I returned to the Manchester Comedy Store last night to try my luck in the gong show. This is the point where I would usually go into great detail about how due to a combination of circumstances and my own shortcomings, I was unsuccessful in my attempt at lasting the full five minutes*.
But after hearing some tragic news today, I’ve realised that none of it matters in the grander scheme of things.
The news I am referring to is the death of one of my friends on the London comedy circuit, Chris Joyce. It doesn’t really feel real typing that sentence even after drinking almost an entire bottle of wine.
I first encountered Chris at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell, which Langton would be hosting. It would be my default gig on a Wednesday if I didn’t have anything else in the diary, which meant I’d be there most weeks. In the early days, Chris would bring most of the audience and rip the room apart with his song ‘She’s pretty racist’, about dating a girl with questionable views.
I’d usually be trying stuff out and fare less well. Although what got us talking was one of the stupidest bits of material I’ve ever written, being a series of jokes about giant squid. For some reason, Chris really loved this and would often come up to me before a gig and make sure that I was doing it. It turns out that something I’d written about giant squid had legs after all, eh? Yeah, that punchline has bombed on stage.
That stupid joke that he really liked ended up evolving into a sold-out Edinburgh show. I’m glad I got to tell him this, because if he hasn’t insisted I do it whenever I saw him then I might have lost faith in it and never come up with How To Win A Pub Quiz.
The last time I saw Chris was in Edinburgh in 2015 when I was flyering for my ridiculous run at the Kilderkin. But that’s the thing with life; you rarely know when something is happening for the last time.
He was diagnosed with a brain tumour ten months ago and I got the impression he’d beaten it and had returned to doing gigs. Unfortunately, this was more wishful thinking on my part.
I hoped we would do another gig together and I’d look across the room before I was about to go on, then he’d pump his fist at me while mouthing the chant ‘Squid, squid, squid’. Sadly, this won’t happen. What’s even sadder is that the world has lost a genuinely great bloke. It is rare to meet someone in comedy who is liked by everyone that they encounter, both as an act and a human being. Chris was one of these people and taken far too young.
In tribute, I will continue to do my giant squid joke in spite of it often getting a room of blank stares, because I know that somewhere in the ether there is going to be someone who is enjoying it.
RIP, mate. I’ll miss you. Squid, squid, squid.
*For the record, my time last night was 2 minutes 30 seconds. My worst ever time at the Comedy Store gong show in London, when I was on the same night as Chris. Before the show, we had an in-depth discussion about squid types and sizes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t even able to get to this material in my tight 20 second set that night.
My two-date run at Glasgow Comedy Festival had a distinct old school feel to it. For one thing, I was doing the show in its original 6pm time-slot in a venue that’s quite far away from where everything else is taking place.
I also had to get the room ready before the show on both days, do my own tech and wasn’t entirely sure just how many people would be coming. It felt a lot like the 2014 Edinburgh run than the ridiculous numbers that followed in subsequent years. I was even battling the lurgy.
On the night before I was due to go up there, I got an email from one of the bar staff saying that it wouldn’t be possible to hook-up to the PA from where the show would be taking place. Thankfully, I had a back-up plan in the form of the amp that came with the Argos guitar I got for my 18th birthday. Unfortunately, it only has one input point so I had to switch from mic to MP3 player during the show. It wasn’t particular slick, but it did the job.
I managed to get 28 punters on Saturday, with 26 on Sunday. Saturday was pretty raucous in the best possible way, with one lady in the front row keen to get involved as much as possible and even getting up and dancing during the music round. Someone in the group she was with had seen the show at the Fringe last year, so it’s nice to get some repeat business.
At one point during to the show, The Facts Bell flew out of my hand and smashed onto the concrete floor. I thought I had lost her for a moment, but she pulled through and is now fully operational again.
Sunday was a little more sedate, but still friendly and fun all the same. I had to contend with some hecklers out of sight at the bar, but it did add a bit of welcome unpredictability to things.
Another thing I enjoyed about doing a show in the early evening again was awarding points to anyone who bought me a pint. This time, I only received two, so didn’t wake up the next day to find myself on my bedroom floor in a pile of my dirty washing.
