It took me a year to get a spot at Angel Comedy Raw last October and it was a really good gig, so I’ve been looking forward to getting back there. It didn’t take so long this time, I applied at the start of December and they came back to me fairly quickly with the offer of a spot in January, last night.
I didn’t really know most of the other acts, probably because most of them seem to be a few rungs above me on the comedy ladder, but it was a nice surprise to bump into Helena Langdon, who I’ve met a few times before at gigs.
We were both on in the middle of the second half, so we lurked at the back of an absolutely packed room to watch the first half. When you’re used to doing gigs where the audience is made up entirely of comedians and the friends they’ve cajoled into coming along, Angel Comedy RAW is a real change of pace – a room full of 80+ genuine audience members who are there of their own free will.
Weird thing though. Even though the room was full and buzzing, the energy just felt low. The MC did a solid job of working the crowd and all the acts in the first half were great (especially Lily Philips), but it just felt like the audience weren’t making it easy for any of them. They laughed at A+ material, but not much else.
Most of them came back for the second half, and after a couple of other acts Helena went up, she did a did a brilliant job and the crowd really bought into her deadpan tales of social awkwardness. I was up next and, just like my last gig, I tried to put a bit of energy into my delivery, knowing the crowd was playing hard to get. This seemed to do the trick and from the outset they responded well to most of my material.
A couple of bits didn’t get as big a laugh as they usually do, but a new one I’ve been trying worked really well, and my closer did the job. I was disappointed that my normally reliable racist baby bit fell flat though. I should have guessed it wouldn’t go well since the audience was almost entirely white, and that kind of material only really works well in mixed rooms.
The headliner was professional act, Archie Maddocks, who knocked it out of the park for the most part, but even he struggled with some bits. After the gig we compared notes on the audience – he told me that some of his bankers just didn’t land either, and he gave me some nice feedback on my material, which is always welcome from a pro. In particular he gave me some ideas about how I could build out the racist baby material into an even bigger bit, which I’ll definitely experiment with.
My main takeaway from the night was that I need to be more ready to adapt my material to the room. I had a good sense that the room wouldn’t go for the racist baby stuff, but I didn’t bother changing it – in future I’ll be ready to replace it with more suitable material.
I’ve got a spot at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion on Monday – so I’ll use that to test out a few new bits that I can use for the semi-final heat of the Max Turner Prize on Wednesday if it looks like I’ll need alternative material. And on Thursday it’s Beat the Blackout, but I’m not even ready to think about that yet.
The Max Turner Prize is an annual competition run by Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell, one of the most popular and long running comedy open mic nights in London. As well as a bundle of cash, the first prize includes a full year of being able to perform on any night without a bringer – for an upcoming act who wants to get a lot of stage-time in front of a decent audience, that’s huge.
This year I think there are about 230 acts competing in the heats, which are then whittled down to 4 semi-final nights, and then a big final. Last night I was in heat #10.
I got there early to settle into the vibe, grabbed a pizza with the friend who came along, had a chat with a few of the other acts, and was feeling pretty relaxed about the whole thing – right up until the MC (Adrian Tauss) informed me I’d be the first act of the night. I’m still on the fence about whether this is good or bad in terms of how the audience judges you, but either way it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to go up first on any night.
I’m not exactly a high-energy act, I think you could describe my style as conversational, but I felt that being first up required some pace to get the audience on-board, so I tried to open my act with more commitment than usual. Talking louder, leaning into the audience, being a little more enthusiastic – it’s weird doing this because it feels fake and contrived, I’m not trying to do a character act, but it works, especially in a busy room like the Cavendish.
The audience bought into it and I got some good laughs, but because I was trying a slightly different approach I made a few fuckups – I missed out a couple of small but important details in some of my setups, I fluffed some of my bits so they weren’t as slick as they could be, looked at my watch a couple of times to give me time to think about the next bit, and then as I approached the end of my set I realised I still had about 30 seconds to go and couldn’t work out why. It was only when I got back to my seat I realised I’d completely missed out a part of one of my biggest bits. Weirdly, I did exactly the same thing last year in this competition.
While I was on-stage I was deeply conscious of all these little mistakes, so for the first time in months I was feeling nervous. None of it really seemed to matter though because I was still getting a good reaction from the audience, the over-confidence helped gloss over the cracks in my act, but when it was over I knew that it was a weak performance by my recent standards.
The good thing about being first up was that once my bit was over I could just sit back and enjoy the rest of the night, which wasn’t hard because there were a lot of great acts on. As the night drew on and the quality got higher, I realised I’d be lucky to be one of the six acts to go through to the semi-finals.
It got to the end of the night and everybody shuffled out into the bar to wait for the organisers to announce the semi-finalist. Before the gig my frame of mind was firmly “six people can go through, I’ve been doing pretty well recently, so I’m in with a decent chance” but waiting in the bar I was braced for the oh so familiar sting of rejection.
Sure enough, the MC came out in due course and announced the six semi-finalists, and my name was not on the list. Just as I was about to throw myself onto the floor for a screaming tantrum, one of the other regular MCs, Twix, hopped up onto a stool and told everybody to shut up for a special announcement – there was a tie-break situation in the audience voting, and just for this heat the organisers had agreed to send an extra act through to the semi-finals, and that act was me.
My semi-final heat is on the 30th of January, and false modesty aside, I really will be lucky to get through to the final because the other acts who have made it through are some of the best on the open mic scene. I’ve got a couple of opportunities to practice before then, with gigs at Angel Comedy RAW tomorrow night, Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion on Monday, and if that wasn’t enough I’ve got a Beat the Blackout spot at Up The Creek in Greenwich the day after the competition semi.
