In what is fast (or slowly) becoming a monthly blog, it is time for another entry of what has been taking place in my life in the four weeks since I last wrote anything here.
The advantage of writing on an infrequent basis, is that it should in theory give me more to write about. The disadvantage is that I have trouble remembering exactly what I have been doing and where I have been.
This may be because I am nearing the end of my late-20s, but it is also because I have been ridiculously busy, with another stag weekend a couple of weeks ago, in addition to juggling gigging a few nights a week with a full-time job.
Since I last wrote on here, I made it through to the semi-final of a national new act competition. I have previously written at length about why I don’t enjoy competitions, but progressing does takes the edge slightly off the other nasty feelings that competitions stir up within my soul.
I didn’t have a great gig in the semi-final and have no complaints about not making the final, which happens to be during my run down at Brighton Fringe. Not making the final also spares me of another likely indifferent review from Chortle’s Steve Bennett.
I am already missing the Saturday of our three-day run at Brighton Fringe because I am in the final of another high-profile new act competition. In fact, it is the highest profile new act competition in the Worcestershire market town of Droitwich.
Last night, I went to Leicester Square Theatre to see one of my heroes perform stand-up comedy, Mick Foley.
For those not in the know, Mick is an ex-wrestler and the man I idolised when I was 16. During this time, I spent my weekends watching wrestling instead of having a social life.
The venue last night was also one of the few places where it was actually socially acceptable for me to wear my Layeth the Smacketh Down t-shirt.
He had Brendon Burns as a support act, who only did material about wrestling. It was great and his sordid description of wrestler Randy Orton confirmed something I’d been thinking for some time.
I saw Mick in the same venue in 2011 and he hadn’t been doing stand-up for that long, so understandably looked a little ‘green’. But about 18 months on, he has improved a huge amount and was very funny. He held the crowd in the palm of his hand and delivered some great lines.
After the gig, I tweeted him and he responded:
My life is now complete. Well, a small percentage is. To complete a larger percentage, I’ll have to appear on the same bill as him. I would obviously offer to change my first name to Dude* especially for the gig.
*Dude Love was one of Mick Foley’s wrestling personas. You need to get yourself educated.
It has been brought to my attention by at least two people that I have not been blogging much recently. They needn’t worry, this is something I am well aware of.
Part of this reason is I have been busy most weekends, which is when I tend to write these ramblings. For example, last weekend I was in Brighton on the stag-do of my uni housemate John, who was dressed as Tina Turner for one of the nights. I should add that this isn’t how he normally chooses to dress, but he does now have the wig and leopard-print dress so has that option in the future. This is the only information I am allowed to disclose about what went on.
I was back in Brighton again last night to do a gig and I received perhaps the weird heckle I have ever had.
I have a bit of material about giant squid that I was trying out at the start of the year, but put on hold and have come back to recently. It has been received rather well of late and I will definitely keep it in for Edinburgh.
Midway through this small section, a woman put her hand up and said she had something to add about squid.
She then went into detailed instructions on how to make a Blue Peter-style squid-in-a-bottle toy for children.
I didn’t have my notepad with me, so I am unfortunately unable to remember exactly what the instructions involved, but there was definitely a bottle and some water or ink inside it.
I responded by saying that this wasn’t quite how I expected my set to go.
I managed to get back on track and my giant squid stuff received approval for its accuracy from a zoologist in the audience, who applauded on his own. I am taking this a positive.
Then down at the front, there was a girl laughing uncontrollably at the last minute or so of my set, which made wrapping things up more difficult.
But on the whole, it went pretty well and was a gig that was on the good side of weird.
As you are reading this, then you will know that the technical issues affecting my site have been fixed and everything is now working again.
In fact, the technical problems were purely down to me trying to get my Twitter feed to run along the right hand side of this page. Due to my knowledge of HTML coding being limited at best, I pasted the code in the wrong place and it crashed the entire site.
I’m sorry if you liked the minimalist appearance that had been here for the past four weeks; I had intended to give the site a bit of a revamped look, but it wasn’t quite what I can in mind.
I have some news that has happened in the time this site has been down. When I last wrote a blog, I was planning for a solo show in Edinburgh. However, there was a miscommunication in my application and the organisers. Because this particular show venue allocation was for a two-hander, I was not allowed to change it to a solo show.
