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Andy – Humans of Avon and Somerset

Man with grey hair, glasses and long grey beard smiles at camera in corridor

The part I like most about performing comedy is leading the audience one way, and then taking them another.

Andy, Handyman

I started performing on stage over 25 years ago. Sometimes I find that comedy clubs are full of talented performers who want to make a career with comedy but are surprised at the years of dedication it takes to become mainstream. I’ve never pursued performing as a career because of this, so right from the start it was mostly about having fun and playing with an audience. My first group stopped performing just before 2000, and I ended up having quite a break from being on stage, but re-started again about a decade ago after new inspiration sprang from a new source.  

In the interim, one of my friends from my comedy group and I started writing a magazine. We never got around to actually publishing because it was too complicated – this was just before the Internet started becoming a big hit, and making a paper publication was too expensive. Mostly it was just my friend and I having fun writing stories from different character’s perspectives. I eventually converted the stories I had written into performance pieces, the different subject matters resulting in different characters.  

I did that for quite a long time, and it evolved into about five or six different characters, which I prepared to vary my performances. They had easily recognisable traits, like being a farmer or a fisherman, so it was quite accessible for everyone to watch. They involved different costumes, sometimes a hat or a wig, to really sell them and set the scene. All my props were manual and didn’t involve electronics, for example some characters utilised an old school flip chart – I preferred relying on paper and ink rather than waiting for something to go wrong with a piece of technology. 

I crashed open mics wherever I could, especially if they had lots of musicians scheduled for the night, it was nice to break up their performances with something completely different. Each character I performed as had a different gimmick – the farmer character would do a lot of purposely bad agricultural poetry; the fisherman would often incorporate a kazoo into his piece. I also played a couple of the characters wives’, one of which was a fortune teller and would tell the fortunes of the audience with tarot cards or a crystal ball. 

A lot of the inspiration for my characters is autobiographical, based on real people I have met throughout my life. The farmer, for instance, is based on me when I worked on the old farmland where Avon and Somerset Police Headquarters now stands. I grew up just down the road, and I remember watching the first fence being put up around the site once it started to be converted. Real people give me a good starting point, and then the humour comes from personality aspects that I invent – I didn’t project any prose when I was out farming!  

The way comedy works for me is telling people stories which makes them think they know where the joke is coming from, and then leading them another way. I used to put on a bowler hat and sharp suit to tell people one thing, and then suddenly go off on a tangent to tell them another. Audience participation is great as well, because it’s more fun to have somebody to play off. Getting people involved also makes them feel part of the performance and really immerses them in the experience. The important thing is not to take yourself too seriously. If the person you are interacting with isn’t saying what you expect them to, it doesn’t matter – just go with it.  

I don’t think I could do comedy as a full-time career, partly because it’s so hard to monetize the work and break into the mainstream. I know people who started doing this in 1996 and they only just about get away with it today as their full-time job, as the money for gigs hasn’t moved with the times. As a handyman at Avon and Somerset Police, I definitely have enough work to keep me busy and fulfilled throughout the day. 

Now I perform about once a week, with around 11 characters in my roster. I normally perform to a crowd of about 20 or 30 people – which is a good number to pull in, especially when the weather is cold, and most people prefer to be tucked up at home rather than go out somewhere. I’m also competing against the internet and the television, so I really appreciate crowds that still see the critical value of live performances.