Shadowing stand-up comics for up to three gigs a night, countless nights in comedy clubs across the country and many, many hours in traffic may not sound like the traditional life of a PhD student. For Edge Hill graduate Thomas Hurdsfield it’s the only way to get to the root of what it’s like to really be a stand-up comedian.
“My PhD is all about the lived experiences of stand-up comics, what it’s like to be a comic and what the culture is like. It’s an ethnography, similar to immersing yourself into the life of a tribe to understand their customs, or like Louis Theroux style journalism. Through spending so much time with comics and in the comedy scene I’ve become part of the community and can give a true account of what it’s like to be one.”
“I’m also interested in exploring the traditional stereotypes of stand-up comics and exploring them from within their culture. We often hear people talk about comics as troubled, the traditional ‘sad clown’ or we hear people talk about the perceived link between creativity and madness, holding up people like Robin Williams and Sylvia Plath as examples.
“That hasn’t been my understanding so far. Being a comic can be lonely, there’s a lot of travelling and time spent alone in your car, one comic compared it to being a long-distance lorry driver and said ‘I drive four hours for twenty minutes of glory’. The comedy circuit is close-knit, you see the same people all of the time and so there is a strong community, one comedian told me, ‘I’ve had more fun at green rooms then I’ve had at friend’s weddings, there’s been times where I’ve not wanted to go on stage because I’m gonna miss the craic in the green room’. Everyone wants to impress their peers with their set and to make sure that they are unique and original and not ‘hack’.”
“Comics have a really fascinating relationship with their audience, it can be troubled at times. They can either love an audience and their reaction or they can hold the audience in contempt.”
“I had no idea that I wanted to do a PhD, I didn’t know anything about what it involved and I didn’t have a Masters, I just knew that I was interested in my topic and wanted to carry on studying it. ”
“I loved my time at Edge Hill, it’s a really special place because it’s such a close community. I threw myself into campus life while I studied there and even managed to carry on after I graduated when I was elected to the Students’ Union as Vice-President for the Faculty of Health and Social Care.”
“While I was Vice-President we campaigned for the Library to stay open 24 hours a day so I’m really proud that this is available for students on campus today. I’m still in touch with so many people from my time at the University, my tutors are always available for help and advice – it’s my favourite place in the world.”
“I’m not sure what I want to do once I’ve completed my PhD. I know that the life of a stand-up comic isn’t for me but I’ve had so many good experiences, it might make an interesting book one day!”