Reasons for being “nice” by The Maydays, Ed Fargher
People like to say that I am a nice guy, or that I have an excessively positive outlook. Even when I was young. It would be the words I heard from every girl I fancied that didn’t fancy me back. “You’re so nice.” And it’s apparently carried over into adulthood. I once prepared to do a Battle Rap at The Miller on a show called Mic Drop. I was welcomed on stage by Lee Apsey as “the nicest guy in the world”. Even within The Maydays, I have been called a “pathological optimist”.
And I can totally see why people think of me that way. I do make a conscious effort to be kind to people if I can. I like to tell my friends that I appreciate them. And this extends into the improv world as well. I love to go up to people after a show or a workshop and tell them if something spoke to me in their scene, or if I found them funny. And I’m very comfortable with doing that with people, even if I don’t actually know them all that well.
I took an improv intensive recently with Emms Bevan that included a musical improv workshop with The Maydays’ own Joe Samuel. Emms revealed that she had always been discouraged from singing and that she was worried about her singing voice. Firstly, this deeply resonated because I experienced exactly the same thing growing up. Secondly, I thought it was bonkers that Emms felt this way because, after a few exercises, it became evident to me and everyone listening that she had a fantastic voice! So, though I can’t claim to know Emms all that well, I spoke to her in a break and said that I thought she had a great singing voice and had nothing to be ashamed or fearful of. It didn’t have anything to do with being “nice”. I was just being frank and honest to someone that I thought could benefit from hearing it.
But the funny thing is that it can give me pause when someone refers to me as “nice”. I don’t see myself as excessively nice or positive. I just give honesty the same importance when it comes to telling someone something positive as to when I feel someone needs to hear something negative. In fact, those that work closely with me (hopefully) know I actually value honesty over optimism, any day. If I’m asking you for feedback, I’m not looking for a compliment. I’m looking for learning points. Positive or negative.
Sometimes it can get in the way of celebrations where I should be letting my hair down. I need to be reined in from time to time, in fact. I worked with Lloydie on the Hang Out with The Maydays Podcast fairly intensively, so he might be uniquely positioned to have seen this side of me. Very often, after a recording, I would ask him what went well and what we could do better. To this day, he’s the only member of the Maydays to have sincerely told me, “Shut the f**k up, Ed. Enjoy the moment.”
So, I’m not always the optimist people think I am. And, if you allow a slight tangent, I LOVE that Lloydie said this to me. Frankly, I felt seen by it. It speaks to having gotten to know Lloydie better over the past couple of years that he knows he can be that blunt with me about my occasional lack of optimism. That, in itself, is just another way that honesty over optimism is great. But back to the ways in which I am not always the nice, pathological optimist people call me.
I, like a lot of people, find myself followed by dark clouds on certain days where there is no room for optimism at all. Sometimes for no reason, either. Not as bad as others, but enough to be a burden for days and sometimes weeks at a time. And in terms of being nice, I hate to break it to you, I can be mean, thoughtless, and cruel to people. Sometimes to people that don’t even deserve it. I’m sure we’ve all had these moments, and I carry the memory of mine with deep regret and a desire to learn from that regret. Because what’s the point of regret if not to learn from it?
Some of these regrets that inform me are not even regrets for things that I have done, but things I have not done. And in a past version of myself, I was far less inclined to tell people when I appreciated them. In certain particular cases, it has left me with a burdensome amount of regret. I have one such regret that I feel very keenly, that informs the way I interact with people in this way.
I went to a boarding school where I happened to make friends with some very talented people. Chart-topping musicians, actors that you might even recognise from the stage or screen, but if you had asked me at the time who was the most talented, it’s possible that I might have told you about one of my first roommates. I was fortunate enough to share my first dorm with a guy named Cosmo.
