Three gigs and life-changing news

It’s been a full on couple of weeks for me – this is my busiest time of the year at work and my mortgage-paying day job has to take priority over everything else, until Netflix offers me a deal. Aside from that, I’ve had some big stuff going on in my personal life; a long lost sister I never knew about has recently got in touch, which is exciting news but kind of hard to take in when I’ve got so much else happening right now.

So I’ve had a lot on my mind, but I’m still trying to make some sort of progress with the stand-up and I’ve done three spots over the past couple of weeks. Last week I did Rising Star at the King and Queen pub. I opened with a quick topical bit I thought up while reading the news on the way to the gig, which got a decent laugh despite being a bit weak in hindsight. After that I got stuck into my usual set, and that went OK but I still wasn’t able to deliver it as smoothly as I’m aiming for.

On the night I was thinking about how I was delivering the same material last year and absolutely killing more often than not with it, but now the same stuff seems to be getting a much more mediocre response. It’s hard to tell whether it’s because I’ve lost some of the meat while I’ve been trying to evolve and sharpen it up, or if I’m just not delivering well enough. Either way, the only real answer is more gigs.

This week I started with We Are Funny Project on Tuesday, and it seemed to go a little better. I didn’t try to throw in any topical material, and stuck with my best five minutes, but I still couldn’t quite make it all the way through the material without peeking at the set list written on the back of my hand. I feel like I’m getting closer, but I really won’t be happy until I can deliver the whole set without thinking about it. And again, the only answer is more gigs.

Tuesday was also a bit of a downer because my bringer was my comedy bestie, Pauline, and it was to be the last time I’d see her for a while because she’s heading off traveling before she’s too old. We’ve become good chums since we met on a comedy course eight months ago, so I’ll miss her while she’s gone.

On Wednesday I did a spot at the South Kensington Comedy Club for the first time – I think it’s a relatively new night and seems to be run collaboratively by a few acts I’ve seen around on the circuit. Wednesdays are organised and MC’d by Louise Bastock, who I’ve seen a few times before and been impressed by her utter depravity.

I broke discipline for my set and instead of running through my material I tried to do a bit about being contacted by my sister, but I hadn’t really thought in through and even though I think the premise was OK I fucked up my punchline. I was able to segue reasonably smoothly into my usual set and things went enough after that. Most of it got laughs and there were a few big hitters. As usual though, there was no consistency, it felt like the biggest laughs came from bits that usually only get a mediocre reaction.

On the plus side I think I got through the whole set with barely a glance at my set list. I feel like I’m making progress, just slowly. I’m starting to get really bored of repeating the same material, but I know I need to keep working on it and stay focused on my objective – working it up to a solid 7 minutes for the SYTYF competition in heat in summer.

I can’t do any gigs next week, which is annoying but unavoidable, but I’ve already got a few booked for April and should hopefully pick up the pace again soon.  I realised that this week has brought me up to over 30 gigs – a small milestone, but still a tiny amount, and I really need to step up my game if I’m going to hit 100 by the end of the year.

Grinding away at Comedy Virgins

Not much to report this week – I did just one spot at Comedy Virgins, and I stuck to same five minutes of material I’ve been working on recently. I’m determined to keep doing it until I can reel it off effortlessly, without having to use a set list. Once it’s second nature, it should be easier to experiment with my delivery, stage presence, and try riffing a bit more.

I know gigging more will help with that, but recently I’ve only been able to do one spot per week – I should be able to step that up to at least two per week soon.

This week’s gig went OK, it was a very young crowd, which always makes my parenting material a harder sell, but there’s enough sleaze and filth in there to get them onside. I didn’t bother recording this gig, so I can’t listen back to compare my memory with objective reality, but it felt like the audience bought into it. Most of my stuff got OK laughs, and one or two bits did very well.

It was a decent night in terms of the other acts, nobody bombed badly, although not many people really stood out either. The clap off was won by Stephen Catling, and I don’t think anybody could argue with that because he fully committed to an absolutely batshit crazy performance about his family’s ancient feud with the swans in his local park.

One thing I’ve noticed recently is the complete lack of consistency in my material, the laughs seem to come in different places every time, and it’s hard to work it out. I know that every single punchline in my current five minute set has, at one point or another, got a big laugh, but on any given night it’s hard to tell which ones will work and which will only earn a few sniggers.

I think this all comes back to getting the material perfectly memorised – once I get to the point where I’m not thinking too hard about what to say next, I can focus more on figuring out what works, and why.

I’ve only got one gig next week, at Rising Star on the 16th, but two the week after – and I’m hoping to pick up the pace a bit from then on.

The Beast from the East will not stop me from gigging

This week I trudged (drove) through arctic conditions (a couple of inches of snow) to get to the Cavendish for a spot at Comedy Virgins, because I am committed to this shit. My bringer, Pauline, heroically dragged herself from the other side of London by public transport just to make sure I could still go up, which makes her a stone cold legend in my book.

I was expecting the gig to be a complete washout because of the weather but, even though a few people dropped out, plenty of walk-ins came (probably from other gigs that had been cancelled) so it was almost as busy as any other night.

I went up mid way through the second half and the energy in the room was flagging a bit, especially since  a few people had baled out by then, but it was still a reasonable audience. I’d planned to stick with the set I’m currently trying to practice ahead of the So You Think You’re Funny competition later in the year, but I saw an opportunity to play with a little crowd work.

The MC, Adrian Tauss, was working the front row and during a bit of back and forth one of them said something about marketing people being cunts. Marketing is my day job, so I thought I’d have some fun with the guy and started my set by yelling at him – it wasn’t particularly clever stuff, but the audience went with it and it was fun to do.

I’m not great at improv, so crowd-work probably isn’t for me, but if I see some low-hanging fruit (as we say in marketing) I’ll take it. I worked through the rest of my set and the crowd seemed to like it, but I wasn’t really happy with my performance.

I’ve trimmed some fat and added a few new bits, which means I’ve not managed to memorise the whole set yet and I’m back to using notes on my hand to get through it all. This feels a bit sloppy, and it means I’m still focusing too much on just remembering the material, when I really want to be more in the moment and paying attention to my delivery.

I’m sure I’ll get there again – last year I got to  point where I could deliver an earlier version of this set entirely from memory and it all started to feel a lot better. Much as I want to be trying out lots of different material, I’m just going to keep doing this stuff and focus on honing it, remembering it, and building it up to seven minutes.

The last few gigs I’ve done have left me feeling unhappy with the way it’s gone, on stage it’s felt clumsy, unpolished and very amateurish. But listening back to the recordings, there are plenty of laughs in all the right places and it sounds a lot better than it felt at the time. I’m probably just frustrated that I’m not getting as much stage time as I want at the moment, with work/life getting in the way – but I’ve got lots of gigs booked for March and April, so that should change.

I’ll be happier when I can consistently get through this set without notes, and I think I’m getting close.