First spot at We Are Funny Project

When I first got interested in doing stand-up a few years ago, We Are Funny was one of the open mic nights that showed up on my radar. Although it took me a while to get started, they’re still running three nights a week and I was keen to get a spot there to check the place out.

The night is run in the large basement room of Farr’s School of Dancing – not actually a dance school, but a really nice pub in Shoreditch (with £3.30 pints – woohoo!) There’s a proper stage, a decent PA system, and it feels a bit more real than some of the smaller ‘room above a pub’ nights.

I was there on Tuesday night, and although there were a few dropouts the room had 20+ people, which included five GENUINE AUDIENCE MEMBERS, as well as the other acts.  The good thing about WAFP is that it’s not a bringer night, but the flipside of that is that you never really know how much of an audience you’re going to perform for.

The night is MC’d by an effervescent Italian called Alex Martini, who does a magnificent job of keeping the comedy train chugging along.

I went up fifth in the first half and did the same five minute set I’ve been working on at the previous gigs. It was tough going because the energy in the room was fairly low at that point and my opener didn’t work quite as well as it did last time. But I ploughed on and managed to warm the audience up a bit, although it felt like I was getting more groans than laughs as I did some of my darker bits.

I didn’t bother with notes, and apart from a brief stumble at the beginning I got through my entire set from memory, with one small exception. As I was getting into bed later that night I realised I’d completely forgotten to deliver the punchline to one of my strongest bits. I did the setup and they were laughing at the general premise, but somehow I just skipped the most important part and went straight onto the next bit.

This is interesting for me because it just shows that material can still sort of work even when you fuck it up, which is a handy life lesson.

The rest of the night was standard open mic fodder, a few great acts, a few that still need work. Professional act, Tom Little, closed the night off by testing out some of his new material – don’t think I’ve ever speak so quickly in my life. Combined with a pretty thick Salford accent it’s amazing anybody can understand a word he says, but somehow it just works.

I had some nice feedback from the other acts, and an especially interesting chat with a guy called Howard Cohen (a much more experienced act) who had some good advice for me – mostly about learning to not give a fuck…

I’ll definitely be back to WAFP as soon as I can – nights where you don’t need a bringer are going to be useful as my friends gradually get bored of my dragging them to gigs. Next week I’ll be back at the Cav on Wednesday for a prebooked spot, and might try to do another night if I can find one.

Second gig at the Cavendish Arms

This week I had a spot booked at Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a great venue attached to a nice little pub, and because I knew I was definitely performing my wife decided to come along to watch, and she invited my brother in law and his wife.

I really wanted it to go well while they were watching because nobody wants to bomb in front of their family and, while they’ve been supportive so far, it would be good for them to see that I’m making progress and not entirely deluded about my prospects.

For this night I planned to do my usual set but with a few adjustments. I moved my strongest, most reliable bit to the end so I could close on a big laugh, shuffled a few middle bits around so that the flow still made sense, and wrote an entirely new opener. I’ve been struggling to find a punchy opening bit that gets a good laugh and sets up the rest of the set. Everything I’ve tried before either gets a weak laugh or nothing at all, so I ditched it all and tried something different.

As usual they picked the running order at random, so I didn’t know when I was going up until the MC called my name as the fourth act of the night.

The new opener worked much better than anything else I’ve tried, although I think it can be better if I play around with the timing and delivery. That really set me up for success, and the rest of the set went down a storm – although I ended up checking my set list (scribbled on my palm) a couple of times because the new structure wasn’t fully committed to memory.  The closer worked exactly as planned, and I managed to throw in a tag specifically about my brother in law, earning him a cheer from the crowd.

It all added up to my best night yet and 24 hours later I’m still on a high about it all. That said, I’ve watched the video back a few times and it’s obvious that there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Some of the bits could be delivered better, I could save time by rambling less, which would let me include a few more jokes, and I definitely need to improve my stage-presence.

I’ve noticed I don’t really know what to do with my other hand while I’m on stage so it ends up looking a bit awkward and fidgety. I’ve considered holding a drink with it, but then there are a couple of bits which require hand motions so I’m not sure if that’s the best option. Maybe I just need more discipline to keep my rogue paw under control.

