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Archive for June, 2012

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“You must be very brave”

You know you haven’t had a particularly good gig whenever an audience member comes up to you and says: “You must be very brave to do that.”

This was said to me after last night’s gig. And admittedly, I wasn’t too great. There were about six people in for audience and they were friendly; I got laughs, but not really enough for me to consider it a success.

I was again trying out the final piece of my Edinburgh set jigsaw and judging by the reaction, it still needs work. This was reaffirmed by being told how brave I was.

There are bits in it that go down well, but too many of the other parts don’t. I think it seems to work better in the longer Dirty Laundry set, but not so well in five minutes. Nevertheless, I still need to get it much stronger in the limited amount of time I have left before the Fringe starts.

After the gig, I went to an off-license and bought a can of Special Brew to try and numb the pain caused by my mouth of many ulcers. I also decided I needed some garlic naan bread that was on offer.

Then, I was walking down Walthamstow High Street, sporting my unkempt beard, drinking a can of Special Brew and carrying a plastic bag. I at least fitted in with the other people I saw on my way. I think I need to work harder on the talking to myself bit and then I’ll blend in perfectly.

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Thursday is the new Tuesday for one night only

In the first time in nearly three years of the gig running, Ruby Tuesdays, the gig I semi-co-run, took place on a Thursday.

We had to move the night because of the football being shown. It didn’t really change the format of the night drastically, if anything we had about 20 people in, which is quite a bit above our average of 12-ish. And when that’s against a semi-final of a major football tournament being shown downstairs and on a hot-day, it makes it feel more of an achievement. I’m just choosing to ignore the fact that at last 75% of the audience had come to support a friend who was on.

You can tell how new an act is by how many friends come to see them. If they are very new, they generally bring lots of friends. If they have been going a while, the friends don’t tend to come along so much.

It was a decent night. I’d describe my set as okay. I got a reasonable amount of laughs, withe definite room for improvement. I was honing the remaining five minutes of my Edinburgh set, which kind of works, but not enough to rest easy on it. Tonight, I am doing another gig in an effort to get this material into shape.

In non-comedy news, I have a mouth full of ulcers. I should add that it is my own mouth, I haven’t just found a detached one lying around and chosen to carry it around with me. There must be about six of seven of the blighters around my mouth and I do not know why exactly they have all chosen to come at once, perhaps it was part of an offer on ulcer Groupon.

Oh, and I have also moved house now and am writing this entry from my much-needed desk in my new room.  I wrote the last entry from this desk too, but neglected to mention the move. I’m afraid you’ll just have to deal with that.

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Ideal Edinburgh conditions

We had out second Edinburgh preview for Love and Langton’s Dirty Laundry last night and the conditions were very Fringe-like.

There were about ten people in the audience and two walked out halfway through, only to be replaced by another two people.

If you added cold and wet weather conditions, plus a very drunk heckler, then it would be the perfect Edinburgh training ground.

The two people who walked out were nothing to do with me and the blame can be pinned mostly on Paul, after he played a ridiculously racist song from the actual soundtrack of the musical Hair. It’s since been cut from recent versions, because the content is horrendous. Even so, I think he has something he can work with in it. And I don’t think that couple who walked out had any real intention of staying for the duration of the night, but then that is what we will be experiencing some of the time at the Free Fringe in August.

Paul was on first and continued his work in progress. He had a much better set than the first preview, but I know he can go up several more levels.

I was on second and had a pretty solid gig. My set is coming together pretty well, with a few things that are getting good reactions, with a number of other things that still need work.

I tried out a ridiculous poem that has nothing to do with dirty laundry, but I thought of the idea a day or so ago and thought I’d try it out. Sometimes you have a feeling that something will be received well and my instincts in this case were right. Although I expect the next time I try it out I will be met with blank stares, which is the nature of the comedy beast.

We don’t have our next preview for another couple of weeks, so in the meantime, I will be trying to get the bits that need work into shape at various open mic nights.

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Goodbye, Pembroke Road

At last night’s gig, I experienced a noticeable contrast between a tried-and-test routine of mine and a new routine that is still in its foetal stages.

There were about 12 people in attendance, which is a very good turn-out for an open mic night anyway; the fact that it is June and during an international football tournament made it even better.

