Riffing at the Cavendish – open mic #20

I did my final gig of the year this week, which also happened to be my 20th ever spot – a nice round number to wrap up 2018. It was a booked spot at The Cavendish Arms Comedy Virgins, and I had a couple of friends along to watch.

I was going to use the spot to practice my polished five minutes that I’m planning to use for the Max Turner Prize in January, but I couldn’t sleep the night before and, while I was lying awake in the small hours, a few ideas about the nativity story came to me. None of it was fully formed, no punchlines, just a bunch of rough ideas, but it was topical and I thought it would be fun to wing it since it was the last gig of the year and would probably be half empty, so it wouldn’t matter if I bombed.

Once I got to the gig I started to feel a bit edgy about the whole idea and worried that I couldn’t pull it off, especially since it turned out to be a busy night after all. All the acts in the first half were solid, and that made me feel even worse about the prospect of dying with half-baked material. I started thinking I might just stick to my original plan and run through my old set again.

But during the break I got chatting to Akin Omobitan and he suggested sandwiching the raw stuff in between tried and tested material, which made a lot of sense.  So when I eventually went up, close to the end of the night, I kicked off with a punchy opener that’s worked well a few times for me and then launched into some largely off-the-cuff material based on my 3am flash of inspiration.

It went pretty well. I riffed around the loose ideas and it all kind of worked as the words fell out of my mouth. I’m a little annoyed that I didn’t record it because I can’t remember half of what I said, much less which bits got the biggest laughs. I’ll have to try writing it up from memory and hope I capture the best bits.

Once that well had run dry I fell back onto some old stuff that I knew would help me finish with some big laughs – job done.  I came of the stage feeling pretty good about it. Normally I go on stage with a very clear idea of what I’m going to say, but I’ve tried this kind of riffing a couple of times now and it’s great fun to do, especially when you surprise yourself by coming up with some good lines under pressure.

It was a great way to finish off my first year in stand up and I’m itching to get stuck into 2018.

Also on the bill was my comedy BFF, Pauline Stobbs (whose verbal twerking earned her second place in the end of night clap-off) and fellow City Academy alumni, Kathryn Taylor who impressed with a big musical number.

My first gig in the new year is at Funny Feckers on the 4th of January.

Improv sucks balls

“That was Lance’s 20th gig – welcome to the club, mate!”- I’ll admit the platitude from We Are Funny MC, Steve McLean, gave me warm fuzzies after I’d just finished my only set this week, marred only slightly by the fact that it was actually my 19th gig.

It was a quiet night, probably due to the proximity to Christmas, with no audience members apart from the other acts. Because of this, Steve suggested an optional improv element to the night, with acts volunteering to improvise around subjects chosen by the audience.

Sounded horrific to me. The whole idea of improv just doesn’t appeal, I doubt I’d be much good at it, I’m much more into writing material and then evolving it on stage. A few of the acts gave it a shot, without much success, so I suspect I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Despite the lack of any real audience members the energy was still good in the room, thanks largely to the efforts of the MC in keeping everybody engaged. Established act, Saskia Preston, headlined the night with some new material which went down pretty well – I recommend seeing her if you get the chance.

I went up in the first half and dusted off my original five minutes, which I haven’t done for well over a month. I’ve signed up to a competition in January (The Cavendish Arms annual Max Turner Prize) and I want to make sure I can deliver that five confidently, so I’ll need to practice it again a few times before then.

I got some OK laughs out of my set, but it’s always an uphill battle when you’re performing to other acts and my delivery was shitty because I had to rely on a set list again. It’s depressing how quickly the material falls out of my brain when I’m not using it every week, but that’s the cost of focusing on new stuff.

My competition heat is in the middle of January,  so I’ve got plenty of time to remind myself of that set, even though it means I’ll have to stop working on the new stuff until then.  I’ve seen the list of other acts in the competition and there are a lot of stronger, more polished comedians than me, so I’m not expecting to win.

