Saturday, February 24

Markus Birdman: ‘If anything bad happens to a comic, we think: this will make a good routine!’ | stage

How did you get into comedy?
By really mistake. My girlfriend’s friend thought I was funny and entered me into the Daily Telegraph’s new act competition. Having an essentially heroic disposition, I had a go, and ended up in the final.

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned from being a standup?
Never accept a gig in Maidstone.

What’s your upcoming show about?
My show is about the stroke I had last June, losing half my eyesight and my recovery. Sounds hilarious, doesn’t it?! But don’t worry, it ends well.

What’s the trick for doing material on a serious subject such as your two strokes without making it appear glib?
I’ve worked hard to make it as honest and as close to the truth as what happened, rather than chase the joke. Some extraordinary things happened and I just aimed to retell that. Being a very gifted, yet largely unrecognized comic, if I relax, the jokes pour out of me. And I make it a rule not to be earnest or self-pitying. That’s a dick move.

Any pre-show rituals?
I try to have a beer, and no more strokes.

Best heckle?
Mostly heckles are tedious drunken rubbish – I don’t adhere to this notion that they are a part of standup.

Any comedy bugbears?
My greatest sadness has been to discover that it’s not necessarily the funniest comics who rise to the top, but the pushiest. Also we used to get a lot more free drinks.

Who did you look up to when you were first starting out?
Not one really. I had no ambition to be a standup and knew nothing and no one. Some might say little has changed. Bill Hicks was about it, who I did think was great.

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This is the 15th solo show you’ve taken to Edinburgh. What’s changed most about the fringe over that time?
The advent of the Free Fringe has been a gamechanger for performers and makes it viable if you are not landed gentry.

What’s changed most about you over that time?
I’ve fallen more in love with comedy and more disillusioned with the comedy industry. I’ve gone gray and lost half my eyesight.

Who on the circuit now impresses you?
Any comedian who really tries to speak their truth, who attempts to impart what it is to be human, and isn’t afraid to show their heart and soul. That said, I also adore the beautifully stupid Chris Lynam, who ends his set naked with a lit firework sticking out of his bum. It’s a truth of sorts I suppose.

Did it ever cross your mind to stop doing comedy and pick a less intense job?
Actually, the opposite. If you ever get writer’s block, try having a life-changing brush with death. What follows is an embarrassment of riches. It’s a pathetic admission, but if anything bad happens to a comic, it takes about half a second before we think, “ooh, this will make a good routine!”

Worst advice you’ve ever been given?
“You should do that gig in Maidstone.” Or the advice I gave to myself concerning a 24-hour bender I went on after a gig in Pakistan. I am now older and wiser.

And the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Was it Confucius who said, “You don’t drown by falling in the river, but by not getting out?” Actually, it may have been Jackie Chan in Kung Fu Panda, but I’ve taken that very much to heart.

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