My honed stuff went down very, but there was a change in audience reaction when I started the new stuff. It was okay, certainly an improvement on Monday’s reaction, but I want it to be better than okay.

The scans of the foetal material are encouraging, but more time is necessary for it to develop. But with Edinburgh fast-approaching, time is not something I have much of. So I will be doing the equivalent of pumping it full of growth hormones, by gigging as much as I can and rewriting. And I will do my best to keep the corresponding Vera Drake and her kettle away, which in this case is my self-doubt. Then, hopefully my freakish creation will be ready for public consumption; unlike this hideous and unnecessary metaphor.

But nevertheless, it was a good gig.

Back in the real world, I’m sure you’ve been reading this up to now and thinking ‘what is the relevance of all this to the title of this entry?‘. Well, it has none whatsoever to do with it. But I will talk about the title now.

Because Pembroke Road is where I live (take note, stalker/s) and have been since November 2010. But my time here is at an end at the weekend, because I am moving house (you’ll have to find my new address stalker/s). I’ll still be living in Walthamtow (I thought I’d help you a bit), but will be living in a different area. It is all quite exciting as my new bedroom has a desk, meaning I won’t have to awkwardly write at either the kitchen table or the one in the living room.

I was in limbo for a while with work, Edinburgh and my house contract running out. I had contemplated the rebellious decision of moving back home with my parents for a short while; but this has now been averted and my rock n roll lifestyle can continue, sitting at a desk.

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Just beige

Last night’s gig was a good gig on a plate, with a plentiful, receptive audience and several acts doing very well indeed.

Unfortunately, I was trialling one of the remaining cogs in what I’m hoping will be an effective Edinburgh wheel. But based on last night’s reaction, there is more work that needs to be done before it can function as cog, let alone function properly within the wheel.

It wasn’t a death; I would just put my set somewhere between average and mediocre, a disappointing shade of beige. There were laughs, but not as loud or as regular as were on offer.

But in many ways, the disappointments and frustrations with new material are a good thing; they leave you but with no option but to make improvements, try some new things and then hopefully get laughs as result. If not, you feel dejected once more and make some more changes, try those out and the cycle continues until you get the material to where it needs to be, either that or you drop it and deny that it ever existed. But with this particular bit of material, I know there is something there; I just need to keep chipping away at it.

At the start of the year, I received a similar reaction to last night for a new bit I was trying out. I went away and did some rewrites and that bit of material has been serving me rather well of later, after several trials and several errors. If I hadn’t gone through this unpleasant progress, I wouldn’t have hammered it into the decent shape that it currently is.

I have a gig tomorrow night, so I will make a few alterations to my new Edinburgh cog and give it another whirl. There is no other way.

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First preview

Last night saw the first airing of Love and Langton’s Dirty Laundry and it was a good one.

We returned to The Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, the same venue where our journey began for our Edinburgh 2011 show. With England playing football on the same night, I was concerned that this would mean that audience numbers would be down. My concerns were unfounded and there were a good 25-30 people in attendance in a relatively small room.

Last year, the venue was only open for our preview, but this year we were on last as part of the monthly comedy night the bookshop runs.

A large percentage of the audience were 17-year-old girls, who were there to support a friend who had her first ever gig and she did very well. But as far as audience demography goes, I’d say that it is highly unlikely that we’ll experience anything similar at 11pm in Edinburgh. Even so, it is good to perform for audiences you never imagined performing in front of and we made them laugh.

Paul was on first out of us and his set can accurately be described as a workshopping session. He needs to get it all honed, but knowing him as I do, I suspect he’ll be annoyingly good by the time Edinburgh comes around.

Whereas I have been writing and trialling my set for the past six months, and used most of it down at Brighton Fringe. There is just a new five minutes for it that I tried out last Sunday and appears to be in pretty good shape. Even so, what I thought would be 20 minutes turned out to be 16, so I still have a bit more material that I need to generate. My set was well received, I just need to tighten a few things up; but other than that, all is looking good.

With last year’s show, we had a good run of previews and made the mistake of thinking that because of this, the Fringe would be relatively plain sailing. It wasn’t and some days were really tough, so I am under no illusions of the challenge that awaits us. If anything, I’ve been trying to arrange a good number of our previews in venues that will prove challenging to get us battle-hardened.

