No sorry, Pi didn’t get an exclusive interview with the soon-to-be-ex Mr Gwyneth Paltrow. (Although, we’re free anytime Mr Coldplay Chris Martin.)
This Chris Martin is a 28 year-old from West London and one of the UK’s best young comedians. He’s been on tour with well-established comedians such as Milton Jones, Jack Whitehall, and Russell Kane. In 2010, the Guardian named his podcast with fellow comedian, Carl Donnelly, one of the Top Ten Comedy Podcasts. His 2011 Edinburgh Festival show, ‘Chris Martin: No, Not That One’, was one of the most celebrated acts of the festival, selling out multiple times. And we here at Pi think you should know who he is.
Ahead of his first solo show, ‘Resposibilliness’, in London from 23-25 October, Pi’s Katie Riley and Oliver Palethorpe caught up with Martin to chat about his show, writing stand-up, and putting objects on his head.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Katie Riley (Pi): So to start, before we talk about anything else… We were looking through your Instagram feed the other day, and there are a bunch of pictures of you with random stuff on your head. We were just wondering how that started and if that’s some sort of pre-show routine, or what?
Chris Martin: Yeah. When I’m on tour, I’m very, very bored backstage because I don’t have any other acts with me. So I find things in the dressing room to put on my head. An iron was quite a good one. A table would be the ultimate, I think. But I might break my neck pre-show.
KR: So, the Guardian talked about how you were one of the best up-and-coming young comedians in the UK and they called you, ‘Not a comedian who is going to rewrite the rules of stand-up’, and ‘A straight-forward chronicler of everyday oddities’. Is that how you see yourself?
CM: That’s actually quite a deep question. [Laughs] I don’t know how I see myself. I’ve never really thought of myself in much detail. I just write about whatever is stuck in my head that I find funny, and then I try to translate it to make other people find it funny. Sometimes it works, sometimes it definitely doesn’t.
KR: When’s the last time it didn’t work?
CM: Always. There’s always going to be something. You’re always trying to do something new, and there’s going to be sometimes when it doesn’t work – although, sometimes that can be just as funny.
KR: Personally, we both really love watching comedians and – at least in our own experience – a lot of other students do, too. Do you get a lot of university students at your shows?
CM: I think so – I perform at a lot of universities. I quite like uni students. They’re usually good. They’re usually young and open-minded to different stuff. They’re there to have a laugh at comedy rather than for a night out.
Oliver Palethorpe (Pi): Do you feel you have to change the kind of the jokes you’re going to tell depending on whether you have a younger audience or an older one?
CM: Not so much, maybe just references. Like I referenced Saved by the Bell in a room with quite a lot of students and I was like ‘eh’, because they would have been like zero when that was on TV. But, most stuff is quite relevant to most people 18 to whatever – 18 to 80.
KR: Yeah, someone once asked you what your worst gig ever was. You said you got drunkenly goaded into doing stand-up at your friend’s birthday party for ‘old, Northern people’, and that they just did not get it at all.
CM: Oh yeah, that was the worst. It was at a cricket club, and it was awful. I went to the toilet straight afterwards, and I could hear them talking about it from the toilet. [Laughs]
KR: So what do you do? Do you just run away?
CM: Just get drunk. Just drink yourself into a state of depression where you can’t remember anything. No, you just learn not to do gigs at your mate’s party. [Laughs]
KR: We have to ask about the name. You’ve embraced it, obviously, naming your Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, ‘Chris Martin: No, not that one’ among other things. People always ask you about it, so we were trying to think of something you haven’t been asked before, so: if you met Chris Martin from Coldplay, what do you think you’d say to him?
CM: That’s a good question. I’ve never had that one before. I’ve never thought about it. I might go up to him and say, ‘Hey man, I have the same name as you.’ But, then I just thought that is about as interesting as people going to me, ‘You’ve got the same name as him.’ I imagine he’d just be like, ‘Yeah, it’s a common name.’ Why would he want to speak to me just because I have the same name as him? Maybe if I duped him first by telling him I’m not a massive fan of fair trade coffee or something, just to get him intrigued at that level. And then, I was like, ‘I got the same name as you.’ I just don’t think he’d care, though. He’s going through a divorce guys, he’s got enough on his plate. He wants to meet some nice ladies.
KR: So you do a podcast with Carl Donnelly, a fellow comedian. Is there a substantive difference between doing comedy alone and doing it as part of a duo?
CM: A podcast is different from stand-up anyway – it’s a bit more free form. You can explore ideas. You’re not reliant on the audience when it’s a podcast. You don’t have to change tactics because there’s not been a laugh in two minutes. Also, when you get to bounce of someone else it’s great because you can wind each other up and steer each other in stupid directions. On your own it’s much more of a narcissistic thing. You’re just trying to be funny. Wheras you want the other person to also be funny when there are two of you messing around.
KR: If you weren’t a comedian, what do you think you would do? What was the plan?
CM: Maybe a cab driver? I drive so much anyway. I always think that, as cab drivers, you get a new audience every few minutes. It’s basically the same as what I do now, but without a destination.
KR: Is there any sort of difference between doing comedy in London and doing it outside of London?
CM: Londoners can be a harder to impress. They can also be quite quiet. There’s so much comedy in London that they’re normally quite comedy literate, so you can do something a bit more interesting and convoluted. They might get it all and laugh, or they might just be like, ‘Oh yeah, I see what you meant,’ and just nod. So you can try more expressive ideas, but conversely they can also be harder to impress. Normally, I like gigging in London because I can just get the tube home after a show. That’s always nice.
