Voice of a Doomed Generation – Comedian Ed Night
At first sight the slightly unassuming twenty-something comedian Ed Night may not be the bloke you’d envisage as chief spokesman for Millenial grievances, but after hearing him speak, he may be just that. Hot off the heels of his critically acclaimed Edinburgh show last summer he’s thought of as one of the quickest wits and brightest stars on the new comedy horizon.
Ed is about to kick off a run at the Soho Theatre before setting his sights again on Edinburgh and then possibly world domination. We spoke to him recently about critical acclaim, ruining other students studies with a plastic Roman sword and whether he thinks his generation really are doomed.
The MALESTROM: How much has all that success at last years Edinburgh festival changed things for you?
Ed Night: Well less than you’d expect, but it is a nice spot of confidence. Edinburgh was an exercise in kind of learning how to write an hour in a year, with a view to doing it every year, and try to, for the want of a less wanky way of saying it, find my voice. I don’t think many people were putting their eggs in my basket success wise, but it’s nice that it paid off, and now I can move forward with that in mind, knowing that what I’m doing is palatable.
TM: How did you get into comedy in the first place?
EN: I used to do stage management. My uncle started a comedy club in Streatham, and as a teenager I did lights, sound and the chairs and other stuff. That’s how I started watching comedy. When I was nineteen I left school, I didn’t really have that much going for me, I wasn’t at University or anything and a friend of mine suggested that I do a gig. And I’d kind of written some jokes, in more of an intellectual exercise, then a different friend of mine said they were doing an open mic night and why don’t I come along for company and I ended up doing it with them and really enjoying it, we did a few more and it kinda got out of hand.
TM: How do you come up with material?
EN: I’m really terrible, I know a lot of comics can just say, ‘this is my writing time’ and just sit down and write. Mainly it’s if I’m with mates or something, or with a new group of people and I’m ‘on’ so to speak, trying to be funny to fill the silence (laughs). I just try and write down what happens and try and elaborate on it, when I ever do sit down and write. I’m really bad at saying I’m going to write a routine about f*****g school dinners or whatever.
TM: Do you keep a little book on you or a journal?
EN: Yeah I’ve got a couple of little books. A couple of old ones and a couple of full ones. I’ve got a big book which I keep in a backpack for hour long show stuff, just stupid conceits and ideas and set pieces, and I’ve got a little book for club material which I take to gigs, that one fits in my pocket.
TM: How much of a part does confidence play for getting up there on stage? Do you feel the nerves?
EN: It’s less sort of stage nerves and more logistical nerves, like will I remember the show and stuff like that, cause I did it two weeks after Edinburgh and f*****g forgot the whole thing. Yeah, I do still sometimes get nervous, it depends on the gig, if it’s something nice I’ve not done before or if there’s someone important watching me, although I can sometimes get the opposite effect. I get told off quite a lot for misbehaving, I think that plays a big part in it.
TM: Was that a thing at school?
EN: Kind of, when I was young not so much, but when I was a teenager I was a f*****g prick. I must have been horrible to teach, cause I knew I wasn’t going to university and the stakes weren’t really high for me at school. I was doing extra curriculum acting classes and stuff and f*****g Breakfast Club youth group on weekends, so I knew I quite liked performing and it was around then I started being encouraged to let myself be funny. But yeah when I was in 6th form I was a proper little s**t (laughs).
I got the hump once cause they made me do these extra revision sessions at the weekend because I was dicking about so much. I bought a Horrible Histories magazine on my way to school because it came with a toy extendable Roman sword. I managed to get it confiscated for disrupting other people’s learning.
TM: If you’re going to disrupt with anything it may as well be a Roman sword…
EN: Yeah, I mean I thought it was funny, and now it’s made a passable anecdote, so I suppose it was worth it, but my A-Levels are absolutely f****d. That was the only standardised exam I’ve ever got a U in. My first girlfriend broke up with me the night before the exam, we’re on good terms now, she’s great, but at the time I was really upset, stayed up all night and got a bit pissed and went through the night trying to revise biology. But I only managed to get the liver done, in great detail. And in the exam the next day I sort of related everything back to the liver. So the eyeball does this, not unlike the liver, then the essay question at the end was all about the liver, I thought ‘great’, smashed it, extra pages all of that. So at the end I was like ‘I’m not going to let her get me down, I’ve overcome all the obstacles’, turns out the question was about the kidneys. It was a 150 mark paper and I got a zero.
TM: That’s a spectacular fail.
EN: Yeah there’s no wriggle room, no appealing.
TM: What is it that makes you laugh?
EN: Mainly chatting with mates. It’s often the case with comics that the funniest person you know doesn’t do comedy and that’s the case with me. There’s one or two mates that I really have a laugh with that I’ve tried to convince to do stand up, but that would kind of ruin how funny they are.
TM: Are there any comedians you look up to?
EN: It’s kind of an unwritten rule, or kind of corny to admit that you like your peers, but yea there are a lot of comedians I gig with that I do really like. Dane Baptiste I’m very fond of, Phil Wang, I’ve recently done tour support for both of them and it’s a really good opportunity to watch both their shows, which are really, really good. Matt Ewins is great. Weirdly Kevin Hart played a big part in me starting to do comedy, which is weird cause you probably wouldn’t associate the stuff I do with him. But I remember being in my mate’s flat in Putney when I was about 17 and watching him do one of his specials and he did this routine and I was like ‘oh s**t, I didn’t realise you could talk about stuff like that in comedy.’ Cause a lot of the stuff I’d seen here was about self-service checkouts, not to disparage that of course.
TM: Was there a moment when you thought you were funny?