In financial news, for last night’s gig I was also paid £10, which takes my total comedy takings for the week to £40 and a pint, making it my most lucrative non-festival week ever.

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Pay and a pint

On Tuesday night, I was on MC duties and actually got paid for once.

Getting paid to do stand-up is not that easy in London; outside of the capital, it’s more common to receive something for your efforts. And getting something does at least help take your mind away from the thousands of pounds a year this ridiculous dream costs to pursue, but then I stopped listening to common sense a long time ago.

The MC gig wasn’t too bad; we had seven people in the audience in the first half, which included three friends who were just there to have a chat and some people happened to be doing comedy. Thankfully, they were friendly and willing to get into the spirit of things.

There was also a very nice couple who are apparently regulars and their laughter was particularly heard. The first half was ticking along fairly nicely, then at the interval, the lady from the nice couple appeared very upset about something and had been crying.

I didn’t ask what it was about, I just checked that she was okay and I am very appreciative that, despite whatever was going on, they stayed until the end; although their audible laughter was understandably muted.

So the second half was a bit harder work, but we ploughed on through and I received thirty whole pounds as payment from the bar.

The next night, I was performing at Comedy Cafe in Old Street. I don’t normally namedrop venues (see above), but this one is a particularly high-profile one, especially on the London open mic circuit as it has a waiting list of about five months.

I had my fifth ever gig there in November 2005 and I did pretty well. However, the past two times I’ve been there haven’t been so great and the last time, I properly died on my arse. They’ve had a pretty radical refurbishment since then and the comedy is now upstairs, instead of in the main bar as you come in.

The format of the night is that there are eight new acts doing five minutes each. Three people in the audience have judging forms, giving the performers marks out of ten, then they total them up and the winner performs a ten minute headline spot the following week. Now, I have a particular aversion to competitions in comedy, mainly because I never do particularly well. So, instead of worrying about all that, I just wanted to have a good gig and then that would be enough.

And that’s exactly what happened; I did have a good gig. A promoter in the audience I’d never met before booked me for a night he runs and his friend brought me a pint. And then I was thinking I may actually have a chance of winning; I left before the results were announced, as I had to be up for work in the morning. I didn’t end up winning, but I at least made up for dying at the venue last time I was there.

In Edinburgh news, the previews are coming together nicely, with six booked so far and more to follow. Tomorrow night our first one and it takes place at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green from 8pm. So come along if you’re in the area or are a particularly dedicated stalker.

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Thank you, Mr Wilson

It is always a nice feeling when a set that consists of largely new material and it goes down well. In fact, the feeling is probably up there with those of the best kind when it comes to stand-up.

From the intro, you may have established that I had a gig last night where I was doing largely new material and it went down well. I’m not going to claim that I stormed it, because I didn’t. But what I did get were consistent laughs throughout the four minutes I had trialled previously on Thursday and it received a patchier response.

I spent Sunday afternoon rewriting it and cutting the bits which didn’t work and it seems as though it paid off. But there is still a long way to go with it before it is finished and it can be improved quite a lot more, but it’s nice to get some encouraging signs for all the toil that has gone into it. About six months of writing, in fact. I think I’ve fallen into the dangerous trap of overwriting here. You can spent an infinite about of time writing and rewriting material, and you can be really proud of it; but until you try it out in front of an audience, you really have no idea how it is going to be received.

This particular piece of material is probably the most personal stuff I have performed so far, as it revolves around a lot of pain. ‘What is it about?’ I hear you internally wonder. I couldn’t possibly say on here. To find out, you’ll have to come and see my Edinburgh show. Shameless plug over.

Also at last night’s gig, I heard what I think must be my favourite ever heckle. An act was on stage, reading bits of new material from a scrap of paper, it was towards the end of his set and as he was looking on for what else he was going to say. Then, a very well spoken man, who must have been in his 60s, sitting at the back of the room, said in a loud but very measured voice:

“Tell us about your family.”

It was a brilliant moment. When the compere spoke to him later, he said his name was: “Wilson. Mr Wilson.” So the compere asked for his first name and Mr Wilson responded simply with: “Let’s keep things formal, shall we?”

I love audience members like this. They inject a sense of uniqueness into a gig. Mr Wilson came up to me at the interval and said he enjoyed my set, so that’ll do for me.

