Seven Minutes

I did a spot at Battersea Power Comedy on Thursday, which I think was the third or fourth time I’ve been there. I really like the night because it’s a nice venue, the guys who run it are cool, and it’s easy for me to get home from, which is always a winner.

I was chatting with the MC in the bar ahead of the gig and mentioned I’ve got a competition coming up next week, so he kindly agreed to let me do seven minutes, which is the first time I’ve done more than five. I think I have seven minutes worth of material that all hangs together around a common theme, but I’d never tried it out all in one go before.

The whole set ran to pretty much seven minutes on the nose, and the audience laughed in all the right parts, including a brand new bit that worked better than expected.  I needed to rely on a set list on the back of my hand – just a few single words to remind me of the running order of my bits, but I’ll be happier when I can do without it entirely. I can remember my opener and closer, but the middle section of the set is still a jumble.

I was the penultimate spot of the night, followed by professional act, Caroline Mabey, trying out some new stuff – I had a bunch of friends with me at the gig and they all thought she was fantastic. The quality from the other open mic acts was also high, but I didn’t manage to remember any of their names (apart from Amy Xander, who was great as ever).

I’m feeling in pretty good shape for the competition heat tomorrow – I’ll practice my set a few times during the day to see if I can get the whole seven minutes committed to memory, but I’m not too worried if I need a couple of words scribbled in my hand.  Looking forward to getting it over with so I can shelve this material for a while and try out some other stuff.

Gigs: 42

Rising Star and We Are Funny Project

I’ve not done any gigs for a couple of weeks as Real Life stuff has got in the way, but before I slacked off I did a spot at Rising Star which ended up being a chaotic night that kind of went off the rails. I think it was the MC’s first time. If you really want to understand just how much of an art MCing is, you should watch somebody get it wrong.

It was a very mixed night and I went up after a couple of weak acts – which I think is a double edged sword because nobody wants to follow a strong act, but at the same time it can be hard if the previous acts have sucked all the life out of the room.

My set went well, but I got thrown off my rhythm when the audience gave me a big laugh at a completely unexpected point during a setup. I was confused at why they were laughing so much at a completely unfunny line, and it derailed the whole bit. I’ve got to get better at gracefully dealing with unexpected laughs.

After that gig I didn’t do anything for a couple of weeks, but I’ve got the So You Think You’re Funny competition heat coming up next Monday, so this week I needed to get some stage-time. Tomorrow I’ve got a spot at Battersea Power Comedy, and last night I got a walk-in at We Are Funny Project.

Even though it was a quiet night because of the warm weather, it was a nice gig with a couple of novice MCs (one in each half) trying out for the first time and both doing a decent job of it. Because I was feeling rust I had to rely on hand-notes again, after weening myself off them not so long ago, but I didn’t have to use them too much. I think I’ll be OK to ditch them for the competition next week.

I was happy with my set – delivered everything how I wanted to  and didn’t forget any bits. Even though the audience was small, I still got laughs in the right places, and nothing bombed badly enough for me to worry about, so I’m feeling  confident that after tomorrow’s gig I’ll be in good shape for the competition heat.

There were a few acts who caught my attention; Mary Taylor (who I had a good natter with in the bar), Michael Akadiri (the best amateur act of the night, I reckon), and Babetta Mann and Andrew Buchan were also strong. The professional headliner was Sunil Patel, who destroyed the room even though it was quiet and he was trying out new stuff. If you get a chance to see him, jump on it.

I’m looking forward to the competition heat next week, but at the same time I’ll be very glad when it’s out of the way and I can stop practicing the same set at every gig. I’m bored out of my skull with the material and itching to try out some different stuff.

Gig Count to Date: 41


Back on form at Comedy Virgins

Just the one gig last week; Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms.

I’ve been feeling a little deflated recently – even though I’ve been trying to improve my act, it just doesn’t feel as easy as it used to, the laughs haven’t been coming as readily as they did in the first few months I was doing stand-up.

But I can always rely on a night at the Cav to give me a confidence boost, and when I got called up to the stage (third act of the night) everything worked well.  I did my usual set with a couple of new bits thrown in (including an improvised tag) and the crowd went along with all of it, rewarding me with a place in the clap-off.

