Doing too-late topical material at We Are Funny

Last Wednesday I did my 25th open mic spot, at We Are Funny Project in Dalston. The room was busy, which is always great for a non-bringer night, and there were a lot of good acts on, a few of which were either professional, or at least close to professional, so the standard was high. Don Biswas  wrapped up the first half with a solid ten minutes, and the night was headlined by Olaf Falafel trying out twenty minutes of new stuff.

I was on second in the second half, after a great ten minutes from Harry Wright, who I later had a chat with on the train back into central London. I’d been planning to do a completely new five minutes, but I hadn’t practiced it much and wasn’t feeling very confident about it. So I chickened out at the last minute and decided to do some of the topical material I’d performed a couple of times earlier in the month, with one of the new bits sandwiched in the middle.

I didn’t exactly bomb, but it was a fairly underwhelming performance. I’ve listened to the recording a couple of times and people laughed at bits of it, but it was all a bit  low key. It didn’t help that I hadn’t been on stage for over a week, so I was a little rusty, and the ‘topical’ bits were based on news stories that were at least few weeks old by that point. I didn’t feel too bad because I know that material worked well at a couple of spots earlier in the month.

The new bit in the middle got a decent enough laugh, which was reassuring, so I think next time I go up I’ll try the whole of the new set. When I got off the stage the MC, Alex Martin, told the audience “He always goes too far over the line, and he doesn’t give a shit, I love him!”– I’ll take that for positive feedback.

Right now I have a bit of a dilemma about the best way forward. I know I should really focus on one or two five minute sets, and just keep performing them and polishing them so often that they’re permanently committed to memory. But at the same time I’ve got tons of material I want to try out (not to mention topical stuff that occurs to me from time to time) and, since I can currently only do one or two gigs most weeks, I’ve got very limited stage time to do it all. If I keep trying out new stuff it’s going to be very hard to get it to a polished state.

I suppose really I need to think about where I’m trying to get with this, and which approach is most likely to help me get there – but that’s not exactly an easy question to answer.

I’ve got nothing booked for this coming week, but I’ll try to get a walk-in somewhere, and then the week after I’m back at We Are Funny Project.



Topical material at Rising Stars and Comedy Virgins

I’ve had a good week on the stand-up front. On Tuesday I returned to Rising Stars and took a few colleagues along, since they’ve been asking to come to a show. The night was busier than I expected, and the room was so full that my bringers couldn’t even get in. I wasn’t on until the third segment, so I sent them back down to the bar while I hovered around outside the door, listening to the other acts.

As always, a lot of people had left by the time it got close to the end of the night, so when the third segment started my gang was able to squeeze into the room, which was still impressively full for the final stages of an open mic night.

I had a really bad time at Rising Stars when I was last there – I tried to do some half baked political stuff that wasn’t really working, and about halfway through I did a race joke that landed badly and turned the audience right off me, which made the rest of the set painful. This time I wanted to try a bunch of topical material that I’d thought up over the previous couple of days.

Things didn’t start well when I completely tripped over my words during my opener, but they laughed at my fuckup and I glossed over it by angrily yelling out the punchline. I think I did an OK job of delivering the rest of the set given that it was mostly completely new stuff that I was doing for the first time – I had notes on the back of my hand and was able to get through it without too many awkward pauses.

I can’t say that I got riotous laughter from the audience, but I think they appreciated that I was doing material about very current news stories and I got a warm reception. Towards the end I slipped in the exact same race joke that ruined my life last time I was there, because it fitted nicely into one of the bits I was doing about the UKIP leader’s racist girlfriend – this time it worked a lot better.

What was different? Two things, I think. Firstly, this time I’d done a better job of winning the audience over – they were in a better frame of mind and I think they liked me a bit more than the previous crowd, so they were less ready to crucify me for a slightly over the line joke. Secondly, the audience was more racially mixed this time, compared to almost completely white the time before – and although most of the white people pulled back just a little, the black guys in the room laughed enough to make it work.

The night felt good – I exorcised the demons from my previous time at Rising Stars, and did a bunch of not too shabby topical stuff instead of my usual parenting/dick based material.

On Wednesday I had a spot at the Cavendish Arms, and did a refined version of the same set. It went even better because the material had sunk in a bit, so my delivery was more confident, and I’d had time to tighten it up with some stronger punchlines. On top of that, I had a bit of well timed banter with the MC, Twix, that fitted in nicely with the theme of my set, and audiences always reward genuinely off-the-cuff stuff.

Both nights were great, but Wednesday was one of those gigs that reminds you how amazing it feels when you get this stuff right. At this point I need to thank Stobbsy the House Elf for being my bringer on that night, even though she wasn’t feeling well and had a legit excuse to back out. It was a good night all round – every act was solid, the audience was really up for it, and the mood was much higher than it had any right to be on a Wednesday night.

