The week after my last spot at Beat the Blackout I did another one at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion, which was back for a one-off trial at its old venue at The Rocksteady in Dalston.
Comedy Explosion is a good old fashioned bar-show, which means Sam hijacks a section of a public bar for a night and runs an open mic for the benefit of whoever’s in the place. So as well as the usual crowd of acts and their friends, you get a random audience of punters who are in the bar and didn’t flee at the first mention of “free comedy”.
It was a fun night, with everybody in celebratory mood and happy to be back on the mic, and it was good to bump into a few old faces, as well as Sam himself. I ran through the same set as I did the week before, as I’m nowhere near ready to try new material – at this stage I’m just trying to get back into the swing of performing tried and tested stuff.
I’m not sure if the Comedy Explosion is going to be running regularly again in the near future, but I hope it does because London needs more non-bringer open mics.
That week I also went along to Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish, to support a friend who was doing a spot there (she won the clap-off!) Even with social distancing restrictions they’re managing to run a decent night. The bar area is closed but the garden is set up with outside seating and gazebos/tents to keep the rain off, and the theatre has fewer seats to allow for more space between people while they’re watching the show.
Obviously it felt a bit different to the old days when the room used to be packed to the rafters, but all the same there were enough people in for it to feel like a nice lively night. As I’m writing this it sounds like the government is going to lift all restrictions later in July, so maybe we’ll see places like the Cav return to business as usual pretty soon.
This week I spent a little time updating the open-mic listings page, and it looks like a few more nights are starting up again, although I imagine they’re all massively over-subscribed, so good luck getting spots. I expect a lot more will start up again soon now that the restrictions are being lifted. I know that We Are Funny is probably going to start again around autumn.
So it looks like the scene is starting to recover, but live spots are still likely to be hard to book for another month or two.
Apart from my car crash effort at a South Coast Comedian of the Year heat in September, I haven’t done any standup spots since March 2020. So when I entered Beat the Blackout at Up The Creek in Greenwich this week, it’s fair to say I wasn’t feeling entirely confident, given that I was a year out of practice, the whole world had changed in that time, and I had no idea what the mood in the room was going to be.
First things first – even though social distancing is still in place, Up the Creek put on a decent night. Chairs and tables were spread further apart than usual, so fewer people were in the room, but it still felt lively in there. Who knows how things will unfold over the rest of the year, but if clubs have to run like this for the near future, they’ve shown it’s still possible to run a good comedy night under restricted circumstances.
Beat the Blackout is the club’s weekly gong show. Up to 15 acts get five minutes of stage-time each, and after a two minute grace period members of the audience are allowed to vote you off by holding up red-cards. Three red cards and you’re off. If you survive five minutes, you’ve beaten the blackout.
I did a spot there once in the before-times and made it to about 4 minutes before my racist-baby bit earned me an instant dismissal. It’s a good night, but not ideal for a comeback after over a year off.
My plan for the show was to dust off some of my safest, most tried and tested material, try my best to commit five minutes of it to memory and just play it safe; get back into the swing of it before I start trying to be clever with new material.
I think I did a decent job of memorising a set in the days before the gig, and I spent the hour-long drive to the club just repeating it over and over again to myself. But I still had a few keyword prompts written on my hand, in case I stumbled under pressure.
When I got there it was great to see some old faces, Hubert Mayr, Harry Wright, Michael May – plus Alexandra Haddow, who I’d never met in person but sort of know a bit through social media. There were a few other recognisable faces, whose names have escaped me (sorry!) and an act I’d never met before introduced himself as a reader of the blog (Hussain Olad, I think? Sorry if I got your name wrong!)
So, good vibes all round in the green room, but I started getting really bad nerves – worse than any show I’ve ever done before. Not sure why. I felt comfortable with my material, and I knew it had all worked in the past. I kept doing breathing exercises to calm myself down, and once I’d got control of myself again I’d run through my set in my mind, just to reassure myself I could remember it all.
I went through that process a few times, and was feeling okayish when the show started, but as the host (Michael Legge) went up to announce me (as the final act of the first half) I felt a sudden, strong wave of panic and I swear to god I’ve never been so close to just quitting there and then on the spot. I was a heartbeat away from walking out of the club.
