The Max Turner Prize is an annual competition run by Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell, one of the most popular and long running comedy open mic nights in London. As well as a bundle of cash, the first prize includes a full year of being able to perform on any night without a bringer – for an upcoming act who wants to get a lot of stage-time in front of a decent audience, that’s huge.
This year I think there are about 230 acts competing in the heats, which are then whittled down to 4 semi-final nights, and then a big final. Last night I was in heat #10.
I got there early to settle into the vibe, grabbed a pizza with the friend who came along, had a chat with a few of the other acts, and was feeling pretty relaxed about the whole thing – right up until the MC (Adrian Tauss) informed me I’d be the first act of the night. I’m still on the fence about whether this is good or bad in terms of how the audience judges you, but either way it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to go up first on any night.
I’m not exactly a high-energy act, I think you could describe my style as conversational, but I felt that being first up required some pace to get the audience on-board, so I tried to open my act with more commitment than usual. Talking louder, leaning into the audience, being a little more enthusiastic – it’s weird doing this because it feels fake and contrived, I’m not trying to do a character act, but it works, especially in a busy room like the Cavendish.
The audience bought into it and I got some good laughs, but because I was trying a slightly different approach I made a few fuckups – I missed out a couple of small but important details in some of my setups, I fluffed some of my bits so they weren’t as slick as they could be, looked at my watch a couple of times to give me time to think about the next bit, and then as I approached the end of my set I realised I still had about 30 seconds to go and couldn’t work out why. It was only when I got back to my seat I realised I’d completely missed out a part of one of my biggest bits. Weirdly, I did exactly the same thing last year in this competition.
While I was on-stage I was deeply conscious of all these little mistakes, so for the first time in months I was feeling nervous. None of it really seemed to matter though because I was still getting a good reaction from the audience, the over-confidence helped gloss over the cracks in my act, but when it was over I knew that it was a weak performance by my recent standards.
The good thing about being first up was that once my bit was over I could just sit back and enjoy the rest of the night, which wasn’t hard because there were a lot of great acts on. As the night drew on and the quality got higher, I realised I’d be lucky to be one of the six acts to go through to the semi-finals.
It got to the end of the night and everybody shuffled out into the bar to wait for the organisers to announce the semi-finalist. Before the gig my frame of mind was firmly “six people can go through, I’ve been doing pretty well recently, so I’m in with a decent chance” but waiting in the bar I was braced for the oh so familiar sting of rejection.
Sure enough, the MC came out in due course and announced the six semi-finalists, and my name was not on the list. Just as I was about to throw myself onto the floor for a screaming tantrum, one of the other regular MCs, Twix, hopped up onto a stool and told everybody to shut up for a special announcement – there was a tie-break situation in the audience voting, and just for this heat the organisers had agreed to send an extra act through to the semi-finals, and that act was me.
My semi-final heat is on the 30th of January, and false modesty aside, I really will be lucky to get through to the final because the other acts who have made it through are some of the best on the open mic scene. I’ve got a couple of opportunities to practice before then, with gigs at Angel Comedy RAW tomorrow night, Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion on Monday, and if that wasn’t enough I’ve got a Beat the Blackout spot at Up The Creek in Greenwich the day after the competition semi.
That’ll be a total of 8 gigs for January, which isn’t a lot by some people’s standards but until I can convince my wife that I’m getting somewhere with this comedy stuff and it’s not just a midlife crisis, a couple of gigs a week is about as good as it gets for me.