Losing the room at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion

Robbie Fox/Neuroses – photo by Aaron Shipper

I did a spot at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion last night, although Sam himself wasn’t there and Basil Jamm took over MC duties. It’s always an interesting night because the show usually takes place in the main bar area of The Cornershop, in the middle of Shoreditch, so even on a Monday it’s busy and you get a random mix of drinkers alongside people (mostly acts and a handful of friends) who are there for the comedy.

Sometimes this goes well, sometimes not so much, and that’s all part of the fun – pro comedians have to perform in all sorts of situations, so the quicker we get used to handing difficult rooms, the better.

I was the penultimate act of the night, so by the time I went up the room had thinned out a bit and people were ready to go home, but there was still a bit of life in the place. The real problem was that that the back of the bar a bunch of drunk guys were talking loudly, heckling the acts a little bit, but most just having their own conversation and distracting everybody. Because it’s a bar and not everybody’s there for the comedy, you can’t really do much about it. People asked them to quieten down but they weren’t interested, and a few of the acts really struggled with it.

On top of this, the front row consisted of a French guy who was there with a couple of English girls, all three a bit drunk. This was a mixed blessing – they were into the comedy and played nicely when acts tried to do crowdwork with them, but they got drunker throughout the night, and one of the girls kept explaining the jokes to the guy. Towards the very end they stopped paying attention entirely and started snogging each other, which was kind of weird when there was a guy shouting jokes into a microphone less than two meters away from them.

So the room was in chaos when it was eventually my turn to take the mic. I had planned to try some new material mixed in with my current set, but by that point I was only really focused on trying not to die horribly – although after watching other acts flounder I wasn’t hopeful.

I didn’t have any plan for dealing with any of this other than steam-rolling my way through. I kept the mic close to my mouth to be as loud as I could without distorting too much, and launched into my set with as much energy as I could muster. It seemed to work, everybody shut up and listened, or if people were still talking I was drowning them out.

I’ve been trying to get better at leaving pauses to give my punchlines time to land, but last night I didn’t leave any space for the hecklers to get a toe-hold, using amplification and pace to power through. It was a pretty messy set, my delivery wasn’t great, but the material was strong enough to get me through and I think I did OK under the circumstances – people listened and they laughed at some of it. I tried one new bit and completely fluffed it, and my closer fell flat, but I didn’t feel like it was a complete disaster.

I didn’t recognise too many of the other acts; I know Mouch and I’ve been bumping into Mike Lash on and off since I started last year. I hadn’t seen Aziz Vora before, but liked his stuff, and the same goes for Arnold Chukwu, but I think the highlight of the show for me was Robbie Fox doing his Neuroses character.

So, bit of an odd night, but those are the breaks. This week’s lesson – figure out some ways of dealing with noisy rooms where people aren’t paying attention to the show. Shouting over them sort of worked, but others have suggested getting them on side with some crowd-work, so that’s something I’ll need to work on.

 

Exploding Virgins of the Comedic Variety

Another two gigs this week, starting on Monday at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion at The Cornershop bar in Shoreditch. This night is normally run in the main bar area, so as well as people who’ve turned up for the open mic night you also get random drinkers in the audience, which is a mixed blessing.

On this night, however, the bar was busier than usual, so the gig got moved down to the basement room where there were no random drinkers, but a decent turnout all the same.

I’ve been opening with a bit about anti-vaxxers, but I recently decided to drop it because it’s not as punchy as an opener should be. I’m glad I made that call because one of the other acts did a very similar bit, which made the decision to shelve it easier.  It sort of worked OK sometimes, but it was never as strong as I would have liked, and now that I know somebody else is using a similar joke I’m happy to just abandon it entirely.

My set went as well as I could hope for, given that I was on second to last so the audience had thinned out and the room’s energy was flagging. Most of it worked as expected, a few bits fell flat, but it’s all good practice. And thanks to Aaron Shipper who snapped that new photo of me over there in the sidebar.

On Wednesday I was at Comedy Virgins which, being one of the best known bringer nights in London, is always pretty busy for an open mic. Twix was MCing, and Akin Omobitan was on too – I feel like I haven’t been to the Cavendish for a while, so it was good to see two of the regulars doing some new material.

I went up early in the show, third or fourth I think, and I reckon I did a good job – the audience gave me solid laughs all the way through and it felt like a lot of them shouted for me to go through to the clap-off. I think I’ve been in the Comedy Virgins clap-off about five or six times now, and it’s starting to bug me that I’ve never managed to clinch one of those little plastic trophies – always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

I’ve been working on this set a lot over the past couple of months, and that’s really starting to pay off because I can deliver it with confidence. A few people have told me recently that I look like I’ve stepped up a level, and I got similar feedback at this gig too.

