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.