And so…

Who had two hundred and eight in the sweepstake? Step up and claim your prize.

On the evening of Thursday April the first 2010 I was performing an open spot at Rawhide in Liverpool. At that time I was struggling to make ends meet, living day to day while sinking further into debt. I’d quit my day job the previous August having finally had enough of being a square peg in a round hole. I say a square peg, my constant snacking at my desk meant I was definately a round ped and getting rounder every day. Probably more accurate to say that I was a round peg in a round hole that would have comfortably accomodated a normal sized peg. It was a huge step, a massive gamble and I had no idea whether it would pay off. By the following spring I’d made a bit of progress but was still a long way from making enough from stand up to stop me from haemmoraging money. The gig at Rawhide was an attempt to crack a weekend club. It went okay. Just okay. I’ve not played there since.

On the evening of Friday April the first 2011 I was the middle act for the Friday night line up at The Frog & Bucket in Preston. The Frog clubs were most assuredly off my radar a year previously in spite of my eagerness to break back in with them. Lee Martin, the booker, had told me previously that he didn’t ever anticipate me working weekends at their clubs. Now, a year after my first gig diary, I was working a Friday night and had several more weekend bookings in the diary for them across the year. I had proven my mettle as a comic and compere and, as a result, was working for decent money as part of some great professional line-ups. Progress indeed. Day by day, gig by gig I’d worked hard and it was starting to pay off. In comparison to a year before I was now confident to call myself a professional comedian. My landmark moment had come when I realised I was making more money from comedy than I had from my previous desk job. This means that I’m either a superb, highly valued comedian or that I had a really badly paid desk job. I shall leave that for others to decide.

The Frog in Preston was like a new dawn for me, the first gig I’d performed in ages that didn’t need to be written up in any sort of detail afterwards. I was absolutely free to turn up, do my job and then fuck off home without ever giving it a second thought. That’s pretty much what I did. Andrew Ryan, the MC for the evening, introduced me. I went onstage, said some funny stuff and then left when I was done. How did it go? What happened? What did I learn? None of your fucking business. The first rule about gig club…

My gig diary has certainly commanded a fair amount of attention, far more than I ever expected it to. The attention has been a tremendous motivator, especially when I’ve found my willpower flagging. Whenever I went a few weeks without an entry people would comment on this and urge me to get back to work. I’ve had comics I’ve never met before telling me how much they’ve enjoyed reading them, especially those that are newer to the circuit. I’ve had folk accuse me of self-aggrandisement, painting myself far above my status. Equally I’ve had other folk tell me that I’m much, much too hard on myself. I’ve been commended for my honesty and berated for being full of shit. I’ve been told that the diaries are doing an amazing job of raising my profile as a comedian and been told that my honest account of poor gigs was going to cost me work in the long run. Some folk think they’re brilliant. Some think they’re horrific. Most people’s opinions will lie somewhere between those two points.

It still blows my mind when folk I’ve not seen for years tell me they’ve spent hours discussing my diaries in cars with other comedians. Would I want to be a fly on the inside of the windscreen? For me this wasn’t ever about becoming a topic to break up awkward silences between service stations. I started writing my diaries for two very simple reasons.

The first reason was to develop something resembling writing muscles. I’d not sat and written anything of any length or consequence since my A-Levels. All my stand-up, all my material, all three of my full length shows were pretty much thrown together on the fly and developed onstage. Hand on heart I can’t remember the last time I sat down and put an hour or two into writing jokes, sketches or scripts. I’d kind of coasted thus far and this was going to be my attempt to raise my game. My attempt develop the sort of discipline that means I can sit and create without being distracted by food, the internet or something shiny. As I write this it feels like it’s worked. I don’t want to write this wrap up. I hate writing. I love having something I’ve written but I hate forcing myself to sit down and write. I’d rather be out socialising, playing on the PS3, watching a film, cuddling up to Laura… Anything but actually sit down and work. Nevertheless here I am getting the job done. The real litmus test comes tomorrow when I have to try and write something else.

The second reason was to take time and examine myself as a comedian. It’s all too easy to turn up to a gig, do your thing, head off into the night and then completely forget everything that happened. Good gigs, bad gigs… They all blur into a colourful mush of events that soon slip through the gaps in my memory. By taking time to pore over the details of the gigs, the bad ones in particular, I’ve managed to actually retain a few of the lessons I needed to learn. The fact that a number of these lessons kept cropping up suggests that I needed to learn them really badly.

The biggest one, the one that kept cropping up over and over again was that I needed to relax and enjoy myself. It’s no mystery that my worst gigs of the year were the ones where I was a ball of nerves before I went onstage. A happy Chris Brooker is a funny Chris Brooker and a funny Chris Brooker is a successful Chris Brooker rather than a homeless Chris Brooker. I’ve become much better at noticing when my nerves are in danger of getting the better of me so I can, for want of a more technical phrase, chill the fuck out. Taking a moment or two to catch my breath before I go onstage has been working like a charm. “This is just a room, these are just people.”

Two pieces of advice stuck in my mind from two comedians I gigged with many times over the year. Martin Mor said that the best way to handle any situation is to have more jokes. Is the gig going badly? This is when it’s a good idea to have more jokes. Is the gig going well? A good idea to have more jokes. Now that the diaries are done I can start fleshing out my set and looking to add more banking bits of material to my arsenal. Well, that’s the theory anyway.

The second piece of advice came from Jonathan Mayor. If I had to single out one comic that’s been absolutely invaluable with their advice and encouragement over the year then it would have to be Jonathan. He took time to share his thoughts with me about my compering after our night working together at The Frog & Bucket in Preston as well as being a friendly, familiar and supportive face at my first weekend gigs at the Manchester Frog last spring. The most important advice he gave me was to ensure that I varied the volume I performed at onstage. Don’t try to blast the audience with noise. Go quiet, draw them in and then use volume where appropriate. I’ve made sure to use this fantastic nugget of wisdom as much as possible, not least because it’s another way to make me feel calmer while I’m up there. Hard to avoid getting stressed if you’re screaming at people.

