UK comedian Stuart Goldsmith’s life has changed a lot recently. Now a parent and no longer a city dweller, Goldsmith is shaking off his misspent youth and settling down only to wonder – how much compromise is too much? Luckily for us, his career is going from strength to strength, and he’s bring his latest stand up show Compared to What AND his podcast The Comedian’s Comedian to Australia. Suzan Calimli asked him a few questions about these seismic life changes, the influx of new stand up comedians, and the British comic sensibility.
Your newest show, Compared to What, is about parenthood impacting your life. Juggling this new life with comedy, was it a difficult process writing up the material for the show? Or was it more of an elongated experience—writing ideas and jokes as they came along?
Actually this was an easier show to write than my first five. Largely because thanks to being a parent my life is WAY harder now, so I have more to complain about. Also there genuinely is something to be said for having less time in which to work; you cock about less and get right down to it because you have to. It’s like the self-discipline I could never master before is physically imposed on me and yes, it turns out when you’re disciplined you work well. I hate myself for discovering that.
You’ve said before one of the appealing aspects of interviewing someone is making them feel vulnerable, especially if they come from a position of power. With the podcast, The Comedian’s Comedian, how do you try to do that? And does it help with gaining insights into the interviewed comedian’s life?
Well my original point really was that I try to reveal the vulnerability in powerful people. I don’t get a kick out of making people vulnerable! (OK well maybe a little bit.) I think comedians are incredibly powerful, socially speaking, and so we’re often difficult interview subjects. From the point of view of an interviewer there’s often a wall of prepared material to break through, or the sensation that you’re only getting the same shtick that they normally play up in PR pieces; it’s hard to get a sense of the real person behind the act. But hunting down that person is one of the most enjoyable elements of recording my podcast.
You bring up a lot of great topics on The Comedian’s Comedian. In your interview with Matt Kirshen, you both discuss your approaches to comedy when first starting up. How would you say your style and skills have developed in the past decade since then?
Thanks! I think I’m way more confident, I feel like I’ve got the right to be there onstage a lot more than I did. My objective has always been to remove the obstacles between the audience and the funniest self I am is with my friends, and that’s becoming more vivid. Skill-wise I think I’m getting better at taking risks, and letting myself jump into improvised flights of fancy – I’m less bothered these days about being “clever”.
What’s the best piece of advice can you offer beginning comics that you’ve learnt from your interviewees?
Just try to prove your point. Have a thing that you want to say; really want to, not just so that you’ve got something to fill the time. Find something you can’t help thinking about, cook up some funny ideas about it, and then go onstage and try to convince people you’re right!
In the last ten years or so, there seems to have been a great influx of comedians. What’s the appeal of comedy? Why do you think more people seem to be interested in it?
Every comic that starts performing increases the rate at which other people consider a career in comedy possible, so the creation of new comics is exponential. When I started, people I told couldn’t believe they’d met a stand-up; now they go “oh yeah my brother’s mate had a bash at that”. I think any art form where one can think of an idea, and be performing it minutes later, in a high-stakes situation (certainly as far as risking one’s dignity is concerned), is enormously attractive and addictive.
I read an article that discusses how British humour mostly finds its comedic elements in self-depreciation and pessimism. Your shows seem to take that pessimism and turn it around into something cheerful and joyful. Is that deliberate, or simply how you perceive the world?
It’s a bit of both. I grew up watching a lot of comedy that was very negative (the cliche of alternative comedy was to talk about how much you hated any given domestic appliance!) and I remember making an effort to try and be positive onstage. My own perception of the world and my place in it swings wildly between blinding optimism and abject despair, so I love trying to convince an audience to celebrate the tiny little joyful things that make me laugh despite the gloom.
Finally, as a city-dweller myself, I understand [the] attractiveness [of moving to the country]. What key feature of the city saddens you to leave behind?
Sushi. And the sense that everyone around you is constantly striving to achieve more and better. But mostly sushi.
Stuart Goldsmith’s Compared to What is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from 30 March until 23 April, no shows on Mondays. It’s on at the Greek Centre at 8:15pm. Tickets range between $22 – $30 and are available online or at the Comedy Festival Box Office.