Illustration by Christine Renney
Carl is a stand-up. He stands on a stage and attempts to make people laugh. This is all he has ever wanted to do and, at age thirty, he has all but convinced himself it is how he makes his living. In reality, the solitary life he has embraced and mined so thoroughly for comedy is in fact funded by his mother, who won’t ever stop believing her son is a genius.
Carl lives in North London, at the very heart of the ‘circuit’, on the top floor of a large house owned by his mother. The rest of the house is divided and let and the source of a considerable income which enables the mother to indulge the son.
Carl’s passion for music and film, his obsession with popular culture in general, knows no bounds. He has the money for tickets, Cds and video games, and time to revisit pivotal moments from his past. His routines are littered with references to and quotes from cult television and obscure movies. He visits art galleries and attends the theatre, always alone and ever alert to comic possibilities.
In his routines he bemoans the mediocre and mundane, vehemently attacking a lumpen pastiche or better still blatant plagiarism, haranguing elaborately and at great length in order to force his point. He feels justified championing the great and the good, especially when the audience responds, when they laugh.
Carl is aware of how important it is that his routines are grounded, that they have a sense of the individual, a personal touch, and works particularly hard at honing this. It isn’t so much that he tries to make the simple daily chores funny but they are a part of his act nevertheless. Time spent at the supermarket or cleaning his toilet is unifying and this, amidst his demonising and nerdish ramblings, is essential. He wants the audience to laugh not at him but with him. And so, in order to appear more convincing, he has invented characters most notably a best friend and flatmate, Robert, and Carl’s long term girlfriend whom it hasn’t yet proved necessary to name.
Carl, in his routines, is torn. The loyalty he feels to Robert, with whom he connects on so many levels, is undeniably holding him back and jeopardising the relationship with his long suffering un-named girlfriend.
Carl’s audience is also torn. He has portrayed his girlfriend as caring and warm and eternally patient. Together, he and she are witty and urbane, a versatile couple. Of course, he should, and is, making every effort to change. Grudgingly and ever so gradually he is growing up which means moving on and out of the flat shared with Robert, ‘shacking up’ with the girlfriend and Robert, eccentric and harmless, will be sidelined, although with his shadow ever present.
Carl has a show tonight in a small club. A pub basement, an old Bill Hicks poster, scandalously tattered and taped to the wall directly opposite the stage. He has his routine down and is reciting it as he walks in a park close to the venue. He prefers to remain above ground for as long as possible and doesn’t hang out at the bar, neither before nor after his act.
The quotes and references are prevalent as usual but of just one detail Carl is unsure. Not Robert’s absence, but the overriding theme tonight will be compromise and it is time for his girlfriend to step out of the shadows at last. But she needs a name and he is unable to choose and so once on stage he will pick one at random from the countless possibilities tumbling around his head.