After the show I had a chat with Ginnia Cheng, who saw me on the night I bombed horribly at Rising Stars and sent me a lovely message to reassure me that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. She’s just started, and was doing her sixth gig on Wednesday. I didn’t get a chance to speak with Helena Langdon, who did her second gig at the Cav and messaged me afterwards to let me know she reads this blog – so, uh, hello Helena… *waves*

I don’t have any spots booked for next week – although I’m going to the Cavendish on Wednesday to +1 a friend who’s got a spot. If we can scrape together a couple of other bringers then I’ll try to get a walk-in, but I’m not too fussed – I can’t really use this week’s topical material again, so I need to do a bit of writing and pull together a new set because I’m bored of my old stuff.

These were gigs #23/#24 – so the next time I go up will be my quarter century.

Entering the Max Turner Prize

My only gig this week was my heat for the Max Turner Prize – an annual competition run by Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms.  I’d checked out the line up for the entire contest and knew there were some strong acts participating, so I didn’t harbour any pretentions of winning, but I was looking forward to the experience all the same.

To all intents and purposes the night runs like a standard open mic night at the Cav, except your bringer is given a score-card to rate the acts. At the end of each night the two acts with the highest scores go through to the final.

My plan was to deliver the best version I could of my strongest five minutes. I’ve done that set a few times now and there have been nights when it’s gone brilliantly, so I felt confident I could pull it off.  Things didn’t really line up the way I’d hoped though – I wanted to run through my set a few times that afternoon to cement it in my memory, but work was busier than usual so that didn’t happen.

So when I went up I had to try a bit too hard to remember my material, and that meant my delivery wasn’t as natural as it has been before. It felt more like my fifth gig than my 22nd. The audience bought into a lot of the bits, but it was a young crowd and my parenting jokes didn’t land as well as they do with more middle-aged audiences.

I also made a stupid fuckup and completely forgot to do one of the strongest parts of the set, so when I got to the end I checked my watch and realised I was a minute short. This threw me a little because I couldn’t understand what had happened. My closer worked ok so I should have just walked off on a good laugh, but instead I panicked and made a shit joke about finishing early because the audience didn’t laugh enough.

All that said, under normal circumstances I’d be happy with how the spot went – it was far from my best performance, but people laughed enough to convince me that the material works, I just need to practice it more so that it becomes second nature. It was a great night too, the winning acts were very strong ; Fatiha El-Ghorri, and William Stone.

The experience has reinforced a couple of things I already kind of know. First, I need to get better at practicing my sets before I go on stage – I can only do one or two gigs a week, so I need to practice saying my material out loud more often at home to help it sink in. Also I need to work on more new material – most of my best stuff right now is about parenting, which obviously isn’t going to work on all audiences, so I need to be able to pull some other stuff out of my bag of tricks.

I’ve got a couple of gigs next week – Rising Stars (where I bombed horribly last year after trying to do some political stuff) and then back to the Cavendish.

Second time at Funny Feckers – open spot #21

I first did a spot at Funny Feckers (every Thursday at the Constitution in Camden) back in September and I’ve been itching to go back because it’s a great night. I’ve tagged along to support friends there a few times and it’s always hysterical.

I finally got another spot there this Thursday, my first of 2018, and the plan was to deliver my more polished material in preparation for my Max Turner Prize heat. I definitely needed the practice. Last year I was able to deliver this set pretty confidently and it usually worked well, but this time around I felt rusty and struggled to do it as well as I have before.

I wrote my set list on the back of my hand and that was probably a mistake because I kept looking at it instead of relying on memory. Also I tried new twists on a couple of bits, which messed up my flow and didn’t really work well.

All in all the audience went along with it and laughed enough to make me feel like it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it felt like an uphill battle. It was quite a young crowd, and this set is largely about parenting so it’s no surprise they didn’t lap it up. Thankfully there were a couple of older people in who were buying into it and sometimes you just need one or two cheerleaders who like you enough to get the rest of the audience laughing along with them.

A couple of bits which usually kill didn’t get much response, but I can’t feel too hard done by because a bit I’ve been thinking of dropping from the set worked better than it ever has before.

I’m a little disappointed in myself because Funny Feckers is one of the nights where I really want to do well, and in the end I don’t think my performance was that much better than when I first went there as a completely raw newbie in September. But it was good to get back on stage after Xmas, and to practice that set at least once this year before the competition.

A couple of other acts really stood out, Patrick Spicer did a nice set of rambling whimsy and has the kind of affable likeability I can only dream of.  Also, Scottish American act Martin Graham really impressed, despite being almost as new at this as I am.

I also saw Martin the night before at a Max Turner Prize heat where I’d been supporting m’chum Pauline Stobbs. She delivered a good set with strong laughs all the way through, but it was a very competitive night which was won by Kathryn Matter and Stephanie Browse. They both absolutely murdered the crowd, so I don’t think anybody could feel bad about losing out to them on that heat.

My heat for the competition is next Tuesday – I’m mostly in it for the experience. There are so many strong acts performing that it would take Trumpian levels of narcissism for me to have any expectation of winning.  I’ve also submitted a video entry for the Amused Moose national stand up competition, so I’m hoping I’ll at least be offered a place in one of the heats.

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.