Staying Sane in Standup

Last night I was back at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion at Maltby St Market, where I closed the show again, and just like last time it went pretty well. I even remembered to film myself this time, so I have an objective record that it was a great set and not just my memory playing it up. 

But in between that and my last gig at Malt were four shows that didn’t go so well – ranging from an “ok but not great” 10 minute spot at another bar show, to a grim 5 spot at an open mic with almost no audience, where even my usually reliable bits fell flat. 

I’ve been grinding away as a stand-up comedy bottom-feeder for long enough to know that’s just how it goes. Some nights it doesn’t work out for you and there’s no point beating yourself up over it – just dust yourself down and get ready for the next show. 

But… There’s no denying that trying to do stand-up can really grind on your soul sometimes. 

When it goes well there’s no better feeling than walking off stage to an enthusiastically clapping and cheering crowd, and the congratulatory back slaps as you rejoin the other acts at the back of the room. 

On the nights when absolutely nothing works, you get no laughs for your entire set, and then trudge back to your seat with nothing but a smattering of polite applause, it can make you feel like crap. It’s especially bad if you’re at an open mic where other acts have done well, and you feel like just another delusional, unfunny prick who hasn’t got what it takes. They made the audience laugh, why couldn’t you?

The successful acts grab a drink and compare notes after the show, while you skulk out of the door in shame and spend the long journey home doing a post-mortem on your set to figure out what went wrong. 

If it happens to you a few too many times in a row, it can be hard to not let it get to you and leave you wondering whether you should just quit. 

Firstly I think it’s important to remind yourself of the shows that have gone well. You know that it’s worked before for you, so there’s no reason it can’t work again. And always remember that bombing is just a part of being a stand-up – all the greats have bombed a ton of times, even when they were at the top of their game. 

If new material bombs, that’s a learning process – we all know you need to try stuff out a bunch of times to work out if it’s got potential. If tried and tested material bombs, sometimes it’s because of factors outside of your control. Maybe the act before you sucked all the energy out of the room, maybe the audience wasn’t right for you, maybe you just were off your game this night. I’m not saying you should always make excuses for a bad gig, but there’s any number of reasons a show might not have gone well for you. 

If you have a lot of gigs where you’re not getting laughs, maybe it’s time to rethink what you’re doing, but one or two bad nights isn’t the end of the world, or even a long run of bombs. If you’ve got faith in the material, and you know it’s worked in the past, just keep grinding on and finding ways to improve your performance. 

Ultimately you have to confront yourself with a choice: “Am I going to quit stand-up because of a few bad gigs, or am I going to keep at it until I can make it work?”

Ascending to glory at Maltby St Market

I’ve not been gigging as much as I should recently, mostly because of being too lazy to get any spots booked in. I sometimes forget that doing stand-up actually requires a shitload of admin at this level, and unless I’m constantly on the ball with applying for spots then it’s all too easy to find myself without anything booked in my diary. 

Sometimes last minute spots can pop up to fill in those gaps, but Sod’s Law dictates that they’re never available when you need them. So it’s been a quiet few weeks – I did a ten spot at We Are Funny Project and another at The Lodge Tavern in Ealing, which is running a Monday night show again.  

But the highlight for me was a Friday night spot at the Malt bar in Bermondsey’s Maltby St Market, which is rapidly turning into a great regular gig. I’ve been there a few times before, and on this occasion the promoter (Sam Rhodes) offered me the chance to close the show at the end of the night. 

There was a respectable audience in – it’s an intimate venue, but they can easily fit 20-30 people in there, and when it’s full there’s a really nice atmosphere. Sam MC’d, and was joined by Amy Xander, Duffy Connors, Kalid Raheem, Simon Hall, and Richard Stott, who all smashed it.

So by the time it was my turn to go up the audience was way past warmed up, and practically simmering, which made the job a lot easier for me. Although I’ve not been gigging much, I had done the ten spot at WAFP just a few days before so I was feeling well rehearsed and the material flowed naturally, even with a couple of new bits thrown in. 

Everything landed well right from the opener and the whole set felt really good. At one point I blanked for a couple of seconds, but managed to cover it up with a call-back to a previous act’s joke, which worked nicely. Even with that slight hiccup it was one of the best sets I’ve done in a long time, and I left the stage feeling pumped up. One of those shows that reminds me I can actually do this.

I’ve been planning to film some sets to get a reel together that I can send to bookers so I can start maybe getting some more open spots in clubs, and I’d even gone to the trouble of taking my camera and tripod along. But at the last minute I decided I couldn’t be arsed setting it up, since I’d had a run of mediocre gigs it probably wouldn’t be worth the hassle, and I’d be better off just mentally preparing myself instead of faffing with a camera. Of course, I now regret that, but at least I got a nice pic from Sam…

That was a couple of weeks ago and I haven’t done any shows since then. Feeling annoyed with myself for losing momentum, so right now I’m making a conscious effort to book gigs in – especially new ones at nights I’ve not done before. Next week I’m doing Rats Open Mic at the Night and Day in Islington – it’s completely new to me, so I’ve got no idea what to expect from it. 

I’ve been writing more recently, but only half-arsing it – I’ve got some stuff that I think could work, but haven’t got as far as structuring it into proper bits so I can road test it. Lazy, lazy, lazy. I think I need to be more disciplined and promise myself to try out at least one new bit at every show.