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First preview for 2015 done

I had my first preview last night of How To Win A Pub Quiz II: Advanced Edition. As I am out of practice with the format, there was a lot of stuff I needed to remember to prepare.

Thinking that I had another crucial five minutes to get stuff ready, it would be a rush but I thought I should have been just about ready to go. However, just as I was trying to remember and find exactly what I needed, I was called to the stage. I was still trying to locate stuff at the bottom of my bag, so had to ask for a few more minutes.

By the time I eventually got onto the stage, I was ill-prepared and couldn’t find the sheet of new material I’d printed earlier in the day.

It could have been a disaster, but fortunately I was in the Hollybush in Cradley Heath. It is one of the friendliest and most forgiving rooms there is in comedy.

I thought I would try something different with the show format. Last year, the first half of the show was stand-up and the second half was the quiz. Last night, I thought I would split that up as well. So I would start off doing 15 minutes of material at the start, then the first part of the quiz, followed by another 15 minutes of stand-up and then the final part of the quiz.

The first part of the show went well, with material that I have honed over several months. But things fell apart in the second half when I couldn’t remember exactly what I wanted to say as I had lost my new material notes. Some of the new stuff about music went well, but the stuff on sport tanked and I didn’t end up having enough time or confidence in attempting to remember the new film stuff.

It could have gone much better, although it’s actually good for stuff to go wrong in previews as it forces you to improve. Despite this, the 15 or so people there seemed to enjoy most of it.

I don’t think I’ll be trying this revised format again, because the one I had last year worked really well. And if you’ve got the audience tuned out of listening to stand-up, it can be difficult to tune them back in again.

With the first preview done, I have just over a month to get the show up to scratch. There is still time, but I’ll be cutting it pretty finely this year.

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That elusive 20

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.

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Organisation

In less than two months, I will be performing in Edinburgh and it is safe to say that I am much less organised than I was last year.

This time 12 months ago, I’d already done one preview and my show was taking shape nicely. This year, my first preview isn’t until July and my show is only half-written.

This is both good and bad. It’s good because nothing gets me writing like a deadline and I’m less likely to be bored of my material by the time the Fringe comes around. It’s bad because I may not have enough time to get it properly road-tested

Compared with a year ago, I also haven’t done as many gigs. This is partly due to me not being able to do as much comedy admin during work hours now due to extra responsibilities, and also partly because there don’t seem to be quite so many gigs around now. A few years ago, it was quite easy to do two or three open mic gigs in one night, a few days a week. Whether or not any of them would have an audience is another matter.

The London comedy and open mic circuit has been on the wane for a while, but it now looks like this waning is going up another couple of notches. My reliable gig on Monday in Aldgate East is no more; it was often dreadful, but usually useful.

Another regular open mic venue is also ending in July, a long-running venue has also been recently sold, with rumours of a staple open mic venue likely being sold.

I’ve been saying for a few years that I think my comedy future lies outside London and further north. I’ll have to see where I am with everything after the Fringe and make a decision at the end of the year.

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From downing to Downing Street

This week, I tried out my idea of downing a pint of beer and then a pint of Guinness as an allegory of films and their similar, but darker sequels.

I cheated slightly by the pint of beer only being a pint of shandy, but then I reserve the right to special effects when it relates to films. Also, the pint of shandy was infinitely more real than the unnecessary CGI that pollutes far too many films.

You don’t know if something is going to work until you try it out. I managed consecutively downing the two pints fairly easily, but it didn’t get the big laugh I would need to justify doing this every day in Edinburgh. If I am to do it again, I actually need to write the routine more tightly. Downing consecutive pints might go down well at a UKIP rally, but not on necessarily on a Fringe audience unless it has the material. I can’t ever see myself performing at a UKIP rally, but then I am looking for previews and know I’ve definitely got a crowd pleaser if I am booked.

In similar news, I am still hoping the general election result is all one big stunt by Derren Brown and when I wake up, everything will be fine. You fooled us, Derren. Please show yourself soon.

On election day, I woke up with had a good feeling that everything would be fine and the Tories would be out. My gut was telling me that it would be close, but that Labour could just snatch it. My gut has also kept a close eye on the polls. I have since learned to not trust the political insight of my gut or polls, as the respective end-products are much the same substance. No-one really knows anything until it happens.

The Prime Minister remains the same coward backed by tax-avoiding millionaires and a rabid right-wing press that is scared of anything that may force them to change their ways.

