Andrew’s laughing in the teeth of despair

Comedian Andrew Lawrence
Comedian Andrew Lawrence

Stand-up Andrew Lawrence finds comedy in the bleaker side of life. He tells JOANNE SAVAGE why miserabilism is his natural philosophy

“Is your life so awful you sometimes wish you could disappear completely and never be found?” This is the catch-line for London-born miserabilist comedian (an oxymoron indeed) Andrew Lawrence’s new stand-up show There Is No Escape.

He doesn’t see much hope - other than the sweet catharsis of laughing at the bleakness of one’s entrapment.

“So you’re really a committed miserabilist?”, I ask.

“Well, I suppose, yeah,” offers the literary, socially-awkward graduate of the University of St Andrew’s who has been lavished with praise at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“With the new show it’s about focusing on how everyone has something in their life that they are trying to escape from - maybe it’s a job, a relationship, the town they live in, a grinding and interminable sense of boredom and despair - I wanted to use that idea for a show so I cheerfully called it There Is No Escape. There are elements of misery to it, of course!”

Lawrence definitely has a knack for deadpan despair, finding humour in the darkest nights of the soul. This has resulted in a considerable amount of success at the Fringe - where all great comics cut their teeth - and on television, plus all the London broadsheets have rushed to offer him praise: “Few people have caught the irritated, misanthropic mood of the moment better than this supreme misfit”, said The Telegraph; while the “suited and booted miserabilist has paced and pitched his woe to near perfection”, added The Independent.

The titles he chooses for his erudite and existentially-inclined shows are hilariously bleak, Beckettian levels of despair ramped up to hilarity: How to Butcher your Loved Ones was his Fringe debut in 2006 and was followed by Social Leprosy for Beginners & Improvers (2007); Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There was the superbly titled 2008 stand-up show; and Soul Crushing Vicissitudes of Fortune! (2009) was followed by The Too Ugly for TV Tour and Non-Conformists’ Guide to Civic Responsibility (2010).

But the blurb for his new show sounds brilliant because it gets at difficult truths. A lot of people’s lives are actually secretly so awful that they sometimes wish they could disappear completely and never be found.

“If you feel this way then perhaps this is the stand-up show for you,” offers Andrew.

“I’m quite literary, quite improvisational, quite an interactive comedian, jokes, anecdotes, observations, misery - that’s what I do.”

He admits that being a committed introvert made his path to the stage initially difficult. He began acting at university and while initially a bag of nerves stepping up on stage overtime, he became a natural.

“When you start in stand-up you’re there on your own and it’s really terrifying because you need to have that laugh within the first 20 seconds.

“It has to be about doing your own thing. The only rule is that you make the people in front of you laugh; but even that isn’t a hard and fast rule because there are a lot of comedians who aren’t doing that.”

Is he really as depressed as his work suggests or is this all shtick and cosmetic negativity?

“Well everyone has that side to them don’t they? Everyone gets a bit down about things and so do I. I have that depressive side to me for sure. Some days I’m miserable but I don’t want to say I’m outright depressed because I’m not clinically so and it’s a word you shouldn’t bandy about.

“But I go through patches of being glum and miserable about things. But that’s just being human, isn’t it?

“I think part of why I can be so negative in my stand-up is that it’s a socially-acceptable way of saying certain embittered and cynical, negative things that you can’t really get away with to the same degree in ordinary life. You can get those things out that aren’t so socially acceptable and be funny and that’s liberating.

“It’s comedy. It’s all tongue-in-cheek, quite facetious, yes life is meaningless, death is coming, let’s just laugh about it together.

“The warm-hearted, uplifting comedy that has become so popular on TV and gained real critical favour has just never been something that came naturally to me at all.

“I prefer to celebrate the side of my personality that isn’t conducive to social interaction and my release is stand-up.

“As long as people are laughing it’s cool - what I never want is just to be some sad bloke whinging on stage in front of a silent audience!”

Andrew Lawrence, There is no Escape, April 11, The Playhouse, 5-7 Artillery Street, Londonderry.