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Posts tagged ‘How To Win A Pub Quiz’

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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.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2018: Days 1-3

Edinburgh Fringe 2018 is now underway and I am going to avoid using the obvious pun of saying it’s been A Mixed Bag so far, because it’s actually been pretty good.

How to Win a Pub Quiz has been selling out pretty much every day so far, which is amazing. I’m in Stand 2 this year, which is one of the very best rooms at the Fringe.

Nevertheless, I am missing the terrace out the back of Stand 5, where I would sit for many an hour after my show and was often bought pints by audience members. But from a time and health perspective, it’s something that I can’t really do this year.

The three HTWAPQ shows so far have all been really fun. The new set is getting there, but I’m still tweaking with every show. There is still room for improvement, but it doesn’t require quite so much drastic editing as last year.

For Stop the Press, I Want to Get Off, I’m back at the Kilderkin for the first time since 2015, with a brand new show for the first time since 2014. When I left there, I was playing to packed rooms and turning people away.

Then for my first show Saturday, I had ten people in and two walked out. It didn’t feel quite so much like a triumphant return to my spiritual home, especially as it was a Saturday. But I have to detach myself from comparing it to HTWAPQ. This show is a different animal, albeit a less successful animal. And you really don’t know how something’s going to go until you give it a try.

One disadvantage I have this year is that I have to get the room set up every day an hour before my show starts, which cuts into vital flyering time. I need to figure out a way around this.

The first show itself was a good start. The eight people laughed a decent amount at mostly the right points, I didn’t let the energy dip and made it through the entire set without looking at my notes or even writing my set on my hand.

The second show was much better. I must have at least 20 people in and they were great. There were some big laughs throughout. The show isn’t quite where I want it yet, but it’s getting there with every performance. And it now feels as though I have an actual show on my hands instead of an unsuccessful side-project.

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Out of time

There are now no more previews. The next time I perform both of my shows will be in Edinburgh and the Fringe will have started.

I was meant to have a third and final preview for Pub Quiz on Friday night, but there was no audience.

The weekend before, I was in Beverley in East Yorkshire previewing both of my shows. And I’m pleased to report that I had a much bigger audience in for Stop the Press than this past Friday night, a 500% larger crowd. This is putting a positive spin on saying that I had five people in.

Performing in front of five people is certainly useful practice for Edinburgh, as I’m fully aware that this is something I could be faced with this Fringe for my new show. I’ve been spoilt for the past four years with Pub Quiz and am fully aware that there may be days when I don’t get any audience for my new show that doesn’t have such a strong a gimmick, let alone the double gimmick this year of the 90s.

Nevertheless, the exciting thing is that I genuinely don’t know how Stop the Press is going to go. As it’s on the Free Fringe, I don’t have any sales figures. It’s going to depend entirely on whoever shows up on the day. It’s going to add a more unpredictability to things. I’ve spent seven months writing it and am pleased with where it’s going, but it isn’t quite there yet. I’m looking forward to have the show properly honed during the run.

Meanwhile, for what turned out to be the final How To Win A Pub Quiz preview in Beverley, I had about 20 in later on. They were good fun and it was useful to try out some new bits. The material is coming together, but I could do with a few more previews to get it properly ready.

For the first preview in Oxford, I decided to drop the sketch that’s become a cornerstone of the show. It didn’t feel quite the same without it. In Beverley, I brought in a new one that sort of worked, but felt too much like a retread of the previous scene that works so well. I’ve since scrapped it and written an entirely new scene, which will be performed untested at the Fringe. I have the advantage that I have a pretty good idea of what will work for the show, so it’s not quite as big a risk as you might think.

I’m also still trying to decide on what the final track should be in the music round. Last year, I thought it would be hilarious to have the final song being Paul from S Club 7’s metal band. Audiences didn’t find it quite so amusing, so I scrapped it after the first couple of shows.

The other thing to add is about my sales figures for How To Win A Pub Quiz. I have sold more than 100 tickets than I had last year and I’m in a 50 seater instead of a 60 seater. As things stand, I’ve sold round 70% of my tickets before the show has even started. This is pretty astonishing. But it just goes to show that if you want to get an audience, get a good gimmick. If you want to sell even better, get two.

When I write next, I will have arrived in Edinburgh and the 2018 Fringe will be underway. I don’t know how the next month will unfold, but I am looking forward to it whatever it may bring.

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The Fringe ever-nears

I had my first show in 2018 for How To Win A Pub Quiz. It was in Oxford and I managed to get a decent sized crowd.

It’s a different set to previous years, or at least meant to be. As with many gigs, time conspired against me and I didn’t have enough time to get my set together. It wasn’t quite as much of a manic rush as the Newcastle show in October, but it wasn’t far off.

I ended up only doing ten minutes of material at the top and forgetting a large chunk of new stuff I’d supposedly written. It was a nice gig, the quiz was fun, but I felt a little rusty. It’s certainly motivation to make it better, especially with time running out.