So, all in all, Glasgow was good fun. I had some nice audiences, just about broke even, and got bought four pints, so I can’t really complain. Glasgow is a great city and I’d love to spend some more time there.
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.
Since I last wrote, I have been on a road trip up to Scotland and north-east England. I had three gigs booked for Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle and thought I’d make a semi-holiday out of it as I now have a car and it would break the drive up a bit.
As the Lake District was en route, i made sense to spend a couple of nights there. For all the locations I was going to, a quaint little town in a car park near the Beatrix Potter museum wasn’t where I was expecting to have anything stolen from my car.
When I returned to it in the morning, I discovered that someone had stolen the glass from one of my wing-mirrors. I never had problems with anyone wanting to take anything from my 16 year old, battered Nissan Micra. It was annoying, but could have been worse. I got a cheap replacement as a temporary repair, which I’ll probably have for the next five years.
If only I could use some Ant-Man technology to make my car tiny to fit on my key-ring, then it would save a lot of hassle about parking and people stealing things. But then people would be able to run off numerous carrying cars at once, so it wouldn’t be without its problems.
I also ate some really nice meals, which I didn’t feel the need to take pictures of and post online. The exception to this was a vegetable and stilton crumble that had a layer of water in the middle. Consequently, there were repercussions that I also didn’t feel the need to take pictures of and post online. This was the same day that my wing-mirror was stolen, so it wasn’t one of my favourite days ever.
The gigs were with the Stand venues and I’d wanted to do all three in a week for a long time, but geography and holiday amounts set aside for the Fringe never allowed this.
Edinburgh was first. When I last did it in 2014, it was the stuff of comedy dreams. This time, it was decent, but not as good as when I last did it. On the plus side, I was staying in someone’s house and not in a cheap hostel with nine very loud Brazilian men.
The Glasgow gig was the best of the trilogy. The crowd were amazing and although a couple of my line lines sank without a trace, this was made up for by bigger laughs for other stuff and crowd interaction. What made this gig even more of a thrill was that it was the very same stage where Stewart Lee filmed a couple of DVDs, including his first one with the Ang Lee routine.
As with most trilogies, the third never quite tops the second and the Newcastle gig was the hardest work. The crowd were great for the first section, but by the time I got on stage following what can only be described as an art experiment that went wrong, I could tell they’d had enough and were dire in need of an interval. By this point, the energy in the room was pretty flat. Even so, I still managed to get them some decent laughs out of them and people came up to me said some nice things to me afterwards, but I would have preferred performing in easier circumstances. Never mind, I will return and do better.
In other news, I’ve finally figured out a way I can write on my laptop and transfer it to my phone for upload. I am still without an internet connection in my flat as I don’t want to pay £20 a month for something I’m only going to use on the few evenings and weekends when I’m actually around. So this should mean I’ll be able to write more regularly.
It may seem obvious, but five minutes can seem like a hell of a long time if it’s not going well. At a comedy gig, space-time can actually bend around the stage and five minutes can last for several days. Conversely, if it’s going well then space-time speeds up and it’s over in a nanosecond.
This week, I have performed two five minute sets at two of the bigger clubs in the UK. One didn’t go well, but I beat the gong so was still technically a success. The other one went much better, mainly because I could relax due to the lack of the sword of Gongocles hanging over my head.
On Monday, I managed to last the distance at Beat the Frog despite being on last and much of the audience not liking my set. Two out of the three audience with cards were holding them up. Fortunately, my safe passage was ensured by the third card holder really enjoying my act. From the largely flat audience reaction, I didn’t really feel like I’d earned it when the music hit to confirm I’d beaten the gong. Still, it’s an improvement on when I last did it and I can mark it as W on my personal gong record. I hate gong shows, but it is one way of getting seen by the bigger clubs so is a necessary evil.
The second gig was at Glee in Birmingham, as part of the try-out section. I was instantly more at ease than Monday due to it being a gong-free zone, and also that I nearly always have nice gigs in Brum. It went well, I got some big laughs and enjoyed it much more than Monday. I also got a free pint and chocolate brownie, so I’m definitely marking this as a win.
