Losing at the Comedy Virgins summer competition

I’ve been away on holiday for a couple of weeks, so I’m a bit late writing up my last gig because I couldn’t be arsed doing it before I went away.

The gig was my heat of the Comedy Virgins summer competition, with the first prize being a full year of bringer-less spots at the Cavendish Arms, making it well worth a shot. Ironically, I was struggling to get a bringer for that night so, after scouring the Comedy Performers +1 Exchange Facebook page, I volunteered to help somebody out at G&B Comedy a few days earlier.

G&B is one of those gigs that has been around for a long time and gets mentioned a lot, but I’d never been there before so I was happy to go and check the place out. The venue, Arch1, is a tiny arts space, impressively squeezed into a low railway arch near West Ham and, since I’ve been idly toying with starting a local night in my part of town, this got me thinking about possibilities beyond the usual room-above-a-pub option.

It was a themed night, on the topic of growing old disgracefully, with all acts over the age of 35, so I felt right at home. My bringee was Lorraine Hoodless, trying out some material before she headed to Edinburgh for the Fringe, which seemed to go pretty well for her, and the only act in the room that I’d met before was Dicky Wright and he put in a solid performance too. I’ve never met Emily McQuade, although her name pops up a lot, and she was the highlight of the show for me, so I’m hoping to see her around some more.

So, my heat of the competition went pretty well, even though I wasn’t one of the two acts that went through to the final. The room was busy, with around 15 acts all dragging along at least one bringer, so by the time I went up at the end of the first half, the energy was high.

It was kind of a weird set for me, because I hadn’t gigged for a week and I was feeling a little rusty, so I tripped over a few words and ended up waffling too much, I was fiddling with the mic stand too much, not making enough eye contact with the audience, and generally not as sharp as I know I can be.

Most of all, I really noticed (again) just how slow my opener is, and in those first 30 seconds of my set the room was stone-cold silent. Dropping that first punchline is nerve-wracking, because I’ve made them wait a hell of a long time for it, and if it bombs then there’s no coming back from it. But I didn’t need to worry – the first bit landed really well, got a huge laugh, and then they were on board for the rest of my set.

So while I was on stage I was mentally cataloguing everything that I knew I was doing wrong, but at the same time the audience was really going for it. Every single thing worked well, and my closer rounded the set off nicely. I think if I can just learn to get out of my own way (i.e. stop thinking about what’s going wrong, and work with what’s going right in the moment) I’ll be able to improve my stage-presence a lot.  

During the break and at the end of the night I got a lot of really nice feedback from people, with a few saying that they were surprised I didn’t get through because they felt like I was the strongest act. But I wasn’t too worried about that – the acts who got through were both strong, and competitions which use an audience vote always throw up surprises. I was just happy that, despite my nitpicking, I’d comfortably delivered a really strong five minute set and got a good reaction from the audience.

Where now? I’m back from holiday and don’t have any spots booked, so I need to get on top of that. I’m also going to make time to get some more podcast episodes recorded, because I’m really keen to get that thing off the ground again.

I want to focus on new material too – I want to be able to feel as comfortable delivering a strong ten minutes as I currently do with my five, and I really need to find a punchier opener. At the final We Are Funny gig a few weeks back, Lenny Sherman gave me some nice feedback and suggested I open with some gentler material to really get the audience fully on-side before I dive into my darker stuff. It makes a lot of sense, so that’s something I’m going to work on.

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