All new sleaze and filth at Comedy Virgins

I had my first real experience of bombing on Tuesday when I tried to do some edgy political stuff at Rising Stars, so for Wednesday’s spot at Comedy Virgins at The Cavendish Arms I wanted to repair the damage to my ego by getting some easier laughs.

A friend came to watch me and she hadn’t seen any of my material before, so I was tempted to do my original five minute set to make sure it was a good show. But I promised myself I’d keep trying out new stuff, and I didn’t want to go back on that, so I pulled together a bunch of so far unused smutty material that I had lying around on my hard drive and smushed it all together into a vaguely cohesive five minute set.

I was about the fifth act of the night, following some pretty strong comics, including the excellent Akin Omobitan and Ania Magliano-Wright.  Even though my confidence had taken a battering the night before, I was having to use notes because the material was completely unpracticed, and I was following some great acts, I was feeling kind of zen-like.

I’m getting more comfortable on stage every week, but this week I slipped into genuinely not giving a fuck about being up there, and it felt good. The new material went down pretty well, they laughed at most of it even though my delivery was rough because it’s the first time I’ve done this stuff.

It feels like the set has got legs, so I’m going to keep working on it for a while. Thematically it’s not too far removed from the five minutes I’ve already been doing, so I should be able to mix it all up a bit when I need to.

Next week I’m on at Heavenly Comedy in Shepherds Bush on Wednesday, and I’ll be trying to get a walk-in spot somewhere else if I can.

Bombing hard at Rising Star – open mic #14

After trying out some new material at Lion’s Den last week, and it going reasonably well for a first pass, I wanted to use two gigs this week to tighten it up a little. Last night I performed at Rising Star in Holborn – things did not go well.

Firstly, I still haven’t memorised this material, so I was using a set list and I couldn’t really deliver it with as much confidence as I’d like, so that didn’t help matters. The first couple of minutes went OKish, I was getting some laughs but a lot of the stuff that worked well last week just fell flat.

Then about halfway in I did a bit about race which got a big laugh at Lion’s Den but landed really badly with the Rising Stars audience, and that just killed the energy so that there was no coming back. The rest of my set was an uphill battle to win back any shred of respect from the audience but they were having none of it. A few titters here and there at best. I’ve got a saver that I use when a joke falls flat, which reliably gets a decent laugh, and I used that as my closing line to try and walk out of there with a little bit of dignity, but even that only got a half-hearted reaction from them.

I’m glad this happened because I think bombing is all part of a baby-comic’s development, so it’s good that I now know what it feels like to die on stage. It’s not the end of the world, you get off stage, watch the rest of the acts, then slink away home to regroup and get up again as soon as you can.

The worst bit, however, was that the MC felt the need to apologise to the audience for some of my material – I didn’t think it was too far over the line, but that made me think I’d badly misjudged my tone.  I don’t know what to do with the set – I know that some bits work, some other bits work with different audiences, and some of it is massively fucking offensive to some people.

I’m up again tonight at The Cavendish, and I think I’ll resist the temptation to fall back on my polished, easy material, but I’m not doing the stuff from last night either. I’ve got some new material on safer topics, which I think I can deliver pretty well, so we’ll see how that goes. I don’t want to abandon the political stuff entirely, but I probably need to rethink a lot of it before doing it again.

Open mic spot #13 – New Stuff

I’ve been slipping in one or two new bits in my set during my past few spots, but I’ve really wanted to try out a completely different five minutes. I’ve got a bunch of different sets sitting on my hard drive in various states, and it took me a while to decide which one I wanted to wheel out this week.

I had thought about trying to do a clean five minutes as a challenge but it’s not what I’m about,  so I settled on some political material because that was really why I started doing this in the first place before I got distracted by dick-jokes. The set is a bit of a mish mash of different bits covering politics, brexit, racial issues, and it doesn’t really tie together brilliantly just yet, but I think it’s got potential.