My goal was certainly never to set myself up as some sort of critic. I’ve cringed every time someone described my gig diaries as reviews as that’s something I’ve been actively trying to avoid. When something or someone has struck me as funny or enjoyable then I’ve not been shy of saying so but I do so because it was such a great part of the night. On the few occasions that I’ve mentioned seeing comics have less than stellar gigs I would hope I’ve made it clear that it’s not because they’re anything less than superb comics. The one exception across the year would be MnM, the open spot whose self-destruction on stage at Mirth On Monday earned a write-up all of it’s own. Personally speaking I felt that highlighting his abhorrent behaviour throughout was a worthy example of how not to carry oneself during one’s first attempt at comedy. Or, indeed, how to carry oneself at all in any walk of life.

I’ve had two requests to alter something I’d written about another comic during the course of the year. In both cases I changed or removed what I’d said without any question whatsoever. In both cases I genuinely hadn’t meant any offence and thought at the time of writing that what I’d said wasn’t especially contentious. Everything is open to interpretation and I’m fully aware that a few lines that are innocuous to me may come across as backhanded or damning to someone else. On the flipside I’ve also noticed that things I’ve written in my diary have turned up on several newer acts comedy bios. Good luck with that folks, especially as my seal of approval and a pound will get you a scratchcard.

I felt rather liberated over the first weekend of April. On Saturday night I gigged in Alexanders and anything that happened on that night is strictly between the audience, the other comics the promoters and myself. On Sunday I drove down to Rugby, watched Wrestlemania with Laura and then did what exactly any sensible person would do after they’d finished a year long writing project. That’s right, I went to Denmark.

Back in February I found myself talking to a chap called Tommy Nielson after I’d MCed the final of the Midlands Stands Up competiton at Highlight in Leicester. He told me about a comedy festival he was organising in Aarhus, the Danish second city. I told him I would love to come over and be part of it, citing my experience with workshops and shows alike. A few weeks later I got a call inviting me to come and compere the international showcase gig. A week in Denmark with my travel, accomodation and food paid for with a bit of cash thrown in? Count me in.

Thus it came to pass that ten minutes after The Rock had helped The Miz retain his WWE Championship Laura and I were in the car on our way to Stansted airport. There we bumped into Jim Smallman, travelling out with us to perform his 2011 Edinburgh show Tattooligan. The first day was something of a blur, starting at the Aarhus Comedy Festival central office. They had a display of controversial art and cartoons including a rather graphic caricature of the Danish royal family indulging in what appeared to be a wild orgy. There was even a rather startled looking sheep involved. Fellow Brits Tiernan Douieb and Sarah Hendrickx seemed similarly nonplussed to begin with. What exactly had we let ourselves in for?

By the end of the week I was rather upset at the prospect of leaving. Aarhus turned out to be a gorgeous little city full of similarly gorgeous people. I’d been somewhat concerned about a language barrier but it soon became clear that the Danes spoke better English than I could find in many parts of Greater Manchester. The showcase gig was absolutely out of this world, playing out to over four hundred of the most eager comedy-goers I’d ever seen. There were moments during my opening section when I was genuinely astonished at how keen and willing to laugh they were. Al Pitcher, Jovanka Steele, Bob MacLaren and Harry Kondabolu were one hell of a line up and I was thrilled to be out there with them.

Part of the experience revolved around workshops during the day. These were primarily concerned with getting a selection of comics from around Europe together to discuss the boundaries of modern comedy. What could possibly be funnier than a room full of comedians? I was highly sceptical to say the least but these turned out to be a genuine highlight of the trip. It gave us all a chance to get to know each other away from the usual bars and gigs. Occasionally a debate would break out too.

The hostel where we stayed was basic to say the least. You know your accommodation is no frills when you have to collect your bedding from reception and make the bed up yourself. Laura and I lucked out by coming over together as this meant we landed a room to ourselves while the other acts were sharing. That said we did land a twin room and had to push the beds together like errant teenagers at summercamp. We were well fed too with a fine breakfast of various meats and cheeses spread out for us every morning. It was wonderful but I did suspect I’d go home with scurvy if I’d stayed much longer than a week.

It’s almost impossible to condense the week’s happenings into a passage or two of text. In addition to the showcase gig I performed several times at the English language open mic night which took place in the charmingly named Cockney Pub. It’s possible to apply for a smoking license if your venue is below a certain size and the Cockey Pub qualified for this readily. As a result this would be the first time I’d gigged in a smoke filled room for many years. It felt oddly nostalgic but my lungs felt like they’d been grated afterwards.  I did a couple of sets at the open mic and MCed the last night as well, it was immense fun. They got absolutely everything with the exception of a few puns and anything that revolved around very specific UK references.

I compered a night called Polar Bear Comedy alongside a fine fettled selection of Norwegian acts performing in English. It’s incredibly humbling to find yourself working alongside comedians that have the guts to tackle comedy in a second language. We had a small but enthusiastic crowd in that night and we all had a great time. Special mention must go to Vidar Hodnekvam who was overjoyed to finally meet another comic as obsessed with wrestling as he is. I told him to come visit for a few gigs on a night that coincides with a WWE show gathering at our undisclosed location.

My willingness to throw myself into anything that came along saw me in some deeply bizarre situations. I performed at Comedy In The Dark one night, a concept gig borrowed from the Leicester festival that is exactly what it claims to be. There was no light whatsoever in the venue except for very briefly when an act was either going on or coming off. Mads Brynnum, the compere, used the cover of darkness to make sure he was bollock naked when the lights came up to bring me on. He’d also compered the gig in Danish. Unsurprising considering the fact that the gig was in Denmark I suppose.

