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How do I become the next Peter Kay?

Our aspiring comic Alastair McCall gets some advice from the professionals

Published on April 21st 2009.


How do I become the next Peter Kay?

On Thursday John Warburton had been listening to a host of comedy actors such as Martin Freeman reading through his scripts. On Friday he was listening to a sweaty me, bumbling through my stand-up routine in the dressing room of the Frog and Bucket.

How the mighty fall, eh?

For my part, I was very nervous. Sitting next to Warburton (2004 City Life Comedian of the Year, professional comic and scriptwriter) was Lee Martin, manager of the Frog and Bucket and director of Gag Reflex, the biggest comedy agency outside London. With one gig under my belt, an 'audition' in front of these two wasn’t quite what I'd have planned as the next step in my comedy career.

Warburton is a former tabloid journalist who was bought a Peter Kay DVD for Christmas one year. Tired of seeing his hard work as the next day’s chip wrappers, he decided to give it a go and has not looked back since.

The Manchester comedy scene is thriving, and Warburton is a testament to that. “Winning Comedian of the Year helped me move from support act up to headliner at a lot of the clubs I played, and got me noticed by a few more people at the clubs I didn't play at yet.”

It seems that there are a huge amount of aspiring comics like me out there, plugging away at comedy dives across the North. “The city has such a wealth of talent,” said Lee. Asked how long it takes to go from starting out to headlining somewhere like the Frog, he said: “It varies so much it's almost impossible to quantify, if I was pushed for an average, I'd say five years.” Gulp.

They both proffered some advice for me just starting out. Lee said, “It's hard, hard work and you need to really want it to succeed. There'll be many knocks along the way so you'll need to be able to bounce back and keep getting stronger. If you are any less than 100 per cent committed, don't start.”

John adds: “Be very careful about who you take advice from. Some people want you to do well, others will want to keep you down at the same level as them.”

Being fairly comfortable with the idea of being at the same level as these two, I got on with it. They listened to what I had to say in stony silence and it was over in about three minutes. Not much use when I’ve got to fill five in a week’s time. It was horrible.

To be honest, they were very kind considering how crap I was, and we spent a while jigging the material about until it resembled something half presentable.

“Start with the truth,” said John, “and gently chip away at it until it’s funny.” This was a piece of advice that I took away and thought about. It changed everything I was doing in my comedy writing.

At the end, I showed the gents some other material I’d been working on that morning, just for fun. Again they listened silently, looked at each other, then at me and Lee broke the silence: “That stuff’s better mate, I’d go with that.”

One week to go...

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