I’m currently writing this from a cafe 30 seconds from my flat that I heard was interested in running a comedy night, which would be ideal for me. First impressions aren’t good. The beer is expensive, I hate the music and would probably actively avoid most of the clientele. It would be hard to run a gig somewhere I wouldn’t want to go through choice. Fortunately, I am scouting incognito, so they’ll never know I was here. If I do start running a night soon, then I must have been talking about a different place.
I have now been living in Manchester for a month and am still adjusting to my new comedic surroundings.
I have been a bit frustrated by not being able to gig as regularly as I’m used to, but it’s going to take at least couple more months to suss out the circuit and get myself known by promoters. I’ve had some decent gigs, some bad ones, and a very weird but enjoyable one in a social media office that looked like the set of Nathan Barley.
I still have yet to do a gig where I feel I’ve fully hit my stride. Manchester ain’t seen the best of me yet. I also need to work out a way to address my obvious southern accent, as it’s not something I’ve ever had to do before. I might be over thinking it and it might not even really be something people particularly care about. Nevertheless, it’s going to do me good to be out of my comfort zone. I’ve written more new stuff in the past month than I have in the past couple of years. Not all of it is comedy gold, mind, but the important thing is I am creating stuff.
In news that excites me greatly, I will be performing at Edinburgh Fringe this year after all. How To Win A Pub Quiz has been accepted by The Stand. I’m only doing a half-run, as it is supposed to be my year off, but I am thrilled at being part of the same set of venues as so many of my comedy heroes.
What started out as a bit of fun in the hope of getting an audience of double figures every day to a free show has grown into a show that was full for an entire run and is now in a venue where people will have to pay to see it.
The slot is at midday in the 60-capacity Stand 5, so I’m well aware of the challenges I face, but my excitement remains undiminished.
I am now officially a Manchester resident and am really enjoying my new surroundings.
Although it might rain a ridiculous amount up here, it is much less stressful than London, as well as being friendlier and cheaper.
But now I have my own flat, there are a lot of things from previous houses that I took for granted such as kettles, toasters and internet connection. I’m slowly accumulating the necessary things, although I’m currently writing this from my phone.
As expected, my move didn’t go entirely as planned. I bought a new car from a garage back home especially for the move, with the plan to drive it to London to load up with my stuff and then drive to my new abode.
I paid for insurance, but then found out that because I didn’t have the logbook, I couldn’t tax it and legally drive it. This meant I had to use my trusty old Nissan Micra for the 140 mile drive to London and subsequent 204 mile drive to Didsbury. The marvel of engineering completed the journey with ease and I’m taking her back home again this weekend to collect my new ride now all the paperwork has come through. If my new car’s half as reliable as the Micra, I will be delighted. Being half as reliable may also see me spending a lot more of time on the hardshoulder waiting for help.
I had my first gig as a northwest-based comic last night in Liverpool. It was a bit flat, but I did managed to get some decent sized laughs from a crowd that looked like they’d rather be somewhere else. Mind you, a lot of gold sank without a trace. I have a few more gigs in the diary, but am still just sussing out the circuit.
Last night, I had my first gig of the year. It was a weird one, but a lot of fun.
As it’s still early January, I was expecting it to be a quiet one. But the room in Streatham had around 40 people in, which was substantially larger than the ten or 12 that were on the couple of occasions I’d been there previously.
Although my material got laughs, the biggest responses of my set were when I was just talking to the audience about nothing in particular. Asking people what they were drinking seemed to be the most popular thing, which was all just very bizarre.
I think I only ended up doing five minutes of material, with five minutes of playing around. It worked, even if I can’t really explain why.
I’m going to try and do as many gigs as I can before I leave London on 30 January and have a few more lined up.
Every year, I set myself targets or challenges for the comedy year ahead. For 2015, I set myself a target of 150 gigs and getting something I’d written on the radio. Neither of these ended up materialising, partly due to a lack of organisation, gigs being cancelled, and a whole lot of other stuff going on.
In Manchester, it might be difficult to do as many gigs in London and my tally will take a further hit should I not do the Fringe. But hopefully the gigs that I do will be to larger paying audiences on pro-bills. I also might actually be able to start getting a bit more cash for doing comedy.
