I killed a rat and had a good gig

Just a single spot this week, Monday at We Are Funny Project again. I’m in the middle of a big project at work which is kind of all consuming at the moment, and it’s staying that way until the middle of March. That means comedy’s taken a back seat for a while, I’ve not found time to write much new material, and I’ve been showing up to gigs feeling as though I’m not mentally prepared for them.

Since I decided to shelve the Racist Baby material, I’ve had about a one minute hole in my set that I’ve wanted to fill with new material but haven’t been able to. I got to the gig early and found a quiet corner to go through my notes and see if I could find any half-formed ideas that might work.

As it happened, earlier in the week I’d had to kill a rat I caught in my kitchen, and I’d been joking with a friend about getting aroused while I was doing it. I tried writing that up into a bit, but it was pretty dark and weird, and even though I liked the premise I was worried that it would be tough to get an audience to buy into it.

I was willing to give it a go, but while I was chewing the idea over something better came to me. I’d posted a joke on Twitter earlier in the week which got a mildly positive reaction, but I didn’t immediately think of putting it in my set because it didn’t have a strong enough punchline to work on stage, but it might work nicely as part of the setup to another bit already in the set. It wouldn’t fill the full minute, but I could dust off an old bit to fill my time if I needed to.

I really need to find time to write properly instead of just winging it like this – I know if I can actually focus on my material I could produce a lot better stuff than I do by simply scribbling down occasional ideas when they come to me.

The audience wasn’t quite as big as it has been recently at WAF, but there were still a few genuine punters in, including a front and centre row of giggly antipodean women who really lifted the atmosphere in the room. This made me realise I’d made the right decision about my material, they didn’t seem like the type of girls who’d laugh at stuff about middle aged men getting erections while they murder rats.

I went up sixth of the night, and the guy who was up before me (Giuseppe Gib) did me a massive favour because he did a bit about the number of toilets in Buckingham Palace. I had a half baked story about trying to go to the toilets on the tour of Buckingham Palace, so I started my set with that. Even though it was fairly mediocre the audience seemed to like it because it looked like I’d just come up with it off the cuff, and it filled enough time to bring my set to bang on five minutes.

Once I got started on my main material everything just flowed perfectly – I felt relaxed and comfortable with my set, the audience laughed at everything, it all hung together really well. The new bit, which I thought didn’t have a very strong punchline, got a pretty decent laugh in its own right and helped me build up towards a bigger laugh from the next bit.

At my past few gigs I’ve been conscious of mistakes I made and gaps in my material, but this time I felt much more upbeat about it – I didn’t fuck up any of my bits and I thought my delivery was as good as it has ever been. I got lucky with the opportunity to fill 30 seconds at the start with an improvised opener, and I know I still need to fill that gap with something I can use at every gig, but once I’m less busy and feeling less stressed about life I can find some time to do some writing again.

I feel good about how the gig went for me, and there were some other great acts there as well – I had a good chat with Vanessa Hua (who is a reader and I’ve met at previous gigs) and she delighted the room, as did William Harte (who is also a reader and did a sterling job considering how few spots he’s done so far). Charlie Foley also stood out for me.

A great night all in all, which left me in a much more positive frame of mind than I have been recently.

I was supposed to be at Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms on Wednesday, but had to abandon that gig because I couldn’t find a bringer. I’ve reached the point where my friends are over the novelty of watching me do comedy and it’s getting harder to persuade people to come along to bringer gigs with me.

I think that means I’m going to have to quit signing up for those nights, I can’t face the regular struggle of trying to find somebody to drag along with me any more. It’s a shame, because nights like Comedy Virgins are great, but it’s logistically too difficult for me to keep doing them every month.

Gig Count: 78

Not sure if I had a good or a bad gig

I’m in a bit of a quiet period at the moment, since it’s the time of year when I’m busiest in my day job so everything else has to take a bit of a back seat. I did one gig on Monday of this week and haven’t got another booked until nearly the end of the month.

Black t-shirt + grey hoodie = comedy.

