Published On: Tue, Mar 5th, 2013

Fresh talent – David Callaghan

David Callaghan is a comedian. Originally from Durham, he plies his trade in Glasgow. He has been doing it for two (and a bit) years. He was featured in the BBC new comedy awards last year, and was a  Tyne and Wear new act of the year finalist 2012. He’s in the Laughing Horse New Act of the Year quarter finals at the Beehive in Edinburgh this thursday (Feb 27) and will be performing at the Glasgow Comedy Festival on the 29th March.




What made you want to get into comedy?

I’ve always been a massive comedy fan…I think possibly going to see Stewart Lee doing his 90’s comedian tour in 2005, where he does that massive 30 minute end monologue about vomiting into the gaping anus of Christ, and it’s wonderful. Genuinely wonderful. I saw that with maybe 14 other people, and it was a really lovely tiny gig. Like seeing the Sex Pistols in 1975. That was the moment when I really wanted to do it.

I first started when I was 18, when I lived down in London, but I was shit. I did it for about 8 months, probably, when I was 18. I really wanted to do it, but I fell out of love with it because I just kept dying, it was awful. It’s a very big hit to take when you’re that young, and I can understand why there are so many comics who fall out when they’re of a tender age. I gave up for a few years, before eventually starting again when I was 22. I just decided that I wanted to come back and do it again, but better.


If you could say anything to two-years-ago David Callaghan, what would it be?

Probably just don’t be shit. You may laugh, but some of the gigs he did, he needed to be told that. Seriously, I’d tell him that there will be a lot of setbacks, but in two years you will have found your crowd and you will end up doing your own festival sets, which is ultimately where you want to be.


What preconceived ideas about being a comic have you had shattered?

I think the reality of comedy is so much more disappointing and so much more grinding than you think. I think you watch comedy on TV and think that the industry is a lot nicer than it is, a lot of people are more creative than they are, and that there is a lot less of them. The reality is that there are thousands of comedians, and most of them are terrible, but they will all do better than you to rural audiences. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and say “there are so many audiences out there who will never like me, and I have to find my niche, and I’ve got to keep exposing myself (oh come on, you know what he means – Ed) in order to round up a crowd that is clever and gets your material. They are out there, and if you keep at it, they will find you. It’s about throwing enough shit at the wall that some of it sticks.


You perform in Scotland and England. Are audiences different across the border?

Scottish audiences are louder. That goes both ways – if you’re shit, they’ll let you know it, but you never want a quiet audience. You get a better reaction out of Scottish audiences on a good night.


Where do you see yourself in two years?

I’d like to say I’d be signed to an agency, and going regular paid work. I’m not really ambitious for television or anything like that. I remember a David O’Docherty interview where he said “don’t do shit telly”, and I think that’s sound advice. If you overexpose yourself – I don’t know why I keep saying that, maybe it’s Freudian – you kind of saturate your market, I think. Audiences don’t understand how complicated it is to tighten up a routine into one coherent, flowing piece. You might have to do it 15 times before you nail it – which is fine – but if four of those times were televised, people will just switch off whenever they hear it. So I wouldn’t have to be on telly in two years, just getting regular paid gigs, maybe supporting people on tour. More momentum than there is now, regular festival shows, known to promoters.


What would you say to anyone just starting out in comedy?

I did the Tyne and Wear festival, and there was a bloke there, who had just come off and had a pretty terrible time on stage. The audience weren’t going for it, and he didn’t have a very strong persona. What I said to him was, think more scientifically and mathematically about your routine – every 15 seconds, you want a laugh. At every joke, you need to be thinking “how can I win over the parts of the room that I don’t already have?” You need to be engineering everything towards those few people who are still looking at you with cynicism, because the ones who are already laughing will continue to laugh anyway. You want to be focused on getting the whole room on board, so when the big payoff to the whole routine comes, they’re all laughing. The other thing I would say is this: everyone is shit when they start. Keep at it. It’s a trade you can definitely learn.

Like carpentry or something?

It’s carpentry of words, is all it is. In a way, I am like Jesus.

In what way?

Well, let’s see. I have twelve fans. I don’t know who my dad is. My mum was thirteen when she had me. I hate gay people. I doubt I’ll achieve anything before my thirties, and I’m likely to meet a sticky end. That enough for you?


What’s more important and why: making people laugh, or being proud of your work?

You’ve always got to play to yourself, and write what you think is funny, and find an audience who think you’re funny. But you do need to win the crowd over to a certain extent, or else there’s no point in going up. You could go to the Stand, and do a real quality “comic’s comic” set, but if the audience aren’t on board you simply won’t be rebooked. You need to be accessible to a wider audience in order to do the material that you really want to do. As much as you’d like to be true to your art, it’s ultimately pointless if nobody’s watching it. So I suppose you do have to sell out a little bit. I suppose I think of it as more like buying than selling – you play to the crowd in order to buy yourself some artistic freedom.


Anecdote time! Every comic has ‘bombed’ at some point or other. What’s the worst show you’ve ever done?

I remember one time myself and another comic – Sandy Boutell - were booked to perform at a magazine launch. We didn’t know a lot about it, and we turned up at the venue, which was a Rangers pub. The venue is irrelevant – if it was Celtic, or Raith Rovers, or whoever, it would have been the same – but we weren’t billed. It wasn’t a comedy night, it was just a magazine launch with loads of beery lads. The owner of the club did the compering, and this is how he introduced us “he’s been on at the Edinburgh festival, so he’s probably a poof”. They loved that. I went on, and it wasn’t even a stage, it was the corner of the pub. The microphone was squeaking, and they’d put a fan behind me, which was just blowing over the top of the mic and making a constant rustling sound. So all these grizzly men were looking at me like I’d just pissed on their pets, and I basically had to turn away to block the fan and do the whole act with my back half turned. They hated me – I was booked to do 15 minutes, and I think I managed eight or so. No-one heard anything, because it was just a constant cacophony of booing. Pure, unadulterated booing from this crowd. Doesn’t help when you’re last name’s Callaghan…


David is performing at the Beehive in Edinburgh this thursday, in the quarter finals of the nationwide Laughing Horse New Act of the Year competition. You can also often catch him at the Flying Duck, Glasgow, on sunday nights.