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A preview and a half

My weekend of previews continued with shows booked for Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday, I had an audience of three people. This is what happens when you have Paul Langton responsible for promoting, but he wasn’t entirely to blame and the weather should also take responsibility. If you ask people to choose between either sitting in a darkened room to watch some comedy or sitting out in the sun, the solar menace tends to win. But the joke is on them, because we had air-conditioning.

Nevertheless, an audience of three people is still an audience. I have performed to smaller audiences before and I expect I will in the future. I have said multiple times over the years, those three people are there to see a show. It’s not their fault that they are surrounded by empty chairs.

So I gave them a show.  It went as well as you could expect a show to go in front of three people, I enjoyed it and felt there was a good rhythm to my set.

For Sunday’s preview, it was off to Winchester to the exact same pub where I had something of an ordeal at a music open mic night in November 2005. Back then, I believe it was my seventh gig and I was the only one doing stand-up in a packed room that was mostly full of apathy. The first eight minutes was people talking amongst themselves, with a few people shouting rude things at me. Everyone eventually quietened down and I managed to get at least one laugh. I considered this to be a good gig back then.

Back in 2014, I was originally going to be on about 8.30pm, which would have allowed me to get on the 10.23pm train back to London, get the last tube and probably get five hours sleep before work.

But then this was bumped back to 9.45pm. As the trains only run hourly, if I had done my full hour then I wouldn’t have arrived back in London until 12.30am. Being a Sunday, the tubes would have stopped, forcing me to get a night bus home and I likely wouldn’t get any more than three hours sleep before work.

So to avoid this horror, I asked if I could only do half my show and then run to get my train. I think I ended up doing closer to 20 minutes in the end, but it was well received. I then got my train and my reward of five hours sleep.

I have two previews left before I head up to Scotland. My show is not quite there yet, but is definitely coming together.

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Humidity

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year, it was also when I had my fourth Edinburgh preview.

It was in the second half of the night I run in Walthamstow and I could feel that the audience were hot and tired within about ten minutes.

Gigging in shorts is something that doesn’t feel entirely right and I had planned to change into my jeans before my set. But due to the sweltering conditions, I opted to leave my legs exposed. I explained to the audience that if it was going badly, I would blame it on the shorts and change into my jeans. When a couple of punchlines fell flat, I changed my attire while still on stage.

They were a nice crowd, but a fair number of things in my set didn’t get a laugh where I hoped. This is particularly useful for an Edinburgh preview, because it then makes you look more closely at your material and how you can improve it. So I am grateful for the clammy conditions.

I have another preview in a couple of hours in Stockwell, then another one tomorrow in Winchester. By then end of Sunday, I should have a better idea of how much more work I need to do to improve my show.

It was also Ruby’s this week, which saw the return of Luke Thompson from his two-year Parisian exile. We managed to get the room the fullest so far in our new venue, largely because of Luke’s friends. I had intended to do a set, but Luke forgot to introduce me and called an interval instead. It worked out for the best, because we were running late anyway so this allowed us to get back on time and finish early. It was a great night with Sara Pascoe headlining and thankfully Luke didn’t do a repeat of his infamous Robert De Niro improv meltdown from Brighton in 2012.

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Two previews and a canal boat

This week, I have had two Edinburgh previews and both have been ideal preparation. By this, I mean I had small audiences.

First up, I was in Balham as part of a weekend of previews. I was expecting a modest-sized crowd as my show overlapped with Phill Juptius, but any previewing time is worthwhile and I managed to get six people along to beat the Fringe average of five.

Despite having my first preview at the start of May, the one in Balham was only my second in total. I should have been more organised and booked another one or two in those six weeks.

As a result of the gap between previews, it felt a bit of a shambles at the time, which is a slight underestimate after listening back to my recording. A lot of the material fell flat and many of the laughs were from audience interaction. This can cause you to get disheartened and then deliver your material to the floor. But what I am pleased with is that I didn’t let my energy dip and ploughed on regardless.