It also means that, having made a big song and dance about launching a new podcast with Mouch from Comedy Moochabout, I won’t actually have time to record any new episodes until the middle of next month – but we’ve got 4 episodes live now, so check it out.

On Monday I did a spot at We Are Funny in Dalston. Things didn’t start well because I was having a stressy day and, to make matters worse, ended up running late for the gig so I got even more wound up about the prospect of driving across London for an hour only to get bumped off the line-up.

Fortunately Alfie the MC was in a forgiving mood, and I was only a couple of minutes late in the end. You can’t make a habit of showing up late, it pisses off promoters because they need to get the night’s running order nailed down before the show starts and, if they don’t know whether you’re going to show up at all, it makes their life harder.

The room was already packed by the time I got there – it’s been the same the last few times at We Are Funny Project, even though it’s not a bringer night they’re doing a great job of pulling in a decent audience most nights.

I was feeling on edge with one thing and another, so I wasn’t at my best, but I tried to ease myself into the right mood. I bumped into Lee Hudson, who I’d seen a couple of times before but never really spoke to, and a bit of chit chat with him helped me relax. He went up third of the night and killed.

I also had a chat with Elliot Dallas, who I saw a few weeks previously at the same gig, when he seemed to have a minor breakdown on stage – but this time around he was on much better form and did a pretty decent job.

I was on about halfway through the first section. I’ve been experimenting with trying to be a little more high- energy, especially during my opening bit when I’m trying to quickly get the audience on-board. I don’t know if it’s working that well. It feels a bit forced and unnatural for me, and I can never keep it up for very long so I think it probably sets false expectations for the rest of my set. I tried it again tonight, but really turned it up to 11 – I don’t think it did any harm, but it just didn’t feel right for me.

Most of the set seemed to go reasonably well, they laughed at pretty much everything, and even in a couple of places I wasn’t expecting. I ran through my usual set, but dropped the racist baby bit (which I usually run through just before my punchy one-line closer) in favour of a couple of new things.

I hadn’t really timed things properly, and had about 30 seconds spare – so I dug up an old bit of material about vasectomies which always used to work pretty well. But because my head wasn’t really in the right place, when Alfie waved the light from the side of the stage to let me know my time was nearly up, I completely blanked and lost my train of thought. I styled it out, admitted that I’d fucked up, and jumped straight to my closer, which got a nice laugh for me as I left the stage.

I didn’t really know how to feel about my set – it went well and I got a lot of laughs, but I know I wasn’t feeling good and didn’t do as good a job as I wanted. All the same, the stress that had been building up inside me all day completely evaporated as I walked back to my seat, and I was able to enjoy the rest of the night.

During the half time break I went to get a drink in the bar and a few separate audience members told me how much they’d enjoyed my set, which just goes to show that we’re always our own worst critics. I could list a dozen specific mistakes I’d made, as well as a general feeling of not being on form, but the audience seemed to like it.

Even so, I know I can do better. Since I made the decision to shelve the racist baby bit, I’ve been on a mission to fill the time with some solid new material. I’ve got a few bits that seem to be working pretty well, but I still need to do some work tying it all together so that it flows. I’ve also realised that some existing bits still need work, especially my opener, which takes too long to get to the punchline.

I’m not gigging until the 25th, so I’m going to spend some time focusing on writing and editing my set.

Basic Comedy Podcast Episode 4 – Fatiha el-Ghorri

Fatiha el-Ghorri is a rising star of the UK comedy scene – rapidly progressing from open mic act to professional gigs, she’s already building a formidable profile.

In this episode she gives us some great insight into how she was able to develop so quickly as an act, and explains how she deals with abusive hecklers on-stage and online.

You can find Fatiha on Twitter here.

There are more podcast episodes here.

Basic Comedy Podcast Episode 3 – Jamie Allerton

In this episode Mouch interviews Jamie Allerton, who runs the Rubber Shark Comedy gig at South Kensington Comedy Club (Lance couldn’t be arsed showing up for this one).

Jamie’s on the Twitter, and here’s a video of his recent set at Comedy Moochabout.

There are more podcast episodes here.

