Starting my own open-mic

I’ve only done a few gigs since my last update – all seemed to go pretty well, but nothing to write home about. I’ve been mixing up new and old material, and it’s all progressing nicely.

The big news is that I’m now going to be running an open mic in New Malden on Tuesday nights. A friend of mine has got involved with running a bar, and she asked me if I wanted to put on my own night there, so I jumped at the chance.

We’re starting in November and I’ve already booked acts for each of the shows that month. I’d like to have a few open walk-in spots each night, but I’m not sure how popular that’s going to be for a show that’s not in central London (it’s about 25 minutes from Waterloo, in Zone 4). Either way, the bar is focused on promoting the night and bringing in an audience, while my priority is to make it a good, low-stress experience for acts, so that they want to keep coming back.

I’ve agreed that we’ll see how the first month goes and then decide how/whether to carry on long term – I’ll update here to let you know how it’s going.

The second bit of news this month is that a couple of other acts have asked me if I want to do a split-bill at the Brighton Fringe next May – probably a couple of shows a week for the entire month. I’m up for it, but we need to agree on the logistics and whatnot before we can confirm.

Other than that, I don’t have much booked in for the immediate future other than a couple of spots at We Are Funny in November, so I need to get busy. Obviously the good thing about having my own local night is that I’m guaranteed a decent amount of weekly stage time on one night of the week, and combined with one or two other open mic spots a week that should be enough to really start to polish my act.

Doing a Spot at LOLipops Comedy

Last week I did my first spot at LOLipops Comedy – an open mic that runs at a couple of different venues in Southwark on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I did the Thursday night show at The Ship on Borough High St. 

I didn’t really know what to expect from the night, but it ended up being pretty cool because there was a decent audience of after-work drinkers who’d wandered up from the busy bar of the venue. They were all drunk and a little boisterous, but in a way that gave the acts something to bounce off, rather than just being pointlessly disruptive. 

Including the acts, I think there were probably around twenty people in total, so enough for a fun open mic show. I didn’t really know any of the other acts (apart from Camilla Borges) but that’s no surprise these days – since covid a lot of people have quit and a lot of new people have started, so I’m seeing a lot of new faces. 

I tried some of my newer stuff for the second time, and felt a lot more comfortable with it – it went down well enough and I’m already getting ideas for how to build on it – and then wrapped up with Racist Baby, which is developing into a really good bit now that I’ve re-thunk it . 

LOLipops was a great night – good, slightly chaotic open mic fun. All the acts seemed to enjoy themselves, and the audience were obviously having a good time because they all came back for the second half. If you get a chance to do a spot there I highly recommend it. Thanks to Julius Howe for putting me on!

I’m gradually getting back up to speed after a hiatus over summer. I’ve got a reasonable number of spots booked for October and November, and will try to add in a few more. I’ve been wanting to do the Ding Dong Gong Show at Vauxhall Comedy Club on a Sunday night, so I might go along and throw my name in the hat at some point over the next few weeks. I need to get back to Beat the Gong at Up the Creek too, now that I’m feeling motivated about doing new material.

Back to the Grind at Rats Open Mic

After nearly a couple of months out of circulation I really needed to start doing some spots again, so I could try out some new material and work on building a completely new set.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m very bored of the material I’ve already got and, even though it works pretty well a lot of the time, it just isn’t interesting to me, which has got me questioning why I’m still even doing standup. I got to the point recently where I started thinking about quitting, but I really hate the idea of not doing comedy, I just want to do better comedy.

So it’s back to square one, grinding out brand new bits at five minute open mic spots.

The first spot I could get was last night at Rats Open Mic, the first show at its new venue downstairs at Central Station, Kings Cross. Rats is run by Harry Deansway who, as far as I can tell, has been running the night on and off for a few years, first at Aces and Eights in Camden, and then more recently at the Day and Night in Islington, before moving to this new venue.

My first impression was that it’s a decent place to run an open mic. There’s no stage, but there is a professional PA system and lighting, and the whole setup of the room feels like a proper comedy cellar rather than just a row of chairs lined up in front of a mic-stand.

