South Coast Comedian of the Year Competition

I’ve done a few gigs since my last post, starting with a triumphant return to the Lion’s Den Comedy Car Crash, where I did many of my very early open mic spots. I’ve not been able to do the gig for about a year because of childcare issues, but on this particular night I found myself at a loose end and decided to drop in and was pleased to see that it hasn’t changed a bit.

Lion’s Den is unique on the London scene in that you don’t need to book ahead, you just show up on the night and put your name in the hat to get drawn at random for a five minute spot. You don’t need a bringer either. Because of that it tends to be popular with people who are really new, and you always get a wild mix of potential, delusion, genius, and borderline mental health issues.

Before I started doing standup, this was exactly how I thought all open mics would be, but in London you really only get that at the Lion’s Den – it’s got a genuine “anything goes” vibe, for better or worse.

As I was waiting in the queue I realised I didn’t recognise any of the other acts, which is unusual these days. Eventually Gaëlle Constant (who runs the London Stand Up Comedy Map on Facebook) showed up, I’ve chatted to her a couple of times in the past, so there was at least one friendly face, and we had a good yack in the bar before the show.

It was a fun gig, lots of randoms, and Boyce Bailey always does a great job of MCing. I churned out my current five minutes to a fairly a mediocre response. A couple of bits got decent laughs, but mostly it was just low-level titters – given the audience was almost entirely made up of other acts, that’s about the best I could hope for.

The following night I did a spot at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion in Dalston, at the Rocksteady, where I’ve been quite a lot recently because it’s a nice non-bringer gig close to where I work, so it’s very easy for me to do.

Again, I didn’t really do anything different to my current five, because I had a competition coming up and just wanted to practice. The last time I did this gig Sam gave me a ten spot and I kind of fluffed it, but this time around it went much better.

Instead of launching right into my set I started off with a little banter with Sam, and addressed something that was going on in the bar (they were showing Gladiator on a big screen, for some reason). This feels a bit better than just launching straight into my opener, especially since it can take a little too long to get to the first punchline, so I decided to make a conscious effort to do it more often.

The next chance I got was on Monday this week when I did a spot at We Are Funny Project in Dalston – another non-bringer conveniently close to work, which I’ve done a lot recently. I had gone to the gig planning to do a completely new five minutes because I was bored of churning out the same set. But as I was sat in the bar I got chatting to some of the other acts and was struggling to memorise the new stuff, so I wimped out and decided to do my usual shit instead.

The MC, Alfie, handed me a bit of a gift, as he let his 12 year old son do a spot before I went up (and he killed, btw) so when I took the stage I opened with “I wish I could tell you this is the first time I’ve followed a twelve year old boy…” – it was a bit cheap, but it got me one of the longest laughs I’ve ever had at an open mic night, so I’m not sorry.

After that I ploughed on with my usual material, but I tried to restructure my set by moving some of the bits around to make it fit together a little better, and my flow just wasn’t right and my energy was off so, while I got laughs, none of them were big and my closer flopped completely.

All the same, it was a great fun night and I got to spend some time chatting with Gus Singh, Lee Hudson, and Andrew Buchan, who were all firing on all cylinders. In the bar before the show a French guy, Mickael N’dour, introduced himself as a reader, and told me it was his second gig – but did an amazing job. It always depresses me when new acts are so good. I also bumped into another reader, a new act called Stephen Young, who I’ve met a couple of times now and is getting into his stride.

It’s cool to have got to a point with this where most of the time I go to a gig I know a few people and get to compare notes, catch up and generally have a bit of chit chat. Even if this comedy thing doesn’t ever go anywhere for me (and there’s at least an 80% chance of that happening) it’s just good to feel like I’m part of something and hanging out with people who could go onto great things.

Finally, on Wednesday of this week I went to Portsmouth Guildhall for my heat of the South Coast Comedian of the Year Competition. When I got to the venue I met a couple of guys I know from London, Horatio Gould and Jacob Hatton, and I got chatting to some of the local acts too. There was a nice friendly vibe, as there often is at these things, more camaraderie than competition.

There were ten acts in total, and I was up fourth, just before the first break. The venue space was weird, kind of an open hall that had been sectioned off with black drapes and odd lighting. It felt a bit like the kind of place where you might see a live sex show, so I riffed on that as an opener, which worked reasonably well, and then cracked on with my polished material.

There were about 30 paying audience members, and they all seemed pretty receptive to my stuff – and I was getting good solid laughs all the way through. By the time I left the stage I felt like I’d done as good a job as I could with that material.

The top three acts of the night were picked by an audience vote, and even though I don’t generally expect to get anywhere in these things (on account of being yet another middle aged hetero white guy) I half thought I was at least in with a chance this time. It wasnt to be though, and the two acts who went through to the semi finals were Horatio Gould and a great character act called Michael Buttersworth.

I’m ready to start doing some new material now that these competitions are out of the way, although I’ve got a spot at the Comedy Store King Gong show on the 29th so I don’t want try new stuff there, except maybe a punchier opener. Other than that gig, I’m going to focus on trying out new stuff at gigs now, for a while at least.

I can’t believe I’m only on 87 gigs so far, it feels like much more, but at least the psychologically important 100 milestone is within reach.