I’ve been struggling a little with my opener. A while ago I tried a really simple, punchy one liner that worked brilliantly a few times and scored a big laugh within the first five seconds of my set. I thought I’d stumbled upon some gold-dust with that line, but I’ve learned that it only works half the time. I’ve got a more reliable opener which works pretty much every time, but it’s not quite as punchy and takes closer to 15 seconds to get the laugh. Reluctantly, I’ve abandoned the punchy line because I don’t like being on the back foot when it doesn’t work, but it bugs me that I can’t work out how to make it deliver consistently.

Adding in some new bits meant that I ran out of time too soon, so I tried an abridged version of my closer which worked fairly well and made me realise that there are a few different ways I can deliver that bit depending on how much time I’ve got left. I’m starting to feel like I’ve got a respectable seven minutes of material I can use at the So You Think You’re Funny competition next month.

I didn’t get far in the clap-off, but I don’t mind because there were some strong acts on the bill and it felt good just to get through at all after a run of mediocre feeling spots for me.  It was good to see Akin Omobatin trying out some stuff I hadn’t seen before, the omnipresent Amy Xander also got into the clap-off, and I was impressed by Thea Downie, who I hadn’t seen before.

I got some positive feedback in the bar after the show, which is always good for my fragile, needy ego. The competition is a month away and I think I’m in good shape, I’m not going to try out any more new stuff, just keep doing variations of my current set so get the whole seven minutes of stuff burned into my brain.

Gig Count to Date: 39



Laughing Horse competition, and a bad night at We Are Funny

For most of this year I’ve been trying to focus on getting 7 minutes of material polished for the So You Think You’re Funny competition in June, but about a month ago I was told I’d got a place in the Laughing Horse competition as well, which is a 5 minute spot.

My heat was a couple of weeks ago at the Savoy Tup on the Strand. I was feeling comfortable about it, because I’ve got my best five minutes committed to memory, along with a couple of extra bits I can add in if necessary, so I knew I could at least deliver a competent set.

When I arrived at the venue I bumped into Louise Bastock, who I’ve been a fan of ever since I saw her at Funny Feckers during one of my earliest spots last year, so I had a chinwag with her and Sarah Southern who I’ve also bumped into once or twice before. Once the gig started the room was packed, as some of the acts had brought a lot of friends, so on the plus side there was a decent audience, but on the downside I knew it was going to be tough to win the audience vote.

Because the room was so full the organisers asked second half acts to wait in the bar, which kind of threw me off a little bit – hard to explain, but it meant that I couldn’t get a feel for the energy in the room. I was the second to last act, so I at least had a bit of time in the second half to psyche myself up.

When it was my turn to go up I fell foul of a wonky mic stand, which fell over as I tried to move it out of the way, and that kind of derailed my opener – I can’t really complain because all the other acts had the same issue and I was warned about it. I got back into my stride, but I didn’t do a great job with my delivery and tripped over my words a couple of times, fluffing a key punchline at one point.

I’ve got to get better at dealing with an audience that doesn’t laugh at the right time. With my good set, I know that it’s going to get laughs, but often they just come in unexpected places, and that throws me – either a usually reliable punchline will get nothing, or people will laugh at some part of the setup, and I tend to fumble awkwardly rather than gracefully moving on.

It went OK, I got laughs, but certainly not my finest hour and, needless to say, I didn’t get through to the next stage.

This week I had a spot at We Are Funny Project on Wednesday. I’d been feeling a bit sick of doing my usual routine so much and decided I’d do something else for the sake of my sanity. The problem was that because of a full on week of all the usual Real Life Bullshit, I never got around to planning out a new set.

I got to the gig a little later than the act check-in deadline, and the MC/organiser told me that he’d given my spot to a walk-in. On the one hand I was annoyed at myself, but at the same time I was a little relieved because I hadn’t done my homework. I could relax, so I grabbed a drink and took a seat to stick around for the show. I wasn’t going to fuck off early in a huff because that just seemed like a dumb move. Also, I knew Hubert Mayr was going to be at the gig, and since I’ve been chatting with him a bit online I wanted to watch his set and say hello in person.

