Open Mic Spot #4 – Comedy Virgins at The Cavendish Arms

After getting no stage time last week I was determined to get a spot this week, but the only problem was that due to other commitments I only had Wednesday night available, which meant that I had to try again for a walk-in at The Cavendish. Fortunately I got there early enough and managed to get a spot.

This gave my heart a boner because I’ve wanted to do a spot there since first visiting the place a few weeks ago. It’s a really nice place to do open mics because it feels like a “real” comedy club, with a decent stage and PA system, polished MCs, and it always seems reasonably full, even on a Wednesday. It felt like I was performing for a real audience, rather than a roomful of other acts, for the first time since the showcase night.

The MC was Cavendish stalwart and BBC New Comedy Award 2017 finalist, Sikisa (Twix), who did a great job keeping the energy up throughout the night. To be fair, I think she had an easy job last night because all of the acts were strong, which was a little intimidating. There wasn’t a single act that I could confidently say I was better than – if anything the night just made me realise how unpolished I still am.

A couple of acts really stood out. There was a guy (can’t remember his name) whose entire set consisted of a rambling story about him discussing the benefits of Amazon Alexa with Bruce Wayne. It was really inventive, well delivered, and took a lot of confidence to get the audience to buy into some of the more off-the-wall bits.

Another highlight was Sir Cedric, a gangly bloke with a big beard and wig, wearing an outfit that looked like your school PE kit, who delivered his set in character as an over the top thespian type. The entire routine was based on the premise that the audience’s welcoming applause must have been insincere because it was “Sir Cedric’s first try” and none of us knew if he’d be any good – for five minutes, and it worked. Again, I’m envious of the guy’s creativity.

The running order is picked randomly at Comedy Virgins, and I ended up as the third act of the night. My main priority was to practice the five minute set I’ve been working on and try to deliver as much as possible without using my set-list – I got about halfway in before I needed to pull it out of my back pocket. It feels like it’s coming together and my guess is I’ll need another couple of spots before I can ditch the set-list entirely.

I felt like the spot went well and I got some decent laughs. But last night was the first time I was recorded, and watching the video back in the cold light of day made me realise that there were quite a few bits that didn’t really get as much of a response from the crowd as I’d thought when I was on stage.

I’m not too worried about this, it’s only my fourth mic and some of the stuff definitely worked well – I need to memorise it all and experiment with my delivery before I start cutting material. That said, I’m already getting bored of my set and am itching to try out new stuff, but I need to be disciplined and stick to the plan – memorise five minutes of usable material that I can always fall back on if things go off the rails, and then start playing around with new ideas once I’ve built that safety net.

Next week I’ve got a spot booked at Funny Feckers in Camden on Thursday 20th, and I’m planning to do another night earlier in the week to get some more practice.

No shows this week, sad times

A disappointing week. I wasn’t feeling it on Tuesday night so I skipped my planned visit to the Lion’s Den, since I was going to try for a walk-in spot at Comedy Virgins on Wednesday and felt confident of arriving early enough to get on.

But despite getting to the Cavendish pretty early, and the place being seemingly still empty, all five of the walk-in spots had already been taken. Still, I had a few friends coming along so we stuck around to watch the show – and they do pretty good pizza in there too.

The highlight of the evening was a completely shitfaced guy who started his “act” by fumbling with his phone for a minute to find the right song, which he then played through the mic for a moment before karate kicking the mic stand across the stage. At this point the MC kicked him off the stage and out of the club – a first in the club’s history, apparently.

Other than that it was the usual mixed bag of talent and train-wrecks. It was disappointing not to get a spot, but it’s always good to check out what other people are doing – but it does mean I didn’t get any stage time at all this week. Next week will be tricky because of holidays, and the only night I have free is Wednesday, so I’ll probably take another shot at Comedy Virgins but get there earlier.

I’ve got a spot booked at CV later in September, but I’d like to get a walk-in earlier if possible. So far I feel like I’ve only done spots in half-empty rooms and CV feels like a much better club, so I’m keen to get on stage there as soon as I can.

Feeling a little frustrated – I’ve got a lot of material I want to try out and going a whole week without doing any spots feels bad. Annoyed at myself for skipping out on the Lion’s Den on Tuesday when I should be grabbing whatever stage time I can get.

 

 

 

Open mic spot #3 – Instant Laughs at the Grove, Hammersmith

This week I’d planned to return to Lion’s Den on Tuesday and try to get a walk-in spot at the Cavendish Arms, but it turns out that the Cav was running its summer competition so the latter wasn’t possible. On Tuesday morning I noticed that Instant Laughs had a few walk-in spots available at its Hammersmith venue so I decided to try something new instead of a third night at the Lion’s Den.

A couple of comedy-buddies from the course came along for moral support (although as best I can tell it’s not a bringer night) and one of them got a spot himself too. I met one of the other acts in the bar before the show, he saw me scribbling down my set list and introduced himself. We had a bit of a chat about the circuit and he shared some useful tips about which nights to visit and which Facebook groups are worth joining.

