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Posts tagged ‘How To Win A Pub Quiz’

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Trial and error

On Tuesday, I did something I haven’t done in a good few years.

No, it wasn’t that. I performed the latest incarnation of HTWAPQ in front of an audience who had no idea what show it was they were about to watch. It was at a weekly open mic night in Leeds in a small room that is reliably full.

The look of bewilderment on people’s faces when I handed out the stationary was something to behold.

Nevertheless, it was nice to do the show without any expectations and have the freedom to try stuff out. Although I never tire of performing HTWAPQ to packed rooms of paying punters, I sometimes miss the room to experiment where there is no pressure.

After all, trial and error were a massive part of how the show came to be in the first place. It’s just as well I still have open mic gigs then.

Having done variations of the show so many times in numerous venues, I have a good idea of what will work within the format. However, what I thought was about 15 minutes of material was actually closer to ten minutes, so I need to get some more writing done. The new stuff received a mostly positive response. But then again, it was the same venue in Leeds last year in my preview for Stop the Press where one particular bit got a massive laugh that was never anywhere close to being replicated in any of the other shows.

In spite of the set coming in shorter than expected, I know I can always rely on riffing and audience interaction to get me through this particular show. The quiz itself needs work, but I have plenty of time.

This Edinburgh, I just want to enjoy myself. Last year hit me hard both physically and mentally. I was spreading myself too thin and didn’t have enough time or energy to devote to making the best of my new show.

What is particularly exciting for me this year is that not only am I returning to the midday slot at Stand 2, but I am also doing several late-night shows in the 140-seater Stand 1 downstairs.

I don’t expect the sell this out. Then again, I never expected any of my other shows to sell-out when I first moved to the paid Fringe. I honestly had visions of people queuing up at the box office demanding refunds. Things didn’t quite work out like this.

Edinburgh Stand is a special place for me. When I first went up to the Fringe in 2010, I saw Stewart Lee in the same venue and said to a friend that my aim was one day do a show there. I may have achieved this via a gimmick, but I’m counting it as a colossal win nonetheless.

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From Queenstown to Swindon town

I still don’t like Queenstown.

It’s beautiful to look at, but it also knows this. Unlike the rest of New Zealand, it lacks a soul; largely as it’s pretty much just there for tourists.

That said, I enjoyed it more than when I was last there. This is because I wasn’t drunk every night and hungover every day. These two activities may also explain why lots of things in New Zealand aren’t entirely how I remember.

And just as a side note, the bar I got thrown out of in 2007 for being too drunk has since burnt down. So I think I won that battle eventually. Suck on that, bouncers.

But Queenstown is not somewhere you want to spend a lot of time. A couple of nights is all you need. In my experience, it also remains a magnet for twats. Twats with money who also want to throw themselves off platforms with elasticatated rope tied around their ankles.

Speaking of which, I returned to do the Nevis bungee/bungy. Even though I had done it before, jumping out of a cable car over a canyon and falling 134 metres is never going to be something that feels normal.

It was chillier than when I did it before. So getting a lung full of cold air as I fell added to the experience.

It provided quite a rush and was an exhilarating end to what turned out to be a nice little trip. I definitely won’t leave it another 12 years before I return to New Zealand, especially as I now have a cost-effective means of getting there thanks to ticket sales.

From Queenstown to Swindon town. The international tour rolled on.

Due to being wrapped up in my travels on the other side of the world, I had almost forgotten that I was bringing How To Win A Pub Quiz to Swindon Fringe Festival eight days after I arrived back in the UK.

In something highly unusual, I had barely given it a plug on Twitter. Luckily, I used my old hack connections and got an article in the Swindon Advertiser a couple of days before.

The show ended up selling out, which you may get tired of reading, but I never get tired of writing.

The crowd were great fun and interacting with them resulted in a lot of laughs.

