If you get paid sets at comedy clubs, they are generally at least 20 minutes long. However, it is very difficult to get your 20 minutes honed if you are not regularly doing sets this length.
Many clubs won’t book you to do 20 minutes unless you have a solid 20, particularly in London where a ten minute set is a luxury. Although I have done multiple 30 minute and hour sets at a couple of Fringes and previews, I still don’t know what my ‘club 20’ should be, or if the material I have that works will actually be long enough.
Fringe audiences tend to be a lot more open-minded and willing to go with you on some whimsical tangent that might not really go anywhere. Comedy clubs are not usually so lenient and you need to be tighter. But this is just a loose rule and I have also experienced harsh Fringe crowds and generous ones at clubs.
I was booked to do 20 minutes in Birmingham on Saturday. I spent the previous week trying to think of what my strongest set would be, but didn’t get around to writing anything down or it until Saturday afternoon.
The Mockingbird Theatre it was a great venue, a theatre with cinema seating and about 60 people in.
I knew I was on second. But as there were only three acts and an MC on, I assumed that there would be a break before my set. However, it was only after the first act finished that I got around to asking the promoter if there was going to be a break. I then found out that I was on straight away, so had to rush backstage to get the stuff out of my bag.
I had about two minutes to get everything together. I needed to find my watch and get my set written out.
I was wearing an old PE shirt from my school days, but was planning on changing into a shirt to look a bit more presentable. In the end, I didn’t have time. So with barely three words scribbled onto my hands, my name was called out and I had to go on.
Two or three years ago, this sort of situation would have caused me to get tense, flustered, and incoherent. I used to think that unless I had my set written out precisely on my hand, then I would forget everything I was supposed to say. But I think that having done my own solo show has really helped me stay calmer and put my mind at ease in such situations. It is common to still be trying to usher people in to watch right when you’re due on.
There were a few lines that didn’t get the big laugh I was hoping and other lines that I also forgot due to my lack of preparation. Despite this, I really enjoyed it and got some really hefty laughs from a lot of audience interaction. It is always nice to do well, get paid, have the promoter want to rebook you, but also knowing that you can do better.
Saying that, I’m booked at Pear Shaped on Wednesday and will probably die on my arse.