After a while the MC told me that since I was being cool about it, he’d let me have a spot after all. I was happy, but I had fuck all material – I could have just done the stuff I’ve been practicing a lot, but I’ve done that for the past two times at WAFP and really didn’t want to do the same stuff again.

I decided to open with a bit from my usual set that seems fairly reliable, and then added a bunch of half-formed, untested bits after that to fill out the rest of the spot. It did not go well – it wasn’t the worst I’ve bombed, but it was definitely one of my shittiest spots.

To make matters worse, the MC gave me a really nice intro (“I always have to put this guy on after 9:30 because he’s so fucking dark I’m worried I’ll get complaints”) – so I just felt bad that I couldn’t deliver the goods after that build-up. Also, the thing about We Are Funny Project is that it seems to attract the more serious open mic acts, and there are always one or two professionals trying out new stuff. With that kind of audience I at least want to look competent.

Only got myself to blame though – if I’m going to break discipline and randomly try new stuff instead of polishing the tested material, I should at least make time to write it and practice it first. Life gets in the way, but so does everybody else’s. And yeah, I’m probably being melodramatic – bombing is all part of the process, everybody has shit nights where new material doesn’t work, but I still want to do better.

Hubert’s set was great, I also saw Amy Xander being fantastic again (I think she’s been at every gig I’ve done for the past two months), and Adam Flood was impressive too.

After the gig I stuck around for a beer with Hubert and Adam – they’ve been going for about the same time as me but gigging much more frequently (lucky, childless bastards). The conversation made me think about where I’m going with this and what kind of progress I can realistically hope to make given that I’m limited to one or two spots a week at best.

For the time being I’m not going to enter any more competitions, because they make me feel like I have to practice the same set over and over so I can do a good job on the night. But I don’t want to do that, I want to try out lots of different stuff and give myself an opportunity to figure out what material I like doing the most, rather than clinging onto the same five minutes of stuff just because I know it’ll work reasonably well.

I thought entering competitions might be a good idea, but they’ve kind of killed the fun of stand-up a bit for me because now every spot feels like it needs to be a rehearsal for the competition. I’d rather just have fun with it and do whatever I feel like each week.

I’m at Comedy Virgins next week.

Gig Count to Date: 38

Note to self, I don’t need notes – my first time at Battersea Power Comedy

The past four weeks have been wildly busy as far as my day job is concerned, so comedy has taken a bit of a back seat, but I’ve managed to get four gigs in since I last posted. I did a spot at Rising Stars a few weeks ago,  then We Are Funny Project last week, and both this week and last week I was at Battersea Power Comedy at The Duchess pub.

I’ve never done Battersea Power before and I’m really glad I tried it out because it’s a great open mic night. The venue is nice (and really convenient for me to get to in SW London) and, even though it’s a room above a pub rather than a dedicated club, the guys who run it have spent a bit of money on the stage and PA system, so it feels good to perform there. It’s a bringer night, but since it’s one that I can drive to it’s relatively easy to persuade a local friend to tag along if I can offer them a lift home.

The first night I did there was at the end of one of the warmest days of the year so far, so the room was half empty as apparently people prefer drinking in the sun to sitting indoors watching amateur comedy, but it was still an OK night. By contrast, for my second spot (last night) the room was completely full and the laughs came easier, so it was a much better night all round.

For these past two gigs I’ve been trying to ween myself back off notes.  I’ve been trying to improve my set since the start of the year, cutting the fat and trying out new bits, and I’ve got into the habit of writing a set list on the back of my hands, but I’ve decided to go cold turkey and just do it without notes.

It’s been going reasonably well, but on both nights I’ve had to stall for time while I remember a bit, and last night I completely forgot to do one of my strongest bits. I think it’s worth pushing on despite these hiccups because it still feels a lot better than spending half the night checking the back of my hand to see which joke comes next. Also, I’ve got to the stage now where I’ve memorised enough material that if I fuck up and miss something out, I can easily throw in another bit to fill the time.

Realising that has given me a shot of confidence, because it’s exactly where I’ve been trying to get to; the point where I can comfortably do five minutes without notes, and be armed with options so that if something isn’t working I can go in a different direction. Now that the material is mostly hardwired into my brain, it feels like I can focus more on delivery and reading the room.