Up until that point all of the acts had been solid and nobody got voted off. I think I’d convinced myself that I wasn’t up to the job, my nerves would show through, and I’d be the only one the audience hated.
But I managed to keep it together long enough for my legs to carry me up to the stage. I have a bad habit of making last minute changes to my set – throwing in new bits that I think will be funny, even though they’re not tested. This time I used a lot of self-discipline to resist that – stick with the plan, stick with the material you trust.
That said… I knew my opener was a bit long winded before it hits the punchline, and it wouldn’t be too much of a problem because of the two-minute grace period but, all the same, it would be nice to have something that could get a really quick laugh so I could start on the front foot.
So I took a gamble, and while I was taking the mic out of the stand I made an off the cuff one-liner addressing something that had been happening in the room all night. Thank fuck it worked – it got a decent laugh, and it was kind of nasty so it set the tone for the rest of my set. That’s the holy grail of openers – quickly show them you’re funny, and give them an idea of who you are.
Once that ripple of laughter started to spread across the room, my nerves evaporated, and I launched into my prepared material. I got into a nice flow, every punchline landed, and it magically felt like I was delivering my stuff in the relaxed, conversation style that I’ve always wanted, instead of woodenly regurgitating a script. I don’t have a video, so I don’t know if that’s what really happened, but that’s how it felt.
Although I didn’t run any new material, I was able to change a few of my setups slightly to tie them into lockdown/covid, so they felt fresher than they really were, but the punchlines were all the same. Again, I’m not sure if this is how it really played out, but in my mind it feels like I didn’t waffle as much as I used to – kept the bits tight, without rambling on unnecessarily. I think I had to look at my hand just once to get a prompt.
The stage lights were bright so I couldn’t see much of the room, and it was hard to tell if anybody held up a card, but it turns out they didn’t. About three quarters of the way through my set the music blared to let me know I’d beaten the clock – and the timing was perfect as I’d just finished delivering a bit that got a decent laugh. It caught me by surprise, so I probably wandered off stage looking a bit dazed and confused.
Despite spending the first half of it in terror, it turned out to be a fantastic night – I had a great time, all of the acts were on fire, seeing some old faces made me really happy, and holy fuck just being in a comedy club full of people enjoying themselves felt so good.
I don’t know where we go from here. I’m doing Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion at the Rocksteady in Dalston next Thursday night (June 10th) but don’t have anything else booked – there still aren’t many nights to get spots.
I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to come back to standup after the past year. Whether I’d still be able to do it, or even if the scene would recover – but I’m feeling very positive now.
In this context “going well” means people showing up and spending money at the bar – so if you want to help one of the stalwarts of the London open mic scene get going again, come along, watch the show, and buy a drink or three.
The economics of open mics are pretty basic – venues let people like Sam run shows if it brings in significantly more paying customers than would otherwise show up on that night, so the best way to keep the scene going is to support places like the Rocksteady.
I’ll be doing a five spot at the gig, but mostly I’ll be drinking – come and join us.
It looks like clubs are getting ready to open again. This week I got an email from Beat the Blackout in Greenwich to let me know they were starting to book spots for their Thursday night gong-show, starting on May 27th and I was able to grab one for myself on June 3rd.
Hopefully I’ll be able to find some other spots before then, but at this stage who knows how things are going to unfold. If my first return to open mics after a year off has to be a gong show then, fine, I’ll take it. I’ve done the Blackout once before, and had a good time.
I’ve been thinking about where things go from here and whether I even want to keep trying to do standup, and I’ve reached the conclusion that this is a golden opportunity give it a second shot with the benefit of some prior experience and an enforced break to spend some time reflecting on it all.
My main failing the first time around, I think, was that I never really practiced my material enough, so I was always dependent on having notes scribbled on the back of my hand. If I had a shit gig, not being able to remember my stuff was usually a contributing factor.
There are a couple of reasons for that.
I’m a lazy piece of shit
It was hard to find the time and energy to practice, given that most days I was travelling an hour and half each way to work on the other side of London
Right now it looks like I’m going to be working at home permanently, so I’ve got no excuse for not finding the time to rehearse material and get it locked into my brain.
