James Acaster at South Street tonightBy Caroline Cook
April 18, 2012
When a comedian steps out on stage and starts chatting to the audience, one of two things can happen.
The audience can interact with the show, joining in with the jokes and adding to the laughs, or they can try to beat the comedian with put downs, which can derail a gig entirely.
Newcomer James Acaster has had both experiences.
“You get people who think they are helping and they get overexcited and don’t shut up and you feel the audience getting a bit annoyed,” says James, talking about the less favourable moments of audience participation.
“Then you get people who are really shy and if you start speaking to them you have got to know to move on quickly because they don’t want to speak.
“Other times you get people who think they will win and they can beat the comedian. The only way the audience can beat the comedian is by ruining the gig, but that means they also lose.”
Although talking to the audience is a risk, it is one that makes up a significant part of the 27-year-old comic’s act.
“When it comes to the audience, the most fun I have had is when they are a nice audience and we are on the same page, with the same sense of humour,” he says.
“There was one in Edinburgh where it turned out I went to school with this guy in the audience but we never kept in touch and I made out I was really annoyed about it and he went along with it.
“He was throwing out more and more stuff he had done that I didn’t go to like getting married.”
Having made his debut at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009 with a show called Amongst Other Things, James went on to win the Laughing Boy New Act of the Year award a year later, a nod of approval from one of the country’s leading comedy agencies.
The win prompted gigs supporting Milton Jones on tour, a TV slot on Russell Howard’s Good News Extra, and a few shows in support for Jack Whitehall.
“Just by watching them you can see why they are in the position they are in and why people are so excited about them at the moment,” he says.
“But you don’t always have to follow their example. Most comics are doing it because they’ve found their own voice.
“I tend to talk about more trivial subjects,” he says. “I might look like I’ve got some issues because I’m talking about one side of a cheese grater for ages as if it’s a massive thing, but when people do get it it’s great and they go with it.”
Aware of his position as a fresh face, James knows his audience have to get to know him before he can reach comic stardom.
“At the moment I’m a new comic and sometimes people come to see you not knowing what to expect,” he says.
“When you do the open mic nights you quickly learn what they are going to expect from you and I learnt I was not that cool.
“When you walk on stage people think you are this or that and you quickly learn that if you talk about certain things it will work better,” he explains.
“Like having a T-shirt my girlfriend didn’t think was cool or being in the Scouts till I was 15 – they actually work better because the audience have made their minds up about you and have got themselves ready for a type of comedy.”
Looking at James’s photo, you’d expect a comedian similar to Russell Howard, friendly but not crude, or Jack Whitehall, with his brand of ‘posh mummy’s-boy’ style comedy. But the new comic is determined to put his own stamp on stand-up.
“I could put on a Hawaiian shirt and spike my hair up but then I’m just going to look like Milton Jones,” he says.
“There’s no theme to my show, it’s just quite a lot of whimsy.”
With a silly kind of humour, branded ‘deliciously daft’ by critics, James seems to have found his own brand of comedy which he hopes will keep the crowd entertained, and on his side, at South Street.