"So which do you prefer?" It's a question I get asked a lot. Sometimes in or cafes when presented with two different beverage options, or in a shop as I try to look interested in a pair of shirts that look identical. Or in a brothel. One of these examples is obviously a joke. I tend to wear T-shirts.
But I most often get asked that question when people find out what I do for a living. I'm a stand up comedian and actor, and people usually ask me which I prefer. I tend to reply with something vague like: "I like them both in different ways", but this year at the Edinburgh Fringe I've had the opportunity to directly compare and contrast them because every day I am doing a solo stand up show and a play.
Stand up is a quintessentially solo art. Comedians are lone wolves, stalking the country hunting for laughs, occasionally joining up with others to form packs (or "line-ups") but never staying in the same pack for long. This metaphor may be a little strained.
But the lone wolf image is apt. Most stand ups I know are fairly quiet, introverted people when not on stage. We live at a slight angle to the world and therefore find it hard to work with others. The most important relationship for a comedian is with his or her audience: an intense, sharply honest interaction where an immediate physical response is sought and sometimes granted. A bit like a one night stand. I would imagine.
The most appealing and yet also terrifying thing about stand up is that it's all you: the writing, the performance, the style. Every decision is yours alone. If the gig goes well it's a personal triumph. There is no one else to dilute the glory. Conversely, if a gig goes badly, there is no one else to blame. You feel a bit sick, a bit dirty, you want to crawl out of your skin and scrape it clean from the inside out. Others may sympathise, but no one else knows exactly how you feel.
A play is a different beast. This year I'm performing in a new play with three other actors. By comparison with my stand up show the process has been very fast and intense. I find that making a stand up show is a slow and painstaking process, an accumulation of material over several months involving lots of previews, new material nights and rewriting, until I have an hour that I am happy with. But by the time I read the play it was pretty much the finished article. As an actor my job is to interpret and represent the character as best I can. We had less than two weeks of rehearsals, a few hours a day. A fortnight before the Fringe we had no show. By day one we were nearly ready.
In contrast to comedians, most actors are pretty sociable types. We have to work with others - not just other actors but a director, producer, writer, stage manager, technician, designer, etc. Rehearsals involve long discussions, debates, stupid tangents and irrelevant anecdotes, studded with moments of quiet concentration and raucous improvisation.
In this play I am doing two things I haven't done on stage before: an accent and a sex scene. I have moments of apprehension and nerves, but everyone is very supportive and excited about what we're doing. That sense of community is the thing I like most about acting. To use a discredited phrase, we're all in it together. We share the highs and lows. Of course your performance is still a personal thing, but however a show goes you can celebrate or commiserate with the others knowing that you are just a small part of a larger whole.
So which do I prefer? Well, I like both in different ways. I find if I'm doing a lot of stand up I miss the community and collaboration of acting, but if I'm doing a long run of a play I begin to feel restricted and trapped by the script and want to let rip with some of my own ideas. So combining the two in tandem is the perfect scenario.
So far this year I've really enjoyed having both shows to do, and I can't believe I only have a week left. Only at the Fringe can you do a play in the afternoon and a stand up show in the evening. Usually you'd have to choose: I'm glad I can put that choice off for at least a few more days.
Matt Green: Alive is on at the Pleasance Dome every day at 8:10pm until the 25 August
"Sex Lives Of Others" is on at the Pleasance Courtyard at 2.15pm until the 26 August
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