Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A bunch of fives


Hello, chums. Sorry for the lack of blog recently but I’m currently writing this whilst eating a Sunday night dinner of a bowl of Alpen and a G&T, so I’m not exactly the most reliable of people, am I? No. Anyway, onwards…

We love the word ‘five’. Don’t we, eh? Everything important is in fives. 5-a-day. Five fingers, five toes. The five Pillars of Islam. Five senses. Five tastes. 5-Alive. Johnny 5. Five is the magic number. There are five days of the weeks. Jesus had five disciples. There are five letters in the Greek alphabet. Hi-five. Lo-five. Bunch of fives. A ‘fiver’ (what is that?). The number five.

Five.

Say it. Five. Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiivvvvvvvvvveee.

We’re bloody obsessed.

Oh and you think the world of open mic stand-up comedy is different, do you? Well, that’s where you’re wrong, sadsack. In the crazy world of the open mic circuit, the Tight Five is king. ‘Getting your Five’ is a mantra injected into everyone’s fat lips.

A good, solid five minute set is your calling card. Getting it perfected is the equivalent to the moment that an amateur cricketer feels sufficiently emboldened to buy his first bat. Armed with your Tight Five, honed on the keen edges of the open mic audience’s cruel laughter, you can travel the world, making strangers (and a handful of other comedians who’ve seen your material more than they’ve seen their partner's genitals in the past few months) laugh with the same jokes over and over again.

It was time, thought I, to get me a Tight Five. Which essentially meant flogging the same dead horse night after night, losing the glorious safety net of performing ‘new material’. So, for a few gigs I selected what I thought was my best five minute set and performed it, making only small changes from night to night. And here is how it went. DO YOU THINK IT WENT WELL? You know me so well.


Gig No.13 - Tuesday Camden Comedy Session, The Camden Head, Camden
Tuesday 10th January 2012
A quiet gig. Ideal, thought I, to try my Tight Five for the first time. I ad-libbed my opening and told the audience that my set relied heavily on an intimate knowledge of British Olympic rowers 1988 to present, and that were they without this knowledge they ‘may as well go to the bar’. This got a laugh. In fact, this got the biggest laugh of my set, as it really does turn out that if you don’t have an intimate knowledge of British Olympic rowers 1988 to present you ‘may as well go to the bar’. Ah. Hah.

I also told another act that I’d ‘loved his set’. He told me that he ‘hadn’t been on yet’. Ah well. I tried.


Gig No.14 - Comedy Virgins, Cavendish Arms, Stockwell
Tuesday 17th January 2012
Armed with the knowledge that all other humans may not necessarily share all of my frames of reference, I decided to tweak the beginning to help my material make more sense. However, I decided to do this by opening with an entirely unrelated joke about Ofsted that I had made up on the bus on the way there.

It went as well as you’re currently thinking it might of went.


Gig No.15 - 5 Minutes of Comedy Fame, Rudy‘s Revenge, Holborn
Wednesday 18th January 2012
Right. So, er, I stuck with the Ofsted joke even though it has nothing to do with the rest of the material, and it takes so long that it compromises the rest of the material by the fact that it steals two vital minutes away from it, thereby forcing me to cram five minutes of obscure jokes about Steve Redgrave into three minutes.

Tight Five, yeah? TIGHT. FIVE.


Gig No.16 - Comedy Virgins Away Day, Prince of Wales, Tooting
Thursday 19th January 2012
BEGONE JOKE ABOUT OFSTED. That’s right, I mercilessly chopped that joke that I thought up on a bus in south London, despite thinking it was quite good, for the sake of clarity. Five minutes, a Tight Five, all about the various health complaints of Sir Steve Redgrave. How will the audience resist?

Well, somehow they did in the main. It went down well in some quarters but a fair chunk of the room held the expression of someone watching their pedigree pooch methodically chew its own leg off. No matter, for making a few people (who have excellent knowledge of British Olympic rowers) I won the South West London Ladies Dart League Premier League Sixes Runners-Up 95/96 trophy. Don’t ask.


Gig No.17 - The Freedom of the Fringe, The Torriano, Kentish Town
Thursday 26th January 2012
Went fine. Became consciously bored of repeating the same material. Real, actual comedians work sets of material dozens or even hundreds of times. I’d done my five times and I wanted it dead. DEAD.


Gig No.18 - 5 Minutes of Comedy Fame, Camden Head, Angel
Thursday 2nd February 2012
All you need to know about this gig (which was brilliant, busy, fun, go to it) is that the nice chap before me killed the room (in a really bad way), thereby robbing me of any momentum, atmosphere or goodwill that the gig had generated up until this point. The audience, who had previously been joyous and giddy, were now stunned into a horrible silence. Now, a good comedian would have been fine in these circumstances. They would even have rung laughs from the awkward situation. I am not a good comedian.

How to describe how it went?

When I was walking on I overheard someone say ‘oh god, this is going to be so hard for him’. That’ll do.


So, in what shape does my Tight Five now find itself in? At best it’s a Smooshy Four, at worst a Viscous Sludgy Six. Back on the treadmill, Five.

Next week - competition time! How will I fare?! Help me I’m drowning!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Raise high the roofbeams, carpenter boy


Happy New Year, hope you had a nice Christmas, get anything nice?, oh really that’s good, oh yeah party at your mate’s house was it?, best thing really innit, always a let down, Noo Yeer eh, best to stay in and watch Jools Holland’s Shoutathon or whatever the fuck that thing they film in November is called.

On with the public humiliation!

Now. I don’t wish to bite the hand that feeds me (unless it was feeding me coal) and I promised myself I wouldn’t slag anyone off….

But.

It’s generally accepted that bad-mouthing your fellow comedians, or someone’s comedy night, or venue, or whatever, is bad form. Besides, it’s a small-ish community. What goes around, comes around and other clichés.

