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.

You haven’t got as much material as you think

This week I did my 27th open mic spot, at Heavenly Comedy in the downstairs room of The Green pub in Shepherd’s Bush. It was a bit of a weird night because the gig got derailed a couple of times by random drunk twats who’d wandered in from the bar.

Nothing too heavy, but it was the kind of incoherent shitfaced interruption that’s difficult for an act to work with. The MC, Njambi, and the act who was performing when it happened dealt with it well, and both guys got kicked out by the bar staff, but I did start to wonder how I’d deal with it if another one showed up while I was on.

I’ve got some stock lines memorised for dealing with hecklers, and the same for recovering when a bit doesn’t work, but I haven’t really thought of how to handle disruptive drunks who haven’t got anything to say beyond random garbling, so I need to work on that.

For this gig I wanted to try out a sharpened up version of my best set, that I’m planning to use for the So You Think You’re Funny competition later in the year. I thought I had a respectable five minutes of material, and I’ve been trying out a few new bits that would fill it out to the seven minutes I need for the competition heat.

As well as trying to work out how the new bits fit into the set, I’ve also been trying to trim the fat to see if I can do the same jokes with fewer words, without losing any impact, to make the set punchier. When you deliver the same material over and over it’s surprising how much waffle you can actually remove and still make the joke work without all the unnecessary setup.

As it turned out, I got through all of the material, which I thought would be close to seven minutes, in around four and a half. I’ve listened to the recording a couple of times to make sure I didn’t miss any jokes but I got through them all and, even though the energy was a little low in the room, people were laughing in most of the right places. I could probably even cut out another 30 seconds of waffle if I was really disciplined, although I think in a bigger room with more energy I could allow for a little more laugh time.

So, long story short, I think for this set I’ve got about four minutes (maybe a little more) of reliable material that works to one degree or another in most of the rooms I’ve performed in.  That means I need to find another two to three minutes of stuff that fits into the theme of the set, before the competition in June.

This is pretty standard advice that more seasoned acts give to open mic comics; you might think you’ve got a tight five minutes of material, but you really don’t. I’m starting to experience that first hand now. I’ve had a few really good nights with that set so I assumed it was all gold, but now I realise that I can make it so much sharper and create space for even more material in the same time.

I’m feeling good about it – I’m getting better at remembering the current set so, instead of trying to remember the material, I can focus more on my delivery, which I think still needs a lot of work. I’ve got a ton of half-written ideas, so I’m confident that I can come up with those extra minutes – and I also think that if I mostly stick to doing the same set at open mics for the next few months I’ll have plenty of opportunity to play around with it and hopefully come up with some new ideas on stage.

 

Trying out new stuff Vs polishing old gold – open mic spot #26 at We Are Funny Project

I’ve been trying to decide the best way forward with my routine. I’ve got an OK five minutes of stuff about being a dad that seems to work well most times I perform it. But I really don’t want people on the circuit to see me as that guy who only ever does parenting material, so I’ve been trying out a bunch of other stuff – some of it’s gone pretty well, but it’s not as consistent as the parenting material.

I know I should be working on refining my best five minutes and making it as strong as possible, but I don’t like doing the same stuff all the time and I feel the need to show off how much different new material I can write. I have to get more disciplined though, because I’ve got a 7 minute spot in the So You Think You’re Funny competition later in the year and I really want to give that my best shot. So I need to rein in the ego and just focus on getting one strong set together,

I only managed one spot this week, at We Are Funny Project, and with the above in mind I dusted off some of my old parenting material to use open and close with, while testing out some new but ‘thematically related’ stuff in the middle. I’m pleased with how it went – they laughed at all the parts they were supposed to.

All the new material worked, even though it was very rough around the edges. I also tried to cut some of the fat from my older jokes so I could get to the punchlines quicker without losing any impact, and that seemed to go well too, so I think I’m on the right track with it all. I’ve not done many gigs recently, but I’m making an effort to get back on it and start doing a couple of spots a week again, so I can really get this stuff flying.

Other than that it was a good night all round at WAFP, with a good mix of complete newbies, polished acts and all levels in between. M’chum Pauline Stobbs tried out a whole new five minutes for the first time and it was nice to see that work well for her.

Next week I’ve got a spot at Heavenly Comedy in Shepherd’s Bush on Wednesday, and I’ll be spectating for Pauline at the Cavendish on Tuesday.

Doing too-late topical material at We Are Funny

Last Wednesday I did my 25th open mic spot, at We Are Funny Project in Dalston. The room was busy, which is always great for a non-bringer night, and there were a lot of good acts on, a few of which were either professional, or at least close to professional, so the standard was high. Don Biswas  wrapped up the first half with a solid ten minutes, and the night was headlined by Olaf Falafel trying out twenty minutes of new stuff.

