AS THE song goes, “You’ve gotta suffer if ya wanna sing the blues” and sometimes to make good comedy you have to suffer first before you can find the laughter.
So Galway based comedian Steve Bennett discovered when, during his run of shows at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, his girlfriend dumped him. However some time spent in France, away from everything, allowed him to make sense of it all and create a comedy show - In Bits, finding the funny in the break-up hangover, a personal exploration on the universal theme of love lost and heartbreak.
Returning to Edinburgh last summer, Steve presented his show and was rewarded with good crowds, plenty of laughter for the stories and songs which make up In Bits, and positive reviews.
Leading comedy website Chortle.co.uk said: “He uses his experience as a jumping-off point to examine relationships from various angles...Bennett covers the ground with verve and wit, often of the self-deprecating kind...Eminently likeable, Bennett is effervescent, but not irritating, good natured and inherently funny – a winning combination.”
Steve will now present In Bits in the Town Hall Theatre studio on Thursday October 24 at 6.30pm as part of the 2013 Galway Comedy Festival. “This is the 26th time I’ve done the show over the past year and it will probably be the last time I do it,” Steve tells me during our Monday afternoon conversation, making it all the more pertinent for comedy audiences to check out the show.
In August 2012 Steve travelled to Edinburgh to take part in the Scottish capital’s Fringe festival. Little did he realise the journey would result in a triple-whammy of heartbreak, inspiration, and direction.
Steve and fellow comedian Christiane O’Mahony presented a two hander show, Passion, Pints, and Potatoes. Although a fun experience, it made Steve realise he needed to move on from a set that was simply ‘one gag after another’ and instead deliver something more substantial and structured.
“I didn’t want to do just jokes anymore. Comedy for me has to have a beginning, middle, and an end, and a lesson,” says Steve. “That’s the kind of show I want to see and I challenged myself to write a show within the next year that I could bring to Edinburgh.”
Inspiration though was to come suddenly and bluntly when his girlfriend dumped him. “It was rough, and during my first time in Edinburgh!” A heartbroken Steve came back to Ireland needing to find a way to deal with it all and get over it. A break from familiar surroundings came with Steve securing a post teaching English in the French wine region of Bordeaux.
“Bordeaux was where the show was written,” says Steve. “It was written on bits of cardboard which I would then paste to wall - what I call my hobo whiteboard! - it was like Minority Report on a budget. The first place I performed the show was in the living room of where I was staying, in front of 50 drunk friends.”
Although the show evolved from personal experience, Steve uses that experience as a springboard towards looking at relationships and break-ups in general.
“My relationship broke up but those experiences are still relatable as we’ve all been there,” says Steve. “I’m over it now but I had to write a show about it first. The more I wrote the more it made me feel better.
“Soon the show wasn’t about her, and soon it wasn’t about me - and that’s my favourite compliment, when people come up to me after the show and say ‘It helped me, I’ve been there too.’ If I can make people feel good after that bad experience that’s great.”
It is often said about musicians that ‘sad blokes make better albums than happy blokes’ and for comedy too, it may be similar. As Samuel Beckett said: “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world.” The Germans also have a word for it - schadenfreude - taking pleasure in other’s misfortune.
“Very little of the funny things I have to say in the show come from anywhere else but a dark place,” Steve says. “Funny things often come from fear and loathing. Comedy is about making people feel better but that has to start in something bad happening. Relationships are good things, but even if they go wrong, you need to find a way to make it good again and get something out of it.”
In Bits will see Steve present his show through stories, sketches, and songs which he will accompany himself on with the ukulele.
“It’s just a guy on stage with a ukulele, it’s very stripped down,” says Steve. “I don’t think it needs go-go dancers and CGI, but you never know, I may come back to it in 10 years and do a Lucas on it, and add a wookie and an alien making witty quips.”
Indeed the ukulele was another piece of comedy inspiration gained while he was in France.
“I used to play a guitar but I got sick of carrying it around to gigs,” says Steve. “When you are on the lower rung of comedy you might have to travel to Dublin for a 10 minute slot and you spend all the way up and down on the train worrying about the guitar getting damaged.
“I got the ukulele in France. It’s cheap and it’s small and it makes life a lot easier. Also it makes me feel like a giant. It creates an air of bearded, subtle, menace.”
Tickets are available through www.bulmersgalwaycomedyfestival.com