First spot at We Are Funny Project

When I first got interested in doing stand-up a few years ago, We Are Funny was one of the open mic nights that showed up on my radar. Although it took me a while to get started, they’re still running three nights a week and I was keen to get a spot there to check the place out.

The night is run in the large basement room of Farr’s School of Dancing – not actually a dance school, but a really nice pub in Shoreditch (with £3.30 pints – woohoo!) There’s a proper stage, a decent PA system, and it feels a bit more real than some of the smaller ‘room above a pub’ nights.

I was there on Tuesday night, and although there were a few dropouts the room had 20+ people, which included five GENUINE AUDIENCE MEMBERS, as well as the other acts.  The good thing about WAFP is that it’s not a bringer night, but the flipside of that is that you never really know how much of an audience you’re going to perform for.

The night is MC’d by an effervescent Italian called Alex Martini, who does a magnificent job of keeping the comedy train chugging along.

I went up fifth in the first half and did the same five minute set I’ve been working on at the previous gigs. It was tough going because the energy in the room was fairly low at that point and my opener didn’t work quite as well as it did last time. But I ploughed on and managed to warm the audience up a bit, although it felt like I was getting more groans than laughs as I did some of my darker bits.

I didn’t bother with notes, and apart from a brief stumble at the beginning I got through my entire set from memory, with one small exception. As I was getting into bed later that night I realised I’d completely forgotten to deliver the punchline to one of my strongest bits. I did the setup and they were laughing at the general premise, but somehow I just skipped the most important part and went straight onto the next bit.

This is interesting for me because it just shows that material can still sort of work even when you fuck it up, which is a handy life lesson.

The rest of the night was standard open mic fodder, a few great acts, a few that still need work. Professional act, Tom Little, closed the night off by testing out some of his new material – don’t think I’ve ever speak so quickly in my life. Combined with a pretty thick Salford accent it’s amazing anybody can understand a word he says, but somehow it just works.

I had some nice feedback from the other acts, and an especially interesting chat with a guy called Howard Cohen (a much more experienced act) who had some good advice for me – mostly about learning to not give a fuck…

I’ll definitely be back to WAFP as soon as I can – nights where you don’t need a bringer are going to be useful as my friends gradually get bored of my dragging them to gigs. Next week I’ll be back at the Cav on Wednesday for a prebooked spot, and might try to do another night if I can find one.

Second gig at the Cavendish Arms

This week I had a spot booked at Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a great venue attached to a nice little pub, and because I knew I was definitely performing my wife decided to come along to watch, and she invited my brother in law and his wife.

I really wanted it to go well while they were watching because nobody wants to bomb in front of their family and, while they’ve been supportive so far, it would be good for them to see that I’m making progress and not entirely deluded about my prospects.

For this night I planned to do my usual set but with a few adjustments. I moved my strongest, most reliable bit to the end so I could close on a big laugh, shuffled a few middle bits around so that the flow still made sense, and wrote an entirely new opener. I’ve been struggling to find a punchy opening bit that gets a good laugh and sets up the rest of the set. Everything I’ve tried before either gets a weak laugh or nothing at all, so I ditched it all and tried something different.

As usual they picked the running order at random, so I didn’t know when I was going up until the MC called my name as the fourth act of the night.

The new opener worked much better than anything else I’ve tried, although I think it can be better if I play around with the timing and delivery. That really set me up for success, and the rest of the set went down a storm – although I ended up checking my set list (scribbled on my palm) a couple of times because the new structure wasn’t fully committed to memory.  The closer worked exactly as planned, and I managed to throw in a tag specifically about my brother in law, earning him a cheer from the crowd.

It all added up to my best night yet and 24 hours later I’m still on a high about it all. That said, I’ve watched the video back a few times and it’s obvious that there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Some of the bits could be delivered better, I could save time by rambling less, which would let me include a few more jokes, and I definitely need to improve my stage-presence.

I’ve noticed I don’t really know what to do with my other hand while I’m on stage so it ends up looking a bit awkward and fidgety. I’ve considered holding a drink with it, but then there are a couple of bits which require hand motions so I’m not sure if that’s the best option. Maybe I just need more discipline to keep my rogue paw under control.

All the same – very happy with my performance, got a lot of positive feedback from people after the show, and pleased that my wife and her brother got to watch me doing a good one.

There were twenty acts in total, and a lot of good quality. I bumped into James Meakin again after chatting with him at Lion’s Den about a month ago, and he put in a strong performance. We have a similar sense of humour and are both at about the same level of experience, so it’s good to see him around.

There was also a short lady who did a brilliant routine about going to a self-help retreat in Arizona to meet Alanis Morissette – didn’t catch her name but I’d say she’s one of the best acts I’ve seen on the circuit. Others were good, but those are the two who stick out in my memory as I’m writing this.

Next week I’ve got a spot at We Are Funny Project in Shoreditch, but not much booked after that, so I need to start getting organised.