Another part of this is that, because I was spending most weekdays out of the house from 7am to 7pm, I could only really gig once a week, otherwise my wife and kids would never see me. With such limited stage time, it was hard enough just to work on my main set, never mind trying out new stuff. But now I’m home all the time, so doing two or three gigs most weeks feels like a much more realistic proposition.
At this stage it’s all pie in the sky – we don’t know for sure whether standup is going to bounce back from covid, which clubs will re-open at all, what the open mic scene will look like. But being optimistic, and assuming it all kicks off again later this year, I’m up for taking another run at it, and trying harder this time round.
I know it’s been a while since I updated, and that’s because I really haven’t had much to write about. The only gig I’ve done in the past 12 months was a disasterous appearance in the South Coast Comedian of the Year competition around August.
I was supposed to do this much earlier in 2020, but obviously things took a turn and that got postponed. I expected it to be cancelled entirely under the circumstances, but later in the year there was enough of an easing of lockdown restrictions that the organisers were able to reschedule the show.
I made the trip to a local theatre near Portsmouth for my heat out of a sense of obligation more than anything else. I was six months out of practice and not feeling at all good about it, so I didn’t arrive in the best frame of mind, and to make matters worse I drew the short straw to go on first, after the MC made a futile attempt to warm up the audience.
Social distancing restrictions were in place, so the meagre (10-15 people) audience was completely spread out across the theatre, instead of bunched up in the front, and they were all wearing facemasks. Worse still, because I was so out of practice I’d put a set-list on a stool, but I was worried about not being able to see it, so I wore my glasses on stage for the first time ever, and what I didn’t realise is that stage-lights + spectacles = complete blindness.
So, I could barely see the audience at all and when I did manage to squint over my glasses all I could see was two or three people on the front couple of rows – everything else was lost in the glare.
I stumbled through my set, a few new bits I’d written about lockdown, which got absolutely nothing, before dusting off a few of my old bankers to fill the rest of the time. It was horrible. For most of the set I got nothing out of the audience, except for one bloke who was occasionally laughing at some of my older stuff – but I couldn’t see him, so there was no way for me to try and build more of a connection with him and hopefully get some more people on board.
It felt exactly like being a complete newbie again. Once I’d got through my set I shuffled backstage and hung out with the rest of the acts in the green-room for the rest of the show. From there it was hard to hear what was happening on stage, but I know the first few acts who followed me also struggled, which made me feel a bit better about dying horribly myself.
Other than the mighty Louise Bastock they were mostly local acts who I didn’t know from the London scene, but it was a nice gang and it just felt good to be talking to other acts after so long away from stand-up. It was worth the drive just for that, but it did make me realise I wasn’t interested in doing any more spots until things get back to a point where we can have real audiences full of drunk people again.
So since then I’ve done nothing and not even thought about comedy much, until recently with the looming prospect of gigs starting again.
The main question on my mind is, do I even want to start again? Before all this happened I felt like I was just starting to make a bit of progress, but after 18+ months away, going back to standup is going to be like starting from scratch all over again and I’m not sure I’ve got the emotional strength for that.
There’s also a general feeling of lethargy that I need to overcome. I used to go to gigs straight from where I work in Shoreditch, but now I’m working at home full time near Epsom, and that’s unlikely to change, which means I’d have to make the journey into London specifically for gigs. That feels like a stretch, but I’ll probably get over it.
One positive is that because I’m at home so much now, it would be less of a problem for me to do two or three gigs most weeks. I couldn’t do that when I was working in Shoreditch because my wife and kids would never see me, so I only did one spot a week – and I always felt like that was a major barrier to being able to progress (apart from my general mediocrity).
I know it’s kind of premature to be thinking about this stuff, since real gigs are probably not going to happen until autumn at the earliest, but I just wanted to write this stuff down to help me figure out how I feel about it all.
On balance I think I owe it to myself to give standup another shot, if I can. The reason I got started was becuase I didn’t want to go to my grave wondering what might have happened if I gave it a go, and it seems a shame to just let go of that.
Well this is all a bit of a bollocks, isn’t it? I was just starting to feel like I was making a bit of progress in standup and then the whole thing got shut down.
I shouldn’t complain. I have a day job which, for now, seems fairly stable even under lockdown, so I don’t have to worry about paying my bills. Others aren’t so lucky, I know a few pro/semi-pro acts who rely on live comedy to keep a roof over their heads. You might know a few yourself so, if you’re in a position to help out, support them where you can, buy merch, donate to their fundraisers, whatever you can.
