Hanging Up The Mic – A Comedy Journey (By Adam Keily)

[Note: The following first appeared on AdamKeily.com on Jan 4th 2012 and is reproduced by the kind permission of the author. Also, make sure you check out TheSqueeze.com.au as well for more online hilarity. Seriously. Just bookmark it now and you’ll thank us later.]

By Adam Keily

So it’s now 2012, and almost five years after first setting foot on a stage in 2007, I’ve decided to step off it for the foreseeable future. I leave having achieved far more than I ever set out to. I feel good about where I’m at in life and feel good about starting the next chapter. For those interested to know any more than that, please, read on. Be warned though, it’s long so you might want to get a beer.

I entered RAW comedy in 2007. My only goal, I wanted to see if I could ‘do stand-up’. That was all. I’d always enjoyed making my friends laugh and wanted to see if I could make total strangers laugh. You can see the footage below1 if you haven’t seen it before. That was my motivation though. To see if I could do it. Just really something to tick off my bucket list. I had no plans to take it any further. Kind of like sky diving. Sounded like a fun thing that would simultaneously give me an adrenalin rush and scare the crap out of me. I had no plans to become a professional stand-up any more than I planned to become a professional sky diver. I mean sure we all dream of being a professional sky diver but few make it a reality.

So off I went to my first gig ever at the world famous Rhino Room. To this day it remains one of my favorite gigs ever. I filled the audience with friends and family and felt like a rock star at the end. They laughed, they cheered, they clapped. Amazing. I even managed to qualify for the next round of the competition which blew me away. Afterwards my brother, myself and some friends went out and got suitably hammered to celebrate a job well done. I was hungover and late to work the following morning. A trend that would continue into my career of going to gigs, getting shitfaced and being late for work. Ahhhh, the life of a part time comic.

Not to say that it came easy, whether it was nerves, my brother’s fish pasta that he made for dinner that night or a combination of both, I vividly remember having ‘a bit of a spew’ at home before leaving the house for my first gig. Perhaps a lesson for any young comics entering RAW comedy this year, fish pasta is a poor choice of pre-gig meal. Perhaps try a slice of dry bread instead.

I was nervous though, really nervous. If you watch the video you can see the nerves of a first timer come through by virtue of the fact that after getting through the first couple of minutes I then proceeded to insert the word ‘fuck’ no less than 13 times in the last 3 minutes. A habit I found hard to shake. Whenever I was nervous during a gig I would almost unknowingly replace the pause word ‘um’ with ‘fuck’. I don’t know why, perhaps my subconscious figured it would make me sound tough and cover up the fact that I was usually shitting myself while on stage.

I got through the semi-final and made it to the state final of that year. A final ultimately, and deservedly, won by The D. So that was it I thought. I’d done two more gigs than I’d ever planned to, I’d ‘done stand-up’ as it were. I figured that would be the end of it. To be honest I didn’t really know how to proceed further even if I wanted to. Believe it or not, I was actually still unaware that Adelaide had a regular comedy scene. I’d only once been to see live stand up before trying it myself. I remember seeing Hannah Gadsby in a RAW comedy heat at Rhino Room the previous year. She would go on to win just about everything.

So other than RAW comedy, I didn’t know a scene existed or how to get involved. Enter Craig Egan, the man, the myth, the legend. Craig is probably already on his way over to slap me about the head for revealing that I didn’t know about Adelaide Comedy. Here was me thinking that comedy finished when the fringe did. Oh how wrong I was.

Anyone that is in anyway involved with comedy in Australia would know Craig, and quite possibly, slept on his couch at some point. Craig is an amazing advocate of comedy and comedians, and someone who I now feel lucky to consider a good friend. It was Craig, who after RAW comedy had finished and I guess after this Fringe thing that went on had finished, called me up and asked if I wanted to come out for a gig. “Well!” I thought, I’ve been noticed. I nervously agreed after confirming I wouldn’t need any new material. And off I went on this journey of comedy with this ‘Craig Egan’ as my guide.

I did a few more gigs with that material then realised I needed some new stuff. My first wake up call. After spending months preparing my first 5 minutes of material I set about preparing my next 5 minutes of genius that I would drop relentlessly on an unsuspecting audience who would shower me with praise. Yeah right. This is where I learned the lesson of discovering that sometimes, some or all of your new material can just suck. For someone who’d had friends and family in the audience and hadn’t really had a bad gig, the first one stung a little. Oh comedy, you are a cruel mistress.