It was a somewhat bizarre situation. Sat in the pitch darkness waiting to go onstage I suddenly realised that the only words I could possibly hope to recognise were my own name. Safe to say I was ever so slightly on edge knowing that I could find myself onstage at any moment with little to no warning. I also wondered what would happen when the gig’s language changed from Danish to English. You couldn’t imagine the middle spot at The Frog doing their set in Danish and the audience keeping up. They struggle sometimes with acts from the south let alone acts speaking in another tongue. It was amazing, I went on and launched into my stuff and they kept up perfectly. It was as if someone had pushed a button on their DVD player and switched languages. Thanks to Laura’s research I’d even managed to put together a few lines that were specific for a Danish audience, specifically playing off there rivalry with Sweden. Can’t beat a bit of casual racism, especially if you’re from out of town. They even lapped up my Comedy In The Dark specific lines about writing my set on my hand and declaring it a safe working environment for a ginger comic.

On the Thursday night I was invited to be a judge at the final of the Danish Open Mic Comedy Awards. I suggested that my absolute inability to understand Danish might prove to be something of a hurdle. In response I was told that I would be there to judge the acts based solely on their performance skills, confidence and the way they carried themselves on stage. I was somewhat sceptical but thought I’d go along for the experience. It turned out to be an amazing night. I sat with Tommy and Jesper Holger, the two other judges and watched the night unfold. Jesper and I had also been left unsupervised with a small stack of post-it notes which we soon used to label everything in sight including audience members nearby. I thought I’d sit baffled for the entire show but I soon realised that I had plenty of notes I could take about each act without knowing exactly what they said. It also became apparent that “I know what you’re thinking…” sounds the same in any language. When I compared notes with Tommy and Jesper at the end of the night they all agreed, not only on the winners but also on the standings for the rest of the acts. The night was won in a landslide by a an exceptionally funny guy called Daniel Lill. Hopefully he’ll land over on our shores some time soon.

One of my last gigs in Aarhus was one of my strangest to date. I found myself being driven around the city streets in a Mini while I performed to two students sat in the back. This was a somewhat unusual publicity stunt, an up close and personal gig in a Mini that had been auctioned off for charity. It was bought as a wedding present but it transpired that the beneficiaries didn’t actually want it. Not to be deterred Tommy went off and found two girls sat out in the Saturday afternoon sun. A few minutes later they were captive in a car while I did my best to compere without getting too travel sick. Could have been a nightmare but it was awesome, especially as the two girls got into the spirit of things and were very hard to offend.

One of the sideline projects for the comics attending the workshop had been provided by Aarhus city council. They had put up a cash prize for whomever could help them out. Their ongoing campaign was aimed at encouraging council employees to speak out if they felt something was amiss. To this end they had offered two prizes of fifteen hundred euros each for the best radio and tv sketch to put this message across. Long story short, Laura had an idea for a TV spot, I wrote it up, it won and we wound up fifteen hundred euros richer. I’ve not had too many holidays where I’ve come back better off than when I left but I could definitely get used to it.

It was on that Saturday afternoon that I stood on the canal bridge in the middle of Aarhus. The sun was shining and the various cafes were full of folk that had spilled out onto the street. A street band was playing Somewhere Over The Rainbow and I stood watching the world go by with Laura. I’d had an incredible week and this all combined to create a truly breathtaking moment. If you’d gone back a year and said that this was in store then I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Then again I probably wouldn’t have believed many of the things I’d seen and done over the course of the last twelve months. Biker festivals? Pissy Lane? CEX employees? Furries? Jim Davidson? I have an amazing job and as a result of it my life is frequently amazing too. It’s moments like that one in the centre of Aarhus that remind me I made the right decision when I jacked my job in over a year ago. I’m fully aware that I lead a charmed life and I would urge everyone to poke me with something sharp and lemony if I ever take it for granted. We went back to the hostel and drank cider in the garden.

Aarhus was amazing, a phenomenal week packed with phenomenal people. We spent much of the time sat in the festival office on massive beanbags chatting and making use of the wifi. We met comics from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Holland and Estonia as well as getting to know fellow UK folk Sarah and Tiernan much better. I was absolutely shattered when I boarded the Ryanair flight (Yes, them again…) back to Blighty. Shattered but happy on the tail end of an incredible busman’s holiday. I’d loved my time in Denmark and was itching to go back there again as well as to all the other countries that were crying out for English language stand-up. Could there have been a better way to finish off the year I’d spent meticulously documenting my comedic happenings? I seriously doubt it.

I sit here on Tuesday May the third, a month after we flew out. April turned out to be rather hectic. Laura found herself a flat in Manchester and moved up from Rugby. The fortnight after we got back was somewhat dominated by the process of transporting Laura, her possessions and her cat safely up the M6 in my trusty Skoda Fabia. Along the way I managed to turn thirty five years of age with minimal trauma. I’m now on the home stretch to forty in no uncertain terms. Looking ahead I’ve got plenty of gigs booked for the coming months, many of which are for clubs that I wasn’t playing this time last year. I’ve got a run of gigs in Hungary, The Czech Republic and Slovakia booked in for later in May and I can’t wait for those to come around. The nagging doubt that I won’t be able to pay my rent this winter hasn’t gone but it’s definitely subsided.

Things are looking alright. Sure, they could always be better somehow. I could always be a little richer, a little thinner around the waist and a little thicker around the hairline. The diaries, the infamous gig diaries, are now completely over and done with. Where am I going to put all the time and effort that I’ve spent on them for the last two hundred and eight gigs? What am I going to do with myself now?

Anything I want.

I love my job.

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Two Hundred & Eight

The Gig: Comedy @ The Cricketers’, The Cricketers’ Arms, Keighley

The Date: March 31st 2011

The Line Up: Myself MCing for Danny Deegan, Peter Brush, Fern Brady & Nige.

It’s the final diary.

