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Payment and returning to Norfolk

This past week, I have received the most money for performing comedy to date. And while it certainly isn’t enough to live on, it is nice to not be out of pocket for travelling to gigs and have a bit left over.

I am excluding any earnings from Edinburgh Fringe, because that whole event is an anomaly.

On Wednesday, I was booked for 20 minutes at a gig in Uxbridge. It was the first ‘club 20’ I had done, which I decided to put myself forward for in order to push myself to do longer sets. It is easy to retreat into performing club slots that you are comfortable with, but sometimes you have to just test yourself to know if you’re ready to make the step-up to longer club spots.

I was nervous about the gig, because I’m still not totally sure as to whether or not I actually have a solid club 20. I have performed longer spots at festivals, where you have more freedom to do stuff that is more experimental. But with club 20s, you have to be much sharper.

The gig went very well and I got some big laughs throughout my set, although I went off-piste and did a lot of audience interaction. So I still don’t know if the material I had prepared and half-abandoned is a solid club 20. Still, at least it went well.

My next paid gig was last night, MCing in a pub on the outskirts of Norwich. It was the first time I had returned to Norfolk since my ridiculous adventure when I went to see The Darkness in Thetford in July 2012. Actually, I had some memorable and absurd trips to Norfolk in that year. There was the gig in the student house, and then performing at the top of some stairs in a pub in front of unwitting audience members, including a family with a baby and small children.

I had heard to expect a rowdy gig, with further evidence to suggest this appearing when I arrived at the venue and saw two middle-aged men with lots tattoos, swaying around from the drink they’d consumed.

There was a crowd of about 20 people who were sitting in a kind of awkward location just behind a booth, away from the stage area and a few people had their backs to the microphone.

I moved the mic closer so I could engage with them better. I managed to get their attention and they were a friendly bunch, but required a bit of controlling to keep their attention. But when they did laugh, they laughed very loudly. Most of the biggest laughs of the night were from interactions with them.

The night went well and the punters all enjoyed themselves. I had feared it would be a struggle, but was pleasantly surprised with how friendly it was. It was definitely weird, especially when a woman was passing around a porn photo on her phone. But weird is fine as long as the acts and audience have fun with it.

In other news, my first Edinburgh preview is four weeks today. My show is coming along pretty nicely and it should be in a reasonable state in four weeks time.

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Due Southcote Road

The title of this blog gets half of its name from the road I have lived for the last 20-odd months, the other half is from the 1990s Mountie-cop show. I will not be going into any detail on either.

I am writing this now from my new house in Wood Street. It is the fourth house I have live in London and is much quieter than my previous place. So, I should be able to have a better relationship with sleep, at least far as my ridiculous lifestyle permits.

But one thing I have learned this week is that it is not the best idea to do a gig if you’ve spent the day moving house. I had the day off work on Friday for the move and then had the gig I run in Walthamstow during the evening.

My brain didn’t seem to be functioning properly and my set can only be described as a shambles. It was fine when I was just talking normally, but when I tried doing some material, words didn’t seem to be forming fully. Or if they did form, then they were in the wrong place in a sentence.

Thankfully, I had a lifeline in the form of our resident troublemakers, Frank and Nigel. Things are always much more lively when they are involved with proceedings. Interactions with them have been known to completely derail a gig before, but fortunately some derailing was exactly what I needed to get back on track.

Actually, after rereading that sentence, perhaps my brain hasn’t fully recovered yet.

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Goings-on

It has been about a month since I gave an update to my increasingly dwindling readership, so here is the latest.

I am currently putting together my first hour show for Edinburgh. My provisional title is How to Win a Pub Quiz, where I find a use for all the trivia that I have accumulated in my 29 years as a human. The show has a structure, in areas of knowledge and then ending with a quiz against a team of experts. I’m pleased so far with the start I’ve made, but with my first preview booked for May 4, I have much work to do between now and then. I am expecting to have much more work to do after then too.

As I only do things the hard way, I have decided that is a great time to move house. I have now found somewhere, which is still in Walthamstow, and will be moving in a couple of weeks. But still, this has been quite  a distraction for the past few weeks.