Rats isn’t a bringer, and Harry works hard to promote the night so that it gets a genuine audience. That said, last night was understandably quiet since it was the first show at a new venue, it was pissing down, and the Queen is still dead, so in the end we had eight acts and three audience members.

I chose to go up first in the second half – somebody once told me that’s the best spot because the audience is already warmed up but you don’t have to follow anybody who might be much better than you, or who might have sucked the energy out of the room. Good advice normally, but at a quiet open mic when half of the acts who already did their spots sneak out during the break, it doesn’t really work. Also, the running order got tweaked a little because of a no-show so I ended up going second in the second half anyway, with about eight people in total left in the audience.

Despite all that, the vibe in the room was good and everybody was up for it. As a host Harry manages the energy pretty well, keeping the mood high without overselling the night and pretending it’s Live at the Apollo.

I spent a couple of minutes trying out some new stuff for the first time, which all got enough of a reaction to make me it’s they’re worth keeping, and then I wrapped up with a couple of oldish bits – including the reworked version of Racist Baby (which is much more reliable than it used to be) as a mark of respect for the Queen.

I’ve written (alright, made some rough notes) a bunch of other new material, but doing a whole set of brand new stuff seemed a bit too much, I’d rather practice a few chunks at a time and get them commited to memory, then gradually build out a whole new set piece by piece. So for now that means padding out my spots with old stuff once I’ve done the new bits.

All in all a good night – better than I was expecting, the gig was good, the material worked ok, I’m feeling positive about stand-up again.

Rats doesn’t have a Facebook page or anything for me to link to – Harry just posts a message on the Comedy Collective every six weeks or so inviting people to email him for spots, so keep an eye out there if you’re interested.

I’ve got a bunch of spots booked for We Are Funny over the next month, but that’s all, so I need to get my shit together and find some more.

I’m still here!

Just a quick update, as I realise I’ve not posted anything since May. I’ve not done many spots for the past month or so, mostly because I had a lot going on in my day job, some minor health problems (all sorted now) and then going on holiday for a while. All of which coincided with the Edinburgh Fringe, when comedy in London tends to go into hibernation for a month anyway.

I’m starting to book spots for September, but I expect it’s going to take a couple of weeks before I can actually get on stage again.

I’d like to tell you that I’ve used this time to write pages and pages of new material, but all I’ve done is ruminate on what I’m actually trying to achieve with stand-up, why I’m still doing it, and what my next steps should be.

I’ve realised that I’m sick to death of doing a lot of my current material, and need to move on from it or I’m likely to lose any motivation for continuing with stand-up comedy at all. The last time I thought about this stuff was a while ago, and my plan was to build a solid 10+ minute set that I could rely on to get laughs, and then use that as a spring board to get more gigs and then start working on better material.

I think I got to the point where I had a reasonable 10, and it was working well most of the time, but I never got as far as trying out new stuff – I was just cranking out that same set at every gig and boring myself with it.

My plan for the rest of this year is to go back to the drawing board and come up with a completely new set (even if I have to keep using some of the old stuff as a safety net) that’s closer to the kind of comedy I wanted to do when I started this.

I’ve noticed the blog is getting more visitors than ever before, despite my lack of updates, so I’m glad people are still finding this useful – hope to see some of you out there!

Staying Sane in Standup

Last night I was back at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion at Maltby St Market, where I closed the show again, and just like last time it went pretty well. I even remembered to film myself this time, so I have an objective record that it was a great set and not just my memory playing it up. 

But in between that and my last gig at Malt were four shows that didn’t go so well – ranging from an “ok but not great” 10 minute spot at another bar show, to a grim 5 spot at an open mic with almost no audience, where even my usually reliable bits fell flat. 

I’ve been grinding away as a stand-up comedy bottom-feeder for long enough to know that’s just how it goes. Some nights it doesn’t work out for you and there’s no point beating yourself up over it – just dust yourself down and get ready for the next show. 

But… There’s no denying that trying to do stand-up can really grind on your soul sometimes. 

When it goes well there’s no better feeling than walking off stage to an enthusiastically clapping and cheering crowd, and the congratulatory back slaps as you rejoin the other acts at the back of the room. 

