Theatre / Between the lines / Playwright Roy MacGregor on how he learnt a lesson in comic timing from Trevor Griffiths

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Four golden rules. For all of you, though some more than others. One. All audiences are thick, collectively, but it's a bad comedian who lets 'em know it. Two. Two laughs are better than one. Always. Three. You don't have to love the people, but the people have to love you. Four. Sell yourself. If you're giving it away, it won't be worth having. From Comedians by Trevor Griffiths

ONE OF the happy accidents that led to me getting interested in the theatre was hearing Trevor Griffiths talk about his work. Comedians is my favourite Griffiths play. It is a steel-edged piece of writing that works first and foremost as a drama, but also stands as social history. Set in a school classroom and a northern club, where a group of male would-be comedians attempt to fashion prejudice and ignorance into a winning comic turn, it depicts a world that now seems as distant as the Jarrow March. Though Griffiths has a definite world-view of his own, he's too much of a writer to chain his characters to it. You feel that the spirit moving the play is the writer's, but the voices are the characters'. Many people have difficulty with the notion that characters in a play air their own views (however wrong-headed), but one lesson I've learnt from plays like Comedians is that a writer should show the characters where the stage is, then get out of their way.

Roy MacGregor's 'Phoenix' is at the Bush: see 'First Nights'

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