Flinging Shit at the Wall at We Are Funny Project

I was supposed to be doing a spot at Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms last night, but my bringer dropped out at the last minute and I couldn’t rustle up a replacement, so I had to cancel. I managed to get a walk-in spot at We Are Funny Project instead, but it did get me thinking about how tough the London comedy open mic circuit is.

If you talk to acts from other cities like New York, Los Angeles, or Melbourne, they’re amazed at how the London scene works. In those places you rarely have to book a spot at an open mic night or bring an audience member, you just turn up on the night put your name down and take your chances. And the hard workers can do two or three spots a night by jumping to different gigs, because it’s no big deal if you leave a gig before the end.

London works differently and, to be fair, nights like Comedy Virgins, Battersea Power Comedy, and Funny Feckers are brilliant – but I wish there were a few more nights that didn’t require bringers and booking in advance. Having to plan spots a month or so ahead, and then leave yourself at the mercy of your bringers makes the whole thing a precarious balancing act. And if, like me, you’re limited in the number of nights you can do gigs (because of kids, day-jobs or whatever else) it just makes it even more tricky to get as much stage time as you’d like.

But enough whinging. I always enjoy doing the Cavendish, but WAFP is a good night too and I was lucky to get a walk-in spot so I’m not complaining.

I’d been looking forward to trying new material now that the competitions are all done with, but I’d forgotten how traumatic the process is for your ego. When you’ve been focusing on polishing your tried and tested material, you get used to going on stage with the confidence of knowing that it mostly works and you’re going to get laughs all the way through. But with new material you fumble your way through unfinished jokes, not knowing if any of it is really funny at all, and fairly certain you’re going to spend most of the five minutes looking like a twat while the audience stares blankly at you. The only way to survive is to embrace failure and accept that it’s going to be a car crash.

I’d got five minutes of new stuff split into two sections covering racism and porn respectively, and I was gunning for it all to be a bit contentious.

Some of the racism stuff worked OK and the whole audience bought into bits of it, but for most of my set I was only getting solid laughs from a clique of three or four blokes in the middle row. I know I need to try it out in a few different rooms before I burn any of the bits, but my gut feeling is that I can probably keep about a minute of the racism stuff and maybe a couple of one liners from the porn material at best.

I had a chat with the MC, Alfie (who also runs the night), afterwards and he gave me some constructive feedback – a couple of the bits were funny, a lot of it obviously didn’t work, and the stuff that did work needed a bit of editing down, which is all fair comment.

He advised me to soften the audience up a bit before dropping in some of my harsher material, which makes sense, and also pointed out that most of the time women won’t laugh at porn jokes (at least not from a male comic) and that means their boyfriends won’t laugh at them either. I think he’s right, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow because porn’s an easy topic to mine for jokes – although that’s a good reason not to go there too, it’s a bit too obvious, so I think I’ll probably stay away from the subject unless I can think of a better way to do it.

I’m back at WAFP with a booked spot on Monday, and I’m planning to do a tightened up version of the racism material, and whatever other new stuff I can think of between now and then.

Myself aside, there were a bunch of great acts on – although the only two names that stuck in my mind were Adam Flood and Jerry Bakewell (Britain’s least successful wrestler).

Gigs: 44

So You Think You’re Funny?

This week I finally got to enter my heat of the So You Think You’re Funny competition,  upstairs at the Signal Pub in Forest Hill. It’s a nice venue with a room that lends itself reasonably well to standup; they run regular pro nights there but I’m not sure if they also do an open mic.

Considering it was a hot summer Monday evening, they were charging £6 for tickets, and it was England’s first World Cup match, the room was surprisingly full. I had a couple of friends with me, but one of the acts (the lovely Indi Madray) brought a small army along for moral support. So against the odds there was a decent energy in the room.

The line-up was fairly mixed in terms of experience, mostly younger acts in their early twenties, and chatting to them in the bar I learned that a lot of them were very new, with fewer than 10 gigs under their belts. I recognised one of the more experienced acts, Bijan B, from a few nights at We Are Funny, and Sam Eley had been on at Battersea Power Comedy the same night as me earlier in the week, and you could really spot the difference in class.

Acts I’d never seen before, but really liked, included Cydney Wood, and Jessie Nixon.

I was feeling comfortable about doing my set, having had the opportunity to practice the full seven minutes earlier in the week. I ended up scribbling just a few words on the back of my hand to remember the middle part of my set list, but I think my delivery was reasonably smooth.

At one point it felt like I was too far into my set for the time I’d spent on stage, and I realised that I’d skipped over chunky part of bit because I’d added some topical material to it at the last minute (wasn’t worth it, only about a quarter of the room laughed). But because the whole of my set is loosely based on the same theme it was easy to just drop in the joke later on in the set.