All the same, it’ll be good experience and it means I’ve got at least two booked spots in the Cav for January. On top of spots at Funny Feckers and Rising Stars that means I’ve already got one night per week booked for the whole month, which should make it easier to hit my target of two per week.

I’ve got one more spot at The Cavendish next week, which will be my actual 20th gig, and that will neatly wrap up the year for me.

Getting my mojo back – open mic gigs #17 and #18

I’ve been struggling a bit for the past month, trying to get a couple of different sets of new material to work. It’s a bit of a come-down after the buzz of getting my first five minutes working so well, suddenly it all feels a lot harder.

I know this is all part of the process – new stuff is always going to take time to develop and there are always going to be nights where it doesn’t work. But going from getting solid laughs every time I go up to getting a room full of blank looks and silence is a real slap to the ego.

This week it felt like things were getting back on track. I did We Are Funny in Dalston on Tuesday night, performing the new set of dick-jokes I’ve been trying out. It feels a bit hacky, because it’s mostly about porn but, after bombing so hard with my attempt at doing political stuff recently, I’m happy to go for some easy laughs.

It was the third time I delivered this material, and it still felt raw – it’s got legs, but I’ve not worked out all of the punchlines and some of it needs to be tightened up. It was a quiet night at WaF without many non-performers in the audience, which meant it was hard to gauge the strength of the material. I got some laughs and it was a good opportunity to rehearse the set, but I still wasn’t feeling particularly confident at the end of it.

On Thursday I got a walk-in spot at Comedy Virgins. I was thinking of trying the political stuff again, but decided that I’d persevere with the smut because I’ve got most of it memorised now and it’ll be easier to improve it once I can deliver it without notes. I had a set-list written on the back of my hand but I felt like I was able to get through the set with only a few glances at it.

I’d tweaked some of the bits since Tuesday too, having had time to think about what was and wasn’t working. It all paid off because the reaction from the audience was the best so far for that material, and that gave me some of my confidence back. I now feel like this set is really starting to take shape and after a few more gigs it should be pretty solid.

I’ve also been thinking about the political material and I really want to try it again – it doesn’t seem right to retire the whole set on the basis of one bad night, especially since it’s still largely untested. But right now I want to get the other material polished and committed to memory, so I’m going to focus on that for the next few gigs.

I was at the gig with my friend Pauline Stobbs, who picked up the trophy for being the audience’s favourite act of the night. I am no longer friends with her.

Other memorable acts this week include Chloe Petts, who I saw at We Are Funny, and Jessica Forrest at Comedy Virgins. Apparently Jessica has only done stand-up twice and I’ve coincidentally been at both of those gigs. She does a great Hampstead Yummy Mummy character act, which I wouldn’t be surprised to see on TV sooner or later.

Don’t have much free time to gig next week, but I might drop into the Lion’s Den on Tuesday, and the week after I’ve got a spot booked at Comedy Virgins again.

Comedy Store King Gong and Heavenly Comedy

I kicked this week off with a trip to the Comedy Store on Monday night for their monthly open mic night, the King Gong show. I hadn’t been able to reserve a spot but I wanted to scope the night out to see how it works, and there was a chance I could still go up because the MC asks for audience volunteers on the night.  I didn’t bother volunteering, as it turned out, because I realised quickly that I needed to rework some of my material to do well here.

It’s a much bigger night than any of the mics I’ve done so far – the Comedy Store is obviously a big venue and it was absolutely packed with hundreds of people. That doesn’t bother me so much, but it’s a very boisterous audience with much more heckling than a typical amateur night, so you need to be mentally prepared for it.

There were 31 acts with booked spots, plus about 4 people from the audience. Each act gets five minutes, but three  random members of the audience are given red cards to hold up if they don’t like the act (with vocal encouragement from the rest of the audience). Once you get three red cards, the MC will hit the gong and your time is up.

