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Dear Nick,

The most important thing to remember when you are on stage is that it is you who is on stage.

You may find it difficult to forget, of course. You might find yourself gazing out over patient rows of expectant faces, your bowels curdling under the lights as the gags you expected would bring the house down drift aimlessly across the room only to sputter against the far wall like disappointed farts in a week-old balloon. At that point you might find it quite difficult to forget that it is you who is on stage.

No matter what happens, remember that you have a right to be there, people have come to see you, you have the microphone. From the moment you walk on the stage – even if you are playing a meek and nervous character – you must own the space. It’s yours. Look at home in it. Try not to apologise for your presence.

Nothing is more uncomfortable for an audience than watching an act who isn’t convinced that they should be up onstage. From the apologetic way in which they handle the microphone, to the sympathetic ear they lend hecklers, to the self-pitying murmurs of “This isn’t going well” when it isn’t going well, if the audience don’t feel that the person on the stage is in control of the situation it panics them.

And rightly so. It would be like sitting down before your long-haul flight to hear across the tannoy: “Good afternoon, everyone, this is your 1430 hours departure for New York. The temperature at JFK is a balmy… I’m not sure I can do this. I practised for ages, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going very well. Is it going very well? Don’t know why I’m asking you lot, you don’t cre, you vultures. Now, which of these buttons makes it go up?”

The only difference is that the fear your audience will feel will not be that of a fiery, ocean-bound death, but rather of an excruciating five minutes of comedy. All right, so it’s not really the same at all.

But, still, it’s your responsibility to be in charge of the stage. To look like you know what you’re doing, even when you have know idea what you’re going to say next. Like Prince Philip.

When we watched the video back you noticed that your body language changed when you were dealing with the heckler. You physically tried to move away from him and avoid eye contact to defuse the situation. However, comedy is occasionally quite territorial and mammalian. You have to assert your authority over the group using your wit. And the fact that they don’t have a microphone.

You must become a silverback gorilla, throwing the weight of your enormous barrel-chest around, and grunting and hooting your authority to all challengers. Like Prince Philip.

You are the one who is meant to be there. You are the one people are there to see. Bear that in mind and straddle the stage like a smug giant, untroubled by doubt, secure in the knowledge that, undeserved or not, you are in charge of everything you cast your gaze upon.

Exactly like Prince Philip.

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Cover of Dungeon of Dread

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Dear Nick,

What you are about to do is not important.

It may feel like a nerve-wracking ordeal devised especially to torment you, but it isn’t. Your every waking moment might be filled with the dread of imminently having to stand on a stage whilst people watch you and laugh at you. Or, even worse, watch you and not laugh at you. But, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that important.

It is five minutes. In the middle of other people doing their five minutes. Even if it all goes horribly wrong, if the only reactions from the audience are yawns, gasps of horror, or wheezes of despair, it’s not that important.

You won’t be ruining anyone’s life. You probably won’t even be ruining anyone’s evening as there will be lots of other comedy to watch. To you, this is an experience that can consume your every waking moment. To the audience, you’re a brief distraction from the problems in their lives and their own ever-present dread of mortality.

So, relax. Take it easy. I’d suggest that you take a chill pill if it didn’t sound highly illegal, and exactly the sort of thing that caused all that trouble for that nice Dr Shipman.

Relax. Drink the experience in. You don’t get to spend much of your life being silly in front of people. Even if they don’t like it, so what? It’s not like they don’t like you. Unless they do.

And, even then, so what? What does it signify, at the end of the day? That you and some other people met for five minutes, discussed some ideas, and didn’t come to any mutually satisfying conclusions.

Relax. It’s not that important. No one’s life depends on it.

Except in your case, of course, as you’re doing it for charity. The fundees of the Comic Relief charities are directly dependent on your success for life-saving treatments, in some cases.

So don’t relax too much.

Man wearing briefs

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Dear Nick,

Be brief(s).

You talk too much. Too many words drop out of your flapping head, and flounder about on the floor like dying carp. Word after word after word comes out, and it has to stop. Preferably by the Friday after next.

We all talk too much, of course, but it is one of the biggest problems when you’re starting in standup. Every word you use that isn’t a punchline means your audience is waiting longer for their punchline. Every word you use that isn’t setting a punchline up is just wasted.

