The stand-up course is over and the excitement of showcase night has faded, but a handful of us are keen to make sure we don’t lose momentum so we’ve started investigating London’s open-mic nights. The week after showcase a few of us headed up to Funny Feckers at the Constitution in Camden just to scope it out and get a feel for how an open-mic night works.
In the bar ahead of the show we had a chat with the organiser, Wes Dalton, and learned that the open spots are usually booked a month or two in advance (turns out this is the case with a lot of nights). By coincidence it was Funny Fecker’s first birthday, so there was a really good atmosphere in the club and a decent sized audience.
The mix of experience amongst the 10 acts was varied, some first timers, some veterans, but the audience was friendly and treated all of them well. One act in particular stood out – I forget his name, but his routine was a bit like Data from Star Trek delivering different styles of stand-up in a way that deconstructed familiar comedy tropes. I loved it, but it got a mixed response from the crowd – I hope I bump into the guy again.
I left the night feeling pretty positive and confident that I wouldn’t embarrass myself too badly if I performed alongside a similar line-up.
The following week I went to the Lion’s Den open mic night at a club on Shaftsbury Avenue with a couple of comrades, and queued up early so that we could get spots. This was a different vibe entirely, but still good fun. There were about 20 acts in total, and the quality varied immensely – some were very funny, some showed promise, some were terrible, others seemed to have very real psychological problems.
One youngish guy, who’d done a handful of spots already, had invited a bunch of his mates to watch him perform, but he completely choked on stage and after a minute of fumbling walked off without delivering a single gag. His mates captured the whole thing on their phones for the ages.
The thing about Lion’s Den is that the MC picks the performers at random from a hat, so you never know when it’s your turn to go up, which is nerve wracking when it’s your first open mic. As it turned out I got called up third, completely mentally unprepared.
I had my original set-list from the showcase night and reasoned that if I trimmed the fat and just focused on the main parts of the set I should be able to keep it to five minutes. It went well, I got laughs from beginning to end, and improvised a tag-line for a bit based on something in the news that day which got a big laugh (it helped that the line was in disgustingly poor taste, which I am proud of).
I also got a decent laugh out of a bit that was originally just supposed to be a tag line from a stronger gag, but I’m starting to think it could work as a larger bit because the audience responded so well on both nights I delivered it.
The big fuckup on this night was that when they flashed the light to let me know I only had thirty seconds left I was only about a third of the way through my material, and I panicked because it caught me off guard. I’d just delivered a punchline and got a reasonable laugh, so I could have just smoothly ended it there, but instead I fumbled for a couple of moments trying to work out how I could close before abandoning the idea and then awkwardly thanking the crowd and leaving the stage. It wasn’t awful, but I could have handled it better.
Lessons; Time. My. Fucking. Set. Better. Also, memorise a solid closer that I can always go to if the light comes before I expect it.
A good night though, friendly crowd, supportive MC, my two buddies from the course both did well too. During the half-time break one of the older, more polished acts gave me a nod and thumbs up from across the room – a small gesture, but at this stage I’ll take whatever morsel of encouragement I can get.
If anything, this felt better than showcase night. This was a real open spot, the audience wasn’t friends and family, just other acts and their mates. This felt like a real first step in the direction I want to go.