Cosmo was fiercely smart and hilariously funny. He was more politically aware than anyone else I knew, even at just 14 years old. To this day I don’t know that I have ever met a person with a more natural, razor-sharp wit or a greater ear for comic timing than Cosmo. When the UK had a general election in 2001, the school held a mock election where students represented various political parties and engaged in debate and the whole school voted for their preferred candidates. The Conservatives were represented, as were Labour and the Lib Dems. Cosmo, however, ran in that mock election as a member of the Freak Power party, Hunter S. Thompson’s satirical political movement with which he campaigned to become the mayor of Aspen, Colorado in 1970. Very few of us knew who Hunter S. Thompson was at that time, let alone read The Great Shark Hunt or had even heard of the Freak Power Party, but Cosmo campaigned fiercely on a ticket of the targeted culling of his adversaries. He then smeared other campaigns by accusing them of planning to do exactly the same thing. But not only that, he won the election and then revealed in a speech to the whole school that he had fooled us all and they were actually the Tory party all along. He was 15 years old. It was absolutely brilliant. He was a born comedian.
I like to think we were friends for our whole time together at boarding school. We shared dorms more than once, but we drifted apart as people so often do. A lot of his really close friends were in the year above us, and I noticed that when they left, Cosmo began to withdraw more and more from those of us from his own year. Ultimately, he and I lost touch after school. I went to University in Cornwall, and he went to King’s College London. And then one day I heard the news that Cosmo had taken his own life.
It crushed me. It crushed me more than I think I had a right to be crushed. I was not as close to Cosmo as even some of the others in our friend circle, but Cosmo was one of the brightest talents I had ever met. I thought he was destined to become the next great satirist. A stand-up perhaps? A journalist, maybe? I imagined him appearing on Have I Got News For You or writing for Private Eye. He would have been wonderful in that world. He could have been the next Hunter S. Thompson, for all we knew. To lose Cosmo was a loss for us all. I believe that right down to my bones.
But the reason why I mention Cosmo is that losing touch with him is one of my life’s greatest regrets. And not because I think I could have changed his mind or could have helped. I would have loved to have done that, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not about to flatter myself. He and I were not that close. I just wish I could have had five more minutes with Cosmo. I wish I could have taken the time to look him in the eye and say to him, “You are my friend. I love you. I enjoy your company, and I want to see you again.”
In other words, I wish I could have known the value of telling someone I appreciate them. And if I have anything to say about it, I won’t miss those opportunities much more in the future. I’m pretty sure I know a few people that find it slightly nauseating and maybe even a little cheesy to walk about telling people how great you think they are. But to me, it’s just not worth missing that opportunity. I’ve even lost friends since Cosmo died where I didn’t take the time to say this to them, and those regrets sit with me as well. This is a bleak thing to say in a comedy blog, but death makes for startling punctuation in a friendship. We don’t know when it will happen, so I want to make sure people know how much they mean to me before we part for good.
And it’s not worth underestimating the effect self-expression can have. After our conversation at that intensive, Emms posted on Instagram that she had done something that terrified her and auditioned for a production of the musical, Evita. She was proud of herself for doing so (I am too, by the way) and I was deeply honoured when I read in this post that, among other helpful people, she named me in thanks for telling her that she could sing and that she found it very helpful in the audition.
I mention this with no intention to do any virtue signalling, humble-bragging or take any credit at all for Emms’ bravery and ability. I am, of course, immensely proud to have been included at all in her thoughts, but I mention this only to demonstrate the virtue of honest expressions of appreciation can have on the people you express it to. For me, expressing these things to people is only ever meant with respect and affection. And I don’t care who you are, it’s nice to know that someone sees value in you or the things you do. Maybe it’s what the other person needs to hear to keep their spirits up or to believe in themselves.
That’s all the justification I need, but it also pays off for the self. The person you are complimenting might not even need to hear it or even want to hear it. Maybe the reason I do this is that I need to say it more than they need to hear it. I think it’s something I need to say to people I appreciate. It might be something that means, even If I never see this person again, they know how I feel about them. This actually makes it less “nice” and more self-indulgent. I’m indulging in my own imperative brought about by the grief of losing my friends before I found the courage, to be honest, and frank with them about how much I appreciated their company. I would rather these things be said explicitly at the risk of awkward blushes than the crushing regret of that unexpressed appreciation. I hate the idea that we might be permanently parted without knowing that I appreciate you. And there is so much joy in being in the presence of people that appreciate you and know that you appreciate them. That’s an ideal friendship, to me.
So, if I’m speaking to you in that way, take comfort in that for your sake and mine, I mean it with absolute sincerity. Honesty over optimism. And if it’s both honest and positive, why would I keep that to myself? Maybe you are just awesome.
by Ed Fargher