Another thing I am pleased with is that I had to cut my material in order to reduce the show time after starting ten minutes late in the hope that more people would find their way to my show. I ended up finishing just about on time as well, which is crucial for the Fringe. There are numerous irritants when performing in Edinburgh, but one of my biggest gripes is with shows that overrun and cut into other people’s timeslots. If you start late, you have to cut your show down accordingly to avoid other performers hating you.

My second preview this week, and third in total, was in the more unusual setting of a canal boat. It is where a friend and colleague called Dan currently calls home. When a few of us visited there after work a few months back for a couple of cans of lager, Dan suggested running a comedy night on-board. I had a look at the layout and said that it could work.

Various other things got in the way between then and now, so it never happened. But as I was in desperate need of previews, I took Dan up on his offer.

At most comedy venues in London, you would hope to at least reach double figures for audience. However, on a small canal boat a crowd in double figures could be a hazard. Eight people was more than enough to fill the boat and for it to remain afloat.

I recruited Hatty Ashdown to preview her show. She did her show first, with the thinking behind this being that the audience would have more energy at the start of the evening and the boat wouldn’t be quite so hot. I figured that as the second half of my show is a quiz, I would only need half an hour of their energy and the quiz would be easier for flagging audience energy.

I had also been told by Moz (who now also lives on a canal boat) that the people who live up on the water in that area have been known to call the police if people cause too much noise. So if the police were to be called, it would be probably be my show that was affected and I wouldn’t then feel guilty for Hatty.

Hatty’s show went well. But I didn’t start mine until 9.40pm, so I planned to cut material and do a show that was 50 minutes. However, it didn’t quite work according to plan and I ended up doing an hour as I had a very vocal audience who were disputing some of my facts. I had to employ some crowd control skills. I am used to getting these types in Edinburgh, so thinking on my feet and adapting my show accordingly was highly useful experience.

The material went better on the canal boat, but I feel there is still more work to do on this.

The quiz went very well at both previews, but it is difficult to predict how long it is going to last. It is much easier to estimate material length, whereas the quiz is an unknown quantity and its time can vary as it is so interactive. This should make each show unique and I think I will have a lot of fun with it, but I am going to work out how best to control it.

One final thing, I know I left the last entry on a bit of a cliffhanger with my Edinburgh accommodation. I have something all sorted and will be able to save myself about £130 from the previous place I was looking at. So you don’t need to worry any more.

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Something had to go wrong somewhere

My Edinburgh Fringe preparations were all going just a little too well and I had a feeling that something would go wrong at some point.

It happened this week, when I discovered that the flat I’d booked at the start of April had been cancelled about a month ago without me knowing. The website I’d booked it through had sent me an email to say that I needed to re-enter my card details within 24 hours or my booking would be cancelled, then there was a second email to say that my order had been cancelled. I don’t know how these emails were missed, but they were missed nonetheless and I now had to deal with it.

This wasn’t what I needed to hear as it is less than two months to go until the Fringe starts. This could have potentially been a disaster, as everywhere that’s a decent price is likely to be have been booked up months in advanced.

I put the feelers out there almost instantly and had something lined up less than a day later. It will cost about £100 more each for the month and there are three bedrooms between the four of us, so we’ll have to rotate sleeping on the sofa bed.

But I think it has all probably worked out for the best. It turns out that I’d also missed another email from the website I’d booked the first flat with, to tell me that the four of us would be sleeping in one room. Mental note: open emails. Fortunately, I also hadn’t parted with any money.

If you enjoyed this blog, you are welcome to email me, but I can’t guarantee I’ll actually open it.

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Two months to go

I have almost exactly two months left until my Edinburgh show begins and I have not gigged at all this past week.

This would ordinarily be a concern, and perhaps I’m setting myself up for an inevitable fall, but I am currently feeling pretty confident about my show.