All the same – very happy with my performance, got a lot of positive feedback from people after the show, and pleased that my wife and her brother got to watch me doing a good one.

There were twenty acts in total, and a lot of good quality. I bumped into James Meakin again after chatting with him at Lion’s Den about a month ago, and he put in a strong performance. We have a similar sense of humour and are both at about the same level of experience, so it’s good to see him around.

There was also a short lady who did a brilliant routine about going to a self-help retreat in Arizona to meet Alanis Morissette – didn’t catch her name but I’d say she’s one of the best acts I’ve seen on the circuit. Others were good, but those are the two who stick out in my memory as I’m writing this.

Next week I’ve got a spot at We Are Funny Project in Shoreditch, but not much booked after that, so I need to start getting organised.

Open Mic #6 at the Lion’s Den

I’ve got a spot booked at the Cavendish next week with a few friends coming, so this week I really wanted to practice my set and try tweaking a couple of things that aren’t working well. The Lion’s Den Comedy Car Crash seemed like a good option.

I’ve been there a few times before (twice as an act) and quite like the place. Some people complain about it being pay to play (admission is a fiver for everybody) but it suits me well because it’s easy to get a spot if you can show up early and you don’t need a bringer. The audience always seems varied, I’ve been on nights when it’s reasonably busy but I also did a spot there a few weeks ago when it was dead.

Last night was great – an American guy (who did a routine in costume as a redneck truck-driver) brought a huge entourage with him and we ended up with a respectable audience for a Tuesday night non-bringer open mic, so the room had good energy. They all stayed until the end too, which was helpful because I was the second to last act of about 20.

I think I did OK – I’ve realised my opener is weak and my closer is a bit meh, but the middle four minutes of my current material is solid and got good laughs all the way through. I didn’t feel as comfortable as I did at Funny Feckers last week – probably a combination of going up so late in the evening and never really figuring out how exactly I was going to open and close – so I think my delivery probably wasn’t as confident as I’d like.

Still, it worked reasonably well and the MC, Boyce, told me it was a good set as I left the stage, so I’ll take it. The timing was spot on too – I managed to finish my full set comfortably close to five minutes. I’m going to make some significant edits before next week, so I finish on my strongest bit and move my current closer to the middle (I think it can still work with polish, it’s just not a closer), and I really need to think of a stronger opening line.

I’m feeling confident that I can get the material whipped into a strong five minute set with a little more work. I’m itching to try out some completely new stuff, but don’t want to do that until I know this set is working as well as it can.

The night was split into three sections and the first two sections each had a headline act, both of which were very strong. The rest of the amateurs were a mixed bag – two in particular stood out (forgot names, I’m afraid):

Youngish white woman with long blonde hair and nerdy specs did some clever bits, but the audience didn’t react as well as it deserved because I think she was almost too subtle with some of her delivery. Tough situation, because she had some great material but it was almost too clever for a five minute open spot where you haven’t got much time for the audience to figure out what you’re about.

Asian guy from Bradford, I think he said that he was new to the scene in London but had been around for a while up north – great stage presence, interacted with the crowd well and bounced through is material with confidence, wasn’t fazed by stuff not working. Felt a bit envious of his confidence on stage and it made me wonder whether that’s something that comes naturally or if I’ll eventually get that good with experience.

Everything clicks at Funny Feckers

I’d been looking forward to doing this spot ever since I visited Funny Feckers at The Constitution in Camden about a month ago – it’s a great night with a good crowd and a nice, intimate venue. But as things turned out I didn’t get to do a spot the week before, so I was a little rusty, and to make matters worse I was full of a cold and feeling grim, so on the night itself I wasn’t sure I’d be on form.

All the same, I was determined that this would be the night I’d go up without any notes and I was pretty confident that I could remember enough of my material to get through five minutes. I was the sixth act of the night and by the time I got onto the stage I’d forgotten all about my cold.

I delivered the same material as before – resisting the urge to try out new stuff – but right from the off it was a much tighter than before because I consciously tried to be more economical with words and get to the punchlines quicker. I have a tendency to ramble and reiterate the same point two or three times, which is a luxury you can’t afford in a five minute spot, so I’m trying to break that habit.