On the nights when absolutely nothing works, you get no laughs for your entire set, and then trudge back to your seat with nothing but a smattering of polite applause, it can make you feel like crap. It’s especially bad if you’re at an open mic where other acts have done well, and you feel like just another delusional, unfunny prick who hasn’t got what it takes. They made the audience laugh, why couldn’t you?

The successful acts grab a drink and compare notes after the show, while you skulk out of the door in shame and spend the long journey home doing a post-mortem on your set to figure out what went wrong. 

If it happens to you a few too many times in a row, it can be hard to not let it get to you and leave you wondering whether you should just quit. 

Firstly I think it’s important to remind yourself of the shows that have gone well. You know that it’s worked before for you, so there’s no reason it can’t work again. And always remember that bombing is just a part of being a stand-up – all the greats have bombed a ton of times, even when they were at the top of their game. 

If new material bombs, that’s a learning process – we all know you need to try stuff out a bunch of times to work out if it’s got potential. If tried and tested material bombs, sometimes it’s because of factors outside of your control. Maybe the act before you sucked all the energy out of the room, maybe the audience wasn’t right for you, maybe you just were off your game this night. I’m not saying you should always make excuses for a bad gig, but there’s any number of reasons a show might not have gone well for you. 

If you have a lot of gigs where you’re not getting laughs, maybe it’s time to rethink what you’re doing, but one or two bad nights isn’t the end of the world, or even a long run of bombs. If you’ve got faith in the material, and you know it’s worked in the past, just keep grinding on and finding ways to improve your performance. 

Ultimately you have to confront yourself with a choice: “Am I going to quit stand-up because of a few bad gigs, or am I going to keep at it until I can make it work?”

Ascending to glory at Maltby St Market

I’ve not been gigging as much as I should recently, mostly because of being too lazy to get any spots booked in. I sometimes forget that doing stand-up actually requires a shitload of admin at this level, and unless I’m constantly on the ball with applying for spots then it’s all too easy to find myself without anything booked in my diary. 

Sometimes last minute spots can pop up to fill in those gaps, but Sod’s Law dictates that they’re never available when you need them. So it’s been a quiet few weeks – I did a ten spot at We Are Funny Project and another at The Lodge Tavern in Ealing, which is running a Monday night show again.  

But the highlight for me was a Friday night spot at the Malt bar in Bermondsey’s Maltby St Market, which is rapidly turning into a great regular gig. I’ve been there a few times before, and on this occasion the promoter (Sam Rhodes) offered me the chance to close the show at the end of the night. 

There was a respectable audience in – it’s an intimate venue, but they can easily fit 20-30 people in there, and when it’s full there’s a really nice atmosphere. Sam MC’d, and was joined by Amy Xander, Duffy Connors, Kalid Raheem, Simon Hall, and Richard Stott, who all smashed it.

So by the time it was my turn to go up the audience was way past warmed up, and practically simmering, which made the job a lot easier for me. Although I’ve not been gigging much, I had done the ten spot at WAFP just a few days before so I was feeling well rehearsed and the material flowed naturally, even with a couple of new bits thrown in. 

Everything landed well right from the opener and the whole set felt really good. At one point I blanked for a couple of seconds, but managed to cover it up with a call-back to a previous act’s joke, which worked nicely. Even with that slight hiccup it was one of the best sets I’ve done in a long time, and I left the stage feeling pumped up. One of those shows that reminds me I can actually do this.

I’ve been planning to film some sets to get a reel together that I can send to bookers so I can start maybe getting some more open spots in clubs, and I’d even gone to the trouble of taking my camera and tripod along. But at the last minute I decided I couldn’t be arsed setting it up, since I’d had a run of mediocre gigs it probably wouldn’t be worth the hassle, and I’d be better off just mentally preparing myself instead of faffing with a camera. Of course, I now regret that, but at least I got a nice pic from Sam…

That was a couple of weeks ago and I haven’t done any shows since then. Feeling annoyed with myself for losing momentum, so right now I’m making a conscious effort to book gigs in – especially new ones at nights I’ve not done before. Next week I’m doing Rats Open Mic at the Night and Day in Islington – it’s completely new to me, so I’ve got no idea what to expect from it. 

