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Archive for April, 2012

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Bizarre adventures in Norfolk

Yesterday, I travelled for three-and-a-half hours to a small town on the outskirts of Norwich, to  perform at the top of a staircase to a pub with 15 people spread far apart over quite a large space, who weren’t even there for the comedy night nor had much interest in watching one.

To make matters worse, we had to use a radio mic that initially had the house music playing when you stopped speaking, and just before the show began, we were asked to censor our material so to not offend the family with young children enjoying a meal together in the corner of the room.

It has all the ingredients to be an utter disaster and a waste of everyone’s time. Yet incredibly, it turned out to be a hugely enjoyable night.

In such situations, I find the best strategy is to try and some fun with the weirdness of the situation and the environment you find yourself in. It is a strategy that has served me well and last night proved no exception. And after all, the show must go on.

As I said, we had to perform at the top of a staircase, which was about 12ft and led to an additional seating area on a mezzanine that overlooked the rest of the pub.

In these circumstances, when you have no option but to adapt, you can sometimes you can find out a way of delivering your material that actually works and improves it. This time, to avoid offending the family with children, replacing certain words in my set with ‘wee’ and ‘poo’, these are high-brow options I am now considering using permanently.

Something else I had fun with was the four people sitting at the bar with their back to me. I said it was like being on The Voice and kept trying to will them to turn around. They didn’t, which got a big laugh.

I also managed to tick something off my comedy experiences check-list, which wasn’t ever on there and shouldn’t be. But I walked down two flights of stairs during my set, which I’ve never done before and very much doubt I’ll do again. There was a pool table area underneath the mezzanine and I wanted to experience what it was like performing down there. I said it was a bit like being on Noel’s House Party.

So, it was a fun trip Norfolk. I got to bed at 2am, had four hours sleep and then was in work for 9am. The exciting double-life I lead.

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The joys of the open mic circuit

The highlight of my gig on Wednesday was when the room all spontaneously began singing the Michael Finnegan grew-whiskers-on-his-chin-again song to two people who had never heard it before and had no idea what was going on.

This is the sort of bizarre moment that can only happen on the open mic circuit, which is definitely a good thing for everyone, especially the general public who didn’t have to witness it and be put off attending future comedy nights.

The night started with 11 comics in the room and one real person as the entire audience, but then in another bizarre twist that could only happen on the open mic circuit, our one audience member decided he wanted to do his first ever stand-up gig and ended up closing the show. Luckily, another two people had found their way into the room to take up audience duties in his absence.

For all its bizarreness, it was actually one of the better nights with one audience member that I’ve been to. Such an environment is not exactly the best gauge for trialling new material, but if it does get audible laughs then that is at least encouraging.

Then on Thursday, I ended up providing last-minute MC cover after answering an SOS text. I find MCing quite challenging and there is a lot responsibility to keep the night running smoothly, keeping up the energy, and ensuring that the acts have the best chance of doing well; but then it is also equally important to step in and pick things back up again when an act may not have done so well.

I reckon I did a decent enough job in juggling all of this. I would have liked all my material to have flown, most of it went down well enough but a couple of things didn’t, but then a night isn’t all about the MC.

I had some fun playing around with the audience as I had been given the power by the organisers to give out free drinks tickets. Although I may have been a bit mean to one audience member after becoming corrupted by my new-found powers. I said he would get a free drink, but then kept refusing to give him his ticket, but he did end up getting two drinks.

I also met an audience member whose mum used to present a TV show with Ray Mears and Kate Humble many moons ago and she now sells embroidery down in Devon.

And I broke the mic stand, but managed to fix it again. All in all, it was a good night.

In non-comedy news, in the morning before the MC gig, I had my chipped teeth repaired. However, on Friday morning, I woke up to find one of the fillings had become detached and was resting on my tongue. I have to go back to the dentists on Tuesday to get it fixed again.

In related news, I have also seen who I expect to be the same cyclist responsible for chipping my teeth in the first place. He jumped the same red light again on Wednesday and had I been walking any faster, he would have likely chipped some more of my teeth.