I was on second in the second half, after a great ten minutes from Harry Wright, who I later had a chat with on the train back into central London. I’d been planning to do a completely new five minutes, but I hadn’t practiced it much and wasn’t feeling very confident about it. So I chickened out at the last minute and decided to do some of the topical material I’d performed a couple of times earlier in the month, with one of the new bits sandwiched in the middle.

I didn’t exactly bomb, but it was a fairly underwhelming performance. I’ve listened to the recording a couple of times and people laughed at bits of it, but it was all a bit  low key. It didn’t help that I hadn’t been on stage for over a week, so I was a little rusty, and the ‘topical’ bits were based on news stories that were at least few weeks old by that point. I didn’t feel too bad because I know that material worked well at a couple of spots earlier in the month.

The new bit in the middle got a decent enough laugh, which was reassuring, so I think next time I go up I’ll try the whole of the new set. When I got off the stage the MC, Alex Martin, told the audience “He always goes too far over the line, and he doesn’t give a shit, I love him!”– I’ll take that for positive feedback.

Right now I have a bit of a dilemma about the best way forward. I know I should really focus on one or two five minute sets, and just keep performing them and polishing them so often that they’re permanently committed to memory. But at the same time I’ve got tons of material I want to try out (not to mention topical stuff that occurs to me from time to time) and, since I can currently only do one or two gigs most weeks, I’ve got very limited stage time to do it all. If I keep trying out new stuff it’s going to be very hard to get it to a polished state.

I suppose really I need to think about where I’m trying to get with this, and which approach is most likely to help me get there – but that’s not exactly an easy question to answer.

I’ve got nothing booked for this coming week, but I’ll try to get a walk-in somewhere, and then the week after I’m back at We Are Funny Project.

 

 

Topical material at Rising Stars and Comedy Virgins

I’ve had a good week on the stand-up front. On Tuesday I returned to Rising Stars and took a few colleagues along, since they’ve been asking to come to a show. The night was busier than I expected, and the room was so full that my bringers couldn’t even get in. I wasn’t on until the third segment, so I sent them back down to the bar while I hovered around outside the door, listening to the other acts.

As always, a lot of people had left by the time it got close to the end of the night, so when the third segment started my gang was able to squeeze into the room, which was still impressively full for the final stages of an open mic night.

I had a really bad time at Rising Stars when I was last there – I tried to do some half baked political stuff that wasn’t really working, and about halfway through I did a race joke that landed badly and turned the audience right off me, which made the rest of the set painful. This time I wanted to try a bunch of topical material that I’d thought up over the previous couple of days.

Things didn’t start well when I completely tripped over my words during my opener, but they laughed at my fuckup and I glossed over it by angrily yelling out the punchline. I think I did an OK job of delivering the rest of the set given that it was mostly completely new stuff that I was doing for the first time – I had notes on the back of my hand and was able to get through it without too many awkward pauses.

I can’t say that I got riotous laughter from the audience, but I think they appreciated that I was doing material about very current news stories and I got a warm reception. Towards the end I slipped in the exact same race joke that ruined my life last time I was there, because it fitted nicely into one of the bits I was doing about the UKIP leader’s racist girlfriend – this time it worked a lot better.

What was different? Two things, I think. Firstly, this time I’d done a better job of winning the audience over – they were in a better frame of mind and I think they liked me a bit more than the previous crowd, so they were less ready to crucify me for a slightly over the line joke. Secondly, the audience was more racially mixed this time, compared to almost completely white the time before – and although most of the white people pulled back just a little, the black guys in the room laughed enough to make it work.

The night felt good – I exorcised the demons from my previous time at Rising Stars, and did a bunch of not too shabby topical stuff instead of my usual parenting/dick based material.

On Wednesday I had a spot at the Cavendish Arms, and did a refined version of the same set. It went even better because the material had sunk in a bit, so my delivery was more confident, and I’d had time to tighten it up with some stronger punchlines. On top of that, I had a bit of well timed banter with the MC, Twix, that fitted in nicely with the theme of my set, and audiences always reward genuinely off-the-cuff stuff.

Both nights were great, but Wednesday was one of those gigs that reminds you how amazing it feels when you get this stuff right. At this point I need to thank Stobbsy the House Elf for being my bringer on that night, even though she wasn’t feeling well and had a legit excuse to back out. It was a good night all round – every act was solid, the audience was really up for it, and the mood was much higher than it had any right to be on a Wednesday night.