I’ve replaced the anti-vax opener with a reliable old bit that I usually follow it up with, and with a bit of tweaking I’ve realised that it works perfectly well as an opener in its own right. The setup takes a while, so it’s about 30 seconds to get to my first punchline, but I messed around with the language a little and now the setup is funny too, although not so much that it derails the bit before I get to the punchline.

I feel like I’ve got most of my current material nailed, and now I need to start trying out new stuff so I can build my set out into a solid 10 minutes. I’m back at Comedy Explosion on Monday, so I’ll be propelling a fresh load of excrement at the brickwork in order to assess its adhesiveness.

 

 

Getting weird in West London – Heavenly Comedy and Battersea Power

Liam Malone opening proceedings at Battersea Power Comedy
I did two spots this week, the first at Heavenly Comedy in Shepherds Bush on Wednesday, and another at Battersea Power Comedy on Thursday.

It’s been a while since I did a spot at Heavenly Comedy, and this was the first time I’ve been to the new venue, The Princess Victoria, a really nice pub with a big upstairs function room where they host the gig. I got there early, so I had a burger in the bar which was pretty decent. 

Apparently there was some trouble with the Tube, so a few people couldn’t make it, including whoever was supposed to bring the mic. Without a mic it’s not a comedy gig, it’s just a bunch of people taking it in turns to shout at a room full of randoms, but we powered through regardless. 

It was a weird night – it kind of reminded me of some of my early open mic gigs where half of the acts were deluded, deranged or just hopeless. It’s not a bringer so there was almost no audience other than the acts, but a couple of locals had wandered in, a twenty-something woman and her mum. The mum clearly didn’t understand that she was at a comedy night and spent the whole time trying to join in the conversation.

Clearly the night was going to be an uphill battle, and any small reaction you could get from the audience was a victory, but it’s all good practice. A bunch of people who’d just been through the Amused Moose comedy course showed up to do their first gig after their showcase night, and to be fair most of them did OK.

I went on first, which was a struggle under the circumstances, but the MC (Maltese guy with dreadlocks, didn’t catch his name) did a solid job of injecting some energy into the room. I ploughed through my current set, steamrolling over the mum when she tried to share her thoughts, and got a few laughs out of the audience. It wasn’t exactly a legendary performance, but it’s always good to rehearse, and in the end I was glad to just get my turn over with so I could relax and watch everybody else.

A woman on roller-blades who seemed to be completely shitfaced rambled on about dick-pics and slut-shaming without any punchlines, and seemed genuinely taken aback that nobody laughed. She completely derailed one of the better act’s closers by falling off her skates and dropping a drink just as he was about to land the punchline. After the gig she tried to start an incoherent conversation with me and wanted to give me a badge with a photo of a dick on it. I politely backed out of that discussion.

I didn’t really know anybody, apart from a Portuguese guy I’ve seen around recently, and Don Biswas, who was very friendly when I first met him last year at another gig.

The next night I went to Battersea Power Comedy, and my wife tagged along to see me for the first time in over a year. It was a good night with some great acts, and it’s a bringer so there was a reasonable audience.

The opener was a Kiwi Paralympic gold medallist (Liam Malone) who had some great material to work with and set things off to a good start. I went up second and did a slightly tweaked version of my current set. I took a risk and dropped my usual opener, instead starting with a bit that takes a while to get to the punchline but always delivers, and that gave me  extra time to try longer versions of the middle bits. Also, I’ve been closing with the racist baby bit, but even though it gets good laughs it’s not been working as a closer because of the way it kind of tails off, so I kept it in but finished on a punchy, reliable one liner that always gets a big laugh.

It all worked well and I got some good feedback after the gig from the MC and some of the other acts.

As well as Liam, some other acts who really impressed me were Dave Muller, who took dick jokes to a whole new level, and Aussie, James O’Connell, who absolutely murdered the room with his alpha big-dog schtick.

Feeling pretty good about it all at the moment. I’m getting much more comfortable with my material, and that’s helping me to improve my delivery, and I’ve been getting some good feedback from people, with a few of them telling me I’m looking a lot better up there. My wife seemed surprised at how different my material was from a year ago, and impressed at how much more polished I look on stage – but it all comes down to practice, if keep going up and working on it you can’t help but get better at this.

I think my current goal is to keep polishing this stuff, make it even tighter, but try and build it up to a solid 15 and then 20 minutes.

Next week I’m at Sam Rhode’s Comedy Explosion in Shoreditch on Monday, then the Cavendish on Wednesday.

 

 

 

 

 

Look mum, no notes!

Mouch doing his first MC spot.

Last night I went Back to We Are Funny Project in Dalston for the first time since they took their August break. Feeling confident after a good night at Angel Comedy RAW last week, I decided to go bareback and do my current set without any notes at all.

