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Posts tagged ‘How To Win A Pub Quiz’

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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.

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A race against time

In what was the largest audience I’ve ever had for How To Win A Pub Quiz on Friday in Newcastle, I had quite possibly the worst kind of preparation.

I’d opted to drive, as the train tickets were £67 return and there’s no way I’m paying that for something I can do for cheaper and be less restricted by departure times.

I left Manchester at around 1.30pm and every route planner I’d looked at said it would take me around three hours. I’d booked a 24-hour parking space, so I’d have plenty of time to park up, then get to the venue to soundcheck for 5pm, giving myself a good hour and a bit to relax and prepare for the show at 6.30pm.

The one flaw in my plan was motorway delays. Lots of them. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced so many. There were various moments when I was at a complete standstill, with the ETA on my satnav getting later and later, and the sun beating down on me just to make things even more uncomfortable.

The two-hour cushion I had to play with ended up dwindling into nothing and when I finally got moving, it was a race against the clock to make it to the venue in time for the start of my show. I’d been in regular contact with the venue and there was no option of starting 15 minutes late as the show on after had sold-out and they needed to get the room ready.

Throughout all of this, my bladder was getting fuller and fuller. In the end, I had to make an executive decision and  piss on the grass verge in a lay-by in full view of passing traffic. The alternative wasn’t worth contemplating.

I reached the centre of Newcastle at 6.20pm and was driving around, frantically searching for a parking space nearer the venue than the one I’d booked, while doing my best to negotiate my way around a one-way system I’d never used before. At 6.26pm, I’d found my beacon of hope: a parking space.

I parked up and dashed to the venue in a sweaty and stressed mess. It was now 30 seconds before my show was due to start. Fortunately, the venue manager took pity on me and gave me five minutes to compose myself.

I had 76 people in, it was a decent show and they were good fun, but I can’t help think how much better it would have been had I not arrived at the venue in such a state mere seconds before the show was due to start. What worked in my favour was that I’ve done the show so many times now that I can just click into it. I definitely felt much better at the end of the show than I did at the start.

But next time, I’ll be getting the train.

 

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The ridiculous ride continues

The ridiculous ride that is How To Win A Pub Quiz is continuing to ever greater heights

The other week, I was asked if I would like to perform the show at The Stand in Newcastle. The venue capacity is for 300 people for a show that I originally hoped would get me at least double figures ever day at the Kilderkin on the Free Fringe. I was in two minds about accepting, as the show was never intend for that many people.

Whenever I’m mulling over being offered stuff I have doubts over, I always think back to one of the first people I interviewed when I was a reporter in 2008 called Stan Dibben. I don’t expect you to have heard of him, but he was a former world sidecar racing champion, had been a member of the team who worked on the Bluebird land speed record, and even redesigned the wheels of supermarket trolleys. He’d released an autobiography that and when I asked him about how he had come to experience such a diverse array of weird and wonderful things, something he said stuck with me: “You say ‘yes’, always.”

So I accepted the offer and will be performing in Newcastle on Friday 27 October.

As a precaution, I asked for them to cap the ticket sales at 120 just to be on the safe side as I don’t want to be held back by doing too much admin. I obviously don’t expect to sell this many tickets, although I wouldn’t bet against it considering how ridiculously far this show has taken me so far.

One of those Facebook memories things came up recently from 2007, in a conversation with a mate about some comedy scripts I’d written and how I was trying to book up some more gigs. Then I remembered that ten years ago, I was also washing up and working in various warehouses through a temp agency. A lot has happened in the past decade, but it reminded me that I really haven’t done too badly at all.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2017: a summary

When I woke up this morning, it felt a lot like that scene towards the end of Hook when Peter wakes up underneath a Pan statue to find himself back in the real-world and dressed in formal clothes. Thankfully, I didn’t find myself outside or have to climb a drainpipe to get back into my flat, but did have to go back to the day job.

I definitely felt like I had left something magical behind and wondered whether or not what I’d experienced in the last three and a bit weeks was real or just existed in a dream. I have since decided that it definitely was real, because no-one would dream something containing so many lifestyle choices that have such severe and detailed consequences on the bowels. If Narnia and Neverland had a child that liked to drink, it would be Edinburgh Fringe.

Admittedly, getting home was a lot easier for them in Hook as they just flew and I had to drive 4.5 hours. Fairy dust was seriously lacking in the equation and I had to make do with Lucozade and glucose tablets, because I’m sure I would have been able to generate the necessary level of happy thoughts from just thinking about my Fringe. This would also have saved a lot of money on petrol, depending what taxes fairy dust was subjected to.

What a Fringe it was, with 100% of my reviews being four-star. I may have only had two, but that’s not the point. I also gained the necessary ticket sale requirements for official sold-out status for my run and made a healthy profit that will unfortunately make me appear on HMRC’s radar.

Before the Fringe started, I was seriously thinking about jacking comedy in and becoming a grown-up with a career and a mortgage. Following the Fringe, I have realised that there is no way I can leave this behind. How To Win A Pub Quiz in particular has something magic that is going to ensure fun whenever it is performed, or at least for a large percentage of performances if I do material that actually works.

Now I just need to work out a way of ensuring that everything fits in around comedy, instead of trying to make comedy fit in around everything else. I’ve also got a few other potential projects in the pipeline that will be very exciting if they materialise. Hopefully I will have more details on these shortly.

I always say that next time I go back to Edinburgh will be to do solo hour without a quiz and have decided that this will happen in 2018, which I’m intending on doing alongside HTWAPQ. You now have this in writing, so please sue me if I don’t do it. My current idea has just been inspired by half a bottle of wine and features jetpacks; actual real jetpacks, live on stage. What could possibly go wrong? Stay tuned for more.