However, last month I encountered a gig so effortlessly, painfully and fist-chewingly awful that it is worth recording. In the interests of fairness/niceness/cowardice/me ever getting another gig again, the gig and all involved will remain anonymous (sorry, rubberneckers).

But first, here’s a joke to kick off 2012...

What do you call a giraffe?
Necky.

Necky! Geddit?! Cos of the neck? Oh fuck off then…



Gig No.10 - Comedy Virgins, The Cavendish Arms, Stockwell Monday 5th December 2011

Tried a form of comedy that I’m not 100% sure isn’t cheating - I read out a list of things I had found on the internet. People laughed though. That’s the whole point really, isn’t it? OR IS IT? Yes, it is. BUT IS IT? Yes. BUT. Stop shouting.

Sorry.

That’s better.


Gig No.11 - Freedom of the Fringe, The Torriano, Kentish Town Thursday 8th December 2011

Tried a form of comedy that whilst not being 100% sure isn’t cheating, I was now 73% sure it was ok anyway - I read out the same list of things I had found on the internet that I read out in my previous gig. People didn’t really laugh. Which isn’t the point, is it? NO. Fair enough. AHAHAAHAAAA.

I wonder if you all find these prose conversations I have with myself as tedious as I do?

(YES WE DO)

Ah. Fair enough.

(AAHAHAHAAAA)


Gig No.12 - ??????, ????????, ??????? ?????????? December 2011

Right, this is what you came for…

A total pigfish of a gig. That’s right, a pigfish. I wanted to call it a pigfuck but my spellcheck automatically changes it to pigfish, as if that’s anymore fucking sensible. Jesus.

There’s a thorny issue out there in that thar open mic world, and that is the issue of ‘bring-a-friend’. Some gigs insist you MUST bring someone with you or you’re not going on. Some gigs will scowl at you if you don’t, but let you on anyway. Some ask you nicely to but won’t get upset if you don’t. Some don’t ask you to bring anyone at all.

When I first started, I thought that the ‘bring-a-friend’ policy was the most reasonable thing. After all, a comedy gig needs an audience and, if we’re honest, who the hell else is going to come? However, once you factor in that the really keen comics will be doing a minimum of 5 gigs a week, it becomes untenable. Even your most devoted friend/lover/spouse is going to draw the line at once a week. Basically, you quickly run out of friends. It’s a tricky one.

However, there are drawbacks. Such as when you have 12 comedians and two genuine audience members. Like we did at this gig. Not the end of the world, you might think. Of course not. However, lob in the fact that most of the 12 comedians treated each other with a U.S. foreign policy-esque disdain and the fact that the MC didn’t so much as alienate the audience but construct an enormous perimeter fence around them with the words ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ slapped across the iron gates, and you get a perfect storm. A pigfish, if you will.

What the gig needed was a warm, charismatic MC who helped everyone overcome the tiny audience, odd atmosphere and have a good gig regardless. What we got was very, very different.

The MC, oh oh oh the MC. He opened the night by saying (unironically) 'right, let's just get through this then' and then proceeded to tell a string of jokes about how fat he was and how small his cock is (I am making this material sound a lot better than it was, most of his jokes consisted of him saying 'I'm so fat I can't see my cock but then again that's cos my cock is so small!').

Despite his best efforts he got no laughs but he did get general goodwill from a small, just about friendly, audience and a few polite titters. This wasn't enough for our fella, who grew visibly unhappy and kept saying things like 'WOW, you guys don't like jokes, huh?' after yet another of his fat man/small cock gags sank like the fucking Lusitania.

He kept this up for OVER TWENTY MINUTES and only stopped because the first act pleaded 'can I come on, I've got to get to another gig'. Despite all this, after three acts the audience were doing their best in very trying circumstances. The acts had battled, almost triumphed and the atmosphere was still positive. However, MC Fatsmallcock decided we hadn't laughed enough so marched onstage to berate us. 'You've had 15 minutes of comedy and I've heard half a laugh, once'. Not true, old boy, but good shitting luck getting a laugh out of anyone now.

But worse than any of this was his relationship with two blokes who had come to support one of the acts. Very early on he decided that these guys were the reason the gig was bombing and constantly harassed them for it. Not in a funny way, not in a fun way, not in an interesting way. In a genuinely upset way. Lines he used on these two poor blokes included 'Ah you guys are sucking life out of this room' (they weren't), 'Do you guys need laughing lessons, or something?' (they didn't) and 'Ahh, there's no point even trying to talk to you' (there was).

None of these were delivered with anything approaching irony or good humour. Worst of all, at one point he broke off and told them off for talking… 'ah no no, let's hear what you've got to say, you clearly don't find anything funny onstage so maybe what you're saying is funnier, let's hear it. Come on. No?'. It couldn’t have been more awkward if… well, it couldn’t have been more awkward really.

HOWBLOODYEVER, all needn’t have been lost. We comedians could rally together. Support each other. Make it a worthwhile gig. Sod him. Sod the lack of audience. We’re all in this together, we’re standing shoulder to shoulder, we’re fighting them on the beaches, raus raus!

Sadly, the other performers treated the whole night as a major inconvenience. One refused to clap at any point. Two left at the break. Another lay down on a sofa and stared at the ceiling the whole time (apart from during his set when he expected the rest of us to be attentive and alert to his shit mumblings).

It’s worth noting that, out of all the comics that night, I failed in the biggest way onstage. However, I was a FUCKING GREAT audience member.


Am I trying to make a point here? Oh yeah - MCs, be nice, for Christ’s sake. Or be funny. Start with being nice and positive, then work towards funny. The audience, both acts and non-acts, need to feel like the whole evening is worthwhile. The MC is the rhythm section of an open mic gig. If you’re out of time, it doesn’t matter how tuneful the rest of us are, the whole shebang will suck harder than Natasha Giggs at a family barbecue.

And, dear other comedians, do as you would be done by. That’s all.