However, I have been doing Edinburgh for long enough now to know that you should never be too confident about anything at the Fringe. Every time you think you’ve got it sussed, it’ll throw something at you. Somewhere along the line, things will almost certainly go wrong and reality will come crashing down on you. The city is littered with debris from egos and destroyed souls.

My confidence could be coming from the various medications I’ve been taking for my chronic hayfever, but I think I have ‘something’ with this pub quiz concept.

In many ways, knowing that I have the quiz to fall back on takes some of the pressure off writing. I will actively be encouraging the audience to talk amongst themselves to discuss the answers, cunningly escaping the notorious final third when the audience’s energy is depleting.

I now don’t know if I’ll have the time to fit in everything I’ve written. This is definitely a better position to be in than desperately trying to make material stretch longer than it should, or throwing in some weaker stuff to pad it out. But then there is a chance what I include might not be very good after all, which is exactly what Edinburgh previews are for.

I’ll also need to think about prizes. The feeling of winning a pub quiz can sometimes be better than the prize you receive, especially if it’s a bottle of wine.

But all pub quizzes need prizes, everyone knows that.

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The first hour

I performed my first ever hour-long show on Sunday and was expecting it to go well, because it often is the way when you do something like this for the first time. Reality catches up with you the second or third time you try it and gives you a hard slap in the face, so I have that look forward to.

It did go well but was a step into the unknown, because it was the first time I was able to try out ideas that have been in my head for a few months. I was very fortunate to have a warm crowd who were prepared to go with me on tangents that didn’t end up going anywhere.

I am cheating somewhat by calling it an hour-long show, because it is only really roughly 30 minutes of me doing stand-up and then the rest is a quiz.

I wasn’t totally sure how the quiz was going to go. The plan was, and remains, to get the audience to write their answers on A5 whiteboards. Then I’d get them to show me their answers at the end of each round and I’d mark them from the stage area. However, this particular room took a little more negotiating than I anticipated and I had to go around to the teams individually. It wasn’t quite as smooth as I’d hoped, but teething problems were inevitable. The advantage is that I know how my room will be in Edinburgh already and had it in mind when thinking up this method.

For a first preview, it was exactly what I needed. There’s a lot I need to work on, but there’s enough in there to make a show I’m pleased with and I have a few months to get it into shape.

 

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New ground approaching

Tomorrow, I will perform the preview of my first ever solo show.

The thought of doing a solo show fills me with both excitement and dread, which are useful for motivators for ensuring that it is in decent shape.

In previous years, I haven’t started my Edinburgh previews until June. But I am actually feeling pretty confident about my show at the moment. Most of it is all written and much has been already been tested. However, until you start performing it in full, you can never really be sure if it all flows or works as intended.

The idea of the show is to have 35-40 minutes of stand-up and then a 15-20 minute pub quiz at the end. I have been thinking how I am actually going to be able to do this, because I would not have the time to mark participants’ answer sheets. Well, I could have the time, but I don’t imagine that watching me marking scores would be the most entertaining thing in the world.

I had played with the idea of having the audience compete against a team of experts via a ‘satellite link’ that may or not be fictional. Then I thought that people would actually quite like to compete against other teams in the room and be able to properly win.

So I had another idea of splitting the audience into teams and having them write their answers on small whiteboards, then they’d show me what they’d written for answers after five questions and I mark it as I go along. They’d then rub their answers out at the end of each round so they can write answers for the next round. Again, I don’t know if this is actually going to work, but I have a good feeling that it might just. I have bought ten A5 whiteboards and a bunch of marker pens. I will have a better idea of whether this idea actually works at around 10.30pm tomorrow night.

But failures are good and healthy. They give you a kick and make you think harder about at what you’re doing and how you can improve. I have experienced two such failures in the past ten days at high profile clubs in London at a time when I was on a good run of gigs. I have said many times before that it is easy to blame doing badly on factors beyond your control, such as room layout or audiences. But ultimately, you have to learn how to handle these situations to avoid the same thing happening again. It is better to die on your arse and learn from it, rather than coast along in a bubble of mediocrity.

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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.