Open Mic #6 at the Lion’s Den

I’ve got a spot booked at the Cavendish next week with a few friends coming, so this week I really wanted to practice my set and try tweaking a couple of things that aren’t working well. The Lion’s Den Comedy Car Crash seemed like a good option.

I’ve been there a few times before (twice as an act) and quite like the place. Some people complain about it being pay to play (admission is a fiver for everybody) but it suits me well because it’s easy to get a spot if you can show up early and you don’t need a bringer. The audience always seems varied, I’ve been on nights when it’s reasonably busy but I also did a spot there a few weeks ago when it was dead.

Last night was great – an American guy (who did a routine in costume as a redneck truck-driver) brought a huge entourage with him and we ended up with a respectable audience for a Tuesday night non-bringer open mic, so the room had good energy. They all stayed until the end too, which was helpful because I was the second to last act of about 20.

I think I did OK – I’ve realised my opener is weak and my closer is a bit meh, but the middle four minutes of my current material is solid and got good laughs all the way through. I didn’t feel as comfortable as I did at Funny Feckers last week – probably a combination of going up so late in the evening and never really figuring out how exactly I was going to open and close – so I think my delivery probably wasn’t as confident as I’d like.

Still, it worked reasonably well and the MC, Boyce, told me it was a good set as I left the stage, so I’ll take it. The timing was spot on too – I managed to finish my full set comfortably close to five minutes. I’m going to make some significant edits before next week, so I finish on my strongest bit and move my current closer to the middle (I think it can still work with polish, it’s just not a closer), and I really need to think of a stronger opening line.

I’m feeling confident that I can get the material whipped into a strong five minute set with a little more work. I’m itching to try out some completely new stuff, but don’t want to do that until I know this set is working as well as it can.

The night was split into three sections and the first two sections each had a headline act, both of which were very strong. The rest of the amateurs were a mixed bag – two in particular stood out (forgot names, I’m afraid):

Youngish white woman with long blonde hair and nerdy specs did some clever bits, but the audience didn’t react as well as it deserved because I think she was almost too subtle with some of her delivery. Tough situation, because she had some great material but it was almost too clever for a five minute open spot where you haven’t got much time for the audience to figure out what you’re about.

Asian guy from Bradford, I think he said that he was new to the scene in London but had been around for a while up north – great stage presence, interacted with the crowd well and bounced through is material with confidence, wasn’t fazed by stuff not working. Felt a bit envious of his confidence on stage and it made me wonder whether that’s something that comes naturally or if I’ll eventually get that good with experience.

Everything clicks at Funny Feckers

I’d been looking forward to doing this spot ever since I visited Funny Feckers at The Constitution in Camden about a month ago – it’s a great night with a good crowd and a nice, intimate venue. But as things turned out I didn’t get to do a spot the week before, so I was a little rusty, and to make matters worse I was full of a cold and feeling grim, so on the night itself I wasn’t sure I’d be on form.

All the same, I was determined that this would be the night I’d go up without any notes and I was pretty confident that I could remember enough of my material to get through five minutes. I was the sixth act of the night and by the time I got onto the stage I’d forgotten all about my cold.

I delivered the same material as before – resisting the urge to try out new stuff – but right from the off it was a much tighter than before because I consciously tried to be more economical with words and get to the punchlines quicker. I have a tendency to ramble and reiterate the same point two or three times, which is a luxury you can’t afford in a five minute spot, so I’m trying to break that habit.

Without the crutch of a set list I had to trust in my ability to remember which bits were coming next and, largely, it worked out pretty well – at no point was I worried about what to say next, and that meant I could think a little more about my delivery rather than just blurting out the gags and trying to hold it all together.

Because it was all a bit tighter I managed to get through more of my material and used some bits that I usually don’t have time to get to. Also, I realised that a couple of bits just aren’t working – I think they’re solid gags, but they consistently fail to get decent laughs so it’s time to take them out to the woods and put a bullet in them. Conversely, there’s one bit that makes absolutely no sense to me because it doesn’t have any logic to it (I accidentally improvised it one night rather than writing it) and it gets a big laugh every time, so I’m going to keep it in and try to build on it.

It felt like I got a lot more laughs, maybe because I was consciously making an effort with my delivery, but what I really notice was that I got a lot more horrified groans – the noise they make when they’re a little disgusted with themselves for laughing at the gag. And I realised that’s exactly what I want. Making people laugh is one thing, but provoking that more complex reaction feels so much better.

I don’t know if this is ‘finding my voice’ but I certainly feel like I’ve got a better idea of my direction.

It wasn’t perfect, there’s still things that need to improve, but after last night’s gig I suddenly feel like less of a pretender, like I’m on my way to getting good at this. I had been planning to start trying out a new set very soon, but now I’m going to spend a little more time polishing my current material – it feels like it could be a lot sharper with just a few more weeks work, and then I’ll have my first tight-five.

Next week I’m going back to Funny Feckers, but only as a bringer for my friend Pauline, and I’ll be trying to get a spot at Lion’s Den on Tuesday.

I wasn’t quick enough to book another spot at Funny Feckers in October, but I’ll definitely be trying to get back there in November.