It’s kind of like being denied retrospective planning permission and then having to dismantle your housing extension. Thankfully, the only blocks that had been constructed were in written form and are definitely usable.
So now, I am doing a two-hander show again and have found a replacement Langton in the form of Simon Lilley, who is a very funny man. Our show is called Love and Lilley’s Fear and Loathing and will be on at 6pm at the amazing pub, the Kilderkin, where I was performing last year in a slot that was five hours later.
Secondly for news, I am very pleased to announce that in Brighton in July, I will be a support act for one of my comedy heroes, Richard Herring. I have been a huge fan of his for more than half my life, with Lee and Herring opening my 13-year-old eyes to what comedy could be, so I am very excited about this. However, it is ultimately just one gig and I could die on my arse, but my excitement still remains.
When you have been doing stand-up comedy for a few years, it becomes difficult to remember what gigs you have done in the past week. Or perhaps that is down to my age, with less than two years left of my twenties and my memory capacity is starting to deteriorate.
On Monday, I travelled about an hour and a half to a pub in deepest, darkest Uxbridge to do a five minute spot. It was a freezing cold night and I had to get a bus to get to the venue. When I was on this bus, a voice in my head said: “Why are you doing this?”
Curse the rational part of my brain, I wish that would deteriorate instead of my memory. I instead chose to ignore it and continued with my journey, as I have frequently done in the past three years.
I thought the gig was going to be a bit of a struggle, but I was proved wrong and it went pretty well. I was using it to try out the new five minutes of material I am hoping will be a cornerstone of my Edinburgh show. For only its third outing, it suggested that there is definitely something there with it. It just needs a bit of honing.
My next gig was up in Northampton on Thursday. I took the train up and it the journey probably took me as much time as my trip to Uxbridge on Monday. To find the venue, I was following the map on my phone. When I entered some poorly lit streets I started to worry that I was in completely the wrong place, but then the pub emerged and all was well.
I was opening the show with ten minutes and it was a risk putting my new five minutes in as the second half of my set, as it could have got the night off to a bad start. But although it definitely still a work-in-progress, it received some hearty laughs.
On Friday, it was back to a gig much closer to home in Walthamstow at the night I now co-run.
It was our second night since the relaunch and it was my turn for hosting duties. The last time I MC’d in this particular room, a woman in the audience flashed at me. So I had high expectations.
We managed to get 15-20 people in our small little room, with a few people leaving, others replacing them, them leaving, then the ones who left originally coming back. They were a slightly more senior crowd than is normally seen at comedy gigs. But if Edinburgh has taught me one thing, it’s that the older audiences are often the best. There is a misconception that young audiences are what comedy is all about, but in my experience younger crowds are more concerned with appearing cool than laughing. Older audiences have no such inhibitions; and interactions with Val and George, who must have been in their 70s, in the front-row added a lot to the night.
Unfortunately, I could not sustain my 100% record of being flashed at whenever I MC’d in the room. Although at one point, I did tell George that he needed to do his flies up. He claimed that it was an accident, but I suspect that he was wanting to add to my list of flashers. I’m glad he didn’t.
Last night, I was performing at a one-off fundraiser in Hertford. It turned out to definitely be one of the more bizarre gigs I have done, and I was then asked to do an encore.
It was a great room, with a proper stage, full seating for about 80, a lighting rig and a decent PA system. Unfortunately, comedy was not the main reason people were there.
The room was packed with friends and family of a man who had suffered awful injuries after falling off a balcony on holiday. The night was to raise funds for his recovery.
Comedy was planned to kick off the night, with DJs following with sets until the early hours.
There were five acts on the bill, plus the compere. The first act was doing quite well in front of an audience who, although seated were, were mostly waiting for the comedy to be over with so they could get on with partying. Then halfway through the first act, the attention of the crowd was completely diverted by the man the night was in aid of entering the room and being followed by a German TV crew.
Although the second and third acts of the night did well under the circumstances, the focus of the evening had shifted and it would be difficult to get back. There were lots of people talking amongst themselves, which is one of the hardest things for a comic to deal with. If a large number of people are not listening to you, there is not a great deal you can do.
I was on in the second section and my plan of attack was mainly to shout in the microphone to force people to listen to me and do my time. If I got any laughs, it was a bonus.
My opening few jokes at least got people’s attention and some laughter; but then when I tried to go into a routine, I lost several of those who were listening and they opted to go back to talking.
