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.


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