Defining and performing ‘stand-up drama’

A knowledge of stand-up comedy comes in handy when working on a one-person play. It’s about talking to rather than talking at an audience, as Julie Burchill: Absolute Cult author Tim Fountain, director Mike Bradwell and star Lizzie Roper explain.

Lizzie Roper: I love doing monologues because I know, if it’s brilliant, it’s me, and no one else is going to walk onstage and f**k it up for me. And if not’s brilliant, it’s you [she points at Tim]!

Tim Fountain, Lizzie Roper and Mike Bradwell

Tim Fountain, Lizzie Roper and Mike Bradwell


I fell into doing stand-up comedy at a certain point in my career. I thought, “this is the ultimate thing: one person, one microphone, one light”. If you could make that room buzz, you got an amazing feeling. It’s similar with a one-person play. It’s a great freedom as an actor to say, “well, here you are, this is how we’re going to spend the next hour together”.


Mike Bradwell: When we did Howie the Rookie, which we also took to Edinburgh all those years ago (1999), we came up with phrase about what we were trying to do: stand-up drama. We spent a week looking at the comedian Bill Hicks to figure out how he did his act. Front foot is when something is happening now, and back foot is when it’s reported. Present or past. Different styles, different physicality. And there’s a lot to work on within that.


Stand-up drama is what I do. And, for me, with a show like this, it’s crucial that you don’t talk at people, you talk to people. What happens when two people are having a conversation? The listener is nodding. So what you’re trying to do with the play, realistically and metaphorically, is with every line, wait for the audience to nod before you move on to the next line. You’re getting affirmation from them.


In the rehearsal process, you get forensic about themes and preoccupations running through the play. Then the actor can forget about it. By the time you go onstage, you know exactly what you’re saying and what you’re doing at every moment, without having to think about. It’s like playing jazz. If you do it properly, the music will hold you up and you’ll fly.


Tim Fountain: You look at some of Steven Berkoff’s monologues, and he just shouts at you. I hate being acted at like that; that’s just an actor showing off. The magic of a one-person show like Julie Burchill: Absolute Cult, if it works, is that you feel you’ve been spoken to by that person. In that room for that hour, you’re having your own personal audience with them. That’s quite a big distinction. The other version of a monologue is valid, it’s just not interesting for me.

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