Interview: Wis Jantarasorn – ‘After a week of crying myself to sleep, I got back on the horse’
The Edinburgh-based stand-up talks hecklers, offensive comedy and the perfect amount of alcohol for an optimum show
Edinburgh-based stand-up Wis Jantarasorn takes on our Q&A aimed at relative newbies of the comedy scene. Who does he want to have on his dream bill and what’s his trick for handling those pesky hecklers?
Can you tell us about the moment when you thought: 'stand-up is for me'?
The very moment that I thought that I could do stand-up was during my first gig back after taking a short break of four years. It was in a small room in Edinburgh with a lovely audience and the joy of making people laugh again was addictive. The feeling when on stage is unlike anything else, almost indescribable.
Do you have any pre-show rituals you can tell us about?
I am a very superstitious person: I don’t walk over three drains, I don’t split lamp-posts and I always avoid smashing mirrors where possible. So, of course, being a relatively neurotic person I have lots of pre-show rituals but it really starts the morning of a performance. I dress left side first: put my left sock on first, then left leg, left arm etc. The most important ritual is that I have 1 and ¾ of a pint of lager. Like darts I found that 1 and 3/4 is the perfect amount of alcohol for an optimum show.
How do you handle hecklers?
I treat hecklers with love and care as I absolutely love them. All they want is to be involved with the show and that is exactly what I give them. I’ve had dance-offs, ‘text all contacts’ games on their mobile, phoned people's mums to tell on them. It's usually all great fun but the majority of the audiences I play to are usually all comedy-aware so it's not been too much of a problem.
Where do you draw the line when it comes to 'offensive comedy'?
I think it’s important that you know your audience. There is a difference between the topic of a joke and the subject of the joke. I believe you can find humour in all topics, situations and walks of life. I do believe, though, that it is a tricky situation when the subject or the butt of the joke is a person. Again, know your audience.
What's the one thing (good or bad) you remember about your very first stand-up gig?
I actually can’t remember my first gig very well. I can remember nobody laughing, though, and being very sweaty on stage but then deciding that I wouldn't let the audience beat me. So after a week of crying myself to sleep, I got back on the horse and delivered the same material: it didn’t work, however I knew then that it’s a learning process. Comedy is subjective and it takes years of stage time to take a whole room along on a journey with you. There is a difference between standing on stage and telling a few jokes and standing on stage and making people laugh. Anyone can do the first but it takes years to cultivate the latter.
What's the best piece of advice you've received from another comedian so far?
Best advice I received from fellow colleagues is to not care as much about what people think and to really let the creativity take centre stage. Nothing is too weird or off limits. Stand-up can be so technical with structure, recalls, set-ups and punchlines; however, if you are truly free in the creative process then you’re not bound by the normal rules. It really was great as I learned to let go and embrace the creative process more.
Which comedian's memoir would you recommend to someone?
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin. I just love the quality of his writing; he’s technically gifted but it gets you at a guttural level. Made me chortle and even double up with laughter on occasion. Great for public transport as you become ‘that guy’ on the bus that no one sits beside.
You're curating your own 'legends of comedy' line-up. Tell us the bill's top three acts
Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Billy Connolly. They are masters of storytelling which is the type of stand-up I do. The way they control the audience and take everyone along for the ride is truly awe-inspiring. I love that all of them are social commentators and not afraid to give their opinions on certain topics. It used to be that we laughed at comedians and listened to politicians, but it seems that more and more we are laughing at politicians while the voice of the stand-up comic is taken more seriously.
Wis Jantarasorn hosts Stand Spotlight: Feminism, The Stand, Edinburgh, Wed 13 Apr.