Charlie Duncan Saffrey – ‘Stand Up Philosophy’

Off the Cuff old-timer Lloyd (who, as the ‘Madonna’ of the group, needs only one name) chatted to Charlie Duncan Saffrey, the triple-named comedian and philosopher behind the hit show Stand-up Philosophy.

(Catch Stand–up Philosophy in The Pit at 14:45, and you can see both Charlie and Lloyd in Off the Cuff’s 10th Anniversary Spectacular) 

Lloyd interviews Charlie

What’s your show about?

Philosophising, and how much fun it is to do as a live interactive show. Usually we have a different theme for each show, but for the Off the Cuff special I’ve booked great acts and given them free rein to philosophise. There’ll be a great philosophical comedian (Ahir Shah, whose Edinburgh show got brilliant reviews and is super hot right now) and a top academic philosopher (Dr. Gordon Finlayson, from Sussex University). So I’ll find out what this show’s about on the day…

You’ve just got back from Edinburgh Festival; how was your festival this year?

Nuts, but brilliant. It’s an odd show; we did hardly any marketing and were in a quite obscure venue, so I was expecting an average audience of about five. But then for some reason we got between 70-120 people every day; I have no idea where they all came from. Word of mouth, apparently.

How can comedians and philosophers help each other project ideas better?

Well, every great joke writer knows that the secret to comedy writing is clarity and brevity – what information is needed to get the idea across, and can you do it clearly in a few words? That’s something that academic philosophers aren’t always very good at, but they have to learn it for this show. And comedians can sometimes fall into the trap of just going for laughs and not really thinking through what they’re saying – getting the chance to just say what they really think can be really liberating for them.

Who are your inspirations?

Comedians who have something to say, and philosophers who can entertain. I’d say Daniel Kitson and Nietzsche probably. Oh, and Robin Ince. He’s read everything.

Can women philosophise?

What a question… Some of the most gifted philosophers I know are women! Actually the monthly Stand-up Philosophy show in London has had more female headliners than male ones so far…

Who’s a pretty boy then?

The philosopher Robert Nozick was exceptionally good-looking. Incredible eyebrows.

Anything else we should know?

Only that everyone should come to Stand-up Philosophy at the Off the Cuff megafiesta. It’ll be the most fun you can have with your brain switched on.

Charlie interviews Lloyd 

What’s your favourite improv game?

Favourite games are hard to choose – there are so many reasons to pick one! Games like Alien Interview always provide great, instant hilarity, created by its absurdist nature. Then there are fantastic games which require great technical skill, things like Entrances and Exits, where 3 players are listening out for specific words, and upon utterance they have to hastily make an excuse to leave or enter the scene; this provides great opportunity for the guys on stage to have fun with each other, and ‘Play the Game’.

I really enjoy the many guessing games we play. I enjoy, when I can see the guesser having a hard time, making my clues more and more obvious; by that point the audience is often really invested in the player getting the right answer, and it always provides a great atmosphere when it’s all figured out. I think the audience loves being on the inside of a joke!

I think my favourite game, though, is probably Half-Life, where a scene gets condensed further and further into its most important plot points, often with lots of high energy running and jumping! It’s a great opportunity for some physical comedy, and the pandemonium of a rushed scene often generates some pretty amazing ideas!

What’s easier, improv or learning a show from a script?

I’ve actually never had to learn a script; I’ve never done proper stuff on stage! It’s one of those things that people always ask though: ‘What’s it like going up on stage, not knowing what you’re going to say?’ Actually that’s one of the great things about improv – I never have any lines to forget! Everything I say on stage is the ‘right thing’ to say, and any time I’m not sure what comes next, I always have someone else to help carry the scene along.

Another important thing about improv, for me, is that it’s always new. There’s a reason I don’t do sketch, or stand-up comedy. I love the excitement and challenge of getting up on stage and trying new things, thinking of new situations, and working with new audiences. For a good improv show, you really have to be there!

Does having long hair help when you’re performing?

Well, everyone loves a Jesus impression! That guy always brings the funny.

What’s been the biggest change in Off the Cuff in the last 10 years?

The professionalism. We still have a wonderful, scrappy style of performing – anything goes, and we’re just as likely to try and make each other laugh as the audience, and I think that’s a really energetic element of our performances. But, in recent years, we’ve worked hard to expand our technical skills, attempting (and succeeding at) some pretty high-concept show ideas, with ever increasing stage production. I think we’ve come from a bunch of folk trying to make our mates laugh, to stage performers who can do a show anytime, anywhere against any odds.

What’s been your favourite show that you’ve done with Off the Cuff?

There’s one show which will live in infamy I think! It was the last show of our first or second Brighton Fringe run, at the Hobgoblin. We had about 80 people in a 35 seater room, many standing anywhere there was space! Alongside that we had so many friends show up after it had sold out that we had to say ‘The only way we can squeeze you in, is if you sit on the stage and do some games!’ We smashed out a 90 minute set, to a packed room, with 18 performers up on stage; it was wild, and crazy, and completely improvised!