Happy 2012. HAHAHAHAAA.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Gigs No.8 & 9 - Daylight come and me Wan go home



I don’t know how to be a stand-up comedian. But About.com knows how to do everything. About.com is like MacGyver if MacGyver was a motherfucking robot or some shit. A robot MacGyver sitting in a library, checking out Wikipedia on his iPhone whilst listening to In Our Time on his iPod (please note that other smartphones and MP3 devices are available but they’re shit so just buy an iPhone and an iPod and have done with it).

About.com has compiled a list of 'Ten Tips on How To Break into Stand-Up Comedy'. And now… now I’m going to have to take a wry and ironic look at them whilst reflecting their facile nature whilst acknowledging their intrinsic truth whilst making light of that fact whilst highlighting that whilst it’s easy to mock them most comedians actually don’t follow these simple rules whilst mocking them.

Prrrrrrrr.

There’s a moment in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest where R.P. McMurphy fights the bullying porters for the umpteenth time, to protect the weaker inmates. Previously he’s been strong and given a good fight. But this time he, their hero, is weak and sluggish, slow and jaded. Bravery isn’t enough this time. He’s trying. But…

Now. I am not comparing myself to R.P. McMurphy or any other kind of heroic, over-relied upon yet under-appreciated hero. I’m just, saying, that, that, it might be nice if one or two of you, from time to time, would take on, you know, instead of just standing there gawping, if you could just… Ah forget it.

You think I wouldn't like a con-con-vertible and a guh-guh-girl friend? But did you ever have people l-l-laughing at you? No, because you're so b-big and so tough! Well, I'm not big and tough.


About.com… take the floor.

1. Get On Stage Now
Basically, it’s like sex, they’re saying. No amount of grasping one out over internet pornography is going to prepare you for what Harriet Harman calls ‘full sex’. Same goes for comedy, same goes for skydiving, same goes for war, same goes for applying for Britain’s Got Talent… Wanking will help none of these things. Well, except applying for Britain’s Got Talent. And War. And skydiving. And comedy. But it DEFINITELY does not prepare you for what Harriet Harman calls ‘full sex’.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Bomb
Sure, sure, get straight back on the horse. Good advice. But it’s not that simple. In the case of bombing at an open mic night, it’s not just akin to being thrown off the horse. It’s as if the horse has bucked you off, and then has sat you down in a café near your house, and then stared obliquely into the middle distance for an age, and then started saying things like ‘the thing is…’ and ‘look, it’s not as if… oh god this is so hard’, and all the while your coffee’s going cold, which doesn’t matter cos you haven’t even touched it yet and who gives a fuck about the coffee, and the horse cries a little bit and you say ‘what is it?’ even though you know exactly what the fuck is going on and you wonder if you’re going to become the first couple in history to break up in total and utter silence. Don’t be afraid to bomb, get tae fuck. Of course I’m afraid. So are you.

3. Keep Up With Your Old Stuff
Oh what, the Old Stuff that Bombed? Thanks a chuffing lot, About.com.

4. Don’t Steal
Oh, what, you can’t…? You mean, you can’t just…? From another comedian’s…? Oh. Oh shit…

5. Stick to Your Time
Yeah, true that. Particularly if you’re rubbish (note to self).

6. Tape Yourself
S’what I told the missus, fnar fnar (sex joke!). Although in all seriousness, when you do tape yourself, it’s horrific to watch the tape back of a time when you thought you did really well and see all the horrible faces you pulled and the stupid poses you threw yourself into and realise that you were nowhere near as good as you thought you were and the response you got was a lot quieter than you imagined it was at the time (am I talking about comedy or sex? Who knows?! That’s the joke! Of this bit! Not of all of it. But definitely this bit! HAHAHA).

7. Hit the Clubs
Networks your tits off, they say. I mean, this is genuinely great advice. It’s just one big fucking boys club out there. Not a ‘Fucking Boys Club’, that would be something totally different and wildly inappropriate. An *expletive* boys club. Like the Scouts. Although the Scouts are unisex now aren’t they? Mind you, so is stand-up comedy. OR IS IT? Answers on a saucy seaside postcard, ladies.

8. Make Nice with the Audience
Again good advice. People don’t pay to go to open mic nights and be insulted by nobody comics who aren’t even very good. Then again people don’t pay to go to open mic nights. Hang on, there’s something in this. WHERE’S CONFUCIUS WHEN YOU NEED HIM? Probably still looking for that cat, the fat bastard.

9. Carry a Notebook With You
No.
10. Be Yourself
Oh this is… Have you ever met me? Well then.


Gig No.8 - Comedy Virgins, The Cavendish Arms, Stockwell Tuesday 22nd November 2011

With About.com‘s golden rules rattling around my brain like a frozen pea lost in a conch, I pitched up at the Cavendish Arms for what I’d been told was the ‘best open mic gig in London’. To cut a long story short, it’s a great gig and it was a lovely evening. Supportive audience, good MC and a strong line-up of comedians.

To add a bit of fun to proceedings, Comedy Virgins has a random line-up - you could be on first or last. You get roughly 20 seconds warning that you’re going on, so you have to be ready to storm the stage at any moment. I was on near the end, and lemme tell yoo son, it’s terrifying. I had also, earlier in the evening, eaten a bowl of the Cavendish Arms famed 'Disco Fries', and lemme tell yoo son, they’re terrifying. It’s an artery-atrophying deadweight of chips, various cheeses and onion rings. The upshot was that I spent the whole evening nervously anticipating my entrance onstage whilst my sorrowful guts churned away with such grim, stodgy determination that once or twice I went blind due to the nausea.

As if that wasn’t enough extra fun/pressure, the audience also crown one comedian the winner at the end of the night. The acts who get the best reaction are invited back onstage for a good old-fashioned clap-off. My set for the evening was a weird experiment which involved me starting off by brandishing a mask of Gok Wan whilst singing songs by The Smiths. The audience were good, strong people and had had a good evening (and a few beers) by the time I was on, so they were happy to go with my Morrissey/Gok mash-up. I then wore the Gok mask and got ‘Gok’ to tell some pretty shit jokes. Again, the audience caught the mood and went with it.