I performed it for the first time at Lion’s Den Comedy Car Crash this week, and it didn’t go too badly.  Lion’s Den feels like a good place to try out really new stuff that I’m unsure about, because it’s a friendly environment and, frankly, the place seems to attract such a random selection of misfits that you can get away with almost anything.

I’ve got to the point with my original five minute set that I can be sure it’s going to work well every time I do it, so going back to completely untested material is a bit of a wrench. Back to using notes and not knowing the material well enough to deliver it with confidence, back to having no idea if people will laugh at any of it.

I stumbled my way through the set and it felt very rough, a lot of it fell flat, but I got a few decent laughs from some bits. There were a couple of bits that didn’t work and I’m not sure if it’s because the material just isn’t good or if they need more commitment in the delivery, so I’m going to have to try doing them with more conviction a couple of times before I write them off.

The bits that got the biggest laughs were for the racial material, which I found interesting because I wasn’t sure how people would take a white guy doing those kind of jokes , but it went better than expected. I got some good feedback from people too, which encouraged me to believe the set has got potential.

Also this week I went to watch my friend, Pauline Stobbs, at Funny Feckers in Camden. Every time I go to that night it’s absolutely hysterical – never seen a weak act, always end up laughing my cock off the whole evening. Too many good acts to name them all, but my personal favourites were Madeline Campion, Hassan Dervish, and Micky Overman.

Next week I’m at Rising Stars in Holborn on Tuesday and the Cavendish in Stockwell on Wednesday.  I’m aiming to work on this new five minutes as much as possible, but on Wednesday I might have a bunch of friends who haven’t seen me perform before, and if they show up I’ll probably just  do my good set for them rather than subject them to the work in progress material.

Open mic spots 11 and 12 – adding in a little new material

I’ve done two spots over the past couple of weeks – a walk-in at The Cavendish Arms last week, and a pre-booked spot at We Are Funny Project yesterday evening. I’ve been itching to try out a new five minute set, but I’ve been too busy/lazy to work out exactly what that routine should contain and spend some time drumming it into my head.

Instead, on both nights, I just tried opening with a couple of new bits that don’t feel too out of place alongside my current material. On the one hand, this makes life easy because I don’t have to try and remember an entire new set, and it means I can still finish strong on reliable material. It does feel lazy though, and I find that it kind of messes up my flow so that nothing works quite as well as it did when I was just delivering my polished material as a complete five minute set.

I think what I really need to do is go through all the new stuff I’ve written and try to craft it into an entirely new five minutes that works as well as the old one. I’m not sure of the best way forward – I like the idea of having a lot of different bits that will work well regardless of what other bits I use in the same set, but it’s starting to feel like working on entirely separate standalone five minute sets will be more successful.

Also, I’m aware that I’m still new to this, so I’m probably over-thinking it and should just keep churning out new material however I can – once I’ve got 100 gigs under my belt I can start worrying about how I fit longer sets together.

Anyway, both nights were pretty good. The first night I performed at WAFP, the place was half empty and it felt like an uphill battle, but last night a first-timer decided it would be good to bring all of his friends along so, along with a decent number of randoms who wandered in from the bar, that meant the place was packed and we had a respectable audience size.

I went on second, after a strong opener, and benefited from a crowd who were still up for it. Most of my stuff worked, but it was quite a young audience and the laughs came in different places, sometimes with more of a slow-burn than usual, and I struggled to get my rhythm – especially since I had changed the set around to accommodate the new bits. This also meant that I hadn’t properly judged the length of the set, and I think I finished at around four minutes rather than using my full five, but I’d got a decent laugh for one of my older bits and decided that was an appropriate time to leave the stage.

At one point I felt like a usually reliable bit had bombed, so I started to wheel out a line I’ve got to help me bounce back from a dead joke, but as I was speaking the original joke started to land and they were laughing over my recovery line, which itself ended up getting a decent laugh once I got it out. I can’t complain – at least they were laughing and now I know that my recovery line works.

A couple of acts stood out – Timothy Banks was good, my kind of sleazy, and I liked Sean Patrick too.

