I think of something, but I’m finding myself far lazier when it comes to writing new sets. I tend to write new jokes and try to slot them into my already tried and tested material, either adding to it or taking something out to make way for it. I find that works for me as then the momentum of already successful jokes can help the newbie take flight. That said, most of my separate jokes link together quite nicely, so when I insert something new I do have to think how that affects the jokes either side of it. It’s hard on the tight 5-minute open-mic circuit to play around too much as you want to know some of what you’re performing will work, so I’m reluctant to try and whole brand new set in one go.
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?
Philip Simon: As an actor I don’t do anything full time! My main goal is the acting work, so I am constantly auditioning and sometimes working in that field or doing commercials, voiceovers, etc. When I’m not acting I usually work in temp office jobs, which has been great for influencing material, but mainly because it’s always been office based I’ve had the luxury of being at a computer where I can write/research all day and the company thinks I’m working tirelessly for them…between checking Facebook, that is! Now I work in two more full time roles, one for a charity and one for a website that I am a more significant part of, I do find that I have less time for writing at work. On the whole though, because my material comes from my life, there isn’t any part of my day that isn’t up for grabs. I’m a single, Jewish guy from North London – you’d know that about it if you saw my set…or if you met me!
Comedy Blogedy: What do you find the most enjoyable and frustrating parts of the amateur comedy circuit?
Philip Simon: The best part as I mentioned before is how supportive the circuit is. As an actor I see a lot of back-stabbing, and selfish behaviour in relation to finding work, but from the moment I started doing stand up comedy I was seeing the same faces at gigs, and since my first have only done a handful where I didn’t know anyone else. There is a far greater sense of collaboration, most notably on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and the freedom to share and comment on material is fantastic. I do find it frustrating how often we perform to other comics because promoters aren’t doing enough to publicise their nights, and how sometimes we jump through hoops to satisfy the criteria to do a gig (bringing a friend, buying drinks, staying all night, etc.) and don’t receive any appreciation from the promoters. That said, having just been gigging out in New York, there are definite benefits to being a comedian over here. One main one being that the norm over there is that comics pay to play and rarely get an audience. Here there is less of that, which certainly gave the impression that there is more purpose to what we do over here.
Comedy Blogedy: What’s your favourite type of audience to perform to?
Philip Simon: Civilians! I don’t mind performing to other comics for the reasons I said above about how supportive people are, but for me I like a real audience who aren’t analysing the structure of my joke, but are just enjoying it (or not) for what it is. Because I do observational humour, it helps to have people who can relate to everyday situations. I do a lot of jokes about being Jewish and single, and thought I would die when I did a gig to a room full of Somalian Muslims. As it was, the jokes went down very well because even though they weren’t Jewish, the audience could relate to the pressures of dating in a small, insular community.
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?
Philip Simon: At the Comedy School, my graduating showcase, billed as ‘the friendliest gig you’ll ever do’ was attended by friends of one comic who were drunk before they arrived and determined to ruin the night for everyone. I was at my most nervous and as the compere was gearing up to introduce me a fight broke out, bottles were thrown and people evicted… ‘Please welcome Philip Simon!’ Things settled as I took to the stage, with a quip about not minding though that guy was my manager, which went down well, but during my set they kicked off again. This is when the acting training kicked in and I just carried on, checking for flying bottles as I went, ad-libbing when appropriate, and got to the end when I left the stage more nervous than before I went on.
Other than that I’ve not been heckled and to be honest I’ve not seen much heckling on the open-mic circuit. If the promoter/compere is good enough then they can quash it before it even starts. What I have seen and experienced rather than heckling is a lot of commentating. This is sometimes worse than heckling as instead of just shouting out something offensive like ‘get off, you’re shit!’, they take what you’ve said and agree/disagree with their friends as if they’re watching TV and can’t be heard by anyone else. Then it’s less about putting them down and more about making sure you come back to them as quickly as possible so you don’t look thrown. Quite often the problem with trying a put down is that they might be funnier than you, and then you’ve lost the audience. My favourite was at a gig in Islington when there were some girls in the front who were talking throughout. They weren’t heckling so much as commentating, and it was more off-putting than it was funny. I was on about 5th and they made a few comments that I let go until the following exchange took place:
Me: I don’t have children of my own…
Girl: I wonder why!
Me: Condoms! Anyway, as I was saying, I don’t have children of my own…
Not the funniest retort in the world, but it was immediate and for that reason more than anything else the audience loved it. It stopped the girls from carrying on and they actually left after my set.
Quite often a ‘commentator’ is just trying to enjoy themselves and they don’t realise they’re being disruptive. When they do they either stop or carry on. Sometimes they annoy the waiting comedians to the point that everyone has worked out a put down for when they’re on, which is fair enough, but I have seen examples when the ‘commentator’ has calmed down by the time the comics come on, but they still feel the need to use their cleverly prepared line, which only serves to wake the beast and start the cycle again. Ad libs, even prepared ones, should be in the moment, and not hung on to regardless of the situation. I have done this myself, and it doesn’t go well.
Lots of comics prepare responses for when they get heckled, but you can’t possibly be in control of what someone else is going to say. I think it’s best to just have a little something up your sleeve, but to not worry about it too much until it happens. Then trust your instincts, remember you’re probably funnier than they are, and just have fun.
Comedy Blogedy: What advice would you give to new acts thinking about starting out in comedy?
Philip Simon: Sodd off! There’s too many of us here already! Take up knitting! Seriously though, if you want to do it then just do it. It took me ten years between first being encouraged and actually doing it. I was writing in that time and that material’s not going to waste now, but I could have been that much further along than I am by starting now. So, if you’re really interested in getting started, go to open mic gigs to watch and see how they work, get writing and get gigging. Do a course if you feel that would help you, but they’re not essential. Mine was great for giving the kick up the arse I needed to write and perform, but on the whole the material was there and I was just being lazy/complacent/lazy again!
Freelance Writing: www.philipsimonarticles.blog.com
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