I’m still itching to try out completely new stuff, but I’ve got a couple of competition heats to get through first, where I want to do the best possible version of my current set, so I’m just going to keep working on that until the competitions are finished.

I’ve seen a few strong acts while I’ve been out and about recently. Some names that spring to mind are:

Reuxbere Berera – a brilliant character act playing on the golden age of Broadway musicals. I saw him do two separate sets at Battersea and he was fantastic both times.

Amy from Dorset – can’t find her surname, but I’ve seen her at a few nights recently, she does some great material about life, relationships, London Vs Dorset, and seems pretty polished.

Ciaran Chillingworth – I think he’s well known on the circuit and most people will have bumped into him at one night or another. Does something different every time I see him, and it’s always fantastic. At Rising Stars he did a double act called The Mayor and His Daughter with a woman I didn’t recognise, and it completely devastated the room.

Lots of others, but those are the ones I can remember right now.

Work has returned to a level of normality for now, so I should be able to put  a bit more effort into standup for the forseeable future. Next week I’ve got a heat at the Laughing Horse competition, which I’m looking forward to now that I’m feeling more confident about my act.

Gig Count to Date: 36

Three gigs and life-changing news

It’s been a full on couple of weeks for me – this is my busiest time of the year at work and my mortgage-paying day job has to take priority over everything else, until Netflix offers me a deal. Aside from that, I’ve had some big stuff going on in my personal life; a long lost sister I never knew about has recently got in touch, which is exciting news but kind of hard to take in when I’ve got so much else happening right now.

So I’ve had a lot on my mind, but I’m still trying to make some sort of progress with the stand-up and I’ve done three spots over the past couple of weeks. Last week I did Rising Star at the King and Queen pub. I opened with a quick topical bit I thought up while reading the news on the way to the gig, which got a decent laugh despite being a bit weak in hindsight. After that I got stuck into my usual set, and that went OK but I still wasn’t able to deliver it as smoothly as I’m aiming for.

On the night I was thinking about how I was delivering the same material last year and absolutely killing more often than not with it, but now the same stuff seems to be getting a much more mediocre response. It’s hard to tell whether it’s because I’ve lost some of the meat while I’ve been trying to evolve and sharpen it up, or if I’m just not delivering well enough. Either way, the only real answer is more gigs.

This week I started with We Are Funny Project on Tuesday, and it seemed to go a little better. I didn’t try to throw in any topical material, and stuck with my best five minutes, but I still couldn’t quite make it all the way through the material without peeking at the set list written on the back of my hand. I feel like I’m getting closer, but I really won’t be happy until I can deliver the whole set without thinking about it. And again, the only answer is more gigs.

Tuesday was also a bit of a downer because my bringer was my comedy bestie, Pauline, and it was to be the last time I’d see her for a while because she’s heading off traveling before she’s too old. We’ve become good chums since we met on a comedy course eight months ago, so I’ll miss her while she’s gone.

On Wednesday I did a spot at the South Kensington Comedy Club for the first time – I think it’s a relatively new night and seems to be run collaboratively by a few acts I’ve seen around on the circuit. Wednesdays are organised and MC’d by Louise Bastock, who I’ve seen a few times before and been impressed by her utter depravity.

I broke discipline for my set and instead of running through my material I tried to do a bit about being contacted by my sister, but I hadn’t really thought in through and even though I think the premise was OK I fucked up my punchline. I was able to segue reasonably smoothly into my usual set and things went enough after that. Most of it got laughs and there were a few big hitters. As usual though, there was no consistency, it felt like the biggest laughs came from bits that usually only get a mediocre reaction.

On the plus side I think I got through the whole set with barely a glance at my set list. I feel like I’m making progress, just slowly. I’m starting to get really bored of repeating the same material, but I know I need to keep working on it and stay focused on my objective – working it up to a solid 7 minutes for the SYTYF competition in heat in summer.

I can’t do any gigs next week, which is annoying but unavoidable, but I’ve already got a few booked for April and should hopefully pick up the pace again soon.  I realised that this week has brought me up to over 30 gigs – a small milestone, but still a tiny amount, and I really need to step up my game if I’m going to hit 100 by the end of the year.

