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Get off the mic and read: New book on the art of stand up to launch at the Fringe

By | Published on Monday 17 August 2015

Off The Mix

Two years ago, former Xfm DJ Marsha Shandur appeared here in the pages of ThreeWeeks reporting on interviews she’d been doing with comedians at the Festival as part of research for a new book on comedy. Shandur also used to host the hugely popular ‘Marsha Meets’ comedy podcast, each featuring a different top comedy name, and it was through that venture that she met her co-author on this project, Deborah Frances-White.

Two years on, that book, ‘Off The Mic: Stand Ups Get Serious About Comedy’, is being published this month, and Shandur is back in Edinburgh to co-host a special event at The Pleasance to celebrate that fact. Which seemed like reason enough to reconnect and find out more about the project.

“Deborah Frances-White asked me to do this book with her after we met via my Xfm podcast Marsha Meets”, Shandur tells ThreeWeeks. “After the international success of her book ‘The Improv Handbook’, Bloomsbury had asked Deborah to write a similar one about stand up. After doing the ‘Marsha Meets’ interview, Deborah said I had pulled out of her, things about herself she didn’t even know she knew, and that that had helped her to discover a whole new Edinburgh show. I love nerding out with stand ups about stand up, so when she asked me to join her in making this book, I leapt at the chance”.

It quickly turned into a major project that has taken a few years to complete. “We interviewed stand-ups from all across the world” Shandur explains, “travelling to the Montreal and Edinburgh festivals, speaking to comics whenever we could, and we even asked Phill Jupitus to interview his friend Eddie Izzard for a chapter”.

But having the conversations was the easy bit. “Then we had to transcribe the interviews and pull the different sections together. As you can imagine, most interviewees don’t speak in discreet soundbites, so it took a long time! We had enough interview material to write five books, so it was then a case of choosing which parts fit well together, and keeping the editors at Bloomsbury happy”.

That mammoth task is now complete though, allowing both Shandur and Frances-White to get on with the more fun task of launching the new work. “We’re putting on a free show at the Pleasance Courtyard this Wednesday” Shandur reports. “Deborah and I will talk to a panel of stand ups – including Jo Caulfield, Alex Edelman and some very special guests – about many different aspects of being a comedian, including where their ideas come from, how they first started out and the best ways to deal with hecklers”.

With the book now complete, what have been the most interesting things Shandur learned along the way? “My favourite interviewees were the ones who got very technical. Gary Delaney was fascinating throughout – talking about the specific effect on one-liner comics of social media, which is both good and bad, and the several stages he goes through to put a set together. He even walked us through his complex and fascinating method of remembering an hour’s worth of one-line jokes”.

“I also loved how Neal Brennan – who co-created Dave Chappelle’s ‘Chappelle’s Show’ – gets really into the psychology of it. When he realised he wasn’t smiling enough on stage, he would give his girlfriend $200 before a show; then, every time he smiled on stage, he’d get $20 back from her. At first he kept losing $120 a show, then he learned to get it all back”.

“Neal Brennan also has my favourite quote from the whole book” Shandur confirms: “He told us how he tells performers all the time, ‘This shit is not radio, man, you got to fucking move, you got to be commanding’”

‘Off The Mic: Stand Ups Get Serious About Comedy’ is out this month, more info here. The book’s launch event takes place at Pleasance Courtyard at 5.45pm on Wednesday, 19 Aug.