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Leicester show

On Friday night, I took How To Win A Pub Quiz to Leicester Comedy Festival and it was a race against time to get there after I left Manchester later about half an hour later than planned.

I raced through the A-roads, entirely within every single speed-limit of course… and ended up arriving at the venue seven minutes after my show was due to start. I usually like some time to relax after a drive and also to get things ready for the show, but there was no time. The show started within 15 minutes of my arrival, leaving me even without enough time to put a rough set-list on my hand. To make matters worse, the radio mic broke within minutes of the show starting.

Fortunately, performing at Edinburgh Fringe prepares you for absolutely anything and none of it knocked me off my game. It ended up being a hugely enjoyable show, and felt really good to get back into the swing of things. I’d almost forgotten how much fun this show can be. I had about 35 people in and they were great. I’m always particularly lucky with the people I get in as audience for this show as they always give me something new to work with even in my third year of doing this format. Plus, there was a troublemaking pensioner, which is fast becoming a trademark of my shows.

I was also incredibly lucky that there wasn’t a show on after me, so I didn’t have to give the punters a reduced performance to avoid delaying the next act. However, I totally lost track of time as my stopwatch stopped working, causing me to finish about 20 minutes more than I’d planned due to extended periods of pissing about and dealing with heckling old men.

I finished 40 minutes later than officially scheduled and I don’t think I am the duty manager’s favourite person in the world. Still, the audience got their money’s worth and I really enjoyed myself, even if I am a bit disgusted at my Deech-like behaviour. For those not in the know, my multi-time Fringe flatmate Deech takes great delight in overrunning with his shows and sets. It is one of his life’s greatest pleasures.

My next stop is Glasgow Comedy Festival on 18-19 March. You can get your tickets here.

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A delayed new year’s message

Donald Trump might now be US President and UK is on the brink of leaving the EU, but I’m seeing Guns N Roses once and Iron Maiden twice this year, plus there’s a new Star Wars film coming out in December. Suddenly, 2017 doesn’t seem quite so bad.

Obviously, these events I’ve listed will only last for a handful of nights between them and these major two political ordeals could quite possibly cause decades of awful things. Despite this, bitching about stuff on the internet has rarely achieved anything positive in human history.

As with most things in my life, my only hope is that comedy somehow gets us through it all.  I’m doing festival shows at Leicester in February and Glasgow in March, plus there’ll be Edinburgh Fringe in August.  I also have a few paid club sets booked in the diary and am hoping to get some more.

Every year, my aim is to be a better comic than I was at the start of the year. This should be doable if I stick to my new year’s resolution of doing more gigs and writing more, and provided President Trump doesn’t start a nuclear war while getting angry on Twitter in the early hours of the morning.

Every year, I also set myself a new year’s resolution to learn a language and this looks like a time when I’ll actually stick to it. Before Christmas, I was in Gran Canaria for a week and found myself unable to communicate effectively.

Being unable to speak the language of the country you’re in is a bit like how you feel after a bad comedy gig. I felt stupid, questioned what I was actually doing there, and then used it as motivation to improve. During my holiday, I started using a Spanish app on my phone and I can now ask for a table for one and order a glass of red win. I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t find that impressive

Another new year’s resolution is that I am going to make more of an effort to write here regularly about my adventures and mishaps. My plan is to write at least once a month, so consider this a binding agreement. My ulterior motive behind this is that my good friend Moz has recently been asked to write a book off the back of his blog. The bastard. So come and get me, publishers. I’ve already got a book’s worth of previous entries kicking about and I know how much people love reading about an idiot visiting the supermarket and living off £1 pizzas. Those early days are going to take some topping.

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Goodbye, 2016

The final minutes and seconds of 2016 are now ticking down and what an utterly bizarre year it has been.

I’ll start off with the big political shocks, with the first being the UK voting to leave the EU. I voted to remain, largely because I don’t want to have to pay any more for my weekly food shop. That said, I do think it is possible for the UK to do okay outside the EU. I just have no faith or trust in those who are responsible for delivering it.

The second shock being Donald Trump defying all logic and somehow being elected US President. It’s hard to be optimistic about someone who doesn’t believe in science and makes George W Bush look like a reasonable human being.

What I hope comes out of all this is that it forces the political left to take its head out of its arse and actually start engaging with people they disagree with, instead of just belittling them and preaching to the converted.

