As the youngest winner of stand-up comedy competition So You Think You’re Funny, Ivo Graham has gone on to be a popular comedian and has made a number of TV appearances including Live at the Apollo and The Dog Ate My Homework. Having had many good reviews on his recent tour Educated Guess, Ivo has a few more dates to come with Komedia in Brighton this coming Tuesday. Answering our questions, we find out more about his shows, performing to a home crowd and how his performances have changed over the years.
What can you tell us about your shows, is there a theme?
A comedy show without a theme is like orange juice without pulp: it’s actually a lot more pleasant in the moment, but gives you less of a sense of accomplishment when it’s over. This year’s chewy big bits of narrative pulp include: my schooling (expensive), my political convictions (weak), and my ability to perform under pressure on TV quiz shows (near non-existent).
You’re playing Komedia Brighton on 29th May, do you get chance to explore the towns you visit?
I always plan to but, I’m afraid to say, I never do. On a couple of occasions when gigging in Brighton I’ve turned up an hour or two early, gone to the beach and briefly considered giving up meat and moving to the coast, but these daydreams never last too long. Often you have to stay over in the places, which means a bit more enforced tourism either side of the show, but the pleasingly regular all-night trains back to London mean I’ve never gigged in Brighton and not woken up in my own bed, or, if I’ve fallen asleep on the train, Bedford.
How do you decide what material to put in to a twenty minute set opposed to an hour gig?
In a twenty minute set, I find you have to get in there early with one’s tightest, punchiest gear, owing to (a) having less time to introduce yourself to the audience, (b) some/most/all of said audience having come to see other acts on the bill so not knowing/caring who you are, and (c) the desire to blow said other acts out of the water and destroy their self esteem. If you are doing an hour, I find you have more right to punish the sycophantic fools in the audience with much longer, flabbier, more indulgent material. And over an hour and a half on a tour show? Those poor, poor sods.
Do you practice your show in front of anyone before performing to an audience?
I know comics who do this and I can honestly say that very little gives me more anxiety than the thought of doing so. Which isn’t to say I don’t also pity the audience members who have to be guinea pigs for my frequently dreadful new ideas, but they have at least entered into the process of their own volition, as opposed to some old pal from uni I’ve ambushed at the pub.
Has there been any time on stage that you thought a joke wouldn’t go down well?
I spend a huge amount of my career in this mindset and an only slightly less huge amount being proved right.
What’s it like performing to a home crowd?
Stressful. Swindon, my beloved “home (is actually quite far from the centre of) town”, has not been a happy hunting ground in recent years, as my desire to cram the set with crowd-pleasing local references has often left me looking quite desperate and insincere, which is only half true.
If you have family/friends at one of your live shows, do you change your material in any way?
In principle, no. They should be able to stomach whatever (rarely fruitier than PG-rated) filth I’m peddling, and one must always think of the good of the show. For the last few years a staple of my live sets has been a punishingly long anecdote about relieving myself on a family holiday, a story which I’m afraid to say has largely gone down much better than most of my more cerebral material. Knowing that it was crucial to getting the show off to a good start, I threw myself into it every night at the Edinburgh festival, even when my parents were on the front row. If, however, I was going to a new material night considering whether or not to try out a bit of New Blue, and said parents were there, I’d be very likely to bottle it. Luckily, that hasn’t happened yet, as they’re not “massively interested in the process”.
What can you remember from your first gig?
The length of the email I wrote applying for it, and my over-reliance on perhaps not massively relatable material about a university ski trip.
How have your performances changed over the years?
I would say that, having struggled to master basic stagecraft and mic technique for far longer than most new acts (2009-2014), and having spent those years throwing away some genuinely sweet and interesting material by saying it under my breath, or tripping over my words, or performing the whole gig with my eyes closed, I have finally, over the last few years, started to manage a slightly more confident, confrontational style. Sadly, in that time, the innocence of youth has slowly started to give way to a more cynical approach (and a worryingly large amount of grey hair), meaning that some of the charm that went with that shambolic style has also gone.
Do you find it easy to improvise?
Having found it an utterly terrifying prospect in my first few years in the game, over the last few years I have grown to love improvising, and think that on my day (and it frequently isn’t) I am an above-averagely deft and imaginative compère. However, reliance on improvisation has of late started to come at the cost of actually working on proper material, so I have rather joylessly decided to do less of it from now on.
Who was the first comedian you went to see live?
The Mighty Boosh with my dad in Cardiff in 2006. I cannot tell you how cool we both felt going to watch the Boosh, anarchic and surreal and still pre-total massive mainstreamness, and how much we regaled our respective dinner parties with their punchlines over the summer. Thanks, Dad!
Were there any comedians that inspired you to become one yourself?
For a long time I was a huge fan of comedy without having any sense that I would be able to do it myself: I think that, like for a lot of people, seeing it up close and human and personable was what suddenly made that seem possible, and in my case that was watching the wonderful Josie Long supported by an excellent student stand up called Tom Meltzer, at Oxford’s Free Beer Show in October 2008. Within a week I’d started drafting my long email.
Would you like to appear on or write a sitcom?
Yes, I would, but I can’t really act, and sadly I think the vast majority of the major London casting directors are aware of that by now.
Will you be doing any comedy festivals this year?
Just Festival Number 6 this year, in the stunning Welsh countryside of Portmeirion. In 2014 it was perfect sunshine and amongst the most romantic weekends of my life: in 2016 a total, unmitigated washout. Very excited to find out which it’ll be this year!
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