Without the crutch of a set list I had to trust in my ability to remember which bits were coming next and, largely, it worked out pretty well – at no point was I worried about what to say next, and that meant I could think a little more about my delivery rather than just blurting out the gags and trying to hold it all together.

Because it was all a bit tighter I managed to get through more of my material and used some bits that I usually don’t have time to get to. Also, I realised that a couple of bits just aren’t working – I think they’re solid gags, but they consistently fail to get decent laughs so it’s time to take them out to the woods and put a bullet in them. Conversely, there’s one bit that makes absolutely no sense to me because it doesn’t have any logic to it (I accidentally improvised it one night rather than writing it) and it gets a big laugh every time, so I’m going to keep it in and try to build on it.

It felt like I got a lot more laughs, maybe because I was consciously making an effort with my delivery, but what I really notice was that I got a lot more horrified groans – the noise they make when they’re a little disgusted with themselves for laughing at the gag. And I realised that’s exactly what I want. Making people laugh is one thing, but provoking that more complex reaction feels so much better.

I don’t know if this is ‘finding my voice’ but I certainly feel like I’ve got a better idea of my direction.

It wasn’t perfect, there’s still things that need to improve, but after last night’s gig I suddenly feel like less of a pretender, like I’m on my way to getting good at this. I had been planning to start trying out a new set very soon, but now I’m going to spend a little more time polishing my current material – it feels like it could be a lot sharper with just a few more weeks work, and then I’ll have my first tight-five.

Next week I’m going back to Funny Feckers, but only as a bringer for my friend Pauline, and I’ll be trying to get a spot at Lion’s Den on Tuesday.

I wasn’t quick enough to book another spot at Funny Feckers in October, but I’ll definitely be trying to get back there in November.

Open Mic Spot #4 – Comedy Virgins at The Cavendish Arms

After getting no stage time last week I was determined to get a spot this week, but the only problem was that due to other commitments I only had Wednesday night available, which meant that I had to try again for a walk-in at The Cavendish. Fortunately I got there early enough and managed to get a spot.

This gave my heart a boner because I’ve wanted to do a spot there since first visiting the place a few weeks ago. It’s a really nice place to do open mics because it feels like a “real” comedy club, with a decent stage and PA system, polished MCs, and it always seems reasonably full, even on a Wednesday. It felt like I was performing for a real audience, rather than a roomful of other acts, for the first time since the showcase night.

The MC was Cavendish stalwart and BBC New Comedy Award 2017 finalist, Sikisa (Twix), who did a great job keeping the energy up throughout the night. To be fair, I think she had an easy job last night because all of the acts were strong, which was a little intimidating. There wasn’t a single act that I could confidently say I was better than – if anything the night just made me realise how unpolished I still am.

A couple of acts really stood out. There was a guy (can’t remember his name) whose entire set consisted of a rambling story about him discussing the benefits of Amazon Alexa with Bruce Wayne. It was really inventive, well delivered, and took a lot of confidence to get the audience to buy into some of the more off-the-wall bits.

Another highlight was Sir Cedric, a gangly bloke with a big beard and wig, wearing an outfit that looked like your school PE kit, who delivered his set in character as an over the top thespian type. The entire routine was based on the premise that the audience’s welcoming applause must have been insincere because it was “Sir Cedric’s first try” and none of us knew if he’d be any good – for five minutes, and it worked. Again, I’m envious of the guy’s creativity.

The running order is picked randomly at Comedy Virgins, and I ended up as the third act of the night. My main priority was to practice the five minute set I’ve been working on and try to deliver as much as possible without using my set-list – I got about halfway in before I needed to pull it out of my back pocket. It feels like it’s coming together and my guess is I’ll need another couple of spots before I can ditch the set-list entirely.

I felt like the spot went well and I got some decent laughs. But last night was the first time I was recorded, and watching the video back in the cold light of day made me realise that there were quite a few bits that didn’t really get as much of a response from the crowd as I’d thought when I was on stage.

I’m not too worried about this, it’s only my fourth mic and some of the stuff definitely worked well – I need to memorise it all and experiment with my delivery before I start cutting material. That said, I’m already getting bored of my set and am itching to try out new stuff, but I need to be disciplined and stick to the plan – memorise five minutes of usable material that I can always fall back on if things go off the rails, and then start playing around with new ideas once I’ve built that safety net.