On a personal level, it’s actually been a pretty good year. I have settled in nicely into life in Manchester and am enjoying actually having a bit more money now I have escaped the financial drain of London. Doing an Edinburgh show that received official sold-out status was the definite highlight.

However, if I hadn’t done the Fringe, it would have been a bit of a meagre year comedically. I have recorded my lowest tally of gigs since I started doing comedy properly in 2010 due to there not being as many gigs in Manchester, or me not being aware of all the ones that do exist. I don’t know the exact figure; I just know it’s not very high.

Moving to Manchester was a gamble, especially when I was just starting to make a bit of progress with promoters in London. It’s too early to tell yet as to when or if it’ll pay off, but I already have more paid gigs booked in my diary for 2017 that any previous year. That sounds more impressive than saying I have seven paid gigs booked across the next 12 months.

I am looking forward to 2017, as it’s better than being scared.

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Post-Fringe thoughts

As amazing as my half-run was, it doesn’t feel right to have returned to the real-world while the Fringe is still going on. My Fringe withdrawal symptoms have been intensified by returning to my day job and all the fun that comes with it.

Although my 2016 Fringe has finished, this feels like it could be the start of something much bigger and more exciting.

For one thing, there is the possibility of a tour. After one of my shows, I was approached by a booking agent for a small theatre, which by some freakish coincidence happens to be right next to the car park in the Lake District where the glass from my wing mirror got stolen in May. She also books other venues around the country, so we shall have to wait and see what happens with that.

Essentially, the pub quiz theme is a magical vehicle that allows me to perform to audiences who wouldn’t even be aware of me otherwise. I’ve always been well aware of that. But when no-one knows who you are, it’s down to you to think of an idea strong enough to get people to come and see your show. I have no media profile, no accolades, no agent, and no flyering team, all I have is that idea, combined with the experience and determination to make it work.

Selling out nine out of 11 shows and being part of the same venues programme as my comedy heroes Stewart Lee and Daniel Kitson are pretty cool things, considering this was originally meant to be my year-off. I never tired of seeing my name on the same listing boards.

And to think, I owe all of this to stupid joke I wrote about giant squid in an attempt to justify the many hours I’ve spent watching documentaries about them. This then led to me thinking about doing a show about interesting facts, which was initially rejected by one Fringe promotion, then I realised that a pub quiz brings all sorts of trivia together and you know what happened from there.

I’ve also finally read my two three-star reviews. They’re okay, nothing too scathing and certainly gives me motivation to improve further. I got a much nicer write-up from Den of Geek.

At the moment, my plan is to return next year to do a full-run with the pub quiz show with new material, which I’ve already started writing. I also want to do an hour’s stand-up at some point, but I’ve got time to think about this.

Being part of the shows at The Stand reaffirmed exactly where I want to be in comedy. Now I just need to work hard and get to a point where maybe one day, just maybe, people will want to come and see my show for me and not for my gimmick. This could take a while…

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Edinburgh Fringe 2016 – Days 10-12

My final show was yesterday and it’s the first time I’ve actually felt sad about going home.

It’s partly because I usually do the full run and am exhausted by the end, but it’s also because I have enjoyed this run more than any other. I had no idea just how well everything would go.

It’s been a pleasure doing a show for The Stand. I’ve not had to worry about setting up the room, getting people to sit where they’re meant to, or doing my own tech. Instead, I’ve been able to focus all my energy on making the show as good as I can. Apart from the first two shows of the run where I was a bit jittery, the other nine have been great. Some audiences have taken a little while to get going, but they all got to where I wanted them eventually. If I could take these folk with me to whatever I do post-Pub Quiz, I will be very happy.

When my Fringe run usually ends, I wait a couple of weeks before I even think about the next year. But this year has proven that I have a show on my hands that can seriously shift some tickets and can be even more fun than I previously thought. Less than two hours after my final show had finished, I was already thinking about ideas for 2017.

I’ve got a couple of days left in Edinburgh to see some shows and relax a bit before I come back through the wardrobe into the real world, when I’ll write my post-Fringe thoughts.

I have done ridiculously well this year. I know full well that not every Fringe is like this, so I’m going savour it while I can.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2016 – Days 4-9

If you’re wondering why I haven’t written an update for a while, it’s because the show is going really well and has sold-out every day from Saturday onwards. This continues until the end of my run on Sunday. To be honest, it is going much better than I ever expected.

