2021: My Year in Stand-up

I did a couple of spots since my last post:

Five minutes at We Are Funny Project – it was going OK, and I was scoring laughs, but I tried too much new material in one go and ended my set by completely blanking on the punchline for a new bit.

15 minutes at a Sam Rhode’s pop-up gig in Battersea – unfortunately this happened shortly after Omicron hit, so apart from a table of about 8 teachers on their Christmas piss-up, and a handful of other acts, it was pretty quiet. We still had fun, and I worked in a couple of the new bits I’d tried earlier in the week, which both did OK.

Galloping towards a punchline which, as I’m about to discover, I cannot remember.

I’m now finished for the rest of the year, and it doesn’t look like people are still running gigs in any case. How long this new shitshow will last is anybody’s guess. Hopefully it’ll blow over soon and we can get back to business as usual, but I’m not taking anything for granted after the past couple of years.

My next booked show January 2nd at Angel Comedy RAW – although I suspect we might be back in lockdown by then.

Under the circumstances I’m fairly happy with how the year went. The situation wasn’t ideal, but I feel like I’ve managed to improve as a stand-up comedian despite doing far fewer spots than I would have liked, and I think that’s largely down to being able to do more 10-15 spots.

That forced me to come up with new material to fill the time, and to memorise it all. The knock-on effect of having a larger repertoire of tested material to pull out of my hat whenever I like is that I’m much more comfortable with improvising and having a bit of fun with the audience, because I know that if things aren’t going well I can always fall back on the good stuff as required.

I’m not saying I’ve got a rock-solid 15 minutes, I know I need to do a lot more work to make it really tight, but I do think I can fill a 10-15 spot without embarrassing myself.

There are three highlights of this year for me:

Beating the Blackout at Up the Creek – this was my first gig after lockdown, I was a bag of nerves, on the verge of just giving up on stand-up, and almost walked out of the club before my spot. But I forced myself onto the stage and it went so well that it put me on a high for weeks and convinced me it was worth carrying on with this nonsense.

Winning the crowd over in Croydon – I’d had a run of gigs that hadn’t gone well, and the buzz of Beating the Blackout had well and truly worn off. Then I found myself at a busy south London bar show with a rowdy, slightly hostile crowd that weren’t getting into the night. The acts before me all struggled, and I wasn’t looking forward to my spot. But in the end it went pretty well for me, they bought into my stuff and I felt like I’d managed to turn things around – that gave me a much needed confidence boost.

Seeing We Are Funny Project rise from the ashes – I’ve had some great nights at WAFP over the years, and spent a lot of time there. It’s been a great place for me to get stage-time in front of a decent audience, without having to organise a bringer. Over the past six months Alfie’s done an amazing job of getting the night up and running again, and bringing in a regular audience of locals who are always up for a good show. Long may it continue.

So I find myself in a weird situation. On the one hand, I’m feeling pretty positive about stand-up from the perspective of whether I still want to do it, and whether I honestly believe I’m capable of doing it well.

On the other hand, I just don’t know if it’s worth persevering with this if covid is going to be around for much longer. The whole enterprise depends on people being up for coming out to small, enclosed spaces with a bunch of others to watch me talk shit on stage while they get drunk. If we’re never going to get that back, then there’s really no point carrying on with it.

I don’t know what the answers are, but I suppose we’ll get a much clearer picture of where things are going over the next few weeks.

Doing longer sets and finding some new gigs

It’s been a busy couple of months for me as far as stand-up is concerned, and I feel like I’ve improved in a relatively short space of time, which is exactly the opposite of what I expected so soon after lockdown.

The catalyst has been doing a bunch of Sam Rhode’s pop-up gigs around south and west London, where I’ve had 10-15 minute spots. To begin with this was terrifying, because even five minutes felt like a stretch after getting so little stage time since lockdown began, but I found I was soon able to comfortably fill 10-12 minutes with prepared material and, once I got confident with that stuff, just riffing and improvising for a few minutes became much easier.

The Croydon gig I covered in my previous post really gave me a confidence boost, and since then it’s all felt a lot easier.

Until recently I had to spend a lot of time mentally preparing for shows, figuring out what bits I’m going to do and rehearsing the whole set over and over to try and memorise it. But these days a five-minute spot is a walk in the park, and the longer sets still require a bit of planning and practice, but I no longer go into them feeling on-edge and stressed about remembering all my stuff.

It’s so much more fun this way. Because I’ve got the safety net of 10+ minutes of tested material that I can reel off any time I like, I’m now free to improvise, have some fun with the audience, and generally dick around on stage a bit more.

So long story short, I’m feeling pretty good about it all right now, but I’m still unsure about what to do next other than keep on gigging.

Tom Mayhew headlining at We Are Funny Project

As well as Sam’s gigs, I’m still regularly doing We Are Funny Project in Dalston, which is increasingly bringing in a solid audience most nights and is always a fun show. I’ve also spread my wings a bit and done a few other open mics worth mentioning:

Crack Comedy – these guys run pro comedy nights around SW London, and do a monthly Sunday-night open mic at the Ram Jam club in Kingston, close to where I live. Had a great time here, there was a decent audience for a Sunday night open mic, and the club has a really nice, intimate vibe. It’s only a shame they can’t run it weekly, because I’d go there a lot.

Whole Lotta Comedy – another local comedy promoter which runs pro gigs around SW London. They host an open mic every Sunday night at The Castle in Surbiton, which attracts acts from all over London, and usually seems to draw in a reasonable audience. It’s a fun, laid back night. I’ve been there twice recently, and will hopefully show my face a bit more often since it’s so close to where I live.

Robbie Fox doing his Neuroses character at Whole Lotta Comedy

Comedy Cabin RAW – despite the fact that this night has been running for years in Hoxton, close to where I worked before lockdown, somehow I never got around to asking for a spot there. I remedied that recently and was very pleased to see Ania Magliano hosting, who I remember seeing at the Cav back in my earliest days. It’s a really small venue, but they managed to squeeze a decent audience in there, and although I was worried the young urbanite crowd might not be into my material, it seemed to go down well and I had a great night.

The small but perfectly formed Comedy Cabin RAW room, just before the show started

I haven’t got much booked for the rest of December, apart from one spot at We Are Funny Project – so I’m hoping one or two last minute spots materialise on Facebook on nights that I can do, otherwise I’m not going to be gigging regularly again until January.