Despite all the horrendous things that are likely to happen, I have tried to think of some positives:

  • There is always a better chance of a revolution when the Tories are in.
  • They only have a majority of 13 and conflicts within the party are inevitable. It won’t be long before it falls apart.
  • Music and comedy are much better when they have a hated authority to rally against. Look at the 1980s and 1990s. I urge people to harness their anger and form a band. There are already far too many comedians.
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A paid gig

I got recognised last night by a table of people in a pub who had been quoting my material, which resulted in paid work.

I have made this sound much more impressive than it actually is, but it remains true.

I was putting up some posters for the comedy night I co-run in Walthamstow and a table of middle-aged people, who had been to a previous gig, saw me. One of them had been trying to tell them one of my jokes, but had messed it up. To be fair, I often do this as well.

One of the group offered to pay me £1 to tell it properly. So I took his money, told the joke and got a laugh. They then offered to pay me another £1 for another joke, only I couldn’t think of any that would actually work in the context of what was effectively joke table service to four people in a pub. Although I often do gigs to much smaller crowds, I have usually at least have something prepared.

I should have left it at the one joke, because the second joke tanked. But they wanted more. So I told them another one on the premise that if it didn’t get a laugh, I would refund them the second £1. I told the joke to a confused response and then promptly fulfilled my agreement.

But I was still £1 in unexpected profit, and then made a quick exit before they tried to reclaim that as well.

I should probably start working on a set if such a thing happens again. It could even be a new way of making some money from comedy, but could also be interpreted as begging.

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Expenditure and refunds

I have taken the plunge and forked out almost £300 to be listed in the main Edinburgh Fringe brochure.

It has been long four years since I last did this in the naive and often painful days of A Mixed Bag.

It is a lot of money that doesn’t guarantee any audience or anything else, but does increase your chances of getting a review. When I first started comedy, getting a review scared me. Now I don’t really care, it is inevitable that not everyone is going to like me.

I was going to register the show last year, but couldn’t work out the online registration form on a lunch break at work. I also didn’t know if the show was going to work.

Unlike last year, I know that the format of my show does work and also gives me a lot of freedom to piss about with it.

The plan at the moment is to write a new show, but keeping one or two of the bits from last year that worked well. But then if large chunks new stuff does turn out to be rubbish, I at least have some of last year’s material to fall back on.

In other news, I chose to further dip into my savings to get a ticket for the Star Wars Secret Cinema. Although it is £80 and a lot of money, I know that if I don’t go then I will regret it. The Back to the Future showing they did a few months ago was mightily impressive and the lure of something similar but with Star Wars proved too much.

However, not everything went according to plan in my ticket purchasing. The first date I tried to buy a ticket for turned out to be sold-out just before I’d entered my payment details. So I quickly clicked through to book up another date and managed to get one, only for the confirmation screen to tell me that I had booked a child’s ticket. To avoid missing out entirely, I booked an adult’s ticket for a month later.

I am now pursuing a refund for the ticket I can’t use and have stated in the letter: “This child’s ticket is no use to me, because I am 30 years old.”

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On a downer

At my gig in Walthamstow last night, I was due to honour an agreement made the previous month to down a pint of Guinness on stage. Despite anyone there barely remembering me making this pact, I had to fulfil it nonetheless.

The last time I downed a pint of Guinness, I ended up in hospital with a broken ankle. It wasn’t just the downed pint that hospitalised me; it was joined by a ridiculous amount of alcohol and other circumstances that I won’t go into for legal reasons.

But still, I was slightly apprehensive about something going horribly wrong, even if I am perfectly comfortable with public failure by now.

The downing started off well, but it got more difficult when I got to the final third and encountered foam at the bottom of the glass.

I pushed through the unpleasant foam barrier and achieved my objective, much to the delight of the 20 people in the room who were cheering me on and had mostly come back for the second half to see me attempt my feat.

It also gave me an idea for my Edinburgh show in the film section, where I talk about trilogies. My idea is to down a pint of beer to a (hopefully) cheering crowd. Then I down a pint of Guinness immediately afterwards, which proves that sequels aren’t usually as good as the originals – but they are darker. Then for the third, I try in vain to get something out of the two empty pint glasses, but it doesn’t amount to anything and I should have stopped at two.

I think there is something in this idea, but don’t know if I could literally stomach downing two pints every day in Edinburgh during my show. So I may film it as a sketch.

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Return to the Forbidden Planet

When it comes to 7-12 February, I often think back to what I was doing in the year 2000.

I was 15 years old and had somehow landed the lead role in a school production of Return to the Forbidden Planet, largely because so few boys were willing to do it.