The previous week I was at the Cavendish Arms again – a friend was in town and wanted to see me perform, but I didn’t have anything booked so I thought this would be my best shot at getting a walk in. I got a spot but unfortunately I went up so late that my friend had already had to head off to get his last train home. All the same, it was good to be there, especially since I hadn’t done anything the week before, and I bumped into a few acts I’ve met before.

The feeling was the same as last night though – I’d been too lazy to properly write and rehearse a new set, so I just kicked off with a couple of new bits and then did as much of my old material as I could squeeze into the remaining time.

Notable acts included James Meakin, Susan Steed, and Akin Omobitan.

I’m on a business trip to the US next week, which means I’ll have lots of time sitting around in planes, airports, and hotels – I plan to use that time to sort through all the material I’ve written and put it into a completely new five minute routine. I’ve got spots booked for Rising Stars and the Cavendish on 21/22 November, and I’ll be trying for walk-ins during the rest of the month. My plan is to start doing two spots most weeks – at present I’m averaging about three a month which isn’t good enough.

Open Mic Gig #10

Last night I did a spot at Rising Stars, at The Old Crown in Holborn, and this was a bit of a milestone for me because it was my 10th open spot. It was a nice little night in a very snug room, with no stage, so small that the acts literally had to climb over each-other’s chairs to get to the mic.

This is a very different vibe to places like The Cavendish, or We Are Funny, which are in reasonably large spaces – regardless of audience numbers, the size of the room really does have an affect on the atmosphere. The MC was Adrian Taus, who I’ve seen at The Cavendish a few times, and a bunch of the other acts were familiar from other nights too. Apart from Adrian I don’t think any of them had seen me before, but it still made the night feel a bit more relaxed and friendly – especially since I had a couple of non-comedy friends in tow too.

In the bar before the show I got speaking to another act called Gaëlle Constant, who I shall henceforth refer to as The World’s Funniest Belgian, because she kindly shared her sandwich with me just as I was about to order some food. She’s also funny, and the only Belgian I’ve ever met.

Overall it was a good night, a couple of acts killed the energy a bit with some new material that wasn’t quite ready, but Adrian did a good job of getting things back on track. My set went down OK, although it didn’t feel as easy as it has on other nights in bigger rooms – I suppose figuring out how to deal with those different atmospheres is all part of the game.

Some bits which usually get a strong laugh didn’t hit the mark, and a few times it took longer than usual for the crowd to get on board with a joke so the laughter came in unpredictably, which messed with my flow. I can’t remember if I missed a bit, but somehow I got to my usual closer with about 30 seconds to spare – I had prepared a few tags to use for this situation, but I’ve never had to use them before so the delivery wasn’t great and my close wasn’t as strong as I’d like.

All the same, it went well enough, got plenty of laughs and some really nice feedback from some of the other acts. The most common comment I get from other acts is that they can’t believe how few gigs I’ve done, so I’m taking that as a positive sign. As far as I can tell, in stand-up you’re not even considered a half-serious beginner until you’ve done at least 100 spots. Hopefully by the time I get to triple figures I’ll be unstoppable.

As well as Gaëlle, some other impressive acts I saw last night include: Kathryn Mather, Cam Davies, Paul Entwistle, Louise Bastock, and Steve Clark (who won the clap-off despite being a musical comedy act).

I had a good chat with some of the other acts in the bar, more so than at any previous gig – it’s nice to start seeing familiar faces and getting to know everybody a bit.

I haven’t got any gigs booked at the moment, and next week I’ve got Real Life stuff to deal with so I probably won’t try for any walk-ins. I’m planning to shelve my current material now that it’s reasonably polished and try out a completely different five minutes, so I’ll get back onto it in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to trying out new stuff, but not looking forward to using notes on stage again while I memorise the new stuff.

 

Suiting up for Comedy Virgins

I got down to the final two in the clap-off at the end of the night, but was beaten by a better woman.