In terms of wages, comedy works almost the exact opposite to the rest of the country. Mostly, wages in London are higher than elsewhere in the UK. However, in comedy, it is a lot easier to get paid gigs outside of London, with northern England a particularly good place for this. There is even money for middle 10 minute spots, which are predominantly unpaid in London.
So this year, I’m simply going to set myself the target of writing more material and making more of an effort to book gigs. I’ll be driving when I’m Manchester-based, so that will open up a lot more gig opportunities too.
Now let’s see what 2016 has in store.
As it is the final day of 2015, I will now recap what has taken place in the past 12 months.
I have chalked-up the lowest amount of gigs since I moved to London six years ago, with a measly 105. I’ve previously averaged about another 25 in previous years.
This is for a number of reasons, firstly is that a few of the gigs I relied on previously either stopped this year or were put on hiatus for large periods. I’ve also had much less time to book gigs as since I got promoted in the day job, I have a lot more work to get on with.
I’ve also not been writing anywhere near as much material this year. I’m not entirely sure why this was, partly because the gigs I’d use for trialling this were not available, but it is something I’m planning on rectifying next year. As a result, very little of what I have written has made it into my club sets.
But the one obvious thing is that stands out for 2015 is my Fringe run. I don’t know if you were aware of this, but it actually went pretty well. In fact, I was utterly unprepared for how well it did go. At the start of the year, if I’d been offered the chance to have the Fringe I did in exchange for doing the lowest amount of gigs and new material written then I would have taken it. Actually, I may have refused the deal just to be typically difficult.
Nevertheless, I do feel it has made me complacent and it was difficult going back to the scarce audience surroundings of the London open mic circuit after performing to full rooms throughout August. I can’t really complain though.
Within the next month, I will have moved to Manchester and will be a regular driving comic for the first time ever. I don’t know what the next 12 months will bring, but I am looking forward to them.
Best film: Star Wars – The Force Awakens. I went to the midnight screening and had to be in work for 9am the next day. I was so relieved to discover that the film was good. It wasn’t perfect, but it was hugely enjoyable and got me even more excited about seeing what happens next in the series. Since Walthamstow has had a cinema, I’ve seen far more films than possibly since university.
Best album: The Darkness – Last of Our Kind. No surprises here. I didn’t actually buy that many new albums this year, so it was a toss-up between this one and The Force Awakens soundtrack.
Low of 2015: The Tories getting a majority at the general election. Still, at least David Cameron will be remembered as the prime minister who put his cock in a dead pig.
High of 2015: Edinburgh Fringe.
What I’m looking forward to most about 2016: escaping London and getting my own flat.
It has been some time since I’ve written anything on here and I have some news: I am moving to Manchester in January after six years in London.
When I moved to London at the start of 2010, I knew it would never be permanent; but it has been much longer than I originally planned. Every time I kept trying to leave, something kept making me stay.
I’ve wanted to move up north for some time, as it’s a lot easier to progress to paid gigs. In London, you can do multiple try-out spots at the bigger clubs. Even if you do well every time, there’s no guarantee you’ll end up getting booked for a paid spot. This is partly because there are so many people pushing for a finite amount of gigs.
I’d been looking at the possibility of finally making the break this year, even setting aside five days holiday after Edinburgh specifically for job interviews. Then it turned out that my current company has bought an office in Manchester and wanted to send me there anyway. Thus my ridiculous run of luck in 2015 extends further. I have since ended up using the five days for my first holiday since 2007, with a week in Malta.
Another positive is that my six years of house shares is coming to an end, with some downright bizarre and uncomfortable experiences. Although my current place is my favourite house-share I’ve had, I‘ll be able to rent my own flat in Manchester for what I pay at the moment to live with four other people. I’ve also worked out I’ll be saving around £150 a month on travel, as a monthly pass in Manchester costs the same as a week’s in London. I also plan on buying a car to drive around to more gigs.
I barely know anyone in Manchester and have never been there, which is in line with being a Man United fan when I was growing up. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been hugely positive about the place, and I have some flat viewings booked for next week. This is the start of an exciting new adventure.