Next week I’ve got a spot booked at Funny Feckers in Camden on Thursday 20th, and I’m planning to do another night earlier in the week to get some more practice.

No shows this week, sad times

A disappointing week. I wasn’t feeling it on Tuesday night so I skipped my planned visit to the Lion’s Den, since I was going to try for a walk-in spot at Comedy Virgins on Wednesday and felt confident of arriving early enough to get on.

But despite getting to the Cavendish pretty early, and the place being seemingly still empty, all five of the walk-in spots had already been taken. Still, I had a few friends coming along so we stuck around to watch the show – and they do pretty good pizza in there too.

The highlight of the evening was a completely shitfaced guy who started his “act” by fumbling with his phone for a minute to find the right song, which he then played through the mic for a moment before karate kicking the mic stand across the stage. At this point the MC kicked him off the stage and out of the club – a first in the club’s history, apparently.

Other than that it was the usual mixed bag of talent and train-wrecks. It was disappointing not to get a spot, but it’s always good to check out what other people are doing – but it does mean I didn’t get any stage time at all this week. Next week will be tricky because of holidays, and the only night I have free is Wednesday, so I’ll probably take another shot at Comedy Virgins but get there earlier.

I’ve got a spot booked at CV later in September, but I’d like to get a walk-in earlier if possible. So far I feel like I’ve only done spots in half-empty rooms and CV feels like a much better club, so I’m keen to get on stage there as soon as I can.

Feeling a little frustrated – I’ve got a lot of material I want to try out and going a whole week without doing any spots feels bad. Annoyed at myself for skipping out on the Lion’s Den on Tuesday when I should be grabbing whatever stage time I can get.

 

 

 

Open mic spot #3 – Instant Laughs at the Grove, Hammersmith

This week I’d planned to return to Lion’s Den on Tuesday and try to get a walk-in spot at the Cavendish Arms, but it turns out that the Cav was running its summer competition so the latter wasn’t possible. On Tuesday morning I noticed that Instant Laughs had a few walk-in spots available at its Hammersmith venue so I decided to try something new instead of a third night at the Lion’s Den.

A couple of comedy-buddies from the course came along for moral support (although as best I can tell it’s not a bringer night) and one of them got a spot himself too. I met one of the other acts in the bar before the show, he saw me scribbling down my set list and introduced himself. We had a bit of a chat about the circuit and he shared some useful tips about which nights to visit and which Facebook groups are worth joining.

The night was friendly, but very quiet. There were about 10 acts, and a small handful of audience members who drifted in and out over the course of the evening. I went up about halfway through the night and did my core five minute set, despite the strong temptation to try out some new material, because I’m determined to memorise my best five minutes of material so that I don’t need to keep glancing at my set-list.

I have no problems remembering the content of my jokes, I just forget which ones I’m supposed to be doing next, but I’m hoping to fix that after a few more spots. Once I’ve got five minutes of stuff that I can reliably reel off without notes I’ll feel more comfortable about throwing in new bits.

The spot went about as well as I could hope for in an almost dead room – got a few chuckles from some of my best bits, although a couple of others bombed. The set list I used was pretty much perfectly timed for five minutes, so I think I’ll stick to that for the next few weeks and only change it if there are bits that obviously don’t work.

I had a chat with Marvin, the guy who runs Instant Laughs, as well as some of the other acts (including Mike Lash, who I’d seen a few weeks previously at Funny Feckers) and they were all very friendly. My, admittedly limited, experience of the open mic scene in London so far is that it’s warm  and supportive, which wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, so it’s been a nice surprise.

That said, I kind of want to do at least one fucking awful night sometime soon, just so I don’t get lulled into a false sense of security and get some experience of dealing with bombing, hecklers and all the rest of it.

A night at the Cavendish

Last night I went to the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell, which runs an open mic night called Comedy Virgins three days a week and seems to be one of the most popular nights in London. I was there supporting my friend Pauline (who’s already looking very polished after just a few spots), and to get a feel for the place before trying to get a spot there myself.

It’s a bringer night, which makes for a very different atmosphere to somewhere like Lion’s Den because at least half of the audience are not performers. The down-side is that you need to find somebody to come with you if you want to perform, whereas to get on stage at the Lion’s Den you just have to show up on time.

