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.

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.