I’ve been writing more recently, but only half-arsing it – I’ve got some stuff that I think could work, but haven’t got as far as structuring it into proper bits so I can road test it. Lazy, lazy, lazy. I think I need to be more disciplined and promise myself to try out at least one new bit at every show.

Bored of the sound of my own voice

I feel completely stuck in a rut at the moment. I’ve been doing a lot of 10 minute bar shows and, while it’s been great to get those longer sets, they’ve just not been going particularly well.

Ginnia Cheng at the Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion, Malt St Market

While I’m always keen to beat myself up over everything I did wrong after a mediocre set, most of the recent ones just seem down to bad luck more than anything else. I recently did a spot at a west London pub on a Friday night, and I was really looking forward to it, expecting a decent crowd to be in. And there was, to begin with.

The problem was that I was opening the second half, which is generally supposed to be a good slot in the line-up. But on this particular night, almost the entire audience decided to go for a smoke, get some drinks in, or whatever else, and didn’t bother coming back to the show until halfway through the next act. There was a solitary elderly lady sitting alone in the front row, and a few blokes at a table too far back to really engage with.

It’s happened a few times recently, just bad timing, with my set coinciding with the exact point at which the audience decides to disengage from the show. That said, a few weeks ago I did a pub show for Comedy Lock-In in Boughton, Kent, which did have a decent audience that were interested and engaged, and on this occasion it was completely my fault. I was feeling confident, but for some reason I completely forgot to do half of my material – I got to the end of my set and realised that I’d only done 7 minutes instead of ten.

Once I got off the mic and thought it all through, I realised that I’d skipped a couple of big bits, which explained the lost time. Fuck knows how I managed to do that, because I’d been churning that set out quite a lot – I can only put it down to the stress of driving to deepest darkest Kent after work on a Thursday night. Either way, I didn’t feel happy about it, even though the material I did manage to deliver worked well. This kind of inconsistency isn’t going to help me progress to doing spots in pro clubs.  

On top of all that, I’m very bored with my material right now. On a good night with a busy audience I know that I can do ten minutes of stuff that consistently gets enough laughs for me to feel like I’m doing a decent job. But in all honesty I’m not really happy with any of my stuff, it’s not the kind of material I really got into stand-up to do – I just kind of pulled together any old stuff that seems to work, so I could fill ten minutes.

The end result is a set that I don’t really enjoy delivering any more, even when it goes well. I think my mission for the rest of this year needs to be coming up with a completely new set that I feel good about.

I’m doing two ten-spots next week, so that’s as good a time as any to get started.

MCing We Are Funny, and some other stuff

I’ve done a few gigs since my last post, but I’ve been lazy about posting, so I’ll try to cover them all in this one.

I’ve been at We Are Funny Project a couple of times. The first spot was just five minutes, and I used it to try polish some newer material I’ve been using in my longer sets. I think I’ve got a pretty decent five minutes, and a very woolly 10-15 minutes – the first five minutes is stuff I’ve been polishing for a long time, while the rest of it is a mixed bag of newer stuff that still needs work.

I was supposed to be doing 10 minutes at my second WAFP gig of the month, but a few hours beforehand the promoter asked me if I could help MC the show because he wasn’t feeling well. I’d do the first half of the night and Luke Terry would cover the second half. I jumped at the chance, even though I was feeling pretty ill myself and had been thinking of flaking out of the gig earlier in the day.

It’s been about two years since I MC’d a show, and I didn’t have a lot of time to mentally prepare myself for it (especially since I’d been focusing on memorising my 10 minute set) so the whole thing was a bit of a train wreck. But it was a fun night all the same and the audience was very forgiving of me flailing around like a complete amateur.

Next up, Sam Rhodes is running a new Comedy Explosion night every Friday at a cool little bar called Malt in Maltby Street Market near Tower Bridge, and I did a 10ish minute spot there. It’s a great little venue, with a proper stage and a nice crowd of locals, but my set was kind of mediocre, I have to admit, because I hadn’t really thought properly about what material I was going to do.

