It looks like clubs are getting ready to open again. This week I got an email from Beat the Blackout in Greenwich to let me know they were starting to book spots for their Thursday night gong-show, starting on May 27th and I was able to grab one for myself on June 3rd.
Hopefully I’ll be able to find some other spots before then, but at this stage who knows how things are going to unfold. If my first return to open mics after a year off has to be a gong show then, fine, I’ll take it. I’ve done the Blackout once before, and had a good time.
I’ve been thinking about where things go from here and whether I even want to keep trying to do standup, and I’ve reached the conclusion that this is a golden opportunity give it a second shot with the benefit of some prior experience and an enforced break to spend some time reflecting on it all.
My main failing the first time around, I think, was that I never really practiced my material enough, so I was always dependent on having notes scribbled on the back of my hand. If I had a shit gig, not being able to remember my stuff was usually a contributing factor.
There are a couple of reasons for that.
I’m a lazy piece of shit
It was hard to find the time and energy to practice, given that most days I was travelling an hour and half each way to work on the other side of London
Right now it looks like I’m going to be working at home permanently, so I’ve got no excuse for not finding the time to rehearse material and get it locked into my brain.
Another part of this is that, because I was spending most weekdays out of the house from 7am to 7pm, I could only really gig once a week, otherwise my wife and kids would never see me. With such limited stage time, it was hard enough just to work on my main set, never mind trying out new stuff. But now I’m home all the time, so doing two or three gigs most weeks feels like a much more realistic proposition.
At this stage it’s all pie in the sky – we don’t know for sure whether standup is going to bounce back from covid, which clubs will re-open at all, what the open mic scene will look like. But being optimistic, and assuming it all kicks off again later this year, I’m up for taking another run at it, and trying harder this time round.
I know it’s been a while since I updated, and that’s because I really haven’t had much to write about. The only gig I’ve done in the past 12 months was a disasterous appearance in the South Coast Comedian of the Year competition around August.
I was supposed to do this much earlier in 2020, but obviously things took a turn and that got postponed. I expected it to be cancelled entirely under the circumstances, but later in the year there was enough of an easing of lockdown restrictions that the organisers were able to reschedule the show.
I made the trip to a local theatre near Portsmouth for my heat out of a sense of obligation more than anything else. I was six months out of practice and not feeling at all good about it, so I didn’t arrive in the best frame of mind, and to make matters worse I drew the short straw to go on first, after the MC made a futile attempt to warm up the audience.
Social distancing restrictions were in place, so the meagre (10-15 people) audience was completely spread out across the theatre, instead of bunched up in the front, and they were all wearing facemasks. Worse still, because I was so out of practice I’d put a set-list on a stool, but I was worried about not being able to see it, so I wore my glasses on stage for the first time ever, and what I didn’t realise is that stage-lights + spectacles = complete blindness.
So, I could barely see the audience at all and when I did manage to squint over my glasses all I could see was two or three people on the front couple of rows – everything else was lost in the glare.
I stumbled through my set, a few new bits I’d written about lockdown, which got absolutely nothing, before dusting off a few of my old bankers to fill the rest of the time. It was horrible. For most of the set I got nothing out of the audience, except for one bloke who was occasionally laughing at some of my older stuff – but I couldn’t see him, so there was no way for me to try and build more of a connection with him and hopefully get some more people on board.
It felt exactly like being a complete newbie again. Once I’d got through my set I shuffled backstage and hung out with the rest of the acts in the green-room for the rest of the show. From there it was hard to hear what was happening on stage, but I know the first few acts who followed me also struggled, which made me feel a bit better about dying horribly myself.
Other than the mighty Louise Bastock they were mostly local acts who I didn’t know from the London stand-up comedy scene, but it was a nice gang and it just felt good to be talking to other acts after so long away from stand-up. It was worth the drive just for that, but it did make me realise I wasn’t interested in doing any more spots until things get back to a point where we can have real audiences full of drunk people again.
So since then I’ve done nothing and not even thought about comedy much, until recently with the looming prospect of gigs starting again.
The main question on my mind is, do I even want to start again? Before all this happened I felt like I was just starting to make a bit of progress, but after 18+ months away, going back to standup is going to be like starting from scratch all over again and I’m not sure I’ve got the emotional strength for that.
There’s also a general feeling of lethargy that I need to overcome. I used to go to gigs straight from where I work in Shoreditch, but now I’m working at home full time near Epsom, and that’s unlikely to change, which means I’d have to make the journey into London specifically for gigs. That feels like a stretch, but I’ll probably get over it.
One positive is that because I’m at home so much now, it would be less of a problem for me to do two or three gigs most weeks. I couldn’t do that when I was working in Shoreditch because my wife and kids would never see me, so I only did one spot a week – and I always felt like that was a major barrier to being able to progress (apart from my general mediocrity).
I know it’s kind of premature to be thinking about this stuff, since real gigs are probably not going to happen until autumn at the earliest, but I just wanted to write this stuff down to help me figure out how I feel about it all.
On balance I think I owe it to myself to give standup another shot, if I can. The reason I got started was becuase I didn’t want to go to my grave wondering what might have happened if I gave it a go, and it seems a shame to just let go of that.