Some of the worst acts were gonged off in under 30 seconds, and a lot of good acts didn’t last more than a couple of minutes. A handful of really strong comedians made it to the end of their five minutes, and their reward was to perform another minute at the end of the night, with a clap-off to decide the winner.

It was a fun night but completely different to anything I’ve done before. The audience gets bored quickly so you need lots of fast paced punch material – not necessarily one liners, but definitely something that captures their attention straight off the bat. A lot of decent acts struggled because they spent too long on meandering setups.

I’m feeling mentally prepared for it now that I’ve checked the night out, so I’m going to try for a spot at the next one in January, which gives me plenty of time to hone five minutes of my punchiest stuff.

On Wednesday I did a spot at Heavenly Comedy in Shepherd’s Bush, run by the excellent Njambi McGrath. Nothing particularly exciting to report about that, it’s a pretty small night in the basement of a pub and not a bringer, so the audience was mostly other acts.

I did the same set of new dick jokes that I’d debuted last week, but don’t think I did a particularly great job. At this point I’m just trying to do the set enough times to memorise it so I can deliver it with more confidence, and to figure out which bits I can tighten up and which need to be dropped.

It went OK, they laughed at most of it, but a few bits that went well last week got nothing this week – including my closer. I was so surprised when it bombed that I didn’t even remember to use my trusty recovery line that always delivers a decent laugh to get me back on track. All the same, it was a fun night and a good opportunity to practice the set – it gave me some ideas for how to improve it.

My comedy-comrade Pauline Stobbs did a great set on the same night – she really seems to have mastered the art of looking comfortable in front of an audience. Probably all the ketamine she does.

Next week I’ve got a spot at We Are Funny in Dalston on Tuesday, where I’ll try the new smut again, and then on Thursday I’m going to try for a walk-in at Comedy Virgins – if I can get on there I’m thinking about revisiting the political stuff one more time to see if I can make it work.

Let’s be careful out there.

All new sleaze and filth at Comedy Virgins

I had my first real experience of bombing on Tuesday when I tried to do some edgy political stuff at Rising Stars, so for Wednesday’s spot at Comedy Virgins at The Cavendish Arms I wanted to repair the damage to my ego by getting some easier laughs.

A friend came to watch me and she hadn’t seen any of my material before, so I was tempted to do my original five minute set to make sure it was a good show. But I promised myself I’d keep trying out new stuff, and I didn’t want to go back on that, so I pulled together a bunch of so far unused smutty material that I had lying around on my hard drive and smushed it all together into a vaguely cohesive five minute set.

I was about the fifth act of the night, following some pretty strong comics, including the excellent Akin Omobitan and Ania Magliano-Wright.  Even though my confidence had taken a battering the night before, I was having to use notes because the material was completely unpracticed, and I was following some great acts, I was feeling kind of zen-like.

I’m getting more comfortable on stage every week, but this week I slipped into genuinely not giving a fuck about being up there, and it felt good. The new material went down pretty well, they laughed at most of it even though my delivery was rough because it’s the first time I’ve done this stuff.

It feels like the set has got legs, so I’m going to keep working on it for a while. Thematically it’s not too far removed from the five minutes I’ve already been doing, so I should be able to mix it all up a bit when I need to.

Next week I’m on at Heavenly Comedy in Shepherds Bush on Wednesday, and I’ll be trying to get a walk-in spot somewhere else if I can.

Bombing hard at Rising Star – open mic #14

After trying out some new material at Lion’s Den last week, and it going reasonably well for a first pass, I wanted to use two gigs this week to tighten it up a little. Last night I performed at Rising Star in Holborn – things did not go well.

Firstly, I still haven’t memorised this material, so I was using a set list and I couldn’t really deliver it with as much confidence as I’d like, so that didn’t help matters. The first couple of minutes went OKish, I was getting some laughs but a lot of the stuff that worked well last week just fell flat.