I have been toying with the idea of dropping the traditional film sketch just before the quiz begins, but have since realised that it is an integral part of the show. I’ve written a new one, so hopefully it’ll be as well received. But the previous one had been honed over four years, so it may take a few attempts to get it to where I need it.

I was also meant to have a previous last week for Stop the Press…, but it was rescheduled after England ended up doing far better in the World Cup than anyone ever expected. But due to the lack of time to promote the show, the rescheduled one ended up being pulled too. The show is getting closer to where I went it, but it’s not quite there yet.

I’m previewing both shows in Beverley, East Yorkshire, on Saturday, which at the moment will be my last one for Stop the Press before I return to the Kilderkin.

Then I have one more Pub Quiz at the Hollybush in Cradley Heath next Friday. I’ll keep an eye out for others, but that may the last stop before Edinburgh and I’ll have bypassed London for previews for the first time ever.

I’ve been trying to get a final preview sorted for my hometown of Stroud on the last weekend of July, but I think I may have left it too late to get anything organised and promoted effectively now. There is only so much emotional blackmail you can do to friends in a short period of time.

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Three more previews

Since I last wrote an entry on here, I have done a further three previews for my new show.

There is still much work that needs doing before it’s ready for the Fringe, but it feels like I’m slowly getting there.

The first third is coming along nicely and the final third is close to where I want it. At the moment, it’s the middle section that needs the most attention and there’s still time to get this sorted. There are plenty more ideas that keep popping into my head, which is a good sign.

That said, it didn’t feel much like my show was progressing when I was performing outside a pub on the grounds of a train station. Trains were either going by when I was about to get to a punchline, or my set would get interrupted by an inebriated local.

I should have played around with the absurdity of the situation a bit more, as it is the sort of bizarre environment I would usually revel. However, I wanted to give my show another run though. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a place for structure and narrative. And callbacks aren’t really effective when half of your audience didn’t hear the first part. I had to abandon large sections of the show and not exactly play the room as it lacked walls, more playing the site.

I currently have three more previews booked for Stop The Press, I Want to Get Off and hope to pick up a few more.

I have yet to even start How To Win A Pub Quiz warm-up shows. I’ve started writing the show and have plenty of ideas for this year’s version. I had a couple of previews in the diary towards the end of July, but have just this week got one booked for 8 July in Oxford. It’s given me the jolt I needed.

What’s slightly odd is that as things stand, it’ll be the first year since I’ve been doing the Fringe that I won’t have done a preview in London. Not only that, but I have yet to get one booked in Manchester either. Hopefully both of these things will change. I shall have to check the availability of performance space at one of the train stations.

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Reinvigorated

If you’re wondering why I’ve not written anything so far this year, there is no reason other than I’ve not really felt any need to. But for my first entry in 2018, I am pleased to report that I am feeling reinvigorated, at least as far as comedy goes.

For the first time in many years and not including the Fringe, I have done three gigs a week for four or five consecutive weeks before the snow interfered. Many of these gigs were also to trial new material.

A wise man once said: “It is better to die on your arse and learn from it, rather than coast along in a bubble of mediocrity.”

I may share a latop with this mysterious philosopher. I have recently realised that coasting along in this bubble is exactly what I’ve been doing for far too long now at too many gigs. I’ve become complacent and over-reliant on material that worked four or five years ago, but that I’ve since become disconnected with. When you become disconnected from your material, people tend to stop laughing at it and that’s never the audiences’ fault. I’m also a different person to the one that originally wrote many of these jokes. I mean, I am the same person, but I’m older and am no longer sleeping in a bin bag, covered in flea bites.

Another thing that brought this stagnated material issue into light was after one of my higher profile gigs last year that went okay, but not as well as I’d hoped. I went through my setlist and put the year the joke was written next to it. There was a worrying lack of material from pre-2014, which is no coincidence that this the last time I took a new show idea up to Edinburgh How To Win A Pub Quiz has been far more successful than I ever anticipated when I initially came up the idea. I’ve had so much fun with it and genuinely love performing the show, but at the same time it’s meant that I’ve not been writing anywhere near as much new material specifically for a show that I was doing in the years before 2014.

After this introspection, you’re probably wondering exactly why I’m feeling reinvigorating. Well, that is because I have been writing a new hour show for the past couple of months. I will be taking this up to Edinburgh Fringe this year. The provisional title was What Are You Going to Do?, then was A Decade of Life and Death, and it’s currently Stop the Press, I Want to Get Off. The show looks back on my time as a reporter for a local newspaper, then quitting to follow my dreams, and all the horrible things I’ve been through since then, i.e. sleeping in a bin bag while covered in hundreds of flea bites.

I have been trying out large chunks of the new stuff at various gigs, much of it is getting good responses and I’m getting excited by performing comedy again. Having an hour show to work towards is really helpful to focus the mind. I will also be returning to the Kilderkin, where my pub quiz odyssey began. It’s difficult to see my new show reaching the same levels of success, but it is a different animal. My main aim is to create a show I’m proud of and hope people enjoy it, but you just don’t know until you give it a go. The first outing for the new show is in a couple of weeks.