The last event I went to in Swindon was Radio 1’s One Big Weekend that I was covering for the paper almost exactly ten years ago. The highlight of that day was getting back stage, blanking Vernon Kay and finding a tenner on the floor. Saturday’s show was much better in every sense. 

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How To Win A Pub Quiz Mini International Tour. Stop four: Dunedin

The final stop of my mini international tour was Dunedin.

I liked Dunedin last time I was there. Back then, it was a welcome escape from what turned out to be an awful stay in Queenstown.

Dunedin wasn’t quite how I remembered it. I don’t know if there’s been a lot of investment in it or that my perceptions of things in 2007 were skewed by alcohol and fatigue. Anyway, I liked Dunedin then and still like it.

Shortly after I arrived in my hotel, I had an email from the Otago Daily Times requesting an interview. As I don’t have a Kiwi sim card, a phone interview wasn’t feasible. So we did a Q&A over email.

Later on, a photographer was sent out to take a picture of me. I don’t think this has happened since I was in the birthday listings in the Stroud News and Journal when I was eight or nine years old. I’m more familiar with the other side of things.

The photographer even had a company car. I was amazed, as company cars were unheard of for reporters and photographers in my time at the local paper.

Onto the shows, ticket sales had been much quieter than I’m used to. On many occasions over the last couple of months, I would receive a daily automated ticket sales email to tell me I had not sold any tickets on that day.

I later learned that this is largely because people in Dunedin don’t really buy tickets for anything, which does explain a lot.

Fortunately, sales did pick up. In a 50 seater room, I had around 40 for the first show, which was pretty good going. It was also another lively one. I do love Kiwi crowds.

A few things went wrong, mainly the facts bell refusing to cooperate on several occassions. But it didn’t spoil the show and also got a few more laughs along the way.

For the second show, there wasn’t enough room for everyone who wanted to see it. If only they’d come on the previous day.

So, half an hour after the triumphant end to what was meant to be my final show, I did another performance due to overwhelming demand.

However, the extra show ended up being in front of nine people. It felt a bit anticlimactic after the previous show. Still, they paid to see it and more money helps reduce travel costs further.

And that brought an end to my NZ shows for this year.

This morning, I got a bus to Queenstown at 8.30am. Unlike in 2007, the bus wasn’t full of public school-educated 18 year olds. I am grateful for this.

I’m here for two nights, specifically to do the Nevis bungy/bungee before I fly home.

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How To Win A Pub Quiz Mini International Tour. Stop three: Christchurch

In Christchurch, things didn’t go entirely to plan.

What was originally offered as a free stay in a four-star hotel turned into a stay on a sofa, which later turned into nothing. So back to my hostel roots I went. I haven’t missed staying in hostels, but I splashed out on a single room to avoid sharing a dorm.

As for the show in the city, the venue cancelled it three days before. A replacement was quickly found, but a one-off show in a venue that’s changed with three days notice was always going to be tricky. Five people turned up, so I made the decision to pull it.

Small crowds are useful for testing stuff out. And when I was first trialling the show concept in 2014, I would have gone ahead with it. Yet with a polished show in the bag, this almost feels counter-productive. Look at me, being a diva.

Then again, tickets hadn’t really shifted in the previous venue. The show sells well, but only if it’s part of a larger festival and people are actively looking for stuff to see.

Despite the mishaps, I still enjoyed my time there. I co-hosted a pub quiz and MC’d an open mic gig. Once my show was cancelled, I got a lift to New Brighton to do a spot at a gig there, which was fun. I’d not been there before, but have spent many happy a time in the old Brighton. Sadly, I didn’t see a New Langton, New Moz or New Luke. It was only a quick trip though, so they might have been there.

A lot has changed in the Christchurch since I was last there. The earthquakes that struck in 2010 and 2011 did conisderable damage to the city, which is still recovering. Then earlier this month, an utter moron killed 50 innocent people. Events like this really put into context that it really doesn’t matter if a show is pulled.