The MC gave me a nice intro, something along the lines of “This next guy is proof that we believe in freedom of speech at this venue – I don’t know what he’ll do tonight but he’s usually pretty far over the line…” It’s always interesting to get an idea for how other people view your material, and if that’s the kind of reputation I’m getting then I’m happy with that.

The set went pretty well I think – I didn’t forget any of my stuff and I felt comfortable enough with the material that I was able to concentrate a little more on delivery and stage presence. Almost everything got a laugh (although I still need to figure out how to end Racist Baby properly) and the set was almost exactly 5 minutes long.

A lot of the stuff in this set is condensed versions of longer bits, so I think I could comfortably make the same material run to 7 minutes if I needed to, and even 10 minutes or more when I add in other polished stuff I’ve got on the same topic.

It felt like a strong gig, and the MC, who’s seen me performing for about a year, told me I looked like I’d stepped up a level, which is good to hear.

I was the fourth act of the night, so I could kick back and enjoy the rest of the show. It was a pretty good night all round – Mouch and Helena, who I know through this blog, were both there. Mouch was MCing the second half of the show as he recently did WAFP’s MCing course, and did a decent job of it (when he could be bothered to remember the acts’ names). Helena is still pretty new and smashed her 16th gig with some really strong bits.

Apart from the headliner, Brandon Palmer, the act who really stood out for me was Mary O’Connell who blew the room away and earned an instant invite from the MC to WAFP’s polished material night. Keep an eye out for her.

I don’t want to jinx it, but there’s a chance I might have been offered a paid 10-15 minute middle spot at the end of the month. More news on that if/when the details firm up, but in the meantime I’m trying to get as much stage time as possible before then. Next week I’m at Heavenly Comedy in Shepherds Bush on Wednesday and Battersea Power Comedy on Thursday, then the week after I’m doing Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion in Shoreditch and Comedy Virgins in Stockwell.

They finally let me on Angel Comedy RAW

Headliner, Toussaint Douglas, bringing it home.

I’ve been trying to get a spot at Angel Comedy’s RAW night for over a year. They run the famous Bill Murray comedy venue in Islington, and RAW is the new act/material night they run in the upstairs room of the nearby Camden Head pub.

This week I finally got to do a spot there, and it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular night. Yes, it’s an upstairs pub room, but it feels like a proper comedy club, and that’s helped by the fact that they manage to pack the room with a lively audience, without relying on the acts to bring people.

The lineup was pretty small compared to the nights I normally do, just eight of us on the bill. I was second to last of the night, and happy to be there because I’d had a bad migraine all afternoon, which really takes the wind out of my sails, so I was grateful to have some extra time to get myself in the zone. There’s a little green room for the acts to wait in before they go on (and by green room, I mean a small corridor by the fire-escape) and it was good to be able to hide out there away from the audience while I cleared my head.

All of the other acts were solid, and I was a little worried that I’d be the weakest link because I wasn’t feeling great but, once the MC called me up, my twitchiness evaporated and I got into the moment. Having a good opener that you don’t need to think about really helps with this. Whatever you’re planning on doing with the rest of the set, if you know you can do your first minute on auto-pilot, that gets you off to a strong start and gives you time to get into your stride before you get to the parts where you have to concentrate a bit harder on what you’re doing.

As it turned out the whole set went brilliantly. I made a conscious effort to be more relaxed and conversational with my delivery, to avoid sounding too rehearsed. It’s hard to pull this off, because the material is very rehearsed. A trick I used was to focus on one audience member in the second row and managed to convince myself I was having a conversation directly with her instead of performing for an audience. It felt like it worked better, but I don’t know if it came across like that.

They laughed at everything, there were no awkward pauses while I waited for laughter that wasn’t coming. I closed on the Racist Baby bit and that went down well, although I need to work on it more because the punchline gets a decent laugh but it feels like I’m ending the story halfway through when I finish the set.

I really wanted to do well at this gig, and in the end I think I did a decent job .

I didn’t recognise any of the other acts apart from Jamie Oliphant, who opened the show and put in his usual strong performance. In the bar I had a chat with Mango Stone, another mid-life soldier, who’s been going on and off for about five years – she delighted and disgusted the crowd with her graphic exploration of her aging muff.

I also got chatting to Joe Yaffie, a very new act who did an amazing job considering it was his sixth gig ever – after he watched my set he realised I was the guy who writes this blog, because he’d read about the racist baby bit in an earlier post. That made me realise that I’ve kept this thing semi-anonymous because when I started out I didn’t really want people to know I was doing it, but I think I’m OK with putting my real name on it now.

Next week I’ll be at We Are Funny Project on Monday.

Gig Count: 55