Grinding away at Comedy Virgins

Not much to report this week – I did just one spot at Comedy Virgins, and I stuck to same five minutes of material I’ve been working on recently. I’m determined to keep doing it until I can reel it off effortlessly, without having to use a set list. Once it’s second nature, it should be easier to experiment with my delivery, stage presence, and try riffing a bit more.

I know gigging more will help with that, but recently I’ve only been able to do one spot per week – I should be able to step that up to at least two per week soon.

This week’s gig went OK, it was a very young crowd, which always makes my parenting material a harder sell, but there’s enough sleaze and filth in there to get them onside. I didn’t bother recording this gig, so I can’t listen back to compare my memory with objective reality, but it felt like the audience bought into it. Most of my stuff got OK laughs, and one or two bits did very well.

It was a decent night in terms of the other acts, nobody bombed badly, although not many people really stood out either. The clap off was won by Stephen Catling, and I don’t think anybody could argue with that because he fully committed to an absolutely batshit crazy performance about his family’s ancient feud with the swans in his local park.

One thing I’ve noticed recently is the complete lack of consistency in my material, the laughs seem to come in different places every time, and it’s hard to work it out. I know that every single punchline in my current five minute set has, at one point or another, got a big laugh, but on any given night it’s hard to tell which ones will work and which will only earn a few sniggers.

I think this all comes back to getting the material perfectly memorised – once I get to the point where I’m not thinking too hard about what to say next, I can focus more on figuring out what works, and why.

I’ve only got one gig next week, at Rising Star on the 16th, but two the week after – and I’m hoping to pick up the pace a bit from then on.

The Beast from the East will not stop me from gigging

This week I trudged (drove) through arctic conditions (a couple of inches of snow) to get to the Cavendish for a spot at Comedy Virgins, because I am committed to this shit. My bringer, Pauline, heroically dragged herself from the other side of London by public transport just to make sure I could still go up, which makes her a stone cold legend in my book.

I was expecting the gig to be a complete washout because of the weather but, even though a few people dropped out, plenty of walk-ins came (probably from other gigs that had been cancelled) so it was almost as busy as any other night.

I went up mid way through the second half and the energy in the room was flagging a bit, especially since  a few people had baled out by then, but it was still a reasonable audience. I’d planned to stick with the set I’m currently trying to practice ahead of the So You Think You’re Funny competition later in the year, but I saw an opportunity to play with a little crowd work.

The MC, Adrian Tauss, was working the front row and during a bit of back and forth one of them said something about marketing people being cunts. Marketing is my day job, so I thought I’d have some fun with the guy and started my set by yelling at him – it wasn’t particularly clever stuff, but the audience went with it and it was fun to do.

I’m not great at improv, so crowd-work probably isn’t for me, but if I see some low-hanging fruit (as we say in marketing) I’ll take it. I worked through the rest of my set and the crowd seemed to like it, but I wasn’t really happy with my performance.

I’ve trimmed some fat and added a few new bits, which means I’ve not managed to memorise the whole set yet and I’m back to using notes on my hand to get through it all. This feels a bit sloppy, and it means I’m still focusing too much on just remembering the material, when I really want to be more in the moment and paying attention to my delivery.

I’m sure I’ll get there again – last year I got to  point where I could deliver an earlier version of this set entirely from memory and it all started to feel a lot better. Much as I want to be trying out lots of different material, I’m just going to keep doing this stuff and focus on honing it, remembering it, and building it up to seven minutes.

The last few gigs I’ve done have left me feeling unhappy with the way it’s gone, on stage it’s felt clumsy, unpolished and very amateurish. But listening back to the recordings, there are plenty of laughs in all the right places and it sounds a lot better than it felt at the time. I’m probably just frustrated that I’m not getting as much stage time as I want at the moment, with work/life getting in the way – but I’ve got lots of gigs booked for March and April, so that should change.

I’ll be happier when I can consistently get through this set without notes, and I think I’m getting close.

You haven’t got as much material as you think

This week I did my 27th open mic spot, at Heavenly Comedy in the downstairs room of The Green pub in Shepherd’s Bush. It was a bit of a weird night because the gig got derailed a couple of times by random drunk twats who’d wandered in from the bar.