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How To Win A Pub Quiz Mini International Tour. Stop two: Wellington, NZ

I am writing this entry from an environment that was highly familiar to me in 2007, but where I’ve not been since. I’m not referring to New Zealand, I am talking about internet cafes.

When I was in New Zealand last time, I would regularly frequent these places to keep in touch with people back home, write my travel blog, and generally use them as an escape from the backpacking experience or repeatedly watching the trailer for Spider-Man 3.

There were lots more internet cafes back then. This time, I had to hunt around pretty hard for one, as there don’t tend to be as many around these days. But I’m not here for nostalgia purposes, I’m in here as I needed to print something for my domestic flights and I figured I would make the most of the half-hour I’ve paid for by writing something.

Anyway, as you’re probably not reading this for information on internet cafes, I will move onto other things.

I have now finished my shows at NZ Fringe and I am pleased to report that they both sold-out, thus covering my flight costs. Friday’s was one of the liveliest I have done. They were up for it from the start and I had to use all the tools in my arsenal to keep them in line. Mainly deducting points. Friday’s show must have been the most times the ‘take one off’ chant has been used.

Saturday’s show was a little more sedate, but still good fun. Although all the tickets had been sold, nine people didn’t show up. But it doesn’t matter, because I still have their money.

I was gifted with a front-row of older people who were left confused by much of the show. These are usually the audience members I have most fun with as they have few inhibitions and will usually come out with an odd heckle or two. They didn’t disappoint.

The Cavern is a great room for comedy. It has low ceilings, is dark and has just the right amount of dinginess.

It’s nice being back in NZ. It’s a country I have a lot of affection for.

In 2007, I didn’t really enjoy Wellington that much. Mainly because the weather was bad and I was staying in hostels, living off a diet of pasta with flavoured  tuna.

But the combination of sun and not staying in hostels changes everything. Wellington is a city I could quite happily  live in. And who knows, perhaps one day I will do.

I fly to Christchurch tomorrow as I’m doing HTWAPQ there on Thursday.

Also, if you’re reading this and are in Dunedin, I am doing How To Win A Pub Quiz there on 30-31 March at Dee’s Cafe. Please buy a ticket.

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How To Win A Pub Quiz Mini International Tour. Stop one: Singapore

When I first came up with the idea of How To Win A Pub Quiz, my aim was to get double figure audiences every day at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe. I didn’t expect to be doing the show five years later and I certainly didn’t expect the idea would allow me to travel the world. But I am and it has.

The first stop on my mini international tour was Singapore. The last time I was there was confined to a quick stopover at the airport while the plane refuelled in 2007, when I think it was on my way back from New Zealand. It’s expanded pretty dramatically since then as I remember it being much smaller. Also, being in an airport doesn’t actually count as being in a country.

This time, I was totally unprepared for the humidity and was sweating profusely shortly after I left the airport. I’m used to sweating profusely on trains, but it’s normally due to me racing against the clock to catch one or being on the London Underground in rush-hour during the summer months.

I’d been booked in at a capsule hostel. Except it doesn’t feel like a hostel, which is basically like sleeping in a deep cupboard. It’s actually not bad, albeit with clammy conditions despite the air-conditioning being on constantly.

I was in town to do a show at The Merry Lion. As I was kind of limited with what days I could do, we settled on a Tuesday. It’s a great little room that had an audience of 15 people.

It’s not quite the crowds I’m used to with the show. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun and also achieved my show’s original aim of getting double figure audiences numbers. It has also opened up potential opportunities to perform the show elsewhere in South East Asia.

I have now arrived in Wellington, where the climate is much more manageable. I perform my first show in a couple of hours time at The Cavern Club. I am also pleased to report that I am sleeping in a much more spacious room that doesn’t require air-conditioning.

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Returning

Last Friday, I returned to the stage for the first time in nearly seven weeks.

I felt a little rusty, but broke the longest stretch of time without a gig since I returned to stand-up nine years ago. I needed a break after what was a physically and emotionally draining August. Then a resilient cough and cold extended my absence from the stage.