As well has having a proper comedy club, The Cavendish is a pretty nice pub too, so it’s a comfortable place to hang out for an hour or two before the show starts. It’s also reasonably convenient for me to get home from, so with three open mic nights a week it’s going to be a good place for me.

I don’t know whether it was just a good night, or if it’s always like this, but the quality of all the acts was good. Even people who were doing their first of second spots seemed strong – it almost made me a little nervous about going on there myself because I’m not sure if I’m up to the same standard just yet. I think I’ll try to get a walk-in spot next week and see how it goes.

As the night progressed we all got chatting to various people and it transpired that a few remembered Pauline and myself from our performances at the Lion’s Den a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure that soon enough we’ll start bumping into a lot of the same people on the London scene, but right now it feels pretty good when somebody not only remembers my face, but also starts talking about which bits of my material stayed with them.

Next week I’m going to try the Lion’s Den on Tuesday, and the Cavendish on Wednesday.

 

Back to the Lion’s Den – open-mic #2

I’ve been away on holiday and wanted to get on stage as soon as possible, so I went back to the Lion’s Den Comedy Car Crash open-mic night on Tuesday evening and got there early to make sure I got a spot.

While I was waiting to get in I got talking to a guy called James SorryI’veForgottenYourSurname who I’d seen a couple of weeks earlier doing his first open spot on the same night I did mine, and once we got into the club we compared notes over a beer. It was good to get a perspective from somebody who’s in the same situation as me – up until that point the only other acts I’d really spoken to are the people who did the course with me.

As the bar filled up ahead of the show, a few more people from the previous show turned up, nods of recognition and chit-chat ensued, and I was happy that people remembered my act well enough to comment on some of the material I’d delivered a couple of weeks ago.

My plan for these early open-mic nights was to get more comfortable on stage and start to piece together a respectable five minutes of material that I can memorise completely, so that when I’m on stage I can focus on delivery rather than thinking about what I’m going to say next. But during the day I thought up some topical stuff that neatly tied together a couple of big news stories of the week, and I really wanted to use it while it was relevant. So I decided that tonight I’d start with the topical stuff, and then run through some of my existing bits if I had enough time.

I wanted this to be the first time I went up without any notes but, because I was doing some new material, I decided that I needed to scribble a set-list onto my hand. Lessons: write it on the back of your hand because if you write on your palm it’s going to get smudged by condensation on cold beer bottles; also,  biro doesn’t wash off easily so you may end up going to work in the morning with random shit written on your hands.

At the Lion’s Den, they draw the the next performer’s name out of a bag after each act, so you never know when you’re going up. Last time I went up very early and this time I went up close to the end, which was fine except for the fact that a lot of people had already left so the room was half empty. No problem, I’m sure there are going to be a lot of nights like this – I’d just plough on with my act, even if the room was silent for five minutes.

I forgot to record my set, so I don’t fully remember how it all went, but….

One of the other acts did some crowd work earlier and called me out for being a gym-rat (nice that people notice!) so I opened with an improvised call-back to that, which earned an OK laugh, before launching into my topical material.

This section went OK, considering that I hadn’t worked it all the way through, some bits didn’t have solid punchlines, and I didn’t deliver parts of it as well as I’d hoped – but it was pretty dark, which the audience liked. There were titters throughout and one or two bigger laughs. Again, the laughs didn’t always come where I expected, and some bits fell flat. When a punchline gets nothing I just push on, don’t acknowledge it, just go straight onto the next bit – I don’t know if this is the best way of handling it, but I’d rather just move on and try for the next laugh than waste time.

The segue into the existing material that I wanted to practice was clumsy, and I think that threw the audience a little. It went down reasonably well, considering the empty room, but I didn’t do the best job of delivering it and think it could really work better if I add a bit more flair to the performance. On the upside my timing was pretty much spot on, and by the time I got the light to let me know I had 30 seconds left, I was ready to deliver my closer.

Again, my link to this bit wasn’t smooth so it didn’t flow well and although it got a small laugh it wasn’t what I hoped for. I also didn’t really end the set gracefully, just put the mic back and wandered off stage while they were tittering – I should probably thank the audience or something instead of just fucking off awkwardly.