That’ll be a total of 8 gigs for January, which isn’t a lot by some people’s standards but until I can convince my wife that I’m getting somewhere with this comedy stuff and it’s not just a midlife crisis, a couple of gigs a week is about as good as it gets for me.
The first half of January has been busy, at least by my standards. To kick the year off I went to watch a Max Turner Prize heat as a bringer for Nicholas Everritt. I’d never met him before, but remember seeing him at one of the first ever open mics I went to watch when I got started, and really liking his act – a kind of left-field, robotic deconstruction of stand-up conventions – so I was glad to finally have a chat with him.
I’ve seen his routine a few times since that first gig, and it often seems to split the room, some people just don’t get it, but it was good to see that the crowd loved him at the Max Turner heat, and he got through to the next round.
My first gig of the year was at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion in Shoreditch. As well as being rusty after taking Christmas off from gigging, it was also my first ever 10 minute spot, so I went into it feeling a little edgy. I shouldn’t have worried – it went well for a first effort at a 10 spot.
I ran through my usual five minute set, but did all the longer versions of the bits with extra tags, and I did both of my bigger closing bits (I usually just choose one depending on the feel of the room). That took me to about seven or eight minutes, and then I filled the remaining time with new stuff that fits thematically with the rest of the material – most of that seemed to work well enough for a first airing, although it needs tightening up. I’m feeling confident I can pull together a solid 10 minutes over the coming months, which was one of my goals for this year.
Later that week I did five minutes at Happy Laughcraft (at the South Kensington Comedy Club). I’d never been to that night before, but lots of people I know seem to rate it as a good gig so I was keen to check it out. It’s a bringer (Nicholas got me back) but it was still pretty quiet – understandable so soon after Christmas, it was only the first week back to work for most people, so I can’t imagine many people were up for comedy. A couple of girls wandered in from the bar, but left almost as soon as Ralph Arscott tried some crowdwork with them. I didn’t know Ralph before, but yakked with him in the breaks, and he stood out as one of the stronger acts of the night.
I bumped into Phil Green in the bar and had a chat with him – I’ve always liked his brand of thoughtful surrealism, but didn’t really know anybody else at the gig. Luke Poulton was on, and I’ve seen him around a lot but never really had a chance to say hello. Other than that, it was all new faces for me.
I was on second to last of the night, and even though the room was clearly drained, I was feeling positive after my strong start to the year. One of the other acts, an older guy in his sixties, had brought along a bunch of his friends who were treating the night as an opportunity for a good old chat. So before the MC called me up he tried to address it nicely and persuade them to pipe down, but the interaction went on a bit too long and created an awkward energy in the room. And then it was my turn to go up…
I tried to kick off with a joke about the MC making it weird just before I went up, but that fell flat and the MC responded by apologising, which made it more weird, so I started on completely the wrong foot. It wasn’t a complete disaster, I slogged through my material, with a couple of the new bits, and got a few laughs, but it was an uphill battle for very little reward. Still, all stage time is good stage time and it was nice to check the gig out.
The night after that gig I swung over to Comedy Moochabout in Vauxhall, purely to take a few photos of the acts for Mouch to put up on the Facebook page. I’ve finally figured out how to take half decent photos in the adverse lighting conditions of comedy clubs so I’m always up for taking a few shots if anybody wants pics of themselves on stage. It was a fun night with some great acts like Hubert Mayr, Ken Grinell, and the headliner, Simon Caine.
Finally, this Monday I did a spot at We Are Funny Project. I was expecting a fairly quiet night and planned to try out a lot of new material, but as it happened a birthday party showed up and there was a lively audience in the room, and Alfie offered to film my set, so I decided to use some of my strongest stuff, with a couple of new bits, to get a video of me FUCKING DESTROYING. I was feeling in the zone and it went really well – I tried to be more energetic on stage, leaned into the audience more, and just work a bit harder than I usually would.
It paid off, the audience liked what I did and there were plenty of laughs all the way through. The only problem was that with the new bits thrown into the mix I hadn’t really timed the set properly, and by the time I got the 30 second light I wasn’t in an ideal place to finish strongly. I was halfway through a new bit which worked well once before, but I kind of fumbled it and finished on a very mediocre laugh. That’s a small gripe though, apart from that the set went well, and one of my new bits in particular just landed perfectly, so that’s already looking like a banker.
It was one of those nice nights where I bumped into quite a few acts I know and had some good chit chat with the people like Luke Chilton, Steph Aritone, Andrew Buchan, and Bijan Barekat – who are all well worth a watch if you get the chance. Elliot Dallas, who I know in passing, was also there and had a spectacular mental breakdown on stage – I remain unclear whether it was an act or a cry for help. We’re all rooting for you Elliot! (Unless you’re found guilty.)
It was the first time I’d seen Alexandria MacLeod and she really impressed, so hopefully we’ll see more of her.
I’m not doing anything else for the rest of the week, but next Monday I’ve got my heat of the Max Turner Prize at the Cavendish Arms (although I’m still trying to pin down a bringer for that), then on Thursday I’ve got a spot at Angel Comedy RAW in Islington, which I’m really looking forward to because that’s a fantastic gig. The following week, I’m at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion on Monday, and then Beat the Blackout at Up The Creek on Thursday, which I’m also very excited about because I’ve never done any kind of gong or blackout show.