After the show I had a chat with Ginnia Cheng, who saw me on the night I bombed horribly at Rising Stars and sent me a lovely message to reassure me that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. She’s just started, and was doing her sixth gig on Wednesday. I didn’t get a chance to speak with Helena Langdon, who did her second gig at the Cav and messaged me afterwards to let me know she reads this blog – so, uh, hello Helena… *waves*

I don’t have any spots booked for next week – although I’m going to the Cavendish on Wednesday to +1 a friend who’s got a spot. If we can scrape together a couple of other bringers then I’ll try to get a walk-in, but I’m not too fussed – I can’t really use this week’s topical material again, so I need to do a bit of writing and pull together a new set because I’m bored of my old stuff.

These were gigs #23/#24 – so the next time I go up will be my quarter century.

Entering the Max Turner Prize

My only gig this week was my heat for the Max Turner Prize – an annual competition run by Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms.  I’d checked out the line up for the entire contest and knew there were some strong acts participating, so I didn’t harbour any pretentions of winning, but I was looking forward to the experience all the same.

To all intents and purposes the night runs like a standard open mic night at the Cav, except your bringer is given a score-card to rate the acts. At the end of each night the two acts with the highest scores go through to the final.

My plan was to deliver the best version I could of my strongest five minutes. I’ve done that set a few times now and there have been nights when it’s gone brilliantly, so I felt confident I could pull it off.  Things didn’t really line up the way I’d hoped though – I wanted to run through my set a few times that afternoon to cement it in my memory, but work was busier than usual so that didn’t happen.

So when I went up I had to try a bit too hard to remember my material, and that meant my delivery wasn’t as natural as it has been before. It felt more like my fifth gig than my 22nd. The audience bought into a lot of the bits, but it was a young crowd and my parenting jokes didn’t land as well as they do with more middle-aged audiences.

I also made a stupid fuckup and completely forgot to do one of the strongest parts of the set, so when I got to the end I checked my watch and realised I was a minute short. This threw me a little because I couldn’t understand what had happened. My closer worked ok so I should have just walked off on a good laugh, but instead I panicked and made a shit joke about finishing early because the audience didn’t laugh enough.

All that said, under normal circumstances I’d be happy with how the spot went – it was far from my best performance, but people laughed enough to convince me that the material works, I just need to practice it more so that it becomes second nature. It was a great night too, the winning acts were very strong ; Fatiha El-Ghorri, and William Stone.

The experience has reinforced a couple of things I already kind of know. First, I need to get better at practicing my sets before I go on stage – I can only do one or two gigs a week, so I need to practice saying my material out loud more often at home to help it sink in. Also I need to work on more new material – most of my best stuff right now is about parenting, which obviously isn’t going to work on all audiences, so I need to be able to pull some other stuff out of my bag of tricks.

I’ve got a couple of gigs next week – Rising Stars (where I bombed horribly last year after trying to do some political stuff) and then back to the Cavendish.

Second time at Funny Feckers – open spot #21

I first did a spot at Funny Feckers (every Thursday at the Constitution in Camden) back in September and I’ve been itching to go back because it’s a great night. I’ve tagged along to support friends there a few times and it’s always hysterical.

I finally got another spot there this Thursday, my first of 2018, and the plan was to deliver my more polished material in preparation for my Max Turner Prize heat. I definitely needed the practice. Last year I was able to deliver this set pretty confidently and it usually worked well, but this time around I felt rusty and struggled to do it as well as I have before.

I wrote my set list on the back of my hand and that was probably a mistake because I kept looking at it instead of relying on memory. Also I tried new twists on a couple of bits, which messed up my flow and didn’t really work well.

All in all the audience went along with it and laughed enough to make me feel like it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it felt like an uphill battle. It was quite a young crowd, and this set is largely about parenting so it’s no surprise they didn’t lap it up. Thankfully there were a couple of older people in who were buying into it and sometimes you just need one or two cheerleaders who like you enough to get the rest of the audience laughing along with them.

A couple of bits which usually kill didn’t get much response, but I can’t feel too hard done by because a bit I’ve been thinking of dropping from the set worked better than it ever has before.

I’m a little disappointed in myself because Funny Feckers is one of the nights where I really want to do well, and in the end I don’t think my performance was that much better than when I first went there as a completely raw newbie in September. But it was good to get back on stage after Xmas, and to practice that set at least once this year before the competition.

A couple of other acts really stood out, Patrick Spicer did a nice set of rambling whimsy and has the kind of affable likeability I can only dream of.  Also, Scottish American act Martin Graham really impressed, despite being almost as new at this as I am.

I also saw Martin the night before at a Max Turner Prize heat where I’d been supporting m’chum Pauline Stobbs. She delivered a good set with strong laughs all the way through, but it was a very competitive night which was won by Kathryn Matter and Stephanie Browse. They both absolutely murdered the crowd, so I don’t think anybody could feel bad about losing out to them on that heat.

