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Archive for October, 2011

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A change and an improvement

Today is a sad day, it is going to be the last week day for some time where I am free to write/admin/procrastinate because next week I will be full-time employment.

Freelancing has served me well for the past two years, but with another recession likely to be imminent I decided that a full-time job is the best thing to brace me for it. It will take some time to adjust my body clock and my comedy writing routine – or what can only very loosely described as a ‘routine’ – is going to change dramatically.

Anyway, I’ll sort something out. Now, onto comedy matters; last night was the first Cantaloopy since we switched it to a monthly gig and our switch saw a dramatic increase in audience.

We still only had around 15 people in, which is about three times as big as the average audience we’d been having when we were running it weekly. But it was still disappointing that we couldn’t quite get the audience numbers in for the acts who really deserved a much bigger crowd. I didn’t feel like I ever hit my stride on MC duties and could have done a much better job warming up the audience, but all the acts did well. David Mills came along initially to watch but I got him to open the second half (before Arthur Smith headlined) and he was quite superb – arguably even outshining Mr Smith who was also rather good.

So all in all, not a bad night and certainly a great improvement on previous weeks.

Tonight it is off for a gig in Tonbridge.

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Creating new material… or at least attempting to

Yesterday in preparation for my change to the 9-5 grind next week I decided it would be a good idea to wake up at 7am, despite having not gone to sleep until 2am.

It wasn’t an overwhelming success because by 11.15am I was almost falling asleep.

I decided to put the extra hours I had discovered to good use and get some new material written, intending to try it out at a gig that evening. I actually managed to get quite a lot of stuff written but you’re never sure if it actually works until you try it out to an audience.

I selected what I thought was the most ready for public consumption and performed it to a room full of about ten comics and four real people hiding in one corner.

The majority of what I had written yesterday tanked and I received a better reaction for going off piste and deconstructing things, which was fun but annoying that the adlibbing which filled a couple of minutes received a much better reaction that the material I’d spent a couple of hours writing. But the thing with small open mic gigs is that the pressure’s off and if it doesn’t go well then no-one really cares and it doesn’t hurt. Plus sometimes you can find a new way of delivering a line because of the different pace of the gig. Last night I learnt that the way I said ‘GCSE results’ sounded like ‘Jesus results’, although I don’t know if I can actually get any usage out of this.

I really need to write some new material but if I keep writing regularly then I’m sure it will come into existence. To paraphrase the Doc at the end of Back to the Future III:

“My best material hasn’t been written yet… My future material is whatever I make it, so make it a good one.”

Yeah, that doesn’t really work… just like most of my new stuff last night.

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A recap

I have returned to my Walthamstow house following my three weeks of flea bitten house sitting. Hopefully my nights of sleeping wrapped in bin bags are at an end, although I can’t discount this because I have discovered they work as an effective – if clammy – way of insulating yourself.

I had another gig on Wednesday, it was a bit of a weird room to play with the stage four feet off the ground and a lot of noise from the rest of the bar. I was opening and under the circumstances did okay, or at least I was doing okay until I decided to end my set on the wrong joke and as a result got a slightly disgusted look from the promoter when thanking him for the gig. I really do need to find the best way to finish my set, preferably one which doesn’t disgust the promoter.

On Friday I managed to blag four free pints at a launch party at the paper I work for. My days of working there are numbered and very soon I will be joining the 9-5 rat race when I start a new job, so I like to think of the launch party actually just being my leaving drinks. I was meant to have another gig on Friday, which was cancelled so I took full advantage of the free beer offered to me at the my leaving drinks instead.

The freebies continued on Saturday night, I went to Hampstead Comedy Club and was allowed in for free. Tony Law was headlining and quite brilliant, a real master-class in comedic delivery.

Following the gig I also took this fitting picture of my Fringe flatmate Moz:

And today I have been flyering for a few hours in Shoreditch for Cantaloopy with MissD in the hope that it will help get an audience in for the now monthly gig which has Arthur Smith headlining on Wednesday.

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Competitions

I don’t have a good track-record in comedy competitions. Of the dozen or so I’ve entered over the years I have only ever got past the first round one on occasion.