This was my third time performing at Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell, and it was a great night. I think a few of the acts had brought largish groups of friends, and I had a few with me too, so the room was absolutely packed and the energy was great.

There were 21 acts in total, a few first timers and a few guys I’ve seen before – everybody was good, even the people doing their first ever spots got good laughs. I have been thinking about trying out a completely new set, but since I had a few friends in tow I didn’t want to subject them to untested material and so I stuck with my familiar stuff which is really feeling polished now.

Being able to deliver it all fairly smoothly from memory means I’m feeling a lot more relaxed and I think that’s helping with my stage presence. I really felt like I was in control of the room and able to think about what I was doing, rather than just focusing on remembering my next joke.

I still think I could polish this set even more, but it worked brilliantly last night – the room was in pieces –  and I’m feeling really good about how I’ve progressed. The only thing I really did differently this time, apart from just being a bit more polished overall, was that I dressed up in a suit and tie, and that seemed to help.

I usually go to gigs in whatever I’ve been wearing at work that day, jeans and t-shirt mostly, but I thought it might work better if I go on stage looking smart and professional, because that would contrast nicely with my disgusting material. I think it worked, so I’ll probably use the suit more in future. There’s probably the subconscious effect of the suit making me feel more confident too.

Lots of great acts at the gig – I should really start noting down names so I can mention them here. My comedy-chum, Pauline Stobbs, got a walk-in spot and did a completely new five minutes, which went down well. If anything I think it’s better than her first set. I’m impressed, because almost anybody could put together five minutes of material, but to keep producing new stuff that works obviously requires talent.

On that note, I really need to try out some new material. I’m at Rising Stars in Holborn on Tuesday next week – but I’m not sure I want to risk new material at a night I’ve never been to before, especially since I’m bringing some colleagues along for the first time. After that I might go back to some of the smaller non-bringer nights and try out some different stuff.

 

 

First spot at We Are Funny Project

When I first got interested in doing stand-up a few years ago, We Are Funny was one of the open mic nights that showed up on my radar. Although it took me a while to get started, they’re still running three nights a week and I was keen to get a spot there to check the place out.

The night is run in the large basement room of Farr’s School of Dancing – not actually a dance school, but a really nice pub in Shoreditch (with £3.30 pints – woohoo!) There’s a proper stage, a decent PA system, and it feels a bit more real than some of the smaller ‘room above a pub’ nights.

I was there on Tuesday night, and although there were a few dropouts the room had 20+ people, which included five GENUINE AUDIENCE MEMBERS, as well as the other acts.  The good thing about WAFP is that it’s not a bringer night, but the flipside of that is that you never really know how much of an audience you’re going to perform for.

The night is MC’d by an effervescent Italian called Alex Martini, who does a magnificent job of keeping the comedy train chugging along.

I went up fifth in the first half and did the same five minute set I’ve been working on at the previous gigs. It was tough going because the energy in the room was fairly low at that point and my opener didn’t work quite as well as it did last time. But I ploughed on and managed to warm the audience up a bit, although it felt like I was getting more groans than laughs as I did some of my darker bits.

I didn’t bother with notes, and apart from a brief stumble at the beginning I got through my entire set from memory, with one small exception. As I was getting into bed later that night I realised I’d completely forgotten to deliver the punchline to one of my strongest bits. I did the setup and they were laughing at the general premise, but somehow I just skipped the most important part and went straight onto the next bit.

This is interesting for me because it just shows that material can still sort of work even when you fuck it up, which is a handy life lesson.

The rest of the night was standard open mic fodder, a few great acts, a few that still need work. Professional act, Tom Little, closed the night off by testing out some of his new material – don’t think I’ve ever speak so quickly in my life. Combined with a pretty thick Salford accent it’s amazing anybody can understand a word he says, but somehow it just works.

I had some nice feedback from the other acts, and an especially interesting chat with a guy called Howard Cohen (a much more experienced act) who had some good advice for me – mostly about learning to not give a fuck…

I’ll definitely be back to WAFP as soon as I can – nights where you don’t need a bringer are going to be useful as my friends gradually get bored of my dragging them to gigs. Next week I’ll be back at the Cav on Wednesday for a prebooked spot, and might try to do another night if I can find one.

