@komediabath interview: @GaryDelaney
Master of the one-liner, Mock the Week regular and husband to fellow stand-up comic Sarah Milican, Gary Delaney is bringing his Gagster’s Paradise show to Komedia on December 1st.
Craig Maplesden had a quick chat with the Solihull-born funnyman to find out what’s in store, Memory Palaces and how Martin Lewis (yes, him!) got him into comedy.
Many thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat to me. You are coming to Komedia with your ‘Gagster’s Paradise’ tour. What is the show about and what can we expect?
It’s just loads of jokes. No stories, no sad bits, no themes, it’s not about anything and you definitely won’t learn anything, but if you want a show with 250+ jokes in it, then this is for you.
How did you first get into comedy?
I was always keen to do stand-up but never had the confidence. I didn’t know at that time that funny people are very rarely loud and confident. I used to organise conferences for a living and go to a lot of comedy on my own to watch. An old LSE buddy of mine (Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert guy off the telly) dabbled in stand up mid 90’s. I helped him write jokes. I wrote him one about nurses (too rude to print here) and said ‘Do this, it’s great’. He did. It didn’t work. I said ‘You’re doing it wrong”, he said ‘Do it yourself then!’.
Then one night in the pub he bet me twenty quid that I wouldn’t have the balls to do a gig myself. So I did. I never got the money though as we’d agreed a deadline of 6 weeks, and it took me seven weeks to get a gig. Money Saving even then you see! The gig went well and my life changed. I discussed this with Martin recently and it’s only fair of me to say that he remembers this differently. He doesn’t recall any bet, just him encouraging me to start when has was planning to stop. Maybe that’s the mists of time, maybe the fact we were half drunk in a pub late at night, or maybe it’s the fact that if a comic tells a story enough times they genuinely forget what was real and what they embellished.
You have been called the ‘Picasso of Puns’. Was it always your intention to be a master of the ‘one-liner’?
I’m a big believer that you don’t choose a style in comedy, your style chooses you. As a new act you don’t really know who you are. You try different things, you copy the people you admire and wear your influences on your sleeve. I tried linking jokes together, I tried stories, I tried being a bit weird. They weren’t me. I soon found out that I was rubbish at that stuff but really good at writing short jokes, especially rude ones. If you listen to your audience and whether they’re laughing or not they’ll soon tell you who you are as a comedian.
Do you have any amazing memory for gags or do you need brain training in order to remember them all?
I don’t naturally have a good memory so I use what’s called a Memory Palace to help me remember a show. All memory systems work on turning hard to remember things like names and numbers into easy to remembers vivid pictures. Our brains are still caveman’s brain, you’re hard wired to learn your surroundings quickly as that’s an essential skill to survive. So take every joke you want to remember, turn it into an exaggerated, grotesque picture and then spread them around somewhere you know well. Your house, garden, walk to work etc. Of all the skills involved in writing and performing a show the one people comment on the most is the memory aspect, but I think I could teach anyone how to do that in a couple of hours. That’s the easiest part, learning how to write jokes is the hard part.
You seem to be constantly on the road with your tour. How is touring for you?
I love touring. The travel is tiring but the shows are amazing. As a club comic you’re often playing to people who aren’t necessarily fans of what you do, so it can be hard sometimes. As a touring act people know you already, they’ve seen you on TV, or more likely nowadays in clips on line. People who come to my shows love oneliners. They like silly jokes. They like rude jokes. They like dark jokes. They’re not easily offended or taking the things I say literally. They’re not expecting stories, politics or opinions. They just want to laugh a lot, and that’s what I try to deliver. When someone says after a show that their face hurts from laughing I think ‘But that’s what supposed to happen!’. People often tell me their cheeks hurt after a show, but I’ve never enquired which.
Do you have specific days where you sit down to write jokes or do you need to have ‘voice memos’ at the ready to record them?
Mix of both. Ideas come when they come, when I was a young comic I always had my notepad and pen to hand, or by the bed. Now it’s notes and voice memos on your phone. But ideas aren’t jokes yet. You need to sit down with them and open up the bonnet and tinker until you have a working joke. Joke writing is a trial and error process. I usually book in new material nights at places like the Comedy Store. Then I spend that day turning my rag tag ideas into 30 to 40 actual jokes. Them I try them out. I grade them A to Ds. I keep the As and some of the Bs. I try to make all the Bs better. I take that third and try them out again at less hospitable gigs, once again I keep the best third of the third. Then those that remain go into my set, if they survive more than a week or two they make the grade. I reckon I use about 5% of what I write in the finished shows.
Do you ever get writers block?
No, when I’ve got no new ideas I go back and try to fix the thousands of ideas I’ve had that aren’t working yet. That well never runs out.
Do you test out your jokes on your wife first, and if so, is she your harshest critic?
No. No one can reliably second guess what an audience will find funny, no matter how good their comic brain is. First hurdle for a joke is just ‘am I willing to say this out loud on a stage?’ Often I’m not. That’s a good filter. We help each other tinker with jokes we’ve tried out to get them working. We’ll often do new material nights together then triage the jokes afterwards. These are good, these are bad, these could be good. Then we try to swap tips on what could change a joke in that last category into a good joke. The rest don’t need it or won’t benefit from it.
Have you ever written a joke and thought – No, I better not go there?
Many times. I usually try them out anyway and see what happens. You can’t second guess audiences. Sometimes the thing you think is too gross and could never work becomes your next banker. Sometimes the joke you think innocuous offends people. Just do it and see what happens. If it’s not funny enough to justify the offense it gets binned, but if it is then it’s golden.
Other than the tour, what else do you have planned for the rest of 2019?
I’ve just started writing gags for the next tour. I also recorded my first two tour shows which are now being edited (and checked by lawyers) and will be realised for free to people on my mailing list and who follow me on social media. This tour runs til March 2020. This last leg is doing second and third dates in all the places that sold out too quickly. After March I’ll have a little holiday then start seriously working up the next tour. Six months or so at home writing and tinkering. Then rinse and repeat.
Gary Delaney’s Gagster’s Paradise is at The Komedia in Bath on 1st December. For tickets go to www.garydelaney.com