Sussex Comedian of the Year

We need to talk about what to wear on stage at some point.

I’ve done a couple of gigs this week, including a heat of the Sussex Comedian of the Year Competition. But before I get into that, on Wednesday I went to Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion for a warm up, as I’m feeling a bit out of practice at the moment.

I managed less than a minute at the King Gong over a week ago, and apart from that I’m just feeling like I’ve not been very focused on my act for the past month or so. Unless I’m doing a couple of spots a week and really thinking about my act a lot, it very quickly gets fuzzy.

Sam’s currently touring the States, so the night was run by Michael Eldridge – a funny guy who I’ve chatted to a few times before at other gigs. I was up fairly early in the night and just planned to run through my usual set to blow out the cobwebs ahead of the competition heat the following night.

I’ve still not managed to find a punchier version of my opener, but I can’t easily replace it with a shorter bit because it sets up the rest of the material, so I’m trying to start each gig by quickly riffing on whatever’s happening in the room before getting into my regular material. This can be fun and when it goes well the audience rewards you for thinking on your feet, but the obvious downside is that sometimes it just doesn’t work.

On this night, Michael had already worked with an audience member who happened to be a researcher on the TV show, Eating With My Ex, so this was an obvious opportunity and I kicked off by making an, admittedly savage, joke about an ex of mine which split the room right down the middle. That set the tone for the rest of my 5 minutes – my gentler gags got light titters from most of the room while my darker bits only got laughs from the same small bunch of guys at the back.

There was a good crowd of acts on for the rest of the night, Gus Singh, Mo Saffaf, Fiona Clift, Will Hitt, all tickled my tits.

The following night was the Sussex Comedian of the Year Competition, being run for the first time this year. The competition takes place over four heats and a final at different locations throughout Sussex, and the organiser told me that to get an arts grant she had to run one of the heats in a rural venue. So that’s how I found myself performing in a tent next to a country pub in the middle of nowhere (aka Dragons Green, Shipley) on a Thursday night.

In all fairness, it was a nice tent, usually used for music gigs, with a proper stage and sound system, and an audience of around 30 or so paying punters turned up to watch (all sitting on hay bales). A little bit unusual, but a respectable gig by my standards.

There were five acts in total, and I was on last, which was good for me as I had a couple of local friends along so it was nice to be able to hang out with them before the show without worrying about getting my head ready. I usually like 10-15 minutes to think things through before I do a gig, and it’s hard to do that if I have to talk to people, but if I’m just sitting quietly while the other acts are on, that’s fine.

The room was tricky – there was a real mix of different people. A few local pensioners were friendly enough but did the usual thing old people do at comedy shows – not so much heckling, just responding to what you’re saying as if it’s a conversation, but they weren’t loud and it wasn’t too much of a problem.

On top of that there was a real mix of ages, village locals and people who’d driven in from nearby towns, so it was hard to get a feel for what the crowd would go along with. All but one of the acts struggled with this – while they laughed at a lot of stuff, plenty of other bits fell flat too.

We were given up to ten minutes each (it was originally 5-7, but an act dropped out) so I knew I could take my time. I started off by addressing the fact I was performing in what looked like a circus freak-show (“mum was right about how things would turn out for me”) but it didn’t really get much, and then I launched into my set.

I mention Netflix in my opener, so I thought it would be funny to address the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere by throwing in “Do you even get Netflix out here?” – I thought they’d either laugh or boo and I was willing to take the risk, but I wasn’t prepared for half the audience to nod their heads and earnestly reply with a chorus of “oh yes”.

After that I just stuck to the script – some of it worked well enough, some of it didn’t, I don’t feel like anything did brilliantly, although I didn’t record the set so it’s hard to recall how much laughing there actually was. I got to my current closer and it got a small laugh, but not as much as it usually does, so for a moment or two I considered doing an extra bit since I had some time left. I had to do some very quick calculations because I had a few options for bits I could easily reel off:

  1. Racist baby – I wrote that off quickly because I’ve lost confidence in my ability to pull it off reliably.
  2. Porny stuff – I’ve got some porn material that sits together as a workable 60-90 seconds, but it would have been difficult to segue into it from my closer, and I was pretty sure this wasn’t the right place for it.
  3. Vasectomy bit – probably my best option, but if porn was off the table then bloody-semen was equally unlikely to do me any favours.

So, having thought all of that through over the space of a couple of questions, I laughed off the fact that my closer had fizzled, thanked the audience and got off the stage.

Being honest with myself I think it was a pretty mediocre performance, I rambled a bit, occasionally lost my thread, and never really hit my stride. Like I said, I’ve not been focused on this recently, so even with a gig the night before I still struggled to give it my best.

So, I was surprised the judges picked my as a runner up for the heat, which means I’m in with a chance of going to the final in October (there’s some kind of online audience vote which will decide that). The winner was Konstantin Kisin, who clearly outclassed the rest of us, and the other runner up was Michael Akadiri, who did a much better job than me and undoubtedly deserved to get through.