For whatever reason(s), everything clicked into place. People seemed to laugh at any little thing I said, or any little face I made. It seemed easy. What a massively confusing thi business this is.

As such I was invited back onstage at the end for the clap-off. Which I lost to the brilliant Pat Cahill, who was subsequently disqualified for being the headline act and a real, actual stand-up comedian.

So I won a three inch plastic trophy. By default.

YES.


Did I achieve this thanks to About.com’s top ten tips? Let’s see.

1. Get On Stage Now
YES, done. Tick. Thanks, About.com.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Bomb
My act was to wear a mask of increasingly unheard of TV personality Gok Wan, sing songs by an increasingly obscure cult band from the 80s and tell deliberately bad jokes. Hell, I was afraid just to BE there.

3. Keep Up With Your Old Stuff
It can barely keep up with me, to be honest.

4. Don’t Steal
Well, whilst the style of my act might not have been amazingly original, I thought I was on pretty safe ground with my Smiths/Gok Wan crossover. However, after the gig one audience member inquired whether I knew a friend of hers, who had been making a similar joke on Facebook just a few days previously. I believe she was suggesting that a) I had nicked it, or b) I was woefully unoriginal. There we are.
5. Stick to Your Time
Hmm, I went a teeny bit over, I think. But within the parameters of decency. Time is elastic.

6. Tape Yourself
Didn’t do this but my girlfriend did take some fantastic, shaky, grainy pics on her phone (thanks, love) - see above. See my shame at winning. SEE IT.
7. Hit the Clubs
So, this gig is amazingly ideal for a spot of networking. And, clutching the trophy, I was in prime position to press the flesh with confidence and impunity. However, winning the tongue-in-cheek prize had made me feel that all the other performers and their friends would think I was some kind of arrogant tosser who was too good for them. So, I hid in the corner for a bit which made me look like some kind of arrogant tosser who was too good for them.
8. Make Nice with the Audience
See point No.4. I didn’t punch her in the face. So, mission accomplished on this one.

9. Carry a Notebook With You
No.

10. Be Yourself
Mainly I was Gok Wan.


So, I achieved comedy glory by following just two out of About.com’s ten tips. Imagine how shithot I’m gunna be when I nail all ten.

Gig No.9 - Party Piece, The Queen‘s Head, Kings Cross Tuesday 29th November 2011

As I made my way home from the Cavendish Arms, clutching my mini-prize in my clammy fist, I wondered what would happen if the audience hadn’t been so good? So generous? So up for it? After all, I was ballooning onto stage, belching out a bad Morrissey impression whilst waving a Gok Wan mask about. What would happen if the audience just didn’t want to go with it?

The answer I found in the slightly stunned, mildly offended but mainly just plain bored expressions I talked at for five minutes at the Queen’s Head one week later.

Performing identical material resulted in by far my best and worst gigs. Sadly, at the moment I don’t have the bank of material to choose from, or the required skills to engage different types of audiences. But I do have a Gok Wan mask. Baby steps...

Monday, 28 November 2011

Gig No. 7 - After the first death, there is no other


Here’s one for ya. When I was a kid, I used to make up jokes all the time. My favourite one was this…

What’s purple and waves?
An aubergine with an arm.

I was 7 when I made that joke up. It genuinely has been all downhill from there.


Gig No.7 - Gong in 60 Seconds, Kings Place, Kings Cross Thursday 17th November 2011

The rule of thumb for open mic nights is that you will (generally) be protected from the dark side of an audience. The watching crowd can drown you in silence but nothing more. There is no heckling, booing or stoning.

The audience at these gigs is comprised mainly of other performers and their friends. Any ‘real’ punters who aren’t aware that aggressive audience participation is frowned upon will be reminded at the top of the night by the MC. These gigs are intended to be safe havens for new acts or established acts trying out new material. Nothing will be gained from heckling and so on.

'Gong in 60 Seconds' is the open mic circuit’s audience’s revenge. Boy/girl/best friend dragged you to one too many ropey comedy nights? Have you been forced to sit through endless gags about growing up in small Home Counties towns where they only had one nightclub and it was called Tits and it had a sticky floor? Do you now visibly flinch when you hear the words ‘hello! How are we?!’? Well, then, this gig is for you. This is your moment. This is payback.

For you, dear audience, you can get rid of an act whenever you want. Shaky performance? Can ‘em! Dreadful puns? Begone! Suspect they might be a gag writer for Tramadol Nights? Off with their heads!

And no one will judge you. This is stand-up comedy at its most raw, at its most brutal. This is a Jacobean bear pit where only the strong will survive and the audience’s affections can switch quicker than Edward Norton’s character switching between his two personalities in that film with Richard Gere that I can’t remember the name of. Primal Rage? No, that was a beat-em-up on the Megadrive involving dinosaurs. Bloody great that was. There was this giant monkey character (not a dinosaur obvs, but I think he might have been the Abominable Snowman - hang on, I’ll Wikipedia it… wait there… ah, turns out the big monkey guy was the almighty God of Good and Virtue. Turns out they were all gods, actually. Fair enough. Am I still in these parentheses? I am. Ok, here we are) Primal Fear! It was Primal Fear!

Basically, each comic has to try and survive for five minutes. Four flags are distributed randomly around the audience. Once the comic has used up 60 seconds, the audience members can lift their flags if they want the comic gone. If three of the four flags are raised at the same time (audience members obviously have the right to lower the flags if the comic improves) then the comic is gonged off to jeers, boos and heckles. Those plucky few who survive the five minutes are pitted together in a brutal laugh-off, where they get a further 60 seconds to impress the audience, who will then vote for the winner.

It's bloody.

I was suitably terrified.