Talking of Mr Wilsons, my friend Philip Wilson has took some pictures of me and Paul for our Edinburgh show at the weekend. You can have a look at one of his beauties at the bottom of the page here.

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A necessary process

Last night, it was off to the historic town of Rochester for non-historical purposes.

I can’t claim to have known much about the place before my trip, but having visited there I can now say that it’s got a castle and something about Charles Dickens. They should use that as their official slogan.

As with most of my visits to places, it was to perform some stand-up comedy. And there was a pretty good turn-out of 20 audience members in a room at the back of a pub. The thing about doing countless gigs in London in front of handfuls is people, is that I appreciate it all the more when I perform in front of an audience that has reached double figures. They were friendly too.

I was doing a ten minutes set, with the first five or six minutes going pretty well and a couple of new lines in an existing routine getting a particularly good response. The next three minutes were rather more patchy, with a totally new set of jokes I’d written over the weekend that I need to get road-worthy for Edinburgh.

Trying out new stuff and it not working out how you’d hoped is probably the thing I find the worst about doing stand-up comedy. You try it out and have no real idea how it is going to be received, with blank facial expressions a likely outcome. Last night wasn’t one of this kind, a couple of the new jokes got laughs, but probably more didn’t. It at least gives me something to work with and at this time of the year, with the Fringe less than two months away, I don’t have a choice but to go through this process.

And a week today, we have our first Edinburgh preview of Love and Langton’s Dirty Laundry. We will be performing 40 minutes (the actual show will last ten minutes longer) at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green. Where can you buy tickets, I hear you ask? You can do so here.

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The ghosts of the past

Last night, I was performing back on home soil. Well, not quite home soil, but soil that is ten miles from home and also the town where I worked for 15 months as a reporter for the local paper.

I previously performed in the gig venue about five and a half years ago when I was doing comedy on an ad hoc basis, and as I was so inexperienced, I died on my arse. So I was keen to atone for my failure and lay the comedy death spectre to rest.

More than half a decade on, much has changed; I have been gigging solidly for two and half years, have more than 300 gigs under my belt and a piece of metal in my ankle, which has nothing directly to do with comedy but is something that has changed nonetheless.

There was a really good turn-out, with 90 paying punters in to watch. There were a few quite drunk and heckley people, whose vocal contributions added very little value or gave much to work with, but it was never malicious, just unhelpful.

My opening reference to me doing no work at secondary school had a particularly local significance, because a handful of the people in the audience attended the same place, albeit at different times to me.

The set went pretty well, I managed to get some big laughs from what had been a fairly tough audience to get going, although they were friendly.

My anti-diabetes bit wasn’t particularly well received again in its half-formed form, and someone in the audience actually had diabetes. It did allow me to do some research into it to find out how accurate the joke was, but this didn’t lead to any laughter.

It was quite a long room, which was shut off from the main pub and had the stage area at the far end. And during my set, I was totally oblivious to two things; one was Deech, MC for the night and now Edinburgh flatmate, signalling to me to do longer as the headliner hadn’t turned up. The other was some sort of ruckus had broken out in the main bar and the police had been called.

Even so, I had a decent gig that I’d give 7.5 on the gig-o-meter and kicked the comedy death spectre in the groin. This obviously wasn’t a physical action, I didn’t recognise someone from the previous gig I did there as being this phantom then assault them. But someone else may have done, which would account for the mêlée in the main bar.

In a strange coincidence, when I went back into the main bar and discovered what had happened, the song Young Girl by Gary Puckett was playing. Now, I should explain that his song, for all its legally questionable lyrics, has a particular significance for me and comedy. Not because of the well-worn paedophilia area of comedy material, although the second ever joke I wrote was one of these. But because this particular song features in the musical Return to the Forbidden Planet, which I had the lead in when I was 15 and it probably the only worthwhile thing I got out of my secondary education. Playing the fool and the feeling I had from getting big laughs from audiences of 200 people for five nights were really the catalyst of setting me on this comedy path, even if it took me another five years to make it to the stand-up stage, and ten years to actually pursue properly.

The venue wasn’t that far away from where I used to park my car when I worked in the town, so I parked in the same place. The area brought back lots of memories, none of which were especially happy, but I did go and have a look at my old office just for old time sake. And as I drove away, I knew that taking that massive gamble three years ago by quitting my job to move to London to pursue comedy was definitely the right choice.