Also, stay in touch with people. I know a lot of standup comedians tend to have varying degrees of mental health problems and the current situation won’t be good for them at all; a call or a message can make all the difference. I’m doing fine myself, but it’s still been great to chat when a few people I know from comedy have checked in with me.
I’m not doing any virtual shows, making online content, or even just writing during all of this. I’ve got three kids at home with me and a day-job to hold down, which means I’ve got no free mental bandwidth for anything like that, getting through the day is exhausting enough. For now I’m just keeping my head down and trying to get through this as best I can.
I hope you’re all holding it together. Stay strong, we’ll all be back performing our weak material in half empty rooms before you know it!
I’m in a busy period at work this month, and for another
couple of weeks, so apologies if things are a bit quiet round here. The only biggish
thing that’s happened recently is I got another shot at MCing We Are Funny
Project much earlier than expected, because this week they had to shuffle some
things around at the last minute so I took the reins on Monday night.
I wasn’t supposed to MC again until April, so I hadn’t
mentally prepared myself for it, but under the circumstances I thought that even
if I did a less than ideal job it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
The thing about MCing somebody else’s night is that there’s quite
a bit of setup and admin that you need to deal with; getting the venue set up,
checking in the acts, organising the running order, dealing with cash, etc. The
upshot of this is that you don’t really get to sit around trying to get in
the zone before you go on stage – you’re dealing with logistics, and then
you need to be ready to go on all of a sudden.
So, this time around I didn’t do a stellar job of all the
house-keeping stuff that an MC is supposed to do at the start of the night –
how the night’s going to work, when the breaks are, what time we finish, etc. I
think I just about covered the basics before doing a few minutes of material to
warm the audience up. I didn’t even do the rudimentary crowd-work that’s
required of MCs.
In the end, none of that really mattered because for a
change there were pretty much no dropouts, so we had a lot of acts to get
through and by keeping my waffling to a minimum we were able to make sure that
the whole night ran to time. It helped that every single one of the acts was
great – even a first-timer (Walter Thomas) smashed it – which meant that I
never really needed to bring the energy back up after a bomb.
Was it the smoothest display of MCing prowess in the history
of open mic comedy? No, but the energy was great and everybody had a good time.
Every now and then I did a quick bit of material in between acts, when I could think
of something to build on what they’d talked about, but that was more out of a
sense of obligation than anything else.
At the start of the second half I did a couple of minutes of
the new stuff I’ve been working on, and that seemed to go pretty well. Depressingly,
however, the biggest laugh I got all night was when I tried to discretely wave
my phone to give an act the light, but it slipped out of my hand and went
flying into the audience.
The headliner was Gerry Bakewell, who was always
going to finish the night in style – and I was really pleased that he threw in
a few shots at me, call-backs to bits of my material from earlier in the night.
So, I didn’t really do much actual MCing in the end,
just calling up a long list of great acts, with occasional bits of my own material
thrown in for good measure, and in the end it all worked out fine.
Other than that, I’ve been focusing a lot on writing recently. Now that I’m at a point where I can comfortably trot out five minutes of safe, reliable material, I’m trying to move away from all the jokes about parenting I’ve been relying on. I never really wanted to do so much material about parenting, but inevitably, since it’s such a big part of my life right now, that’s where most of the inspiration came from and it also seems to be the stuff that worked best for me.
But I’m moving on from that now – I want to cover more interesting topics, and put together a strong ten minutes, so that’s my focus for the rest of this year.
Hello darlinks – I know it’s been a while since I updated
here, so I’ll try to remember the biggest things that have happened over the
past couple of months.
First up, I’ll be getting a little more involved in We Are
Funny Project on Monday nights at The Jago in Dalston. Alfie, the guy who set
up the night up years ago, is trying to focus on some other stuff and has got a
new team to manage the show in his absence, and I’m happy to be a more regular
fixture alongside the rest of the crew. I’m going to MC there semi-regularly,
and generally be an extra pair of hands on deck.
If you’ve not been to a WAFP show for a while I’d recommend checking it out again because the show has evolved a bit since moving to the new venue and the new team getting stuck in.