I tend to write stuff on here when things are going badly as a way of coping with it. See the 2011 Fringe entries for this. Also, I know that my torment makes for a more interesting read.

The audiences I’ve had have been amazing. For a midday time-slot, I was worried they would be a little reserved. But things have been getting pretty rowdy during the quiz, with heated debates and chanting for teams to lose points. I’m having so much fun with this show. Even after performing the same format since 2014, I’m still finding new laughs in bits I’ve been doing for two years. Adding to this, every audience throws something unique at me.

This year, I’m made a conscious effort to avoid looking for reviews to just allow me to focus on the show and not be influenced by what commentators think, which may make me lose confidence in something. I’ve even been avoiding going on the EdFringe website to see if any audience reviews are up. This can wait until I’m back in the real world.

One lesser-known publication in particular has been tweeting the review at me several times to try and get me to retweet it. As it’s a three-star review, it would be pretty pointless to retweet. It also didn’t look especially flattering when I skim-read it, but I genuinely don’t care. The show is selling out and the audiences seem to enjoy it quite enthusiastically. That’s enough for me.

When I was writing the show in 2014, I listened to a lot of Pulp. There’s a line in the track Sylvia that I have adopted as my philosophy to Edinburgh Fringe: “Keep believing and do what you do.” I mean, the song’s about a woman who’s a recovering drug addict. But this line in particular is something that resonates with me, plus the guitar solo is amazing.

I now have just three shows left. At the moment, I don’t want this run to end.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2016 – Days 1-3

For the first time ever, I can say that my show actually sold-out. As in all the tickets were sold, not that it was a full room at a free show. Not that I’m demeaning this achievement by any means, but I think that selling all the tickets means a bit more.

Three shows down, and they’ve all been fun. I had 11 in for Thursday’s show and 35 in for Friday’s. The first two took a little while to get going, as midday crowds can sometimes take a bit more warming up than those that have had a couple of pints a few hours later.

But yesterday’s show was definitely up there with some of the best I had last year. I could tell it would be a good show from the start, just from how they instantly started giving me stuff to work with. A hen do in the front-row provided ample opportunities for riffing.

There are a few things I still need to refine and my ad-libbing yesterday could have been a bit sharper in places, but I’m not far away from how I want the show to be. Regardless, if a hen do want to take your picture after the show and hard-drinking northern men who also had tickets then invite you to join them at their their table for a chat, then you know you’ve done well. The best thing is that I still don’t feel I’ve hit my stride yet and feel I can go up a few gears. I now have to do it all again today.

I am now starting to get used to the once-alien concept of people paying to see my Fringe show and being part of the same venue group as some of my comedy heroes. It still feels bizarre hearing the front of house staff asking punters if they’re there to see me and having a tech for my show. I’m used to doing everything myself.

After my show yesterday, I went back to the Kilderkin to help the people doing shows there set-up the room and show them the ropes. Although I have many fond memories of my four Fringes there, I’m glad I don’t have to do the set-up every day this year. The torch has now been passed and I wish them all a successful Fringe.

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Here comes the fear again

It’s that time of the year again, Edinburgh Fringe is upon us and I’ve barely recovered from the last one. It also means this website will be getting a lot busier for the next few weeks.

Since I last wrote, I have done two previews in places I have called home. One was in Walthamstow at the Rose and Crown and the other was this Saturday just gone in my actual hometown of Stroud.

Shout out to Lar (who set-up and then saved this website) and his crew for making up a significant chunk of my audience at my Stroud preview.

Both previews were friendly, but could have gone better and I didn’t feel like I hit my stride. But on the plus side, you always want previews to have a few flaws as it makes you think harder about how you can improve the show. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

It’s going to be a very different Fringe this year, perhaps more so than ever. For one thing, I won’t have that whinging old bag Demetris Deech following me around for a month.

For the first time ever, I won’t be getting the train there this year as I’m driving. This will mean I’ll be spared the ordeal of having to race against the clock to make it to my train while lugging several heavy bags, checking my watch obsessively throughout. Then dramatically boarding with barely a minute to spare before departure, drenched in sweat, with four and a half hours to try and catch my breath. I begin my journey to Scotland tomorrow evening and I’m staying a night in Cumbria on the way up to break the drive up a bit.