I had about four months of after-school rehearsals for it, and for the first three months I could barely speak. If you are unaware of the production, it is essentially Shakespeare’s The Tempest with bits of his other plays spliced in and a load of 1950s rock n roll songs in it.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to sing but I was really struggling with the script. If I wasn’t swallowing words, then I was talking at such a low volume that you could barely hear me on the other side of a classroom. I wanted to drop-out, but I hung on in there because I knew that I wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to talk to a certain girl.

Then a couple of weeks before the opening night, when the teachers must have been worrying frantically about how awful their Captain Tempest was going to be, something just clicked into place and everything started working for me. I think it must have been my ridiculous outfit that helped, consisting of an Elvis jumpsuit, a Biggles flying jacket and hat, a scarf that stuck out at an angle and a very large false moustache. It transformed me from an insecure teenager into an intergalactic clown.

I played the role for comedic effect and getting big laughs from such a large audience was definitely a deciding factor in making me want to pursue comedy.

It was certainly the highlight of my time at school. For a brief period, I was hot property and people wanted to talk to me. Two weeks later, I was back to reality and returned to being ignored. Fame is fickle.

It is quite weird thinking that 15 years have passed and I am now double the age I was then, but it remains a fond memory. That young fool has a lot of terrible things ahead of him in the next decade and a half, but I think he’s going to be alright.

Oh, and nothing ever happened with that girl. I last saw her a few months ago sitting across the aisle from me on a train back home. Her head turned towards me and I was getting ready to act surprised and say hello, but then she got up and moved carriages. I just hope my 15-year-old self doesn’t find this out.

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Gigging commences

I’ve had my first three gigs of 2015 this week and if they are any indicator of how my comedy year is going to be, then it’s going to be a weird one without too many laughs.

On Monday, I was doing one of my regular gigs in Aldgate that is reliably terrible. I enjoy it because there is no pressure and as most of the audience aren’t there for comedy, no-one really cares how well you do. However, when something does get a laugh then it is can be an indicator that it’ll do well in front of a proper comedy audience.

This gig was particularly weird for two main reasons. The first being the opening act receiving borderline-racist heckling from a posh old man sitting at the front. The comic left the venue immediately after his set and the posh old man followed him down the street.

The second weird instance was later on in the first half, a comic was in the middle of a joke when a very drunk middle-aged man stumbled into the bar and walked straight up onto the stage area and told a joke about a goose and an aeroplane that no-one could really understand due to the slurring. He then tried to sing some Elvis and then walked straight out of the venue to the streets from whence he came.

There wasn’t much to report from the other gigs two I did, other than me mocking an audience member on Thursday for having dreadlocks due to apathy and poor hygiene than style. Then my night in Walthamstow on Friday was a little strange and drunken.

In other news, I’ve had my venue and timeslot confirmed for Edinburgh Fringe already. It will be exactly the same as last year, 6.15pm at the Kilderkin. It’s nice to have it all sorted so early and I know the venue can work really well. But in the back of my mind, I am concerned about trying to replicate what worked well previously. To avoid this, I am intending for it to be a lot of new stuff. The good news is that it’ll likely be much better than my gigs that I’ve started the year with.

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2015

It has now been five years since I moved to London. I came here without a job or any real idea what I was doing, a bit of luck helped me on my way and it has turned out rather well.

A lot has changed, but I am happy with where I am and where I’m going. It’s certainly a much better place than six years ago, when my year began in a Swansea hospital bed with a broken ankle and a shattered mind.

My gamble has worked out, but I am not done yet. I still have much more that I want to achieve.

For the year ahead, I have not set myself any stupid or tedious targets as I did in 2014. I am amazed that I still have most of my sanity after the ordeal that was #Joke365.

Over the next 12 months, some more paid 20 minute spots would be nice, but my main goal is to just become a better comedian.

I want to do more than 150 gigs this year, which should be fairly easy to achieve if I am organised.

I have also made it a goal of mine to get something comedic I’ve written onto the radio, either a joke or a sketch.

In August, I will be doing my second hour show in Edinburgh with mostly new content in How To Win A Pub Quiz II: Advanced Edition. I have started work on this already and it is coming together nicely so far.

In other news, I am proud to announce that I have tied a tie for the first time, almost correctly as well. When I was a reporter, I wore a tie every day to try and put me in a professional mindset. What no-one actually knows is that my mum tied it for me. So, tying a tie is one thing I have achieved this year already. Hopefully there’ll be more achievements to follow, otherwise it is going to be disappointing.