Da-da-da daaah. Da-da-da-da daaah. Da-da-da-daaah-daaah. Da-da-da-da-da-da-dahh… Da-da-da daaah. Da-da-da-da daaah. Da-da-da-daaah-daaah. Da-da-da-da-da-da-dahh… Da-da-dahh.. Da-da-da-da-da-da-daaaaaaaah-da-da-da-da-da-daaaahhhh….

We’re heading for Venus…

I say “we”. I mean “I”. I also say “Venus” when I actually mean “Keighley”. It may not have quite the same ring to it but I couldn’t have been happier as I headed out through Lancashire for the little gig that could. It was my first gig since the clocks went forward for British Summer Time and I was rather enjoying the novelty of heading out in daylight hours. The final diary in my year long writing challenge would be at the lovely little gig that I genuinely consider my favourite night of the month.

The final show in my year long journal would also be the final show in Comedy @ The Cricketers’ second year of operation. I have to confess that I didn’t expect it to last this long when I drove to K-Town for the very first time in April of 2009. I certainly didn’t expect it to become such a fantastic night. As part of my warm up at The Cricks’ I ask the seventy or so folk jammed in there if they’re willing to prove to the acts that this is one of the best gigs in the country. This isn’t hyperbole and it certainly isn’t something that I say to every crowd at every venue every single time I step up to compere a night of comedy. The venue, the folk that run it, the audience, the acts… It’s all fallen into place perfectly. The audience love to watch, the comics love to play. What more could anyone ask for?

On the drive over I found myself musing over how I felt about the end of my gig diaries. More than anything else I felt immensely relieved to see the back of them. For twelve months they’d been a huge part of my day to day life. Thanks to my shoddy work ethics there was rarely a time when I didn’t owe at least a couple of entries. On a couple of occasions the backlog crept up to the twenty mark and I came very close to jacking it all in. In September, faced with my first huge backlog, I was sorely tempted to call it quits and say that six months of writing was enough of an acheivement. I then realised that this would be a massive cop-out and kept going.

It was so, so much easier to stay on top of them when I gigged less frequently and didn’t have one of those pesky girlfriend things to distract me. I can’t exactly blame Laura for my frequent lapses of literary professionalism but there’s a link in there somewhere. You try leaving a beautiful naked woman in bed of a Sunday morning citing the overwhelming need to tell the world exactly what happened in Coventry the previous night. It’s a test to any man’s willpower.

In addition to the relief I was also a little bit sad to see the back of them. They’d given my life something of a structure over the preceding twelve months. They’d also provided me with something of an excuse as to why I’d not written an award winning solo show, sitcom or cinematica masterpiece. “I couldn’t possibly get started on anything else yet, not when I’ve got diaries to write.” As of Friday the first of April I find myself bereft of that excuse. Each diary entry can take anywhere between an hour and three hours depending on what happened. Multiply that by anywhere up to five or six gigs in a week and that’s an awfuly lot of time to suddenly land in my lap. Time I should use to further my career and take further steps towards total world domination. I’ve had a mission for a year. That mission’s nearly over. Whatever will I do with myself? I’m not ready to go back into society, I’ve become institutionalised!

About time I moved on. I’m sick of the sight of them. That said, who’d have thought that a stand-up comedian would actually get sick of talking about themselves? I fully expect the seas to boil, the sky to fall and my cat to shack up with a golden retriever.

I was in high spirits by the time I got to Keighley. All the other acts were making their own way from various other parts of the North of England. As a result I was free to indulge my woefully abhorrent taste in music without a passenger to ask if there was something seriously wrong with me. Lost Boys soundtrack…Duran Duran… Family Guy theme… System Of A Down… CM Punk’s theme… Just a typical selection of the type of jarring mix on offer. I’m surprised that nobody’s thrown themselves from my moving car to escape it yet. When I arrived I was the only act there and a message from Danny Deegan let me know that he would be running a little later than expected. No great shakes. If need be I could always moved Peter Brush and Fern Brady to open. Well, assuming they turned up too. Keith Carter, tonight performing in the guise of superscally Nige, was the first to arrive which meant we always had the option to run the night backwards.

I was most disheartened to see that Daz and Mel, two of our most regular regulars, were absent from their usual table at the front of the room. They’d both been there from day one. Before day one in fact. Daz and Mel were regular comedy goers from the previous attempt to launch a comedy night in Keighley. On this one particular night someone else had gotten there slightly earlier and nabbed their usual table. As a result they were forced to stand at the back of the room. I was gutted on two levels. First and foremost their presence at is part of the whole experience for me. Their absence left something of a hole at the front of the room. Second of all I’d had various comedians tell me that Daz was very much like the real life version of Nige. I’d been looking forward to putting them within a few feet of each other and seeing what happened. Maybe for the best that there was some separation though. What if they’d touched each other and subsequently exploded, taking the rest of the place with them?

By showtime we had a full compliment of acts and a full pub too. The atmosphere was lively as ever when John stepped out to give me his traditional introduction. This has always been one of my favourite parts of the night, just don’t tell him that. I wandered out to start the final gig of my financial year with a spring in my step. The opening section was immense fun, not that I can remember a single thing I said or did for the duration of it. I brought Danny on, no doubt happy that he’d managed to make his way there without driving through any sort of effluent. The show started strong and stayed strong in the middle with Peter and Fern. I couldn’t have asked for the night to go any better as it rolled along.

Whenever I’ve gigged with Keith under the guise of Nige I’ve had his blessing to have a bit of fun with his introduction. Tonight was no exception. I went with a similar intro to the one I used when I brought him on to close Kev Bland’s Shrewbury gig. I suggested that nobody make any sudden movements or make too much eye contact as I didn’t know what to expect. This, of course, was a lie. I knew exactly what to expect. I knew that Nige would rip the roof off which he did in no uncertain terms. During one part of his set that detailed the fate of an elephant in the back room of Kebbaba The Hut’s I laughed very hard indeed. So hard in fact that Keith stopped for a second and told me to stop as he was in danger of corpsing. It’s just as well he had the letters Nige had written to the Liverpool Tourist Board to hold up in front of his face. The Cricketers’ faithful loved it and I genuinely thought that a few of them were going to asphyxiate at several points. What an awesome way to close out the year. I wrapped the night up after Nige’s encore and said I looked forward to seeing them at the first gig for Comedy @ The Cricketers’ Year three.

