Since the beginning of his comedy career in 2008, Ben Briggs has won 2 Fun House Comedy Gong Shows, and even reached the final of The English Comedian of the Year. His dark sense of humour and his open and honest material has him in popular demand as he plays some of the biggest weekend clubs in the country.
Q 1: How did you get into comedy?
Through fear really. I spent the whole of my twenties just drinking in a rough pub every night, wasting my life because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It got to the stage where I’d just go and get drunk for something to pass the time. I had various jobs that I hated over that time and no real direction. That ten years went by very quickly.
Around my 30th birthday one of my best mates from the pub killed himself for whatever reason and I remember just looking around at everyone interacting one night after that thinking – is this it? I didn’t really have a life plan but I knew that getting drunk every night and chatting crap wasn’t what I wanted for myself. The thought of still being in that pub in my fifties, like everyone else, doing a job I hated, married to someone I didn’t really care about, scared me. So, I decided to make some changes.
I’d always been really good at writing and loved stand up comedy so I thought why not give it a try? I literally had nothing to lose. My parent’s friends ran an old school working men’s club so I booked in to do five minutes there because I knew no other way of getting into it. I was on when they announced the buffet and got over shadowed by the vol-au-vents and had no idea what I was doing, but I got a buzz from it. I did some more research and found some proper comedy open mics to go along to and a writing course which got me some contacts for gigs.
Q 2: How often are you writing new material?
Every day. I make notes every day about things. Things that annoy me, topics to talk about, or angles to take on things. I take the notes and think about them for a while, running them over in my head either when I’m driving to gigs or doing something laborious. Doing boring tasks is very underrated for freeing up your mind to think about things more. So I’ll clean the car or do some house stuff whilst just running things over in my head. Once I’ve got it clear the way I feel about something I write it out long hand.
I admire people who say they can just go on stage and riff about a topic and something comes out (although I think sometimes people say this so they present an image of being more gifted than they actually are), but I write everything out long hand – word for word. I then rewrite and rewrite until it’s the way I want to say it. Then, I’ll take it to an open mic night, printed on paper and just read it out to see if I’m hitting the right beats, making the point I want to and seeing if it’s funny. I’ll do this a few times and rewrite bits and expand on things.
Then, I’ll learn that and try it again just reading it out at an open mic or having bullet points on paper on stage. Once I think it works and I’ve learned the working version I’ll take it to a few more open mics and perform it rather than just reading it. I’ll do this a few times and once the piece is match fit I’ll try it at a bigger gig.
Q 3: What’s your favourite joke to tell?
I do longer bits. I don’t do puns or one liners, so I write long form jokes that try to explore a subject and try to build up momentum as the piece progresses. I like anything that makes an audience laugh at something they wouldn’t normally laugh at. Something that creates a buzz in the room and gets a laugh then gasp reaction is nice, because the audience are taken off guard and are laughing despite themselves, before their conscience has kicked in.
Q 4: Is it fair to say your comedy style is quite harsh / direct?
I’d prefer to say honest and passionate. I think there is an honesty to the comedy I do. It’s a reflection of what I believe in and my view of the world. I approach difficult subjects at times and talk about things that other comedians may not feel comfortable talking about because that’s what drives me on. That’s why I drive to open mic nights two or three times a week to try new stuff out for the bigger gigs because I believe in what I’m doing.
I give the audience the respect that they know they are at a comedy show and they are intelligent enough to understand that I am telling jokes and exploring topics that maybe uncomfortable but that there is an underlying truth to what I am trying to say or expose, but more importantly I am trying to make them laugh. I don’t want to tell audiences what they already know or make up stories that fit nicely together with a big bow on them so audiences leave and say, ‘well that was lovely’.
Comedy is not a democracy to me. I stand on stage and I show my world view and the audience listen and by doing so I try to make a connection with other human beings and that connection is shown in laughter. I think if you start catering to what you think an audience wants you lose your authenticity and you lose your edge.
The way I go about comedy is not for everyone. Some people will hate it but the people who love it will really love it. I’ve done terrible gigs in awful places in front of horrible crowds and I never wanted to be the comedian who buckles and bows down to those situations and tries to get the crowd on side for fear of them not liking me. I’m not chasing being liked and sometimes that can be interpreted as being harsh. I think a crowd may not particularly like you but they can respect you and admire you, and I think that can have a deeper connection with them and give you the leeway to explore some more interesting subjects.
Q 5: Does anything offend you?
Yeah, if someone calls me an arsehole for no reason then I think I’d be pretty offended. But, to be honest they usually have a point, so I mostly let it slide.
Within comedy I’m not offended by anything because I am aware that if I’m at a comedy show the comedian is trying to make me laugh. I’ll say that again, they are TRYING to make me LAUGH. Whether that is achieved or not is a different matter but the intent behind what they are saying is to cause laughter not to cause offence. People seem to forget this sometimes. I think people get too hung up on not being offended or comedians being offensive.
The world is not a safe space and you are going to encounter things that you don’t like sometimes. A comedy club is no different than that. As a comedian I can only do what I do and say what I find is funny. If someone is offended by what I say that maybe for numerous reasons. I don’t have the time whilst on stage to work through their individual history to find out what that specific reason is, then try to come up with some resolution plan on how that individual can work through that particular grievance, then check with the rest of the audience and see if anyone else has any issues with what I said and then individually work through their issues and then finally get the gig back on track, before going home and inevitably reading the countless e-mails of abuse I will receive.
