Monday, 10 October 2011

Gig No.1 - It begins


Performing stand-up comedy for the first time is very much like losing your virginity. The nerves, the sweaty palms, the lack of talent, the fumbling, the disappointment for all parties, the debilitating performance anxiety, the nudity, the shame, the sympathetic noises, the forced laughter, the dozen other people in the room staring at you.

The thing is, when I lost my virginity, I didn’t have to write a blow by blow account of it on this blog for you RUBBERNECKERS.


Gig No.1 - East Meets Jest, Belushi’s, Covent Garden
Tuesday 4th October 2011

Listen. We all know I’m doing this because I have an overactive ego gland and, somewhere laced into my very psyche, there's the sneaking suspicion that I’m some kind of cultural polymath behemoth (I‘m probably not - probably). But, lemme tell yoo sumfink mayte, there ain’t nothing more humbling than performing stand-up for the first time. It doesn’t just take you down a peg or two, it rips the pegs to pieces, pops you into an orange jumpsuit, blasts Grindcore at you 24 hours a day and pretends to kill your family until the very concept of pegs has become hazy and intangible and faintly farcical - like dreams. Or religion.

Feeling like a little boy on his first day at big school (Mum wouldn’t even let me take Mr Flopsy with me) I sat and waited my turn. The audience consisted of nine performers, the MC, and the girlfriend and friend of one of the stand-ups. That means I would be performing to only 11 people. It was a night exclusively for new acts or new material. It was about the safest, kindest, most encouraging atmosphere you could ever possibly hope for. Everyone was, without exception, warm and lovely. So naturally, I looked at everyone with HATE IN MY EYES. Bastards. Why had they come to judge me? WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? Why should I have to make these people happy? What do I owe them? I had to keep repeating my mantra - ‘ they’re more scared of you then you are of them’.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t be flushed down the plughole. I had to make them laugh.

I was on fifth. I felt fine until the fourth performer went on. Everyone has different reactions to stress. My own unique addition to this particularly slimy puddle, is that, in times of anxiety, I develop crippling cramp in my pectoral muscles. Given the diminutive size of my pectoral muscles, and the fascinating acuteness of the pain, I can only assume my ex-girlfriend wasn’t fucking lying about the voodoo doll. The left pec contracted. The entire left side of my torso went all T-Rex (dinosaur, not band). The only possible way to relieve this is to have a good old massive stretch. The only way to do THIS was to put my arm around one of the other stand-ups. Now. I am new to comedy. I had no idea whether this would be bad form or not. So I did it.

As surreptitiously as possible, I slipped my left around the back of the chair of the chap next to me. He noticed. I played it cool. A reassuring nod here, a manly shrug there. He didn’t buy it. For some reason, I thought it would be more socially acceptable to allow him to think that I was coming on to him, than simply tell him I had cramp. Unsolicited sexual advances are one thing, muscle spasms are QUITE ANOTHER.

The upshot is, when the MC said the words ‘Ladies and Gentleman, Chris Bennion…’, I had limited movement in my left arm. My name had been said. Now, I just needed to stand up and say funny things.

It was at this stage, I started to make a series of very bad decisions. Fazed by the cramp, I decided to play it cool and take my time. It went badly. Before I stood up I took a very deliberate swig of my pint. I put my pint down. I picked my pint up. I walked two steps. I put my pint on a table that was neither near where I was sitting or anywhere near the stage. I picked it up. I put it down again. Noticing the applause was dying I CLAPPED MYSELF ONSTAGE.

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.

Half-paralysed with fear (and the other half paralysed with cramp) the last thing I needed was a mic fumble. I fumbled the mic. It probably took my 1.5 seconds to get the mic off the stand, as oppose to the 1 second it should, but in my frenzied state this minor mic hiccup felt like a mighty battle. An epic. A hero quest. Like the mighty warrior I am, a defeated the mic stand and took my prize. Forgetting that all the audience had seen was a man take a microphone out of a slightly stiff mic stand, I murmured reassuring and heroic words to mark my victory. ‘Oops. That wasn’t very good, was it?’.

My.

First.

Words.

Onstage.

Ever.

EVER.

Were.

‘Oops’

‘That’

‘Wasn’t’

‘Very’

‘Good’

‘Was’

‘It?’

And then it got a bit worse.

My plan was to stand still. And just talk the words that I had written, in a normal voice. My plan was to be myself. It turns out that this is Very Hard. What I did was pace around like an expectant first-time father whilst breathing my material into the microphone as if I was working for a sexline.

The room was so small that the mic was literally superfluous. AND. YET. I spent the first three of my five allotted minutes transfixed with the idea that I was too quiet too loud too quiet too loud too quiet too loud. You get the idea. Which meant I spent 60% of my stage time having a dreadful out of body experience which involved watching some beardy idiot grumble and wheel about the stage, mumbling nonsense about nothing, to a genuinely perplexed audience. I felt sorry for this beardy idiot. What was he doing? Why did he ever think that was funny? Why doesn’t he tell a joke?

And then, with two minutes left to go and a lovely but confused audience to entertain, I Quantum Leapt into my own body. Oh frickin’ boy, indeed.

I flim-flammed through, relying more on gurning and stupid gesturing to get laughs than what I had wroted. My material came to a close. Time to go. Of course, what I had forgotten to do was start my watch, so I had no idea how long I had done. Now, I could have looked at the MC and just asked him how long I’d done. It was a new material night, there’s no shame in doing it. However, for some reason I was petrified of both meeting his eye and leaving the stage before my five minutes were up. So, despite the fact that it hadn’t gone brilliantly and despite the fact that I had prided myself on writing a tight five minutes (HA HA HA), I decided to carry on and move onto a completely different five minute set.

However, a minute into this I was struck with the horrific realisation that it was entirely possible that I had been onstage for WEEKS. Desperate to avoid the ignominy of the poor MC having to cut me down, I stopped mid-sentence, and said ‘yeah, I’ll stop there’ and walked off.

And CLAPPED MYSELF OFF.

Jesus. Shitting. Christ.

But it’s done. There were some laughs and all that but I genuinely can’t remember much about it. In future, I will be recording myself and I may even put it online for you to laugh at (in a mean way). You lucky devils.

Anyway, that’s that. I’m performing again Thursday (13th). I’ll be doing five minutes about The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (topical). I’ll tell you all about it on this here blog soon.

Huge thanks to Dan Green, the MC for the evening, for giving me my first chance onstage and for the words of advice afterwards.


So, performing stand-up comedy for the first time is very much like losing your virginity (IT IS ALRIGHT). It is (and you are) not as you good as you thought it/you would be. It doesn’t live up to your months of daydreams. It's a bit weird and boring. But it’s not all that terrifying. And, hey, even if you fucked up, someone somewhere is going to let you have another go. Right? RIGHT?

Right?

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