James Acaster is the newest name at Oxford’s newest comedy club, so Katherine MacAlister gets down to the nitty gritty to find out what makes him so funny.
Watching James Acaster on YouTube, waiting in the wings to storm on to stage live on TV and blow the audience away, is terrifying to watch.
Because get the newcomer slot right and he’s got a whole new national fan base. Get it wrong and we’ll never hear from him again.
But he storms on with the confidence of a pro, and has the audience eating out of his hand with his nonchalant, idling sense of humour.
“It’s all good-natured. I talk to the audience but I’m never nasty to them, and there’s a lot of whimsy,” the 27-year-old smiles. “But it was a massive risk because I didn’t know how it was going to go or if I’d completely mess it all up. Just walking on stage without falling over was a big fear, so it was all quite scary.”
So was he nervous? “It’s the waiting that’s the worst thing because there’s no going back, but once you’re out there it’s fine,” he says, “and that’s when you start to enjoy it; because just being up there is relaxing in itself. And people will like you, or not, that’s the reality.”
People do, increasingly, which is why James is appearing at Oxford’s newest comedy venue the Mild Friends Comedy Club on his own tour, rather than being the opener for other more established names.
“I’ve toured with Milton Jones and Josie Lawrence, but I’m really excited to be trying out some new venues for the first time on my own,” he smiles.
Not that comedy was James’ original game plan. He left school to concentrate on his band, eschewing university in favour of global pop domination. But when that didn’t happen, and his fellow bandmate left, James tried his hand at comedy instead. “I did 18 months of stand up before realising I wanted to do this. And yes, I did it quite relentlessly because there’s no point otherwise, it wasn’t ever a hobby, and you really enjoy it when you get the hang of it.”
And now that he’s made it? “The hardest thing is keeping the momentum up. You just have to work hard at getting better. Because you want the audience to enjoy themselves and for everything to seem seamless, and when it works it seems like the most effortless thing in the world, but then you know the next time it has to be better.”
As for fine-tuning his craft, James says: “You just have to work out the best way to get a reaction, so you can’t just write it down, you have to do it on stage and play around with it until you’ve got it right. And while you can’t appeal to everyone, everyone has their own sense of humour, so you have to pitch it, and find the cross over point on the Venn diagram,” he laughs. “You just have to explain the joke the way you see it in your mind because use the wrong words, or the wrong picture, and people won’t find it funny.”
So does James accept that he’s rather obsessive about his job? “Comedy is kind of an addiction, and people talk about ‘the bug’, because when it works it feels like nothing else.”
And the bad gigs? “It’s rare, having a bad night, and I don’t know a single comedian, even if they’ve been doing it for 20 years, who doesn’t have one now and again.
“You just have to get back on the horse... and to begin with you take it personally, and then you realise every job has its bad days.”
It’s quite an unusual profession for a 27 year-old though isn’t it? James shakes his head: “I don’t think it’s an unusual thing to do and I rarely meet anyone without an unusual a job, or one that I could do. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and and enjoy it... just to be your own comic that people go to see.”
Yup, he’s definitely got the bug.
* James Acaster appears at the Mild Friends Comedy Club in The Library Pub, 182 Cowley Road, on Tuesday night. Go to www.facebook.com/ mildfriends