Sadly, on this occasion the audience didn’t really get into the spirit of things and were very shy when it came to flag-raising. Individual members of the audience didn’t want to be exposed or seen as ‘mean’, so the first flag would generally be raised 3-4 minutes into a set, regardless of how well the comic was doing. The result was that too many acts made the final and the evening had a peculiar atmosphere. It’s a very odd sensation to see benevolence and kindness sour an evening.

As for me - I put in an exceedingly below-par performance and the audience treated me with the kindly, flummoxed silence that I deserved. What they did not do, however, was flag me off. I lasted the full five minutes.

‘Huzzah!’ I hear you cry. Well, no. Actually, far from it. It was horrible. I have experienced an audience watching me silently, not even a vague smirk in sight, wishing that I would leave the stage as soon as humanly possible. Tonight, I experience that. Coupled with an intense incredulity that other audience members hadn’t voted me off. It was a dose of double-hate. ‘Not only are you rubbish and unfunny’ thought audience member X, ‘but I actively resent you being onstage a second further.’

I was the Janet Devlin of stand-up. Not entertaining anyone, not talented enough to succeed. And yet I remained, to the shock and horror of onlookers, in the competition. Hell, I stood a chance of winning it.

But I didn’t.

Dear everyone. Lift those flags, eh? Put us out of our misery. Enjoy the execution. Revel in it. Allow the power to go to your heads. Hell, vote someone off because you don’t like their shoes. We don’t mind. That’s the game. We don’t get to play it very often, so we may as well all enjoy it.

And who wouldn't want the chance to tell a gobby attention-seeker to shut up? I know that I certainly wou-

What's that?

Ah. Ok.

Shutting up....

Monday, 21 November 2011

Gigs No. 5 & 6 - The English are waiting and I don’t know what to do


‘We have failed, that's all. We are bad comedians, we aren't bad men.’
Graham Greene, ‘The Comedians’


How many amateur comedians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

12.

One to screw in the light bulb. The other 11 to watch him screw in the light bulb whilst secretly hoping he makes a total fucking botch job of it, so that they can go and screw it in themselves. To rapturous applause.

Ah no, this is uncharitable.

How many amateur comedians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

12.

One to screw in the light bulb. The other 11 to watch him screw in the light bulb whilst secretly hoping he makes a decent enough job of screwing it in, but just stopping short of being able to make it light up, so that they can go up and easily finish screwing it in themselves. To rapturous applause.

Oh come on now, this isn’t fair.

How many amateur comedians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

1.

To screw in the light bulb. To rapturous applause.

Gig No.5 - Comedy Bin, The Old School Yard, Borough Tuesday 1st November 2011

Below is a rough approximation of everything I said onstage during the first two minutes of my slot, along with my thought process.

* - action
() - thoughts
- words

*Walking towards the stage area during my intro, I notice a bizarre and enormous green bottle directly behind where the stand ups have been performing. In lieu of anything even approaching a decent opening to my set, I decide to remark upon this to begin with. For some reason, once I get to the stage, instead of taking the proffered microphone from the outstretched arm of the MC I decide to turn to the audience and hold my arms aloft in victory. This is largely involuntary. I seem to get away with.*

(God, I hope I don’t trip over anyone on the way to the stage. Shit, what the hell am I going to say once I’m onstage? I have no idea. Ooh, look at that massive green bottle. I’ll talk about that. Good. Right, let’s grab that mic from the MC and talk about the massive green bottle. What am I doing? WHY AM I HOLDING MY ARMS ALOFT IN VICTORY AT THE AUDIENCE? They seem to be accepting it. Why? Idiots. Right, I’ve got the mic! Result!)

*Pointing to massive green bottle*

What the hell is this?

(Oh fuck please laugh. Please please please. They laughed! A bit!)

Seriously, what is it? Anyone? It’s mental. What was it for? What was kept in there?

*Approaching poor audience member in the front row*

What would you keep in there?

(YES. This is exactly the kind of bollock-swinging bolshy improv a decent stand-up might do. The audience think I know what I’m doing. I don’t! Hahahaha!!! Oop, the audience member looks annoyed and unhappy. Shit. I’ve ruined his night. I’ve ruined everything. Is he going to shout at me?)

You don’t know? No. I don’t know. None of us know.

(THEY’RE LAUGHING. I AM BASICALLY A GOD. Now time to do that stuff about gravy I made up on the way here. IT IS TIME.)

On the way here tonight, and this is true, I heard two guys talking on the tube. And one of them said, in reaction to a question, ‘yeah, it was all gravy’.

And I thought.

What. Was? All gravy?

(They’re going with it! It’s four years out of date. These guys are idiots!)

He seemed really pleased about this, he said it in a positive manner. Had he been somewhere that was all gravy? Entirely gravy? Everything.

(I’M LIKE A LAUGH CONDUCTOR)

Cos he’d be covered in gravy if that was the case. Had he just had a meal that was all gravy? Every bit of it?

(Shit, this is great. I’m even confident enough to try this next bit which is very low on laughs and needs the audience to really go with it.)

The only way he could use the phrase ‘it was all gravy’, in a positive way, is this. ‘Oh hello, how’s your Sunday roast?’ ‘It’s good thanks.’

(They’re not laughing. This is fine. It’s all part of my plan.)

‘Oh yeah? What’s good about it?’ ‘Well, it’s good because it’s part meat, part vegetable…

(Ah-ha! I heard a knowing groan! A KNOWING GROAN! They are totally onside! I love these guys, I want to have sex with all of them. Can I do this? I probably can. I’ll ask at the end.)

…part potato. And. Part gravy.’ ‘Oh great. And how’s the gravy?’

(They’ve laughed pre-emptively!)

‘That. That is ALL gravy.’

(I am totes Facebooking all these guys later)

*The rest of my material glided along nicely. Comic and audience were as one. All was well with the world.*


Gig No.6 - Five Minutes of Comedy Fame, Rudy‘s Revenge, Holborn Wednesday 2nd November 2011

Below is a rough approximation of everything I said onstage during the first two minutes of my slot, along with my thought process.

