The Art Of Stand Up Comedy

Tues 12th June - Showcase Gig

Burdalls Yard, London Road, Bath. 7 for 7.30
Admission - Free

Tony Allen is a seminal figure in the history of alternative stand up comedy. In 2002 he published Attitude - the Secret of Stand Up Comedy that detailed his unique approach to stand up comedy as an art form. Since then he has run numerous workshops and has refined his teaching in collaboration with a range of likeminded practitioners. This evening will showcase a group of novice comedians who have attended a series of stand up comedy workshops. Digital footage from the workshops and performances will be utilised in an online platform in support of a revised articulation of 'The Art of Stand Up Comedy'. This will be the culmination of a research project carried out in collaboration with BA (Hons) Comedy course leader Pat Welsh.


Session 6. 2nd June 2018. Burdalls Yard, London Road, Bath.

Homework: Questions on Performance + A draft copy of your 5 minute script

This session is a conflation of the two remaining workshop sessions - TECHNIQUE, which deals with Best Practice and Problem Solving (for which you should have questions about anything still unresolved in your performance)… and GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER (GYAT). Ideally this requires you have a draft copy of your script consisting of 5 mins worth of your own material.

Your script should include notes on how you intend to make your entrance. and establish (non-verbally) who you are. Also: How you will broach the 4th Wall. For the core of your short set, choose pieces from the workshop sessions that you personally liked and most enjoyed performing; and/or pieces that earned the response “Keep it in!” from the tutorial team and others in the group. You should also bring your ‘costume’ or be wearing it.

Here’s a resumé of what we covered in the previous five workshop sessions. Some of you experienced cracking your first joke of the workshop when we played games to learn each others names and suggested that you state only ‘your ‘Name’ and your Home town’ hitting the latter with an emotional emphasis that described how you felt about the place.

Also in this introduction we further explained set-up n punch’ joke structure; including the ‘Rule of three’ - Establish, Reinforce, Surprise; and inevitably we introduced the notion of Attitude and an ‘Attitude Palette’. We suggested that ‘Attitude’ is as integral to a Performer, as ‘Character’ is to an Actor; a very personal and customised version of ‘Stage-persona’.

Session1 DYNAMICS.

Stand-up comedy is about direct communication. It appears to be a one-sided conversation between performer and audience and rejects the theatrical convention of an imaginary ‘Fourth Wall’.

Throughout the exercise - ‘Teaching a ‘playground skill’ - not only was the Fourth Wall demolished, it was dispensed with entirely. This was new territory for some of you, and there were occasions when a performer lost control of their audience. We explained the importance of being in ‘Performance mode’ and ‘Addressing the Now’ and dealing with ‘this’ audience on ‘this’ particular occasion. Our feedback pointed out the importance of maintaining eye-contact and being aware of the mood of the room and acknowledging and dealing with interruptions. To help you achieve and sustain these essentials we introduced the techniques of mugging, mimicry and corpsing.

We also extended the concept of ‘Attitude’ and started a process of suggesting adjectives and emotional states that might comprise or help describe an individual’s attitudinal palette.

In the first exercise, Lydia was seen as a spirited rabble-rouser, bold and raucous and was encouraged to introduce a softer side to balance her stage persona. Beth, slow and timid at first, eventually displayed moments of honesty, teacherly bossiness and gentle censure allowing her to keep the audience focussed. (See clip.) Tor (who, on removing the mic from the mic stand, commented ‘Like the proper comedians do”) was friendly, easy-going unsophisticated, engaging and laidback to the point of losing control. Tom was cocky competitive and sharp earning him the feedback “deadpan spite” and consequently encouraged to recognise the comic possibilities of self-deprecation.

Session2 ATTITUDE Birdalls Yard.

Hot Seat / The Entertainer / Arse About Face / Thank you list

The Hot Seat produced some spirited reactions and subtle reflections. By way of a further understanding of both ATTITUDE and the ‘set-up and punch’ of joke STRUCTURE, we continued to encourage you to assemble a Palette of accessible minority personalities - the voice of one used for the set up and another for the punch. This palette was then used when expressing conflicting feelings about a range of subject matter in the set piece homework - compiling and performing a Thank You List of the seminal influences in your lives, including your nearest and dearest, arbitrary cultural icons and abstract entities. We also discussed in what voice a performer might choose to express the truth, not only an opinion about another person or a past event, but a voice to express their actual feelings in the HERE n NOW, delivered maybe in a whispered aside to the audience. Eg: “This is my first time - Its scary!

Her description of going on a tentative date was reflective and thoughtful.

Honest, innocent, cheeky, down to Earth. A good boy, bemused accepting, calm, solid, small c conservative.