Then about halfway in I did a bit about race which got a big laugh at Lion’s Den but landed really badly with the Rising Stars audience, and that just killed the energy so that there was no coming back. The rest of my set was an uphill battle to win back any shred of respect from the audience but they were having none of it. A few titters here and there at best. I’ve got a saver that I use when a joke falls flat, which reliably gets a decent laugh, and I used that as my closing line to try and walk out of there with a little bit of dignity, but even that only got a half-hearted reaction from them.

I’m glad this happened because I think bombing is all part of a baby-comic’s development, so it’s good that I now know what it feels like to die on stage. It’s not the end of the world, you get off stage, watch the rest of the acts, then slink away home to regroup and get up again as soon as you can.

The worst bit, however, was that the MC felt the need to apologise to the audience for some of my material – I didn’t think it was too far over the line, but that made me think I’d badly misjudged my tone.  I don’t know what to do with the set – I know that some bits work, some other bits work with different audiences, and some of it is massively fucking offensive to some people.

I’m up again tonight at The Cavendish, and I think I’ll resist the temptation to fall back on my polished, easy material, but I’m not doing the stuff from last night either. I’ve got some new material on safer topics, which I think I can deliver pretty well, so we’ll see how that goes. I don’t want to abandon the political stuff entirely, but I probably need to rethink a lot of it before doing it again.

Open mic spot #13 – New Stuff

I’ve been slipping in one or two new bits in my set during my past few spots, but I’ve really wanted to try out a completely different five minutes. I’ve got a bunch of different sets sitting on my hard drive in various states, and it took me a while to decide which one I wanted to wheel out this week.

I had thought about trying to do a clean five minutes as a challenge but it’s not what I’m about,  so I settled on some political material because that was really why I started doing this in the first place before I got distracted by dick-jokes. The set is a bit of a mish mash of different bits covering politics, brexit, racial issues, and it doesn’t really tie together brilliantly just yet, but I think it’s got potential.

I performed it for the first time at Lion’s Den Comedy Car Crash this week, and it didn’t go too badly.  Lion’s Den feels like a good place to try out really new stuff that I’m unsure about, because it’s a friendly environment and, frankly, the place seems to attract such a random selection of misfits that you can get away with almost anything.

I’ve got to the point with my original five minute set that I can be sure it’s going to work well every time I do it, so going back to completely untested material is a bit of a wrench. Back to using notes and not knowing the material well enough to deliver it with confidence, back to having no idea if people will laugh at any of it.

I stumbled my way through the set and it felt very rough, a lot of it fell flat, but I got a few decent laughs from some bits. There were a couple of bits that didn’t work and I’m not sure if it’s because the material just isn’t good or if they need more commitment in the delivery, so I’m going to have to try doing them with more conviction a couple of times before I write them off.

The bits that got the biggest laughs were for the racial material, which I found interesting because I wasn’t sure how people would take a white guy doing those kind of jokes , but it went better than expected. I got some good feedback from people too, which encouraged me to believe the set has got potential.

Also this week I went to watch my friend, Pauline Stobbs, at Funny Feckers in Camden. Every time I go to that night it’s absolutely hysterical – never seen a weak act, always end up laughing my cock off the whole evening. Too many good acts to name them all, but my personal favourites were Madeline Campion, Hassan Dervish, and Micky Overman.

Next week I’m at Rising Stars in Holborn on Tuesday and the Cavendish in Stockwell on Wednesday.  I’m aiming to work on this new five minutes as much as possible, but on Wednesday I might have a bunch of friends who haven’t seen me perform before, and if they show up I’ll probably just  do my good set for them rather than subject them to the work in progress material.

Open mic spots 11 and 12 – adding in a little new material

I’ve done two spots over the past couple of weeks – a walk-in at The Cavendish Arms last week, and a pre-booked spot at We Are Funny Project yesterday evening. I’ve been itching to try out a new five minute set, but I’ve been too busy/lazy to work out exactly what that routine should contain and spend some time drumming it into my head.