*Walking towards the stage area during my intro, I notice a bizarre and enormous cartoon directly behind where the stand ups have been performing. In lieu of anything even approaching a decent opening to my set, I decide to remark upon this to begin with. For some reason, once I get to the stage, instead of taking the proffered microphone from the outstretched arm of the MC I decide to try and shake his hand. He doesn‘t shake my hand. I force him to shake my hand. This is largely involuntary. I don‘t get away with it. The audience are already perplexed and, understandably, hostile.*

(We-he-he-hell, last night’s ‘lookie here, what’s this then?’ schtick went down a storm. So. Naturally. That trick’s going to work again. Hey hey, there’s a big weird cartoon. Shit, they’re going to love this. WHY AM I FORCING THE MC TO SHAKE MY HAND? Wow, that’s created a weird atmosphere. I’ll pull it round with this big weird cartoon, you just wait…)

*Pointing to big weird cartoon*

What the hell is this?

(They‘re going to laugh at that. Deffo. Ok. They‘re not laughing. Why not?)

Seriously, what is it? Anyone? It’s mental.

(Ok, these guys are idiots. When I pointed at the big green bottle, people laughed. If anything, this cartoon is funnier. I‘ll point some more.)

Look at it. Look at the cartoon. Who’s this guy? And this one here?

(Oo-kay. Not, er, not going with the cartoon material there.)

Oo-kay. Not, er , not going with the cartoon material there.

(Woof. Ok. I won’t go as far as saying you could hear a pin drop in here. But that’s mainly because the sound of bored sighs and shuffling chairs would drown it out.)

‘For gods sake, do some material, Chris.’

(Why did I say that like Alan Partridge?)

Why did I say that like Alan Partridge?

(WHY AM I JUST SAYING THE FIRST THOUGHTS THAT POP IN TO MY HEAD? Right. Breathe. Do that sure-fire gravy stuff that went down really well last night.)

Right, er, I’ll do some material then. On the way here tonight, and this is true, I heard two guys talking on the tube. And one of them said, in reaction to a question, ‘yeah, it was all gravy’.

And I thought.

(NOW comes the payload, people. No one can fail to laugh at this.)

What. Was? All gravy?

(Bollocks.)

He seemed really pleased about this, he said it in a positive manner. Had he been somewhere that was all gravy? Entirely gravy? Everything.

(They‘ve rumbled me.)

Cos he’d be covered in gravy if that was the case. Had he just had a meal that was all gravy? Every bit of it?

(Shit, this is awful. Oh god, what’s going to happen when I do the ‘low laugh’ ending to this bit? How can they laugh less? Perhaps they’ll start crying. Well, that’s a reaction, I suppose. It’s something. No, no, look at their impassive, glassy expressions. I couldn’t move these people even if I had a MASSIVE hand.)

The only way he could use the phrase ‘it was all gravy’, in a positive way, is this. ‘Oh hello, how’s your Sunday roast?’ ‘It’s good thanks.’

(They’re not laughing. This is fine. Laughter now would just be weird.)

‘Oh yeah? What’s good about it?’ ‘Well, it’s good because it’s part meat, part vegetable…

(…tumbleweed…)

…part potato. And. Part gravy.’ ‘Oh great. And how’s the gravy?’

(They‘re just utterly confused, aren‘t they? I have grappled a room full of people into bafflement. WITH NOTHING BUT WORDS.)

‘That. That is ALL gravy.’

(I am totes Facebooking all these guys later. To apologise.)

*The rest of the material was greeted with what can only be described as ‘complete, utter, unbridled yet silent hostility’. My favourite kind of hostility. Comic and audience were as one - I thought I was shit too. The world can fuck off.*


Yep. So, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, yeah yeah yeah. Hubris, blah blah blah, shut up.

The next gig I’m doing gives the audience the chance to vote comics off the stage at any point during the set.

Waddya reckon? 5 seconds? Too generous?

Gizza cuddle, someone. I'm a bad comedian. Not a bad man.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Gig No.4 - Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys


Did a fourth gig, didn’t I? But first, please enjoy these messages.

My amazingly superficial research (via Google. Thanks Google! Please note, other search engines are available. But they’re totally pointless. Thanks Google!) I have discovered that it’s known as Dead Baby Comedy. That is, comedy that’s intended to shock, appall, gross out and so on.

Having played at and attended several open mic gigs of late, I can confirm that this style of comedy is very much live and kicking. In the past 3-4 weeks I have heard more rape, paedophilia and dead baby jokes than in the rest of my life put together. This isn’t from a bunch of blokey blokes in the pub saying things like ‘eh, here‘s one for ya, what‘s 12 inches, blue and makes women scream?’, this is from intelligent, savvy young people who have thought about, written and prepared their material for an intelligent, savvy young crowd (which, a lot of the time, turns out to be ‘eh, here’s one for ya, what’s 12 inches, blue and makes women scream?’).

Now. I’m no Mary Whitehouse. I believe everything can be ripe for comedy, if done in the right way and handled correctly. I’m not a great fan of making jokes about sexual assault or child abuse and I believe that if it’s done it has to be handled with a huge amount of skill and deftness, otherwise it is just gratuitous. But that’s not my main complaint. The main problem here is the sheer laziness of the material. Not only are these jokes three times older than the comics re-hashing them, they’re just so weak.

And what do they want from us? People can’t genuinely laugh, because the jokes are so shit. People can’t be shocked, because the jokes are so old. I suppose the comedians want us to think ‘I can’t believe they said that! How bold!’. And, amazingly, that is exactly what I think. I can’t believe they’ve repeated an old, thoughtless, cheap gag from the 1970s. How bold of them to come here and expect an experienced comedy audience to have any other reaction than walking out in massive disappointment.

Dear other comedians. Have you any (first or second hand) experience of a) rape, b) child abuse, or c) infant death? Have you got anything new or interesting to bring to the world of comedy about these subjects? Have you got a joke on these subjects that hasn’t been told several thousand times just this calendar year? No you fucking haven’t, so fuck the fuck off.

