This blog is about starting out as a stand-up comedian. If you haven’t read my first entry, catch-up on that here.
After the first gig, I was keen to dive back in. There had been a few issues that I wanted to fix second time around. I had blanked at a couple of points, almost startled at the idea of finding myself on stage. It’s a weird feeling; I’ve presented (in a work context) quite a bit before, and am not uncomfortable talking to groups, but the thing about stand-up is you want your lines to be exactly right, so the prospect of forgetting your stuff is panic-inducing. This is why a lot of comedians on the circuit write notes and prompts on their hands. I’m sometimes surprised by just how many words some people manage to fit on one hand. Those guys would be amazing at exam-cheating.
For my second gig, I chose an open mic night called Open Season at the Stag and Hounds pub in Bristol. Open mic is as it sounds, it’s open to whoever signs up on the night. I was one of the first there, and there was a sign-up sheet. I put my name next to no.4 – give myself a nice easy slot in the middle. The next four people to sign up put their names next to numbers 1-3. The bastards. All of a sudden, I was headlining. And it was only my second gig.
Fortunately, a couple of extra people came, so I ended up in the middle. There were only about 12 people in the audience, half comics, half not, but this is apparently pretty typical for an open mic on a Monday night. It lent the whole thing an informal, fairly relaxed atmosphere. This was emphasised by the first act, who seemed both hungover and pissed at the same time, forgot almost all his material, and then asked his friend in the audience, “What else do I do jokes about?” Entertainment, of a sort.
I used the same set as the first time, but endeavoured to remember the parts I’d forgotten. It got off to a good start, when my (to be frank) weird opener of an impression of an emoji got a really good laugh from a couple of audience members. Both turned out to be good loud laughers, which reminds me of that Dara O’Briain joke about “People who chuckle to themselves silently are no good to me as audience members. They can F off right now.” It sounds obvious but the louder the person laughs the more welcome they are at the comedy club.
I continued on my good roll, when I remembered my audience interaction bit, making a young lady on the front row squirm with a bit of friendly banter. I noticed that part really picked up the room, and particularly made her and her friends laugh. I think interaction gives a bit of jeopardy to the proceedings. I then told my bike quarrel story again, and used my slightly surreal ending about pettiness which is an extended piece of wordplay (look, if wordplay is good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me).
One of the other comedians was kind enough to say that he thought it was a great set, and that the writing was smart, which was a real vote of confidence. I felt the fact that it was a small, friendly crowd, and that there was an informal, anything goes kind of atmosphere was helpful, given my current lack of experience.
On reflection I was pleased with how it had gone, particularly the crowd interaction part. I’d been listening to a comedy podcast (the comedian’s comedian podcast) where the guest was saying that the trick with live comedy is to be really present in the room; either by commenting on the room itself, things that are happening (e.g. someone coming in late, dropping a glass) or interacting with the audience. His point was that people have come out to live comedy rather than stayed in watching a screen, and you should make the most of it.
I had felt a little more comfortable on stage, remembered my lines, and was brave enough to do the interaction with the audience member. Nevertheless, I still didn’t feel especially confident, and when I contrasted myself to some of the more experienced guys performing, I could see there was a long way to go. More of which next time.
Gigs done: 2