A bucket load of gigs to kick off 2019

Will Hitt at Comedy Moochabout last week- he does sharp, inventive material coupled with a slow, confident delivery style – I’m a fan.

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.

Let’s kick 2019’s fucking face in, comrades!

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.

 

 

 

Birthday gig, and checking out Comedy MoochAbout

Radu Isac, at Comedy MoochAbout

Last week I did a spot at Comedy Virgins on Wednesday. It was one of those “meh” nights that sort of went ok but didn’t really feel like the audience was especially into it. I’m probably being a little harsh on myself, as I had a couple of mates along and they said it went well.

This is exactly why it’s a good idea to record your gigs, so you can get an objective record of the audience’s reaction – your memory plays tricks on you on stage. There have been a few times I convinced myself that a gig was mediocre, but when I listened to the recording there’s plenty of laughter in all the right places.

Anyways. It also happened to be my birthday, and after my set Twix the MC called me back up on stage and made me do a tequila shot while the audience sang to me, which perked me up. There were a few good acts that night, but in particular Lim Hoang really stood out with his angle on being a bemused foreigner in the UK. He got down to the final two of the clap-off, so the audience clearly loved him too.

On Thursday of this week I did a spot at Comedy MoochAbout, a new night in Vauxhall organised by Mouch. His day job is organising events like club nights, and that experience really showed at the gig because despite only being in its third week the whole thing felt every bit as polished as any of the bigger, established new-act nights in London. On top of everything else, it’s the only gig I’ve done where you perform in front of a bona-fide brick wall, which is pretty much the wet-dream of every Seinfeld wannabe.

There was a great line up of acts and a decent sized audience, so the vibe was good. I thought I was going up in the second half of the show, and didn’t hear when Mouch corrected himself and told me it was the first half. So when he introduced me to the audience I wasn’t quite mentally prepared, but all those nights of waiting to be picked out of the hat at random at shows like the Comedy Virgins and Lion’s Den prepare you for this kind of situation, so I got up to speed quickly enough.

My set went pretty well – I was lifted by the good energy in the room, so everything just kind of fell into place. Wouldn’t say I killed, but I did well enough to keep the night bubbling along nicely, and because of a couple of drop-outs I got a little extra time, so I dusted off a couple of well-worn bits to throw in with the current stuff I’m doing, to take the set to seven minutes.

The nice thing about the gig is that it’s very easy for me to get to by public transport, and that meant I could have a few drinks because I wasn’t driving. By the time I went up I was feeling a little loose, and I think that helped, but it’s always a fine line, I’m not experienced enough to go on completely shitfaced and still be able to remember all my material. But that’s something to aspire to.

A great night all in all, with a bunch of acts that I really like, including Jerry Bakewell, Vash Pernikar, Micah Hall, and Luke Chilton. There were a handful of people I’ve not seen before, and they were all good, but Radu Isac, from Romania, really stood out for me as a personal favourite – if you like your comedy dark, check him out.

Mouch, mooching about.

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

 

 

You need to give inspiration time to strike

In an earlier post I wrote about my “racist baby” bit, which came from the real experience of my kid being scared of black people when he was really little. I’ve always liked the premise because the idea of this tiny, innocent baby being innately racist was funny to me, but in practice it’s a mediocre bit – the payoff isn’t strong enough to justify the fairly lengthy setup.

That changed yesterday, when I went back to Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion. I’d been thinking about the bit all day, trying to find ways to build it up into something stronger. While I was running through it in my head I came up with a new line which makes the setup funnier, and defuses the tension which inevitably builds when you talk about racism.

I was on at the end of the night, around 10:30, so a few people had left but there was still a respectable audience for a Monday night non-bringer gig, but the energy in the room was definitely flagging. Most of my bankers worked pretty well, while some of my more mediocre stuff fell flat, but I didn’t take that to heart under the circumstances.

I closed with the racist baby bit, and right from the start it seemed to go better than it has before, even with a flagging audience – I think partly because I tried to deliver it with more commitment, like I talked about in my last post. I dropped in my new line and it got the biggest laugh of my set, and that meant the punchline, which followed shortly after, did pretty well too because the audience was primed for it. I think the punchline could still be improved, so I’ll keep working on it, but that new line in the middle helps the whole thing work a lot better.

In this lecture on creativity, John Cleese talks about the importance of playing with ideas and I’ve learned that myself – ideas need time to evolve into something better. It’s tempting to ditch bits that aren’t working well, but if you like them enough to keep trying them out and thinking about them, the answers will come eventually.

I wrote just four short words on the back of my hand to help remember the middle bit of my set, but I barely had to glance at them so I should probably just stop being such a little bitch and stop using them altogether.

I’ve got a bunch of gigs lined up for October already and I think I can get away with doing a bit more than one a week, which makes me happy. I feel like I’m making progress with my material and delivery, so I’m itching to get more stage time.

Next week I’ll be at Angel Comedy RAW on Wednesday night, where I’ve been trying to get a spot for ages, so I’m looking forward to that.