NMP Live Meets stand-up comedian Dominic Holland, described by The Sunday Times as “a master of observational comedy”. We caught up with Dominic to discuss how he became a comedian, finding humour in everyday things, and corporate events vs. comedy clubs. Watch the full interview or read the transcript below.
In conversation with Dominic Holland
What first got you interested in stand-up comedy?
The best thing about stand-up comedy is that it’s completely meritocratic; there is no cheating. There is laughter in the room, or there’s no laughter in the room. When you have a poet you can have silence, and you never know if this guy’s any good or not. With the comedy it’s absolutely apparent.
If you can make people laugh in the room, that’s a very valuable skill, and it’s very apparent.
I started doing stand-up comedy as a young guy; I went to ‘The Comedy Store’ in London and saw Mike Hayley with Nick Hancock on the bill, and Arthur Smith. And I was blown away with these guys I’d never heard of, with nothing more than a little podium to stand on, and a stick mike, and ripping the arse out of this room. I thought, what an extraordinary art-form! And I started doing it from that moment really.
What are the differences between a stand-up comic and an after-dinner speaker?
It’s an interesting blur, the line between speaker and stand-up comic. I can bridge the two – I don’t necessarily change what I do, I just might change how I do it. So, if I’ve got a podium and I’m at the top table, I will just normally speak slower and be less theatrical. When I’m on stage at the great room, I need to use that stage.
So, I think it’s more a case of delivery, rather than content. And it’s also about having the maturity to understand that you can’t do a stand-up comedy routine at a top table, behind a podium; because it looks eggy. So, you have to have the emotional intelligence to work out what’s required. And when you’re booked at a corporate event, you’ve got to read the room; that’s the key skill. You need the history and the industry to do what you’ve got to do, but you’ve also got to account for what’s in front of you.
I’ve done dinners with the same stuff behind the podium, and I’ve had people rocking with laughter, but it wouldn’t have worked had I tried to make it a stand-up comedy gig. So, I think that’s the main difference: how you deliver it.
How do you connect with and engage your audience?
I do try and moderate my material for who’s in front of me. I do a significant amount of research and work to try and understand who they are. As well as that, because my material is very accessible; I always talk about my life, but actually it’s reflecting everyone else’s life.
I’ve lived in Britain all of my life so if you’ve had kids, you’ve gone to school in Britain, you’ve gone to university, you’ve had a job, your cash-point card’s not working and you’ve lost your phone, then you’ve kind of done everything that I’ve done. So my comedy really is getting people to laugh at themselves.
I think that’s a nice way to make people laugh, because it feels very inclusive, so people feel a connection with me during my set. And then I’m an accessible guy; I don’t mind turning up and if the client wants to meet with me afterwards that’s fine. But if you’re aloof with the corporate booking, then you can disappoint with the experience for the client… and the client wants you, they booked you so you’re there for them. Hopefully you’ll be funny on stage and then be a good guy afterwards.
How would you describe your style of comedy?
My comedy is ‘every day’… and that makes it quite hard to write; you can’t observe things that people have already observed. That’s very banal.
So if I come up with an observation, ‘isn’t it funny how your feet get cold in the winter’… no mate, no, that’s not funny. You need to show people things that they haven’t realised themselves, but that it resonates as soon as you say it. And they go… ‘oh God, why didn’t I notice that!’. And that’s the best comedy… ‘why didn’t I see that!’
I call them little gems, and they’re quite hard to come across; you’ve got to keep searching and moving rocks around. But that’s how I make people laugh. With observing things, I don’t deliberately set out to do it but I see humour in everyday things, and it’s how I articulate it.
Sometimes how you say things is how powerful the laugh is on stage. You’ve got to use the pause; you’ve got to be brave enough to let something hang out there, let them interpret it, and then make the delivery. Then the delivery is almost like a big silver salver for them and they can release their laugh.
What makes a good awards host?
A good host will take the script and will then find nuance and comedy through it, and I love doing that wherever I can I find laughter in their script.
I use the AV enormously. I always get excited when I’m doing an awards ceremony with slides. I’ve been lucky enough to do ‘Have I Got News for You’ a few times, and the picture captions and the line going with them are always massive laughs in the studio, and you can do the same in an awards ceremony.
A good host is someone who is witty enough to react to things in the room. So things happen… ‘the winner is Michelle Keane’… but Michelle’s not there and a bloke comes up instead, and then there’s loads of fun to be had with it, “it was a successful operation, aren’t these surgeons clever…” and it’s just good fun and I enjoy it and I become part of their evening.
