If I asked you to take stuff out of a bag that you’d never seen before or even knew how many things were inside, could you do this is in an exact time? A 2 minute 47 second beat to be specific. Then, if we asked you to describe each product you found and still hit the time just right. What if we asked every line to rhyme and follow the rise and fall of the music? Sounds near-on impossible, right?
Chris Turner is a British comedian and freestyle rapper who we met after his talk and performance at WIRED 2016; perhaps a likely combination for man whose forte is wordplay. Like most comedians, Chris is humble to a fault - classic self-depreciation articulated with a wide vocabulary and quintessential British accent. A broad range of language will only get you so far, a very broad range of knowledge – strange facts and talking points – make the difference between good and great performers.
On stage, though, you can see the jubilation of a man continuously getting it right - loving the moment to enjoy and excel in his art.
"This isn’t going to be as atrocious as you expect from a 26 year-old, middle class white boy” he starts with, but 4 minutes later Chris has just put Haribo, Biodiversity, the Poll Tax and One Direction into a succinct story, perfectly to beat. The crowd go mad.
Everyone sucks at first
After Oxford, Chris pushed to follow his calling and after 6 months got his first paid work.
If you watch his first shows, the routine is a different story all together. Dead-pan one-liners, totally unlike the energetic guy I always meet: “the truth is that you will suck for a really long time - it’s the same with any art”.
Chris constantly takes the mick out of himself (and me, for that matter) but always finishes with words of wisdom. “No comedian thinks they’re good, that’s how they actually get good”.
Any young men and women starting their careers can probably relate to this. The examples ahead of us are quite often presented out of context, we don’t see the years of work that led to today’s success. Chris quotes Ira Glass's 'taste-gap', that we do what we do because we love it, but - looking far, far ahead of ourselves - get frustrated while we're still in the amateur phase. We know where we want to go, and have to endure the creative struggle to get there.
“Self-awareness is knowing you can always be better”
Practice, and more practice, means that Chris can begin and end a coherent rap-cum-story at the click of his fingers. He started by thinking one bar ahead, then two bars, until the only place to go was back a step to be present with each line.
The freestyle rap sets Chris apart from others, and is perhaps the part I’m most interested in. “I know all those words, all I’m doing is accessing them” says Chris, describing the feeling of living constantly in the space between the end of one bar and the beginning of the next.
“You let yourself panic, there’s always an element of disaster”. Live music, theatre or any performance has this element of truth in it, the special component that the audience can feel makes live art so unique and memorable.
Chris suggests that adrenaline keeps people going on stage, but that this must be ‘accessed’ with comfort. Comfort only comes with experience, and once the fear has been broken we can exist in that space between deadlines, between projects, jobs or even bars in a rap – and use the moment to be as great as possible.