–          He is described as white, in his late teens to early 20s, skinny, wearing a blue-grey hoody with some yellow writing on. He had his hood up and was wearing thick-rimmed sunglasses. He looked unstable on his bike and he is expected to only have had his stabilisers recently taken off. He was riding along Hoe Street in Walthamstow towards Leyton, outside Barclay’s Bank, at 8.20am on 25 April. Do you know who this person is? You may be able to help bring him to justice, or at least help me to get some of my £48 dental bill back.

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Quite a jolt

After a good run of my past several gigs, I knew there would be a point when I had a not-so-good gig and Monday night provided it.

In order to get new material road-worthy, you have to be prepared to go through the ordeal of testing it in front of blank stares; and that is largely how my set was received. But going through this does at least give you an idea of how it feels to say perform it, even if it gets little response.  And although it’s not the nicest experience, it certainly gives you a jolt to improve the material so you don’t have to go through it again as badly with the same set.

Fortunately, I was given quite a jolt indeed and the next night it was Ruby Tuesdays, the monthly gig I sort of co-run with Langton. He doesn’t all the work and I just turn up and perform, pretending I’m actually doing important things. This is an exact reversal of how we do our shows at festivals.

It was another good one good night; we had decent numbers of audience and all the acts did well.

I had quite a radical rethink about the material that had bombed on Monday, but didn’t actually have any time to write anything down, so I ended up turning in quite a rough-edged set with half-formed ideas that need developing. But it actually all worked pretty well and the pressure of having no option but to improve the material seemed to do the trick, and I think the additional ideas I came up with do have legs. That said, I expect I will have to endure several more nights of blank stares with this material before it is properly Edinburgh-ready.

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A good learning experience

Last night’s gig took me to a town on the outskirts of Southend.

It was the first gig at the venue and I’ve found that opening nights can go two ways: either it is a resounding success, or it gets a bit awkward because the audience don’t entirely know how to behave at a comedy night and are slightly scared of the new experience. My theory was proved wrong and when I left to get the train at the interval, I reckon it was somewhere in between the two. But I gather the night moved firmly into the success category once more alcohol had been consumed.

It was a large room, with about 90 people sitting at tables. It was actually quite a tough room to play, with each table effectively a different audience in terms of demography and comedy taste. And towards the back, the furthest from the stage area, some people were having a chat amongst themselves for some of time.

But they were all friendly, which made things a lot easier. And it is definitely a good learning experience to perform in venues with such a diverse crowd and trying to get laughs from the whole audience.

I didn’t do too badly at all and I managed to get decent levels of consistent laughs throughout my set. Not everything flied, but hardly anything died, so I will take this as a victory. And for the first time in the 18 months I’ve been doing a joke about a driving instructor, there was actually one in the audience.

But I’m glad it went reasonably well, because if it went badly and I had to take it on the chin, then it could have resulted in further teeth being chipped.

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Crowd control

My gigs on Thursday and Friday this week have seen plenty of interaction with vocal audiences.

On Thursday, I was performing at a venue in Hertfordshire, which is about ten minutes walk from where family of mine live. Conveniently, I forgot to tell them I was performing so close by, ensuring that my dignity should still be intact for future family gatherings.

There must have been about 40 people in the audience, in quite a small room and many had been drinking for a couple of house, so they were quite lively.

My set went pretty well and for another thing I can tick off my comedy experiences list: someone threw some fruit at me. However, it wasn’t because they were expressing their displeasure, they threw the orange because they wanted me to catch it as I was already holding another one that an audience member had been given as a prize earlier in the night.

I sensed that there was more fun to be had, but alas, there is not a lot of room for manoeuvre or too much interaction in a five minute set.

Then last night, I was performing in central London. I last performed at the venue about 18 months ago and to put it mildly, it was a weird night. Punters were often walking on the stage to on their way to the toilet and I was heckled by a man, who shouted: “Haven’t I seen you in my garden?”

