What would you do if someone offered you a full-length comedy special? Panic, obviously, if you aren't a performer, but even those with a big comedic vision sometimes pull the cameras away from the stage.
Take Paul F Taylor's new special on the excellent NextUp platform: it mostly takes place on the pleasingly brick-backed stage at the Kings Head in London's Crouch End, but also features a bunch of unexpected extra stuff.
Pick of the Litter features self-deprecatingly droll cutaways to a behind-the-scenes stalwart of that venue, plus the recognisable TV face of Toby Williams - you'll know him when you see him - playing a policeman who takes an interrogative interest in the aftermath of Taylor's gig. And it's quite an ending.
Those added elements are no surprise, really, if you know Taylor's comedy history. He's made and appeared in numerous acclaimed, sometimes award-winning shorts. There's the How to Live series with Rebecca Shorrocks, Battlecocks with Shorrocks and the aforementioned Toby Williams, and a brilliant sci-fi concept co-created with Williams: Timeholes. More on the latter below.
As for Taylor's onstage style, it's an eclectic mix of proper gags, gleeful flights of fancy and enjoyable awkwardness. But how did he get there? Let's find out.
Was there a particular moment that inspired you to get into comedy?
For years, comedy was a dream for me. I would listen to American albums like Steve Martin's Comedy Is Not Pretty and Steven Wright's I Have A Pony relentlessly, trying to work out why something was funny.
I loved stand-up, but I was a cripplingly shy and anxious guy with a strong instinct to conform. My parents would drill into me that I should get a qualification that you can earn a solid living from. No one I knew did anything even remotely like performing for a living. Comedy just wasn't an option.
Somewhere in my early 20s I was working as an IT consultant and I'd basically been living away from home in a hotel for a year doing a job that made me desperately sad. I despised the tie-obsessed corporate world, and I hated myself in it.
My girlfriend at the time, who I adored, quite rightly broke up with me because I just wasn't happy. I was devastated. However, looking back she did me a huge favour because it kickstarted the process of me shedding this misplaced identity of who I thought I was. Within six months I was travelling around Australia doing open spots.
What did you want to be originally - stand-up, actor, something else?
A stand-up. Secretly I would have loved to be an actor, but I had no acting training, or the guts to even admit to myself that I might be interested in acting. I knew that stand-up open mic gigs existed, and I didn't want to waste any more time, so comedy writing for stand-up seemed like something I could get going with straight away.
Did you hope to emulate anyone's career?
Starting out I was all about Mitch Hedberg, that guy was incredible. I wanted to write jokes how he did. Jokes that weren't just funny, they were inspired thinking, from a unique point of view. I also had a lot of Eddie Izzard work his way into my style. I saw him live for the first time in ages the other day and I love how much Eddie discovers on stage.
Also, whenever you bring up Eddie to bookers, they all have stories about how much he struggled when he first started out in comedy. Those kinds of stories make you feel better when you've just bombed because you did an impression of a sloth to silence for five minutes.
Has your style evolved over the years - how different were your early shows to the current ones?
When I started out, like many of my era, I was heavily influenced by Mitch Hedberg and Demitri Martin. My sets were short and punchy, with clearly defined punchlines. I cared very little for segues or themes and concentrated on the writing. Which is great to a point.
With that style you tend to get locked into the exact wording of the joke and unless the jokes are aimed inwards you reveal very little about yourself. After a few years I became hugely frustrated by the shortcomings of that style and started forcing myself to change.
Nowadays I would describe my current style as one-man sketch performed by a fool. I've pushed myself to be far more anti-perfectionist, I allow myself to play within my own material and find things on stage.
I like the way you almost commentate on your show while doing it - do you find the actual art of stand-up interesting?
I think my talking about my act on stage is linked to me pushing to be in the moment, but also, at its core I think it's a nervous thing.
Sometimes the reality of doing stand-up seems so absurd to me, I just want to laugh at it all because it's such a contrived scenario, having a person holding a mic trying to be funny, and I feel I have to break the façade by saying what I think the audience must be thinking.
If I'm honest, where I am right now, I wish I could be more like those comedians who just talk and style the whole 'stand-up' situation out. Was it Lenny Bruce who said "I'm not a comedian. I'm Lenny Bruce"? I'd love to be like that. I'd love to just walk on stage and say "Ok, this is me and this is what I have to say".