I’ve got a lot of real-life stuff on between now and mid-June, so won’t be gigging much – although I have a couple of We Are Funny spots where I plan to focus on completely new material. For the second week of June I’ll be in New York on a business trip, so I’m hoping to get in a few open mics while I’m there, if I can fit them in around work stuff.

After that, I’m planning to take two or three weeks off gigging completely and spend some time getting the podcast back on track. When I started it with Mouch I had loads of free time, but life quickly took over and it got derailed – I’d really like to get it going again, so I need to find the time to interview some people. Maybe July will be the best time for that – it’s the middle of summer so the comedy clubs will be quiet, and it’ll be easier to persuade people to do it.

First time at the Comedy Store King Gong Show

The monthly King Gong show at London’s Comedy Store is the city’s biggest open mic night in terms of audience size. If you’re an aspiring standup, the show offers a rare opportunity to perform at a famous venue in front of hundreds of people, but it comes at a cost.

Unlike most open mics, which are friendly supportive gigs, the audience at the King Gong is encouraged to yell, heckle, and crush the spirit of performing acts. Three audience members are given red cards, and if all three cards are held up then the MC hits a gong and your time on stage is over. If the audience don’t like your act they’ll boo and jeer, and encourage the card-holders to get you off the stage.

Your goal is to survive five minutes – if you do that, you get to perform another 1 minute at the end of the show, and then they pick a winner who’s invited back to do a spot on a pro night.

I’ve been trying to get onto the show for a while – there’s a big waiting list and you’re only allowed to do it once every six months, but I finally got a spot on the 29th of April. It did not go well.

I was on halfway through the second section of the night, the crowd was worked up and restless – they’d already booed off a few acts who barely managed 30 seconds on stage. I lasted 37 seconds, but it was my own fault.

The opener I’m currently using is a bit long winded, and takes 20-30 seconds to get to the laugh. It normally works and the payoff is big enough to justify the long buildup. I knew it wouldn’t work for the King Gong, I knew I’d need to start strong with a few punchy heavy hitters before I could try longer bits.

I’d planned to rework my set, but real life got in the way and I didn’t find the time to do it. So in the end I just went up and tried to do my usual material. Inevitably, it didn’t work – by the time I finished my opener they were already shouting so loud that nobody heard the punchline. Two red cards went up, I’d already lost the crowd, so I turned to the third card holder and told him to put the card up because I wanted to get home in time for Game of Thrones, and he obliged.

All these people are bastards. All of them.

If anything I’m just annoyed at myself for wasting the opportunity. I knew what I had to do to be in with a chance at this show, but I didn’t find the time to do it, and now I won’t be able to get another spot there for six months at least.

Some of the other acts did better. Micah Hall beat the gong – I’ve seen him around since he got started a year or so ago and it’s been good to watch him get better. Martin Graham almost got to 5 minutes (mostly by intimidating the card-holders) but got sent off with just a few seconds left on the clock.

I didn’t stick around to find out who won the night – you can’t let this kind of thing wind you up, but I couldn’t help feeling a little embarassed about doing so poorly, so I grabbed my coat and sloped off early. Despite everything it’s still good experience to try and retain some degree of composure in front of a baying crowd.

I wouldn’t say I learned much about crowd control, because it wasn’t like there were one or two hecklers I could work on – a large chunk of the audience turned on me pretty quickly and there was nothing much I could do except try to get my material out over the noise. I suppose if there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that you should have a plan for when the whole audience is confrontational. Bill Burr’s legendary Philadelphia Incident is a masterclass in this, he spends 12 minutes abusing an aggressive crowd, although of course he had the benefit of being able to stay on stage for as long as he wanted.

The week before I did a spot at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion, which is always good fun, and that brings me up to 89 gigs. I’ve got no gigs on this week because of more real life stuff, but next week I’m at Sam Rhodes on Wednesday before doing the Sussex Comedian of the Year competition heat on Thursday. I don’t even remember applying for that, but somehow I’ve got a spot, and it’s in a tiny village in deepest darkest Sussex, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of audience it gets.

Onwards and (ever so slightly) upwards.

South Coast Comedian of the Year Competition

I’ve done a few gigs since my last post, starting with a triumphant return to the Lion’s Den Comedy Car Crash, where I did many of my very early open mic spots. I’ve not been able to do the gig for about a year because of childcare issues, but on this particular night I found myself at a loose end and decided to drop in and was pleased to see that it hasn’t changed a bit.

Lion’s Den is unique on the London scene in that you don’t need to book ahead, you just show up on the night and put your name in the hat to get drawn at random for a five minute spot. You don’t need a bringer either. Because of that it tends to be popular with people who are really new, and you always get a wild mix of potential, delusion, genius, and borderline mental health issues.

Before I started doing standup, this was exactly how I thought all open mics would be, but in London you really only get that at the Lion’s Den – it’s got a genuine “anything goes” vibe, for better or worse.