Max Turner Prize 2020
I have mixed feelings about doing competitions because I know that I’m not really the kind of act that typically does well in them, but they’re always fun to enter because you’re usually guaranteed a decent audience compared to a typical open mic night. So if you just treat it as any other gig, and don’t focus on the competitive element, they can be great.
The Max Turner Prize at Comedy Virgins is an annual favourite
– the venue’s easy for me to get home from at the end of the show, it’s a nice
place where I always bump into some friendly faces, and the vibe is just
I did my first heat towards the end of January and was happy with my set – a mix of newer stuff that’s been working well and nuggets of old gold. I delivered it well, the audience went along with it, I even threw in a bit of off-the-cuff crowd work which went OK, so I walked off the stage feeling like I’d given it a good shot.
But I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get through to the next round because every single act was fantastic. I kind of miss the time when I could go to any open mic night and at least a third of the acts would be terrible, it was good for my ego, but these days everybody seems so much better than a couple of years ago. It was a good night, but my war was over.
Until the next morning, when I got a message telling me I’d been put through to the next round as an MC’s wildcard choice by Twix who is a QUEEN AND A LEGEND AND MY EVERYTHING.
Unfortunately I let her down by completely flubbing my second round performance. I had a good set that I’ve performed a lot recently, so it was fresh in my mind and I knew it was working well, but I did a few things wrong.
I tried to change too many things too late in the day. I already had a half-baked idea to throw in a topical bit about something in the news that day, but hadn’t really thought it through or practiced it properly. Also, I bumped into an act I knew in the bar before the show and had a mild panic that one of my newer bits might be too similar to some stuff I’d seen her do before. Not wanting to risk stitching her up if I went up before her, I did a quick mental re-hash of the bit to make sure it absolutely couldn’t be interpreted as being too similar to her material.
For my bringer I dragged along an old school-mate, so I was kind of obliged to have a beer and a chat with him before the show, which meant that I wasn’t focusing on getting my set right in my head before I went up.
I volunteered to go up first, knowing I was unlikely to go through to the next round I didn’t mind taking the bullet – but it also gave me less time to work out my plan.
In the end I completely shat the bed. I wasn’t as smooth as I’d been at other gigs recently, including the previous heat, I tripped over my words, fluffed the new bits, and once things started to go wrong panic set in and, instead of delivering the decent material I’ve been using recently, I regurgitated a bunch of older stuff that only really won me a few stilted laughs.
I felt annoyed with myself more than anything else – mostly because I knew quite a few of the acts in the room and it felt bad to do such a crappy job in front of my peers. For the past couple of months I really felt like I’d been stepping up a level, so to put in a performance that I would have been embarrassed by even two years ago dragged me right back down to earth with a bump.
But onwards and upwards. Now that I’m at a point where I
have 5-10 minutes of mostly good stuff that I can (usually) make work, I’m
focusing on building it into a rock-solid 10 minutes (with some backup material
in the bag). Last night I was back at WAFP, and I threw in a couple of minutes
of new material about my relationship with my dad, which is an area I’ve been
wanting to dig into for a while because it’s a bit of a goldmine. It went well
for a first outing, and I got good feedback, which I was pleased by because I
completely forgot to deliver the main punchline to the new bit, so there’s definitely
something to work with there.
One of my goals for this year, other than doing more MCing, is
to spread my wings a bit further and do some spots outside of London. I live
near Epsom, so getting out into Surrey and Sussex is easy for me, and there are
a bunch of places out there where I can get spots, so I’m starting this week at
Stand Up Horsham.
I did a spot at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion this week; it also happened to be Sam’s birthday, so the mood was high, everybody was drinking more than usual (I was, at any rate) and all in all it was much more fun than a Monday night has any right to be.
As we’re sliding toward the end of the year I’ve been
thinking a lot about what my next steps should be. I’ve spent most of this year
grinding out variations of the same five minute set to try and get it as strong
as possible, and that’s been at the expense of both new material, and other
stuff that I’ve written.
Doing the We Are Funny Project challenge show the other week
really reminded me what I got into this for – I never wanted to churn out jokes
about being a dad every gig, that was only ever supposed to be my easy, safe
material to fall back on when I need it. So I’ve decided to shelve that set for
now, and focus on putting together another strong five minutes.