Instead, on both nights, I just tried opening with a couple of new bits that don’t feel too out of place alongside my current material. On the one hand, this makes life easy because I don’t have to try and remember an entire new set, and it means I can still finish strong on reliable material. It does feel lazy though, and I find that it kind of messes up my flow so that nothing works quite as well as it did when I was just delivering my polished material as a complete five minute set.

I think what I really need to do is go through all the new stuff I’ve written and try to craft it into an entirely new five minutes that works as well as the old one. I’m not sure of the best way forward – I like the idea of having a lot of different bits that will work well regardless of what other bits I use in the same set, but it’s starting to feel like working on entirely separate standalone five minute sets will be more successful.

Also, I’m aware that I’m still new to this, so I’m probably over-thinking it and should just keep churning out new material however I can – once I’ve got 100 gigs under my belt I can start worrying about how I fit longer sets together.

Anyway, both nights were pretty good. The first night I performed at WAFP, the place was half empty and it felt like an uphill battle, but last night a first-timer decided it would be good to bring all of his friends along so, along with a decent number of randoms who wandered in from the bar, that meant the place was packed and we had a respectable audience size.

I went on second, after a strong opener, and benefited from a crowd who were still up for it. Most of my stuff worked, but it was quite a young audience and the laughs came in different places, sometimes with more of a slow-burn than usual, and I struggled to get my rhythm – especially since I had changed the set around to accommodate the new bits. This also meant that I hadn’t properly judged the length of the set, and I think I finished at around four minutes rather than using my full five, but I’d got a decent laugh for one of my older bits and decided that was an appropriate time to leave the stage.

At one point I felt like a usually reliable bit had bombed, so I started to wheel out a line I’ve got to help me bounce back from a dead joke, but as I was speaking the original joke started to land and they were laughing over my recovery line, which itself ended up getting a decent laugh once I got it out. I can’t complain – at least they were laughing and now I know that my recovery line works.

A couple of acts stood out – Timothy Banks was good, my kind of sleazy, and I liked Sean Patrick too.

The previous week I was at the Cavendish Arms again – a friend was in town and wanted to see me perform, but I didn’t have anything booked so I thought this would be my best shot at getting a walk in. I got a spot but unfortunately I went up so late that my friend had already had to head off to get his last train home. All the same, it was good to be there, especially since I hadn’t done anything the week before, and I bumped into a few acts I’ve met before.

The feeling was the same as last night though – I’d been too lazy to properly write and rehearse a new set, so I just kicked off with a couple of new bits and then did as much of my old material as I could squeeze into the remaining time.

Notable acts included James Meakin, Susan Steed, and Akin Omobitan.

I’m on a business trip to the US next week, which means I’ll have lots of time sitting around in planes, airports, and hotels – I plan to use that time to sort through all the material I’ve written and put it into a completely new five minute routine. I’ve got spots booked for Rising Stars and the Cavendish on 21/22 November, and I’ll be trying for walk-ins during the rest of the month. My plan is to start doing two spots most weeks – at present I’m averaging about three a month which isn’t good enough.

Open Mic Gig #10

Last night I did a spot at Rising Stars, at The Old Crown in Holborn, and this was a bit of a milestone for me because it was my 10th open spot. It was a nice little night in a very snug room, with no stage, so small that the acts literally had to climb over each-other’s chairs to get to the mic.

This is a very different vibe to places like The Cavendish, or We Are Funny, which are in reasonably large spaces – regardless of audience numbers, the size of the room really does have an affect on the atmosphere. The MC was Adrian Taus, who I’ve seen at The Cavendish a few times, and a bunch of the other acts were familiar from other nights too. Apart from Adrian I don’t think any of them had seen me before, but it still made the night feel a bit more relaxed and friendly – especially since I had a couple of non-comedy friends in tow too.

