Workshopping HIV & Stand-Up.
Brian Finch on introducing the tricky topic of HIV in to his standup comedy routines..
There is a certain irony in that I left the world of HIV to go into comedy, and yet I’m starting to talk about it in my stand-up.
This is no easy feat for a novice comedian. Folks it’s only been since January. I can’t seem to get away from this hacky pun, but I have been dying to do it for a long time.
It takes time to work up the guts to do very personal comedy; especially when tackling the topic of HIV. It’s so original that people are blown away by anyone who can go on a stage and talk about this kind of stuff.
It's like going to my friend’s dark show called Shock Therapy where subjects of early childhood sexual abuse and other fun subjects were tackled.
It’s a bit of a conflict for me. I don’t want to be known as the “AIDS” guy. But on the other hand, it makes up an important part of my life. I feel if I ignore it, then I’m not being true to myself.
Initially I was more worried about the other comics and what they would think of me.
A week ago I finally got up at a venue called Giggles on Groove and did my set about being positive.
There were a lot of comics that night. My plan was to have more time so I could ease into it a bit. Instead, due to the amount of people going up, my time was shortened to five minutes.
The approach I took worked well for this one night. I explained that I had worked on some new dark stuff, and I wasn’t sure if it fitted the bill, but they can be the judge.
So . . I stopped speaking, looked at the audience from one end to the other, and proclaim to my unsuspecting subjects: “The worst thing about being HIV positive is that I’m never quite sure when I’m having my mid-life crisis………..it could be now. Oh who am I kidding, I’m 47. The mid part of the life-crisis has long passed by.”
After I finished, I had one comic say, “Wow, you just woke up the room with that.” Another comic who I love (and is so dark) was standing clapping as I came down. “I stood up just so I could give you a standing ovation” he said.
The feeling was of respect, support and a lot of encouragement. Another comic was very complementary and wanted to hear more. “We need to talk about these subjects, and you can do it.”
Since I have a big gig coming up tonight (July 25) with Scott Thompson hosting, I wanted to practice a bit more and went out to a venue in Mississauga. I tried the orginal way of just hitting people over the heads with it. However open mics that are just comics (and in Mississauga) sometimes don’t work as well.
As I was doing it, I realized that I hit them too hard too soon. They didn’t feel like they had the permission to laugh. I got great notes (feedback by other comics) on how to broach this topic. This is definitely not beginner comic material. This takes a lot of reading of the room, and the ability to be able to bring it back.
Getting near to the end of my set I realized and said out loud, “Ok it’s easy enough to get into this HIV stuff, but how the hell do you get out of it.”
Some of my observations are that I need more time to get into a heavier topic and that I need to explicitly give permission and a bit of context to the stand-up.
My fellow positive friends don’t find my humour that crazy, but to civilians, they don’t know what to do with it. Isn’t HIV supposed to be all about stigma and discrimination? How is it that we are seeing someone right in front of us bring out the taboo and lay it out for all to see?
I do like the expression one comic uses, “personally uncomfortable” Should comedy be easy laughs or should we go into the personal and work our shit out in a comedic way. I go for Door #2.
As for tonight, I’ve yet to make up my mind on whether or not I’m going to go there.
This Saturday night though, I have a full ten minutes at a friend’s show, where she wants me to do my “ballsy” stuff. I’ll have an opportunity to workshop it some more.