My most two recent gigs have been heats in different competitions on consecutive nights. For the first heat I began my set well, but quickly lost the audience with material that had served me well in Edinburgh. It picked up towards the end of my five minute spot but the damage had already been done and it was no surprise when my name wasn’t amongst the three read out to go through to the next round.

At the second competition I fared better in front of an audience of about 70 but still didn’t get through. It was a weird night and conditions weren’t ideal but I’m not going to blame anyone or anything for my failure to progress, instead I’ll take it on the chin and try to improve.

One act stormed his set, two acts did very well and a few acts who did okay, some went through and others didn’t. But the night was overshadowed at the end of by a dispute on stage between an act and the organisers which nearly resulted in violence.

I knew what to expect from these competitions – just not quite what happened at the end of last night – and obviously I’d like to get through, I wouldn’t enter otherwise, but I’m really not going to let the lack of competition progression get me down or stop me.

Comedy is not for the faint hearted and some days I do find myself questioning exactly what I’ve chosen to do with my life. But three and a half years ago, when I was gigging an average of once a month, I said that if I didn’t get through in a competition then that I would stop and I ended up taking 18-months away from stand-up. If I’d been gigging regularly back then and kept going then I’ll never know where I would be now.

Besides, when you’re making a room full of drunken people laugh in some corner of the UK, do you think they honestly care whether or not you got past the first round in a competition they’ve probably never heard of? I doubt it… I hope not.

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Last minute gig – with added audience

I had a gig last night in front of a pretty large audience, which has been a rarity since returning from the Fringe.

I was a last-minute addition to the line-up in Dartford and there must’ve been 50-60 people.  It was the first night it had ran and I’ve often found that sometimes in new venues, people there haven’t been to comedy gigs before so don’t really know how to act at least at the start of the night. There were several drunk people in the corner at the back of the bar, if they weren’t heckling or talking throughout the acts then they were going outside – which actually improved the gig when they did but unfortunately they kept coming back in again.

They were a friendly crowd, but I knew it would be hard work and it was. I was opening the second half and didn’t do too badly at all. I had a fair amount to deal with:  the talking at the back, a malfunctioning microphone, people walking in and out of the room during my set, people outside the bar visible to everyone through the window, police sirens and the odd heckle, but I reckon I dealt with it all respectably. I managed to get some big laughs, even if they weren’t that consistent.

During my set when a member of the audience said he’d like to be able to roar like a lion, I encouraged him to roar. He did and it sounded like a pig being abused, for some inexplicable reason I thought it would be a good idea to respond to his poor attempt at animal impression and attempted to bark like a dog. I don’t know what made me do this, but it wasn’t very successful and I won’t be doing it again – on stage, anyway, what I do in my own time is my own business.

It’s been nice this week to get back into the swing of gigging again, even if the gigs have been mixed.

I am writing this from the house I pay rent for, it’s only a short bus ride away from where I’m house-sitting and I think I’ve earned a few hours away from the fleas.

 

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A tale of two gigs

On consecutive nights this week I have compered two open mic gigs, both being similar in experience.

On Tuesday I was on MC duties at a night set up with me and a dozen or so friends two years ago, which has seen numbers significantly dwindle from the gang we started with. This dwindling had also been replicated in the audience count despite it being a central London location.

We started the gig with eight people, three left after the second act was on and the group of four – out for a birthday – would have left if we’d called an interval. So we made the decision after the gig had started for everyone to all do shorter sets and run it without an break. It started off quite awkward, with a chasm of empty chairs on the left half of the room. But things picked up as the night went on and by the end everyone was enjoying themselves.

