Sam Brady’s warm, poignantly funny brand of storytelling comedy encourages a little more kindness and positivity in the world. This failed Buddhist monk is preparing to reprise his hit Edinburgh show, the appropriately named “Kindness” in August 2015, as well as writing a book of the same title and running an initiative promoting kindness in the workplace. What a lovely bloke. We spoke to Sam about the importance of using comedy to convey a message, translating stand up to the page and how a Buddhist monk in training became a stand up comedian…
How would you describe your style of comedy?
I tell funny, poignant stories.
How did you get into comedy? Without giving away too much of your Edinburgh show, you’re a “failed” Buddhist monk. How did that turn into a comedy career?
I spent 3 years living in a Buddhist community training to be a monk. A family crisis meant I had to leave there and come back into the world. But the world seemed more absurd than ever the second time around. Laughter seemed like the only sane response to an insane world. And comedy is a probably the best way to expose people’s absurdity without getting a slap in return.
Much of your material, especially your Edinburgh show, is about the importance of “Kindness”, and you’re soon to launch a new workplace initiative promoting a culture of kindness. Do you think it’s important that comedy is used as a medium to convey a meaningful message?
The most important thing about comedy is that it’s funny. Some of the greatest comedy is just plain daft and has no pretensions to meaning at all.
But you’re right about my stuff. Although I love getting laughs, I also want to explore something deeper. I believe that people are not as cynical and selfish as economists and politicians and the media would have us to believe. I’m always trying to tap into a sense of our shared humanity to try and inspire people and leave them feeling positive about themselves and each other.
Is it harder to convey a message doing short sets than when you’re performing your hour long show?
Yes I think it’s harder to convey meaning in short sets. An hour gives you the time to build up context. So people can tune into exactly where your coming from and start to see the world from the performer’s perspective. Once you’ve established context, it’s easier for the audience to pick up on subtle references and ironic statements.
In a shorter set, when you’re on a bill of several acts, you have to try to establish this context very quickly and you don’t have room to develop a theme properly. Having said that, doing shorter sets does help you develop the discipline to get a point across more succinctly – something I’m still working on.
Who are your comedy influences?
My comedy influences are really varied. I think when you start doing stand up, you have an idea in your mind about what stand up is and you conform to that. So I started out a bit like a sweary Peter Kay. Then, as you see more and more acts, you start to realise what is possible. For instance, I saw Simon Amstell talking in a deeply personal, confessional way about existential angst, self-loathing and his complicated family relationships and I thought – “What? I didn’t know we were allowed to talk about things like that on stage!” That prompted me to rewrite everything and re-invent my on stage persona from scratch. Having said that, I also learned a lot from Les Dawson and Laurel & Hardy – so it’s not all middle-class intelligentsia.
We hear you have a book coming out soon? How does the experience of writing a book compare to writing for the stage? Are you still conscious of the need to be funny?
My book Kindness – A Sort of Memoir is due out in August (although at this rate I might be asking my publisher for an extension). I have found writing a book horribly difficult. Creating stand-up is a collaborative process between you and the audience. You can come up with an idea in the afternoon before a gig – or even while you’re on stage – and you can throw it out to the audience to try it. The audience response then helps you to understand where to take that idea next and over the course of a few gigs the material is formed. It’s an exciting, spontaneous, shared process. But writing a book is a lonely, tedious business of trying to carve words out of thin air and having no idea whether what you’re writing is a load of rubbish. Fortunately, I’ve got a brilliant editor who also, during my darkest moments, seems to double as a psychiatrist. So that’s handy.
Yes I’m still conscious of the need to be funny. But I think I’m learning to resist the temptation to turn everything into the joke. As well as light, we all need a bit of shade.
You can catch Sam’s Edinburgh show, “Kindness” at The Assembly Rooms this August at the Edinburgh Fringe. Tickets and more details here.