My heat for the competition is next Tuesday – I’m mostly in it for the experience. There are so many strong acts performing that it would take Trumpian levels of narcissism for me to have any expectation of winning.  I’ve also submitted a video entry for the Amused Moose national stand up competition, so I’m hoping I’ll at least be offered a place in one of the heats.

Riffing at the Cavendish – open mic #20

I did my final gig of the year this week, which also happened to be my 20th ever spot – a nice round number to wrap up 2018. It was a booked spot at The Cavendish Arms Comedy Virgins, and I had a couple of friends along to watch.

I was going to use the spot to practice my polished five minutes that I’m planning to use for the Max Turner Prize in January, but I couldn’t sleep the night before and, while I was lying awake in the small hours, a few ideas about the nativity story came to me. None of it was fully formed, no punchlines, just a bunch of rough ideas, but it was topical and I thought it would be fun to wing it since it was the last gig of the year and would probably be half empty, so it wouldn’t matter if I bombed.

Once I got to the gig I started to feel a bit edgy about the whole idea and worried that I couldn’t pull it off, especially since it turned out to be a busy night after all. All the acts in the first half were solid, and that made me feel even worse about the prospect of dying with half-baked material. I started thinking I might just stick to my original plan and run through my old set again.

But during the break I got chatting to Akin Omobitan and he suggested sandwiching the raw stuff in between tried and tested material, which made a lot of sense.  So when I eventually went up, close to the end of the night, I kicked off with a punchy opener that’s worked well a few times for me and then launched into some largely off-the-cuff material based on my 3am flash of inspiration.

It went pretty well. I riffed around the loose ideas and it all kind of worked as the words fell out of my mouth. I’m a little annoyed that I didn’t record it because I can’t remember half of what I said, much less which bits got the biggest laughs. I’ll have to try writing it up from memory and hope I capture the best bits.

Once that well had run dry I fell back onto some old stuff that I knew would help me finish with some big laughs – job done.  I came of the stage feeling pretty good about it. Normally I go on stage with a very clear idea of what I’m going to say, but I’ve tried this kind of riffing a couple of times now and it’s great fun to do, especially when you surprise yourself by coming up with some good lines under pressure.

It was a great way to finish off my first year in stand up and I’m itching to get stuck into 2018.

Also on the bill was my comedy BFF, Pauline Stobbs (whose verbal twerking earned her second place in the end of night clap-off) and fellow City Academy alumni, Kathryn Taylor who impressed with a big musical number.

My first gig in the new year is at Funny Feckers on the 4th of January.

Improv sucks balls

“That was Lance’s 20th gig – welcome to the club, mate!”- I’ll admit the platitude from We Are Funny MC, Steve McLean, gave me warm fuzzies after I’d just finished my only set this week, marred only slightly by the fact that it was actually my 19th gig.

It was a quiet night, probably due to the proximity to Christmas, with no audience members apart from the other acts. Because of this, Steve suggested an optional improv element to the night, with acts volunteering to improvise around subjects chosen by the audience.

Sounded horrific to me. The whole idea of improv just doesn’t appeal, I doubt I’d be much good at it, I’m much more into writing material and then evolving it on stage. A few of the acts gave it a shot, without much success, so I suspect I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Despite the lack of any real audience members the energy was still good in the room, thanks largely to the efforts of the MC in keeping everybody engaged. Established act, Saskia Preston, headlined the night with some new material which went down pretty well – I recommend seeing her if you get the chance.

I went up in the first half and dusted off my original five minutes, which I haven’t done for well over a month. I’ve signed up to a competition in January (The Cavendish Arms annual Max Turner Prize) and I want to make sure I can deliver that five confidently, so I’ll need to practice it again a few times before then.

I got some OK laughs out of my set, but it’s always an uphill battle when you’re performing to other acts and my delivery was shitty because I had to rely on a set list again. It’s depressing how quickly the material falls out of my brain when I’m not using it every week, but that’s the cost of focusing on new stuff.

My competition heat is in the middle of January,  so I’ve got plenty of time to remind myself of that set, even though it means I’ll have to stop working on the new stuff until then.  I’ve seen the list of other acts in the competition and there are a lot of stronger, more polished comedians than me, so I’m not expecting to win.

All the same, it’ll be good experience and it means I’ve got at least two booked spots in the Cav for January. On top of spots at Funny Feckers and Rising Stars that means I’ve already got one night per week booked for the whole month, which should make it easier to hit my target of two per week.

I’ve got one more spot at The Cavendish next week, which will be my actual 20th gig, and that will neatly wrap up the year for me.