Why I do what I do! (On comedy performance poetry being as valid as any other type, and that kick I get when people actually laugh!)

Why I do what I do

Slain McGough Davey asked earlier this week why certain people feel compelled to make art and gave some reasons of his own, and this got me thinking about what I do and the reasons why. And then a couple of days later an article appeared in The Guardian which suggested that comedy is not seen as artistic or as worthy as more serious fare, and pointed out that it should be held in the same esteem, as the effort gone into making funny comedy is just as strenuous and as hard as so-called ‘high’ culture.

My one aim whenever I sit at a desk or stand in a rehearsal space is to make something that will make people laugh and enjoy themselves, and take them away from their normal daily concerns. Indeed, there can be no more rewarding sound than that of an audience laughing along with a poem or some humorous linking material or on-stage buffoonery.

I remember my first ever gig, in 2009. I was incredibly nervous, and I had spent the month before writing a couple of ‘humorous’ poems, which I’d typed out on big sheets of paper. I remember my hands shaking as I read the poems out, but the nervousness seemed to disappear once it became apparent that the audience was laughing at all the parts of the poems that I had thought were funny. It was a life-changing moment, because it meant that the sense of humour which I’d thought was unique to myself could be translated into laughs from an audience.

I look at the poems now and cringe, because they weren’t as fully formed or as realised as the ones that I now perform. In other words, parts of them went on and on for a bit. They were badly in need of editing, but those nuggets, those golden lines and phrases which had the audience laughing, still exist.

These days I work on poems for weeks, months at a time, before they are unleashed on an audience. In a way there’s more pressure now, because the audience expects to laugh and I have to live up to that expectation. I have a phrase I use whenever I’m writing, ‘This poem needs to be 33 percent funnier’. I don’t know where I got the figure of ’33 percent’ from, but it’s a good mantra to have at the back of my mind whenever I’m writing.

The poem really comes alive during the rehearsal process. It is at this time that I have a pen on hand, going over lines and refining them, making them funnier, adding attitude and tags to maintain the laughter, or build up the suspense only to pop it.

Regular attendees of my gigs will know that there’s always a serious undercurrent to a lot of my poetry. Indeed, comedy performance poet is the ideal manner in which to address certain subjects such as gender representation, heteronormativity and, in my most recent new slam poem, homophobic abuse. Taking the audience by the hand and guiding them through tough subject matter while making jokes, (and not punching down or being mean or unkind), and then getting a laugh or two along the way, as an immensely satisfying feeling.

It’s true that I’ve been told, only by a couple of people over the last few years, that comedy performance poetry isn’t as worthy or as well-crafted as the more serious end of the spoken word spectrum. And this is a shame, as one of those comments came from a poet who I really admire. In the context of a gig or even a slam, a poem which encourages a laugh from the audience is somehow seen as ‘cheating’, while comedy performance poems are just slung together with no artistic merit. The truth is, as any comedy performer will tell you, a lot of work goes into placing the words in the exact order to elicit that response, and a lot of work also goes into the rehearsal of those words, movement, facial expression, emphasis. If art is judged by the amount of hours that goes into its creation, then comedy performance poetry is right up there with anything else.

And because of this, I only ever perform a tiny amount of what I actually write. When it comes to being performed, my poems probably have a one in ten chance of ever making it in front of an audience. Those that don’t are prodded, poked, re-worked, or sometimes simply torn apart, the juicy, funny lines being extracted and popped into other poems.

So, why do I do what I do? For a start, it’s probably the only thing I’m halfway decent at. I can’t cook a quiche to save my life, or put a fuse in a plug, or even catch a bus on a good day without causing absolute bloody mayhem. But I can write and perform comedy poems that make an audience laugh.

And secondly, there’s no greater feeling than getting off a stage with an audience clapping and cheering because you’ve just made their evening. I remember Bristol last year, performing at the Arnolfini Theatre and then, rock and roll monster that I am, I found a late night twenty four hour Tesco and did my shopping. In the bread aisle I came across a couple of people who had been in the audience and they thanked me for making them laugh and cheering them up. And that, oh, that was probably the highlight of my year!

Feel free to support the work I’m doing by leaving something in my tip jar or buying me a coffee right here https://ko-fi.com/robertgarnham

I’ve always had a thing for Deliveroo men

I’ve always had a thing for Deliveroo men

It’s a feeling I get every now and then
But I really love Deliveroo men
Like bees my hopes begin to swarm
There’s nothing like a man in uniform.

Come in I say, as I unbolt the locks,
Keep your uniform on and also that big box
Now let’s get to it and I’ll tell you what I like
Imagine you’ve an order and I am now your bike.