On the drive home I gave Laura a quick call. That was that. A year’s gigging done and although I owed the last four diaries I could relax a little, safe in the knowledge that there wouldn’t be any more to come once they were done. I’d pretty much managed to chronicle an entire year of my life. I’d also managed to do something I didn’t think I’d ever be capable of.

I’d finished something. I’d set myself a challenge and completed it. For the first time in my life I’d actually managed to see something all the way through to the end rather than letting it fizzle out part way through. I’d had a daft idea to write up every gig I performed for a year. This ridiculous task no longer seems like a mountain to climb. All of a sudden I was a few steps away from the highest peak. A few short months ago I wanted to quit. Now it would almost be more effort to not finish it. This was it. It was done. I did it. As legacies go it was never going to compare to the efforts of Marie Curie, Mahatma Ghandi or Thomas Edison. I wasn’t likely to change the world and there was precious little chance of finding New England either. It’s out there now pretty much forever, carved onto a chunk of digital stone in a corner of the internet between two amusing videos of cats. Something I made. Something I’m proud of. Even if it disappears tomorrow that won’t change the fact that I did it. For me, personally this was a monumental moment.

I got a chicken doner kebab to celebrate. It doesn’t do to get too carried away sometimes.

Gig Score: N/A

Lesson Learnt: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

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Two Hundred & Seven

The Gig: Showcase Live, Showcase Cinema, Coventry

The Date: March 26th 2011

The Line Up: Myself MCing for Matt Price, Vikki Stone & Tony Burgess

It had been almost four months since the night I’d pulled into the snowy car park of the Coventry Showcase cinema. Nearly four months since it played host to my first ever full-on Christmas gig. That had gone rather well and, in typical fashion, I wondered if the place had something of a receipt in store for me. I’d gotten off rather lightly across the entire festive season. Knowing my luck there would be a hugely delayed night club staff Christmas party taking up half the audience.

I was shown up to the green room next to the projectors. Last time around I’d managed to fight the urge to peer through one of the little glass windows. This time I watched about ten minutes of Battle For Los Angeles in the hope of seeing some explosions. Annoyingly I seemed to pick the only ten minute stretch in the film where nothing happens. So much for freeloading. I wondered whether I’d be able to blag myself some free popcorn but decided to make do with a good, strong coffee instead. Matt Price and Vikki Stone were already in the green room when I arrived. I’d not met Vicky before but had managed to time my arrival just as she was putting on her make-up. As a result there was a momentary social awkwardness as I tried to decide whether social niceties warranted interrupting her mid-application.

I’d not seen Matt in years and rather unusually for my rain-man esque memory I couldn’t honestly remember the last time we’d gigged together. I could readily remember the first time though at a Laughing Horse gig in London during my first run of gigs in the nation’s capital. After a soul destroying run of poorly attended open-mic nights I was absolutely heartbroken. Fortunately the final gig went pretty well and Matt, ever the gentleman, bought me a pint out of the blue. His rationalisation was that I was on holiday and should be enjoying myself. It was a gesture of kindness that I’m unlikely to ever forget. A reminder that there’s no shortage of decent people on the circuit. I should probably get him a pint back sometime.

The gig was pretty much full, just like in December. There were a few fairly big parties dotted around the place but I was relieved to see that it was mostly small groups and couples. The bar closed and it was showtime. I walked out to compere and found it a hugely enjoyable experience. Typical big room gig. A few cheerleading type games, a bit of banter and a bit of material and everything was going according to plan. A particularly fun group of ladies on a birthday night out occupied the front table and provided some fine moments to bounce off of. Their alpha female, Lorrain, was especially entertaining. A table of lads to their right was a bit more hard work, especially as some of them had forgotten to bring their inside voices. I had to put them down a few times but they settled in time to bring Matt on.

I’d used my west country material in the opening segment. This included the true story of telling an audience in Cornwall that I was from Somerset and being heckled with the uniquely charming “Northen Bastard!”. Matt, Cornish himself, wove this into his set where he said he’d started comedy after he’d gone to a gig as a punter and heckled some ginger comedian on stage. During the course of his set Matt found himself chatting to Dean, a massive guy at the head of our previously disruptive table of lads. It transpired that Dean was a tattoo artist by trade, certainly cooler than the average answers you get when asking occupations at a gig. One of his mates shouted out that Dean had been “black-bagged” the previous week which Matt took to mean that he’d been laid off. Lorraine headed over from her table specifically to give him a hig at this point which was a nice moment. Matt had a really good set, dominating the massive cavern of a room without effort. He also offered to get Dean a pint in to make up for taking the piss out of him slightly.

During the interval we retired to the green room for a chat. Matt, much like Josh Howie in Brighton, told me that he was an avid reader of my gig diaries. It’s still bizarre to think that people actually read these things, especially folk whose paths haven’t crossed mine in quite so long. Vikki, Matt and I chatted for a while about promoters and exchanged stories about our dealings with a few of them. In particular it was interesting to compare notes on the bookers that were keen to keep acts at open spot level for as long as possible in order to squeeze as much out of them for free or token sums as they could. It’s a slightly cynical approach albeit one that can help a thrifty promoter put solid bills on for much less. I still think it’s somewhat shady when acts work for little or no money in the hope of progression that never comes. Still, it’s a buyers market.

