Image Credit: Andy Hollingworth Archive
Entertainers often adopt personas in front of their audiences, acts that may or may not be based on their personalities in real life. Simon Lomas, a 28-year-old stand up comedian, has mastered the art of persona creation, with an onstage presence unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
Lomas is relatively new to stand-up, having booked onto his first open mic night in 2015 when he was 24. The decision to try and make it in comedy was fairly out of the blue; having not taken any steps towards getting into comedy until long after he had graduated from Staffordshire University, Lomas was working as a data analyst when he decided to take the plunge: “I’d wanted to be a comedian for a long time and just decided to finally try it after watching some stand up on TV one night”.
Within his first year, Lomas had won the Yorkshire New Comedian of the Year as part of the Great Yorkshire Fringe, as well as new act competitions across the Northwest. More recently, Lomas was nominated for a Chortle Award for Best Newcomer, as well as for the Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year. Lomas stresses just how proud he was of the latter nomination: “It’s a very prestigious award and even though I didn’t win, just getting nominated is a big deal and I was so excited to take part in the final.”
It’s clear to see why Lomas has enjoyed this level of success so quickly, having been described by arts critic, Bruce Dessau, as “different to any act I’ve ever seen before”. Dubbed ‘the awkward comedian’, Lomas’ on-stage persona is very distinctive. Lomas himself described it as “a kind of heightened version of how I am in real life”. He combines a deadpan technique with an idiosyncratic awkwardness to create a unique atmosphere during his sets, one which plays on the audience’s own sense of uneasiness. Lomas somehow makes you feel like you shouldn’t be laughing at several points during his performance – a difficult feat during a comedy show – which only makes you want to laugh more. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon in life, as children for example, during school assemblies where something mildly comical is made a thousand times funnier by the fact that you’re not supposed to laugh. Lomas’ audiences find themselves straining to stifle smaller giggles during the many awkward silences that characterise his set, and consequently this pent-up laughter is released tenfold at the end of his jokes.
While his jokes are great, Lomas’ individual brilliance lies in the way he manipulates the atmosphere. Lomas explained, “I think comedy is built on tension and release, so it makes sense that the more tension you can create in the build-up, the bigger a re action you should expect after the pay-off. I think I’ve heard other comedians compare it to blowing up a balloon until it’s almost ready to pop.”
For some audiences however, Lomas has found that his on-stage persona can be hard to get behind. He admits: “Normally it goes down fine, but there have been occasions where perhaps the audience hasn’t realised it’s an act or have just not got it at all and that can be quite tough.” He continues, “I’m used to audiences taking a few minutes to get on board but I don’t really have anywhere else I can go if they don’t. There’s no plan B and I have struggled sometimes.”
With such a chancy act, Lomas has experienced his fair share of “bombing” during performances. Bombing is where comedians, especially those who are starting out and are still in the process of refining their act, have exceptionally bad sets. For comedians, it is seen as something of a rite of passage. Lomas remarks that, “everyone bombs and has bad sets. I find that sometimes darker material can struggle with certain crowds but it really depends who you are playing to. It’s difficult to please everybody and give them what they want, you just have to trust that the audience are willing to come with you sometimes.” Lomas also points out that: “Bad gigs help to expose the weaknesses in your set and help you to edit jokes to make them better.”
Indeed, Lomas stresses the importance of high-quality jokes for deadpan comics like himself. “I think it’s quite difficult when you’re more deadpan because you can’t really sell your material in the way that other comics can, so there’s a lot more pressure on the actual jokes and if a punch line doesn’t work you really know about it.” Since Lomas’ sets consist of a series of one-liners, the pressure on gaining and maintaining laughs in quick succession is more pronounced than for comedians who rely on more narrative-driven sets. “I think one liners are just the kind of jokes that I find funny, I wouldn’t know where to start with storytelling,” Lomas reveals. “A lot of my favourite comedians also do one-liners so I suppose they inspired me.”
Another difficulty that comics notoriously have to get to grips with is heckling, something that Lomas has mixed opinions about. “Someone once heckled me with ‘why are you wearing my jumper?’ which just stands out to me for being so hilariously mundane and ridiculous,” Lomas says. “They shouted it before I’d even open my mouth as well so it set a really weird tone to the whole set.” Lomas remarks that “when it’s repetitive drunken nonsense it just ruins the show and ends up being really annoying for both the comedian and the audience,” but he goes on to acknowledge the up-side of heckles too: “I think that some heckles can be a blessing because they give you the opportunity to react in the moment, which really makes a show special.”
When asked about his inspiration for his material, Lomas disclosed that his day-to-day life rarely feeds into his jokes, unlike some other comedians. Lomas was working as a data analyst when he was starting out in comedy, which he described as “quite a boring, repetitive job” that he did from home, and while it did allow him the flexibility to start gigging regularly in the evenings, Lomas recognises that it wasn’t particularly fruitful in terms of inspiration for his sets.
In fact, Lomas’ writing technique largely consists of jokes springing to mind and catching him offguard. He explains: “most of my material is just completely made up. I think the best jokes just seem to occur to you when you’re not even thinking, like in the shower or while doing the washing up.” Lomas goes onto comment: “I’ve tried sitting down and writing material and it sometimes works, but you have to put a lot of time and effort in for little reward. You could write for an hour a day for a week and only get one new joke that is good enough to use on stage.”
Though Lomas has already polished up medleys of jokes, honed his persona and refined his distinctive technique, he thinks that his act may need even further development if he were to start doing longer sets. He suggests that: “if I were to do an hour show, I might need to change things up a bit to make it a bit more bearable; I think that for just over twenty minutes it’s fine but an hour might be a bit too much.”
While longer sets are something Lomas aspires to, he is not motivated by the increased celebrity that comes with
them: “I’d love to do an hour show eventually and take it up to Edinburgh. My main goal though is to be able to make a good living from stand-up comedy and get married and have children. I have no ambition to be famous or on TV, I just want to be happy and keep doing what I love.”
At the moment though, Lomas says he is “just doing the circuit, trying to get my chops and build a name for myself.” Based in Manchester, he spends many of his evenings doing open mic nights around the city in order to work on and pilot new material. “I’m just trying to work hard,” he says. And with one of the most unique acts in comedy at the moment, hard work certainly seems to be paying off.