Whenever I see one I start to act all coy
Thinking of the vast possibilities of joy
That could be gained if he’s into that sort of thing
It’s why I’ve been hanging out around Burger King.

Speeding through the city streets he’s something of a blur
And every time I see one I wonder if they were
Open to suggestions, I hope that you don’t mind
Being partial to a delivery of quite another kind

I know I’m getting on in years and some might find me old
I’m like a pizza in a box that’s started getting cold
But just like your motto and your satisfaction guarantee
If I take more than an hour then the whole transaction’s free.

I delivered a Ted Talk! (Poem)

Ted Talk

Welcome to my Ted Talk
(My clicker isn’t working)
Welcome to my Ted Talk
(My clicker isn’t working)

How are we going to solve
Various big big things?
Three golden rules!
(Shame about my clicker)

Coming in to the coffee shop
I’m the bastard looking for
A power socket
Charging up my laptop
Charging up my laptop
Charging power to power my
Power point presentation
I have the power!

If I do this
(:::::::::::::;;;:;;)
You’ve just witnessed me doing it
And that’s an example of
POSITIVE THINKING!
Three golden rules!

1. Achieve the continuous
2. Apply it like a haberdasher
3. Can be split into twenty four subheadings

(This clicker is not working!)

If I put my hand in my pocket
And wander around
It makes me look more relaxed!!!

You’ve got to understand
That people
Always make
The wrong decisions.

Welcome to my Ted Talk!
Smug!
Life hacks!
(Fourteen different subheadings)

You can usually work out EXACTLY where
The bus will stop
And this will save you
TIME and ENERGY

There are eight different things I learned
SMUG BASTARD
When I lost my luggage while backpacking
(This clicker is just not working)

If I do this
(;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;)
It’s an example of sonic dissonance.

Madam, when did you last knowingly
Have spaghetti?

MY BOAT SANK!
And I didn’t even get slightly wet
My life is charged with a new purpose
I learned twelve new things!
Twelve new LIFE HACKS
LIFE HACKS
LIFE HACKS
LIFE SUCKS!

(This clicker is getting on my tits)

1. Technology
2. Murdering people is generally frowned on.
3. The power of positive thinking!
4. This clicker this clicker this clicker this clicker
5. I know six people called Ted and they all talk

Power point presentation validate it
Power point presentation validate jr
Let’s just validate if shall we?
This is an aha moment

Take on me!

You!
You fiend!
You bastard!

It’s a unifies mental model, Mrs McGough
It’s visual interaction.
It’s.
The.
Same.
As.
Every.
Damn.
Ted.
Talk.

This clicker
Definitely
Is not working.

Thank you.

I can’t remember which arrondisement it was

Here’s a silly poem about going to Paris and having a miserable time and trying to break up with someone but you can’t because the metro is too noisy, and by the way, I’m using a salad spinner to mimic the sound of the metro. Apart from that, normal poem.

Yay!

‘Yay’ is the title of my new book, to be published by Burning Eye, and my new solo show, both of which are due to come out in the Spring of 2021. I’ve been working on both of these projects for a couple of years and I thought I would explain what I’ve been up to.

‘Yay’ will be a collection of upbeat poems, most of which tell a story or deal with a very specific place. Some of them are a little bit silly, some of them are somewhat life affirming, some of them are downright weird! And all of them are comedic in tone. The whole collection has been designed to make you laugh or smile.

The collection was devised a couple of years ago when it seemed that the world couldn’t get any more depressing. Naturally, after I started working on the project, it then suddenly did! The book contains poems from In the Glare of the Neon Yak, and Spout, my two solo shows, as well as material from my new upcoming show which will accompany the book.

The show will be called ‘Yay! : The Search for Happiness’. It was written in the first few months of this year and I have begun the process of trying to learn the thing. Indeed, I have been working with a director, the wonderful Dr Maggie Irving, with some funding from Torbay Culture, and she has been instructing me in the art of mime, movement and body expression. Unlike my previous shows, ‘Yay! : The Search for Happiness’ will have no props at all, just myself and a microphone. So in other words, I need all the help I can get! The reason for this is simply that I wont have to lug bags and boxes of props all over the country.

I’m still working on the collection. At the moment I’m in the process of deciding which poems will definitely be included. And of course, new ones keep arriving. It’s a very exciting time at the moment!

I’m looking forward to getting the book and the show out there into the world. Fingers crossed, of course, that there will be a fringe circuit next year. But if not, I’ll find a way to bring Yay! to your town.

I’ve been nicking items from various Trevelodges and making my own hotel room

A poem about purloining various equipment from a certain brand of affordable hotel.