Vikki absolutely stormed the middle section in spite of the fact that the sound system seemed intent on making her keyboard all but unusable. During the break she’d talked about some of the rather sneery attitude some folks on the circuit have taken to some of her material. For an artform that’s supposedly about doing whatever you want on stage there’s an awful lot of snobbery. I’ve had it myself a few times for my rather juvenile closing segment (Currently barred by one promoter as being not the sort of “material” his audiences would go for in spite of how it went the last few timesa I’d worked for him..) and it continues to mystify me. Specifically it continues to mystify me from a promoter’s point of view. If an act will do the job they’re booked for, namely make the audience laugh and want to return, then does it matter that much what they say so long as they’re not actively leading a hate rally? Does it really pay to put one’s own tastes as booker ahead of what your audience enjoys? The audience will always be the final arbiter of quality using that unique “Ha Ha” noise.

During the last break I was harrassed by one of the other guys from Dean’s table. He explained to me that the term “black bagged” didn’t mean he’d been fired, it meant that he had been dumped. Dean’s mate then went on to say that they’d brought him to the comedy in order to help him move on. Furthermore he advocated a tough love approach by suggesting that the more I took the piss out of Dean, the more good it would do him. Specifically he shared the revelation that Dean, the tattoo artist, had his now former girlfriend’s name tattooed on his leg with the hope that I’d tear into him over that. With friends like these… I was full of sympathy for Dean and decided to rip the piss out of his mate instead for daring to suggest it. Matt had forgotten to get Dean the pint he promised him so I made sure to take one up for him at the start of the last section. As a bonus, when I went to buy the beer the bar didn’t charge me for it. Freeloading’s not so bad.

Tony Burgess was closing and seemed to really enjoy himself up there. It was, as mentioned, a huge and cavernous gig but it had a really nice atmosphere. Tony, as you’d imagine, closed the night off in style. It had been a great gig overall. To my mind the best nights are the ones with balance, with a variety of different acts that bring their own unique feel to the stage. With Matt, Vicki and Tony we’d had exactly that. Afterwards I spent a bit of time chatting to Tony outside before I headed back down the road to Rugby for the night. We talked about writing for a bit and I found myself wondering what I’d do when the diaries were over and done with.

Anything I want! One gig to go and then it’s done for good.

Gig Score: 7/10

Lesson Learnt: Battle For Los Angeles didn’t look like it was worth splashing out the best part of a tenner to see.

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Two Hundred & Six

The Gig: Stand Up At The Gatehouse, The Gatehouse, Tyldesley

The Date: March 22nd 2011

The Line Up: James Blood MCing for myself, Danny Sutcliffe, Andy Watson, Phil Chapman & Jonathan Mayor

The home stretch. The final furlong. The light was very much visible at the end of the tunnel. After nearly a year of writing I was within spitting distance of completing the challenge I’d laid out for myself. Two more gigs before the end of the month and, as a result, only two more diaries to write before I could lay the entire project to rest. As a result I found myself in a somewhat unsual frame of mind. On the one hand I wanted to gig as much as possible but on the other I was quietly hoping that I didn’t suddenly find myself inundated with work. Yes, it might go some way to paying my bills but it would also mean another few hours spent at my laptop trying to wring a diary out of the night’s events. The tail was clearly wagging the dog. Probably just as well that the diaries are all but finished with as they were starting to drive me ever so slightly insane.

The diaries have attracted plenty of criticism over the year. Some, as you might expect, has been of the internet-specific white noise variety. The world wide web has given thousands of people a platform from which to vent their opinions regardless of their relevance, importance or validity. I, for one, am extremely grateful for this as it’s allowed to me to hurl hundreds of thousands of words into the electronic ether to be consumed or ignored by friends, foes and strangers alike.

The cosy, anonymous nature of internet feedback often encourages the keyboard critic to be forthright to the point of vitriolic over the slightest things. Many inoffensive videos on YouTube of folk indulging their passion for music, dance, song or their pet cat have become festooned with witlessly crude abuse. I can get a little carried away from time to time but I’ve never suggested that a slightly flat rendition of “Video Killed The Radio Star” is a crime against decency only punishable by forced seppuku. Despite the two hundred plus entries on my diary I’ve only drawn a few instances of hit and run cyber-heckling. My favourite being “You are a shit writer and you will never know why.”. Clearly the author felt that merely calling me a shit writer wasn’t enough. Maybe the superfluous six words were merely there because of momentum. Either that or he was deliberately leaving me with a cliffhanger. That’s the mark of a good writer.

A much more valid criticism is that I should be spending less time writing about old gigs and more time writing material for the gigs that are yet to take place. Theoretically this past year’s exercise in writing discipline should make the comparatively simple task of writing a few new bits each week seem blissfully easy in comparison. I certainly felt that way after a particularly strenuous backlog clearing session. Writing thirteen full diaries across five days came very close to driving me over the edge. I couldn’t even go to the toilet without rating it out of ten afterwards and trying to figure out what I’d learned. ( 4/10 Just relax and enjoy myself. I’ve been to the toilet plenty of times before, no sense putting myself under pressure.) I used to dread the idea of sitting down and spending an hour writing. After the last twelve months the idea of merely committing sixty minutes a day to my craft seems incredibly appealing, almost like an afterthought. It would appear that my initial strategy has worked. My diary has been the literary equivalent of running a mile every day with a backpack full of rocks. Coming up with new stuff should be like nipping round the corner to the shops.

I love what I do and I love to gig but I was starting to hate the double whammy of gigging and then writing it up afterwards. As a result I’d pretty much stopped taking on any gigs where the sole purpose of the excursion was to roadtest new material. This would be reflected in the number of gigs I’d do on a weekly basis. At the start of the year I was keen to fill my diary with absolutely anything at all to keep my gigging muscles toned. By the end of the year I wasn’t exactly turning the smaller unpaid gigs down but I wasn’t hunting them with the same voracity either. Two more gigs, two more diaries. Then it’s done. Done for good. Done. Done. Donedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedone.