The night was friendly, but very quiet. There were about 10 acts, and a small handful of audience members who drifted in and out over the course of the evening. I went up about halfway through the night and did my core five minute set, despite the strong temptation to try out some new material, because I’m determined to memorise my best five minutes of material so that I don’t need to keep glancing at my set-list.

I have no problems remembering the content of my jokes, I just forget which ones I’m supposed to be doing next, but I’m hoping to fix that after a few more spots. Once I’ve got five minutes of stuff that I can reliably reel off without notes I’ll feel more comfortable about throwing in new bits.

The spot went about as well as I could hope for in an almost dead room – got a few chuckles from some of my best bits, although a couple of others bombed. The set list I used was pretty much perfectly timed for five minutes, so I think I’ll stick to that for the next few weeks and only change it if there are bits that obviously don’t work.

I had a chat with Marvin, the guy who runs Instant Laughs, as well as some of the other acts (including Mike Lash, who I’d seen a few weeks previously at Funny Feckers) and they were all very friendly. My, admittedly limited, experience of the open mic scene in London so far is that it’s warm  and supportive, which wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, so it’s been a nice surprise.

That said, I kind of want to do at least one fucking awful night sometime soon, just so I don’t get lulled into a false sense of security and get some experience of dealing with bombing, hecklers and all the rest of it.

A night at the Cavendish

Last night I went to the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell, which runs an open mic night called Comedy Virgins three days a week and seems to be one of the most popular nights in London. I was there supporting my friend Pauline (who’s already looking very polished after just a few spots), and to get a feel for the place before trying to get a spot there myself.

It’s a bringer night, which makes for a very different atmosphere to somewhere like Lion’s Den because at least half of the audience are not performers. The down-side is that you need to find somebody to come with you if you want to perform, whereas to get on stage at the Lion’s Den you just have to show up on time.

As well has having a proper comedy club, The Cavendish is a pretty nice pub too, so it’s a comfortable place to hang out for an hour or two before the show starts. It’s also reasonably convenient for me to get home from, so with three open mic nights a week it’s going to be a good place for me.

I don’t know whether it was just a good night, or if it’s always like this, but the quality of all the acts was good. Even people who were doing their first of second spots seemed strong – it almost made me a little nervous about going on there myself because I’m not sure if I’m up to the same standard just yet. I think I’ll try to get a walk-in spot next week and see how it goes.

As the night progressed we all got chatting to various people and it transpired that a few remembered Pauline and myself from our performances at the Lion’s Den a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure that soon enough we’ll start bumping into a lot of the same people on the London scene, but right now it feels pretty good when somebody not only remembers my face, but also starts talking about which bits of my material stayed with them.

Next week I’m going to try the Lion’s Den on Tuesday, and the Cavendish on Wednesday.

 

Back to the Lion’s Den – open-mic #2

I’ve been away on holiday and wanted to get on stage as soon as possible, so I went back to the Lion’s Den Comedy Car Crash open-mic night on Tuesday evening and got there early to make sure I got a spot.

While I was waiting to get in I got talking to a guy called James SorryI’veForgottenYourSurname who I’d seen a couple of weeks earlier doing his first open spot on the same night I did mine, and once we got into the club we compared notes over a beer. It was good to get a perspective from somebody who’s in the same situation as me – up until that point the only other acts I’d really spoken to are the people who did the course with me.

As the bar filled up ahead of the show, a few more people from the previous show turned up, nods of recognition and chit-chat ensued, and I was happy that people remembered my act well enough to comment on some of the material I’d delivered a couple of weeks ago.

My plan for these early open-mic nights was to get more comfortable on stage and start to piece together a respectable five minutes of material that I can memorise completely, so that when I’m on stage I can focus on delivery rather than thinking about what I’m going to say next. But during the day I thought up some topical stuff that neatly tied together a couple of big news stories of the week, and I really wanted to use it while it was relevant. So I decided that tonight I’d start with the topical stuff, and then run through some of my existing bits if I had enough time.

I wanted this to be the first time I went up without any notes but, because I was doing some new material, I decided that I needed to scribble a set-list onto my hand. Lessons: write it on the back of your hand because if you write on your palm it’s going to get smudged by condensation on cold beer bottles; also,  biro doesn’t wash off easily so you may end up going to work in the morning with random shit written on your hands.

At the Lion’s Den, they draw the the next performer’s name out of a bag after each act, so you never know when you’re going up. Last time I went up very early and this time I went up close to the end, which was fine except for the fact that a lot of people had already left so the room was half empty. No problem, I’m sure there are going to be a lot of nights like this – I’d just plough on with my act, even if the room was silent for five minutes.

I forgot to record my set, so I don’t fully remember how it all went, but….

One of the other acts did some crowd work earlier and called me out for being a gym-rat (nice that people notice!) so I opened with an improvised call-back to that, which earned an OK laugh, before launching into my topical material.

