You need to give inspiration time to strike

In an earlier post I wrote about my “racist baby” bit, which came from the real experience of my kid being scared of black people when he was really little. I’ve always liked the premise because the idea of this tiny, innocent baby being innately racist was funny to me, but in practice it’s a mediocre bit – the payoff isn’t strong enough to justify the fairly lengthy setup.

That changed yesterday, when I went back to Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion. I’d been thinking about the bit all day, trying to find ways to build it up into something stronger. While I was running through it in my head I came up with a new line which makes the setup funnier, and defuses the tension which inevitably builds when you talk about racism.

I was on at the end of the night, around 10:30, so a few people had left but there was still a respectable audience for a Monday night non-bringer gig, but the energy in the room was definitely flagging. Most of my bankers worked pretty well, while some of my more mediocre stuff fell flat, but I didn’t take that to heart under the circumstances.

I closed with the racist baby bit, and right from the start it seemed to go better than it has before, even with a flagging audience – I think partly because I tried to deliver it with more commitment, like I talked about in my last post. I dropped in my new line and it got the biggest laugh of my set, and that meant the punchline, which followed shortly after, did pretty well too because the audience was primed for it. I think the punchline could still be improved, so I’ll keep working on it, but that new line in the middle helps the whole thing work a lot better.

In this lecture on creativity, John Cleese talks about the importance of playing with ideas and I’ve learned that myself – ideas need time to evolve into something better. It’s tempting to ditch bits that aren’t working well, but if you like them enough to keep trying them out and thinking about them, the answers will come eventually.

I wrote just four short words on the back of my hand to help remember the middle bit of my set, but I barely had to glance at them so I should probably just stop being such a little bitch and stop using them altogether.

I’ve got a bunch of gigs lined up for October already and I think I can get away with doing a bit more than one a week, which makes me happy. I feel like I’m making progress with my material and delivery, so I’m itching to get more stage time.

Next week I’ll be at Angel Comedy RAW on Wednesday night, where I’ve been trying to get a spot for ages, so I’m looking forward to that.

Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion, and my first international gig

A cloudy San Francisco from my hotel room window.

Last week I was in San Francisco for a work trip, so I checked out the open mic scene before I went and planned to do some spots while I was there. In the end I only managed to do one spot – a combination of jet-lag, catching a cold on the way out, and a busy work schedule meant I couldn’t get to as many gigs as I’d hoped.

I landed on Sunday afternoon, checked into my hotel and then went to an open mic night called OMJG, run in a gay nightclub called OMG on Sixth Street close to my hotel. The gig started at 5:30pm so I got there on time to make sure I got a spot, but I didn’t need to be so punctual. In contrast to the way London gigs work, acts just drifted in and out of this place throughout the couple of hours it ran, and nobody had problems getting a spot.

I think the locals must treat it as a warm-up before they go to do other spots later in the evening, and there doesn’t seem to be a problem with acts leaving the gig once they’ve done their spot. At first the place was pretty empty so I thought I’d just be performing to a handful of other acts, but eventually a group of four boisterous gay guys came in and sat in front of the stage, so there was at least a small audience.

To be honest I was so spaced from having only just got off a 13 hour flight that I pretty much gabbled nonsense at them for five minutes. I tried to address the fact that I was a Brit by opening with some stuff about Brexit (“I was going to talk to you guys about Brexit, back home we’ve got a problem with mad old racists taking control of the country and fucking everything up for us, but I suppose Americans wouldn’t find that stuff relatable in any way…”).

It didn’t really get much and I probably should have just gone straight in with a punchy opener instead, but I think they gave me a break because I was obviously out of my element, so they were friendly enough. I fumbled through some of my usual material but did a shitty job of it, got a few laughs and a couple of groans at the nasty bits, but it was undeniably a complete car crash. I think the audience were more impressed with my accent than my material.

The other acts were friendly and I stuck around to the end of the gig, although by that point I was pretty much the only person watching the final spot as everybody else drifted off.

I got out of there at about 7pm, and the next gig was at a nearby Irish bar at 9pm. I didn’t want to sit in a bar by myself for a couple of hours so I went back to my hotel room; a fatal move because once I sat in the armchair I was done for and couldn’t summon the energy to go back out. I told myself I’d do more spots later in the week, but I didn’t get a chance to slip away from work, so that was that. I’m glad I did at least one.