Did you have a goal in mind when putting together the special - were you always planning to do something different with it?
Yes, I feel when you're committing something to film like this there are no rules. It's released online so there's no required length for the piece to be, and it's not a live gig when people watch it so why not go more filmic and see what other things you can do with the format?
It's a bugbear of mine that so many comedians don't even think about what is possible. They seem happy to just capture a gig where they were funny in front of an audience, and that's it!
When I started thinking about what I wanted for Pick of the Litter, I knew I wanted it shot as much like [Zach Galifianakis' special] Live from the Purple Onion as I could get it. I wanted to capture that intimate gig feel and create something where the viewer felt like they were at the actual gig.
But I also wanted to make the stand-up itself fit into a larger filmic storyline. Which I think myself and the brilliant Frankie Lowe's filming team have achieved nicely.
Can you remember how those particular concepts came about - the police interview, the bored backstage guy, the end bit...?
It has mostly come together in stages, there was no grand plan. The ending was lifted from my Edinburgh show in 2016. It was a totally absurd and surprising way to end some stand-up, and it proved really successful with audiences.
The whole police interview idea was something we ended up filming last so that we had something to cut away from the gig to. I'm really pleased we did it because it helped to feed the end payoff really well and also enabled me to comment on my act from an entirely different person's point of view. I'm really thankful to the fantastic [filmmaker] Ben Mallaby, and Toby Williams, who helped to pull the idea together.
The backstage guy is Peter Grahame, he's nothing short of a legend in comedy and he's been running Downstairs at the Kings Head for more years than most people have been alive. Every time we see each other he has some new thinly-veiled insult about my act, which over time I've learnt is his way of showing affection.
I desperately wanted to have him in the film in some capacity. What he does in Pick of the Litter is exactly what he tells me he does every time I go onstage. I'm so pleased we captured it.
Did any ideas not make the cut?
Yes, there was a lot of material we had to cut out because I'd either messed it up in some way on the day of the performance, or we needed to remove it to keep the thing from being too long. We also had some ideas that just didn't work.
For example, the amazing Laura Lexx who dutifully plays my support act originally met a grizzly end - but what we shot didn't quite work when we got the footage into the edit. But she's gone on to brilliantly smash appearing on Live At The Apollo and pleasing the whole nation - so maybe it's a good thing we didn't kill her off after all?
I loved Timeholes - were there ever plans to do more with that concept?
Toby, Ben and I talked about making Timeholes a larger idea where we fully explored every angle of the concept. We did start the process, but quickly we got distracted by other projects. Time travel honestly scrambles your brain to write. Even with the most straightforward idea it all gets very complicated very quickly. Maybe we'll go back to it in the future? If I had a time hole I could go check if we do and come back to you?
You've a great line in the special - 'weird men doing weird stuff that has to stop' - ever been heckled right there...?
I've never knowingly been heckled at that point. But I have noticed that audiences sometimes shift awkwardly in their seats a little when I start to address the subject. Not that I really explore it in any detail, but the whole #MeToo movement has rightfully been a big deal over the past couple of years.
I suspect that if you are going to drag an audience into something you want to say about it, you better be saying something that they agree with, or it better be really funny.
But yes, I've had many weird audience reactions over the years. As a rule I find heckles are more useful than abject silence, at least with a heckle you have something to use. I try to view heckles as gifts and then incorporate them somehow into the show.
For example, last month some guy heckled me, asking me to sing a song, I assume because he was bored of my talking. So, I just sang the rest of my set, which pleased the people who wanted to keep hearing my act without the heckles, but also made the heckler suddenly start listening.
You're doing a new show, Odd Paul, at the Leicester Comedy Festival - is that another step in a new direction?
For Odd Paul my aim is to steer my comedic point of view over subjects that I really care about. Up until now, despite my best efforts, I've always been about just finding the funny. I'd like to keep that but reveal more about Paul somehow and give this thing I do more meaning.
I mean, I say that now; as to whether I'll manage it or not is another thing entirely. I'll probably just turn it into some big utterly absurd punchline.