Robin Ince: Why I’m quitting stand-up
I have been a stand up comedian for over half my life, and now it is time to stop talking.
It was January 2014 when I started to think, this showing off has got to stop.
I have no idea what the effect of closing my professional bile and jumping about valve will be, perhaps I will be murdered by my wife not long afterwards.
Or maybe I’ll fall silent and like it.
It is not that I have gone off the idea of stand up, or that I have come up with some grand or minor project to usurp it. It is an experiment. What happens to me without it?
The reasons why I have decided to stop change regularly.
When I am in a good mood, or post a successful gig, I wonder why I am going to attempt this silence, but in the shadows near the back of my skull, I know I should.
Most friends reckon it will last about a month. I want to give it at least two years, and then review the situation.
My notebooks have scribbled sentences that explain to me why I am doing this. Some of them I agree with as I am typing them out, others I am not sure of in my current frame of mind.
1. The main reason is my son. He is seven and I am not around enough. I am in a position that I can take a sizable chunk of time off and play Doctor Who Top Trumps and go to dinosaur museums, so I should do just that. I try to ration tour dates. My agent is responsive when I say I only want to do three shows in a week, but then others ask for talks or appearances at peculiar and fascinating events and that’s 7 days of the week gone. Cutting down is not an option. Total abstinence is required.
2. My impostor syndrome is more vibrant now than it was in 1992. I still don’t think I am a proper comedian. I find myself on benefit bills and look around a green room of professional comedians, people who really know how to do it, and wonder how I have snuck in with my mind shambles.
3. Paranoia is rife. However well a gig is going, I have drawn faces of fury on the front row. If everyone seems to be laughing, I am imagining the lone man in the audience is furious with it all. Later, he explains to other members of the audience that it was actually awful, and they realise they have been conned.
3a. I think paranoia really kicked in when I supported Ricky Gervais. That was the first time I got social media antagonism, I can weather it now, but at the time, it seemed to change something inside me.
4. I am stuck in my niche. I like the world I am in. I like the audience I get, but there still seem to be too many towns where I can’t get more than a few stalls seats sold. I can go from 600 people to 43 in 24 hours. The ego deflates like a spitty whoopee cushion.
4a. General tour stir craziness and being trapped in your head in a strange town a little too often.
5. All this science has brought on doubt. Why am I saying what I am saying? Do I know what I am talking about? Is there anything original being exhaled? This is much the same reason I stopped writing a regular blog – my “shut up shut up shut up” inner voice began to screech. Once I am off stand up, I will also depart social media for a while too, for more effective shutting up.
6. Aren’t there enough middle class white males talking already?
7. Sometimes I look at stand up and see all the commercialisation, the demographic researching, the secret writers making up observations for the big name, the disco ball illuminations, and I remember the less funny, but more passionate stand up 15 year old me saw in some gum and burn hole carpeted pub room, and I go off it. I know there are many wonderful, curious, exciting acts really, but for a moment, that knowledge slips away as I see the same panel on every panel show. The seating position and the desk colour may change, but look, there’s Jimmy Carr.
8. I see the work of Daniel Kitson or Bridget Christie or John Kearns and face my limitations. I walk off satisfactory gigs with disappointment in my airways because I keep imagining I may be capable of something that, in truth, I am not.
9. I think I was starting to go mad. I didn’t have some Hancockian black dog hovering above me, more a facetious little grey dog yapping. In Hull and Alnwick, I started to lose hold of the leash I keep my English emotions on (as poor Grace Petrie knows).
10. Insomnia decided to deposit itself in my gut and brains sometime ago. As I want each show to be better than the last, this hoped for perfectionism was stymied by that self-loathing homunculus who sneered at 3am – “how can you do the show justice when you won’t have slept for 49 hours. Hee hee hee”. I must buy some homunculus deterrent spray.
I was also hugely disappointed that the new nights I attempted last year, such as Your Culture is Ailing, Your Art Is Dead, failed to ignite enough passion to get a regular audience.
I have two months left. Let’s see if I can give up stand up for longer than I gave up whisky, or if the addiction is such that I’ll start busking jokes outside the Hayward Gallery by August. This whole thing may just be a nonsense, and in a matter of weeks I will be pugnacious, facetious and armed to play low turnout border towns all over again.
I have two more gigs in Australia, then a couple of months of UK gigs, from St Austell to Salford, Leeds to Bristol, ending up at The Bloomsbury, London. I will occasionally be popping up at festivals, including a one off show at Edinburgh. All dates are here.