Second gig at the Cavendish Arms

This week I had a spot booked at Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a great venue attached to a nice little pub, and because I knew I was definitely performing my wife decided to come along to watch, and she invited my brother in law and his wife.

I really wanted it to go well while they were watching because nobody wants to bomb in front of their family and, while they’ve been supportive so far, it would be good for them to see that I’m making progress and not entirely deluded about my prospects.

For this night I planned to do my usual set but with a few adjustments. I moved my strongest, most reliable bit to the end so I could close on a big laugh, shuffled a few middle bits around so that the flow still made sense, and wrote an entirely new opener. I’ve been struggling to find a punchy opening bit that gets a good laugh and sets up the rest of the set. Everything I’ve tried before either gets a weak laugh or nothing at all, so I ditched it all and tried something different.

As usual they picked the running order at random, so I didn’t know when I was going up until the MC called my name as the fourth act of the night.

The new opener worked much better than anything else I’ve tried, although I think it can be better if I play around with the timing and delivery. That really set me up for success, and the rest of the set went down a storm – although I ended up checking my set list (scribbled on my palm) a couple of times because the new structure wasn’t fully committed to memory.  The closer worked exactly as planned, and I managed to throw in a tag specifically about my brother in law, earning him a cheer from the crowd.

It all added up to my best night yet and 24 hours later I’m still on a high about it all. That said, I’ve watched the video back a few times and it’s obvious that there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Some of the bits could be delivered better, I could save time by rambling less, which would let me include a few more jokes, and I definitely need to improve my stage-presence.

I’ve noticed I don’t really know what to do with my other hand while I’m on stage so it ends up looking a bit awkward and fidgety. I’ve considered holding a drink with it, but then there are a couple of bits which require hand motions so I’m not sure if that’s the best option. Maybe I just need more discipline to keep my rogue paw under control.

All the same – very happy with my performance, got a lot of positive feedback from people after the show, and pleased that my wife and her brother got to watch me doing a good one.

There were twenty acts in total, and a lot of good quality. I bumped into James Meakin again after chatting with him at Lion’s Den about a month ago, and he put in a strong performance. We have a similar sense of humour and are both at about the same level of experience, so it’s good to see him around.

There was also a short lady who did a brilliant routine about going to a self-help retreat in Arizona to meet Alanis Morissette – didn’t catch her name but I’d say she’s one of the best acts I’ve seen on the circuit. Others were good, but those are the two who stick out in my memory as I’m writing this.

Next week I’ve got a spot at We Are Funny Project in Shoreditch, but not much booked after that, so I need to start getting organised.

Open Mic #6 at the Lion’s Den

I’ve got a spot booked at the Cavendish next week with a few friends coming, so this week I really wanted to practice my set and try tweaking a couple of things that aren’t working well. The Lion’s Den Comedy Car Crash seemed like a good option.

I’ve been there a few times before (twice as an act) and quite like the place. Some people complain about it being pay to play (admission is a fiver for everybody) but it suits me well because it’s easy to get a spot if you can show up early and you don’t need a bringer. The audience always seems varied, I’ve been on nights when it’s reasonably busy but I also did a spot there a few weeks ago when it was dead.

Last night was great – an American guy (who did a routine in costume as a redneck truck-driver) brought a huge entourage with him and we ended up with a respectable audience for a Tuesday night non-bringer open mic, so the room had good energy. They all stayed until the end too, which was helpful because I was the second to last act of about 20.

I think I did OK – I’ve realised my opener is weak and my closer is a bit meh, but the middle four minutes of my current material is solid and got good laughs all the way through. I didn’t feel as comfortable as I did at Funny Feckers last week – probably a combination of going up so late in the evening and never really figuring out how exactly I was going to open and close – so I think my delivery probably wasn’t as confident as I’d like.

