I met Logan Murray when I took part in one of his immersive comedy workshops. I haven’t stopped laughing since.
Big old, adult Logan is a friendly, confident guy, always ready to laugh, but what were you like at school?
I was a classic underachiever at school. If a subject didn’t interest me, I couldn’t see the point of it. I honestly think all my education came from watching BBC’s Horizon.
I worked out pretty early that classes were training us to sit still and feign interest when we were bored. Luckily, we had a brilliant RE teacher at secondary school, Mr. Davies, who was not religious and who’s wife ran a bookies. He always got us talking about ethics and ancient history. I did the least possible amount of work to gain two ‘A’ levels, as I knew that this (and a foundation course at a local Art College) was all I needed for a degree course and a full grant. A FULL GRANT! The State would pay me to educate myself. What a lucky time to be young. I chose the Creative arts. It was the height of the Cold War and I didn’t plan on making it past 25, so I might as well take it easy.
Being the seventies, I caught the tail end of counter culture. At fifteen I grew my hair long, became vegetarian (cake- etarian, really as I didn’t like vegetables. I got very fat…) and generally became a humorless arse. I hoovered up any half-baked theory as fact and wrote terrible, self absorbed poetry. Quite rightly, most girls avoided me. I blossomed (a bit) by 18.
How did you evolve into Logan Murray, stand-up comedian and comedy guru?
Totally by accident. I thought I’d be a fine artist, but signed up to the wrong degree (I found myself doing performing arts (dance, drama and music) instead of performance art (installations and stuff). But, I loved it.
Then this thing called Alternative Cabaret in 1983 came along and loads of us started doing weird things to entertain audiences. I wrote some deliberately bad poetry and found that clubs paid me cold, hard cash to perform them. My intros became longer and longer until I found myself morphing into a stand up (this would be the early ‘nineties).
Because comedy is a part time job that pays a full time wage, I had loads of time off and went back to college to do a part time MA. That got me interested in comedy theory.
Meanwhile, I started picking up all sorts of weird TV and radio jobs because of my gigs. If people see you perform, they assume (quite rightly) you can write for other people, present game shows, appear on panel shows, be trusted with tiny parts in TV shows and possibly direct. Someone even asked me to be ‘the comedian in residence’ at a Uni – not as posh as it sounded – which is how the workshops began.
Can you tell me something about the process of how you write a stand-up routine?
Almost all my writing comes out of mucking around. I’m a great believer of Wynicott’s aphorism that ‘all creativity comes out of play‘.
My only constant ground rules are (1) don’t worry about being funny on the first draft – just mine the subject for information and (2) turn off your internal editor and create. Plenty of time to blue pencil ideas out once you’ve filled up a page. Also, the comedian should (in my opinion) always look for the wrong answer that still fits as a solution.
How do you get a feel for what’s going to work?
You have to try it out. If it fills you with glee as you come up with the idea, you are probably on the right track, but until you’ve seen how several audiences take to the new stuff, you don’t really know if it will fly.
As a practical tip ALWAYS audio record new stuff. Your back brain is much cleverer than your conscious brain and will always knock it into better shape during performance. It will also come up with extra bits which will be lost to the aether unless you have a record of them.
Have you ever got it really badly wrong – as in tumbleweed moments?
Loads. And it is a sad fact that you learn far more from these moments than the times when the crowd ‘get’ you. Usually, the bits where I lose the audience boil down to me not being clear in my subject matter, or I am being emotionally vague. If they are thinking then they are not laughing and I need to sharpen it up.
All comedians agree that this is pretty much the only job where you have to rehearse and refine in front of a live crowd.
What’s it like to die on stage?
Some deaths are brilliant and worth talking about. Most are mundane and soul sapping. We talk about the memorable ones in dressing rooms. They are like badges of honour. But the everyday deaths can only be used for personal, educational purposes: how did that happen? What did I do wrong? How can I minimise the chances of that happening again? That sort of thing.
Your book, Get Started in Stand-Up Comedy is one of the best books on writing I’ve read. It’s full of fantastic exercises which I’ve
stolenadapted for my own workshops. Do you have any other major writing projects on the go?
I occasionally get asked to ‘gag up’ people’s work, which is great fun – but I’m not allowed to talk about individual people.
Your comedy workshops are hugely successful, and you’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the business. A new one might even emerge from the workshop I attended. I particularly enjoyed the exercise where we had to sit in a circle insulting each other – has that ever gone spectacularly wrong?
Not with that one, no. I think that’s because I ask them to compliment and insult something incredibly specific (like someone’s shoelace), so it seems quite ridiculous. I do love the way people tend to whisper afterwards that they didn’t mean it, to the person they’re insulting. Very sweet.
Any favourite stand-up moments?
There is no better feeling than making a bunch of total strangers laugh, so it’s difficult to choose.
One moment that stands out though, is thwarting a bunch of persistent hecklers by getting the whole audience to follow me to the theatre bar, where we continued the show. We left the four hecklers very confused and perplexed in a massive auditorium.
What are you working on at the moment?
For someone never infected with the Protestant Work Ethic, I seem to be doing an awful lot this year. I’ve got three days off in the next two months – mostly workshops. But, I shouldn’t moan – just come back from a lovely, intensive comedy weekend in Leeds. And there are comedy writing weeks to look forward to France and Greece this Summer.
In my down time (none! How did this happen?) I love to make chunky silver jewellery.
None of the things that I’m known for (comedy and teaching) seem like work though. Occasionally, it might be hard. But, you don’t mind because it’s your craft and your passion. We could not do anything else.
What advice would you give to the young Logan Murray?
Go vegan sooner.
Who inspires you?
It sounds really cheesy, but whatever group I’m working with at the time. They always surprise and delight me.
If you could spend a day hanging out with any one person, past or present, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?
Gosh. So many. I’d love to hang out with the Great great (times 3,000) Neanderthal Grandmother to see how her people thought and did stuff.
Who would play Logan Murray in the film of your life?
I’m too old to play me, now. Could I get Studio Gibli to animate it, then get a Japanese actor to voice the part? I’d watch that with subtitles.
A few short questions to finish. Favourite:
Book: Jerusalem by Alan Moore
Author: Geoffrey Ashe or Francis X King.
Film: Kung Fu Hustle or Magnolia (please don’t make me choose).
Music: Wardruna and most stuff by Jeremy Soule
Stand-Up: Spencer the Herbert, Tina T’urner Tea Lady, Fred Ferenzci George Carlin, Paul Foot and Anna Crilley & Katy Wix (when they are in a double Act). Loads more, too.
TV show: I’m quite enjoying ‘Preacher’.
What are you reading right now?
Geoffrey Ashe’s ‘Merlin: The Prophet and his History‘
Thanks Logan. It’s been a real pleasure having you on the Smorgasbord.
Find out about the Isle Martin Writing Retreats 2018 here.