And I won’t name the MC of that particular night to avoid embarrassing her, but she was asked by someone in the audience to finish the gig by singing Celine Dion’s It’s All Coming Back to me Now and she obliged.

So I knew what to expect, but had heard that it’s much better run now by a new promoter, which turned out to be correct. But the audience were still vocal and kept chipping in throughout the night; I thought I was going to do badly but ended up really enjoying myself, but then I do tend to revel in the weird.

It was a great experience for learning how to handle an audience, there was a lot going on and a lot to react to, with people still coming in and out to get to the toilet, just not in front of the stage area now. I got at least three rounds of applause for things I said, including two for audience put-downs. And at the risk of blowing my own dust-covered trumpet, several punters told me afterwards that had done a very good job, which is always nice to near.

Tonight, I am off to do a gig near Southend.

I have managed to get through a whole blog entry without mentioning: Edinburgh, my throat, or the injuries I sustained in a collision with a cyclist on Tuesday. If you’re wondering, everything is fine and/or improving with all three, but my throat probably won’t like doing three gigs in a row. In which case, I’ll just ply him with aspirin.

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Re-entering the real world with a thud

I continued my run of solid run of gigs last night with yet another one, making it the most productive month so far this year for day-per-gig ratio.

There was a good turn-out and they were a friendly crowd; but the impression I got, was that as it was a Bank Holiday, at the back of their minds they were thinking that they had to return to work in the morning after four days off.

My set went okay, the bits I’d rewritten yesterday seem to work and only one line totally bombed. So it wasn’t a bad gig at all and definitely a move in the right direction for the material, which is closer to being in the bag for Edinburgh now.

In non-comedy news, on my way to the train station today to go to my real world job after the four-day break, I was crossing the road at the traffic lights. I find it is best to run at these particular ones, because the man doesn’t stay green for very long. However, a cyclist decided that traffic lights were only a suggestion and jumped the red light, knocking me to the ground and then didn’t even have the decency to stop.

As a result, I have three chipped teeth, bruises on both legs and spent the morning getting checked over in hospital. So, to the mystery and cowardly cyclist: Thanks for that, you total arse. I hope your bike has been ruined by your own stupidity and my right thigh.

–          The incident took place at 8.20 am on 10 April 2010; it was on Hoe Street, Walthamstow, by First Avenue and Chilli & Spice. The cyclist was heading in the direction of Leyton. Did you witness the incident? If so, please contact Crimestoppers anonymously at crimestoppers @ alexlove.co.uk. We’ll catch this lycra-clad* menace.

*May not have actually been wearing lycra, I didn’t get a look at them.

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Throat lasts the distance

Unlike Friday, my throat at last night’s gig didn’t give up after three minutes and managed to last the distance of seven minutes. So this should indicate that it is finally starting to heal, but then it is feeling a little rough today.

I was trying out a revised version of the Edinburgh material I’d wrongly believed was ‘in the bag’; bits I’d rewritten were pretty well received, which is encouraging. So I’m now moving it closer to the bag, without actually putting it inside just yet.

It was a really good night, one of the best open mic nights I’ve attended for some time. It was well run, MC Barry Ferns was on top form, the acts did well and the audience were excellent.

I feel I should add a disclaimer here: I loathe the name-dropping and backslapping on the open mic circuit and try to avoid it at all costs, only doing so when it has been well earned so that it actually means something. So well done, Mr Ferns.

There were around 50 or 60 people in the room and were very receptive, so if a line didn’t do well in there then the chances are that it probably won’t work in tougher rooms; and I think I can now safely drop a joke I’ve tested a few times that has worked on occasions, but not on many others.

It’s also given me a few ideas about additional bits I can write based on reactions I had last night. I have another gig tonight, so I will try out these additional bits. Let’s see how my throat lasts this time.

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More work required

I’ve been comparing the number of gigs I did this time last year with the number I’ve done so far in 2012. And while I don’t share the opinion that simply doing lots of gigs makes you a better comic, although it certainly helps, it is learning from these gigs that makes you improve.

