You haven’t got as much material as you think

This week I did my 27th open mic spot, at Heavenly Comedy in the downstairs room of The Green pub in Shepherd’s Bush. It was a bit of a weird night because the gig got derailed a couple of times by random drunk twats who’d wandered in from the bar.

Nothing too heavy, but it was the kind of incoherent shitfaced interruption that’s difficult for an act to work with. The MC, Njambi, and the act who was performing when it happened dealt with it well, and both guys got kicked out by the bar staff, but I did start to wonder how I’d deal with it if another one showed up while I was on.

I’ve got some stock lines memorised for dealing with hecklers, and the same for recovering when a bit doesn’t work, but I haven’t really thought of how to handle disruptive drunks who haven’t got anything to say beyond random garbling, so I need to work on that.

For this gig I wanted to try out a sharpened up version of my best set, that I’m planning to use for the So You Think You’re Funny competition later in the year. I thought I had a respectable five minutes of material, and I’ve been trying out a few new bits that would fill it out to the seven minutes I need for the competition heat.

As well as trying to work out how the new bits fit into the set, I’ve also been trying to trim the fat to see if I can do the same jokes with fewer words, without losing any impact, to make the set punchier. When you deliver the same material over and over it’s surprising how much waffle you can actually remove and still make the joke work without all the unnecessary setup.

As it turned out, I got through all of the material, which I thought would be close to seven minutes, in around four and a half. I’ve listened to the recording a couple of times to make sure I didn’t miss any jokes but I got through them all and, even though the energy was a little low in the room, people were laughing in most of the right places. I could probably even cut out another 30 seconds of waffle if I was really disciplined, although I think in a bigger room with more energy I could allow for a little more laugh time.

So, long story short, I think for this set I’ve got about four minutes (maybe a little more) of reliable material that works to one degree or another in most of the rooms I’ve performed in.  That means I need to find another two to three minutes of stuff that fits into the theme of the set, before the competition in June.

This is pretty standard advice that more seasoned acts give to open mic comics; you might think you’ve got a tight five minutes of material, but you really don’t. I’m starting to experience that first hand now. I’ve had a few really good nights with that set so I assumed it was all gold, but now I realise that I can make it so much sharper and create space for even more material in the same time.

I’m feeling good about it – I’m getting better at remembering the current set so, instead of trying to remember the material, I can focus more on my delivery, which I think still needs a lot of work. I’ve got a ton of half-written ideas, so I’m confident that I can come up with those extra minutes – and I also think that if I mostly stick to doing the same set at open mics for the next few months I’ll have plenty of opportunity to play around with it and hopefully come up with some new ideas on stage.

 

Trying out new stuff Vs polishing old gold – open mic spot #26 at We Are Funny Project

I’ve been trying to decide the best way forward with my routine. I’ve got an OK five minutes of stuff about being a dad that seems to work well most times I perform it. But I really don’t want people on the circuit to see me as that guy who only ever does parenting material, so I’ve been trying out a bunch of other stuff – some of it’s gone pretty well, but it’s not as consistent as the parenting material.

I know I should be working on refining my best five minutes and making it as strong as possible, but I don’t like doing the same stuff all the time and I feel the need to show off how much different new material I can write. I have to get more disciplined though, because I’ve got a 7 minute spot in the So You Think You’re Funny competition later in the year and I really want to give that my best shot. So I need to rein in the ego and just focus on getting one strong set together,

I only managed one spot this week, at We Are Funny Project, and with the above in mind I dusted off some of my old parenting material to use open and close with, while testing out some new but ‘thematically related’ stuff in the middle. I’m pleased with how it went – they laughed at all the parts they were supposed to.

All the new material worked, even though it was very rough around the edges. I also tried to cut some of the fat from my older jokes so I could get to the punchlines quicker without losing any impact, and that seemed to go well too, so I think I’m on the right track with it all. I’ve not done many gigs recently, but I’m making an effort to get back on it and start doing a couple of spots a week again, so I can really get this stuff flying.

Other than that it was a good night all round at WAFP, with a good mix of complete newbies, polished acts and all levels in between. M’chum Pauline Stobbs tried out a whole new five minutes for the first time and it was nice to see that work well for her.

Next week I’ve got a spot at Heavenly Comedy in Shepherd’s Bush on Wednesday, and I’ll be spectating for Pauline at the Cavendish on Tuesday.

Doing too-late topical material at We Are Funny

Last Wednesday I did my 25th open mic spot, at We Are Funny Project in Dalston. The room was busy, which is always great for a non-bringer night, and there were a lot of good acts on, a few of which were either professional, or at least close to professional, so the standard was high. Don Biswas  wrapped up the first half with a solid ten minutes, and the night was headlined by Olaf Falafel trying out twenty minutes of new stuff.

I was on second in the second half, after a great ten minutes from Harry Wright, who I later had a chat with on the train back into central London. I’d been planning to do a completely new five minutes, but I hadn’t practiced it much and wasn’t feeling very confident about it. So I chickened out at the last minute and decided to do some of the topical material I’d performed a couple of times earlier in the month, with one of the new bits sandwiched in the middle.

I didn’t exactly bomb, but it was a fairly underwhelming performance. I’ve listened to the recording a couple of times and people laughed at bits of it, but it was all a bit  low key. It didn’t help that I hadn’t been on stage for over a week, so I was a little rusty, and the ‘topical’ bits were based on news stories that were at least few weeks old by that point. I didn’t feel too bad because I know that material worked well at a couple of spots earlier in the month.

The new bit in the middle got a decent enough laugh, which was reassuring, so I think next time I go up I’ll try the whole of the new set. When I got off the stage the MC, Alex Martin, told the audience “He always goes too far over the line, and he doesn’t give a shit, I love him!”– I’ll take that for positive feedback.

Right now I have a bit of a dilemma about the best way forward. I know I should really focus on one or two five minute sets, and just keep performing them and polishing them so often that they’re permanently committed to memory. But at the same time I’ve got tons of material I want to try out (not to mention topical stuff that occurs to me from time to time) and, since I can currently only do one or two gigs most weeks, I’ve got very limited stage time to do it all. If I keep trying out new stuff it’s going to be very hard to get it to a polished state.

I suppose really I need to think about where I’m trying to get with this, and which approach is most likely to help me get there – but that’s not exactly an easy question to answer.

I’ve got nothing booked for this coming week, but I’ll try to get a walk-in somewhere, and then the week after I’m back at We Are Funny Project.