Nothing too heavy, but it was the kind of incoherent shitfaced interruption that’s difficult for an act to work with. The MC, Njambi, and the act who was performing when it happened dealt with it well, and both guys got kicked out by the bar staff, but I did start to wonder how I’d deal with it if another one showed up while I was on.

I’ve got some stock lines memorised for dealing with hecklers, and the same for recovering when a bit doesn’t work, but I haven’t really thought of how to handle disruptive drunks who haven’t got anything to say beyond random garbling, so I need to work on that.

For this gig I wanted to try out a sharpened up version of my best set, that I’m planning to use for the So You Think You’re Funny competition later in the year. I thought I had a respectable five minutes of material, and I’ve been trying out a few new bits that would fill it out to the seven minutes I need for the competition heat.

As well as trying to work out how the new bits fit into the set, I’ve also been trying to trim the fat to see if I can do the same jokes with fewer words, without losing any impact, to make the set punchier. When you deliver the same material over and over it’s surprising how much waffle you can actually remove and still make the joke work without all the unnecessary setup.

As it turned out, I got through all of the material, which I thought would be close to seven minutes, in around four and a half. I’ve listened to the recording a couple of times to make sure I didn’t miss any jokes but I got through them all and, even though the energy was a little low in the room, people were laughing in most of the right places. I could probably even cut out another 30 seconds of waffle if I was really disciplined, although I think in a bigger room with more energy I could allow for a little more laugh time.

So, long story short, I think for this set I’ve got about four minutes (maybe a little more) of reliable material that works to one degree or another in most of the rooms I’ve performed in.  That means I need to find another two to three minutes of stuff that fits into the theme of the set, before the competition in June.

This is pretty standard advice that more seasoned acts give to open mic comics; you might think you’ve got a tight five minutes of material, but you really don’t. I’m starting to experience that first hand now. I’ve had a few really good nights with that set so I assumed it was all gold, but now I realise that I can make it so much sharper and create space for even more material in the same time.

I’m feeling good about it – I’m getting better at remembering the current set so, instead of trying to remember the material, I can focus more on my delivery, which I think still needs a lot of work. I’ve got a ton of half-written ideas, so I’m confident that I can come up with those extra minutes – and I also think that if I mostly stick to doing the same set at open mics for the next few months I’ll have plenty of opportunity to play around with it and hopefully come up with some new ideas on stage.


Trying out new stuff Vs polishing old gold – open mic spot #26 at We Are Funny Project

I’ve been trying to decide the best way forward with my routine. I’ve got an OK five minutes of stuff about being a dad that seems to work well most times I perform it. But I really don’t want people on the circuit to see me as that guy who only ever does parenting material, so I’ve been trying out a bunch of other stuff – some of it’s gone pretty well, but it’s not as consistent as the parenting material.

I know I should be working on refining my best five minutes and making it as strong as possible, but I don’t like doing the same stuff all the time and I feel the need to show off how much different new material I can write. I have to get more disciplined though, because I’ve got a 7 minute spot in the So You Think You’re Funny competition later in the year and I really want to give that my best shot. So I need to rein in the ego and just focus on getting one strong set together,

I only managed one spot this week, at We Are Funny Project, and with the above in mind I dusted off some of my old parenting material to use open and close with, while testing out some new but ‘thematically related’ stuff in the middle. I’m pleased with how it went – they laughed at all the parts they were supposed to.

All the new material worked, even though it was very rough around the edges. I also tried to cut some of the fat from my older jokes so I could get to the punchlines quicker without losing any impact, and that seemed to go well too, so I think I’m on the right track with it all. I’ve not done many gigs recently, but I’m making an effort to get back on it and start doing a couple of spots a week again, so I can really get this stuff flying.

Other than that it was a good night all round at WAFP, with a good mix of complete newbies, polished acts and all levels in between. M’chum Pauline Stobbs tried out a whole new five minutes for the first time and it was nice to see that work well for her.

Next week I’ve got a spot at Heavenly Comedy in Shepherd’s Bush on Wednesday, and I’ll be spectating for Pauline at the Cavendish on Tuesday.