But never fear, pub quiz fans. I am taking up another show this year to Edinburgh, called How To Win A Pub Quiz: 90s Edition. I can’t leave it behind just yet. Coincidentally, I also need money to buy a house.

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Looking back at 2017

With a few hours left of 2017, I will now summarise what has occurred in the past 12 months.

There are no surprises to learn that the highlight of my 2017 was doing a sold-out full-run at Edinburgh Fringe. That this was also a year when many shows on the same side of town struggled for audience makes it all the more of an achievement. Being asked to do the show at Newcastle Stand was also a thrill, even if my journey there was an ordeal to say the least. Leicester Comedy Festival in February was another highlight of my year, and I really enjoyed my shows up in Glasgow.

I have also made the most money from comedy this year than possibly the previous six years combined. Outside of my hour show, I have done more gigs than last year and a decent amount of these were paid. But it still remains that How To Win A Pub Quiz is going substantially better than my progress on the main comedy circuit. This is partly because I’ve been doing the same material for so many years that I’ve become bored with it and also that I’ve not been booking up enough gigs in my diary. To rectify this, I am planning to do an hour of stand-up in Edinburgh next year without any quizzes, just me and a microphone. Hopefully I’ll have an audience as well. Forcing myself to do a totally new hour will give me a much-needed focus and motivation to write more, plus I’ll need to do more gigs to try stuff out. But do not dismay, quiz fans. I am also planning on doing a variant on How To Win A Pub Quiz in August. I don’t know what sort of state I’ll be in at the end of the month, but I’ll worry about it then.

It has been a good year for attending music gigs, as I’ve managed to see Guns and Roses once and Iron Maiden twice, plus Weezer, The Darkness and Jarvis Cocker. At the moment, 2018 is looking pretty empty on the music gig front.

In November, it was nice to do some reporting for the first time since 2009, when I was sent out to Finland to write a feature on an electric ferry as part of the day job, even if my shorthand turned out to be a little rusty. When I was a reporter in 2008, I was looking into last-minute trips to Scandinavia. I ended up buying a Playstation 3 and spent my holiday playing on it instead, which pretty much sums up what was the worst year of my life. While in Finland in 2017, I suffered from a severe bout of food poisoning, which is also a decent summary of my 2008.

Onto films, my favourite one of the year is probably Logan. I really enjoyed The Last Jedi as well, which has polarised opinions. I’m writing a more detailed assessment of this, so stay tuned. This should tie-in to my idea for a podcast, which I’m hoping to get up and running this year.

New Year’s resolutions: write more comedy, do more comedy admin, spend less time procrastinating on my phone. Every year, I also say that I’m going to learn a language. I’ve been learning Spanish for the past year on the Duolingo app and am going to be doing real language lessons next month.

I don’t know what the next 12 months will bring or where it’ll take me, but can at least be fairly certain that I’ll be writing a review of it in 364 days time.

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One for the scrap book

Tuesday night was definitely one for the scrap book. I performed my show in the little room at Leicester Square Theatre on the same night that Stewart Lee and then Bill Bailey were on in the big room.

It’s not quite as exclusive as it sounds, because anyone can perform in that space I was in as long as they’re prepared to cover the costs. I was originally planning on using it as an opportunity to get production companies in to see where else I could take it. Then when ticket sales were stubbornly slow, I chose to just concentrate on getting a full room and enjoy the night for what it was. I did at least manage to get it filmed for the first time ever.

The last two occasions I’d performed in the Lounge were part of the Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year heats, which both went pretty badly. In fact, one was so bad that Moz, who had come on audience duties, refused to vote for me. I am pleased to report that my gig this week went considerably better. Moz was on tech duties this time and had no voting rights. I’ve since worked out after my costs, he’s going to get £10 more for the gig than me.

The show itself was good fun; I had a full room that was very much like an old Ruby audience, consisting largely of old friends, colleagues, and housemates. I had to resort to nagging anyone and everyone I knew in London after sluggish ticket sales, which might not be the best sign of my show’s commercial viability outside of Edinburgh. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the show and it was a nice note to end it on for the year.

In related news, I’ve realised that I’ve have become too comfortable sticking with stuff that I know works. For the past three years, I’ve only really had to worry about 15-20 minutes of material in my Pub Quiz.

So, I have set myself a challenge next year to do an hour of stand-up in Edinbrugh. There will be no questions, facts bells or mentions of giant squid, but I can’t guarantee there won’t be at least one reference to The Darkness. Not only this, but I am forbidden from doing any pre-2016 material during the show and also at non-paid gigs. Both of these things should give me a kick up the arse to create and hone new stuff.

I’d be mad to drop Pub Quiz given how well it’s been received, so I will also be working on a new version of the show for next year’s Fringe. It’s looking like 2018 is going to be busy and push me further outside my comfort zone, which is very exciting.