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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Alex Love (@thisalexlove) November 30, 2013
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.
You get used to travelling great distances to perform in front of handfuls of people in small pubs, which is what I was expecting at a gig I did this week in Hemel Hempstead.
But when I entered to venue, I was taken aback by the amount of people I saw. The place was absolutely packed and the promoter told me that 180 tickets had been sold. This was by far the largest audience I have performed in front of, excluding my two brief appearances at the 500-ish Comedy Store Gong show crowd this year and in 2006 for 3 minutes 30 seconds and 46 seconds respectively.
The demographic of audience boded well, as they can accurately be described as senior. The average of the room was probably mid-to-late 50s, which tend to be the best audiences. At least, they tend to the audiences who are most receptive to my material.
Although with so many people in quite a long room, I was concerned that the people sitting furthest away from the stage would feel a bit detached from it all and possibly talk amongst themselves.
As frequently happens, my concerns turned out to be unfounded and it was the people at the back who were actually the loudest laughers. It turned out to be a really nice gig and all the acts were warmly received.
And to prove that I live a glamorous, show-business lifestyle, this picture on the right was on what I like to call the ‘green table’. It wasn’t quite a green room. Yes, I am now officially an artist.
In this past week, I have battled two very different but nonetheless challenging rooms.
The first gig was in Windsor, where I was opening. The audience were mostly middle-class and middle-aged, and they were hard work. It was difficult to get them going and there was an awkward atmosphere. They went for some of my stuff, but really didn’t go for other bits. Material that I can normally depend on didn’t raise much more than a chuckle or two, and I had to work really hard just to get that level of response.
The second gig was in Brixton on a Friday night, where there was a microphone and stage at one end of a very busy bar. Only about 15% of the people were initially listening to the comedy, but with persistence and no other real alternative, attention figures reached the dizzy heights of around 35%.
For my set, I decided the best tactic was to be as loud as possible, compromising any subtleties or nuances for brash volume. I like to call this the Langton Technique.
It was actually very enjoyable and in difficult circumstances I managed to extract a respectable level of laughs. It has actually made me think about using this approach in quieter gigs, because I think I perform better in this heightened state.
The reason I have taken almost an entire week to write this up is because my usual weekend writing spot was shunted in favour of a trip to Portsmouth. There was a small gathering of my group of friends I went to university with to mark the ten years since we started there.
On the train there, I passed through Havant, where this crazy comedy odyssey began.
The reunion was everything you would expect from a university reunion: lots of alcohol, then denying and accepting age.
I am always a bit sceptical when I receive emails offering me gigs through my website when I have not previously had any contact with the promoter.
The level I am at, I get most of my gigs through either emailing promoters to ask for them, or I am offered spots by people I know.
Earlier this year, I received an email from the University of Hull’s Amnesty International Society asking if I would like to be one of the comedy acts on a bill with bands at their annual ball. Performing comedy on the same bill as bands is never a pleasant experience, but it is certainly far more pleasant than what the people have gone through who Amnesty help. I was up for it, as I do like to put myself through such adventures, but unfortunately it clashed with something else I was doing.
When I get an email from someone I’ve not previously contacted, I am always a bit paranoid that it could be some sort of elaborate trap. But why anyone would go to all that effort to kidnap me, I am not entirely sure. I am not a criminal psychologist.
I received an email a few months back offering me a gig in Peterborough that I was previously unaware of. I agreed to it and it took place this past Friday.
I am aware that the fact I am writing this is a spoiler that I probably wasn’t walking into a kidnapping scenario. Nevertheless, when I was waiting for a lift at the train station, the thought of being bundled into the back of a van was still in the back of my mind.
It turned out to be a real gig and a great one too, with a very friendly and receptive 70 people in. Perhaps that man is also legit who keeps emailing me offers about a particular brand of sports shoes named after a famous American basketball player.