I felt a lot more relaxed on stage this time around I was able to think more about my delivery, even though I’ve still got a lot of work to do on that.

The act who went up after me seemed reasonably polished and had some good material, but he started his set by saying “I’m not sure I can follow that guy…” which gave my ego a boner. I promise not to milk every shred of positive feedback I get, but at this early stage I’m clinging to any encouragement that suggests I’m not just making a massive twat of myself and that I might eventually become a passable stand-up.

The final act to get drawn was James, the guy I spoke to at the start of the night. For his second time he did brilliantly – he’s got some great material, delivers it well and already looks relaxed on stage. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot more of him in future.

Final note – I’ve been given a spot at the Funny Feckers night in Camden at the end of September, so I’m aiming to get as polished as I can before that night. I know they film the acts and it would be great if I could get a video of a killer performance, so that means I need to get as much stage-time as possible before then and really focus on putting together a five minute set that I know is going to work well.

My first stand-up comedy open-mic night

The stand-up course is over and the excitement of showcase night has faded, but a handful of us are keen to make sure we don’t lose momentum so we’ve started investigating London’s open-mic nights. The week after showcase a few of us headed up to Funny Feckers at the Constitution in Camden just to scope it out and get a feel for how an open-mic night works.

In the bar ahead of the show we had a chat with the organiser, Wes Dalton, and learned that the open spots are usually booked a month or two in advance (turns out this is the case with a lot of nights). By coincidence it was Funny Fecker’s first birthday, so there was a really good atmosphere in the club and a decent sized audience.

The mix of experience amongst the 10 acts was varied, some first timers, some veterans, but the audience was friendly and treated all of them well. One act in particular stood out – I forget his name, but his routine was a bit like Data from Star Trek delivering different styles of stand-up in a way that deconstructed familiar comedy tropes. I loved it, but it got a mixed response from the crowd – I hope I bump into the guy again.

I left the night feeling pretty positive and confident that I wouldn’t embarrass myself too badly if I performed alongside a similar line-up.

The following week I went to the Lion’s Den open mic night at a club on Shaftsbury Avenue with a couple of comrades, and queued up early so that we could get spots. This was a different vibe entirely, but still good fun. There were about 20 acts in total, and the quality varied immensely – some were very funny, some showed promise, some were terrible, others seemed to have very real psychological problems.

One youngish guy, who’d done a handful of spots already, had invited a bunch of his mates to watch him perform, but he completely choked on stage and after a minute of fumbling walked off without delivering a single gag. His mates captured the whole thing on their phones for the ages.

The thing about Lion’s Den is that the MC picks the performers at random from a hat, so you never know when it’s your turn to go up, which is nerve wracking when it’s your first open mic. As it turned out I got called up third, completely mentally unprepared.

I had my original set-list from the showcase night and reasoned that if I trimmed the fat and just focused on the main parts of the set I should be able to keep it to five minutes. It went well, I got laughs from beginning to end, and improvised a tag-line for a bit based on something in the news that day which got a big laugh (it helped that the line was in disgustingly poor taste, which I am proud of).

I also got a decent laugh out of a bit that was originally just supposed to be a tag line from a stronger gag, but I’m starting to think it could work as a larger bit because the audience responded so well on both nights I delivered it.

The big fuckup on this night was that when they flashed the light to let me know I only had thirty seconds left I was only about a third of the way through my material, and I panicked because it caught me off guard. I’d just delivered a punchline and got a reasonable laugh, so I could have just smoothly ended it there, but instead I fumbled for a couple of moments trying to work out how I could close before abandoning the idea and then awkwardly thanking the crowd and leaving the stage. It wasn’t awful, but I could have handled it better.

Lessons; Time. My. Fucking. Set. Better. Also, memorise a solid closer that I can always go to if the light comes before I expect it.

A good night though, friendly crowd, supportive MC, my two buddies from the course both did well too. During the half-time break one of the older, more polished acts gave me a nod and thumbs up from across the room – a small gesture, but at this stage I’ll take whatever morsel of encouragement I can get.

If anything, this felt better than showcase night. This was a real open spot, the audience wasn’t friends and family, just other acts and their mates. This felt like a real first step in the direction I want to go.