This section went OK, considering that I hadn’t worked it all the way through, some bits didn’t have solid punchlines, and I didn’t deliver parts of it as well as I’d hoped – but it was pretty dark, which the audience liked. There were titters throughout and one or two bigger laughs. Again, the laughs didn’t always come where I expected, and some bits fell flat. When a punchline gets nothing I just push on, don’t acknowledge it, just go straight onto the next bit – I don’t know if this is the best way of handling it, but I’d rather just move on and try for the next laugh than waste time.

The segue into the existing material that I wanted to practice was clumsy, and I think that threw the audience a little. It went down reasonably well, considering the empty room, but I didn’t do the best job of delivering it and think it could really work better if I add a bit more flair to the performance. On the upside my timing was pretty much spot on, and by the time I got the light to let me know I had 30 seconds left, I was ready to deliver my closer.

Again, my link to this bit wasn’t smooth so it didn’t flow well and although it got a small laugh it wasn’t what I hoped for. I also didn’t really end the set gracefully, just put the mic back and wandered off stage while they were tittering – I should probably thank the audience or something instead of just fucking off awkwardly.

I felt a lot more relaxed on stage this time around I was able to think more about my delivery, even though I’ve still got a lot of work to do on that.

The act who went up after me seemed reasonably polished and had some good material, but he started his set by saying “I’m not sure I can follow that guy…” which gave my ego a boner. I promise not to milk every shred of positive feedback I get, but at this early stage I’m clinging to any encouragement that suggests I’m not just making a massive twat of myself and that I might eventually become a passable stand-up.

The final act to get drawn was James, the guy I spoke to at the start of the night. For his second time he did brilliantly – he’s got some great material, delivers it well and already looks relaxed on stage. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot more of him in future.

Final note – I’ve been given a spot at the Funny Feckers night in Camden at the end of September, so I’m aiming to get as polished as I can before that night. I know they film the acts and it would be great if I could get a video of a killer performance, so that means I need to get as much stage-time as possible before then and really focus on putting together a five minute set that I know is going to work well.

My first stand-up comedy open-mic night

The stand-up course is over and the excitement of showcase night has faded, but a handful of us are keen to make sure we don’t lose momentum so we’ve started investigating London’s open-mic nights. The week after showcase a few of us headed up to Funny Feckers at the Constitution in Camden just to scope it out and get a feel for how an open-mic night works.

In the bar ahead of the show we had a chat with the organiser, Wes Dalton, and learned that the open spots are usually booked a month or two in advance (turns out this is the case with a lot of nights). By coincidence it was Funny Fecker’s first birthday, so there was a really good atmosphere in the club and a decent sized audience.

The mix of experience amongst the 10 acts was varied, some first timers, some veterans, but the audience was friendly and treated all of them well. One act in particular stood out – I forget his name, but his routine was a bit like Data from Star Trek delivering different styles of stand-up in a way that deconstructed familiar comedy tropes. I loved it, but it got a mixed response from the crowd – I hope I bump into the guy again.

I left the night feeling pretty positive and confident that I wouldn’t embarrass myself too badly if I performed alongside a similar line-up.

The following week I went to the Lion’s Den open mic night at a club on Shaftsbury Avenue with a couple of comrades, and queued up early so that we could get spots. This was a different vibe entirely, but still good fun. There were about 20 acts in total, and the quality varied immensely – some were very funny, some showed promise, some were terrible, others seemed to have very real psychological problems.

One youngish guy, who’d done a handful of spots already, had invited a bunch of his mates to watch him perform, but he completely choked on stage and after a minute of fumbling walked off without delivering a single gag. His mates captured the whole thing on their phones for the ages.

The thing about Lion’s Den is that the MC picks the performers at random from a hat, so you never know when it’s your turn to go up, which is nerve wracking when it’s your first open mic. As it turned out I got called up third, completely mentally unprepared.

I had my original set-list from the showcase night and reasoned that if I trimmed the fat and just focused on the main parts of the set I should be able to keep it to five minutes. It went well, I got laughs from beginning to end, and improvised a tag-line for a bit based on something in the news that day which got a big laugh (it helped that the line was in disgustingly poor taste, which I am proud of).

I also got a decent laugh out of a bit that was originally just supposed to be a tag line from a stronger gag, but I’m starting to think it could work as a larger bit because the audience responded so well on both nights I delivered it.

The big fuckup on this night was that when they flashed the light to let me know I only had thirty seconds left I was only about a third of the way through my material, and I panicked because it caught me off guard. I’d just delivered a punchline and got a reasonable laugh, so I could have just smoothly ended it there, but instead I fumbled for a couple of moments trying to work out how I could close before abandoning the idea and then awkwardly thanking the crowd and leaving the stage. It wasn’t awful, but I could have handled it better.

Lessons; Time. My. Fucking. Set. Better. Also, memorise a solid closer that I can always go to if the light comes before I expect it.

A good night though, friendly crowd, supportive MC, my two buddies from the course both did well too. During the half-time break one of the older, more polished acts gave me a nod and thumbs up from across the room – a small gesture, but at this stage I’ll take whatever morsel of encouragement I can get.

If anything, this felt better than showcase night. This was a real open spot, the audience wasn’t friends and family, just other acts and their mates. This felt like a real first step in the direction I want to go.