Basic Comedy Podcast Episode 2 – Ken Grinell

In this episode Mouch and I interviewed Ken Grinell, who’s been working his way up the comedy ladder for a few years. I really enjoyed this interview, because although I’d seen Ken at a few gigs I didn’t really know him very well, and he turned out to have a lot of useful advice for people who are new to standup.

You can find Ken on Twitter here.

There are more podcast episodes here.

Basic Comedy Podcast Episode 1 – Akin Omobitan

In this first episode of the Basic Comedy Podcast, we interview Akin Omobatin about his journey so far in standup comedy, from his very first open mic nights to success in competitions, and taking a show to the Edinburgh Fringe. Also, barebacking.

You can find Akin’s website here (along with his podcast “It Dies Here”, and he’s also on the Twitter.

There are more podcast episodes here.

Beat the Blackout and Max Turner Prize Semi Final

Beat the Blackout at Up the Creek

A busy week for me. I started on Monday with 5 minutes at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion in Shoreditch. It’s a nice, friendly night and always a good place to try out new material, so I had planned to try out a lot of new bits I’ve been working on.

In the bar I got chatting to a couple of other acts I hadn’t met before, as well as the Katie Price, who I’ve bumped into a few times recently. It was shaping up to be a good gig, but with just one or two small problems.

1)      At a table right next to the stage where Sam was setting the mic up, a couple were in the middle of a break-up, with all the tears and shouting that usually entails. Fortunately they had the good sense to move their personal crisis to a different venue when the comedy started.

2)      At the back of the room was a table full of drunk lads, doing shots and having an animated discussion about The Football. They weren’t being dicks, and pretty much left the acts alone, but they weren’t going to let a bunch of ponces with a microphone and PA system ruin their chat, so they just spent the entire night there and talked through everybody’s set.

All in all the gig was fine, but the banter-table was pretty distracting and everybody had to work a bit harder because of it. I was up late in the night and seeing how all the other acts had battled through the background chatter, I wasn’t really in the mood for testing half-written new material. I threw a couple of new bits in, but mostly ran through my current five minute set, as a rehearsal for my gigs later in the week, and it all went well enough.

This is one of the things I like about Sam Rhode’s gigs – they’re all in public bars, so you get the random element of not knowing what else is going to be happening in the room and you have to learn to adapt to the situation. It’s mostly a supportive environment, with just a tinge of the unexpected to keep you on your toes.

Next up was my Max Turner Prize semi final heat on Wednesday night. I was feeling good about this – I knew a lot of strong acts had gone through and knew I’d be lucky to get into the finals, so went in with low expectations, just planning to do as good a set as I could and treat it like any other gig.

Just as I was getting ready to go to the gig, I got an email from the organisers of Jason Manford’s new act competition, which I’d completely forgotten about entering months ago, to let me know I’d got a place in the heats, on Saturday – the same day as the Max Turner final. So that kind of messed with me a little, because I started worrying about what I should do if I got through.

It turned out to be a pretty busy night, with lots of genuine audience members on top of the friends the acts had brought – the Cavendish does a Groupon deal to get people through the door, and there were a bunch of them in that night so the energy was high. I went up sixth of the night, and felt like I did a pretty average job – not sure why, but the audience didn’t really get on board with some of my stuff.

I’ve messed around with my set a bit recently, adding in a couple of new bits and dropping weaker stuff, so I think I was still a little unsure of it and my delivery wasn’t as confident as it could have been. Either way, I did OK but not great, so it was no big surprise that I didn’t get through to the final, and at least now there’s no conflict on Saturday night for me.

And then there was Thursday at Beat the Blackout, at Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich. I’ve never been there before, so it was all new to me.

It’s a proper comedy club with a decent sized room – I’d guess over 100 people – and the Beat the Blackout night is essentially a Gong Show with a rowdy bear-pit audience where heckling and shouting is encouraged. Three audience members are given cards to hold up if they don’t like you, and if all three hold their cards up the stage lights go out and your time is up – although to make it fair, you get two minutes grace at the start to try and win the crowd over, before they’re allowed to hold up their cards. The aim for acts is to make it to five minutes without getting voted off – which means you don’t finish on a big punchline, you just keep going until it’s over.

