PERFORMING stand-up comedy night after night takes a special kind of person, according to Australian comedian Marcus Ryan, who confesses he sometimes doubts whether he is that special person.
“Comedians are a really weird bunch,” he says. “I didn’t have a troubled childhood so maybe I’m not going to be that successful at it.”
Despite the career disadvantage of a well-adjusted upbringing, Ryan was a hit with audiences at The Warehouse Bar and Restaurant during two short-notice gigs he performed last weekend while passing through Siem Reap en route to a holiday in Laos.
He created showbiz history in Siem Reap, according to Warehouse manager Pete Franks, who says the gigs were the first time a stand-up comedian has performed in Temple Town.
Ryan is a regular at stand-up comedy festivals around the world including Edinburgh, Melbourne and Montreal, and he told 7Days he prefers to combine work with travel and approached Warehouse to host his act after two successful shows at The Local 2 in Phnom Penh the week before.
“I regularly do gigs and then I take off travelling. I’m different from a lot of comics who will stick to a particular circuit and keep developing an audience. But it’s not like sportsmen whose bodies pack it in at 30 or 35. As long as you can still stand up and talk, you can do comedy ’til you drop, which is what I plan to do.”
Ryan jokes that he is constantly surprised by the extreme personality types attracted to stand-up comedy.
“Comedians tend to have had something happen to them in their upbringing. There are a lot of very introverted and shy people in the profession. Once they walk off stage, a lot of comedians can’t face talking to anyone in the audience. They’ll go sit in the corner or jump in the car and go straight home. Once they get off stage they feel they’re not ‘someone’ any more.”
One reason for this, says Ryan, is the amount of factors that determine a good gig other than the comedian themselves, anything from the day of the week or the temperature outside to the lighting in the room, can affect the success of a performance.
And, well, sometimes an audience is just a bad one. “I don’t dwell on gigs now. I used to obsess and think ‘that was really bad’. People say you can’t blame an audience but sometimes you can. I can happily blame some audiences. Sometimes you’ll have 100 [people] in a room, it will be a full room but for some reason they’re not going with you.
“Some nights you can do the same set which kills at a club somewhere for weeks on end, you’ll do the same material at another place and it bombs. You can’t control what mood an audience is in. If you can get through your set it means you’ve done well.”
Luckily this wasn’t the case with the audience at Warehouse, who responded well to Ryan’s 90-minute set which included material from a recent solo performance at the 2010 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, as well as a few jokes written on the bus from Phnom Penh.
Pulling out a tattered notebook filled with one-line prompts for individual jokes, Ryan explains he usually stitches together a show from this “portable filing cabinet”, which he first started assembling as a teenager, from watching the Australian variety show Hey, Hey It’s Saturday and the sketch comedy series Full Frontal.
“I used to always watch Hey, Hey It’s Saturday and watch when comedians came on, and I used to time them with a stopwatch. I used to keep a notepad with a lot of ideas for TV commercials because I thought I’d get into advertising someday. After a while I realised I was essentially keeping a list of sketches or jokes for sitcoms. They could have been used in TV ads but really all I was doing was writing down jokes.”
Ryan says that in his early twenties, following his first public performance at a bar operated by his family, he abandoned plans for a career in advertising in favour of becoming a professional comedian.
“My dad was running the pub and he organised the whole thing. I wrote a set on the day of the gig and pulled a few ideas from my notebooks. It went surprisingly well, but I was nervous as hell.”
A series of appearances at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Adelaide Fringe Festival launched Ryan’s career internationally, sending him travelling around the world, sometimes to the displeasure of customs officials.
“I try not to put comedian as my occupation on the customs forms. I find that people get negative in airport security, they turn on you when they see that.”
After departing Siem Reap last week, Ryan headed off for Laos, one week ahead of a scheduled performance in Hanoi, and he says while the travel is gruelling it’s also a great source of material.
“I’ve really enjoyed coming to Cambodia and Siem Reap, it’s a funky little town. I’d love to come back. I think next year I’ll probably develop a show based on travelling through Asia.”