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Stand-Up in London: An Interview with Brandon Palmer



Stand-up Comedy is a wonderful, yet strange art form. As one person performing on a stage to entertain a crowd of people through stories, it’s format is one that pre-dates history and has been around as long people have been together. In that way it’s simplistic. 


Speak to any performing comic, and they’ll tell you that “simple” is the antithesis of what it is. A good comic doesn’t just know their jokes and stories, but they know their crowd, they know how to react and keep a rhythm going, they’re prepared for all circumstances where things go wrong, they know how to work in entirely unpredictable circumstances. Stand-up comedy is a whole lot more than just knowing a punchline. 


It’s an art form that’s fascinated me since I was a child. There’s a Lee Mack set from 2007 that’s a treasure in my family; I remember being fascinated by Michael McIntyre’s autobiography when I was 13 and he was still funny. 


I’ve recently been working with a lot more comics, and last weekend spoke with Brandon Palmer. Brandon is well-versed in the world of stand-up comedy, and has been hosting shows around London and the South of England for years. We spoke about his experience as a stand-up, his thoughts on the scene in London and what the future could hold for the comedy scene in this city. 


Stand-up and Knocked Down: Comedy is Ruthless


Brandon told me, as the middle child in his family, being a performer came naturally to him. He told me it very much defined his upbringing while growing up in Baltimore in the states. 


High school was really awesome because I had no interest in education it was just attention, attention, attention and girls and attention. Did not do well in high school.  


Fast forward to 15 years old, and Brandon found himself in a situation where he stood out like a sore-thumb, with his family moving across from Baltimore to Camberwell in South London. Now an American in a secondary school full of brits, Brandon says he found himself often at the centre of attention. Great for his reputation, and something that helped him with girls, but thrown into the deep-end of secondary education with the first public exams right around the corner, Brandon admitted it wasn’t all sunshine. 


WORST THING EVER I wasn’t even focused on education, it was just girls girls girls girls man. 


But school and upbringing aside, Brandon spoke about how comedy was always something he was aligned with and wanted to do, having been influenced by the likes of Mark Curry, Sinbad and, later on, Dave Chapelle. His first gig was in Dulwich Hamlet, a performance he says he still looks back on and cringes, particularly a routine around the phrase “catching an STI.” Unfortunately, as a seasoned comic now, Brandon had to learn hard and fast that those cringe moments are part and parcel of the career of a standup. 


It’s an art-form unlike any other. For many other, if not all-other, skillsets, practice is done in private before you’re ready to take it, should you choose, into the public. While a comic can rehearse sets and practice timing and performance, the ability to perform to a crowd is a skill that only be done in front of a crowd. That brings with it an incredibly steep learning curve.


Brandon admitted that, at the time of performing, he didn’t entirely have the confidence required for it, and so from there built it through hosting music nights and understanding his on-stage persona. He admits it’s still something he’s crafting to this day, but has certainly picked up a greater understanding as to how to perform with confidence. 


One of the key things he learned was about the nerves and how to deal with them. Clearly, performing to a crowd of strangers isn’t for the faint hearted, and the nerves are often enough to put anyone off doing it entirely. Brandon acknowledged these nerves would never disappear, but learned to see them as a much more positive force. 


No matter how many times I do it there are still nerves to this day, which I enjoy. If I didn’t feel the nerves before I did it, I would know it feels dead to me. 


However, performance and stage-persona were only small elements of his career-path, there was also a persona off the stage he needed to craft in order to find more success. 


I had to know how to get good at being in a comedy environment. I used to go to shows, not talk to anybody, perform and then leave.


This was, Brandon said, a great sign of being unprepared, as he spent his time off the stage only rehearsing his jokes and speaking a few words with the host. It was entirely unproductive, and Brandon explained, were he appropriately prepared for these gigs, he would be able to spend more time building relationships with other comics and audience members. 


His learning didn’t stop there, once one skill had been acquired, or he had learned to understand master a certain area of his career, there would be a new challenge: how to work with venues, how to promote shows in the right way, how crowds differed, not just in London, but around the country. These things took time, and Brandon said it took around 7 years for him to wrap his head around things as a comic. 