In the bar before the show I got speaking to another act called Gaëlle Constant, who I shall henceforth refer to as The World’s Funniest Belgian, because she kindly shared her sandwich with me just as I was about to order some food. She’s also funny, and the only Belgian I’ve ever met.

Overall it was a good night, a couple of acts killed the energy a bit with some new material that wasn’t quite ready, but Adrian did a good job of getting things back on track. My set went down OK, although it didn’t feel as easy as it has on other nights in bigger rooms – I suppose figuring out how to deal with those different atmospheres is all part of the game.

Some bits which usually get a strong laugh didn’t hit the mark, and a few times it took longer than usual for the crowd to get on board with a joke so the laughter came in unpredictably, which messed with my flow. I can’t remember if I missed a bit, but somehow I got to my usual closer with about 30 seconds to spare – I had prepared a few tags to use for this situation, but I’ve never had to use them before so the delivery wasn’t great and my close wasn’t as strong as I’d like.

All the same, it went well enough, got plenty of laughs and some really nice feedback from some of the other acts. The most common comment I get from other acts is that they can’t believe how few gigs I’ve done, so I’m taking that as a positive sign. As far as I can tell, in stand-up you’re not even considered a half-serious beginner until you’ve done at least 100 spots. Hopefully by the time I get to triple figures I’ll be unstoppable.

As well as Gaëlle, some other impressive acts I saw last night include: Kathryn Mather, Cam Davies, Paul Entwistle, Louise Bastock, and Steve Clark (who won the clap-off despite being a musical comedy act).

I had a good chat with some of the other acts in the bar, more so than at any previous gig – it’s nice to start seeing familiar faces and getting to know everybody a bit.

I haven’t got any gigs booked at the moment, and next week I’ve got Real Life stuff to deal with so I probably won’t try for any walk-ins. I’m planning to shelve my current material now that it’s reasonably polished and try out a completely different five minutes, so I’ll get back onto it in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to trying out new stuff, but not looking forward to using notes on stage again while I memorise the new stuff.

 

Suiting up for Comedy Virgins

I got down to the final two in the clap-off at the end of the night, but was beaten by a better woman.

This was my third time performing at Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell, and it was a great night. I think a few of the acts had brought largish groups of friends, and I had a few with me too, so the room was absolutely packed and the energy was great.

There were 21 acts in total, a few first timers and a few guys I’ve seen before – everybody was good, even the people doing their first ever spots got good laughs. I have been thinking about trying out a completely new set, but since I had a few friends in tow I didn’t want to subject them to untested material and so I stuck with my familiar stuff which is really feeling polished now.

Being able to deliver it all fairly smoothly from memory means I’m feeling a lot more relaxed and I think that’s helping with my stage presence. I really felt like I was in control of the room and able to think about what I was doing, rather than just focusing on remembering my next joke.

I still think I could polish this set even more, but it worked brilliantly last night – the room was in pieces –  and I’m feeling really good about how I’ve progressed. The only thing I really did differently this time, apart from just being a bit more polished overall, was that I dressed up in a suit and tie, and that seemed to help.

I usually go to gigs in whatever I’ve been wearing at work that day, jeans and t-shirt mostly, but I thought it might work better if I go on stage looking smart and professional, because that would contrast nicely with my disgusting material. I think it worked, so I’ll probably use the suit more in future. There’s probably the subconscious effect of the suit making me feel more confident too.

Lots of great acts at the gig – I should really start noting down names so I can mention them here. My comedy-chum, Pauline Stobbs, got a walk-in spot and did a completely new five minutes, which went down well. If anything I think it’s better than her first set. I’m impressed, because almost anybody could put together five minutes of material, but to keep producing new stuff that works obviously requires talent.

On that note, I really need to try out some new material. I’m at Rising Stars in Holborn on Tuesday next week – but I’m not sure I want to risk new material at a night I’ve never been to before, especially since I’m bringing some colleagues along for the first time. After that I might go back to some of the smaller non-bringer nights and try out some different stuff.