In between each act everybody in the bar would shuffle themselves around a bit – some leaving, some taking their seats, some getting drinks from the bar, and when it was my turn to go up, a large chunk of them left. This meant that I went up to a half empty room, so the energy suddenly dropped a bit, and I wasn’t feeling as confident as I should due to lack of preparation, so it was all a bit awkward.

I limped through with some laughs at my best bits, but it wasn’t my finest hour. Fortunately Nick Everritt (who I’d seen smash a 10 spot at WAFP earlier that week) went up after me as the closer and did an incredible job.

I’m back at Malt next week and I’m feeling better prepared, so hoping to redeem myself. Right now my biggest objective is to be more consistent; I want to be certain that if somebody offers me a spot at a proper gig, I can always deliver the goods, and not be dependent on whether I’m in the right head-space for it on that particular day.

Still having to remind people that I’m using a stage name now…

And that brings me onto the most recent spot, five minutes at Angel Comedy RAW in Islington. This is always a great new-act/material night with a decent sized audience. Their room holds about 60 people, and they never seem to have trouble filling it. I’ve been there three times now, and it’s been packed every time; this week was no different.

It wasn’t just a busy audience, they also had a full line up of 10 acts, compared to eight or nine on the previous nights I’ve been at Angel Comedy RAW. I didn’t know any of the other acts, apart from the wonderfully revolting Louise Bastock who I know from bumping into her regularly over the years.

This is one of those gigs where you want to do well, because it’s so hard to get a spot there. My plan was to open with a couple of my very best, punchiest bits, and then roll into some of that newer stuff I mentioned, and I made sure to spend some time practising it all earlier in the day.

So by the time I got to the gig I was feeling confident and well prepared, but on the journey over I suddenly had a bunch of ideas for new bits I could add into that material and I scribbled a couple of notes on my hand to make sure I remembered to do them. This probably wasn’t the best idea, but in the end the whole thing went really well, and everything worked as I’d hoped, even the new stuff.

The only small problem was a disruptive audience member, a drunk woman who wasn’t really heckling, just shouting out random pissed garble. I tried to handle it gracefully, and even got a decent laugh from the first couple of times I responded to her, but she wouldn’t shut up and I started to lose patience because I’d run out of funny things to respond with.

Fortunately the MC quietly dealt with her while I finished my set – I’m not sure if he removed her or just told her to STFU, because I couldn’t see past the stage lights, but I didn’t hear from her again. Her interruptions cost me time though, and I didn’t manage to get through all of my material, but I was able to finish on a solid laugh so I’ll take that as a win.

Right now I’m feeling happier and more confident with my longer set, and I feel like I’m coming up with new ideas again, after a bit of a dry spell.

A ten-spot at Whole Lotta Comedy

On Sunday night I did a ten minute spot at Whole Lotta Comedy at the Castle in Surbiton, which is rapidly becoming one of my favourite gigs.

On top of the fact that it’s local to me, and on a really convenient day (Sunday is the one evening when I’m almost always free), and they kindly let me do 10 spots, it’s also just a great night. They get a lot of strong acts coming in from further afield to try out new material or practice Fringe-shows, and there’s always an audience who are up for a good night.

I felt bad this week because I’d got tangled up with some family commitments and ended up arriving 30 minutes late, but just in time to open the second part of the show. It went pretty well, I got a lot of laughs and managed to fill the ten minutes without stumbling too much, although I was still feeling a little out of shape since I’ve only done one other gig so far this year, but I’m getting back into my stride.

I even managed to throw in a couple of bits of new material, with mixed success, but all in all the set went well, certainly better than my previous gig last week.

I’m determined to start cranking out as much new material as I can. I feel like I’ve got to a point now where I’ve got 5-10 minutes of tried and tested material that I can call upon whenever I need to. But it’s all about being a dad and being married, and that’s never really the kind of stuff I wanted to be doing, it’s just what worked for me early on so I stuck with it.

Now that I’ve got the security of being able to use that material if I need it, my plan for this year is to try and build a new repertoire of stuff about completely different topics and evolve my act into something more interesting. I’ve got a spot at Angel Comedy RAW at the end of Feb (they kindly rescheduled my Jan 2nd spot when I got the covid) and I would love to be able to do that show with five minutes of new stuff.