Entering Manford’s New Act of the Year Competition

Three gigs last week, ending with a trip to Southampton on Friday for the Manfords New Act of the Year Competition, but let’s start at the beginning.

Things kicked off on Monday with a spot at We Are Funny Project, which turned out to be a small but perfectly formed night. There were a few last minute dropouts so the room was quieter than usual, but a smattering of audience showed up and there were some great acts who were all up for it, so it was a fun show.

Knowing I had the competition coming up, I just ran through my best five minutes as a practice run, and it landed pretty well. Because of the dropouts we finished earlier than usual, and since I had a friend in tow I stuck around for a drink with some of the other acts which ended up being a good laugh. I wish I could do it more often, but because I leave in the wilderness of Zone 4 I usually have to bale out straight after gigs to get home at a reasonable hour.

On Wednesday I did a 10 minute spot at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion, which turned out to be a complete disaster. I did 10 minutes once before, at the start of the year, and it went reasonably well, but this time I think I was trying too hard to remember how all of the different bits fit together, and relying on notes too much, and it all went to shit. My delivery was clumsy, even for the bits I know really well, so I stumbled through my material, getting a few laughs for the best bits but never really winning the audience over.

As ever, it felt pretty grim while I was bombing, but I got over it quickly – I’d recently been thinking that I hadn’t died badly for a while, so I knew I was due one. Lesson learned – next time I get a 10 spot I’ll prepare better and have a better plan than “do my good material and then pad it out with whatever old stuff I can remember.”

And finally, on Friday I drove down to Southampton for my heat of the Manfords New Act of the Year Competition. I left in plenty of time to get there early, but I got stuck in bad traffic, nearly ran out of petrol, and had a slight fuckup with a toll bridge that didn’t accept cards (seriously, what the fuck Southampton, it’s 2019!) – so I arrived just in time, but feeling a little tightly wound, and without having had anything to eat.

The venue was a local theater that Manfords runs comedy nights in, with a big stage and an audience capacity of around a couple of hundred. A little different to the kind of places I’m used to performing in.

I headed back-stage to try and relax a little before things kicked off, and I bumped into some of the other acts. Three of them I know from the London open mic circuit, Ginnia Cheng, Ruby Carr, and Louise Atkinson – all strong contenders. Soon enough the MC, a professional called Barry Castagnola, arrived and explained how the night would run.

Three acts would go through to the semi finals, each chosen by audience vote, the MC, and the club manager. Ginnia was on first, I was second, and then the first break, so all the other acts went to sit in the audience while the pair of us hung back. I’ve known her for a while, so we just chatted while Barry was warming them up for 15 minute – then she went up, and soon enough it was my turn.

About a hundred people turned up (all genuine, paying audience!) so it’s not the biggest room I’ve done, but certainly much bigger than usual. The great thing about big rooms, that you just won’t know if you’ve only ever done open mic nights, is that those larger audiences laugh more, and longer, than the kind of rooms we’re used to playing every week.

I launched into my set (once again painfully aware that my opener takes a little too long to get to the punchline) and every joke landed – they laughed at everything, including little bits of setups that don’t usually get laughs. I tried to take my time and give them time to finish laughing before I carried on.

Even though they were going along with everything, I don’t think I did as good a job as I wanted. The stressy journey made it hard for me to relax into the moment, so it really felt like I was just reciting my material like a script rather than delivering it like a standup routine. Apart from one or two small interactions with the audience, I was regurgitating the material from memory and not telling it like a story.

All the same, it worked well enough to get some big laughs and appropriate “oooohs” for some of the darker bits. At one point I felt like I’d got through my material too quickly, which didn’t make sense given the longer laugh-breaks, and I realised I’d skipped a bit, so I played some mental Tetris to figure out how to get back on track – all while in the middle of delivering another bit. I was quite proud of myself for that, it was nothing the audience would have noticed, but I managed to figure the problem out and find a solution, without missing a beat.

I fucked up a little towards the end. I saw the time light flashing from the back of the room and couldn’t figure out whether that was the light to let me know I had a minute left or that my time was up. Instead of handling it gracefully, I mentioned it to the audience, hoping the MC or somebody would let me know how much time I had – not very professional – but I did one more bit and finished.

In hindsight I realised I must have been over time simply because of all the extra laughs. I’m getting really bad at remembering to start my stopwatch before I go on stage – that would have solved the problem.

Long story short, I did pretty well, but could have done better, and I made one silly mistake. Once my set was over I went to get a drink and apologised to the MC for going over time, but he insisted I hadn’t gone too far over and it wasn’t a problem. As I was waiting at the bar a few audience members came to chat and feed my ego with compliments, which always feels great because I am needy and wildly insecure.

For the rest of the show I loitered at the back of the room with the other acts, whispering gossip and waiting for the final judgement. I didn’t get to the semi-final, but was very happy that Ruby Carr did because I’ve been a fan since I first saw her a year or so ago. The other two acts who got through were from outside of London, so I didn’t know them, and can’t remember their names, but they were both great and thoroughly deserving.

Can’t say I’m too disappointed as I don’t expect to do too well at these competitions, but they’re always good fun to do and it’s great to get the opportunity to perform in front of a larger audience, so I chalk it up as a win.

I’ve got a couple of gigs this week, and then more competitions later in the month – plus I got a spot at the Comedy Store King Gong Show on the 29th. Raaar!

Gig count: 83