Something I did work out along the way though and this again probably falls into the ‘lessons for young comics’ basket, is that as with most things you only get out what you put in. My first 5 minutes worked well partly due to the fact that I stacked the crowd, but largely due to the fact that I agonised over the material to get it just how I wanted it. Along the way you begin to think you can cheat the system. You think that you’re an experienced comic now, surely I don’t need to do as much preparation, surely I can just think of a funny concept and it’ll just work itself out on stage. Well sometimes that may be true but in my experience, most times it isn’t. Write, write, write, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, perform, repeat. That to me is how I came up with my best stuff.

Almost without noticing, I was in. I was gigging regularly. Good gigs, bad gigs, strange gigs. Performing on the back of a truck at the Hells Angels Xmas party comes to mind as one of the stranger ones.

I hadn’t really given any thought as to why I was doing it. It was interesting, challenging and I’m tempted to use the word fun but I don’t think that’s what it was. It was very rewarding. There’s no better feeling than coming off after a good set. You feel like you’ve climbed a mountain and come down the other side carrying a goat to share with the villagers. For me that was the most fun, the end of the set. To me I was always too worried about how the gig was going, worried I’d forget my material, worried I’d fail. I was so focused on making sure everything went well and making sure I looked like I was enjoying it that I never felt like I really had ‘fun’ while I was doing it.

I kept going. I had a new goal. Having grown up playing and loving sports, I enjoyed competition. I felt that given I’d made the RAW comedy final in my first go, with a bit of practice I was a shot at winning it. 2008 rolled around and I entered again. It was the same year I teamed up with Ed Kuhne, Tom Green and Kel Blanaves to do our first Fringe show called ‘Village Idiots’. That was an experience in itself. Here’s a lesson for young comics, don’t do a 20 show run in an 80 seat venue for your first Fringe show. Trust me, you don’t have enough friends and family to fill those seats every night and nobody else gives a shit about you or your comedy show. Also, don’t pick a venue next to the Crazy Horse on Hindley street. When flyering on the street, young untested comics cannot, I repeat cannot, compete with Strippers. In short, it’s tough going.

So RAW comedy that year, which I’d psyched myself to win, was disappointing to say the least. In tennis terms, I was bundled out in the semi’s. Don’t get me wrong, we all still went out and got hammered but for a very different reason. Not wanting to let people down, I made sure I was late for work in the morning again just for good measure. That one hurt, however the good news was that it meant I was still eligible to enter again in 2009. Little comfort at the time but it proved to be a master stroke.

In 2009 I entered RAW comedy one more time. I didn’t do a Fringe show that year to focus on it. Things went well. In front of a packed house at the HWY Hotel of all places, I won the SA final of RAW comedy and was on my way to Melbourne. Strangely enough I didn’t go out and get hammered after winning. There’s something about achieving a goal like that that is enough in itself. There’s a lesson kids, you don’t need alcohol to have fun as long as you get to win a state leg of a national comedy competition in front of 400 people.

Strangely, I think this is when the doubts first started appearing as to if I wanted to pursue comedy further than just a ‘see if I can’ thing. When I made it to Melbourne for the RAW final, I realised I hadn’t really won anything, I’d just won the chance to compete in another bloody competition and feel even more nervous and scared about that one because it was on TV. Then I thought, even if I win this, I just get to go to another competition. Don’t get me wrong. RAW comedy is a great thing and if it wasn’t for RAW I’d never have tried comedy. However, I should give the disclaimer, comedy competitions are stupid and mean nothing. Plain and simple. Even if you win the final comp in Ediburgh, that doesn’t guarantee you a comedy career. You may well get one but that’s because you were talented enough to win an international comedy competition, not because you won it. There’s a difference.

I see so many young comics treat RAW comedy as a make or break type deal. I did. The first year I was just nervous about doing stand-up, I never expected to win. But the second and third years I was nervous about winning an ‘making-it’. If you’re good enough, trust in yourself and you’ll eventually get “there”. Wherever “there” is. I couldn’t ever quite work out where “there” was. It doesn’t show up in my TomTom that’s for sure. If you find it, congratulations, you made it.

So RAW was a great experience and one I’m glad I did. I was far too nervous to enjoy the final in Melbourne and still can’t bring myself to watch the video. I’ve seen it once or twice but I still get nervous watching it. I imagine it’d be like watching a sex tape of your first time. Awkward, short and heavily edited by the ABC. If you really want to watch it you can see it below2. My RAW comedy final that is, not my sex tape.

