Five minutes of brand new material at a challenge show

This week I did one of the We Are Funny Project challenge shows, which involves writing and performing a completely new five minute set based on a topic that they give you. Under normal circumstances that would be the full story, but there was a bit more to it this time because the theme was “things going wrong at work”.

The reason this topic was chosen is that Alfie, who runs WAFP, has recently set up a new business selling standup comedy skills workshops for business, and he wanted some video clips of comedians doing relatable workplace material that could be used to promote the business on LinkedIn. This meant that the night was being professionally filmed, and the stakes were a little higher because I knew he wanted to get some usable clips, so I had to aim for at least two or three of my bits to work pretty well, and I had to keep the material reasonably work-safe.

I’d known about this gig for a while so I put some effort into writing some workplace related material, but I’d only had a couple of opportunities to try the stuff out beforehand and it was all still very rough. I had some idea of which bits I could rely on to work, but most of the set was still an unknown quantity and its success would really depend on the energy in the room.

The bigger problem was that I hadn’t practiced the material well enough to remember the running order, so I went on stage with a set-list scribbled on the back of my hand.

Things started well enough, I opened with a bit that had worked both times I tried it before, and I’d remembered at least the first few bits of material, so for the first couple of minutes I was able to deliver it all with confidence. But then I started to stumble a little – the mic cable was loose and I had to pause to figure out what the problem was, which put me on the back foot, and once I started having to check my set list after every bit it all started to feel very clunky and awkward. During one bit I tripped over my tongue and said “shat down” instead of “sat down” which got a much bigger laugh than the actual punchline, and probably the rest of my entire set.

It felt like a lot of it just wasn’t working very well and when I left the stage I was really unhappy with my performance. After having such a great time MCing there a week earlier, it felt like a massive crash back down to earth.

I tried not to beat myself up too badly – it was a completely new five minutes of largely untested material, so it was never going to be amazing, and the whole point of the exercise was for Alfie to get one or two usable clips of bits landing well, which I think I accomplished.  

I went up towards the end of the first half, and in the break a few people told me that they thought I did pretty well, but I respectfully disagree. I’m looking forward to getting hold of the video at some point so I can objectively assess how it went.

On the plus side, it felt great to put together so much completely new material after spending so much of this year just trying to polish the same old stuff. I feel like I’ve probably got at least a minute or two of good stuff out of it, and I think for the immediate future I’m going to focus on building that up into a strong five that stands on its own.

That said, other than next Monday at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion, I’ve currently got no other spots booked for the rest of the year, so I need to get on that…

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