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).


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’.


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.


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?


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?


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.


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.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant - I saw a stand up bomb on stage over the weekend. I'd never felt sorry for them I do. Slightly.