So technically, I was now a comedian. A label that never sat comfortably with me. I always figured I could only call myself a comedian once I quit my day job and performed comedy full time. Something that never happened. I would only ever tell people that I worked in IT and did a bit of stand-up. People always seemed much more interested in the stand-up than my IT work. Until their computer was broken of course.

I didn’t really know where to go with comedy from this point. I’d well and truly tried it. I could tick it off my bucket list. I won the competition. What now. It was much more of a logical progression than a new goal, but I decided to put on my first solo fringe show in 2010. Adam Keily’s Citizenship Test. A show about being Australian and stuff. Which wasn’t entirely true, it was a thinly veiled theme which I could wrap around all of my existing material. I think I actually only wrote 10-15 mins of new material for the show. Not to say I didn’t put a shitload of work into it. Making it into a coherent one hour show was hard. Trying to disguise the fact it was essentially a random collection of material.

From the outside, the show was a success. I sold every ticket I had available. A single week run and sold over 400 tickets. Well and truly made my money back which I heard was unusual for a Fringe show. However from the inside it wasn’t great. There were good nights which were good but the bad nights were horrible. I remember the last night of the week, I had a packed house, I had my Dad in and I really wanted to to be a good show. It was the worst of the run. I’ve got it on video and watching it back, which I’ve only done once, I can actually pin point the moment where this thought crossed my mind about 40 mins in, “You know what, fuck this, you’re not enjoying it, I’m not enjoying it, I’ll give you all your money back and you can fuck off, I don’t need this.”

It’s fair to say I was hating comedy at the end of the show. People told me the show good and that they enjoyed it. People always say that though. It was only about 9or 10 months later when I could finally bring myself to watch the video that I realised, it actually wasn’t that bad. Maybe the front of the room weren’t laughing but the back of the room where the camera was were. So I’d spent 9 months thinking that gig was one of the worst ever, when perhaps it wasn’t. I know it wasn’t the best but may not have been as bad as it felt.

The show didn’t get any rave reviews, it didn’t win any awards. I’m not sure if I was expecting it to or not. But I remember being disappointed when it didn’t. I always figured if I was going to make it in comedy it would be after a short spell and then a TV producer in LA who was holidaying in Adelaide would see me and sign me up to do something for millions of dollars. I realise that’s a pipe dream but bear in mind it had never been a dream or goal of mine to be a famous stand-up. If it wasn’t happening organically, and suddenly, then there was little chance I was going to make it happen. Therein lies the problem.

I do remember getting to the end of that week and thinking, if I’m going to continue, I need to write some new material. I was sick to death of the words of that show coming out of my mouth. I felt like if I said the words ‘hard rubbish’ or ‘magic car’ one more time I’d heckle myself until I left the stage. I hated it. I knew the words were funny becuase they were still making people laugh but I just couldn’t bring myself to say them any more.

So I had a bit of time off, then came back and set about writing some new material with the focus on preparing a new Fringe show for 2011. I hatched a plan. I needed a point of difference. There’s a lot of comics in this country, even more worldwide. If I was going to be successful and earn a comparable wage to what I earn now, I need something that’s going to separate me from other comics. Having worked in IT for over 10 years, and noting the success of shows like the IT Crowd and Big Bang Theory, I decided to write an hour show all about computers and IT. Some people may not know that my nick name to my friends is Dotcom. In fact, my first RAW comedy heat on Youtube is titled, ‘Dotcomedy’ as a clever play on my nick name. I would then sell this show to corporate IT customers for thousands and travel the world making geeks laugh. A good plan.

So I worked at putting a show together titled Dotcomedy for the Fringe 2011. This time a two week run at Rhino Room. By this point I was totally just convincing myself that stand-up comedy was what I wanted to do as a career. I needed to pull a decent income from it to make it worth leaving my day job so getting corporate gigs was the way to bring in the big bucks. I could then do other, non IT comedy in my spare time. Speaking of spare time, by this point, the notion of spare time had become a fantasy. Especially while preparing a Fringe show but even the rest of the year. Comedy would dominate my thoughts. If I wasn’t writing, I’d feel like I should be, if I was writing I’d feel like it needed to be better. Then I’d worry I wouldn’t get time to rehearse it before giving it a run. I didn’t like this at all. I’d work my day job, come home, eat, then do comedy. It was like working two jobs where the second one didn’t pay anything.