As I was waiting in the queue I realised I didn’t recognise any of the other acts, which is unusual these days. Eventually Gaëlle Constant (who runs the London Stand Up Comedy Map on Facebook) showed up, I’ve chatted to her a couple of times in the past, so there was at least one friendly face, and we had a good yack in the bar before the show.

It was a fun gig, lots of randoms, and Boyce Bailey always does a great job of MCing. I churned out my current five minutes to a fairly a mediocre response. A couple of bits got decent laughs, but mostly it was just low-level titters – given the audience was almost entirely made up of other acts, that’s about the best I could hope for.

The following night I did a spot at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion in Dalston, at the Rocksteady, where I’ve been quite a lot recently because it’s a nice non-bringer gig close to where I work, so it’s very easy for me to do.

Again, I didn’t really do anything different to my current five, because I had a competition coming up and just wanted to practice. The last time I did this gig Sam gave me a ten spot and I kind of fluffed it, but this time around it went much better.

Instead of launching right into my set I started off with a little banter with Sam, and addressed something that was going on in the bar (they were showing Gladiator on a big screen, for some reason). This feels a bit better than just launching straight into my opener, especially since it can take a little too long to get to the first punchline, so I decided to make a conscious effort to do it more often.

The next chance I got was on Monday this week when I did a spot at We Are Funny Project in Dalston – another non-bringer conveniently close to work, which I’ve done a lot recently. I had gone to the gig planning to do a completely new five minutes because I was bored of churning out the same set. But as I was sat in the bar I got chatting to some of the other acts and was struggling to memorise the new stuff, so I wimped out and decided to do my usual shit instead.

The MC, Alfie, handed me a bit of a gift, as he let his 12 year old son do a spot before I went up (and he killed, btw) so when I took the stage I opened with “I wish I could tell you this is the first time I’ve followed a twelve year old boy…” – it was a bit cheap, but it got me one of the longest laughs I’ve ever had at an open mic night, so I’m not sorry.

After that I ploughed on with my usual material, but I tried to restructure my set by moving some of the bits around to make it fit together a little better, and my flow just wasn’t right and my energy was off so, while I got laughs, none of them were big and my closer flopped completely.

All the same, it was a great fun night and I got to spend some time chatting with Gus Singh, Lee Hudson, and Andrew Buchan, who were all firing on all cylinders. In the bar before the show a French guy, Mickael N’dour, introduced himself as a reader, and told me it was his second gig – but did an amazing job. It always depresses me when new acts are so good. I also bumped into another reader, a new act called Stephen Young, who I’ve met a couple of times now and is getting into his stride.

It’s cool to have got to a point with this where most of the time I go to a gig I know a few people and get to compare notes, catch up and generally have a bit of chit chat. Even if this comedy thing doesn’t ever go anywhere for me (and there’s at least an 80% chance of that happening) it’s just good to feel like I’m part of something and hanging out with people who could go onto great things.

Finally, on Wednesday of this week I went to Portsmouth Guildhall for my heat of the South Coast Comedian of the Year Competition. When I got to the venue I met a couple of guys I know from London, Horatio Gould and Jacob Hatton, and I got chatting to some of the local acts too. There was a nice friendly vibe, as there often is at these things, more camaraderie than competition.

There were ten acts in total, and I was up fourth, just before the first break. The venue space was weird, kind of an open hall that had been sectioned off with black drapes and odd lighting. It felt a bit like the kind of place where you might see a live sex show, so I riffed on that as an opener, which worked reasonably well, and then cracked on with my polished material.

There were about 30 paying audience members, and they all seemed pretty receptive to my stuff – and I was getting good solid laughs all the way through. By the time I left the stage I felt like I’d done as good a job as I could with that material.

The top three acts of the night were picked by an audience vote, and even though I don’t generally expect to get anywhere in these things (on account of being yet another middle aged hetero white guy) I half thought I was at least in with a chance this time. It wasnt to be though, and the two acts who went through to the semi finals were Horatio Gould and a great character act called Michael Buttersworth.

I’m ready to start doing some new material now that these competitions are out of the way, although I’ve got a spot at the Comedy Store King Gong show on the 29th so I don’t want try new stuff there, except maybe a punchier opener. Other than that gig, I’m going to focus on trying out new stuff at gigs now, for a while at least.

I can’t believe I’m only on 87 gigs so far, it feels like much more, but at least the psychologically important 100 milestone is within reach.


Entering Manford’s New Act of the Year Competition

Three gigs last week, ending with a trip to Southampton on Friday for the Manfords New Act of the Year Competition, but let’s start at the beginning.

Things kicked off on Monday with a spot at We Are Funny Project, which turned out to be a small but perfectly formed night. There were a few last minute dropouts so the room was quieter than usual, but a smattering of audience showed up and there were some great acts who were all up for it, so it was a fun show.