EN: It wasn’t so much like at a gig… I think there’s a difference between being funny and being a comedian, I am a comedian empirically because I do gigs, but being funny is those moments where I’ve made people laugh. It’s weird, in terms of comedy the first time when I ever thought I could make a go of it was the So You Think You’re Funny final when I came third, that was good and again last year in Edinburgh with the nomination and just how well the show was received, but there’s also those moments in conversation where you make people laugh. It’s kind of like pay-as-you-go, you kind of have to top it up, if you don’t do a gig for a while it’s like ‘f**k I forgot how to do jokes’.
TM: Do you think you can learn to be funny?
EN: I f*****g hope so! (laughs)
TM: Ha ha!
EN: I dunno. I certainly don’t reckon it’s the divine right that people make it out to be. A lot of it does come from socialisation and stuff. It’s like a heroin addiction, if you’re brought down to the place where it becomes necessary then yes.
TM: Stand up has been called “the egos last stand”, how much does a good or bad gig effect you?
EN: Good gigs are like a hit for me. Especially since Edinburgh, but I’ve always been like that, but more so since then you just can’t get me off stage, it’s really bad, because once I’m on I’m on and if I’m loving it and doing well the time really flies and I want to go back out and stuff. I don’t know if it’s the validation or whatever, I don’t think I’m ready to go that deep into my own head.
With bad gigs I’m almost the same, they used to really get me down, like one bad gig is the end, but recently I kind of revel in it and if I’m having a bad time despite myself I’ll almost ruin it, put it into the floor. I did a gig recently, it was an afternoon corporate and the audience were all being c***s, they were looking at their phones and they’d been like that for every act, so I ended it with a really long bit about Myra Hindley that’s never worked, which left a really sour taste in the air. Really unprofessional, I shouldn’t have done it.
TM: We should talk about the show. Tell us about the idea behind the title?
EN: So, Anthem For Doomed Youth is a poem by Wilfred Owen that was written in the Autumn of 1917, so a hundred years before I did my show. I thought it would be quite funny to compare a poem about the abject horror of industrial warfare by a young man who was a spokesman for a generation, being shepherded out to die by machine gun with a show that’s essentially about dating and living with my Granddad. But also I do broadly address the state of the world as regards to young people and Generation Z. I basically did it for that reason and then my agent rang me up and said, ‘we really like the Wilfred Owen angle.’ And I was like ‘what?’ So I had to force a bit of the Wilfred Owen routine into the show. But I think it worked. The room I ended up having in Edinburgh was a bit dusky and dank and leaky, so I think it worked, it was a bit like a foxhole.
TM: What do you make of the youth of today? Do you really think this is a doomed generation?
EN: I’ve always wondered why we’re called Generation Z, It’s as if somebody knew that was going to be the last one. I don’t know, I don’t think we are doomed necessarily, but more and more I can see the appeal of going into a VR headset and never coming out, kind of WALL*E-ing it.
I think Generation Z is what happens when you fuck up the environment but also refuse to smoke during pregnancy, you know, pick one. The world is terrible, but the world’s always been terrible and it will continue to be terrible. I think good things are happening recently with stuff like #TimesUp and #MeToo, but on the other side of that you’ve got the far right groups massing all over the world in response, so you can never tell.
TM: Do you think Millenials have a tougher or easier time than past generations?
EN: Tougher by a huge margin. I’ve absolutely no doubt in my mind. Something that really f***s me off, I see loads of comics, and again not to disparage them, but you get a lot of comics in their 50s who’ve been doing it for donkey’s years… I’ve seen dozens of iterations of ‘you kids don’t know your born, we didn’t have WhattsApp in my day’ routine. But you had education, affordable housing and a f*****g Ozone layer you lunatics. Yes we’ve got iphones, but we also have the oil and water running out.
I don’t know, it’s like any progress is aesthetic as we’re still plagued by many of the societal problems that were around when the previous generations were, it turns out the Nazis aren’t gone, we’ve got the threat of Nuclear War looming, great! We’re pre-disposed to both think that we have it the toughest and admonish the generations below us.
TM: Do you think this current generation is one that could rise up? Or is everyone to busy looking at their iphones?
EN: I think the dispersal of information is certainly a useful tool for rising up. And I think the meaningful movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp will come through social media and stuff like that.
TM: Are these the kind of themes we can expect from the show?
EN: Kind of. As much depth as you can go into things in an hour. Hopefully in the new show, with the benefit of hindsight I’ll be able to go a bit deeper.
TM: How do you deal with hecklers at your gigs?
ED: Case by case really. I’m very lucky because I was working on and off whenever I could get jobs and also trying to make a living as a comic, I didn’t really do any of the cool and trendy spots. It means that a lot of the material I did for last year’s show I ended up working in clubs when I was MC’ing, that was really handy because you’d know the material is club ready. For my Edinburgh show, on the first Saturday there were a big group of lads in for a 50th birthday party all wearing matching costumes and they all stormed the stage at one point.
There was another one where a really pissed kid in the front row was answering his phone and trying to sell cocaine from my gig. So I climbed into the audience and took his phone off him and spoke to the buyer on stage for a bit, his name was Wee Jay and we all had a laugh about that. Then a couple of days later I was doing a spot, like a 2am late night gig and I came off and was having a fag and this little kid comes up to me like we’re old mates and he goes, ‘it’s you’ and I said ‘who are you?’ and he says ‘I’m Wee Jay the guy from the phone’ and I was like ‘what the f**K, we’re not mates but nice to meet you, and stop f*****g calling people during my show.’ We’re still pen pals to this day.