Although there are many, many ways of doing standup comedy (and I am hardly one to talk about using too many words), to begin with you must master the setup and punchline. For your first set, we will be almost exclusively working on the basis of setup and punch. Any word that is neither setting your joke up (misleading the audience, heightening their expectations, putting them in a mood you are bout to undercut) or paying one off is an unfunny word. It’s a useless, wasted beat in your routine. It is, although it is filled with sound, dead air.

You, I think, may well have to conquer your natural, professional hatred of silence. Silence is your friend. You can use it to intimidate your enemies, sneak a look at the notes written on your hand, or to feign a swoon, and wait for someone to carry you off stage. In comedy extra words are confusing, a distraction from the real job of making your audience laugh.

So, your first job is to think of some jokes. Your next job is to take out every unnecessary syllable. Every one. Evy on. N.

Picture of the inside of a Moleskine ruled not...

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The CRCCISC posts are a series of tips to help Nick Wallis, breakfast presenter for BBC Surrey, prepare for his first standup gig, at The Komedia, on March 17th. There are more details in this post.

Dear Nick,

They say that every journey begins with a single step. This is true. Unless you own a car.

You are starting a long journey of self-discovery, one that could one day lead you to the heady heights of a room above a pub in Islington, where hostile strangers will stare at you, and sigh audibly over your punchlines. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. And the last day of the first bit of your life. And the middle day of a section of your life that surrounds this bit.

Your first task is simple: go shopping. Go and buy a notebook and a pen.

Once you have bought them, keep them with you at all times. The style doesn’t matter. Whether you go for a leather-bound Moleskine and a Mont Blanc or a ring-bound pad with a biro is entirely up to you, but, from now on, you must have them to hand whenever anything strikes you as interesting or amusing.

When you’re at work, having them sitting next to you, at home have them next to you. When you go to bed leave them within reach. Take them with you to the loo. Whilst in the loo you might produce some great stuff. You could also write some jokes.

Write down anything that occurs to you as you think of it. Don’t try and remember it later: the best jokes have a habit of disappearing when you try to remember them. At least, that’s what I say happened to mine…

Give your notebook a name. Like ‘Janice’. Learn to love it, hate it, to take it everywhere with you. Use it as a filter to catch the nuggets of interesting stuff that are whizzing through your brain. Have an affair with it No, don’t have an affair with it, because that could end messily and the one thing you don’t want to lose is Janice.

This is the first step on your journey, and, thankfully, it just involves a trip to Rymans (other stationers are available).

Dare to be a hero, Nick. Go and buy a pocket-sized notebook.

Get scribbling.

Tapley, Wallis, and Amused Bystander

What could possibly go wrong?

There are certain small moments of indescribable joy when one’s teaching comedy. There’s seeing a quiet child suddenly find a huge voice when you’re playing improvisation games in a school. There’s watching new jokes coming into being. There’s the look of unadulterated horror on a breakfast DJ’s face as he realises that he has agreed, for Comic Relief, to perform an original set at a proper comedy club in front of a proper audience in a few weeks’ time.

That last one’s my new favourite. You can see his mind’s eye roving over each imagined hostile face, and sweating its way through each uncomfortable, silent second. This is going to be fun.

Yes, as those of you who listened to BBC Surrey (104-104.6 on your FM dial) the other morning will know, I’ll be training Nick Wallis, presenter of the breakfast show, in comedy for the next couple of weeks. Then, on March 17th, he’ll be performing a set, in front of a room full of paying punters, at The Komedia in Brighton.

Nick, of course, will be fine. Not only are (in my Treason Show experience) Komedia crowds delightful in the extreme (and VERY forgiving), but the fact that it’s for charity should mean that no one is going to be judging him too harshly. None of that, of course, will stop him visualising a room so quiet that you can hear people’s expectations crumbling.

Especially now that I’ve mentioned it.

The fact that it’s for charity is a double-edged sword, however.  If I fail to train Nick well enough, we will actually be making the lives of the less-fortunate much, much worse. I get the feeling that for every gag he does that falls flat, Lenny Henry will personally close a hospital in Somalia. For every weak pun, Billy Connolly will throw sawdust and scorpions into the well of a village in Burkina Faso. Each time Nick fluffs a line, Richard Curtis will punch a child carer.

So we’d better get it right…

I’ll be keeping track of Nick’s progress here over the next few weeks, and he will be blogging about it over there. In the meantime, if you run a comedy night in Surrey, and have a spare five minutes to give to Nick between February 25th and March 17th, drop me a line…

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