Knowing I had the competition coming up, I just ran through my best five minutes as a practice run, and it landed pretty well. Because of the dropouts we finished earlier than usual, and since I had a friend in tow I stuck around for a drink with some of the other acts which ended up being a good laugh. I wish I could do it more often, but because I leave in the wilderness of Zone 4 I usually have to bale out straight after gigs to get home at a reasonable hour.

On Wednesday I did a 10 minute spot at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion, which turned out to be a complete disaster. I did 10 minutes once before, at the start of the year, and it went reasonably well, but this time I think I was trying too hard to remember how all of the different bits fit together, and relying on notes too much, and it all went to shit. My delivery was clumsy, even for the bits I know really well, so I stumbled through my material, getting a few laughs for the best bits but never really winning the audience over.

As ever, it felt pretty grim while I was bombing, but I got over it quickly – I’d recently been thinking that I hadn’t died badly for a while, so I knew I was due one. Lesson learned – next time I get a 10 spot I’ll prepare better and have a better plan than “do my good material and then pad it out with whatever old stuff I can remember.”

And finally, on Friday I drove down to Southampton for my heat of the Manfords New Act of the Year Competition. I left in plenty of time to get there early, but I got stuck in bad traffic, nearly ran out of petrol, and had a slight fuckup with a toll bridge that didn’t accept cards (seriously, what the fuck Southampton, it’s 2019!) – so I arrived just in time, but feeling a little tightly wound, and without having had anything to eat.

The venue was a local theater that Manfords runs comedy nights in, with a big stage and an audience capacity of around a couple of hundred. A little different to the kind of places I’m used to performing in.

I headed back-stage to try and relax a little before things kicked off, and I bumped into some of the other acts. Three of them I know from the London open mic circuit, Ginnia Cheng, Ruby Carr, and Louise Atkinson – all strong contenders. Soon enough the MC, a professional called Barry Castagnola, arrived and explained how the night would run.

Three acts would go through to the semi finals, each chosen by audience vote, the MC, and the club manager. Ginnia was on first, I was second, and then the first break, so all the other acts went to sit in the audience while the pair of us hung back. I’ve known her for a while, so we just chatted while Barry was warming them up for 15 minute – then she went up, and soon enough it was my turn.

About a hundred people turned up (all genuine, paying audience!) so it’s not the biggest room I’ve done, but certainly much bigger than usual. The great thing about big rooms, that you just won’t know if you’ve only ever done open mic nights, is that those larger audiences laugh more, and longer, than the kind of rooms we’re used to playing every week.

I launched into my set (once again painfully aware that my opener takes a little too long to get to the punchline) and every joke landed – they laughed at everything, including little bits of setups that don’t usually get laughs. I tried to take my time and give them time to finish laughing before I carried on.

Even though they were going along with everything, I don’t think I did as good a job as I wanted. The stressy journey made it hard for me to relax into the moment, so it really felt like I was just reciting my material like a script rather than delivering it like a standup routine. Apart from one or two small interactions with the audience, I was regurgitating the material from memory and not telling it like a story.

All the same, it worked well enough to get some big laughs and appropriate “oooohs” for some of the darker bits. At one point I felt like I’d got through my material too quickly, which didn’t make sense given the longer laugh-breaks, and I realised I’d skipped a bit, so I played some mental Tetris to figure out how to get back on track – all while in the middle of delivering another bit. I was quite proud of myself for that, it was nothing the audience would have noticed, but I managed to figure the problem out and find a solution, without missing a beat.

I fucked up a little towards the end. I saw the time light flashing from the back of the room and couldn’t figure out whether that was the light to let me know I had a minute left or that my time was up. Instead of handling it gracefully, I mentioned it to the audience, hoping the MC or somebody would let me know how much time I had – not very professional – but I did one more bit and finished.

In hindsight I realised I must have been over time simply because of all the extra laughs. I’m getting really bad at remembering to start my stopwatch before I go on stage – that would have solved the problem.

Long story short, I did pretty well, but could have done better, and I made one silly mistake. Once my set was over I went to get a drink and apologised to the MC for going over time, but he insisted I hadn’t gone too far over and it wasn’t a problem. As I was waiting at the bar a few audience members came to chat and feed my ego with compliments, which always feels great because I am needy and wildly insecure.

For the rest of the show I loitered at the back of the room with the other acts, whispering gossip and waiting for the final judgement. I didn’t get to the semi-final, but was very happy that Ruby Carr did because I’ve been a fan since I first saw her a year or so ago. The other two acts who got through were from outside of London, so I didn’t know them, and can’t remember their names, but they were both great and thoroughly deserving.

Can’t say I’m too disappointed as I don’t expect to do too well at these competitions, but they’re always good fun to do and it’s great to get the opportunity to perform in front of a larger audience, so I chalk it up as a win.

I’ve got a couple of gigs this week, and then more competitions later in the month – plus I got a spot at the Comedy Store King Gong Show on the 29th. Raaar!