Jonathan Mayor had been in touch asking if I could do him a favour and drive him over to The Gatehouse in Tyldesley to close the gig for James Blood. I like Jonathan, a road-trip in hois company is a good night in and of itself. I’m also hugely grateful for his on and off role as my infinitely more fabulous version of Obi Wan Kenobi. The estimable Mr Mayor’s advice has proven invaluable. More than happy to act as chauffeur for The Simply Gorgeous one on a night when I’ve nothing in the diary. On the morning of the gig James put a call out for an act to open the night for a modest sum. Okay, only three more diaries and then I’m done…

I got a text off of Andy Watson asking if he could nab a lift to Tyldesley as well. I told him he was more than welcome as long as he didn’t do any of his vocal warm ups in the car. Road trip! As a bonus we would be honoured with the presence of Clem, the very embodiment of loveliness, who would be taking her first trip out on her own after the arrival of her child. A chat and a tiny hug from Clem had been one of the highlights of any trip to The Gatehouse and it was great to see her again albeit briefly. In the end she had to scoot off during my set to see to her offspring but not to worry, unlikely she’d not seen it all before several times. I got my hug too.

The audience at The Gatehouse were a little splintered but come showtime there were plenty of folk sat around the front tables. My previous excursion to Tyldesley’s number one comedy night venue in December had felt less like a gig and more like an outreach programme for disaffected youth. The slack-jawed tracksuit clad self-fondlers were not in attendence on this particular night. Either they’d been carefull weeded out of the regular audience in the following weeks or we were up against a Snog, Marry, Avoid marathon on BBC 3.

James disappeared behind the showbiz backdrop so that he could introduce himself onstage without shattering the showbiz illusion. As a means of building up an audience it’s a far from unusual approach to ask them to cheer as if something fantastic has just happened in an effort to warm them up. Recently I’ve found that asking an audience to cheer as  if the price of petrol’s been dropped to fifty pence a litre has seen them suitably enthused and vociferous. On this partocular night James asked the audience to cheer as if the best person in the world was about to walk out on stage. He then introduced me as the best person in the entire world to somewhat baffled applause. The best person in the world? That’s a bit more pressure than I like at the start of a gig. Calling me the best comic in the world would have been ridiculous enough. Calling me the best comic in the room would have been eminently debatable to say the least. Nope… I walked out to take the mic at The Gatehouse in Tyldesley having essentially been introduced as the world’s greatest human being. I felt rather ashamed that I would be following this grandiose introduction with my usual brand of childishness. Surely as the best person in the world I should be above that sort of stuff?

In spite of the raised expectations I still went on to have a fun night of it. As I’d closed the place twice in the previous six months I was careful to avoid as much of my usual stuff as possible. Fortunately there were plenty of opportunities to come off script and have a bit of fun with the folk around me. The group in the small enclave to the left of the stage were a bit of a handful. Half hidden, half pissed but wholly lacking in self-awareness. They didn’t seem to want to shut up and one girl, Jenna, proved to be something of a challenge. She was nice but didn’t seem to realise how disruptive she was being. Managed to get a few nice big laughs by dealing with her and that definately made my life easier. A high-pressure intro followed by a zero-pressure gig and a chance to have fun. Have fun I did. Hopefully the audience had a bit too.

All thing considered it was one hell of a line up for a Tuesday night in Tyldesley. Danny Sutcliffe, a very promising new act, came on after I’d finished and had a belting time of it. The middle section consisted of Andy trying out a few new bits of material and Phil Chapman delivering in no uncertain terms. When the time came for Jonathan to close the night he did so in his usual spectacular fashion, dealing wonderfully with the occasional disruption from the left. One or two of the bolder chaps from the group took to wandering across the stage en route to the bar or bathroom. This, of course, left them somewhat vulnerable to Jonathan’s acidic wit.

It was a really good, fun night. I enjoyed the company of good friends off the circuit as well as a chance to flex my performing muscles on a relatively quiet week. Two more gigs, two more diaries and then I’m definitely done.

Gig Score: 6/10

Lesson Learnt: Next time get someone else to drive so I can take advantage of the free bar.

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Two Hundred & Five

The Gig: Abbcom, Doncaster Little Theatre, Doncaster

The Date: March 19th 2011

The Line Up: Gareth Urwin MCing for myself, Jonathan Elston & Tony Burgess

From one end of the country to the other… Brighton on Friday followed swiftly by Doncaster on Saturday. My trusty Skoda Fabia was going to be putting a fair few miles on it’s clock over the course of this particular weekend. After a restful night and day in Rugby it came time to set off up the M1 in the direction of Yorkshire. The sky was clear and as a result the super moon hung in the sky to my right for almost the entire journey. Doncaster on a full moon? This could prove to be interesting.

My one and only previous experience of gigging in the sleepy little town of Doncaster was several years prior to this night. I’d been booked to perform at a restaurant, the owner of which had aspirations of becoming Donny’s answer to Jongleurs or The Comedy Store. Upon our arrival it proved to be the answer to something completely different. Specifically it answered the question “What would it look like if you knocked up a comedy venue in a fortnight?”. They’d clearly cut a few corners in order to get the place ready for it’s grand opening. One noticable quirk was that you couldn’t open the door to the gents toilet without splattering anyone already inside against the wall in Looney Tunes fashion. Jongleurs and The Comedy Store were purpose built comedy venues. This was a bistro with a single stage block wedged in the middle of the room. The table and chairs were packed in densely in an attempt to cram in enough punters to make the enterprise worthwhile. In the event of a fire your only real option would be to repent your sins.

