Comedy Month - Q&A with Ivo Graham

February 26, 2015

With February 2015 on its way out, so to is Comedy Month and with it, the various Q&As that we have held with acts including Rob BeckettHarriet Dyer and Jack Rooke. Who better to round out this Q&A with comedians than a chat with the brilliant Ivo Graham, who is preparing for his third Edinburgh show this summer.
We caught up with him to chat about corporate gigs, honing your act and his favourite type of peanut butter. The results may surprise you.
How did you first get into comedy?

I tried it out in my first year at Oxford University, after seeing a fellow student in a local comedy club supporting Josie Long. I was lucky enough to win a competition to go to that year's Edinburgh Fringe and perform every day for a month, by the end of which I'd become more than a little obsessed with it!

Where have you trained/practised your stand up?

During my three years at university, I performed mainly at little gigs in student bars and went only went further afield - gigging in London, Edinburgh and around the country - in my holidays. Since graduating three years ago I've been based in London and have spent a lot more time touring the UK, playing in a mixture of comedy clubs, arts centres and bigger theatres. I've also been lucky enough to do gigs abroad in America, Europe and – bizarrely - Bahrain.

What would you recommend to those starting out or/ interested in performing comedy or hosting?

It's such a clichéd piece of advice but I think getting as many gigs under one's belt as one can - especially in the first couple of years - is really important, because I think the most relaxing and exciting thing to an audience is when they see a performer who's completely comfortable on stage. I also think that while it's worth trying to get into the habit of trying out lots of material and becoming a prolific writer, at the very beginning it's also good to be really concentrating on the 10/20 minute set with which you'll enter new act competitions and generally introduce yourself to most agents, promoters and industry people for the first time. Hone it down, concentrate on the funniest and most original lines and how you can get to those as quickly and economically as possible.

Who are your key influences?

For me, the first time I saw Simon Amstell live (having previously obsessed over his work on Never Mind The Buzzcocks) was a real watershed moment as I hadn't previously seen many comics using their stand up to really confront their insecurities and questions about the world, in a way that was intelligent and honest but still very funny. Jon Richardson's another person who's managed to turn introspection into really great comedy in recent years. And the American stand-up Maria Bamford combines these things to a wonderful and really quite grotesque degree - uncomfortable truths, ludicrous voices  and huge laughs from a devoted fan base whose approval she is very visibly and unashamedly reaching out for. I love it when a stand up acknowledges (without being too desperate) their desire for their audience to like them and have a good time because it punctures the ego of the performer and the gig immediately becomes a warmer and more communal experience. (Not that there aren't fantastic stand ups who show complete disdain for their audience too!)

How would your skills translate to a corporate audience?

I've only recently started doing this and have only got a couple of corporate gigs under my belt, but I've hugely enjoyed the challenge of playing to a different kind of audience, as well as researching the gigs in advance to see what the popular reference points might be. It forces you to adapt your own set a bit. The night means a lot more to the people in the crowd than at a normal gig, so just turning up and doing your usual material without referencing the occasion can miss a real opportunity to make a connection.

Do you prefer hosting or doing your own stand up?

I think having a balanced mixture of both is important, as hosting keeps you on your toes and trains those key skills of improvising, chatting to an audience and holding the structure of a night  together, but you wouldn't want that to stop you continuing to turn over new material and test your writing skills. Doing a good show, either as one of the individual performers or as the host is a great feeling, though there is a special pleasure for me in having hosted one from beginning to end, steering the ship through the choppy waters of the audience's increased tiredness/drunkenness and the possible challenge of the one act or heckler who threatened to derail the whole thing. Of course as host there's also a lot more opportunities to drop the ball!

Can you name one up-and-coming comedy act you would recommend to me?

This act's hardly a newcomer but someone I'm always recommending to friends is John Robins, whose act combines observational material, nostalgic storytelling, niche indie reference points and complete easy-going likeability and calmness on stage. He does a radio show/podcast on XFM with the (also brilliant) Elis James and downloading it is always one of the pathetic highlights of my week.

Let’s talk peanut butter – crunchy, smooth or none?

I think I’m more passionate about this subject than I am about my own comedy career. I love peanut butter and go to great lengths to source the higher-fat, higher-salt American imports (Skippy, Barney's Best) from specific London stores rather than subjecting myself to Sunpat, or the stodgy own brand gruel served up by Sainsbury's, etc. I'm not too bothered about smooth vs. crunchy - different days, different moods (though usually smooth) - but the argument I've had far more is with people who have it without butter and claim that's somehow "better". Why (barring dietary requirements, which I'm sure will come for me too in the end) would you not take the option of just making it all round creamier? These are the same fools who use plain, yellow salted Doritos for dipping so that, "The flavour comes from the dip". (I only admittedly have had the latter argument with one person in my life but we don't speak any more.)
If you want to hear more from Ivo, then his website can be found here or why not follow him on Twitter?

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By Henry Fosdike