I love the fact that they’ll go home from what they thought might have been a turgid industry presentation, but they’ve gone home thinking ‘…I had a great night!’. And it was because of me, because of the host. That’s why I think we can be well paid because you’ve spent hundreds of thousands of pounds putting an event on, but if you don’t have a host who was memorable, it doesn’t matter how good your beef bourguignon was, if you don’t have the host who is doing his job then the evening is just one of those boring evenings.
We can electrify evenings… and when I say “we”, clearly I just mean me!
As a sought-after awards host, what’s the secret to your success?
I take awards hosting very seriously because it’s allowed me to really single myself out as a comedian, doing awards hosts, as well as I’ve done, and as many as I’ve done. So I take them very seriously, I enjoy them, and I work very hard on them.
Often I’ll go in and see the client beforehand; we’ll go through some slides, I might advise them based on how many gigs I’ve done, how they work best: if they split the awards, or if they don’t split the awards. As much as I can, I try and stamp on their evening my comedy and my hosting so I’ve become a really big part of their ceremony, as opposed to just someone who turns up fifteen minutes before the awards, does a generic ten-minutes set and then just read out what’s given to them.
That to me would be fine if I was one of the more famous comedians who is just booked because they’re famous; but the reality is that I’m much less known than the guys that I’m going up against to get these gigs. Therefore, I see it in my head that I’ve got to be better than them; I’ve at least got to be more committed.
I’m very professional and I want people to say, “that evening with Dominic Holland was the best awards ceremony that we’ve ever had”. And that often is said to me, and I’m very proud of that. That’s how I get work going forward.
Are corporate events more challenging than comedy clubs?
I think people would normally say corporate audiences are more difficult, but I don’t know. The set-ups are often not very agreeable; at The Comedy Store you’ve got five-hundred people in the room, you couldn’t get any more people in, they’ve got a low ceiling, a brilliant PA and a little stage, it’s perfect. But if you get a good corporate audience, and you’re at the Belfry, they’re all packed around you and you’re doing a good awards ceremony, you can have a fantastic night. That can be really memorable for them because this punctuates their year, and they’re not expecting it to be as much fun as it is. I like the fact that you can leave that indelible mark on that company.
Do you write for other people?
As well as writing speeches obviously for myself, and plays and sitcoms, I’ve actually written speeches for famous people and a few CEOs.
So I’m writing a speech at the moment, for example, for an Olympian who wants to improve their after-dinner speech. I’ve done it for a few famous rugby players. I was doing a big conference a few years back for a medical company; I was there for two days and I got to know the CEO quite well and in the course of our exchange over lunch I wrote her introductions for the afternoon keynote. And it went so well… she was so excited at getting laughs in the room that she got me in to write a speech for her. I enjoyed doing that.
It’s quite time consuming, but it’s worth doing, because they’re business people. If you can be humorous in your keynote, then you’re going to have a much more likelihood to keep the audience’s attention. So I enjoy doing that and I’m doing it more and more.
What’s your ideal audience size?
I don’t have a preferred size of audience, but I like a full room.
I went to do a dinner in Quorn not long ago, and all I had from my notes was ‘intimate audience’, and I turned up there in this nice little hotel and there were sixteen people around a board table having dinner. And I thought, ‘what!?’, and they said “yeah, we’ve seen you before, we’d love you to come and do a half-an-hour set”, and I thought, ‘…oh my lord!’, and he had a PA for me, a really cheap PA at the end of this oval table! So, I was thinking, ‘this is really unusual!’, so I grabbed the mic, but I realised immediately that the mic was going to be overwhelming, so I dumped it, and I did forty-five minutes just chatting. It became a big dinner party. It was very agreeable and everyone had a great time. We went around the room, almost taking the mickey out of all of them, but it was great fun. I really enjoyed it.
But the best gigs are a full room, so if there’s a thousand people in a thousand-people room, fantastic; if there’s a thousand people in a three-thousand seater, not so good.
I’m not phased by big rooms. I’ve done four-thousand people at Cowes regatta. It doesn’t phase me at all, they’re just punters, as long as I’ve got good equipment. Then you’ve got to be confident enough to settle them at the beginning, understand there’s going to be loads of ambient noise… absorb it… let them come in, and then you better be funny when they’re ready. And I am funny, so I can make them laugh. So it doesn’t worry me about big rooms. The great room at Grosvenor House, I’ve had some of the best gigs in my life there.
If you're interested in booking Dominic Holland you can enquire online, email us or pick up the phone and speak to one of our friendly booking agents. For further information, testimonials and video clips,about Dominic view his profile.