There are plenty of things we can agree are best done alone, reading, writing, and
defecation practicing the violin for instance. However, when we talk about loneness we are usually referring to pursuits that require privacy. We rarely discuss the joy of doing things by yourself and when it comes to live entertainment, especially live comedy, I think the general assumption is that this is best enjoyed as a couple or group.
My Twitter research tells me that actually plenty of individuals (did you see what I did there) know that this is not so. In fact, watching a show without concerning yourself over whether anyone else likes it, then perhaps going on social media and inciting FOMO in others, can be somewhat liberating.
But don’t take my word for it, I spoke to some comedians about their thoughts on going it alone at comedy shows…
Comedian, podcaster, and PR Vix Leyton has discovered the joy of taking herself out: “I went against all my social anxiety and fear of time spent in my own, unbroken company and took myself to my first comedy show as a patron a few months ago. I really wanted to go but just didn’t have the mental bandwidth to have company.
“I had an absolutely joyous time” says Leyton, though, like many, she struggled with the venue’s socially distancing seating policy, “if you discount the stress of them finding me somewhere to sit. I was allowed to buy a single ticket, which I understand from mates who usually go solo, isn’t always the case, particularly with COVID meaning a lot of people are pushed to buy tables for two, but once I got in I had to wander round asking everyone who had a chair on their row if it was spare to a chorus of ‘no’s. If I was less confident, I would have probably left, I felt like a complete loser.
“Fortunately, I got adopted by some brilliant women who had spotted the man in charge of chairs and flagged him down to help me. I had my own row created, enjoyed the luxury of ordering wine to my chair, and had a bloody good time.” In fact, Leyton has even found some perks to COVID compliant policies: “One of the consequences of COVID is you can have an almost entirely self-contained night – no scuffling at the bar, no carrying all your belongings with you if you’re by yourself, less (there was still some) being stared at as a woman on your own. I found it really liberating, and I absolutely would do it again. I once got all the way to the cinema and bottled buying a single ticket when I was redundant and roaming town alone, now I feel like I have the keys to the city – no more bothering people to sit through things, I can just take myself.”
Comedian Saven Chadha had a self-discovery through solo comedy outings: “When I turned thirty I realised something really big was wrong. I felt like a supporting character in my own life. Most of my relationships only seemed to work when I was being submissive, passive, and mouldable. I thought I was being easy-going, it’s not hard for people to like you if you are who they want you to be. But it will end up costing you, well, yourself.
“I found out that a good first step in finding out what you like is by saying ‘No’ to what you don’t. So I started saying no a lot. I set boundaries, turned down plans, and stopped making an effort in Whatsapp groups where I was largely being ignored.” However, setting boundaries Chadha had to start again, “Over the next three years almost all of my friendships ended, some slow and quiet, some loud and painful. I felt untethered and hollow.
“I started going to watch live comedy alone because I needed to get out of the house but I didn’t want to see anyone. And I needed to laugh. I had watched comedy before, mostly on TV, but watching it live is so different. Before I knew it, I was going to gigs almost every night of the week.
“It’s also really nice to go somewhere and not have to talk if you don’t want to. You can laugh and then just go home. It’s both exciting and peaceful.”
“I began fixating on new material nights. I found it fascinating how comedians could tell a joke, have it bomb, and then effortlessly move on to another bit. I was in awe of their ability to start from scratch, without a scratch. I felt like by watching them carefully maybe I could learn to do it too.”
A chance encounter with an encouraging fellow audience member gave Chadha the courage to start performing: “I signed up for everything, stand up courses, writing sessions, open mic nights; collecting phone numbers and social media handles along the way. I was getting high on London’s comedy circuit but instead of a hangover every day I was waking up to a deeper understanding of who I was.
“This all came from clicking a link to buy a single ticket; ‘Fuck it I’ll just go by myself’. It’s the same with restaurants, films, talks, and exhibitions. I’m taking myself on a little date, making sure my favourite relationship is the one I have with myself. Going to watch comedy alone was an unexpected spark that led to me learning the coolest thing I know about me: I can actually do stand up.”
I also spoke to comedian and promotor James Ross, who runs comedy night Quantum Leopard. Ross has taken various steps to ensure a good night, for groups or people on their own, after all, as Ross says: “why bite the hand that claps?”
Originally Quantum Leopard had a ‘no picking on the audience’ rule for its lineups, however, this has since been replaced with a consent-based system, inspired by Briony Redman. The front row is invited to take a green sticker, which can be worn if you are happy to be spoken to by acts. So no need for front row fear here.
Ross also believes his booking policy, which promises lineups that are gender-balanced, representation of the LGBTQ community and people of colour, creates a more comfortable atmosphere for the lone punter: “Whatever protected characteristic you happen to possess, there’s a pretty good chance that there’ll be someone on the bill that has that, there’ll something you have in common…and it won’t be an alienating experience.”
Other endeavours, such as a Pay What You Want policy and gender-neutral loos at the 2Northdown venue Quantum Leopard currently uses, help people feel welcome. Ross also has a content policy, which is explained to the acts, of “no racism, sexism, ableism, whorephobia, broadly summarised as ‘no kicking down.’” Audience members are invited to contribute if they feel something has been missed.
In spite of these measures Ross realises some people may not be able to attend, “even a comedy club that is as welcoming and inclusive as Quantum Leopard, maybe one day those people will step foot in a comedy club, but there are plenty of reasons why they might not come due to money, geography or spoons.”
If you are one of these people,Quantum Leopard is currently streaming PWYW shows online with a Zoom front row. Funny Women will also be runningopen mic nights and streaming live comedy later in 2022. Whether you’re bringing a buddy or coming alone, all are welcome!