The audience seemed to buy into most of what I was doing. It felt like I was getting laughs all the way through, whereas some of the really new acts were telling rambling stories to silence. My closer didn’t exactly kill the room but it got a strong enough reaction, and I think I hit seven minutes almost exactly when I left the stage. I got some good feedback from audience members and a couple of other acts in the bar afterwards, so I’ll take it as a win.

I’ll find out if I’ve made it through to the next round in July, but I’m not pinning any hopes on it. I know there have been a lot of strong acts in the other heats, and I’m fairly certain that I’m not really what the competition organisers are looking for (i.e. another middle aged, white, hetero, man). But that’s all cool – I entered for the experience and I enjoyed it.

More than anything I’m glad to have finished with competitions for the time being. I’m bored of doing this material, but I’ve had to spend every gig working on it for the competitions, and now that’s over I can just move on and try other stuff.

Next week I’m at the Cavendish on Tuesday, and then We Are Funny Project the week after.

Gigs: 43

Seven Minutes

I did a spot at Battersea Power Comedy on Thursday, which I think was the third or fourth time I’ve been there. I really like the night because it’s a nice venue, the guys who run it are cool, and it’s easy for me to get home from, which is always a winner.

I was chatting with the MC in the bar ahead of the gig and mentioned I’ve got a competition coming up next week, so he kindly agreed to let me do seven minutes, which is the first time I’ve done more than five. I think I have seven minutes worth of material that all hangs together around a common theme, but I’d never tried it out all in one go before.

The whole set ran to pretty much seven minutes on the nose, and the audience laughed in all the right parts, including a brand new bit that worked better than expected.  I needed to rely on a set list on the back of my hand – just a few single words to remind me of the running order of my bits, but I’ll be happier when I can do without it entirely. I can remember my opener and closer, but the middle section of the set is still a jumble.

I was the penultimate spot of the night, followed by professional act, Caroline Mabey, trying out some new stuff – I had a bunch of friends with me at the gig and they all thought she was fantastic. The quality from the other open mic acts was also high, but I didn’t manage to remember any of their names (apart from Amy Xander, who was great as ever).

I’m feeling in pretty good shape for the competition heat tomorrow – I’ll practice my set a few times during the day to see if I can get the whole seven minutes committed to memory, but I’m not too worried if I need a couple of words scribbled in my hand.  Looking forward to getting it over with so I can shelve this material for a while and try out some other stuff.

Gigs: 42

Rising Star and We Are Funny Project

I’ve not done any gigs for a couple of weeks as Real Life stuff has got in the way, but before I slacked off I did a spot at Rising Star which ended up being a chaotic night that kind of went off the rails. I think it was the MC’s first time. If you really want to understand just how much of an art MCing is, you should watch somebody get it wrong.

It was a very mixed night and I went up after a couple of weak acts – which I think is a double edged sword because nobody wants to follow a strong act, but at the same time it can be hard if the previous acts have sucked all the life out of the room.

My set went well, but I got thrown off my rhythm when the audience gave me a big laugh at a completely unexpected point during a setup. I was confused at why they were laughing so much at a completely unfunny line, and it derailed the whole bit. I’ve got to get better at gracefully dealing with unexpected laughs.

After that gig I didn’t do anything for a couple of weeks, but I’ve got the So You Think You’re Funny competition heat coming up next Monday, so this week I needed to get some stage-time. Tomorrow I’ve got a spot at Battersea Power Comedy, and last night I got a walk-in at We Are Funny Project.

Even though it was a quiet night because of the warm weather, it was a nice gig with a couple of novice MCs (one in each half) trying out for the first time and both doing a decent job of it. Because I was feeling rust I had to rely on hand-notes again, after weening myself off them not so long ago, but I didn’t have to use them too much. I think I’ll be OK to ditch them for the competition next week.

I was happy with my set – delivered everything how I wanted to  and didn’t forget any bits. Even though the audience was small, I still got laughs in the right places, and nothing bombed badly enough for me to worry about, so I’m feeling  confident that after tomorrow’s gig I’ll be in good shape for the competition heat.

There were a few acts who caught my attention; Mary Taylor (who I had a good natter with in the bar), Michael Akadiri (the best amateur act of the night, I reckon), and Babetta Mann and Andrew Buchan were also strong. The professional headliner was Sunil Patel, who destroyed the room even though it was quiet and he was trying out new stuff. If you get a chance to see him, jump on it.

I’m looking forward to the competition heat next week, but at the same time I’ll be very glad when it’s out of the way and I can stop practicing the same set at every gig. I’m bored out of my skull with the material and itching to try out some different stuff.

Gig Count to Date: 41