Interview: Ross Leslie – 'Chokeholds are unfortunately illegal'
Scottish stand-up discusses hecklers and how one wee laugh at his first ever gig had him hooked
Fife-based stand-up Ross Leslie takes on our Q&A aimed at rising stars of the Scottish comedy scene. We find out which comic advised him on microphone technique and why he never sits down just before a gig.
Can you tell us about the moment when you thought: 'stand-up is for me'?
My first gig was a gong show (my first six were I think) in Edinburgh and I was terrible, only managing a minute before rightly being told to do one. But during that minute, one person out of the 20 did the smallest laugh, which now I would consider wholly insufficient. But when I heard that wee laugh which was caused by my awful joke, I was immediately hooked. I couldn't see me ever quitting after that, and that is despite not being anywhere near 'half-decent' for a couple of years.
Do you have any pre-show rituals you can tell us about?
Nothing insane, mainly just making sure I'm standing up for the half hour or so beforehand. I think it's because one time I was sitting in a seat backstage until my name was called and I went on to have a shocker. I immediately blamed it on the fact I was sitting down. I like to watch as much of the show before I go on as possible so you know the general demographic of the room and how you will perform the material, eg slow it down if they seem to want that style, or be punchier and quicker if they are a bit more 'heckley', which I'm sure is a word.
How do you handle hecklers?
Chokeholds are unfortunately illegal, which is a real shame. I don't have a particular way of dealing with them, apart from shushing them, which is simple and effective sometimes. There are different levels of heckling: if it's someone whispering to their pal that they're away for a poo, it's not worth dealing with, but if someone is being a bit wide, it's best to approach it so the audience respects you for not being a sap. I suppose I should have answered this 'well, people are too busy pissing themselves laughing at my top-class material to be heckling', but that would be lame. And I'm not lame.
Where do you draw the line when it comes to 'offensive comedy'?
I don't have a line really. There is a newer bit I do that has a word which some people find offensive when I am talking about my Asperger's but I am totally in control of the word's use and the material around it, so I'm not worried about it. I took great care to make sure that as well as it being good, that I am the idiot in the joke. I think that's important. People say other topics are off-limits but I have laughed at material relating to every taboo subject, if the material has been performed by an intelligent comedian who isn't just saying it for the controversy.
What's the one thing (good or bad) you remember about your very first stand-up gig?
I remember afterwards thinking there is no way that I want to only do that once. And also that I probably should have been to more gigs to get a better idea of what to say for future gigs.
What's the best piece of advice you've received from another comedian so far?
Putting the microphone on my chin. Gary Little told me that. He said that he had no idea if I was good or not because the microphone was too far away from my mouth, somewhere near my breasts. Something so simple made a massive difference: people actually hearing me.
Which comedian's memoir would you recommend to someone?
Frank Skinner's On the Road is brilliant. I learned a lot from reading that and it gave me a real insight into joke-writing and the exciting world of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He wasn't a particular favourite of mine but I saw the book in a shop and thought that might be interesting, and it was. I might actually look it out again and see how it compares now that I am involved in the stand-up world.
You're curating your own 'legends of comedy' line-up. Tell us the bill's top three acts
As an advocate of live comedy I would have to dismiss my favourites who I haven't seen live (Burr, CK, Jefferies, Oswalt etc) and pick a line-up from the circuit and go for Tom Stade, Mark Nelson and Susie McCabe. We probably need a compere for that so we should get in Scott Gibson. I should be involved as well, so I put myself down to do the door and the lights and that.
Ross Leslie is at McPhabbs, Glasgow, Sat 25 Mar; Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh, Sat 1 & Sun 2 Apr; The Stand, Edinburgh, Thu 27–Sun 30 Apr; The Stand, Glasgow, Sun 14, Wed 17 May.