Gig count: 83

Dusting off some hacky old material

I was back at We Are Funny Project in Dalston last night and, while it was a little quieter than it has been recently, the room was still buzzy with plenty of audience and a good atmosphere.

I’ve been at WAF quite a lot recently so I had a bit of a dilemma about what material to do. On the one hand I’ve got a few competitions coming in April and I want to hone my best five minute set ahead of that, but I feel bad about constantly doing the same material at the same gig.

So I’ve been compromising with myself and throwing a minute of two of new material into each set, alongside the tested stuff I’m trying to practice. This time I dusted off a few old bits about porn that I first tried about a year ago and quickly abandoned because a) they were only getting a mediocre response and, b) pretty much every open mic act does porn jokes and it just felt a bit hack.

I’m not sure what made me want to try this stuff again – I suppose I wanted to put some different material into my set but haven’t done much writing recently, so it seemed like an easy solution.

Things have calmed down again at work , so I’m feeling a lot more at ease than I have been for the past couple of months, and was really up for the gig. I forgot to find out where I was in the running order and normally that would put me a little on edge but this night I didn’t really care, I just relaxed and made a conscious effort to be in the moment, soaking up what was happening at the gig rather than staying in my own head.

As it turned out I got called up to close the first half, which caught me on the back foot a little because by that point I’d assumed I was in the second half, but I was in the mood to just roll with it. My set was sloppy because I’ve not been focused on comedy recently, so I waffled a bit too much and my delivery wasn’t as tight as it has been. All the same, it went well enough. Most of my punchlines landed and because I’d been paying attention to the other acts I was able to bounce off some of the things they’d said earlier.

But the really interesting thing was that the old porn material worked really well and got me my two biggest laughs of the night, even though it was very rough because I haven’t used that stuff for ages. I think just having a bit more confidence and stage presence than I did a year ago made a world of difference, and a better developed instinct for how to tell the joke helped. It’s probably worth digging through some more old, abandoned material to see if I can breathe new life into any of it.

All in all I felt good about the set. More than anything else it was just fun to do, compared to recent gigs that have felt like hard work because of all the other stuff I’ve had going on.

I bumped into a few acts I know, Steph Aritone, Vitaly Filipsky, and Nick Everritt, who all smashed it. The second half of the show was run by a guest MC who had been through one of the WAFP MCing courses, a guy called Simon Whitaker who did a top job and had some great material.

I don’t have anything booked for next week, but it’s the Comedy Store King Gong show on Monday so I might go along to that and see if I can get one of the audience-volunteer spots.

Gig Count: 80

A fun, low-key night at Sam Rhodes’ Comedy Explosion

I did a spot at Sam Rhodes’ Comedy Explosion at the Rocksteady in Dalston this week. To be honest, I’m stressed out of my nut with work at the moment and not focusing much on standup, but I’d booked the gig and didn’t want to bale on it. As it happened it was qute nice to get to the gig early, grab a burger and pint, and spend some time decompressing in peace and quiet before the gig.

I chatted with the other acts as they started showing up – although apart from Sam and Tom Goodhead (who I’d met at a previous gig) I didn’t really know too many of the other acts. It was a fairly quiet night to begin with, and by the time it was my turn to go up at the start of the third section, it was even quieter.

I wasn’t too worried about this – Sam did his best to squeeze some energy out of the depleted room, and the mood was good. Sometimes you have to remind yourself it’s just an open mic night, not every set has to kill, and it’s fine to just get up and dick about for five minutes.

I started off by riffing on some stuff that Sam had been talking about – it wasn’t particularly funny, but it got me into a conversational vibe, which set the tone for the rest of my set. I launched into my usual material, but at a more relaxed pace – having a couple of beers in me meant that I kind of meandered a bit too, which was a mixed blessing.

On the one hand I waffled a lot and added too much fat into bits that are usually tight, but the upside was that I stumbled into one or two laughs that I wasn’t expected. For example, I have a joke about putting my kids on a vegan diet which is punchy and works pretty well, but after I did it I started rambling about how vegan jokes are getting pretty hacky. I don’t know why I did it, other than just being a bit drunk and undiscplined, and most of it was pointless time-wasting, but one thing I said got a good laugh, so I’ve written that into the bit as a tag.

Most of my usual stuff got as much of a laugh as could be expected under the circumstances, but one newish bit that I’ve been trying out landed really well and I had to wait for the room to stop laughing before I could carry on. It’s a joke I posted on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, that I didn’t think would work particularly well as a standup bit, but a few people liked it so I tried it out on stage a few times and it’s worked well on every occasion.

So in the end it turned out to be a good night – I chilled out and stopped thinking about work for the evening, and just relaxing and messing about a bit helped improve some of my material. I should do that a bit more; instead of treating every gig as though it has to be a strong performance, just have some fun and not worry about fucking up.

No gigs next week because of work, but after that things should calm down again and I can focus more on comedy.