Regular illnesses in the first three months of the year have taken their toll, so I’ve had to drop out of a handful. Currently, I’m about seven or eight gigs behind my 2011 self, so I bet he’s feeling smug. What he doesn’t know is that his Edinburgh show is going to get a poorly written one-star review. I wonder how my 2013 self is getting on.

And as I just mentioned the E-word, I can now confirm that I have a venue and time-slot all firmly booked. So Love and Langton’s Dirty Laundry shall go to the ball.

Last night, I had a frustratingly ‘okay’ gig. The audience were friendly, plentiful and up for laughing; and although I did get laughs, they weren’t as loud or as regular as I’d hoped.

I bottled out of giving a second outing to the material debuted on Thursday night, as it still needs more doing to it. And in front of large and paying audience, I do feel a responsibility to give them something I know works. Testing new material is what poorly-attended open mic gigs are for.

So instead, I opted for the five minutes of Edinburgh material I’d been working on for the past few weeks that I believed was ‘in the bag’. Unfortunately, I was mistaken; I have now taken it out of the bag and will be working on it shortly.

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Wearing in new material

Last night, I tried out four minutes of new material, which I’m hoping will be the centrepiece of my Edinburgh set.

It is the story of how unrequited love led to me driving 100 miles and I ended up breaking my ankle in a ridiculous set of circumstances, which I won’t go into here for fear of legal proceedings.

However, from the material’s first outing, it is clear that there is a lot more work to do before it resembles anything comedic. Although, when you are performing to 12 other comics and one genuine audience member, you are never going to get the best gauge on whether or not something actually works.

Appropriately for an ankle-breaking story, I think it has legs. So I will toil away at it for the next month or so; the difficulty is trying to work on a ten minute routine in sets that are only five minutes. Last night, I learnt that just talking really quickly doesn’t actually help.

I always describe trying out new material as being similar to trying out a new pair of shoes. It is rare that it feels perfect first time; there is often initial discomfort and sometimes pain. It takes time to properly wear until it feels comfortable. Then, you have to see which other bits in your existing set you can tie it together with and hope it doesn’t trip you up.

But unlike shoes, if you are unhappy with it then you can’t take it back to the shop and get a refund, or even put it in one of those large bins in supermarket car parks, which claims to be sending it to overseas but really just sells onto people in this country for a profit.

It is now four-day the Easter weekend and I have three gigs along with days off to write, so I’m hoping that it will be a comedically productive few days.

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Nothing much to report

This past week, I have had precisely no gigs. This is why there have been precisely no updates.

When I was in the midst of my writing 250 words-a-day-for-a-year challenge, I would write about anything to fill the space. Often, it would involve me going to the supermarket and allegedly beating the self-service till system. But this started to bore even me, plus I think bragging about my alleged self-service exploits may be the reason for the rapid rise in the price of apples. I’ve found it much better if I just write nothing about nothing.

Anyway, back to the gigs. I didn’t do any this week because I had none booked in. I was going to see if I could get on somewhere but this plan was scuppered when I found out that I had Glandular Fever through internet diagnosis.

I did some research and it looked as though I would have to spend the next six to eight weeks trying to conserve my energy to recover. What was I going to do? I would have to put comedy almost completely on hold, or risk prolonging the illness.

Luckily, a trip to the doctor confirmed that my diagnosis was completely inaccurate and I actually just have a persistent viral throat infection.

I really should know better than to trust internet diagnosis. I think in the past 12 years, I’ve diagnosed myself with just about every terminal illness there is.

Anyway, April is looking very busy for gigs, so barring my next misdiagnosed terminal illness, there should be more things for you to read.

In Edinburgh news, it would appear as though our Edinburgh plans are back on track. It won’t be from the independent mini-fringe venue idea I was toying with, that now looks unlikely; at least, for this year anyway. But I think me and Langton have a venue and a time-slot. I’m waiting for 100% confirmation, but you’ll find out in the next instalment.