Watching Christopher Martin perform, his stage presence is so gigantic, you sometimes wonder if it’ll just collapse when he’s done. He commands attention in an affable way with an easy-going, likeable persona. It’s evident from the moment you see him that he’s a natural in terms of delivery and timing. However comedy hasn’t always been at the forefront of Christopher’s path, as he explained.
“Ever since I was young I always liked to entertain. I always liked to be the centre of attention, making gags and I think even as a youngster I knew I wanted to be an entertainer or a comedian of some sort. Then instead of going after that I took the easy way and did six years of science at university before I realised that I didn’t want to do that. I did four years science degree, then a year in nursing and a masters of science then I had a science job. That wasn’t doing it for me and these old urges to perform and entertain came back.”
Though it’s only relatively recently that Christopher got into stand up, his penchants for joke writing significantly pre-dates that.
“Even before I started stand up I wrote lots of jokes. I have a book at home that has hundreds of untested jokes in there that I’ve been writing over the years. Some are really bad, but I went to it the other day and there were a good number that I’d want to try. Still relatable, on topics that are timeless.”
I asked how Christopher got into stand up comedy.
“In 2008 I went on a Contiki tour and while we were on the bus driving from London to Amsterdam, the guide got us all up the front to speak for two minutes and introduce ourselves. I remember when it was my turn and I held the microphone and my hands were shaking and I was talking in a really nervous and crackly voice. That was the first time I found out I had stage fright. So I sat back after I did my introduction and I was like “oh man, I want to do stand up one day and I’m scared of performing in front of people, this is not good!”. When I got back from Europe I wondered what was a good way to get over this and that’s how improv came up.”
For many improv is what they most associate with Christopher, being such a key figure in Brisbane for it, I wanted to know what it was like starting out.
“I looked up improv in Brisbane and there was a beginners course with ImproMafia and I went and did that. I was nervous the whole time. I hated performing but at the same time enjoyed it. I just really wanted to do well, in front of my peers. At our graduation show eight weeks later, I did the worst performance I’ve ever done. There were twelve of us graduating and they put you into groups of three or four and they put a really experienced person in your group too. That way they can control the rhythm and you don’t feel out of line, but not enough experienced people turned up so I was just with the people who I did the class with. We didn’t clear up the stage after each scene so it just became a complete mess and we got one laugh the whole show. I walked out of there going “comedy is just not for me”. Then about six months later a friend was like “hey, let’s go do level two!” and I was like “no, I don’t think it’s for me”. After a while I did level two, and then I never looked back.”
Christopher’s introduction to stand up was similarly fraught.
“I got it into my head to just do it, when you start stand up, you’re not going to be a rock and roll star straight away. It’s going to take time to find your voice. A year and a half ago at RAW 2015 I did my first stand up set ever at the Paddington Tavern in front of 100 people. I was so nervous I did my five minute set in about three minutes. After I did it I felt so relieved that I could finally say that I’ve done it. After that I founded a show called Magic Mic with Michael Griffin, but after my first set he was going to Melbourne to do the Melbourne Comedy Festival and he said “I need you to MC the couple of weeks while I’m away” and that’s where I found my confidence with stand up. I didn’t have very much material I just chatted to the audience to maintain the flow of the night and I did that pretty well for someone who’s only done one set of stand up before.”
Like any good Hollywood Blockbuster, from there things just got better and better.
“I started a comedy theatre called Big Fork Theatre with some friends and we do a sketch night once a month called Get It* Inya also a good way to get confidence on stage going out doing crazy characters which is the kind of stuff I love to do. Combined with MCing Magic Mic, doing regular stand up around Brisbane and the sketch show, that’s where I am today.”
As far as style goes, Christopher has such a high level of self awareness he’s best off explaining it himself.
“With improv I’m the clown character. You’ve got people who are very good in the straight man role, the Seinfelds, and then you’ve got the George Costanzas and the Kramers. I play low status idiots. I can play the straight man characters, but I’m a big child myself, so I’m more at home when playing these outrageous characters. I like to talk about stories in my life. My life itself is one big sitcom, so that helps with my stand up. I’ve got a book of stories from my life that I’m trying to craft into stand up. I embellish a little bit but the general gist of the whole story is completely true. My life is full of these honest mistakes that I’ve done. I will write jokes that aren’t stories from my life because I like writing and if I think of something that’s a fun observation. I’m mainly a storyteller, but I’m not scared to write a joke-joke. I like that mix. I want to get to the point where I can do solo shows like Damien Power, he’s amazing, Anne Edmonds, all those people, I’d love to get to that point one day. I think having the mix with segues is a good skill to have.”
This year Chris took the sketch show BangNation to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Adelaide Comedy Festival with his partner Taylor Edwards. I asked him how it went.
“It was an amazing experience. We went down because we wanted to kick off our comedy careers and the best way was to write a show and perform it. We had a lot of fun writing it and a lot of fun performing it. We realised people need to know who you are before they come to see you. That takes years of experience doing rooms, going south and over time people will start to remember you. It was very stressful. The difference between Adelaide and Melbourne was that in Adelaide we were trying to prove to ourselves that the show was good and we deserved to be there, and when we performed in Melbourne, we knew the show was good so we were more relaxed. Adelaide was a huge success, they really jumped on board our show, they really loved our show. We had one night where we had a really quiet audience, and three quarters of the way I was wondering if they even liked it, and we had no idea. Then when we get to the end of the show we get a standing ovation, big obnoxious clapping. It was really confusing!”
Chris is an ambitious, warm charactered individual for who greatness feels more like an inevitability than a maybe. His care for his craft is evident and contagious, he’s continuously looking for ways to make what he does better. In his own words
“I don’t want to blame the audience. The people who come to your show, they’re the best people ever. I feel like your role as a comedian is to make the audience feel happier when you’re finished than when you started. That’s it.”
Find out more about Christopher on his Big Fork Theatre profile here.