For Edinburgh, I am returning to the Kilderkin and will be there at 6.15pm. I was there at roughly the same time last year and there were days when it was a real struggle. But I know from Dirty Laundry in 2012 that if the show theme is strong enough, then people will want to watch it. I don’t think Fear and Loathing was as strong a theme last year, it was too vague and people didn’t know what they were going to be getting. I think my theme this year should be strong enough to get people in.

We have also moved venues for our Ruby’s gig. The Queen’s Head kicked us out in January, saying they wanted to use the room for eating only. We had felt that the management didn’t particularly want us there for some time, and sentimentality was the only thing keeping us there.

We have moved just around the corner to The Blue Posts and had our first show on Monday. It’s a smaller room, but easier to fill and fill it we did with a highly appreciative crowd. I wasn’t planning on performing, but Langton asked the audience if they wanted to see me, unfortunately they did. So I went on with nothing prepared, not even any notes on my hand for only the second time ever, and it went incredibly well. To be fair, Hatty Ashdown had just been on and handed me an open goal. We had the magnificent Tony Law headlining. Nick Helm is booked for our next show on 6 April.

In other news, in the past month, I also appeared as the physical embodiment of the 1990s in an unscripted Q&A at a 90s themed gig. It was a lot of fun. Thanks go to Siobhan Dodd for asking me and hosting a great night.

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Trying stuff

This week, I have been trying out some totally new material at open mic gigs in London that were attended by handful of people.

The beauty of doing gigs such as this is that if it goes badly, no-one really cares. But then if something new receives a decent reaction, then it has been worthwhile.

Of the new stuff I tested, most things received good enough laughs to suggest that they are worth keeping. The stuff about an immortal lobster didn’t do so well, but then it is barely written. I like the concept, so might try actually writing it properly.

I had a third gig in my diary and arrived at the venue especially early, to the perplexed reaction of the locals. It turns out that I was a whole week early.

In other news, my #Joke365 challenge is proving increasingly tedious. This week, I had to resort to the much-maligned duck billed platypus joke that I had been saving for an emergency (see my tweets on the right, if you dare). The whole point of this challenge is to force myself to think up new jokes daily and I make no apology for the quality. I expect at least 85% of them will never venture further than Twitter. Even so, if 15% of them are decent then I will have around 50 new jokes by the end of the year that I would otherwise not have had.

To ruin the illusion, I am now planning on stock piling-these jokes in writing sessions to preserve what is left of my sanity. It is not worth losing out on valuable sleep as I strain my grey matter to think of something before I can go to bed, only to Google it and find someone else has already thought of it. This way, if I can’t think of anything, I’ll then at least have something to meet my objective and then sleep.

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Gong wrong

Last year, I romanticised the King Gong at the Comedy Store as a tale of almost-redemption for my failures seven years previously. Well, I can now console my 21-year-old self with the fact that his record of 46 seconds wasn’t as bad as he thought.

In fact, it was more than double what the audience permitted me this week. Last year, my opening joke got a round of applause. This year, with the same joke, they wouldn’t even let me get to the punchline.

In just seven days, I went from performing at one of the UK’s biggest comedy clubs and receiving much praise, to briefly performing at the UK’s biggest comedy club and failing spectacularly.

But that is the true nature of King Gong. If you put yourself forward for it, you have no right to complain about what awaits you.

I have been going long enough for these things to not get to me, and I actually find it very funny. If you can embrace your failures and laugh at them, then you’ll last much longer in comedy.

I left shortly after my very brief set, as I was offered the solace of a shambolic open mic gig. where there was almost a bar brawl between a magician and some alleged squatters.

But I gather that the gong crowd were particularly brutal this time, with only one act out 33 beating the gong and many failing to reach even 20 seconds. I will return and try again. Admitting defeat would be too easy.

And on the plus-side, I can say that I have done a 20 at The Comedy Store. I just don’t have to mention that it was for 20 seconds.

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Outside the Fringe

It would be wrong for me to perform in Edinburgh and feel anything but exhausted. Thankfully, I was able to ensure this through booking myself into a ten bed dorm in an £8.50-a-night hostel.

It turns out that my room-mates were nine Brazilian lads, who were very loud after a few drinks but genuinely nice people nonetheless. On my first night, I can have only got about four hours sleep at the very most.

