I've always felt a bit on the fringe when it comes to comedy. Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing here. I'm a comedian by profession, a musician by qualification, and unemployed in practice. Every form I fill out, I hesitate when I get to the 'Occupation' section, and feel like I'm cheating when I write 'Comedian'.
I've been a comedian for the past six years, but if you'd asked me six years ago I wouldn't have dreamed that would be the case. I studied music at the Sydney Conservatorium, which provided me with invaluable skills for being unemployed. I barely kept my head above water for two years by teaching and busking. I snuck my way into comedy playing keyboard for impro shows. I wrote a bit of musical satire six years ago because I was frustrated with music, and these two guys I know helped me ride that song into a career. That bit of satire was a medley now called the Four Chord Song, and the two guys I know are the rest of the band we form called The Axis of Awesome. If you don't know us, we write and sing and play funny songs. Six years later and we're still doing it.
So now I embark on my first ever solo show. It's been all at once an exciting and daunting process, and there's been some differences I expected, and others that took me by surprise.
It's very different having no one to laugh with to see if something's funny. The three of us have had the experience of coming up with an idea, writing lyrics and music, rehearsing it, only to put it on stage for the first time to find that the audience hates it, and by association, us. But at least with the three of us there, we could all agree that WE found it funny, and make it a B-side for ourselves, saving the hits for the stage.
But writing by myself? I've got no one but me to ask if something's funny or not. And I think London place names are hilarious. Cranmer Road. Goodge Street. Penge! Sounds dirty. So I'm not sure I can trust my own judgement yet.
Similarly, there's a little less joy in writing. There's a marked difference between throwing ideas around while on tour, getting on and off planes, in and out of cars, checking in and out of hotel rooms. There's an excitement that comes from spontaneously crafting an idea, and the tears of laughter that follow.
But there's something much less glamorous about thinking something up while walking to the shops by yourself to buy some milk, writing it in your phone, and then proceeding to buy the aforementioned milk.
Aside from such differences in practice, there's also a significant difference in the style of the product. What's beautiful about collaboration is that there are three different minds at play, and we've found a great way to combine the power of our respective rings to form Captain Funny. I rarely write songs about anything other than music itself, while the other guys are comedians in their own right, and write on subject matter as varied as the power of Jesus Christ to eating food off the floor. We have two songs on each.
After performing the show for the first few times, it dawned on me how much easier the job is when there's two other guys on stage to draw focus. Staying alert for an hour is tough! I switch off pretty much every two and a half minutes in an Axis show. And if we play Birdplane, one of the very first songs we ever wrote, I practically blackout until the final note.
But going solo has given me a newfound joy in the performance, knowing that everything that works and makes a crowd laugh is mine. As much as I love collaboration, and as much as our ideas and talents combined create something that we all love, to know that people enjoy something I came up with myself is all the more rewarding.
The final step is reinventing the image. By comparison, creating something new is the easy part. Establishing it in the public eye is much harder. In the trio we play characters, with a particular relationship, doing a particular act. Audiences may expect the same kind of show as with the band. But I'm not Benny from The Axis when there's no Axis; I'm just Benny]
I'm nearing the end of my run at the Edinburgh Fringe, and how do I think it's going?
Ask me in September.
Benny Davis: The Human Jukebox is on every day at the Gilded Balloon, Teviot at 22:45 until the 25th of August.
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