I killed a rat and had a good gig

Just a single spot this week, Monday at We Are Funny Project again. I’m in the middle of a big project at work which is kind of all consuming at the moment, and it’s staying that way until the middle of March. That means comedy’s taken a back seat for a while, I’ve not found time to write much new material, and I’ve been showing up to gigs feeling as though I’m not mentally prepared for them.

Since I decided to shelve the Racist Baby material, I’ve had about a one minute hole in my set that I’ve wanted to fill with new material but haven’t been able to. I got to the gig early and found a quiet corner to go through my notes and see if I could find any half-formed ideas that might work.

As it happened, earlier in the week I’d had to kill a rat I caught in my kitchen, and I’d been joking with a friend about getting aroused while I was doing it. I tried writing that up into a bit, but it was pretty dark and weird, and even though I liked the premise I was worried that it would be tough to get an audience to buy into it.

I was willing to give it a go, but while I was chewing the idea over something better came to me. I’d posted a joke on Twitter earlier in the week which got a mildly positive reaction, but I didn’t immediately think of putting it in my set because it didn’t have a strong enough punchline to work on stage, but it might work nicely as part of the setup to another bit already in the set. It wouldn’t fill the full minute, but I could dust off an old bit to fill my time if I needed to.

I really need to find time to write properly instead of just winging it like this – I know if I can actually focus on my material I could produce a lot better stuff than I do by simply scribbling down occasional ideas when they come to me.

The audience wasn’t quite as big as it has been recently at WAF, but there were still a few genuine punters in, including a front and centre row of giggly antipodean women who really lifted the atmosphere in the room. This made me realise I’d made the right decision about my material, they didn’t seem like the type of girls who’d laugh at stuff about middle aged men getting erections while they murder rats.

I went up sixth of the night, and the guy who was up before me (Giuseppe Gib) did me a massive favour because he did a bit about the number of toilets in Buckingham Palace. I had a half baked story about trying to go to the toilets on the tour of Buckingham Palace, so I started my set with that. Even though it was fairly mediocre the audience seemed to like it because it looked like I’d just come up with it off the cuff, and it filled enough time to bring my set to bang on five minutes.

Once I got started on my main material everything just flowed perfectly – I felt relaxed and comfortable with my set, the audience laughed at everything, it all hung together really well. The new bit, which I thought didn’t have a very strong punchline, got a pretty decent laugh in its own right and helped me build up towards a bigger laugh from the next bit.

At my past few gigs I’ve been conscious of mistakes I made and gaps in my material, but this time I felt much more upbeat about it – I didn’t fuck up any of my bits and I thought my delivery was as good as it has ever been. I got lucky with the opportunity to fill 30 seconds at the start with an improvised opener, and I know I still need to fill that gap with something I can use at every gig, but once I’m less busy and feeling less stressed about life I can find some time to do some writing again.

I feel good about how the gig went for me, and there were some other great acts there as well – I had a good chat with Vanessa Hua (who is a reader and I’ve met at previous gigs) and she delighted the room, as did William Harte (who is also a reader and did a sterling job considering how few spots he’s done so far). Charlie Foley also stood out for me.

A great night all in all, which left me in a much more positive frame of mind than I have been recently.

I was supposed to be at Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms on Wednesday, but had to abandon that gig because I couldn’t find a bringer. I’ve reached the point where my friends are over the novelty of watching me do comedy and it’s getting harder to persuade people to come along to bringer gigs with me.

I think that means I’m going to have to quit signing up for those nights, I can’t face the regular struggle of trying to find somebody to drag along with me any more. It’s a shame, because nights like Comedy Virgins are great, but it’s logistically too difficult for me to keep doing them every month.

Gig Count: 78

Not sure if I had a good or a bad gig

I’m in a bit of a quiet period at the moment, since it’s the time of year when I’m busiest in my day job so everything else has to take a bit of a back seat. I did one gig on Monday of this week and haven’t got another booked until nearly the end of the month.

Black t-shirt + grey hoodie = comedy.

It also means that, having made a big song and dance about launching a new podcast with Mouch from Comedy Moochabout, I won’t actually have time to record any new episodes until the middle of next month – but we’ve got 4 episodes live now, so check it out.

On Monday I did a spot at We Are Funny in Dalston. Things didn’t start well because I was having a stressy day and, to make matters worse, ended up running late for the gig so I got even more wound up about the prospect of driving across London for an hour only to get bumped off the line-up.

Fortunately Alfie the MC was in a forgiving mood, and I was only a couple of minutes late in the end. You can’t make a habit of showing up late, it pisses off promoters because they need to get the night’s running order nailed down before the show starts and, if they don’t know whether you’re going to show up at all, it makes their life harder.

The room was already packed by the time I got there – it’s been the same the last few times at We Are Funny Project, even though it’s not a bringer night they’re doing a great job of pulling in a decent audience most nights.