Back in London this week I did my first spot at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion in Dalston. Unusually for an open mic it takes place in the main bar of a pub on Shoreditch High Street, rather than a side room, which means that even though it’s not a bringer night there’s still a half decent chance of a proper audience showing up.

It’s a nice gig, Sam plays MC and keeps the mood bouncy with his own up-beat material, and the random audience element makes it more fun. The night is split into three sections, and while you know which section you’ll be in beforehand, where you are in the running order for that section is the luck of the draw. I prefer this to the nights where you get called up completely at random, because at least you have a rough idea of when you need to mentally prepare to go up.

I went up towards the end of the middle section and, while I didn’t kill, I did get respectable laughs for most of my stuff, even if my closer flopped a bit. I think I need to do a bit of writing, because I’m getting comfortable with my current chunk of material and I’m starting to sense where it already works well and where it needs to be tightened up. My closer used to get a couple of big reliable laughs, but it’s not working as well these days, maybe because I’m not delivering it with the same gusto.

I was listening to an interesting podcast recently on the topic of commitment in comedy, and how being really committed to a bit can help you make controversial material work, so I think I’m going to try that before I do any major re-writing.

I bumped into a few people I recognise at the gig:

  • The majestic Ruby Carr was aflame, and I both hate and love her for being so good at this.
  • Micah Hall, I’ve seen around quite a bit recently and it’s nice to see how well his act is developing.
  • Ginnia Cheng, we’ve been chummy for a while now and she gets better every time I see her.

Also, Vanessa Hua, introduced herself during one of the breaks because it turns out she’s a reader: *waves* – a few people who read the blog have introduced themselves at gigs and they always start by saying “I know this probably sounds a bit weird, but I read your blog…” Honestly, it’s not weird, I like saying hello to you lot.

I’m still not happy about only doing one gig a week, but life’s changing at the moment – so it might be a bit easier to step up to a couple of gigs every week soon.

I was supposed to be at the Cavendish this Wednesday, but I’ve had to cancel that due to a work thing, so my next gig is back at Comedy Explosion next Monday.

Going on stage drunk at Battersea Power Comedy

Back to Battersea Power Comedy this week. The gig runs in the upstairs room of the Duchess pub, which does great food, so I’d arranged to meet a friend there for dinner beforehand and ended up getting through a couple of pints and most of  a bottle of wine before it was my turn to go up.

I usually don’t drink much at gigs, especially before I’ve done my set – but I wanted to hang out with my friend, and I was feeling pretty confident so I wasn’t too worried about going on stage a bit pissed. It was mostly OK, but at one point I completely blanked in the middle of a bit and it took me a few seconds of flailing before I got back on track. That doesn’t usually happen to me,  so I have to put it down to the booze.

I think being a little pissed on stage might be a good thing for me, but only if I’m delivering material that I’m very confident and practiced with so there’s no danger of me forgetting bits. Just the right amount of booze might help me to look a bit more relaxed.

I’ve had a few flashes of inspiration recently and written some new bits to add into my main set. Because it’s all loosely on the same topic (parenting) it’s easy throw the  new bits into the mix with more polished material for each gig. I tried out a couple of new bits that I came up with this week and they both worked fairly nicely, so I’ll keep them. I’m reasonably confident that I’ve got enough serviceable material for a 10 minute set, although whether I could remember it all is a different matter.

It was a fairly busy night with 15 acts, and I hadn’t seen a lot of them before – there seemed to be a lot more newbies on the bill than at most of my recent gigs. I did bump into the Italian guy I mentioned in my last post, who did a much stronger set this time.  Vasek Pernikar was there, I’ve seen him a few times now and really like his act – he’s got the market cornered for slightly creepy weirdness. Likewise, I’ve seen Dan Mahony a few times recently and he’s shaping up into a solid act.

Finally, there was an American guy called Brooke Hoerr who I thought was pretty good – although that’s probably because we both cover similar themes in our material.

Everybody stuck around in the bar after the show and it was good to talk to some of the other acts. At most of the gigs I do people tend to disappear as soon as the show ends, so I don’t get much opportunity to compare notes with others.

At one point a woman who was in the audience spotted me propping up the bar and creased up as she walked past, then she came over for a chat. Not gonna lie, that gave my ego a boner.

I’m off to San Francisco for a week now and I’ll be trying to do some open mic nights while I’m there. When I get back I’ve got a couple of spots booked at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion in Dalston – I’ve never done that gig before, but I’ve heard good things so I’m looking forward to it.