Indie developer Byron Atkinson-Jones is going on stage to tell jokes in the name of charity. This month, he gets some mentoring advice from fellow developer Brenda Romero
On the 9th of August scientists around the world reported massive seismic activity of levels never before recorded. Don’t worry though, nobody was harmed by it, there were no earthquakes or tsunamis. No, it was me screaming, something amazing and terrifying had just happened.
Whenever somebody asks my advice on how to get started in games I tell them the best way is to just start making them. I don’t know why I was so surprised that the same is true of stand-up comedy. In order to learn how to do stand-up comedy, you have to do stand-up comedy. Next thing I know, on the 9th of August I was copied in on a chain of emails where Imran was booking me into a gig on the 13th of September at the Angel Comedy club, on a night they call Angel Comedy Raw. (http://www.angelcomedy.co.uk/events/angel- comedy-raw-52/)
The most important tip is to get your audience to identify with you – to see themselves in your shoes
If that wasn’t bad enough, at the same time Imran contacted a number of other stand-up comedy venues to get me more gigs. On the 2nd of November, I will be performing at the comedy club that Eddie Izzard and Jack Dee started out in, called Downstairs at the King’s Head. Look, they even put my name in the line-up (http://www.downstairsatthekingshead.com/showevent.aspx?EventID=13264) – this is real.
As luck would have it, I’ve also been seeking out fellow game developers who have ventured into the smokey world of getting other people to laugh while not dying on a stage. There are a lot of us. Last month was the Develop conference in Brighton and one of the keynote speakers was Brenda Romero. It was one of the best keynote talks I’d ever attended. Just because somebody is famous in the games industry it doesn’t mean they are a really good speaker. This wasn’t true of Brenda, she had the audience captivated and laughing throughout her talk. So, not only were we getting a useful talk but we were having fun at the same time. Brenda’s secret was that she had done stand-up comedy early in her career. I had to talk with her to find out more!
Who are you and what’s your link to the games industry?
I’m Brenda Romero, a game designer with Romero Games in Galway, Ireland. I am also program director for the MSc in Game Design & Development at University of Limerick.
You’ve done stand-up comedy - how did that come about?
Trial by fire. I did a lot of volunteering twenty or so years ago, and as a part of that, I was often asked to speak about my experiences. Through that, I met a guy who, in casual conversation, was vague about what he did for a living. Game designers are often vague, too, in order to head off the inevitable conversation where we hear every game idea the person (or their child) has had. Eventually, he coaxed out that I was a game designer and likewise, I coaxed out that he was a professional stand-up comedian.
We offered a barter trade — I would teach him some game design and he would teach me some stand-up methods. We discussed this over coffee a few times, figuring out some material based on my life experience. I was to meet him at a comedy club to watch him try some new material only to find myself on stage. It was the longest three minutes of my life. Fortunately, it was amateur night. However, I got that first laugh and some applause, and that was all it took. The talks I give now at conferences all have elements of stand up in them. Those lessons about getting people to relate, engage and see themselves in your material still hold incredibly true.
I’ve got to do a 5-minute stand-up routine in front of the games industry next year - any tips for not dying on the night?
The most important one is to get your audience to identify with you – to see themselves in your shoes. For me, that takes a bulk of my work away. Be comfortable with your material - know that you can present it any number of ways and still have it be funny. The driest stuff tends to be stuff that’s overly well-rehearsed.
As part of my coaching, my first gig is an open mic night on the 13th of September and I think it’s going to be the longest 5 minutes of my life. It will be!
But just get them interested and curious and involved.