10 Minutes at Comedy Explosion

I did a ten minute spot at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion last week, gig number 98 by my reckoning. The weather was hot and I was on at the end of a long night, but despite that most people stuck around, even though the energy was flagging.

I’d spent most of the night sitting at the front, so a few acts used me as a crash-dummy for their crowd-work bits, and I tried to riff on some of that stuff at the beginning of my set as a kind of improv/callback/crowd-work thing, playing back to the guys who’d called on me earlier. For example, one act asked me to guess her age and was surprised that I got it right, so I made a crack about me spending a lot of time creeping on her Facebook page – and I think it kind of worked because it seemed clear from our interactions on stage that we both knew eachother, and I’m old enough to be her dad, which made it extra awkward.

None of it was particularly strong, but it got a bit of a reaction from the room even though they were understandably half asleep by that point. I think audiences will generally reward you for trying that kind of thing, and it doesn’t need to be killer material, it just shows that you’re present and paying attention to what’s happening in the room.

That all burned up about a minute or so of my time, and then I reeled off most of my current five minute set, with some new extended bits thrown in. They laughed at some of it, but everybody was hot and tired, and my new bits were very rough around the edges, so it was all really just a bit of a dry run and I couldn’t judge how well the new stuff works.

I think I did considerably less than ten minutes, despite running through much more stuff than usual, because there weren’t exactly a lot of laugh breaks. But I finished on a decent laugh, my current closer seems pretty reliable under most circumstances. Either way, Comedy Explosion is always a fun gig, and there were a lot of acts on that I really like: Steph Aritone, Will Hitt, Ginnia Cheng, Jacob Hatton, the legendary John Sharp, and a great act I’ve never seen before, Steve Vertigo. With a line-up like that, who gives a shit how mediocre my own set was.

I’m at a bit of a loose end until the end of August now – I have a couple of weeks holiday coming up so I’ve held back from booking any gigs, apart from the Comedy Virgins summer competition on Monday 5th (I need a bringer if anybody’s free for that – drink and a pizza on offer).

I’m not going to book any gigs until I get back from holiday, because I plan to spend a bit of time getting some more podcasts recorded, even if it means not performing for a bit, and I want to spend a bit of time writing too. I’ve done a couple of 10 minute spots recent and I’ve been woefully unprepared for both – I know I’ve got plenty of material to build up a solid 10, but I haven’t been disciplined enough to work on it.

A friend offered me some floor space in Edinbugh, if I could get myself up there with a sleeping bag, but much as I’d love to go to the Fringe it’s kind of hard to work around family and the day job. Maybe I’ll go next year, but if I’m going to invest time and money in getting there I want to be on top form to make the most of any gigs I do up there, so I’m not ready yet.

The Final We Are Funny Project Gig

I’ve done three great gigs since my last post, which has left me feeling pretty good about this ridiculous endeavour.

First up Sam Rhodes gave me a 10 minute spot at his Comedy Explosion night. Those nights are run in the public bar area of the Cornershop Bar in Shoreditch, which means you get an interesting mix of people who are there for the comedy and random drinkers.

As it happened, one of those random drinkers was a guy I know through work, who was there with his girlfriend. They were sat fairly close to the mic, so Sam and some of the other acts did a little gentle crowd work with them, to the point that most people in the place were aware of them.

This gifted me an easy opener – I told the room that I was living every open-mic comedian’s worst nightmare, because somebody from work had randomly stumbled into one of my gigs. It wasn’t particularly strong (never mind that most people from work have already been to one of my gigs anyway) but it was a genuine, and funny enough, coincidence to get a good reaction.

This was a couple of weeks ago now and I can’t remember exactly how I filled the ten minutes, other than running through my best five minutes at a more relaxed pace than usual, with extended versions of some bits, and one or two new lines. I deliberately avoided using my two old standby time-fillers (Racist Baby, and Vasectomy) because I’m kind of done with them for now.

It didn’t feel like a struggle filling the ten minutes, soI think I’ve managed to build a half decent chunk of material over recent months without realising how much new stuff I’ve written. I’ve got another 10 spot there next week, so I’m looking forward to doing a more focused set, rather than just rambling through it.

A nice night all round, and it was great to bump into Akin Omobitan, who I haven’t seen for a while.

Next up was a 5 minute spot at Angel Comedy RAW. It was my third time there and I always look forward to the gig because they always manage to fill the room with a real audience, and that makes getting laughs much easier. I ran through my usual set and it went well enough, with good solid laughs all the way through, but I annoyed myself by flubbing some of my bits so they didn’t have the impact that I know they can when I deliver them well.

I’ve got a tendency to waffle and meander too much, when I know I can deliver the exact same joke in half the time and make it much punchier. I think I just need to spend more time practicing each of the bits from beginning to end, rather than just memorising the punchlines and taking the long-winded route to get to them.

I had that on my mind when I went to the last ever We Are Funny Project gig, because I only had a three minute spot there, so I knew it would be important to be focused. I did my favourite bits from my best five minutes, with one I’ve not tried before, and I really made a conscious effort to be economical with my words, while at the same time talking more clearly and slowly to give the jokes time to land.

It was an absolutely packed night, with lots of genuine audience as well as friends of Alfie from the comedy scene who were just there to watch his swansong. The atmosphere was great, and by the time I went up (fifth of the night, I think) everybody was already well and truly up for it.

Alfie handed me a gift by letting me go up directly after his 12 year old son did a spot – the last time that happened I improvised an opener about the situation which did brilliantly, so this was a good opportunity to use it again in front of a much bigger audience.

That got me off to a strong start, and things just get better – I walked off the stage feeling like I’d done exactly what I wanted, and got the best reaction I could have hoped for. Watching the video back, I think there are probably some areas that could be improved, but I still think it was one of my best gigs.

