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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.

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On the road

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.

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A tale of two five minutes

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.

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One month in and exciting news

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.

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Manchester-based

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.

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2016 begins

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.

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What 2015 has seen

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.

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Manchester calling

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.

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Back to reality

I had a couple of weeks off from gigging after Edinburgh in an attempt to recover, although I still don’t feel I fully have.

After performing to packed rooms for three weeks in August, I’ve had a lot of trouble adjusting back to the opposite of this on the London open mic circuit. I’ve done about ten gigs so far and audience numbers have mainly been scarce. On the rare occasion that they have been larger, I’ve not done very well. Perhaps I really was in a parallel universe for a month.

It has been mainly the lows of previous Fringes that have given me motivation to improve when returning to the normal circuit afterwards. But having a good Edinburgh has perhaps increased my expectations unrealistically.

This week, I died on my arse doing five minutes in front of about 15 comedians and one civilian called James. I was trying out some new material that I’d half-written before Edinburgh and had already lost faith in, but I felt the need to try something new out anyway. It was a friendly room, but my half-baked ramblings received indifference.

I needed this. I think it was my subconscious trying to slap me very hard in the face to snap me out of whatever this coma of complacency is that I’m in danger of falling into. I need to get back into the habit of writing regularly again, which I’ve not done for some months. And in a warped kind of way, a bad gig such as this is exactly what I needed.

Failure is healthy in comedy and makes you think harder about improving. Success is not without its downsides, or so I’m told.

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My 2015 Edinburgh Fringe

I am now adjusting back to normality after the amazing, draining and utterly ridiculous experience that this year’s Fringe has been.

It still doesn’t seem entirely real and I never thought that it would ever go as well. It was a year when almost everything seemed to go right, give or take a few flat shows. I will savour it for as long as I can, because I know that good Fringes can be few and far between.

From 19 shows, 18 were standing-room only. The other one had about six empty chairs.

As I’ve said previously, I am acutely aware that the hundreds of people who came to see the show did not come to see me; they came for the pub quiz element. And I’m fine with that, when no-one knows who you are then you have to come up with a concept for a show that will get people along to see it. Once you have an audience then it’s down to you to win them over, and for the most part I did just that.

Many people loved the show, but there were those who really hated it. And that’s good, I want that. If comedy is not provoking at least some reaction, then it is not doing what it’s meant to do.

I’ve not been used to having full rooms over consecutive days stretching into weeks. It took some adjusting to and used a lot of energy. In previous Fringes, I’ve had full rooms during the run, but these days have been balanced out with quieter ones. It would be stupid to complain about something such as this, but it was a new experience.

I am comfortable with failure and know how to deal with it, mainly through the medium of biscuits. Although success is something I’ve found another challenge entirely, even if it has been on a fairly modest scale.

In the day or two after my run ended, I was adamant that I would take a year off from doing the Fringe. I was utterly shattered and even thinking about 2016 was using too much energy. Yet in the couple of days that followed, my mind started wandering with ideas for what I could do and things have escalated. I expect now that I will probably be doing a show next year.

In How To Win A Pub Quiz, what I have is a concept that requires very little flyering to get a full-room in a venue that’s a fair trek from anywhere. I’m not going to pretend that the show is perfect, but it is a format that works and is usually good fun. Not only that, it can cover its costs. It would be foolish for me to drop it. At the same time, I also want to write an hour of stand-up at some point. Two shows next year is a possibility, even if the very thought is exhausting at the moment.

If I do a show, I don’t know if it’ll be as good as this year, and I don’t know if I’ll ever top this one. I do know that I’ll give it everything and hope for the best. I’ll also stock up on biscuits.