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.