Every comic has a terrific story about the worst time they died on stage, and it’s true that there has been no shortage of Edinburgh comedy shows over the past few years that confront the realities of sickness and death. But for Amy Howerska, death has been so commonplace it makes her stand up regarding it a little different.
From betting bottle-tops as a child, while trying to assess the extent of the injuries of the skydivers she and her sister saw plunge from the sky as they grew up on a “Drop Zone”, to her father’s ex SAS Black Ops military tales, death has been a big part of Amy’s life.
And so she doesn’t always take it too seriously. Here she chats about performing stand up on the only thing as certain as taxes…
“Your so brave doing stand-up” is an annoying utterance I often get.
“I’ve got an attitude problem not cancer, I am not ‘brave’… bravery is for comedians who aren’t funny and I am pretty fucking funny most of the time thank you very much”… is what I would like to say…
But normally I use a car metaphor about learning to drive: “you know comedy is just like learning to drive, it seems scary…”
Anyway the point is – doing stand-up is not brave. Staying in a job you hate and working in an office for 40 years to support a family is brave. Stand ups like what they do; they enjoy it and they get off on it. It’s their thing. Also, unless a gig is going very badly, it tends not to be a job where you can get shot or burnt alive. Usually the only thing that can get hurt is your ego and that’s more construct than flesh ! And let’s be honest, the ego of most performers needs a good slap from time to time.
Most comics have a fair few awful gigs at the beginning of their careers, but when you’ve been doing the job a while, and you start to get good at comedy, bad gigs become more of an anomaly. When they do happen there’s actually a certain pleasure/pain to them. A really good death is just like picking a scab.
There is something wondrously magical about a proper shit-show of a gig. The type of gig where they hate you, everything about you, from the moment you’ve walked on stage till your hurried exit out the back. The only laughter heard during these gigs is that of the other comedians. They, like you, savouring the car crash; I mean who does not enjoy a good car crash? Am I right guys… guys?
Well maybe just me then. I suppose death was a bit more commonplace in my formative years. I spent a lot of my childhood watching bad crashes; except they were the airborne kind, parachutists breaking their ankles or worse.
My parents ran a skydiving centre. My father had limited skills after leaving the army – it was either private security work or throwing charity jumpers out of planes with teddy bears taped to them. Ahh the Eighties.
He’s a nice bloke my Dad, yeah sure he can kill you with a pen, but really he’s just your average northerner, but with better close quarter combat skills. His skydive centre was littered with characters just like him. Life on the drop zone was pretty outrageous – injuries and fatalities were just things that happened, like chicken pox and dropped ice creams.
In his office my father would be heard gently cackling into his phone. A pensioner friend of his had just taken a bullet on a private security mission, but, and here was the funny bit, he’d managed to take the assailant out with a concealed machine gun before rolling a tanker down a hill and escaping to safety across the Syrian border. Such was the tea time chat in sleepy Swansea…
Given this context it is not surprising that my stand up can cover death in a pretty jolly way. I grew up in a world where it was never possible to ignore my own mortality – or anyone else’s. Well, if death is coming to us all – you may as well share a joke with it.
Personally I have always loved the mutability of life and how it can all change so quickly. Death reminds us of that: the impermanence, our temporal nature. If you’re sad that someone has died, it means that they lived their life well and they will be missed. They did not waste their short time here. Life is so short so spend it laughing; spend it doing something you love…before you get hit by that tanker.
Amy Howerska: Sasspot is at Gilded Balloon: Teviot – The Turret, 18:45(19:45), 5-30 Aug, Previews 5-7 Aug, £5.00, 8, 9, 12, 13, 18-20, 24-27 Aug, £10.00 / £8.00, 10, 11 Aug, £11.00 / £9.00 (2-4-1) 14-16, 21-23, 28-30, £11.00/£9.00, No show 17 Aug, 0131 622 6555, www.gildedballoon.co.uk / listings