Another thing that’s different is that I already have a strong indication of what my audience numbers will be like from the presales. I’m close to selling-out at least three dates already, which is astonishing. Last year, I was caught completely off guard by the sheer number of people wanting to see my show. This year, I know what to expect, or will just keep pretending I do.

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Tickets

I had my first Edinburgh preview on Saturday night in Derby and it was a nice way to kick things off.

Before the show started, the promoter told me that only four tickets had been sold. Living and breathing the London open mic circuit for six years prepares you well for performing in front of such small audiences, so the show would go on. Much to my surprise, the audience number doubled and included my old friend Stevie Gray who now lives very close to the venue.

Despite there being eight people in a room set out for a lot more, they were good fun and exactly what I needed to get back into the swing of things. Everyone was keen to chip in, particularly a young lady in the front row who may have had a fair amount to drink. These sorts of audiences are more enjoyable than those that are a bit more reserved.

Having a smaller crowd also gave me a chance to try out the new marking method of letting the audience swap with each other instead of me marking it all from the stage. I’m still trying to think of a way I can still get to look at what people have written, as this has led to a lot of fun in previous shows and given the audience more of a chance to get a bit more involved.

Having done free shows on the Fringe for so long makes the concept of presale tickets a bit alien to me. I’d been sent a link just over a month ago by the Stand where I could check to see how many I’d sold. I put off looking at it for weeks, as I was convinced I wouldn’t have sold many. Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I was delighted to discover that I’d sold 85 tickets. This was out of a total of 660, I was still overjoyed nonetheless.

Checking the presale link has since become something of an obsession of mine in the days that have followed. I wasn’t concerned about performing to small audiences; I’m used to that as you may have noticed. I was more concerned about losing the venue money and have been anxiously waiting to see if I reach the point where I break even.

Well, I am very pleased to announce that I have now sold almost half of my tickets with more than two weeks before the show is due to begin. Now I know I’m in profit, I can stop worrying about losing the venue money and instead focus on making the show the best I can. What I thought was a stupid idea for a show two and a half years ago isn’t turning out too badly.

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We meet again, Mr gong

King Gong at the Comedy Store is known for being pretty brutal. The last time I did it in London, I was gonged off after 20 seconds before I could even get to my first punchline.

I’d put off doing it in Manchester for long enough, so finally took the plunge last night and was bracing myself for another ordeal. But it was a much more pleasant experience than my previous three attempts in London. For a start, the venue is about half the size and doesn’t feel as intimidating.

The crowd were mostly pretty nice. I can only assume that the usual ruffians you’d expect at these gigs were attending the Coldplay concert at the City of Manchester Stadium. In fact, the most hostile person in the audience was Shane from Boyzone. He was there watching one of his friends taking part, and took exception when another act pointed him out. He got quite aggressive, shouty and sweary. You wouldn’t expect this sort of behaviour from Ronan Keating.

I was on early in the second half, which I thought was a bad as you generally stand a better chance of lasting the distance if you go on earlier.

I started off well, but after about a minute I was heckled by someone who wasn’t Shane from Boyzone. The heckler was correcting my geography. I say my home town of Stroud is near Bristol, but someone shouted out that it’s actually nearer Gloucester. This is of course true, but I’m going with the assumption that more people know where Bristol is than Gloucester. The interaction got a big laugh and I went back to her later in the set, which got another good laugh. Later on, I was heckled by someone else and I said the geography heckler was still my favourite.

So then I thought I’d see what Shane from Boyzone had to throw at me. Just as he started shouting and swearing at me, the music played to say I’d gone the distance.

For the first time ever at a Comedy Store gong show, I lasted the full five minutes. Unlike my last gong show at the Frog and Bucket last month where I scraped through unjustifiably, none of the three card-holding audience members had one aloft. I think the key difference was that I was having fun last night, and wasn’t on the other occasion. I did well, but can do better.

At the end, the four of us who’d made the cut had to perform an extra minute. I did okay, but not as well as two of the others and knew even before then that I wasn’t going to win the audience vote. It didn’t matter; just lasting that elusive five minutes was enough for me.

But in hindsight, I really should have sung a Boyzone song in that extra minute. Still, I’ll be prepared for next time.