Tony Cowards: Off and on since 2004. I started out helping out at a great comedy club in North London called “The Comedians’ Graveyard”, which was a fantastic club but is now sadly deceased. Originally I was just a behind-the-scenes helper but eventually I ended up on stage and never looked back.
Comedy Blogedy: How would you describe your comedy?
Tony Cowards: Silly one-liners and puns, lots of puns. I don’t really swear and there’s very little in my comedy that would upset anyone, although after an horrific gig in a Casino recently I did get called an “offensive comedian” because they said I’d mentioned “Afghanistan” (I hadn’t) and “Self-harming” (I had). Whilst I might like to think this now makes me “cool” and “edgy”, Frankie Boyle I ain’t.
Comedy Blogedy: Which comedians influence your comedy?
Tony Cowards: Currently Tim Vine for his silliness, Milton Jones for his superb wordplay and Gary Delaney for his work ethic and ability to craft a killer joke. Growing up Tommy Cooper could make me laugh without saying a word.
Comedy Blogedy: Did you always want to go into comedy?
Tony Cowards: I didn’t start until I was well into my 30s, so no. I guess I always loved comedy though and always enjoyed making people laugh, but as a kid I wanted to be a pilot, unfortunately being as blind as a bat (who, ironically, are brilliant flyers) put paid to that ambition.
Comedy Blogedy: How do you go about writing your material?
Tony Cowards: As a one-liner comic you become a language magpie, so if I hear or read a phrase that I think could work as a punchline I’ll write it down and then try to reverse engineer a set up which could lead up to that phrase or wording. If I’m really struggling to write, I’ll open a random page on Wikipedia, read a few sentences and then see if I can make a joke out of something.
The hardest thing about writing is getting started, so often it’s better to writing anything, a blog, a diary entry, a story, a letter or even a shopping list, something to get you thinking and into the action of writing and then keep writing, eventually you’ll start producing something and the ideas will flow. The worst thing to do is to sit there looking at a blank page or screen and pressurising yourself to write jokes or funny material immediately.
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?
Tony Cowards: I’m now a full time stand-up, although I supplement my income from that with writing and running comedy workshops for the elderly and vulnerable. I may’ve made that sound more sinister than it should! My previous job was in an office hiring out stage lighting and sound equipment, I can’t say that’s particularly influenced my material but it does mean that I’m a good comic to have around if your PA equipment is playing up!
Comedy Blogedy: What do you find the most enjoyable and frustrating parts of the amateur comedy circuit?
Tony Cowards: Lack of audiences is generally the major one. When I lived in London and was doing the open mic circuit there were hundreds of comedy nights but only a few of them could guarantee a decent sized audience, often you were playing to other comics and a few of their mates or maybe a few of the bars drunken characters who’d wandered in to have a drink or ten and shout incomprehensibly at the acts.
Comedy Blogedy: What’s your favourite type of audience to perform to?
Tony Cowards: Any audience that is prepared to have fun and let themselves get lost in the experience of having a laugh. Stand up comedy is a two-way thing, not only does the comic have to be funny but the audience have to be prepared to give positive feedback, it’s a live experience, the audience have to be participants in the event not just passive observers, if they find something funny they have to laugh.
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?
Tony Cowards: I don’t tend to get heckled too much as I’m fairly quickfire so there’s not too many points where a heckler can interrupt. I don’t mind a good heckle though and I love doing military gigs because they tend to be quite interactive and it gives me an opportunity to let loose with some harsh putdowns. Not sure what the best heckle I’ve had is, although occasionally they do make me laugh and the best thing to do is acknowledge it and move on, some comics get locked into a battle of egos because they think that they have to be the funniest person in the room, personally my job is to make people laugh and if a heckler makes the audience laugh whilst I’m on stage that’s still MY laugh.
Comedy Blogedy: What advice would you give to new acts thinking about starting out in comedy?
Tony Cowards: Watch as much comedy as you can, both live and on DVDs, read comedy books, immerse yourself in comedy and try to learn from all of it. Doing research and watching the mistakes of others can give you a 50-100 gig advantage over someone who hasn’t. Also, try not to say “no” to anything, open yourself up to new experiences and gig wherever you can, try not to get stuck in the open mic circuit and don’t become a big fish in a small pond, look at the top names in the business and emulate them, aim to be as funny as they are, never settle for second best, keep aiming to be the funniest comic on the bill. Lastly, persevere, remember a professional is generally an amateur who didn’t give up.
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