<div style=”font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;”><a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham&#8221; title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/ive-been-nicking-items-from&#8221; title=”Daily Poem 57: OI've been nicking items from Travelodge” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 57: OI've been nicking items from Travelodge</a></div>

Most of the Ikebana club has been taking performance-enhancing steroids

Most of the Ikebana club has been taking performance-enhancing steroids

Careful with those secateurs, Enid!
Shove the bastard in the pot,
All nuance has gone, hasn’t it?

Can someone help me pick up this
Heavy bad of Grow-More compost, oh,
It’s OK, Molly’s got it.

The judges in Biddeford last week
Thought something was amiss.
The winning creation looked more like
It had been threatened with a severe beating
And had assumed those convoluted shapes
Of its own free will.

When asked to provide a urine sample,
Ethel went berserk with a trowel.
She’s already got a two-year ban from all
Officially sanctioned ikebana competitions.

Maud was seen in the chemists
Collecting a suspicious package from a
Pharmacist who gave a knowing wink.
She’s in contention for a sixth title this year.
She also got my brother’s Fiat Punto out of a ditch.

Harold did something creative with some cherry blossom
But was too interested in
Showing everyone his glistening abs.
He’d oiled them up, apparently, with Bonjela.

Trevor’s suddenly built like a brick shithouse.
He’s got the branch of an oak tree
Rammed in a water butt and he ain’t leaving
Until he’s had it out with the committee.

The Cow said Moo

A poem about a cow that embraces other cultures.

<div style=”font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;”><a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham&#8221; title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/the-cow-said-moo-wav&#8221; title=”Daily Poem 55: The cow said moo” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 55: The cow said moo</a></div>

Yearning

Poem

Always yearning for more.

Start the day with a yearn.
A bit of a yawn
And then a yearn.
When will he learn?
And then the urges kick in.

All fuzzed up on the indefinable this trendy shag happy
Fashion conscious tight t – shirted skinny jeaned hair
Purposefully unkempt to such the right degree as if
To promote architecture over aesthetics this knowingly
Crash bang handsome nonchalant gymnasium frequenter
With his yearning and his urges looking into the mirror
Thinking hmmmm, today’s the day I might meet and forever
Fall in love with
A chubby overweight forty something poet with glasses.

He yearns.
Yearns and urges.
This is what he wants.
You can’t spell
Urge
Without
Urrrrrrrrrr.

Two in the afternoon,
Never been up so early!
Slender fingers
Thumb
Poet dating websites.
Doesn’t see a thing he likes.
They’re all
Hip hop trendy slam heroes
Slippy hip lip spitting split lip
Literary nerds
They’re all
Achingly trendy
Syntax bendy rangers and shouters
Mic crooning pouters
They go from Bard to verse
He’s looking for
Old timer rhymers,
Middle aged and overweight and
Wearers of glasses.
Philip Larkin
He’d do nicely
Thank you.

He yearns.
The pain inside
It burns
He imagines
The ease at which
They squeeze
The poems out of themselves.
They make it look so
Effortless.
He’d like to do the same.
He feels he could
Bang one out
Any second.

Laughing with the lads beer with the lads now
And football with the lads all nonchalant joshing
And mega bants about birds and booze and beer and boobs
And he accidentally lets it slip that he’s always had a thing
For Alan Bennett.
I’m sorry,
Did I say
Alan Bennett?
I meant
Taylor
Swift.

He wants
To spend his years
With sonneteers
Become old and grey
And fade away
With haiku masters
Recover from a hip op
Forgetting all that hip hop
Better fetch a stretcher, man.
How he pines for
John Betjeman.

He yearns.
Sneaks on to
Chubby overweight forty something poet with
Glasses and a shirt and tie dot com
Sees pictures of various midlife
Midspread jovial looking
Z list performance poets
Draped seductively
Over
Typewriters
Library return counters
Art council grant forms
He sees the look of soulless doom
Hidden behind their thick framed glasses
And fixed forced smiles
And he thinks
I’d be there for you
All the time
Every time an audience didn’t laugh
Every time you crashed out the first round
Of the Swindon Poetry Slam
Every time a trendy fresh on the scene
Battle rapper says
Have you been doing this for long?
Bro
Oh,
I’d be there for you.

He yearns.
But the world
It still turns.
He wants a
Chubby overweight forty something poet
With glasses and a shirt and tie and possibly
Spiky hair too.
Oh,
If only there were someone for him.
Just who could it be?
Just who could this person be?
Just who could this person be?

A pen fell down into the lining of my coat

Don’t you just hate it when that happens? :

<div style=”font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;”><a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham&#8221; title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/a-pen-fell-down-the-lining-of&#8221; title=”Daily Poem 54: A pen fell down the lining of my coat” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 54: A pen fell down the lining of my coat</a></div>