I was feeling on edge with one thing and another, so I wasn’t at my best, but I tried to ease myself into the right mood. I bumped into Lee Hudson, who I’d seen a couple of times before but never really spoke to, and a bit of chit chat with him helped me relax. He went up third of the night and killed.

I also had a chat with Elliot Dallas, who I saw a few weeks previously at the same gig, when he seemed to have a minor breakdown on stage – but this time around he was on much better form and did a pretty decent job.

I was on about halfway through the first section. I’ve been experimenting with trying to be a little more high- energy, especially during my opening bit when I’m trying to quickly get the audience on-board. I don’t know if it’s working that well. It feels a bit forced and unnatural for me, and I can never keep it up for very long so I think it probably sets false expectations for the rest of my set. I tried it again tonight, but really turned it up to 11 – I don’t think it did any harm, but it just didn’t feel right for me.

Most of the set seemed to go reasonably well, they laughed at pretty much everything, and even in a couple of places I wasn’t expecting. I ran through my usual set, but dropped the racist baby bit (which I usually run through just before my punchy one-line closer) in favour of a couple of new things.

I hadn’t really timed things properly, and had about 30 seconds spare – so I dug up an old bit of material about vasectomies which always used to work pretty well. But because my head wasn’t really in the right place, when Alfie waved the light from the side of the stage to let me know my time was nearly up, I completely blanked and lost my train of thought. I styled it out, admitted that I’d fucked up, and jumped straight to my closer, which got a nice laugh for me as I left the stage.

I didn’t really know how to feel about my set – it went well and I got a lot of laughs, but I know I wasn’t feeling good and didn’t do as good a job as I wanted. All the same, the stress that had been building up inside me all day completely evaporated as I walked back to my seat, and I was able to enjoy the rest of the night.

During the half time break I went to get a drink in the bar and a few separate audience members told me how much they’d enjoyed my set, which just goes to show that we’re always our own worst critics. I could list a dozen specific mistakes I’d made, as well as a general feeling of not being on form, but the audience seemed to like it.

Even so, I know I can do better. Since I made the decision to shelve the racist baby bit, I’ve been on a mission to fill the time with some solid new material. I’ve got a few bits that seem to be working pretty well, but I still need to do some work tying it all together so that it flows. I’ve also realised that some existing bits still need work, especially my opener, which takes too long to get to the punchline.

I’m not gigging until the 25th, so I’m going to spend some time focusing on writing and editing my set.

Beat the Blackout and Max Turner Prize Semi Final

Beat the Blackout at Up the Creek

A busy week for me. I started on Monday with 5 minutes at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion in Shoreditch. It’s a nice, friendly night and always a good place to try out new material, so I had planned to try out a lot of new bits I’ve been working on.

In the bar I got chatting to a couple of other acts I hadn’t met before, as well as the Katie Price, who I’ve bumped into a few times recently. It was shaping up to be a good gig, but with just one or two small problems.

1)      At a table right next to the stage where Sam was setting the mic up, a couple were in the middle of a break-up, with all the tears and shouting that usually entails. Fortunately they had the good sense to move their personal crisis to a different venue when the comedy started.

2)      At the back of the room was a table full of drunk lads, doing shots and having an animated discussion about The Football. They weren’t being dicks, and pretty much left the acts alone, but they weren’t going to let a bunch of ponces with a microphone and PA system ruin their chat, so they just spent the entire night there and talked through everybody’s set.

All in all the gig was fine, but the banter-table was pretty distracting and everybody had to work a bit harder because of it. I was up late in the night and seeing how all the other acts had battled through the background chatter, I wasn’t really in the mood for testing half-written new material. I threw a couple of new bits in, but mostly ran through my current five minute set, as a rehearsal for my gigs later in the week, and it all went well enough.

This is one of the things I like about Sam Rhode’s gigs – they’re all in public bars, so you get the random element of not knowing what else is going to be happening in the room and you have to learn to adapt to the situation. It’s mostly a supportive environment, with just a tinge of the unexpected to keep you on your toes.

Next up was my Max Turner Prize semi final heat on Wednesday night. I was feeling good about this – I knew a lot of strong acts had gone through and knew I’d be lucky to get into the finals, so went in with low expectations, just planning to do as good a set as I could and treat it like any other gig.

Just as I was getting ready to go to the gig, I got an email from the organisers of Jason Manford’s new act competition, which I’d completely forgotten about entering months ago, to let me know I’d got a place in the heats, on Saturday – the same day as the Max Turner final. So that kind of messed with me a little, because I started worrying about what I should do if I got through.

It turned out to be a pretty busy night, with lots of genuine audience members on top of the friends the acts had brought – the Cavendish does a Groupon deal to get people through the door, and there were a bunch of them in that night so the energy was high. I went up sixth of the night, and felt like I did a pretty average job – not sure why, but the audience didn’t really get on board with some of my stuff.