I stuck around for a bit, and watched Toussaint Douglass do a hilarious 20 minute set, which slapped me right back down to earth – even trying out new stuff he was so slick that it just reminded me how much harder I need to work to get anywhere close to that level.

Toussaint Douglass at Whole Lotta Comedy

I had planned to stay for some of the other pro acts, including Fiona Ridgewell, but I was exhausted after a big weekend and, seeing that the room was pretty busy so I wouldn’t be missed, I sloped off early to get some sleep. I generally don’t like doing that, you’ve got to support the gig, and I felt pretty bad so to atone for my sins I’ll go back as an audience member one night soon.

I’ve got nothing booked for this week, so I might see if I can grab a dropout spot at Beat the Blackout on Thursday, and then next week I’m doing 5 mins at We Are Funny Project on Tuesday. On Friday next week I’m doing one of Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion’s new pop-up shows at Maltby St in Bermondsey, which should be a lot of fun since I haven’t really done any Friday night gigs before so hopefully there will be a decent crowd.

First Gig of 2022

Just a quick update – last night I did my first gig since before xmas, and while it’s actually been pretty nice to chill out for a while without having to feed the comedy monkey on my back, it was good to get started again. Even if it was a bit of a trainwreck.

Sam doing a sensual pole dance.

The gig was a bar-show in Wimbledon, with 10-15 minute spots, MC’d by Sam Rhodes. Some of the audience had shown up expecting comedy, some hadn’t, so it was a bit of a mixed bag.

Before the show kicked off, a group of three women who were sitting right in front of the mic got chatting to me and said they were really worried about getting picked on, so I promised them it wouldn’t happen because it wasn’t that kind of show.

When I made that promise, I wasn’t aware that they planned to get absolutely hammered and disrupt the entire first half of the show.

Sam put me on first, so after he’d warmed the crowd up a bit I went up to the mic, and launched into my standard set – I was a little rusty after the xmas break, but felt pretty comfortable with my material. My opener got almost nothing from the audience, but I’ve been there before so I just pushed on with the rest of it and managed to eke out a few laughs from them.

Pretty soon the table of three women got completely out of control, completely ignoring me and talking loudly to each-other, trying to speak to me, derailing my punchlines and generally completely fucking everything up. I tried to take it with good grace and have a bit of fun with them, and the audience seemed to go along with that, but there wasn’t much I could do, they were too drunk to reason with and obviously weren’t going anywhere.

It all fell apart when one of them started having a loud phone conversation halfway through a bit, and everybody just started laughing at the futility of the situation instead of my material. I battled on for a bit longer but gave up before I’d finished all the material I planned to do.

The rest of the first half went pretty much the same way for Sam and the other acts. There were a couple of tables of people who seemed to be interested in the show, but it was hard work to cut through the noise and distraction for them.

The best part of nights like these is the camaraderie with other acts in the face of adversity. There were a couple of acts who also did the scary Croydon gig last year with me, Mara Mainka and Richard Stott, so there was a bit of team spirit. Ginnia Cheng was also there, and I’ve known her for a few years.

I had planned to bale as soon as I finished my set, but it was fun hanging out with everybody and I felt like I had a duty to stick around for the other acts under the circumstances. It’s fine to duck out if the night’s going well for everybody, but when things are rough they need your moral support.

Richard made a heroic effort to do some crowd work with the drunks, to try and scare them into silence, which worked to a degree – about halfway into the second section they decided to leave. (But not before grumbling at me that I’d promise nobody would give them a hard time…)

By this point, Will Hitt (who I’ve rated since I first saw him a few years ago) had psyched himself up to face down the drunks, but since they left he ended up dealing with a much more receptive room than he was expecting. Not wanting to let his energy go to waste, he spent the entire set hurling unnecessarily brutal barbs at undeserving audience members instead – it was the funniest part of the night as far as I was concerned.

The whole thing was a bit of a trainwreck, but still fun, and I’m happy to have blown out the cobwebs. I’ve got a bunch of spots booked over the next month, starting with a ten-spot at Whole Lotta Comedy in Surbiton this Sunday.