I’m taking a rape alarm to the next gig and will be setting it off every time someone makes a ‘shocking’ joke that’s so shit it feels like I’m being violated. I’ll take spare batteries.

Ooh and one more thing. If you tell a ‘Dead Baby’ joke and the audience don’t laugh, don’t say ‘ooh, bit much for you, wasn’t it?’ or ‘woarh, that’s shocked you, hasn’t it?’. Don’t say that. Say this.

This.

‘Oh. I can see none of you are laughing at my joke about my dad dressing up as Santa and forcing me to perform oral sex upon him at Christmastime. I imagine that’s probably because not only is my joke deeply offensive to every living being, let alone children who have suffered sexual abuse, but it isn’t even really my joke. It’s a well-worn shock tactic that’s been used by comedians for, possibly, centuries and this is just my own desperately lazy interpretation of it. In fact, if I’m being honest, I don’t even find it funny myself, I just don’t have enough confidence in the rest of my material and I’m worried about what would happen if you didn’t laugh at it. With this ‘Dead Baby’ material, I can at least hide being the tiny cloak of being shocking or controversial. I’m sorry. I really am. I won’t do it again. If any of you in this room have been affected by any of the sensitive topics that I have so dully and cheaply sent up, then I can only hope that you never have to hear such cockwash ever again.’

Say that.


Gig No.4 - Party Piece, The Queen’s Head, Kings Cross
Tuesday 25th October 2011

So, I tried out all my best rape, paedophile and dead baby jokes and they went REALLY BADLY.

Only joking.

This gig was in the delightful Queen’s Head (good beer, well done) and was remarkable for two reasons.

Firstly, the pub is just one room. Which means, when you play, you play to the whole pub. Like it or not. Whether people came for comedy or not. I had got very used to scurrying upstairs to a private room with a bunch of other geeks, and reading out our funnies to each other and then scuttling out before the ‘normies’ worked out what was going on and lynched us or something. When I arrived I spent 20 minutes trying to find the stairs to the room above the pub where the comedy would be. I even wilfully ignored the stage and microphone staring at me at the back of the pub. Probably for something else, I reassured myself. It wasn’t.

Doing stand-up comedy to a whole pub filled with people who have come to drink and not watch stand-up comedy is very much like making love to a beautiful woman.

Like making love to a beautiful woman in a pub filled with people who have come to drink and not watch you make love to a beautiful woman. And then realising that you’re not actually making love to a beautiful woman at all but, in fact, you’re just wanking over a copy of Reader’s Wives. Wives of the people who have come here to have a drink and not watch you imagine making love to a beautiful woman whilst actually, in fact, wanking over a copy of Reader’s (who are in fact the drinkers) Wives (their wives, in fact in fact) inside of which are, in fact, their wives.

It’s actually nothing like that. But it is a bit weird.

And secondly, I was the first comedian onstage. Yes, with a whole three gigs under my fraying belt, I opened the night. I imagine the MC took one look at me and thought ‘THIS GUY will slay them, he must open. I like the cut of his jib, I like the way he walks, talks and chews bubblegum at the same time, I like his swagger, his strut, his way with women, his confidence, his POWERFUL JAWLINE. Ah, hell, I just like him.’

Or.

He just did the whole thing in alphabetical order. Either way, it made me poo myself.

Hey ho.

The much misunderstood Animaniacs had a great feature called Good Idea/Bad Idea. Let’s revive it.

Good Idea - spending 1-2 minutes interacting with the audience, to get them onside/warmed up and laughing.

Bad Idea - spending 1-2 minutes interacting with the audience, to get them onside/warmed up and laughing at the start of a tight five minute set and then attempting to mash the five minute set into the remaining three minutes.

WILL I NEVER LEARN?

No. No I won’t and you can’t make me. Bah. As the MC for the evening said (not unpleasantly, I should stress), I made them laugh twice. TWICE. Two times. x2. Doublelaugh. Deux. Dos. Dau. Multilaugh. Laughplural(s). Ambilaugh. Both the laughs. A pair of laughs. A brace of laughs. How many laughs for you there, sir? Oh, a couple of laughs please. Duolaugh. Laughtwins. HA and HA.

With thanks to Tom Webb for letting me come and play, and to MC Nelson de Gouveia. Please note that the above Dead Baby rant was not intended to be related to Party Piece. Thanks!


Soooooooooo. Got a gig coming up Tuesday 1st and Wednesday 2nd. I’m aiming for three laughs per night. Triplelaugh. Laugh hattrick. Thricelaugh. Ah, you get the idea…

Bye! Love you!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Gigs No. 2 & 3 - Sometimes he did this, sometimes he did that


Ok, I’ve worked it out.

Stand-up comedy is like the Gauntlet event from Gladiators (2nd series).

BUT CHRIS HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT, STAND-UP COMEDY AIN’T NOTHING LIKE THE GAUNTLET EVENT FROM GLADIATORS (2ND SERIES) I MEAN OH MY GOD WHAT TH

Shush, pretty eyes, shush. Allow me to explain.

With the best will in the world, the aim of the game isn’t to be successful. It isn’t to ‘do well’.

BUT WAIT A MINU

I said shush. Shush. It isn’t to ‘be the best’. The aim is to survive. To get to the end. Your prize is that you get to go home in one piece.

Oh sure, when you’re all pumped up on Lucozade Sport, and you’re dressed head to toe in red lycra, and you’re a systems analyst from Reading called Thomas, and you’ve got Jonsson and Fashanu hollering in your ears, then THEN you feel you can not only survive but succeed. Why not? You won a triathlon in Bedford the other day. Susan from accounts said you look in ‘great shape’. You may be 38 but BY GOD you look a rakish 36.

But then, faced with the Gauntlet, your ambitions are immediately scaled back. Those steroid-inflated brutes look like they mean business. What the hell were you thinking stepping into this arena? This is going to hurt. A lot.