Smooth, defended, open-minded’ giving, self-contained, Bolshy, jokey, lighthearted. ‘had done a bit of work on himself’ ‘A team-member’. Arms-swinging faux-relaxed casually searching for the comfort zone.

Bright, up-for-it, cheeky, cheerful, friendly, naughty and devilish.

Bright, alert, street-wise, contemporary, optimistic, low-status, up-for-it, playful, creative, It was apparent in her performance that she could access a range of sound effects and personal tics plus accompanying gestures which could be taken further, added-to and orchestrated.

‘Holding court’ Leadership material, chatty, cheerful, politic, manipulative, twofaced, forward, assured, shrewd, jokey. He was encouraged to show a less defended side to his persona.

Talkative, participatory, a cheerleader, approachable, up-beat, helpful, a would-be lieutenant.

Self-assured, confident, smart, on-it, been-there, self-deprecating, competent, driven, perky and positive.


A discussion of subject matter using Attitude to help source material from personal experience, opinion, observation, imagination and the imparting of information. In theatre a successful play depends on dramatic conflict between central characters with opposing personalities and agendas. We suggested that in standup comedy the dramatic conflict was rooted in the solo performer. Students were invited to introduce their Inner Nerd homework with such a comparison. - A contemplation of the serious side of their lives - Housing, Relationships, Education and Money juxtaposed with the trivia or escapism of their chosen subject matter. It produced some delightful comparisons followed by some very good routines.


One route to comedy is to publicly ask yourself the question ‘What am I like?’ or, if you’d prefer to put the distance of time between you and your odd behaviour ‘What was I like?”. The answer (and its funny because we’ve all done it) is “I was trying to impress.” “…trying to look tough.” or “...trying to look cool”.

Several people led by Daniel agreed that this week the ‘Penny had dropped’ Although some of the performances were raw and unrealised Everyone managed to come up with an Inner Nerd routine that, with a bit of work, could be the centrepiece of their showcase performance. Beth’s domestic eco-authoritarian, Suhaila’s self-expression via wacky hairstyles, Daniel’s escapism into a US TV Talkshow, Tor’s pride in his Viking roots, Matt’s crazed obsession with an obscure Goth rock band, Lydia‘s surprising passion for televised costume drama, Joey’s degenerate Alter ego, Tom’s geeky obsession with an online computer game, Jacob’s secret life in petty crime and Una’s delight in stroppy waitressing, All have potential.


An understanding of all things structural from the format of a simple one liner to the organisation of thematic routines and overall narrative. There was a lengthy discussion about identifying and re-working clichés and stereotypes; a de-construction of set-up n punch joke structure with continued examples of using a palette of accessible emotions and expressing a range personal ‘voices’ based on Attitude. We also discussed creating an awareness if not a discovery of taboo; a comparison of wit and pun. and the use of analogy, simile and metaphor. It was also posited that a strain of comedy joke structure is a parody of traditional forms of Rhetoric such as repetition, comparison and the rule of three. Examples were cited of good timing.

The main homework this session was based on a parody of a traditional stand-up routine - Just me then - a first person narrative which, starts off as an observation of personal behaviour, and quickly escalates into a tale of surrealism, eccentricity or utter embarrassment.

friendly, camp, brazen, controlling, cocky, cooky, excited, excitable, innocent, fauxinnocent, self-enthused breathless, apologetic, vulnerable, determined to be very naughty.

“Yes, it’s the self-confessed slightly-creepy Jacob”. Knowing, measured, mature, faux-apologetic, self-satisfied, Mr Beanish. Mischievous, convincing, believable and assured. His phrasing is interestingly Arch and old-fashioned.

A playful scally, self-interrogating, self-aware, tricksy, naughty, larky, gossipy, bewildered yet knowing, schemer, corner-cutter, larky and curious.

Emotive, emphatic, corpsing at his own extremity, outrageous, OTT, risk-taking, dishevelled, angry, pleading, belligerent, ranter, rabble- rouser, soft and reflective, likeable with a twinkle in his eye.

Cheeky, chatty, lively, intimidated, playful, friendly, determined, disarming and disarmed.

Cocky, male, arrogant, animated, emphatic, adolescent, sharp, on-it, mockswagger, out-to-impress, innocent, brave-face, defensive, reflective, selfdeprecating, techie and geeky.

Head girl. resourceful, quirky, self-questioning, engaging, thoughtful, alert, physically gouache, intelligent, open, honest, public-spirited, on-team.

Up-for-it, brash, brazen, bold, unladylike, still sweary, sentimental, shouty, forward, helpful.

together, emotive, self-deprecating, busy.

Dimensional, thoughtful, smart, vulnerable, resourceful, honest, giving, mummy’s boy.