So I put together Dotcomedy and told myself that corporate work would come of it. I made a YouTube video as an ad and sent that around a few IT circles to try and generate interest. I must admit I could have been a lot more aggressive with marketing but by this point, whether I admitted it to myself or not, my heart wasn’t in it.

I performed Dotcomedy over two weeks to about 450 people in total. Just 50 more than I’d played to the previous year in only a week. I was relatively happy with the show, it was nice to be doing new material, but after all the rehearsing and performing by the end of the Fringe I was again sick of it. The thought of touring around the country doing the same show for a year while preparing a new one was not one I enjoyed. Such is the life of a full time stand-up. Nothing wrong with it, just don’t know if it was for me.

There was no corporate interest, hardly surprising given I had the marketing aggression of a damp cloth. I was all but done with it.

I had a chat with Craig Egan after the Fringe and told him I was going to take some time off from comedy. I needed it to try and re-invigorate myself and hopefully, miss it. If I’m honest, I didn’t.

I had about 3 months away from the stage and then in a stroke of genius timing by Craig, he rang me while I was getting drunk with friends at the Grosvener hotel in Victor Harbor. He asked if I wanted to do a few gigs again and I slurred, “Shhhhurrrrrrrre, why not!”.

I came back armed with some new material. My first gig back at Rhino Room went really well. The new material worked, the audience laughed. For all intents and purposes, a successful return. However, in short, I didn’t care. It’s great the new material worked, it’s always nice. It just didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because I couldn’t work out what my goals were in comedy any more. I only started comedy to see if I could do it. One thing had lead to another and now I was at a point where I’d concluded I wasn’t prepared to to make a career out of it. In fact I didn’t even want to make a career out of it. I had trouble giving writing and rehearsing time any kind of priority which then stressed me out because I never had any new material. It all boiled down to the fact that I just wasn’t enjoying it any more.

I made the decision to finish up at the end of the year (2011). My second last gig was hosting the comedy night at the Marion Hotel featuring Jim Jefferies. What a way to go! One of the best gigs I’d had and Jim Jefferies only served to reinforce how high the bar was to be a great standup. In my opinion he’s one of, if not the, best in the world. But as great a gig as that was, I was just glad it was over. I didn’t have to think about it or stress about it any more. My final gig was at the Rhino Room where I got up without sideburns for the first time ever just for kicks. Turns out the funny was in the sideburns because it’s wasn’t a great gig. It was ok, not great, but it didn’t matter. I was done long before then.

I love making people laugh and I enjoyed the creativity of stand-up comedy. However, despite my appearance I’ve never been comfortable on stage, I’ve always been nervous and ever since the early days of RAW comedy, I keep my set written out in my back pocket as a type of comedy safety blanket.

Stand-up is just one form of comedy and just one type of creative outlet. It was through stand-up that I’ve had opportunities like radio and improv come up which are kind of the same but different again. Stepping away from comedy for a while I hope to pursue other comedic and creative interests. I want to put more effort into the website I created with Nick Gill, The Squeeze. Basically an Australian focused news parody website. I plan to buy a fancy camera and make some funny youtube clips. Because the world needs more funny youtube clips. I hope to write a book. Even though I have no musical ability at all I want to try and create a hit song using only a computer and some theories about what sounds good. That last one is slightly hairbrained but why not.

Basically I’m stepping away from stand-up to free my time and mind up to have ideas and then act on those. Whatever they may be. I said at the start of this, what has now turned into a very long read, that I have stepped away from stand-up for the foreseeable future. I choose these words very carefully. I’m not saying I’ll never get on a stage again. I guess I’m also protecting myself from doing a John Farnham and retiring and then coming back to do winery gigs and stuff.

This turned out much longer than I had ever planned, much like my comedy career. Thank you for reading the whole thing. I will probably also turn this website into a self indulgent blog about whatever I feel like talking about. Heck, I’ve got the domain, might has well use it right? This post seems as good a start as any.

So I sign off by saying thanks to stand-up comedy. Thanks to all the great people I’ve met by being involved. Thanks to all my friends and family who’ve supported me along the way from people putting up with me saying “Hey do you reckon this is funny?…” to people in the audience hearing me talk about a magic car for the 400th time.

Remember, comedy doesn’t finish when the Fringe does and comedy certainly doesn’t finish when I do. Check out AdelaideComedy.com to see who’s coming soon. Keep supporting and most importantly, keep laughing.




YouTube links:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmOT8V6sLPM&w=620]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_31Hr7vyuY&w=620]

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