In the second half of my set, I decided to address the fact that only about three people were listening. One person said: “There’s four.” Another person said: “Five.” This was followed by two more people saying six and seven.
I decided to go with it and turn it into an auction. “Any advances on seven?” Someone shouted: “Eight.”
You can see a pattern emerging. I managed to get to about 17 or 18 and was using it as a riff. It got a lot of people involved in what was going on and became a lot of fun. After getting to 22, which were mostly the same people shouting out different numbers, I went back to my material and managed to get some audible laughs against all the odds and elements.
I did about 13 minutes out of the 15 I was booked for and chose to quit while I was vaguely ahead.
Then, when I was recovering, the MC and one of the promoters of the night said they had a job for me. They wanted me to build on my auctioneer routine and carry out an actual charity auction. I agreed because technically, it was my first ever encore.
I managed to get £60 for the first lot and £190 for two three-day passes to a three-day music festival. Then there was a third lot of the company of a girl in the front-row who had volunteered, which raised £70 from her boyfriend.
When I was drafted in as a last-minute replacement on Friday night, this really wasn’t how I envisaged the night going. But in a very weird and masochistic kind of way, it was actually very enjoyable.
To top things off, I got paid £20 expenses and in something of a rarity, I ended up being in profit by a whole £12 from the night. But it turned out to be £8.50 because on the train back, I decided that I needed a pint to get over the weirdness.
This week, I have been trying out some material I had earmarked for a small portion of my Edinburgh show. But it would seem that it has considerable legs.
I don’t know if I have actually given the title of my Edinburgh show on here yet. It is called ‘Alex Love: Fear and Loathing’. It’s quite a simple theme really, it’s about things that scare me and things I don’t like.
One of the best things about doing stand-up comedy is that it gives you a chance to settle petty old scores from years ago and have the final word. For the most part, these are things that the other people involved have long-forgotten.
I am fortunate that I have a number of old scores that need settling. My olde enemies may have often won the battles many moons ago, but they have no chance of winning the war because they are unaware that it is even still going on. And when they do realise what’s happening, it’ll be too late. The damage will have been done and they will have been defeated.
Anyway, I tested a brand new five minutes out on Wednesday. It was very far from being polished and definitely needs tightening up; but, although they weren’t consistent throughout the set, there were some of the biggest laughs I have received from totally new material.
I tried it out again on Thursday and it definitely feels like there is a lot more mirth I can mine from it.
Last week, I could have written another entry if I wanted to. We had the magnificent Tony Law along to headline Ruby Tuesdays, and on Thursday I was performing on a radio mic over in a large bar where there was no actual stage area, with several cavernous spaces around the place and the PA meant you could be heard everywhere by people who were having a comedy night forced upon them. It is the entry that never was.
On 30 January 2006, a naive 21-year-old student took the train from Portsmouth to London to perform at the spot at the Comedy Store’s King Gong show.
He had done nine gigs in nine months and thought that he knew how to do stand-up comedy. He was mistaken.
When his name was read out and he took to the stage, he stumbled over his words and the baying mob of 300 people smelt blood. They unleashed a torrent of abuse and boos, with a man in the front-row resembling a furious Jesus. 46 seconds later, the blood sacrifice was over and the 21-year-old left the stage, covering his face with his left hand to hide the shame.
What became of this idiot? I couldn’t tell you. Some people say he couldn’t handle the public humiliation and went to live in a forest. Others say that he moved to Preston and ran a chain of furniture shops.
Although, if I was to make a guess, I’d say he carried on doing stand-up gigs irregularly for the next two years, then quit when he got a job as a reporter at a local paper, before quitting that too to move to London.
Mind you, this is only a guess. There are rumours that he has returned to the circuit and now has a large beard.
By the way, this is best read with the soundtrack of one of Ennio Morricone’s westerns. Ecstasy of Gold or Harmonica from Once Upon a Time in the West are the best ones to use. Try reading it out loud in a Texan accent.
Now, I’m going to shock you. That 21-year-old was me. There, you didn’t see that one coming did you?
The music and Texan accent are now optional for the next bit.
So, almost seven years to the day since my Gong Show brutalising, I returned. In a cruel coincidence, it was my tenth gig of the year.
The Ennio Morricone thing is relevant, because I’d spent much of the day whistling his western scores. These are often soundtracks to tales of revenge and confronting the past, which is exactly what this was.