Getting to where he is now, Brandon seems in a comfortable spot with his comedy, and seems to relish and enjoy the challenges this kind of work presents to him. Before we started the interview, Brandon spoke about his desire to always be challenging himself in one-way or another. Recently, he has been taking it upon himself to do months where he avoids all fast-food and sugar. Any Londoner can tell you this is a pretty difficult task given how accessible this all is, but Brandon says it helps him explore new ways to approach certain tasks and get creative. 


Most recently, he has given himself a mission every Sunday to cook 60 pancakes in a single-sitting. It’s a challenge he is determined can be done and so far has endeavoured to complete this every Sunday for maybe 3 weeks or more. I’ll admit, I find it somewhat bizarre, but I definitely appreciate the approach, and it feels a more playful and sane way to test your own skills against some of the other people in the spotlight who challenge themselves i.e. David Goggins and the Russ bloke who recently ran the entire length of Africa. 


In fact, we’d agreed that, while commendable for what they do and achieve, there is a sense they are “functional maniacs.” Agreeably insane, but we can overlook it given their achievements and what we can take from them. I would be more aligned with what Brandon is doing.


Comedy in the 21st century


When I grew up, comedy sketch shows were a huge thing on the BBC and other mainline channels. Prime TV spots were being taken up by shows like Little Britain and That Mitchell and Webb Show. Sketch Comedy shows and stand-ups like Frankie Boyle were huge. Looking back on these shows in the last 15 years has proven much more difficult, however. I remember showing Little Britain to a housemate of mine in Canada in 2018, who found it a more difficult watch than entertaining. Watching it again now, it’s easier to see jokes crossing the line than making you laugh. 


There’s been a notable shift, not only in the UK, but also in the United States. It’s definitely a symptom of a society where values are shifting as our culture grows more accepting, but it can leave comedians in a difficult spot as to what subjects they can approach and the ways in which they can approach them. Brandon spoke to this. 


What’s happening in the states is the crunching down on philosophical comedians. Chris Rock, Richard Prior, those guys would say things to you that would get you thinking. That was amazing, but that is what’s been cut off almost 3/4 down. Comedians aren’t making amazing monumental points anymore. It’s a lot of just punching down on themselves for the pleasure and entertainment of others. 


This shift is, in part, down to cultural shifts in values, but also the ways businesses grow with these shifts. Comedians’ income often heavily rely, especially in the beginning, on the value they provide to venue owners and promoters. A good comedian, in the eyes of those, are the ones that can draw a crowd and therefore generate income for the respective business. 


As Brandon observed, when a comedian can’t entertain (or can only offend) the value plummets and the comedian can’t make a career out of what they do. As an observer of comedy, it’s been an incredibly interesting shift, especially in the wake of cancel-culture. 


Let’s have it right. As a society and culture, in no way should we be platforming the likes of the Harvey Weinsteins and Kevin Spaceys of the world, and in 2024 there are a lot of charged issues that affect millions of people at the most personal level. It’s unanimously agreed that this is where jokes shouldn’t be made. That being said, when much of the role of comedians in the past has been about crossing boundaries, the fear of over-censoring at times seems to leave successful stand-ups in a difficult position as to when and where to tow the line. 


It’s interesting to see how some comedians are tackling this, Ricky Gervais being the example that springs to my mind. Brandon and I both pointed out about his infamous scathing routines at the Emmys and the entertainment that provided even in more recent times, however his attempts to walk the line nowadays feel stale and uncomfortable. On the flip side, there’s James Cordon, who seems to have spent his later career pandering to audiences, and now he’s not funny and shit. 


I suppose it leaves the question of what we now look for in comedy: do we enjoy the boundary pushers, or should comedians firmly respect the lines in place?


In reaction to these issues, Brandon believes this building of a more censorship-friendly culture has formed a society that can often value reactions to content over the content itself, knowing that people enjoy watching others shooting people down for something they said. 


One issue Brandon points out is that it’s left comedy in London and the UK being very risk-averse, playing to what people’s sensibilities are now. While comedy panel-shows like Would I Lie to You are incredibly entertaining, they can play too safe in the hope not to offend anyone, especially given the wide-reach of the BBC. 


Part of this is also a symptom of the growth of social media, providing everyone a voice. Brandon had a funny, but pertinent, line about that. 


Everyone has a voice, but not everyone has something to say. That’s what bugs me. 


