Having started life as a sketch comic, Alastair Clark is shaping up to be one of the most prolific young alternative stand ups on the Liverpool scene, having written and performed two hour long shows in the last year – Alastair Clark BA (Hons) and Alastair Clark: Opinionated. He is currently working on his third, taking the wry political humour of Vote Russell Brand to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. We chatted to Alastair about the importance of structure, Shiny New Comedy Lab and why he owes the best gig of his life to Paul Heaton…
How would you describe your act?
Hypercritical. Eloquent and wordy.
How did you get into stand up?
I was a sketch comedian for a while before I ever did stand up. When I was at school I used to write sketches with my mate Boothy. We got involved with the University writing group and ending up getting our own show through that. We took it to the Fringe in 2011. I just thought I should probably do stand up as well. I’ve loved stand up my entire life, really, really loved it, so when I started gigging I worked really hard at it. My first gig was a Hot Water new material night.
Do you think that writing sketch comedy has informed the way you write stand up?
Possibly, but I’ve started writing things with a build and a change in dynamics that you can’t look at on it’s own – which is so different from sketch comedy. Something I really like about what I do is the theatrical arc in terms of status or in terms of content. I want what I do to be something more – with sketch comedy it was a means to make people laugh but it’s very difficult to communicate a message or say something that’s real using sketch, although there are people that do.
How far does real life inform your comedy?
Last year, my Edinburgh show was entirely autobiographical. Everything I said in that show was either the truth or very close to it. The show I’m writing now is largely fictitious – I give autobiographical accounts of growing up – but I’ve taken huge liberties with the truth. Ultimately what you’re aiming at with art is truth, but I construct believable untrue circumstances to highlight a wider truth, and I think there’s something nice about that. I don’t know where the inspiration comes from when I write, it is inspired by life, because obviously it has to be from somewhere, but in terms of cannibalizing experience it’s something I don’t do as much any more.
Who are your comedy influences?
There’s three times in my life where I remember thinking everything’s changed. I remember watching a Jack Dee DVD when I was still quite young and thinking the way he manipulated the audience to laughter and the dead pan style was just brilliant. After that I started writing stand up sets – which were all awful and bizarre! When I got a bit older I saw Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure which is still one of my favourite one man shows to watch. Then the third time was watching Stewart Lee Stand Up Comedian for the first time and that was better than everything and nothing has been as good since. He went from there and made stand up better than it ever could be.
You’re the regular compere for Shiny New Comedy Lab. How is compering different to performing a set?
When you’re compering you don’t get to do the whole theatrical thing. You’re just trying to make sure everyone has a good time, so you have to compromise. I do really enjoy doing the night, mainly because of my fairly strict booking policy. When I explain Shiny New Comedy to people I say imagine I’m just showing you stand up I like on Youtube – but it’s live. Essentially it’s “Have you heard of this guy? No? Well have a look at this!”
I’m glad I’ve done the night because it makes me a better stand up. I’m much happier to go off-piste and interact with the group. If you offered me the choice every time I’d take doing a set, but compering is a valuable thing and it does make you a better act.
What is your writing process like?
I get possessed by ideas – I find the shower is a brilliant place to work things out in your head, it’s just complete sensory deprivation. The thing with the laptop is that you can just go on the internet… and five hours later you know everything there is to know about the Czechoslovakian Wolf Dog but you’re no closer to getting a bit of stand up. I might start saying it out loud to come up with the gags. I try not to think about it too much and find something in performance. Sometimes it constructs itself. For me it’s not so much about writing the jokes as concentrating on the structure. The jokes will find themselves on stage if you know what the gag is.
When I come to writing an hour long show, I go into an intense writing camp where I sit down and force myself to write. I’ll write the first ten pages about 50 times. you don’t get any further, but the first ten pages are always bloody brilliant! It’s different for everyone – for me structure takes precedent over everything.
What’s the best thing about gigging in Liverpool?
There’s some really nice nights here, which is helpful. Another Comedy Night which Dave Alnwick and Joe Munrow run is one of the nicest nights that you can do – it’s got a good core audience that are comedy literate, they understand and they’re up for laugh.
I got booked to do the comedy at Beach Break Live. It was going to be in South Wales and about two months before the festival they moved it to Newquay. I had to get there under my own steam, it took me 22 hours. It was ridiculous. We got there and I said, “Who are the other acts?” They didn’t get any. So I had to pull out enough material to fill 90 minutes. The beer garden was at the front of pub on a main road, and they asked as not swear because there were kids about – I’m lucky if I go about three sentences without swearing onstage. It was so bad. Then the bands didn’t turn up. I went on that stage and I just got heckled for an hour by a stag do. I walked away and thought I will never do anything worse than that.
The King’s Arms in Salford. I remember finding out that I was onstage at 6 o’clock and Paul Heaton – you might know him as a living legend – was on at 6 o’clock on the music stage in the other room. I was convinced no one was going to come watch me. But somehow, about thirty people turned up in this little room and bloody laughed! It went so well – everything got a hit, every joke, it was just a brilliant gig.
For gig listings and updates, you can follow Alastair on twitter @alastair_clark, Facebook and Youtube. Ever a fan of a fellow blogger here at THAT Comedy Blog, you can also read more of Alastair’s thoughts on comedy here.
Alastair runs a monthly comedy night showcasing new material, Shiny New Comedy Lab at The Lantern Theatre, Liverpool, listings can be found here.
For information on Alastair’s Edinburgh show, check out the official Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme here.