Before the gig I bumped into Michael Eldridge and had a good natter in the bar, and also met Michael Akadiri and Murat Gencoglu, who I know from previous gigs.

I wasn’t intimidated by the size of the room, or even the blackout element of the night, but I was a little unsure about how I’d handle the heckles because I’ve never had to face that before. Right from the off the crowd was rowdy, and even the experienced MC seemed to struggle keeping them quiet, so I knew it was going to be a struggle.

Murat went up first, but unfortunately the crowd wasn’t very generous with him, and he didn’t last much longer than the two minute grace period. I felt bad for him because I’ve seen him at previous gigs and I know he’s got some good jokes. Next up was Michael Eldridge, and he crushed it – they bought into him right away and despite a few heckles he made it past five minutes and went on to win the entire night.

It was my turn next. Once I was on stage the room felt a lot bigger all of a sudden, and even thought the audience size probably wasn’t much more than Angel Comedy Raw, it felt like a different game entirely. They seemed fairly quiet during my opener, but while I was delivering it I really noticed how long it takes me to get to my first punchline (20-30 seconds). This doesn’t feel like a problem at most nights because the audience is friendly and happy to give you a chance, but I really got the sense that this lot were willing me to get on with it.

When the punchline finally landed, it was glorious. The room is bigger, but so are the laughs, and after that I got into my stride. The next section of my set is punchier, with four or five short, reliable jokes, and each of them landed really well. At some points it felt like the laughs went on for ages. I’ve been told I “tread on my laughs” sometimes, and it’s better to just shut up and let the audience laugh for as long as they want rather than trying to force them onto the next joke, so I was trying to wait, but I was feeling awkward just standing there saying nothing while I waited for them to quiet down.

The only real trouble came after a vegan joke (yeah, I know, sorry) when some angry vegans started shouting at me, but their weak, low-energy voices were drowned out by the laughter and I just steamrollered on.

So far, so good, I’d got past the two minutes grace and they didn’t immediately shut me down. Next I moved onto some slightly longer bits with more punchlines and tags, and this is where it started to get tricky.

There was a woman close to the front who had been shouting random shit out all night – not even heckles that you could respond to, just unintelligible garble, and she always seemed to do it right on the punchlines. At about this point in my set she started up again, and it kind of derailed me a bit, so my delivery was off and these longer bits did OK, but weren’t as smooth as they should have been.

One of these bits has a joke about Tories, which plays well to liberal open mic audiences, but split the room here and got a mixed reception. All the same, I was still on stage and kept going, and moved onto my closing Racist Baby™ material, which is where it all fell apart.

It was a fairly mixed room, and this stuff normally works best in those situations, but I was on the back foot after the middle section got rocky, and I didn’t deliver it well, so the audience shut me down before I could get to the punchline. Fair enough, it’s a sensitive topic and I hadn’t done enough to win their trust so that they’d let me finish it.

I think I got to about 4 minutes, I’m reasonably happy with that and I think I learned more in that one gig than I have in the past six months, so it was a great experience. The main lesson was that stuff that works well in open mic nights full of comedians doesn’t necessarily work with real audiences, and the Racist Baby bit has been troubling me for a while now, so I’m going to shelve it. I’ve been working up some less risky material that I can replace it with.

There was a weather warning and I was worried about getting home in the snow, so I decided to bale out early and said my goodbyes. On the way out of the club I bumped into Michael Akadiri in the bar with some of his friends, who were very kind and helped me do a little post-mortem on what went wrong. But I know the answer, race is a touchy topic that scares audiences, and you’ve really got to earn the right to talk about it on stage – I’ve got a way to go before I’ve got that kind of trust.

So, tomorrow I’m doing my heat of the Manford’s New Act of the Year competition, at the Stage Door in Southampton. The Racist Baby bit is out of the set, and replaced with a few newer, punchier bits, which I’m going to have try and hammer into my brain during the two hour drive to the venue.

Gig Count to Date: 76 – I could have sworn I was already over 80, but I just went through my diary and crunched the numbers.