For this week’s spot I threw together a mix of stuff I used
for the challenge show last week, a couple of old bits of sleaze and filth that
I haven’t used since last year, a bit from the set I’ve been doing this year,
and one completely new bit.
As it happened Ginnia Cheng, who I’ve known
for a couple of years, was up before me and when she spotted me in the crowd
she decided to include me in a bit of crowd-work. This was a solid gold gift, because
I opened with a half-decent call-back to the interaction which got a good
laugh. Unfortunately, it was one of the worst lines I’ve ever said on stage and
not the kind of thing you can safely repeat outside the context of a comedy
night, so it’s lost to the ages.
Still, the point is that one of the most common bits of
advice people give newbie stand-ups is to “be present in the room” and I think this
is exactly what they’re talking about. Pay attention to the room, to the other
acts, to the audience, and think about how you can use any of it because, even
if you come up with something mediocre, it will often get just as good a laugh
as any of your polished material. Audiences love it when they see you thinking
on your feet.
The rest of the set went well, it was all material I’ve done
plenty of times before so I felt comfortable delivering it, and they were some
of my best bits from the past couple of years so they all landed nicely. Except
the brand new bit, which got absolutely nothing. This surprised me because I thought
it was pretty good, but it didn’t even get a murmur of disapproval, just stone
cold silence like they were still waiting for the punchline. I didn’t record
the set so I don’t know if I screwed the bit up or something, but I’ll try it
again a couple of times before I write it off.
I haven’t got any spots booked for the rest of the year,
because it’s all a bit complicated planning things around various end of year
piss-ups, but I’ll be trying to grab at least a couple more walk-in spots before
This week I
did one of the We Are Funny Project challenge shows, which involves writing and
performing a completely new five minute set based on a topic that they give
you. Under normal circumstances that would be the full story, but there was a
bit more to it this time because the theme was “things going wrong at work”.
this topic was chosen is that Alfie, who runs WAFP, has recently set up a new
business selling standup comedy skills workshops for business, and he wanted
some video clips of comedians doing relatable workplace material that could be
used to promote the business on LinkedIn. This meant that the night was being
professionally filmed, and the stakes were a little higher because I knew he
wanted to get some usable clips, so I had to aim for at least two or three of
my bits to work pretty well, and I had to keep the material reasonably work-safe.
about this gig for a while so I put some effort into writing some workplace
related material, but I’d only had a couple of opportunities to try the stuff out
beforehand and it was all still very rough. I had some idea of which bits I
could rely on to work, but most of the set was still an unknown quantity and
its success would really depend on the energy in the room.
problem was that I hadn’t practiced the material well enough to remember the
running order, so I went on stage with a set-list scribbled on the back of my
started well enough, I opened with a bit that had worked both times I tried it
before, and I’d remembered at least the first few bits of material, so for the
first couple of minutes I was able to deliver it all with confidence. But then
I started to stumble a little – the mic cable was loose and I had to pause to
figure out what the problem was, which put me on the back foot, and once I
started having to check my set list after every bit it all started to feel very
clunky and awkward. During one bit I tripped over my tongue and said “shat down”
instead of “sat down” which got a much bigger laugh than the actual punchline,
and probably the rest of my entire set.
like a lot of it just wasn’t working very well and when I left the stage I was
really unhappy with my performance. After having such a great time MCing there
a week earlier, it felt like a massive crash back down to earth.
I tried not
to beat myself up too badly – it was a completely new five minutes of largely
untested material, so it was never going to be amazing, and the whole point of
the exercise was for Alfie to get one or two usable clips of bits landing well,
which I think I accomplished.
I went up towards
the end of the first half, and in the break a few people told me that they
thought I did pretty well, but I respectfully disagree. I’m looking forward to
getting hold of the video at some point so I can objectively assess how it
On the plus
side, it felt great to put together so much completely new material after
spending so much of this year just trying to polish the same old stuff. I feel
like I’ve probably got at least a minute or two of good stuff out of it, and I
think for the immediate future I’m going to focus on building that up into a
strong five that stands on its own.
That said, other
than next Monday at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion, I’ve currently got no other
spots booked for the rest of the year, so I need to get on that…