Navel-gazing after my last gig of the year

I wrapped up my first full year of doing standup (nearly 18 months in total) with a spot at Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell. It’s always a good night, and my set went down well – I got into the clap-off, but was soundly beaten by Luke Chilton who was so on fire he should have been kicked out of the club for violating health and safety regulations.

I was hoping to have reached 100 gigs this year, but I’ve only managed to get to about 70 – although I’m not too disappointed because I feel like I’ve got a lot better and that’s been reflected in feedback I’ve been given from people on the scene.

I think the best thing I’ve done this year has been to stop trying out completely new material and focus on practicing and developing my main five minute set. I’ve cut weak material, improved bits and performed it so many times that I no longer need to psyche myself up before I go up to the mic – it’s seared on my memory, and I know I can deliver it confidently every time.

And that’s not to say I’ve completely abandoned writing new stuff. By focusing on refining that one set, I’ve been able to come up with longer versions of the same bits and added related material, so now I think the whole thing could probably fill about 8 minutes, maybe more. Most of the spots I do are only five minutes, so every gig I try out a slightly different version of the set to make sure all the material stays fresh in my mind.

It’s taken discipline for me to do this, because I really, really want to try out lots of different material (I can honestly write more shit than I’ll ever have enough stage-time to perform) but I realised that I’ll only make progress if I focus on getting good. I could do 5 minutes of mediocre, untested new material every gig, but that would get me nowhere – you need to work on this stuff to make it shine.

My goal for the new year is to build it up into a watertight 10 minute set, and start trying to get some longer spots so I can get used to doing them. I’m also going to try some gong-shows like the The Blackout at Up the Creek, and the King Gong at the Comedy Store, to see how I get on with a more rowdy bear-pit style audience. I’ve already booked a Blackout spot on January 31st, and King Gong is on Monday of that week, so I’ll try to get on there too.

People keep asking me variations of “Where are you going with this?” which I don’t have an answer for. Would I like to go pro eventually? Definitely, but realistically comedy is never going to pay as well as my day job, and so long as I’ve got a mortgage and three kids, I can’t really abandon a stable career to chase my dreams.

I don’t have a real plan. It’s fun, I seem to be OK at it, and I absolutely fucking love doing it, so I’m just going to crack on at my own pace and see where the road takes me.

I keep bumping into more and more of you at gigs (“Hey, are you that basic comedy guy?”) – thanks for reading, I’m glad this stupid little thing I’m doing is in any way helpful or interesting. You’ll always find me at the bar in the break, come and say hello.

I feel like I’m repeating myself…

Elie Kraft at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted, and since then I’ve done four spots –¬† a couple at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion and one at We Are Funny Project, all in Dalston, and another at Comedy Moochabout in Vauxhall.

It’s getting harder to write individual posts about each gig at the moment, because every night I just grind out the same material, tweak it, and try to get better at delivering it. I’d rather write fewer, more interesting posts, than the same old shit week in week out.

I’ve been getting great feedback recently and it really feels like I’m getting better at this, although I attribute most of that to just hammering the same material over and over so that now I can deliver it without thinking about what I’m going to say next. That gives you a lot more freedom to experiment with different styles and throw a few new bits in, because no matter what happens you know you can always find your way back.

So I’ve been playing around a bit with my delivery and, long story short, leaning into the audience and making eye-contact with a visibly uncomfortable person while I say something offensive seems to do the trick.

I’ve also been working on my current set, trying to tighten it up. To reduce the art and craft of standup comedy to a dreary statistic, I’m currently averaging one big laugh from the audience every 23 seconds – that’s 13 laughs during my five minute set. I think that’s respectable, but I also think I can do better – there are some bits which take too long to set up, so I could probably trim the fat and make room for more punchlines or tags.

This constant repetition can be a bit soul destroying, especially if you’re desperate to show off your bottomless well of creativity to the other acts on the circuit, but it’s worth doing. Being able to confidently deliver a decent set at the drop of a hat without any mental preparation feels pretty good.

Side-note, if you’re not recording your sets, you should. I leave my phone on my seat when I go up, running a voice recorder app, and I listen to it on the way home to get an honest idea of which bits worked well. Doing this has helped me improve, because you can’t hide from the fact that a bit you might love consistently doesn’t get any reaction from the audience. It’s also good to occasionally listen to recordings you made six or 12 months ago to show yourself how much you’ve developed.

Somebody told me this week that my current set would do well in competitions – I’m not so sure, I think there are quite enough heterosexual middle aged white men in standup and the competition judges aren’t really looking for more of us. On the other hand…. maybe I’ll enter a few next year anyway.

In other news, I’ve been working on a podcast about the London grass-roots comedy scene with Mouch, where we interview people from the circuit about what it’s like to be a stand-up comedian at the beginning of their career. We’ve already got a few episodes recorded and more lined up, so it looks like we’ll be ready to launch in January – I’ll keep you posted.

Other than that, not much to report. I’ve started photographing the other acts at open-mic nights, just to make myself useful and maybe get to know a few people. My first efforts were shit, but I got some advice from a friend who regularly shoots rock concerts (similar problem, shitty lighting conditions and an act who just won’t stand still) and I think I’m getting better. I usually throw them up on the Basic Comedy Facebook page and tag the acts when I can remember their names.

People I’ve seen recently who I really liked include:

Check them out if you get a chance.