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Coffee & Conversation: Jack Holmes

August 27, 2020 by Elena Atkinson-Sporle

Photo: Elena Atkinson-Sporle (web), Alan Henderson (mobile)

Jack Holmes is becoming a big name in the Viennese comedy scene and is quickly spreading his funny across Central Europe. I met with Jack for his first interview in Austria. We chat about his career, the art of comedy and his tips for fledgeling comedians.

Who is Jack Holmes?

Jack Holmes moved from England to Austria to start a punk band. “…from England… to AUSTRIA to start a punk rock band.” During his European tours as a singer-songwriter, he found audiences cheering for “one more story” rather than “one more song”. After switching career paths, Jack is now renowned throughout Central Europe for his raw English comedy in which he mocks himself and finds humour in mundane, relatable topics.

English Comedy in Austria

Jack Holmes and fellow comedians at Panč Festival.

Did you do comedy in England?

No, I’ve never done comedy in England.

What challenges did you face in Vienna, a country where the native language isn’t English?

It’s kind of hard to say what challenges I faced because I started here, so it’s not like I was used to doing this in England. I began at nothing with Austrian crowds.

The English-comedy community is steadily growing in Vienna, with open-mics and headline shows taking place multiple times a week. 

Every show we’re at, someone will come up to us and say “I never realised there were English comedy shows in Austria!” and it’s like, really? We’ve been doing this for nearly 6 years now, and you’ve only just heard about it now? But it’s starting to get somewhere.

Are all the comedians in the scene British?

I think I might be the only British person around right now. There are a few Americans (Reginald Bärris, Okello Dunkley), there’s a couple of Austrians and Germans and people from all over the place.

Beer & peanuts – classic. Photo: Alan Henderson

How long did it take you to find your rhythm as a comedian?

For the first 2 and a half years, it was essentially worthless because you were only doing like one show every six weeks because that’s all there was – it’s just not enough time to get good. It’s also really horrible because if you bomb that one show then that’s it: in your mind, you’re a horrible comedian for another 6 weeks until you get a second chance.

It wasn’t until about 2016 when a bunch of us got frustrated – I say a bunch of us, I didn’t do this, everyone else did and I just sort of get credit for their work – everyone kind of branched off and started getting their own shows. It was like “cool, I can start getting on shows a couple of times a week.” That’s when the progress really started counting.

I’ve seen that you perform in countries around Austria quite a lot: do some  jokes land better in some countries than in others? Or would you say that funny is international?

I would say that funny is international. The show I’m doing at the moment has been built around touring, so if a joke doesn’t work in most countries I perform it in then I look at it as a weak link and it tends to go and then something stronger hopefully replaces it.

The Struggles: Self-criticism and Heckling...

Clownin’ around in Moscow.

Do you always judge your performance by the engagement level of the audience?

Yeah, exactly. I’ll look at the other acts on, or sometimes even just the atmosphere in the room, and I know what I can expect to get from that.

I’ve had shows where the audience have liked it, but I’m like “no, you should’ve laughed more, I fucked this up” but I’ve learned not to be like “oh, that was a bullshit show” because people are being nice, don’t be a jerk, just take the compliment. It’s horrible to sit there and take compliments for half an hour that you don’t want or deserve.

Do you watch other acts and adapt your set if you need to?

I don’t really adapt my set which is kind of a weakness and in some ways a strength. You’re gonna get me and I just need to learn how to sell you on that idea as opposed to dancing around what the audience wants. But it’s definitely a weakness to be like “I can see they’re reacting to this kind of joke but I’m not gonna do that!”

My main thing with audiences is I’m good at matching their energy. I know whether I need to go in a little bit slower and play up being shlubby and shy or whether I just need to go in “bang” and be the confident guy.

Have you ever been heckled?

Yeah, frequently!

Do people heckle differently in different countries?

As I said, funny’s international and so is heckling. Some people, quite commonly British, think that [heckling] is part of it. So, they can be quite exhausting. Sometimes they just want to shout out once so you can insult them and then that’s the end of it.

People like Jimmy Carr have made heckling a popular thing like “this is part of it” – no it’s not you fucking asshole, shut up. I’ve had so many arguments with drunk British people where they say “this is just what it is”. No. I’m at a comedy show five nights a week, don’t tell me what this is!

Some people just don’t understand that it’s a disruptive thing to do. I’ve never really encountered one group that heckle differently to others.

Apart from the British…

Why do comedy?

Jack Holmes performs at the Roo Bar.

What’s your favourite thing about being a comedian?

I like being able to take my career into my own hands. Overall, that’s the most exciting thing. I like that I’m able to take something artistic and silly and learn the business aspect to it. There is strategy and this whole world behind it. “How am I going to turn this into a legitimate living?”

Have you ever had any really nice experiences with fans or audience members?

Yeah, plenty of people. Maybe I told a joke about a somewhat intimate subject and someone’s come up to me like “thank you, I really related to that.” Or “Oh cool, it wasn’t just me”. Then you have people who come up to you like “I’ve had a really horrible week and I needed this, thank you.” It’s really nice to know I’ve made strangers laugh for 5 minutes – an hour, however long I was on stage, and they appreciate that.

Jack Holmes' Comedy Tips

Jack Holmes. Photo: Okello Dunkley

Interested in trying out your own comedy set? Jack has some advice for you.

  1. There are loads of open mics in [Vienna]. [Just] sign up in the comment section (on Facebook) and write “spot please”.
  2. Get 5 minutes of stuff that you think is funny.
  3. Keep going on stage with it. That’s the main part. If you have a bad show, go up the next night if you can.
  4. Record your set: audio or video, it doesn’t matter. Don’t publish it! [N]o one needs to see it and it will haunt you if you ever get good.
  5. Listen to the first laugh, listen to the second laugh and then you see what’s the minimum amount of words you need between those two spaces. That’s how you start building up an act.

That’s a nice formula!

There’s a lot more to it than that but that’s the only thing I have a grasp on, so that’s the only thing I feel comfortable telling people.

Do you think any personality characteristics make people more suitable for the stage than others?

It sounds obvious to the point of being a stupid answer, but a sense of humour is obviously the most important thing. I’ve seen plenty of people who don’t have one try to be a comedian.

You need to be quite tenacious. It’s really unforgiving at the start. It can be a really mean lonely thing to do to yourself and you just have to have the ability to keep pushing through it.

Most people with a good head on their shoulders and a good sense of self-worth are like “fuck this, I’m not doing this again, that was horrible.” And good on you. But if you want to be a comedian, have self-respect, have self-worth but you need to be able to keep walking into these situations where you just know it’s going to be a horrible experience because you need to from that, you will grow strength.

Laugh along!

Jack Holmes is performing multiple times a week in Central Europe. Follow his pages to keep up to date and find out which shows you can catch him at!

On October 17th, Jack will perform his latest solo show at Shebeen International Pub!

Ellie Atkinson-Sporle
Content Creation, Storytelling

Ellie is a storyteller for littlebig.art. Originally from the UK, she earned her BA Music degree from Falmouth University in 2018. Ellie fell in love with Vienna while travelling and has been performing, writing and exploring here ever since. Storytelling and initiating discussions are two of her greatest passions.