I think it’s probably easier for someone who doesn’t find what I say funny to just not laugh and think ‘that’s not for me’ and then see if they like anything else I’m going to say. There are always going to be subjects that people feel uncomfortable with but it’s how as a comedian you approach that subject, if you approach it from a position of good intentions or bad intentions, it’s as simple as that.
Q 6: If you could have a rant about something what would it be?
Everything and anything. I’m quite a frustrated person and get annoyed about a lot of things. As well as on stage, my ranting is mainly done on the phone to my girlfriend to or from a gig because I need someone to listen and say ‘yes honey you’re right’ at the appropriate moment.
I get annoyed about big issues like how poor people constantly get vilified, to the hypocrisy of racism, sexism and homophobia, to our witch hunt social media culture we have developed, where any disagreement ends in vitriol because everyone wants to be right, to more localised personal issues of why my neighbours constantly leave dog shit in bags outside the communal entrance to our flats, like they are collecting keep sakes to stick in the family album.
I look at all the injustices in the world from how the rich constantly oppress the poor, how multi-national companies side step paying their taxes whilst people queue at food banks, how the government is complicit in that, how our national health service is being slowly being run down and sold off in front of us, how young people have no real chance of owning their own homes and are forced into debt to get an education for a job that doesn’t exist, so that one day they will get a pension that will be taken from them and it makes me angry. Then I go outside to get some
fresh air and calm down, only to find another bag of shit at the back door.
It’s basically all the shit of the world, in all it’s various forms and consistencies I rant about. One day it’ll all probably get too much and I’ll start taking hostages but until then ranting is the healthiest outlet I have.
Q 7: Now you’ve got that off your chest, how can we solve the issue?
I don’t want it solved. If everything was solved I wouldn’t have any material and I’d just be going on stage saying how I look like a cross between someone and someone else or slagging off my home town or doing stories about how someone said something and someone else said something else in response to that original comment and it was all awesome. I’m in a privileged position as a comedian to expose the hypocrisy of these issues, I can go on stage and talk about what I want to and people listen. It’s a nice way to hit back sometimes and connect with someone else who feels the same way about these things as I do.
Q 8: What’s your most embarrassing moment?
I’ve let all that go to be honest. Things are only embarrassing if you let them be so. Being embarrassed is essentially saying, I really care about the opinion of other people and need their approval and feel internally despairing if I somehow jeopardise that, whether I have control over that reason for jeopardising it or not. You are only embarrassed if things happen in front of other people not when you are on your own.
If you shit yourself on your own you’ll be damp and uncomfortable maybe even worried but not embarrassed. You’ll just be thinking practically about how to clean it up.
You do it in front of 100 people the last thing on your mind is going to be what temperature you need to put the washing machine on to get the stains out. (40 degrees is sufficient if you are wondering). I’m not really one to care that much about other people’s approval. People will either like you or not, nothing you do will really change that. All you can do is try to be nice and ok with people and not waste energy worrying what people think of you. If people like you and you like them – hang around with them. If they don’t like you or you don’t like them – don’t. If you honestly don’t give a shit what people think of you because you are confident and comfortable in yourself, it alleviates the stress of embarrassment.
Q 9: Who are your favourite comedians?
Anyone who takes a risk on stage. Which mainly means the Americans. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, Bill Burr, Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, any of those are pretty awesome. I like comedians to make me think, make a point and challenge me. People who get to the truth of what it’s like to be a human being and expose the truths within that experience.
Being a stand up has made me a terrible audience member though as I find myself watching other stand ups and not laughing at times but analysing how they are going about what they do. I sit there watching and thinking, that was nice, that’s a good bit or that’s a great premise and I haven’t laughed in ages.
Q 10: Best gig to date?
I did Download Festival in 2016 that was pretty amazing. Hundreds of metal heads in a huge tent, chanting you onto stage got the blood up a bit and the response was really nice. It was a hell of an adrenaline rush just walking up to the stage and a really good feeling doing well in front of that crowd.
Q 11: Ultimate life goal?
Just to keep getting better at what I do. I don’t judge myself by the successes of other people and I find that’s a healthy way to live. I work hard at what I do and the ultimate goal for me is to be the best that I can be at what I do.
Keep going, keep working hard, keep pushing what I do and keep becoming better at communicating my ideas to a room full of strangers. I’m a big believer in not being out of the game until you quit. All I need to do is keep going and keep doing what I do.
You have good days and bad days but you just have to focus on the long game and on where you want to go and not be side tracked by the bad things that are throw in front of you. Everybody gets knock backs and suffers disappointments but, it’s how you handle that and come back from it that is important. Just don’t let it affect your ultimate goal. If you are looking at a mountain top and you are focused on that goal you don’t notice a piece of bird shit on your shoe.
Q 12: Top tip for a student?
Find something you are passionate about and do that with your life. It’s that simple. You are going to spend most of your waking hours working and it’ll take you away from your family and loved ones. If you do something you truly enjoy and gives you a buzz, then the time you spend away working is a worthwhile trade off for the time away from those you care about.
Don’t trade your time in this life for things you don’t want to do.
Work hard, be passionate and follow your instincts. We all get knock backs and ignored or feel over looked at times, don’t waste your energy dwelling on that. Use that frustration to drive you on and have the self belief and confidence to know it won’t always be like that. Don’t get too up when things go well or too down when things go badly. Try to stay on an even keel. All you’ve go to do is keep going and opportunities will present themselves.
If you’d like to attend one of Ben’s shows, take a look at his gig list for 2017!