Still, it worked reasonably well and the MC, Boyce, told me it was a good set as I left the stage, so I’ll take it. The timing was spot on too – I managed to finish my full set comfortably close to five minutes. I’m going to make some significant edits before next week, so I finish on my strongest bit and move my current closer to the middle (I think it can still work with polish, it’s just not a closer), and I really need to think of a stronger opening line.

I’m feeling confident that I can get the material whipped into a strong five minute set with a little more work. I’m itching to try out some completely new stuff, but don’t want to do that until I know this set is working as well as it can.

The night was split into three sections and the first two sections each had a headline act, both of which were very strong. The rest of the amateurs were a mixed bag – two in particular stood out (forgot names, I’m afraid):

Youngish white woman with long blonde hair and nerdy specs did some clever bits, but the audience didn’t react as well as it deserved because I think she was almost too subtle with some of her delivery. Tough situation, because she had some great material but it was almost too clever for a five minute open spot where you haven’t got much time for the audience to figure out what you’re about.

Asian guy from Bradford, I think he said that he was new to the scene in London but had been around for a while up north – great stage presence, interacted with the crowd well and bounced through is material with confidence, wasn’t fazed by stuff not working. Felt a bit envious of his confidence on stage and it made me wonder whether that’s something that comes naturally or if I’ll eventually get that good with experience.

Everything clicks at Funny Feckers

I’d been looking forward to doing this spot ever since I visited Funny Feckers at The Constitution in Camden about a month ago – it’s a great night with a good crowd and a nice, intimate venue. But as things turned out I didn’t get to do a spot the week before, so I was a little rusty, and to make matters worse I was full of a cold and feeling grim, so on the night itself I wasn’t sure I’d be on form.

All the same, I was determined that this would be the night I’d go up without any notes and I was pretty confident that I could remember enough of my material to get through five minutes. I was the sixth act of the night and by the time I got onto the stage I’d forgotten all about my cold.

I delivered the same material as before – resisting the urge to try out new stuff – but right from the off it was a much tighter than before because I consciously tried to be more economical with words and get to the punchlines quicker. I have a tendency to ramble and reiterate the same point two or three times, which is a luxury you can’t afford in a five minute spot, so I’m trying to break that habit.

Without the crutch of a set list I had to trust in my ability to remember which bits were coming next and, largely, it worked out pretty well – at no point was I worried about what to say next, and that meant I could think a little more about my delivery rather than just blurting out the gags and trying to hold it all together.

Because it was all a bit tighter I managed to get through more of my material and used some bits that I usually don’t have time to get to. Also, I realised that a couple of bits just aren’t working – I think they’re solid gags, but they consistently fail to get decent laughs so it’s time to take them out to the woods and put a bullet in them. Conversely, there’s one bit that makes absolutely no sense to me because it doesn’t have any logic to it (I accidentally improvised it one night rather than writing it) and it gets a big laugh every time, so I’m going to keep it in and try to build on it.

It felt like I got a lot more laughs, maybe because I was consciously making an effort with my delivery, but what I really notice was that I got a lot more horrified groans – the noise they make when they’re a little disgusted with themselves for laughing at the gag. And I realised that’s exactly what I want. Making people laugh is one thing, but provoking that more complex reaction feels so much better.

I don’t know if this is ‘finding my voice’ but I certainly feel like I’ve got a better idea of my direction.

It wasn’t perfect, there’s still things that need to improve, but after last night’s gig I suddenly feel like less of a pretender, like I’m on my way to getting good at this. I had been planning to start trying out a new set very soon, but now I’m going to spend a little more time polishing my current material – it feels like it could be a lot sharper with just a few more weeks work, and then I’ll have my first tight-five.

Next week I’m going back to Funny Feckers, but only as a bringer for my friend Pauline, and I’ll be trying to get a spot at Lion’s Den on Tuesday.

I wasn’t quick enough to book another spot at Funny Feckers in October, but I’ll definitely be trying to get back there in November.

A newbie stand-up comedian in London, blogging my progress