It felt odd to be in Edinburgh outside of the Fringe, with so many of the signs and banners I use for navigation not being there. I also saw shops on streets I’d walked past many times, but never noticed before despite them having been there for 40 years.

In my two days up there, I met up with some friends and also returned to Musselburgh to see my gran’s cousin. I stayed at her house during my first Fringe in 2010.

I have vivid memories of my first night there, getting in at around 2am after my Edinburgh debut gig. The rain had left me completely drenched, with my non-umbrella-holding arm taking the brunt of it and my cheap coat putting up no resistance. I sat on the small mattress in the study where I was sleeping, feeling a great sense of achievement after having inconsistently MC’d a showcase. Little did I know what horrendous Edinburgh deaths awaited me.

This time, I was up there to tick something off my to-do list by gigging at The Stand. It is where most of my favourite comedians perform their Edinburgh shows, so it was quite a thrill to be on that stage. The venue was full, with around 100 people and I was very pleased with how my set was received. The laughs were big and many people came up to me afterwards and said some very nice things.

For performers, it’s £2.50 a pint. So I took full advantage of this and was able to sleep much better that night.

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A new year and new challenges

They say you shouldn’t wish away your days, although I doubt ‘they’ were trying to accomplish two of the challenges I’ve set myself this year.

One is to write a new joke every day and put it on Twitter. Each joke I write is then Googled and if there is anything too similar that anyone else has said, my joke is then scrapped and I have to write another. Eighteen days into this challenge, I have succeeded albeit with varying quality. But it is certainly a chore I am partially regretting at the moment, so I am counting down the days of the year already.

The second of challenge that involves me counting down numbers is to do 200 gigs this year. It has been a slow start to 2014 and I didn’t have my first gig until the 13 January, but did manage three gigs this week. Either way, I need to get organised.

Tomorrow, I am off to Edinburgh for a couple of nights. I have a gig booked at The Stand, which is a venue that has been on my to-do list for some time. I have seen many amazing shows there during various Fringes, but they only book the new act night outside August.

I should add that I am not just going up there to do one gig – that would be slightly excessive even by my standards of travelling ridiculous distances for stage-time. I will also be carrying out some venue scouting and meeting up with friends and relatives that I never normally have the time to see during the Fringe.

I should probably write a paragraph here that sums up my optimism and hopes for 2014. I am looking forward to what 2014 has in store. This will suffice.

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Here endeth gigging for 2013

I have now finished gigging until 2014, having performed more gigs this year than any before.

I set myself a challenge of doing 150 gigs this year, which admittedly wasn’t until September when I was already behind. I imagine this is how the current UK Government sets targets for public services, knowing they won’t be hit so they can then add it to their justification for privatisation.

Well, I may have missed my target by seven (143 gigs in total), but there will certainly be no privatisation of my comedy. I probably haven’t thought this analogy through properly; because there’s no way I’d currently be able to justify charging extortionate amounts for a poorer service. I have also yet to notice Richard Branson sniffing around.

Barring an Edinburgh show that wasn’t as good as 2012’s, it has probably been my best year for gigs. Punters and fellow comics have been saying lots of nice things with a greater frequency than before and I have had some belters of gigs.

I made it past the first round in a national comedy competition for the first time, and then the next round too to progress to the semi-finals.

I also made it to the final of a comedy competition for the first time. In my opinion, Droitwich (Worcestershire) Old Cock Inn’s It’s a Knock Out is the only comedy competition that has any credibility. I value the approval of middle-aged drunk people much more than a load of air-kissing agents and chin-strokers. The final was particularly memorable for not only having a significantly smaller audience than the heat, but also the journey via Newport to collect 120 fold-up chairs and then driving a transit van back to London afterwards. This type of van journey was also a first for me.

A definite high for this year was being one of two support acts for a Edinburgh preview by Richard Herring in July, even if I didn’t do particularly well. Another highlight came this week when after four years of doing the Thursday try-out night, I was booked to do Sunday spot at one of London’s best comedy clubs, Downstairs at the King’s Head.