So, what have I been doing with myself other than being ill? I’ve been writing songs about the life and career of Ross Kemp, that’s what. I’d like to do an Edinburgh show on this, but it may take a while to come together. And as the old saying goes: if you’re going to write a musical about Ross Kemp, you might as well take the time to do it properly.

The other thing I’ve been doing is consistently questioning what I’m doing with my life and my next step. It’s been something that has left me dumbstruck, because I genuinely have no idea at the moment. What the hell am I doing and where am I going? I may still not know the answer to the former, but now have at least a temporary answer to the latter. I am going to New Zealand.

In March, I will return to the country I spent four months in my early 20s that consisted of travelling around and doing stupid things.

What’s different with this trip is that I’m going there to perform comedy, as I’m taking How To Win A Pub Quiz to NZ. A show that was inspired by giant squid is going to a country where these creatures live off the coast of.

I currently have dates in Wellington and Dunedin, with others potentially in the works. I’m only going for two and a bit weeks this time, with a gig in Singapore on the way. But if the gigs sell well, then the trip should pay for itself.

An awful lot has happened in the 12 years since I was last in New Zealand. A ridiculous amount of things have happened to me personally and the world we live in. What hasn’t changed are my need for adventures and adrenaline rushes.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2018 – Days 21-23

With two shows cancelled for Stop the Press on the bounce due to having two in for audience and then a day off, I was going to pull a third. Only to have the three people who had made the effort to be there be very insistent that I give them a show.

So I did, even though it was more of a chat than a gig, but I’m still counting it as a gig as they also insisted on giving me money afterwards.

The penultimate show saw my audience double to seven, who were a more receptive than many other audiences I’ve had for this run.

Then the final Stop the Press show gave me my biggest ever crowd for the show and my largest Kilderkin audience since that crazy run in 2015. As a finale, it was okay, but nothing outstanding. It started off pretty well, but soon descended into mediocrity.

The best thing about the final performance was the euphoria of finishing a show that I haven’t enjoyed performing much. It was my first experience of performing an hour without the involvement of any quizzes and at times it was just painful.

There were some good shows, but a greater number were a struggle. Although the show was in a better shape by the end of the run, I couldn’t get it to where I wanted and I still don’t know exactly what the ending is meant to be even after performing it for a month.

It has been consistently difficult to build momentum throughout the show. When something got a laugh, the next bits often didn’t and there were far too many blank faces throughout, which I have to take full responsibility for. If I’d been able to do more previews, it would have certainly helped.

The show only really flowed when I incorporated the audience into it more. This kind of defeated the object of doing a show that was intended to be more about the material and not the interaction, as I already know I can do that. There have been a few enjoyable gigs, but it’s mostly felt like a chore.

As I said in an earlier entry, it wasn’t exactly a triumphant return to the Kilderkin. It felt much more like the 2013 run there, which wasn’t much fun but ended up being the catalyst for How To Win A Pub Quiz. So perhaps something will similarly emerge from the ashes of Stop the Press. Nevertheless, I have learnt a lot and now have much more material. Maybe not a solid hour, but certainly enough to draw on for a club set.

The more of a struggle Stop the Press became during the run, the more fun I had with HTWAPQ. Even after four years and five Fringe runs, the show still feels as fresh as when I first performed it at The Roadhouse in Birmingham in May 2014. One of the best things is that a number of people come back to watch it every Fringe and always really enjoy it.

It’s almost become the holy grail of an Edinburgh show for me. One that I didn’t have to do any flyering for, I have no media profile, no reviews or PR, but still managed to sell 99% of tickets. I may have been in a 50 seater instead of a 60 seater this year, but that’s still not bad going at all. I’m not taking any of this for granted and am well aware that I can’t do this forever. HTWAPQ will certainly return to the Fringe and other venues, but it does still pose the question of: what comes next?