Success can wait. Today, sweet Lord, I want only to survive.


Gig No.2 - The Freedom of the Fringe, The Torriano, Kentish Town Thursday 13th October 2011

So, I took some steps forward.

I didn’t clap myself onstage. I didn’t try and mash together two random five minute sets of material. I didn’t perform a frightening tango with my pint glass before getting onstage. Well done, me.

It went ok. Not everything landed, and there was a good minute of confused silence during the middle, but there was enough to be happy with.

I got round my inept performance style (I’m still subconsciously wedded to the pacing-about-like-I-need-a-piss and sex-attacker-vocals schtick - how do I stop doing this?) by making the bulk of my set ‘conversations’ between two people. This meant I could ‘act’, which is several hundred million times easier than trying to be yourself.

There’s a not a great deal to say about it. It went as well as I could expect it to at this stage. The odd thing was I never felt in control of what I was saying, or of the audience. Sometimes they laughed, sometimes they didn’t. The two biggest laughs I got was when I said ‘Guildford’ and ‘fizzpops’, two words I had no intention of saying at any point. There we are.

And as I wended my way home later in the evening, I could look back on a relatively satisfying evening. What was that feeling? Ah yes, pride. I felt proud of my modest efforts.

Now. What is it again that comes before a fall?

Gig No.3 - The Freedom of the Fringe, The Torriano, Kentish Town Thursday 20th October 2011

Filling in a cancellation, the nice chaps at The Freedom of the Fringe let me come back the following week.

BUT WAIT A MINUTE CHRIS WHAT ABOUT YOUR IRRITATING AND NOT PARTICULARLY WELL THOUGHT THROUGH GAUNTLET ANALOGY?

I’m glad you asked. Let’s say that after Gig No.2, I was midway through the Gauntlet. It hadn’t been pretty but it involved a lot of effort, grit and preparation. The previous week’s material had been carefully written and structured. I knew it well and I was confident in it. Gig No.3 found me in a good position.

Having muscled past Rhino and, er, Savage or someone, I inexplicably stopped. I started to walk at a leisurely pace. I lit a cigarette and blew smoke into the faces of the sweaty behemoths in front of me. I did a roly-poly.

Not through overconfidence you understand, not because of cockiness. Far from it. I was rigid with fear. Because, to complete the Gauntlet, I had decided to change tactics. The new tactics were untried, untested and, most pertinently, probably rubbish. I brought a flan to a gun fight.

The main problem was that I still didn’t know what material I was going to perform as I was walking up to the mic. Should I just stick with last week’s tried and tested stuff? Should I blast through the new stuff I had cobbled together? In the end, I did neither. Never change your mind at the last minute, is what they tell penalty takers. Good advice.

Oh I was woeful. I was a three-piece suitcase set of nerves and hesitance. Literally as I was introducing myself, I decided to start with some entirely different material to warm myself up. This material would be 30-60 seconds and would help me to settle in before the longer set. However. It took me about two minutes to set the bleedin’ stuff up. I had actually opened with the line ‘I’m not going to tell you any jokes…’. Two minutes in and the audience were starting to suspect I was going to come good on my promise.

But, BOOM!, there it was. My first funny line. And, fuckyfuckyfuckfuck, I love this audience. They could still remember how to laugh. And I was off. For one minute, and one minute only, I said funny things with my mouth and that made other people make laughing noises with their mouths. It was a mouth party! All our mouths were doing the right thing! Mouths!

Having clawed the set back from the very brink of oblivion, I then had the opportunity to milk the last couple of minutes and spin this material out. The audience were enjoying the concept of what I was doing, I had room to play, why bother with the other material I had planned?

BUT CHRIS WHY WOULD YOU MAKE LIFE SO SIMPLE FOR YOURSELF?

Well, indeed. With two minutes to go, with the audience as interested and confident in me as they were ever going to be after my inauspicious start, I moved into the original five minute set I was going to do.

Within roughly four seconds, I knew it was a mistake. So did the audience. Did I back out? WOULD ANDY MCNAB BACK OUT?

You know that thing where you decide to go into your housemate’s room without knocking and as soon as your hand touches the door handle you have a sudden jolt of realisation that they’re probably wanking but you decide to go in anyway as if you hadn’t realised that cos by realising that and backing out then they’d know that you know and the best thing to do would be to feign total innocence and just charge on in despite that fact that it’s the worst idea you’ve ever had?

Yeah?

Well, it was a bit like that.

Realising I had to cram five minutes of material into two minutes I rattled through, treating it as a ‘best of’. I stuttered, I muttered. I needed shooting. Just to make sure the audience really really knew that I was a nervous, incompetent newcomer, the five minute timer on my phone started beeping. Very loud. ‘What’s that?’ I said, thinking I could wring a laugh out of it. ‘Is that someone’s phone?’ I had, in fact, forgotten I had set my timer. I genuinely thought it was someone’s phone. It was. It was my phone. It beeped and beeped and beeped and beeped.

Gah.

Finally, having a Eureka moment, I brandished my phone. ‘It’s my phone!’ I hooted. ‘I think that means I have to go’.

But. I couldn’t leave it like that. Oh no. No no no. ‘I’ll just say one more thing’, I dribbled. Then launched into a joke I knew would take at least 90 seconds. Gripped with panic of every kind, I PARAPHRASED THE JOKE (‘well, the basically the punchline was going to be this and that’s why it’s funny so…’) and scuttled off the stage like a TWAT.

Then I got a bit drunk. And went home. With very very little pride.

There we are then. Battered, bruised, and with ego put firmly into place, I emerge limping from the Gauntlet. No dignity to speak of but at least the sneaking feeling that next time I can do better and that Ulrika will probably let me touch her tit in the green room.


Huge thanks to Rufus Penzance for giving me the slots at The Torriano (which really is a good night by the way - well worth it if you’re North London-side on a Thursday evening).

The next gig is on Tuesday 25th. What’ll I do this time? Forget to put my clothes on? Hope so.