There are plenty of stand-ups who find humorous ways of looking at the things we all have to go through.
From paying taxes to putting up with the in-laws, there’s always a comedian standing by to offer a funny interpretation of everyday events.
However, mundane subjects don’t appeal to every comedy fan…or every comedian.
Some performers, like Doug Stanhope, actively seek out life’s more extreme situations, reporting on their strange, sometimes debauched adventures with razor sharp wit.
Stuart Black definitely fits into this category with his new show, No Moral Compass, which comes to The Caroline of Brunswick, Brighton, this month.
His set is filled with hard-hitting tales of drinking and danger from one outrageously unconventional existence.
Speaking to the Sussex Express over a crackling phone line, Stuart describes his life as being a “flamboyant” one and talks about the positive influence this has had on his comedy.
“Almost all art is, to some extent autobiographical,” he explains. “So, if you haven’t lived any kind of an interesting life then it’s very hard to imagine you’re going to come up with some interesting art.”
A set based on Stuart’s life should certainly prove interesting. After failing all his school exams (twice) Stuart trained to be a boxer like his father, but ditched that dream after being distracted by women and booze.
In the early ’90s, Stuart was on the dole and living in an attic in Brighton.
“I lived sort of in and amongst the gay community there,” he says, despite not being gay himself.
“It was a very vibrant and exciting place to be for a 20-year-old bloke from Somerset and I just fell in love with Brighton, really. I mean, it’s one of the really unique places in the UK.”
Sadly, Brighton’s charms couldn’t stop Stuart from suffering through several years of depression. At one point, he didn’t leave his house for six months.
“I’ve suffered from depression probably, I think, since I was 15 – bouts of quite serious depression,” Stuart explains. “I’m in a good place at the moment but I just know it’ll come back. It always does.”
After getting treatment for his condition, Stuart picked himself up and worked a diverse selection of jobs that included being a cleaner, a diamond valuer, a loss adjuster and even a computer programmer.
“One of my habits is that I just throw away a career and start from scratch in something else,” he explains.
Stuart didn’t care about some of the jobs but he found he both enjoyed and excelled at computer programming.
“Sometimes in life it’s like wading through treacle,” he muses. “Then sometimes you just progress really well, because you’ve found something that you’re good at, and I very quickly progressed through the ranks programming-wise.”
It was a successful time for Stuart as he ended up working for major companies, earning enough money to buy a house.
However, the biggest change in Stuart’s life came when he was about 30 years old. Under enormous stress from work and drinking heavily, Stuart decided to start afresh and moved to Cape Town in South Africa.
“I just said ‘oh, this is not for me’ and I quit the job,” he says. “I sold my house and sold my car and everything. I literally got rid of all my belongings except for a suitcase and just went travelling. I ended up in South Africa and really liked it so I stayed there for about 18 months, maybe two years.”
Stuart describes South Africa as a “fascinating and multi-layered country”, which provided him with some crazy adventures and brought him into contact with a variety of colourful and sometimes frightening characters.
“One particular guy was a very damaged individual,” says Stuart, describing one of his companions during that time.
“I think when he was a little younger his brother had got killed and it’s something he just never really handled. He was living in fear, so he was just somebody who always had guns with him the whole time.
“You’d go for a camping weekend in his pick-up truck and he’d have, like, a .357 magnum in the glove box or, like, a sniper rifle in the boot of his car.”
Stuart continues: “I didn’t hang around with him because I thought he was a nice guy. I was just really looking for adventure and when someone like that says ‘hey, do you want to come for a camping weekend?’, you go ‘hell yes!’”
Was Stuart ever worried about his safety?
“Yeah, absolutely,” he admits. “But I try and live my life with the idea of ‘feel the fear and then do it anyway’. If you can get past the fear you always have more excitement and a better adventure.”
It’s a thought-provoking idea and encapsulates Stuart’s approach to comedy. Anyone who has seen one of his gigs can confirm that the comic isn’t just looking for shock laughs, with reviewers often commenting on his philosophical tone. When asked to describe his stand-up style, Stuart says it’s a mixture of “the cosmic and the visceral”, emphasising his interest in creating a strange kind of poetry.
“It’s really the language that makes it poetic,” says Stuart. “One of my strong points is the writing and I’m always trying to find the perfect eloquent phrase, even if I’m talking about something people tend to talk about in grotesque terms.”
“There’s inherent humour when you hear something that’s disgusting,” he explains. “Because you get two reactions – you go: oh, that’s gross…but isn’t it beautifully expressed?”
So, if you’re tired of ‘normal’ comedy subject matter and want something more daring, dirty and undoubtedly eye-opening, then it may be worth checking out one of Stuart’s free gigs this month.
l No Moral Compass is on at The Caroline of Brunswick, Brighton, on the following dates: Friday to Sunday, May 9-11, 16-18 and 23 -25. Other dates are May 30 and 31 and June 1. All gigs start at 9pm. Log on to www.carolineofbrunswick.co.uk.