By Alexander Taylor
Help! I just died! (on stage)
My hands are sweaty. My knees weak, and my arms, heavy. Tonight is a big gig, so I’m grateful for my mum cooking me spaghetti.
The venue trickles full with punters. Five. Ten. Twenty now. I try to breathe slowly and shake the nerves out my limbs. What was my first line again? Thirty-ish. Forty-ish. The crowd size has the suffix “ish” over twenty. It’s impossible to tell. The place is packed. Chatter fills the air. It’s hot. It wasn’t before. That’s what fifty bodies do to a small room. Body heat. What the fuck was my first line.
The lights drop low and the tech guy gives me a wave. It’s show time.
I do my first joke.
It goes like this. Lights up. I’m centre-stage, pretending to cook. Someone shouts “And now, the head chef on the Titanic realises they’ve run out of lettuce”. I look up, wide-eyed, and point in the distance. I shout “Danger! We’ve run out of lettuce!”.
If you didn’t get it, don’t worry. If you did, and didn’t laugh, don’t worry. If you got the joke, and laughed… worry?
We did the Lettuce sketch on stage at the Edinburgh Fringe twice, and both times it bombed. There’s a certain feeling when delivering a line intended to be funny, and it dying on its arse before your very eyes. It’s not a nice feeling. Your stomach tightens, your mouth runs dry, your heart skips a beat, and you wonder if a hole opened up in the earth and swallowed you, would it really be so bad?
First things first, you aren’t going to die. Before we redesign the Titanic, get into the lifeboat and grab a blanket.
You’ll be fine.
Second things second, how could we have done better?
There’s no hard or fast answers here. Small mistakes in the timing, delivery, and joke design are certainly possible. Could I have made it more obvious the chef was meant to say Iceberg? Would it have been more clever to shout “romane” or “little gem”? Should I make like a tree and quit comedy?
Because third things third, the joke can just be shit, and that is okay.
Good creatives don’t create exclusively good ideas. If you are to write anything at all, you must accept that some of your work will be terrible. It’s scary, but necessary. Take comfort in the greats falling, particularly because you aren’t that great.
Later in the fringe, I replaced the Titanic Head Chef impression with a Man With Tourettes Touching a Hot Stove. The punchline? “Oh, that’s a hot stove.” It is the exact same premise as the Lettuce joke. You expect him to swear (shout Iceberg) but he doesn’t (anti-joke, your expectations are the punchilne).
Did it get laughs?
None of your business, mate. You’ll have to get up on stage yourself and find out.
P.S. You’ll be fine.