I am always trying to push myself to improve, or at least telling myself that I should be pushing myself to improve. So, I have set myself three challenges for next year:

1) Doing 200 gigs.
2) Write at least one new joke a day in 140 characters. Here I am referring to Twitter, not deliberately just trying to restrict myself. From 1 January 2014, look out for #Joke365.
3) Write 30 minutes of totally new material for Edinburgh. I am prohibiting myself from using existing stuff.

I expect I’ll do a standard year review thing when I’m bored at home over Christmas.

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Memorable occassions

This week, we celebrated the fourth birthday of Ruby Tuesdays. Or what used to be called Ruby Tuesdays, before we recently switched to Mondays.

We had Richard Herring headlining and a room that was nearly full of audience. It would have been full too if it hadn’t been for those pesky people who asked me to reserve seats but dropped out on the day.

Everyone who came enjoyed themselves and all the acts did very well, apart from Langton trying out a deliberately bad take on his first stand-up routine about a moustache. He abandoned this and went into his ‘topical’ material about the Royal Wedding, which still works. Damn him.

The only downside was some controversial cake I grabbed before the gig that was supernaturally dry. I mistakenly tried eating this on stage for comic effect. No-one found it particularly funny and I couldn’t actually speak afterwards due to a lack of moisture. This wasn’t the best way to introduce one of my comedy heroes, but it is too late to change this now.

It is quite an achievement to keep a comedy night going in London for a year, let alone four. The founding 16-ish members have all mostly fallen by the wayside, or actually gotten on with their real lives instead of pursuing this ridiculous vocation.

We don’t know how much longer it will continue, because it is dependent on audience numbers. If we can keep the audience numbers solid, then we will continue. If they fall, then so does the night. There are too many nights in London that have low audience numbers and I don’t want to steal their USP.

However long Ruby’s goes on for, people will remember it as being a good comedy night.

Talking of which, I performed at a gig in Depford last night to celebrate the release of a documentary on the legendary Tunnel Club. It was an anarchic club that unfortunately closed some years before I set foot on a comedy stage and was an experience that people certainly remember.

Last night, the idea was to have a few new acts doing spots before the documentary and then a few on afterwards. It was at the back of the main area of a pub and people had very little interest in actually listening to the comedy.

In situations such as this, you can’t win. But at the same time, no-one really cares and the gig isn’t there to be won, so you also can’t really lose. Part of me enjoys such extreme levels of apathy and I have performed in many similar circumstances.

I was the penultimate act and by this time most of the crowd had gone, with the people left not really caring. I was determined to do my five minutes in the face of overwhelming apathy. I can’t say it went particularly well, but I at least managed to get some sort of reaction out of the crowd and I did my time.

Although the gig was a struggle, the organisers cannot be faulted for their hospitality. They provided the acts with the best gig rider I have ever seen. A truly mediaeval banquet for what was a medieval battle.

 

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A rock n roll week

I successfully managed to get through my most tiring non-Fringe week in years without getting ill.

Then just as I was about to taunt the illness gods, they struck me down on the following Monday.  Although I’m not sure they would be so powerful if it wasn’t for the drop in temperature.

My busy week consisted of three comedy gigs, one very sweaty Darkness gig, working full-time office hours and my gran’s 90th birthday gathering. Rock n roll.

There was a definite lack of energy in almost everything I did and I didn’t do particularly well at any of my gigs; but this was also partly due to difficult circumstances and audiences with little invested in being there.

At The Darkness gig, I don’t know if it was due to being in my advanced 20s or tiredness from other sources, but 30 seconds after I entered the mosh pit I was really struggling for breath. I don’t remember it being this difficult when I was 19, but this is when I was a student and often had very little else to do during the day.

At the end of the gig, I found one of the band’s plectrums on the floor. The 19-year-old me would have been delighted with this, so I will send a message back through time that this is what awaits him in the future. I’ll avoid revealing too much else about his future, because I don’t want to spoil things/leave him disappointed.

I still have a drawer full of Darkness memorabilia, including magazines, tickets and every CD released. In 2003-2004 at the height of the band’s fame, I thought this collection would be worth a lot in the future. As things stand, this is looking unlikely. Still, it has been a while since I have been able to add anything to it and there is always an outside chance that stock will rise again. Pessimism is bad for market confidence.