The next night we were faced with a similar experience. Despite the bar being busier than usual, it proved pretty much futile to try and persuade people to come through for a night of free comedy. We left it until the last possible moment and had an audience of three – one of them was the venue manager. Three people came in as the show started but left 15 minutes later, then three girls who were quite drunk came in at almost exactly the same time. We again decided to run the night straight through with everyone doing shorter spots and no interval in the hope of keeping our audience. Two of the three girls kept chipping during acts’ sets and I had to tell them that it wasn’t a conversation or a forum. The night wasn’t a complete disaster but hardly a resounding success. It’s a weekly gig but just isn’t getting enough people in, so we are now thinking we’ll run it once a month and hope this will at least let us get into double audience figures.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has noticed a fall in punters lately at open mic gigs. There are a few nights around the capital that insist that you only get a gig if you can bring a friend or two; while this is not the best practice as a promoter, when you try and promote your night using the old fashioned way  – Time Out listing, Facebook event, flyering – and it gets you nothing then you can see why this practice is used. But even getting friends along these days is getting harder, is the economic climate making people in London opt to stay in to avoid watching free comedy and inevitably buying a few drinks? Quite possibly.

Up until five years ago, London used to be the place to come to if you wanted to get anywhere in comedy and although you can still get a lot of gigs when you’re starting out you’re not always guaranteed a plentiful audience. Now I think the best way forward in comedy is to get out of London to gigs where there are actual audiences to perform to.

Back in the real-world, I am still struggling with the flea situation where I’m house-sitting. I vacuum daily and spray when I can but they just won’t go. I am currently writing this while sitting on a wooden chair, on a wooden floor with my socks pulled up over my trousers and parcel tape around my ankles. I look cool. I’ve only another week of this until I can escape back to the comfort of my flea-less rented house.

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Engineering works and other stuff

Last night I ventured up to Braintree in Essex.

It should have been a straight forward train journey from Liverpool Street with one change, but this being a Sunday it meant there would be inevitable planned engineering works. This meant having to get the tube to Newbury Park and then get on the bus there to another train station to get a train to take me to another station where the train there would take me to Braintree. Did you follow that? I didn’t. Basically, the journey involved getting on three trains and a bus.

The gig itself wasn’t bad. I was on first and rattled through my set slightly but managed to get the audience laughing although I never felt I really hit my stride and lost them slightly towards the end. But I’d consider that a win, if only for the ridiculous journey I had to make to get there.

I left the venue shortly after I’d finished my set as I wanted to get back to my house before 1am.

Back in the real world, today I went for a couple of job interviews today. At the recruitment agency there was an array of supposedly motivational quotes mounted on the wall. One which caught my eye was:

“The day you take complete responsibility for yourself, the day you stop making any excuse, that’s the day you start to the top.”
OJ Simpson

Yes, follow this man’s wisdom and you too could be serving a 33-year prison sentence for crimes that include kidnapping and armed robbery. I may well do that should none of the interviews prove successful.

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Real World vs Comedy World

When starting out in stand-up comedy you need to work in the real world in order to fund your art, or at least your attempts at art.

It is a fine and often frustrating balancing act, unless you have at least some money coming in then you can’t go out and do gigs for too long, or stay in London too long for that matter. As I work freelance I need to take whatever work I can whenever it is offered. As a result of this unfortunate need for money I had to drop out of the gig I run on Wednesday at the last minute after I received a phone call asking if I could do a shift.

I did have a gig on Tuesday night, which was only my fourth since Edinburgh (it wouldn’t be an entry on here if I didn’t mention that place at least once) but was my first back onto the open mic circuit at a night that I don’t run.

There were three real people in the audience, which I’m more than used to performing to. There were 12 comedians, so acts were effectively performing to 15 people – performing to large numbers of comics can sometimes give an illusion that the gig better attended that is actually is, but it comes with the territory on the London open mic circuit. My set didn’t go too badly, a couple of newer bits went down pretty well, which is always reassuring as it generally indicates that your comedic skills are not deteriorating.

Back in the real world, for some extra cash I am currently house-sitting in Tottenham for the next three weeks. I soon noticed the cat I’m looking after was scratching quite a lot, then saw some little grey things jumping onto my legs. Excellent, it’s only fleas. Lots of fleas everywhere. I am now covered in bite marks. Considering I am living in London largely because of comedy I am willing to call this ‘suffering for my art’, as opposed to ‘a sign you need to sort out your life out, you idiot’. This will all be worth it, this will all be worth it, this will all be worth it. I hope.