KR: You went to Newcastle for university. Did you do a lot of comedy there?
CM: Yeah, I did shows there. I set up a little gig in the halls of residence, where I’d MC and learn how to chat to a crowd. We’d just get loads of people from halls in their pyjamas. For some reason students wear their pyjama bottoms around like they think it’s okay. So when people say imagine the audience in their underwear, most of them were.
OP: So, do you think, for students who maybe consider themselves future comedians, it would be useful for them to start going around halls, or flats, or uni buildings just telling jokes to groups of people?
CM: Yeah, it’s all about stage time, comedy. If you want to give it a go, just get up in front of any audience, any type of audience. You learn how to play to all sorts of different people. You learn what you’re about.
KR: You said something earlier about comedy being a narcissistic activity. Do you find that a lot of comedians are – for lack of a better word – narcissists?
CM: It’s quite hard because you’re on stage just talking about yourself with loads of strangers staring at you. You’ve got to be balanced with it – you’ve got to realise it’s ridiculous. Some people can take it a bit seriously. But, you’ve got to have an element of [narcissism] in you, or why else would you stand in front of a room full of strangers and talk shit? A lot of people feel power when they do it, but I just find that so dumb. It’s so dumb that it’s an actual job. Years ago, you’d have to be in a coalmine or building something. Just talking about stuff that happened to you as a career is so silly. There’s definitely an element of solipsism to it, though. Yeah.
KR: That’s interesting because I read an article on Salon.com about this woman who called herself a ‘comedy groupie’. For years, she exclusively dated and socialized with comedians even though she wasn’t a comedian. She said that, from her experience, a lot of comedians are incredibly insecure people, and that exposing those insecurities on stage is what made them great comedians, but also sort of tragic people. That is sort of the opposite of what you said.
CM: Well, there’s nothing funny about going on the stage and saying, ‘I’m the best.’ Being narcissistic doesn’t mean being confident about what you’re doing. Even when you’re being insecure, there’s still a point where it’s so self-indulgent. So maybe, we’re both right? You can be insecure and narcissistic, can’t you? The insecurities are the funniest, and maybe it’s the narcissism that makes you think people will care.
KR: Yeah, there’s definitely an element of self-deprecation in your comedy, which is the funniest part. You talk about living in your parents’ shed and stuff like that.
CM: Yeah, you’ve got to find the funny in stuff that’s crap. Life’s quite silly and, even if stuff is unfortunate, you’ve got to try and laugh at it.
KR: So, you’re going to be in London from the 23rd to the 25th of October. Your show is called ‘Responsibilliness’, as in ‘silliness’ and ‘responsibility’ mixed together. Where’d that name come from? Did you come up with it?
CM: I was going to call it ‘Responsible Nonsense’. But then I thought, ‘Some reviewer will just call it nonsense.’ I had called my show the year before, ‘Passion about the Pointless’, and someone just said, ‘The show is pointless’. It’s not even that I really value the reviews. But I just thought, ‘Let’s make it harder for them to be mean.’
OP: Does it ever affect you, what reviewers say about you?
CM: A few years ago I realized something: if I read a review and it’s good, all that’s going to do is make me have a false sense of grandiose about my show. And if they slag me off, it’s just going to make me have doubts about it. Either outcome is negative, in terms of writing stand-up. So I try to not worry about it too much. Whether or not the audience is laughing, that’s the only thing I can control really.
KR: I think a lot of people don’t know, myself including, how writing stand-up works. Obviously you have something written, but do you ever just improvise on the stage?
CM: Everyone’s got a different way of doing it. But, I try not to think it through so much. I just think of something I find funny, a little story or whatever, and then think of a couple of different angles on it that might harvest some jokes. Then, I just kind of run with it and see what happens.
OP: I was wondering about the culture of comedy. Do you all get on?
CM: It’s actually really friendly. Comedy is quite supportive. We’ll meet up, like at new material nights, and then we’ll hang out and have a drink afterwards. Lots of times you share car rides with people. Sometimes we’ll meet up and chuck a few ideas around. That’s often where a lot of the funniest ideas come from, when you’re just talking with other comedians about something that you find funny. So no, it’s really social – that’s the best thing about it. 99% of comedians are just a lot of fun. There are very few bad eggs.
KR: Okay, who do you think is really, really funny right now?
CM: I quite like Americans. I like Bill Burr, Pete, Louis C.K., Chris Rock – I still think he’s amazing. They’re all American, but there are really good British comedians, as well. Micky Flanagan. Milton Jones, who I supported. Maybe it’s because I don’t get to work with them as much and I’m not as used to them, and that’s why I named some American guys. But, there are also loads of funny people here – loads of people you wouldn’t have heard of who I gig with regularly and just crack me up.
KR: You said you liked American comedians. So, opinions on Colbert, Stewart?
CM: Yeah, Jon Stewart’s great. And John Oliver now, too – he’s amazing. He [Oliver] is so good on that show. I think over in America, when it comes to the telly shows at least, they have bigger budgets and more writers. It’s very different. I’d like to go over there and see how the comedy scene is different. It would be interesting to see what the club comedy scene is like, because I think the standard of club comedy in the UK is great. Nine or ten times on a bill, you’re with three really funny other people. I would tell everyone to go out to local clubs. There are loads of people in the UK who are wicked, still working, and not famous.
Chris’ show is running until the 25th October at the Leicester Square Theatre.
Featured image credit: Chris Martin