In session 5 Texture, you were encouraged to Identify and utilise a range of personal attributes and idiosyncrasies to help embellish and finesse your performance; looking again at ‘personal argot and accent’ and the voices chosen for your ‘attitude palette’. Plus a whole bunch of tropes and devices were suggested and re-visited, everything from mugging and mimicry, facial expression, gesture, posture, movement and mime to chanted sloganeering whispered asides, repeated dialogue, snapshot characterisation, personification, alliteration, sound effects, hyperbole and understatement.

Never Seen That Before: When you wake up in the morning; you wake up in the world of yesterday. Everything you see, was the way you left it yesterday. Everything you do, you do the same way as you did it yesterday. This is a list of the things you noticed that are new today and that weren’t here yesterday.

Confident, On it, “Who’s the quiz master here?” Experimenting and playing. Lots of good audience participation. Eyebrows, grimacing, winking, pointing, (needs an edit) Learning quickly but out to impress and with little self deprecation. Shifted the sexist asshole minority personality to a fall guy WillieC. Noisy characters need better diction.

Relaxed, in control, Bleak, downer, nice wordsmithery, Accurate emphasis - ‘F’king’ ‘Aching’. Good range of voices, The eccentric outbursts and misplaced emotional emphasis continues but now less chaotic. Good decisions being made around what heckles to respond to, and how to respond and for how long. Should prepare 10-12 mins for the showcase.

An increasingly naughty Mr Entertainment, several good set-ups in search of punch lines.EG: ’body of a 12 year old girl with a matching penis.” Needs the material to match the undoubted confidence. Playful, likeable and works the room well. Also think more about Cold war routine.

The ‘proposition’ piece; Daniel is Everyman - innocent, self-deprecating questioning. perplexed, Best line “quite frankly I struggle to pleasure one woman”. A routine that suits his style. He should put in the work and use it. Good audience banter. Occasional bad diction - needs to relish and enjoy what he’s saying.

She oozes confidence, has good diction, still needs to find a softer gentler side, good hearted, Combative banter with the audience, with mimicry, dismissive gestures and agreement when she’s wrong which continued throughout. She is seemingly fearless, bossy and quick-witted.

Still needs to organise some openers, step on stage and confidently deliver them. Appears delighted by the fact the she’s coined a personal catchphrase - Why not? Treat Myself!. The rest needs to be delivered in the same assured spirit as the botlike voice of the official at the bank.

See you on the 2nd June...

Previous Sessions...

Thurs 12th April 1pm - 4pm at Burdalls Yard

The Art of Stand-up Comedy. Workshop 12th April - Texture.

The subject of this workshop session is Texture - the many and various ways of decorating, embellishing and making the content of your act look and sound more like yours and less like anybody else’s. From the language you use - your ‘personal argot’ to the range of emotional voices you chose to speak with - your ‘attitude palette’. There are also a whole bunch of tropes and devices that we have started to explore. . . from chanted sloganeering to whispered asides, repeated dialogue, snapshot characterisation, personification, alliteration, sound effects, costume and make-up, simile, hyperbole, understatement, posture, gesture, facial expression, mugging and mimicry, movement and mime. And even farmyard impressions and acting.

They may not all seem appropriate but don’t let that stop you trying them out. This is a workshop. It’s fine to make mistakes. Go for it!

Homework: 1st Half.

Latest update of your Bill Matter.

Contributions for your list of “I’ve never seen that before.” .

And a short piece on ‘Events while trying make people laugh.’

In your presentation, keep up your search for possible ways of expressing and delivering the truth about how you are feeling at any given time.

And continue to celebrate your own personal quirks - some you have already been successful at this without any prompting from us eg:

Matt is given to arbitrary outbursts of anger for no apparent reason tempered by a warm twinkle in his eye.

Joey appears incapable of starting a sentence without interrupting himself and corpsing

And Beth seems physically unsettled, about to either curl up or take flight - gauche yet oddly graceful.

we can only encourage further experiment


Homework: 2nd Half

Pose three multiple choice quiz questions concerning some detail of your life that you disclosed to the group in a previous exercise.

Eg: - Tom might ask:

What was the name of the unicorn in my game of Peggle?
Was it A) Dobbin? B) Bjorn? or C) Boaty McBoatface?.

Or Lydia:

Name the televised costume drama I was so enamoured with?
Was it A) Pride and Prejudice? B) Victoria? or C) Benidorm?

The actual questions and answers will take less than a minute the rest of the time is yours to express yourself, confront life’s cliches and decode the Zeitgeist.

Just Me Then

Bath Spa Workshop Homework for 10th March 2018.

This exercise is a parody of observational comedy.