Sad to see WAFP finish, but it was a great note to end on. Here’s my full set from the show:

Taking my colleagues to a gig

Feeling a bit more upbeat this week. The other night I did a spot at We Are Funny again, and I was worried about how it would go because, against my better judgement, I’d agreed to take a bunch of colleagues to the gig as they’d been asking about coming to watch me.

I’ve been feeling a bit rusty recently, and you can’t expect much of a turnout to an open-mic night on a warm summer Monday night, so my worry was that I’d end up doing a bad set in a dead room, with a bunch of people from work there to witness the whole train wreck.

As it turned out, the room was packed with a lively audience – really not what you expect at this time of year. The night was kicked off by the fantastic Nick Horseman, and he was followed by a strong line up of acts who kept the energy high, even the one act who was doing her first ever spot.

I was given the first spot of the second half, which is a good place to be when the night is going well – the audience is properly warmed up and feeling good, you don’t have to follow another act, so you can set the tone for the rest of the evening.

I was still a little worried about being rusty, and used the drinks break to hide in a corner and think through my set a few times.

Recently I’ve been sticking with my best five minutes of material, but trying to deliver the material in different ways to see if they work better, and maybe find ways of expanding them by coming at them from a different angle. So it’s not really a problem of remembering the running order of my bits, just what version of the bits I want to do and any extra lines I want to add to them.

By the time I got on stage I was feeling comfortable about it all and I did a by-the-numbers delivery of my strongest five minutes. Everything landed well, the new versions of old bits just felt right, I got solid laughs all the way through and finished on a strong punchline – couldn’t ask for more from a Monday night open-mic. Mostly I was just happy that it was a strong night when I had some people from work along with me.

Sad to think it’ll be my last full set at WAF. I’ll be doing 3 minutes of completely new material (as Alfie requested) on the closing night in a couple of weeks, but after that it’s over.

Next week I’ve got a 10 minute spot at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion on Monday, and I’ll be doing 5 minutes at Angel Comedy RAW on Wednesday. I’ve been at RAW twice before and had an amazing time on both nights, so I’m feeling pretty good about going back there. Tomorrow I’m heading to Rising Star as a bringer for a friend, but I’ve not been there for ages so it’s going to be good to check the night out again.

We Are Funny is closing, and so is my heart

I’ve not been up to much in terms of stand-up recently – mostly due to a busy period at work, and the ever present struggle of balancing it all with a family. I completely failed to do any spots the whole week I was in New York, but I had a scream there anyway so I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

Since my last post I’ve done two spots at We Are Funny, bringing me up to 93 in total; a poor effort for two years. I’m doing so few gigs recently that whenever I go up I’m rusty, and it’s a struggle to deliver my polished material with any degree of confidence, never mind trying out new stuff.

Things have calmed down at work again, and I should now be able to get back into a rythm of gigging more regularly. I’ve got a lot of ideas for how I can evolve my style and build up my existing material into longer bits, and I’ve got a ton of new stuff to think about as well.

The only problem is getting stage time. We Are Funny Project is a night where I do regular spots as often as I can because it’s close to where I work, there’s usually a half decent audience and, most importantly of all, it’s a non-bringer.

It’s hard for me to do bringer nights these days. My friends are over the novelty of coming to watch me and it’s tough to do reciprocal bringers with other acts when I can only get out of the house one or two nights a week.

So, purely for selfish reasons, I’m really sad that We Are Funny has decided to close down, as I’ve got a significant chunk of my stage-time there, and it’s really helped me to develop and try new things. For that, I’m grateful to Alfie and Alex, who have been supportive while I’ve been finding my stage-feet.

I’m not sure where I go from here. Most of the nights in London are bringers and if I do a Be Your Own Bringer (some nights let you go as an audience member one show, then perform on another) then that means I’m doing one gig per two nights out of the house, which drastically reduces the number of gigs I can manage per month.

Doing just a few gigs a month feels pointless, it makes practicing and developing really hard, realistically I should be trying to do two or three spots most weeks.

I know this sounds like I’m on a downer about comedy, but I’m really not – I just need to figure out a new plan for how I keep doing it. I need to spend some time updating the list of open-mic nights, to see if I can find any other regular non-bringers where I can get spots. Maybe cast my net a bit wider than central London and look at places around Surrey and Sussex – I live near Epsom, so getting out there is easy and I don’t mind driving to gigs.

Lion’s Den Comedy Car Crash was a great option for me in the early days because it’s a non-bringer and you don’t have to book ahead, so long as I got there early enough a spot was usually certain – but Tuesday is the one night of the week I can’t gig these days.

Another idea is to set up my own open-mic night closer to home, as I don’t think there are any near where I live. That would be a good way to get regular stage-time, although I don’t doubt it creates a lot of admin headaches too, but there must be a reasonable number of acts who live around SW London (Kingston, Epsom, etc) who would want to jump on a regular local gig.

This would be a last resort – I don’t want to be an MC, and I really don’t want to take on a ton of work, but if it’s the only way I can keep doing comedy regularly then maybe it’s worth considering.

Anyway. I’m doing nothing next week – I was booked on the Monday night heat of the So You Think You’re Funny competition but got bumped off that because apparently you’re not allowed to enter it twice.

So my next booked spot is at We Are Funny on July 1st, then I’m on at Angel Comedy RAW on July 10th – I need to try and get a couple more spots in between otherwise I’ll be very rusty when I do RAW and it’s the kind of night where you want to be on your game. That said, Monday the 8th is the only night I can realistically fit a gig in and I don’t know where I’ll be able to do that – unless I can conjour up a bringer from somewhere and try for a walk-in spot at Comedy Virgins.

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.