I’m slowly building up some momentum again now that live comedy in London has bounced back, but I’ve not done a huge amount recently. I did lots of family stuff during the school holidays, so only really had time to do one gig at a pop-up comedy night organised by Sam Rhodes in a bar in Battersea towards the end of August.
It was a fun night, with some good acts on. As well as Sam himself, these included Victoria Melody, who I’ve met a few times now, Kallis Kyriacou (another Comedy Explosion regular), and Joshua Massen (who I’ve not really spoken to before but sort of know a bit on social media), Matt Smith, and Peter Hose.
Each of us was doing a 10-15 minute spot, which was definitely a stretch for me. Before lockdown I was just starting to do occasional 10 spots but certainly didn’t have anything close to a solid ten minute set.
So at the gig I did my best five minute set with a bunch of other older bits thrown in, and tried to improvise a little, which filled around 10-11 minutes reasonably well. It was sloppy, but it worked well enough for me not to feel like I’d fucked it up, and I had the good sense to finish early on a big laugh instead of ploughing on with weak material to fill the time.
All the way through the night the acts were getting interrupted by a middle aged guy sitting on the front row. He wasn’t really heckling or being obnoxious, but he obviously thought the point of the evening was to have a bit of a chat with us, so he kept interjecting with comments and observations, and that kept throwing us all off our rhythm.
It was a tricky situation to deal with, because he was perfectly friendly and good humoured, so you couldn’t just shut him down, but at the same time it was disruptive and made it difficult to get through our material. I just tried to talk over him and not let it derail my set too badly, but probably didn’t do a great job.
One of the other acts handled it much better by giving him the nickname of Muttley, because he sounded like the cartoon character, and every time he chipped in she’d ask “What’s that Muttley?” and he got the message quickly. A great, simple way of asserting her status and letting him know she was in control, without having to be too brutal about it.
All in all a decent night which left me feeling like I could step up to 10 minutes or more with a bit of practice.
…and then I left it four weeks before doing another spot, and it kind of went a bit shit.
Last night I was on at the newly relaunched We Are Funny Project, back at it’s recently refurbished spiritual home of Farr’s School of Dancing in Dalston. I was looking forward to it because it’s always been a great night (no bringer, decent audience, well organized, always a solid headline act to close the show) and it just so happened that some work-friends wanted to come along to watch the show as well, so it was good to catch up with them in person after working from home for so long.
Problem #1 – I’m doing another 10-15 spot tonight, so I really wanted to use last night’s show to run through some of my newer, less-practiced material before that. Doing new material is always a bit of a gamble, that’s the whole point.
Problem #2 – Due to a combination of work and home life being a bit full on recently, I hadn’t found the time to properly prepare and rehearse the five minutes I wanted to do – I just haphazardly pulled together a few bits at the last minute and scribbled a set-list on the back of my hand.
Problem #3 – I ended up leaving late for the gig, got stuck in traffic, so arrived late and stressed out, without spending the journey thinking through my set like I normally do.
Alfie put me on at the start of the second half and my colleagues made a lot of noise as I walked on, so I made a couple of quick gags about work to acknowledge that, which went down well enough. But then I moved onto the main set and it all fell apart. I started with a bit that I’ve actually done a few times, but never as an opener, and somehow I completely fucked up the setup so the punchline fell flat and didn’t get much of a response.
That put me on the back foot, and once I got stuck into the completely new material, I was all over the place. With my confidence collapsing, I made more mistakes, flubbed a lot of my lines, let my body-language go to shit, and felt like a newbie doing his first ever open mic.
I got some laughs, but I knew it was a mess and I didn’t feel at all good about the set. And I know that the whole point of open mics is to test stuff out, and failure is part of the process, but it’s still not a great feeling.
Compare with my spot at Beat the Blackout a few months ago, where I was so nervous about my first gig back that I spent a lot of time running through the set in my head in the week before the gig, and that paid off. It’s a simple lesson – find the time to prepare properly before a gig, or it’s going to be messy. Obviously not getting a lot of stage-time recently is a big problem, but that’s all changing now as I’m booking up spots for the next couple of months and should get back to doing one or two a week as a minimum.
Apart from my own mini-disaster, the rest of the gig was great. Archie Maddocks headlined in style, Lincoln Van Der Westhuizen did a really strong 10 spot to close the first half, John Sharp was John Sharp. My friend Pauline Hedge really seem to hit her stride and did one of the best sets I’ve seen from her. One new name that really stood out was Alex Mandel-Dallal, who won the room over with effortless charm and did a much better job of recovering from fudged punchlines than I did.