I’ve got a few ideas for new shows floating around. But whatever my new show will be, I’m going to make sure it’s fun. Because if it’s not, the Fringe is always a lot harder.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2018 – Days 14-20

This week, Fringe fatigue has properly hit me. Fortunately, I foresaw this months ago and had already booked a day off from both my shows today.

However, I’ve now also had a total of three days off from Stop the Press due to no audience showing up for Monday and Tuesday. Well, there have been two people on both days. But as performing in front of two people is often painful, I chose to spare these people from this and cancelled both shows. This is what happens when I’m not wearing my HTWAPQ Iron Man suit.

Fortunately, I needed the extra break, as I could feel my voice starting to go in HTWAPQ.

I was planning to try and see some shows today, but instead opted for having a complete break from all things Fringe. Performing two shows a day, plus all the weird stuff my bowels have been doing for the past three weeks, left me in need of such a day.

My day off began with looking for somewhere near where I’m staying that sells high-quality macaroni pies. If you have never had a macaroni pie, you are missing out big time.

As I opted to leave my phone in my room, I was without maps so ended up wandering around for much longer than I should have been. When I eventually found the shop, it was closed and I had to make do with a macaroni pie from the Co-op. Then I went for a run, before finishing my day watching Ant Man and the Wasp, which was good fun.

As for how my shows have been going, I had one of the very best HTWAPQs of the run on Monday. When the audience start singing along to the preshow music, you know it’s going to be a good one.

And on Saturday, I had the best show of STP so far, with a nearly full room, most things getting good laughs, and my largest bucket takings of this Fringe at £76.

I now have three shows left for Stop the Press, and four for HTWAPQ. The end is in sight and I’m now slightly more rested with hopefully enough energy to see it through.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2018 – Days 6-13

On Monday, I had a much-needed day off from both of my shows.

HTWAPQ continues to be a delight and is sold-out nearly every day, with Stop the Press proving to be a hard slog.

Before Sunday’s STP, the couple of hours of heavy rain meant I was unable to do much flyering without getting utterly drenched.

With my day off ever-nearing, I hoped no-one would turn up just so I could start my day break early and have a think about ways to improve the show.

Seven people did arrive, including a couple who witnessed my heroics earlier in the day at HTWAPQ.

Sometimes, performing in front of seven people can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of them. I struggled to connect with both my material and the audience, with everything falling flat.

In the back of my mind, I just wanted it to be over so I could reach my day off. This is perhaps the worst mindset to have for any gig, as the chances of you enjoying it are pretty much zero. Consequently, the audience are even less likely to enjoy it.

People made an effort to my show and what I provided was perhaps one of my most shambolic performances ever. Even when things are going badly, I usually at least get a perverse kick out of it. This time, I hated every second. I think it is probably going to be my lowest point of the Fringe.

So, when things aren’t going well, you have two choices. Either you give up, or you make an effort to improve things.

To find somewhere quiet to go through my set, I returned to the terrace at The Place hotel, which was where my shows were for the past couple of Fringes.

As lovely as Stand 2 is, I do miss that terrace where I could just sit and relax after my show. I would also often be bought pints by my audience, which is the main thing I’m missing this year.

I went through my set did a bit of editing, changed a few things around, and cut other bits. Then as if by magic, Tuesday’s show was significantly better. A break did me good and it was reassuring to know that the last seven months I’ve spent writing this haven’t been a complete waste of time.

I’ve realised the difference between why one show goes so well and why the other doesn’t tend to. A large part is down to certainty and assurance in the material. I know HTWAPQ works, so even if it sometimes takes the audience a little while to get on board, I know they will eventually. STP is still taking shape before my very eyes and I’ve yet to do a gig where everything works exactly as intended, so I will do my best to fake certainty and assurance in the meantime.

The show is not where I want it, but it’s improved since the Fringe began. It will be a relief when I’ve finished the STP run, although I would happily continue HTWAPQ every day for at least another six months.