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.


‘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.’


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.


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).


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.

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.


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?’.















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.


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?