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

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