Facing down a scary crowd in Croydon

Since I posted about my mediocre performance at We Are Funny a few weeks ago things have been a bit of a rollercoaster. But one of those small, underwhelming rollercoasters you get in old seaside towns.

The night after that WAF gig, I had a 15 minute spot at a pop-up pub gig in Wimbledon, which didn’t go well at all. I came down with that bastard of a cold that’s been going around, and I had a few things going on with work and home life that were taking up a lot of my attention, so I was feeling shitty and not really finding a lot of time to focus on standup.

It was mostly a younger twenty-something crowd, and it was a bit of an odd setup because although there was a section of the bar set aside for the show with rows of audience seating, there were also a lot of people just drinking in the rest of the pub and only half paying attention. There were some good acts on the bill who I’ve met a few times over the few years (James Meakin and Ginnia Cheng, notably) so more than anything I didn’t want to fail in front of them. I don’t know if it’s just me, I don’t mind bombing in front of audiences so much, but I kind of want my peers to know I’m OK at this.

But fail I did. I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind for performing (especially since my gig the night before hadn’t gone well) and certainly wasn’t as practiced as I should have been. I bumbled through my set, got a few laughs for some of it, but the audience was largely disinterested, so as soon as I finished I skulked off home in disgrace, and snot.

Feeling grotty and stressed out with life I spent the next couple of nights unable to sleep, staring at the bedroom ceiling wondering whether I should sack comedy off and just do something else with my spare time.

The following week I had another spot at We Are Funny and it was one of those nights with a low turnout and low expectations, but it actually ended up being a pretty decent comedy show. I felt like I needed a win, so I stuck with my tried and tested five minutes, and focused on delivering it with confidence.

I didn’t try anything new or clever, except at the very start when I improvised a quick bit to address something in the room. I try to do this whenever I can, the crowd usually rewards you for thinking on your feet and it’s a good way to build up some new material, and if it doesn’t work you can just dive into your usual opener. In this case it worked well enough, and the rest of the set was fine, with all the punchlines delivering as expected, even with a small audience.

It was a low-key night, but just what I needed to reset my head.

A couple of day later I journeyed to deepest darkest Croydon for another of Sam Rhode’s pop-up bar shows. It was in the dining room of the pub, packed out with locals who’d paid to watch us, with a large contingent of proper south-London geezers, lads on the lash, and families celebrating birthdays. Right from the kickoff we could tell it was going to be a boisterous, maybe even combative crowd.

Weirdly, I didn’t feel anywhere near as nervous as I had done before recent shows despite the crowd being a bit intimidating. Not sure why. Maybe it was just a matter of feeling little better prepared and confident in my material, having a decent gig earlier in the week.

The show was split into three sections. Sam opened each one with some of his own material, followed by two other acts – I was up first in the second.

All of the acts struggled to hold the crowd’s attention, to varying degrees. There were too many people on nights out with their friends and family, so if they lost interest for just a moment they’d start talking amongst themselves. All you can really do in that situation is be loud and talk over them. Throughout the night some of the acts tried to address it by talking to them and asking them to be quiet, but it usually just turned into a stand-off with the audience giving the acts grief (“you’re talking too fast/you’re not funny/do some jokes/we can’t understand your accent”) and at one point it felt like one of the acts completely lost control of the crowd, although he managed to reassert himself well enough to carry on with his set.

The other side of the room. Horati Gould doing a solid job of opening.

During the first break I overheard one of the groups of lads complaining about the show – all the usual shit; comedians are too PC these days, they’re scared of offending people, why don’t they do proper jokes, women aren’t funny, our banter is better than this.

Soon enough it was my turn to go up. I couldn’t think of anything to improvise as an opener, so I just went into my standard routine of parenting, marriage, life and whatnot, and it all seemed to work. Some areas of the room drifted in and out, but mostly I managed to get decent enough laughs, as well as a few big ones. I noticed after a few bits landed well that people around the room were asking their friends to repeat my punchlines because they’d missed them and wanted to know what everybody else was laughing at.

The only bit I consciously left out was a joke about dead Tories, which usually does well in central London but I was 100% sure would go down like a lead balloon in the suburbs. I didn’t fancy having the ‘who’s too easily offended now?’ argument with the audience.

I didn’t time it, but it felt somewhere between 10-15 minutes. I finished on a big laugh, walked off to applause and got a few nods and back-slaps as I made my way to the back of the room where the acts were hanging out. It felt like a win, and christ I needed one.

A few more nights like this and I think I’ll be ready to start applying for open spots/middle-tens in pro-clubs outside of London. On top of everything else, I can call this my first paid-gig. I’ve done a bucket-split before when I’ve MC’d We Are Funny, but this was the first show where I’ve been paid cash-money to just go up and perform my set.

The best part of the night was the sense of cameraderie with the other acts in the face of a rowdy and sometimes outright hostile crowd. Love it, can’t wait to do it again.

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