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).