Shout Out of the Week: Mark Rufus

Mark is one of the first Zebee community members. We are very proud to see that his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian is taking shape!

How did you get into comedy?

I'm doing amateur stand up on the open mic circuit, I have a day job and comedy is mainly just a hobby. I’ve always enjoyed watching stand up since my late teens I was always interested in performing, I did Drama at school and I was comfortable with public speaking but I never thought I could do stand up. Fast forward a few years, I started a new job and during my second week it was the company social and there was a talent show. My flatmate at the time told me I was good at doing impressions of Gollum, Marge Simpson and Bane from The Dark Knight Rises so I thought why not and signed up. 

It was a strange way to introduce myself to my new colleagues by standing on a stage after having a few drinks shouting “my precious!” I got nice feedback and was told that I was a natural on stage and I thought why not do something with this. I found a stand up course online and thought I should go for it, I was too nervous to turn up to an open mic night and wanted to do this class so it would motivate me and give me an idea to see if I’d be any good at it. 

Where do you get inspiration for your jokes?

Doing impressions wasn’t the only thing I wanted to focus on when starting out. I’m quite observant and I complain quite often much to the dismay of some of my work colleagues. I’ve always enjoyed relatable comedy and it often feels like a therapy session sharing my frustration towards slow walkers, dating apps, bad days at work or the fact that Love Island exists. If I get annoyed about something I’ll try and see the funny side and sometimes it works when I turn it into a joke. One example is when I’m stuck behind a slow walker and feeling frustrated that you can’t get around them because they keep swerving side to side. Sometimes when you’re frustrated about something you want to say certain things but that could get you in trouble so doing stand up lets me get things off my chest and hope it comes across as humorous. 

Sometimes a random thought can come to mind and I use to make a note of it on my phone but now I keep forgetting to. If something happens during the day I’ll talk about it during a set and see how it comes across. The more I tell a joke or story, the more I’ll remember it and improve how I deliver it. I also record my sets whether it's audio or video so I can see what worked and what didn’t. It’s awful listening to my voice being played back and I’ll often remember which jokes got a laugh but listening back can help me to see what falls flat and how I can improve the joke, deliver it better or just get rid of it completely. 

What do you find most daunting about being on stage?

For most people, public speaking is a scary thought. It’s natural to feel nervous in that scenario and it’s common to feel uncomfortable with it. I was interested in performing at school and I did a teacher training course so I’d like to think that the skills could be transferable when being heckled. 

When I think of some jokes I will laugh to myself thinking its comedy gold and I have often used the material and fallen flat. The worse thing that happens for me is dead silence after a joke I feel eager to tell. The feeling of disappointment which isn’t daunting thought but obviously a feeling I want to avoid but it happens to everyone. Sometimes your mind just goes blank so the more times I practice telling certain jokes or stories, the more comfortable I feel telling them. For me trying a new joke can be daunting because you don’t know if it’ll get a laugh and also I could find it funny myself but the crowd won’t understand it. 

The most common fear for a stand up is being heckled but I haven’t experienced that yet. Even if it does happen, which I’m sure it inevitably will at some stage (pun intended), it could give me something to work with during a set. I might not be able to master it like Jimmy Carr does but I won’t know until I try.

I have entered a contest and didn’t make it past the first heat round. I wasn’t expecting to get through but it was good for me to see the standard the other acts live up to and how I can improve my act. I wanted to do something different to my previous gigs and wanted to stand out so I included some impressions in my set. The crowd seemed to enjoy it and trying out the impressions was a risk worth taking. 

For me, performing stand up shouldn’t feel like a daunting experience, I should be having fun and banter with the crowd. If they are a tough crowd and you’re not getting the laughs you’re wanting, it’s important to make them feel comfortable because the worst case scenario is that the audience is cringing or feeling uncomfortable watching someone fall flat on stage. If a joke falls flat, I just keep going and don’t dwell on it, important to just move on. I did a gig one time where an act didn’t get a laugh and he just called the crowd a bunch of C words. There was tension in the room. Overall, the crowd want to enjoy themselves and they will want to see the act enjoying themselves and not cringe at someone falling apart or being insulted by them

How would you describe your dream gig?

Ideally one that has more than just a handful of people in the crowd. It’s common to go to a gig where there is a low turn out. I once did a gig where the only crowd were the remaining acts and the flatmate of one of the acts, the flatmate left during the 10 minute interval. You want a bigger crowd so that you’re more likely to get laughs to have a bit of an atmosphere in the place. There are some gigs that are “bringer nights” which means you have to bring someone with you to fill up the crowd which is understandable but can be frustrating. It reminds me of when I’d do a school play and my parents/relatives would come along and have to sit through the other children’s performances and listen to their parents brag about how great they are. 

Right now its very early days and my sets will change over time. I’m even thinking of making up some characters and doing my sets as the characters. I think I’d get bored if I told the same joke about slow walkers too many times. It’s all trial and error, friends who I’ve brought have said that my recent acts have been an improvement so it’s good to know that I should keep trying

Follow Mark's journey on Instagram