Anyone who owns a Twitter account in 2024 doesn’t need to look far before they get annoyed. Twitter can often feel like the digital manifestation of a universal scream, where everyone abuses the freedom to vent about a topic. 


Another thing Brandon pointed out, either a symptomatic of these societal changes or part of the cause, has been the smaller restrictions placed on people, namely through parenting. 


I see there’s a lot of kids around here, I see so many kids with leashes on. I don’t understand how people can’t understand: when you put a leash on a child, you’re teaching them to breakaway. The moment you don’t have that leash on them anymore, they’re gonna freaking run away.  


It’s an interesting dilemma, as much of the change that has been made over the last 15 years is overwhelmingly positive, and those most resistant to it seem to have found themselves largely subject to a career on GB News shouting in a televised echo-chamber. At the same time, the cautious attitude it brings can, at times, play against the very nature of comedy, where entertainment can be brought from testing boundaries and challenging limits. This isn’t to say that the mainline comedians we see all the time now aren’t funny, there’s a reason they got to where they are, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to conclude it’s because they match a quota, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the coming years and decades as these big shifts in society begin to settle down and become permanent and unanimously accepted aspects. 


What lies ahead for Stand-Up


As an American, Brandon had a few things to say about London. One will resonate with almost all youths who live in this giant city. It closes too soon. 


London never achieved that label of “the City that Never Sleeps” because unfortunately, bar the rare venue that closes around 4/5am, it very much does sleep. Pubs typically close at 11pm, and options become incredibly limited. Any mainland European will tell you it’s outrageous, and for the comics, where a gig-economy is based on evening events, it poses a big challenge when building a career. 


In the states, particularly in the metropolitan areas like New York and LA, late night comedy is huge, and means a comedian can perform at a variety of venues every night to build up money. We don’t have that luxury. 


It’s a problem that doesn’t really give comedy much of space to thrive in London. It might be easy to find comedy around, I found a number of venues that hosted it almost immediately after I moved here, but after a certain time it’s gone.


Even with the comedy that is available in London, it often starts around 7pm or 8pm. After a Friday finishing work, that usually means rush a dinner and a few drinks before you go in, and that’s before factoring in any travel-requirements to get to and from the venue. 


Brandon does some things to combat this problem, one main one is by helping out host a late comedy night at the Brunel in Rotherhithe, which finishes just in time to get the final overground train home. But this is just one event.


He also has a solution, which he admits is somewhat radical, but important in allowing more space for comedy in London. 


This is going to sound crazy, but late night comedy shows should have cheaper liquor. That’s what is going to keep people in the room and stay around for longer. There’ll be a loss for a little bit. But if you keep liquor cheaper just for that show


Though in the short-term commercial sense, this isn’t a smart revenue generating idea, it’s undoubtedly a more enticing way to draw people in and stick-around. Brandon explains how he believes it will encourage audiences to return, meaning more business for the venue and more exposure for the comedian. Meanwhile, people will be happier to spread the word, meaning comics get greater audiences. In his words “everyone is a winner.”


One thing we also talked about was Brandon’s new idea for a show, something he believes is audacious yet he knows he is willing to give it 100% when the time is right. I’ll leave it to him to provide the details of that when the time is right. 


As I said from the outset, stand-up is arguably the most historical art around - a format that can be dated back as far as recorded human-history. If it’s made it this far through human-existence, it certainly isn’t going away anytime soon, however it does seem to not have the attention it could get in London. 


I don’t have the answers to this, Brandon has a few, but it certainly feels like there’s a place for comedy to be bigger and for stand-ups to stand-out (so to speak).


Closing Gratitude


Chatting with Brandon was great, and there's a lot more we talked about than what was able to make it to the blog. Should you want to follow him to learn more and find out about his new idea, find him on Instagram @thebrandonpalmer


Better still, catch one of his upcoming shows:


Victorious Festival (Portsmouth)- Friday 23rd of August


Whole Lotta Comedy (Esher Rugby Club) - Friday 14th June


Ha La La La Lol Musical Comedy Night (London Bridge Area) - Wednesday June 26th


And thank you for reading, plenty more stories out there to tell and people to talk to. Anything interesting you want to see? Let me know by emailing Jonoflett@outlook.com

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