In 1980 the ‘just me then’ routine was recognised by some Alternative Comedians as a signature routine of some of the more advanced traditional club comedians. Like the rest of their material it was hard to say who had created the original, because like everything else, they had stolen it, customised it a bit, and then claimed it as their own. It takes the form of a male confessional shared with the whole audience “You know what it's like when…” then owning-up to a previous night of drunken debauchery, coming home late to a slanging match with ‘the wife” before passing out in a puddle of their own shit n vomit. All capped with the punch-line “We’ve all been there, Yeah?? No? Oh! Just me then.”

The original parody was from Alexei Sayle. He used the structure and assuming a shared culture asked the audience confidentially – “Do you remember what it was like when yer parents went out and you’d sneak into their bedroom, stand in front of the wardrobe mirror and take all your clothes off? Yeah? Yeah?”

In less than two minutes he is describing having poured a saucepan of warm baked beans down the front of his underpants and rubbing it into his groin, wearing some of his mum’s clothing, putting on his dad’s crash helmet, bashing himself over the head with a baseball bat and shouting at himself in Welsh – “Yaki Da! Yaki Da! Yaki Da!” Lost in the reverie he finally catches himself out and acknowledges the audi-ence’s presence; and then, attempting to hide his embarrass-ment, answers the question he asked earlier “No? Oh! Just me then.”

Homework: Use the same structure to describe a typical embarrassing situation and then get inventive and escalate into surrealism, exposing the familiar tropes and behaviour of your own tribe - past or present. And, for the sake of the exercise, use the original punch line.

Inner nerd

Bath Spa Workshop Homework for 17th February 2018.

Den Levett and I have developed a very useful workshop exercise, which explores two, if not more fundamentals of stand-up comedy - Timing and Attitude. It involves standing up in performance mode and exposing your inner nerd to the rest of the group.

All you have to do is just go on about something you know thoroughly or intimately. It doesn't necessarily have to be something useful like 'how to apply a tourniquet'; it can be something you have never given voice to before like a series of brief cameo descriptions of all your aunts on your mother's side. The idea is to get on a roll and lose yourself in it.

In Exeter a few years back we had our first train spotter and he was a corker. Over a period of three days and without much encouragement, he seized the opportunity and delivered the goods. In the initial exercises he was seen as amiable, earnest, honest, pedantic, slightly awkward and prone to bluster when excited. When 'a bit of a mad professor' was mentioned, he took it on board and started performing as if he was giving a lecture.

Gregory had never been on a stage before and he may choose never to again, but in a ten minute showcase performance he took a studio theatre audience of thirty people giggling through the history of Britain's railways on the 12.08 from Kings Cross to Edinburgh (with a 17 minute fuel stop) and imparted more esoteric information than any of us could handle. The curl of his comic attitude - that his serious façade could never contain his passion and enthusiasm - revealed him as intelligent, endearing and intriguingly dotty. We ended up loving him almost as much he loved his subject.

Don't write anything down other than a few bullet points. Aim for about 4-5 minutes.

List and Curl

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank…

Homework for Workshop at Bath Spa Saturday 27th Jan 2018.
Write a thankyou list. Note: Text to be delivered at the workshop in the here and now.

Thank anyone who has ever influenced you in any way and give the briefest of explanations why or none at all, (you can witter on forever but that's another plot). Thank them with love, thank them with irony, thank them with humour, bewilderment, disdain, hero-worship, anger or best wishes. Spit out their names, drool at the very thought of them, salute them, shout at them one last time, delight at their memory, Corpse at the very thought of them. Family, friends, lovers, comrades, politicians and celebs, obscure people known only to you - neighbours from hell, neighbours from heaven, bass guitarists of forgotten punk bands, kids you went to school with and who disgraced or excelled themselves, teachers who helped, hindered or humiliated you, priests, publicans, probation officers, shop keepers, show offs and shit-stirrers, and all those people that must exist because somebody must have written that ad or road safety jingle that drove you insane or designed that tower that blocks your view of the setting sun.

Mention at least one unfortunate, who there but for the grace etc and at least one talentless chancer who represents everything that is right or wrong or whatever about the appalling and or wonderful society in which you live or scrabble about on the fringes of. Get surreal with it, silly with it, serious, seditious and scatological with it. Regress, pontificate, condemn, celebrate, but keep it personal, make it all about you and your loves, hates, likes, dislikes, fantasies and predilections. Enjoy yourself with it.

Include yourself in relation to each of them. Use the excuse of distance of time to diss yourself and your bad behaviour and thank those who must have overlooked it, forgave you and loved you despite it.

Read it out loud to yourself, improvising any thoughts as you go. Sum up with emotional emphasis your feelings towards your subjects as you speak their name, adding the secondary stuff and extras as you would asides or throwaway background information.

Tick anything that tickles you. Cut out the stuff that just helped the process. Don't analyse it too much but put it in some sort of order and share it with us.

Running time 3 - 5 minutes.