My nerves kicked in three hours ahead of schedule and around 5pm, my hands were starting to get clammy at the thought of what lay in front of me. There are few prospects as unsettling as facing the bloodthirsty gong show audience.
I thought I had a decent-ish chance of beating the gong. I have some 400+ more gigs worth of experience than my 21-year-old self, as well as material that has served me well many times.
For those not in the know, you have to reach five minutes of stage time without being gonged off. There are three random audience members who have a red card. If they don’t like you, or are detecting the dislike from the audience, they can hold up their red card. When all three red cards are up, you are gonged off.
I was on fourth and without any exaggeration, my opening joke blew the roof off. By second, third and fourth also received large reactions. But then one joke bombed and a bit of audience interaction missed the mark. After the stumble, I just about managed to get back on track, but was on borrowed time. All it took was the mention of the website Adult Friendfinder to seal my fate and I was gonged off after 3 minutes 30 seconds.
So, it was a vast improvement on my previous personal best of 46 seconds; but also annoying because I cocked up and was rightly punished.
But never mind. It is done. I will return, probably sooner than another seven years.
This week, I received some bad news. My Edinburgh show partner, Paul Christopher Stephen Langton Esquire, has dropped out of this year’s Fringe.
Logic, finances and real-life have got the better of him. Fortunately, I have learnt to switch off the rational part of my brain when it comes to doing comedy.
I will miss Paul this year, particularly during the inevitable lows and for someone to blame when things go wrong. I have had his company at every Fringe I have been to, including three Brightons, so it will seem very strange without him.
We treated Edinburgh as being us against the world. I knew I could always rely on him, even if his on-stage form was patchy by his own admission last year.
For me, not doing Edinburgh was never an option. So, I was faced with a choice. Either I find someone else to do a show with, or I do one on my own. This didn’t take me too long to decide and I can announce that I will be doing a solo show at this year’s Fringe.
It will all be massively different. But when I was thinking about this year’s show before Paul dropped out, I did feel that doing another two-hander for the third year with the same person would not really be pushing myself.
A solo show will definitely push me outside my comfort zone, which is something I have always tried to do with Edinburgh. In 2011, it was about doing 15 minutes longer than I was used to. Then last year, it was about telling stories, as I am not a natural storyteller. And now it will be me on my own.
Stand-up comedy is very much a solo journey and I am looking forward to the new experience, even if it is a pretty daunting prospect.
I have said for some time that I would not be entering any comedy new act competitions again. However, in desperate search for January gigs and in two isolated moments of weakness, I have entered two.
I told myself that I would just take them as gigs and nothing more. I don’t get any enjoyment out of the competitive element being introduced into a gig, hoping that you do better than everyone else in order to progress.
Despite the microphone not working, I had a pretty solid gig and got some decent laughs. But it was a strong heat and several other people did very well, so I resigned myself to not going through. With the clock not too far from 11pm and the results yet to be announced, I chose to leave to get some sleep as I had to be up for work the next day.
However, when I exited the tube station near my house, I received two messages from friends also performing congratulating me on getting through.
So, after three years of regularly doing stand-up and more than 400 gigs, I have made it past the first round in a new act competition and I wasn’t even there to bask in my ‘glory’.
I am pleased that I got through in what was a pretty tough heat, although I didn’t enjoy the competitive element. However, in the grand scheme of comedy things, getting past the first round for me means very little. I have another gig out of it and will see how that goes, but I’m not getting carried away. Comedy is all about short-term pain for long-term pain and possibly some petrol expenses if lucky.
The other competition I entered is later on this week.
In other comedy news, I have been asked by Adam Oliver if I would like to dress up as a penguin for his Edinburgh show. Naturally, I accepted.
The recent footage taken by the Discovery Channel inspired me to write this:
The Giant Squid,
Look what he did.
He attacked a fish
And then went and hid.
The fish was some bait
Left by a TV crew.
The squid was camera shy,
So said: “Thanks, but no thank you.
“Just stay on the surface,
You stupid land dwellers.
You think I’m a woman,
I’m really a fella.
“I’ve got ten friggin’ legs,
Two of them are really long.
You think that’s another leg,
It’s actually my schlong.
“I’ve got a beak
Seen on giant birds.
And out the back of my head
Is where I send all my turds.
“Leave me alone,
I don’t want to be filmed.
I don’t need to be on TV
To feel I’m fulfilled.”