I’ve messed around with my set a bit recently, adding in a couple of new bits and dropping weaker stuff, so I think I was still a little unsure of it and my delivery wasn’t as confident as it could have been. Either way, I did OK but not great, so it was no big surprise that I didn’t get through to the final, and at least now there’s no conflict on Saturday night for me.

And then there was Thursday at Beat the Blackout, at Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich. I’ve never been there before, so it was all new to me.

It’s a proper comedy club with a decent sized room – I’d guess over 100 people – and the Beat the Blackout night is essentially a Gong Show with a rowdy bear-pit audience where heckling and shouting is encouraged. Three audience members are given cards to hold up if they don’t like you, and if all three hold their cards up the stage lights go out and your time is up – although to make it fair, you get two minutes grace at the start to try and win the crowd over, before they’re allowed to hold up their cards. The aim for acts is to make it to five minutes without getting voted off – which means you don’t finish on a big punchline, you just keep going until it’s over.

Before the gig I bumped into Michael Eldridge and had a good natter in the bar, and also met Michael Akadiri and Murat Gencoglu, who I know from previous gigs.

I wasn’t intimidated by the size of the room, or even the blackout element of the night, but I was a little unsure about how I’d handle the heckles because I’ve never had to face that before. Right from the off the crowd was rowdy, and even the experienced MC seemed to struggle keeping them quiet, so I knew it was going to be a struggle.

Murat went up first, but unfortunately the crowd wasn’t very generous with him, and he didn’t last much longer than the two minute grace period. I felt bad for him because I’ve seen him at previous gigs and I know he’s got some good jokes. Next up was Michael Eldridge, and he crushed it – they bought into him right away and despite a few heckles he made it past five minutes and went on to win the entire night.

It was my turn next. Once I was on stage the room felt a lot bigger all of a sudden, and even thought the audience size probably wasn’t much more than Angel Comedy Raw, it felt like a different game entirely. They seemed fairly quiet during my opener, but while I was delivering it I really noticed how long it takes me to get to my first punchline (20-30 seconds). This doesn’t feel like a problem at most nights because the audience is friendly and happy to give you a chance, but I really got the sense that this lot were willing me to get on with it.

When the punchline finally landed, it was glorious. The room is bigger, but so are the laughs, and after that I got into my stride. The next section of my set is punchier, with four or five short, reliable jokes, and each of them landed really well. At some points it felt like the laughs went on for ages. I’ve been told I “tread on my laughs” sometimes, and it’s better to just shut up and let the audience laugh for as long as they want rather than trying to force them onto the next joke, so I was trying to wait, but I was feeling awkward just standing there saying nothing while I waited for them to quiet down.

The only real trouble came after a vegan joke (yeah, I know, sorry) when some angry vegans started shouting at me, but their weak, low-energy voices were drowned out by the laughter and I just steamrollered on.

So far, so good, I’d got past the two minutes grace and they didn’t immediately shut me down. Next I moved onto some slightly longer bits with more punchlines and tags, and this is where it started to get tricky.

There was a woman close to the front who had been shouting random shit out all night – not even heckles that you could respond to, just unintelligible garble, and she always seemed to do it right on the punchlines. At about this point in my set she started up again, and it kind of derailed me a bit, so my delivery was off and these longer bits did OK, but weren’t as smooth as they should have been.

One of these bits has a joke about Tories, which plays well to liberal open mic audiences, but split the room here and got a mixed reception. All the same, I was still on stage and kept going, and moved onto my closing Racist Baby™ material, which is where it all fell apart.

It was a fairly mixed room, and this stuff normally works best in those situations, but I was on the back foot after the middle section got rocky, and I didn’t deliver it well, so the audience shut me down before I could get to the punchline. Fair enough, it’s a sensitive topic and I hadn’t done enough to win their trust so that they’d let me finish it.

I think I got to about 4 minutes, I’m reasonably happy with that and I think I learned more in that one gig than I have in the past six months, so it was a great experience. The main lesson was that stuff that works well in open mic nights full of comedians doesn’t necessarily work with real audiences, and the Racist Baby bit has been troubling me for a while now, so I’m going to shelve it. I’ve been working up some less risky material that I can replace it with.

There was a weather warning and I was worried about getting home in the snow, so I decided to bale out early and said my goodbyes. On the way out of the club I bumped into Michael Akadiri in the bar with some of his friends, who were very kind and helped me do a little post-mortem on what went wrong. But I know the answer, race is a touchy topic that scares audiences, and you’ve really got to earn the right to talk about it on stage – I’ve got a way to go before I’ve got that kind of trust.

So, tomorrow I’m doing my heat of the Manford’s New Act of the Year competition, at the Stage Door in Southampton. The Racist Baby bit is out of the set, and replaced with a few newer, punchier bits, which I’m going to have try and hammer into my brain during the two hour drive to the venue.

Gig Count to Date: 76 – I could have sworn I was already over 80, but I just went through my diary and crunched the numbers.

Second time at Angel Comedy RAW

The running order.

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.