The density of the furnishing was matched by the density of our audience for the evening. This was a trial run of sorts and we found ourselves performing in front of the various workers that had helped fit the place as well as their partners. Given the standard of work around us I was tempted to check for horses parked outside. They were being treated to a free meal and comedy show. It didn’t take long to figure out that they’s been drawn by the “free” and “meal” parts rather than that pesky “comedy” thing. The night was a fiasco. An audience that didn’t want to listen in the first place and waiting staff that insisted on serving food while the acts were onstage. It was a lost cause, not least because the whole mess dragged on and on. The headliner lost patience with the whole situation and cleared off without performing. The finishing touch came a week later when my bank returned the cheque I’d been written to pay for the night. Yep, the bastards had cancelled it.

Despite this promising start the venue ceased trading within a couple of months. Rather than being Doncaster’s answer to Jongleurs or The Comedy Store it had become the town’s answer to Enron. Enron, however, was much funnier.

Doncaster had proven to be a scary place that night as well. While we tried our best to polish the monumental turd before us we couldn’t ignore the noise from outside. It was chaos of the highest order. For a modest sized town centre there seemed to be a fairly sizeable police presence on the streets. Riot vans drove by with alarming frequency and a helicopter made a number of sweeps across the course of the night. It was like the opening sequence from Robocop 2 except that the future of law enforcement was unlikely to be there to to escort me to my car afterwards. The good folk of Donny were out and they intended to drink, fight and fuck in equal measure. I was more than happy to be peeling off into the night with my soon-to-be-proven-worthless cheque in my pocket. It felt like the kind of place where eating one’s own young was considered a viable hangover cure.

This would be the very same town I was driving into on a Saturday night as the fullest full moon you could imagine hung in the sky. I have no idea if the supposede connection between off-colour behaviour and the lunar cycle is an old wives tale or something that’s been measured scientifically. All the same I suspected I might be in for an interesting night full of interesting encounters with interesting people. All in the same sense that painting your genitals with bovril and slapping a doberman in the face with them is likely to have an interesting outcome.

Still, we were going to be performing in a theatre. Surely everything would be alright? I parked up opposite the venue and wandered over the road. It wasn’t quite eight in the evening and already the streets were filling with the inebriated. A group of lads barrelled along the pavement making noise that could be approximated to singing, chanting away like pissed-up, shirt clad Gregorian monks that had chosen this particular night to abandon all their vows and any concept of harmony.

The door shut behind me at the theatre and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was like a sanctuary of calm in comparison to the night unfolding outside. A cracking little venue, you couldn’t have really asked for a better space to perform as a stand-up. I was shown to the green room where the AbbCom guys, Gareth Urwin and Simon Gunnell, made me feel more than welcome. There’s something rather reassuring about being offered a Quality Street upon arrival. There’s also something reassuring about being told that there would be an audience to play to. My second gig in Doncaster was already looking much more promising than my first, not that it would have been much of a challenge.

I stood in the wings while Gareth kicked the night off as MC. The assembled comedy audience was lovely, enthused about proceedings and more than happy to join in with banter. One chap in from Rotherham became a regular foil for Gareth much to the amusement of everyone else. I would imagine that Rotherham’s primary purpose is to give the folk of Doncaster a place to look down on. Part of Mr Urwin’s warm up for the night was his mime based interpretation of the day someone discovered that it was possible to obtain milk from a cow. Stood in the wings I couldn’t actually see any of this visual feast unfold but I could hear the bursts of laughter punctuated by amused disgust. I suspect the first ever milking mission was fraught with somewhat unfortunate anatomical misunderstandings.

I was a few minutes into my set when I noticed that the mic was feeding back a bit. Not a huge amount, just enough that it was noticable. Ever the rebel I elected to abandon electronic amplification entirely and perform acapella, relying on my overly loud voice and the fact that I was performing in a tiny theatre. Not exactly a radical departure from my usual MO onstage but it was fun nonetheless. Having my hands free proved to be surprisingly liberating and I found myself moving about the stage much more than I usually would. I’ll definitely put some money aside from my tour fund for a cordless headset mic. Either that or I’ll tuck a straw behind my ear like the girls from Tiger Tiger and shout.

The gig went absolutely fine, plenty of big laughs and a nice rowdy finish. I had a good time and the audience did too. It was certainly a good enough gig to slay the fearsome dragon of Doncaster from my last trip to the place. I headed out shortly after with my fee in one hand and a second purple quality street in the other. Tell me I don’t know how to live. The streets of Donny were populated almost exclusively by the drunk, many of whom seemed intent on taking themselves out of the gene pool by wandering in front of traffic. I nearly offed a few on the way out of the carpark. In typical fashion they seemed somewhat ungrateful that I’d managed to slam the brakes on rather than tow them to the M1 under my chassis. That said, I could probably have blamed my vehicular homicidal tendancies on the moon. I’m very nearly hairy enough.

Gig Score: 6/10

Lesson Learnt: Never hurts to move around a bit. Well, except when I’ve just gotten out of the car after a long drive.

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Two Hundred & Four

The Gig: Krater Comedy, Komedia, Brighton

The Date: March 18th 2011

The Line Up: Myself MCing for Mike Wozniak, Josh Howie & The Raymond & Mr Timpkins Revue

I’m a hypocrite on a great many levels and I’m surprisingly comfortable with that fact. I’ll rant to anyone who’ll listen about a number of topics before shrugging my shoulders and doing the exact opposite. Not for the important things in life. Well, I hope not. I don’t believe in killing and I hope that would be the case even if I was offered Piers Morgan, a hammer and an absolutely watertight alibi. My hypocrisy is generally of the low-level sort, the moral bankruptcy equivalent of background radiation. The sort where breaking my own loose moral code will get me ribbed rather than ostracised by my nearest and dearest.

One example is the case of business communication via the medium of Facebook. I don’t particularly like being asked for work via the popular social networking site as a rule, especially as I only book one and a half gigs. Messages aren’t so bad but it irks me slightly when I find people posting random gig requests on notes, statuses or even photos. My general inclination when I see this is to move the offending act down the queue in my head a few spaces. Ask for gigs via Facebook chat and I’ll take an imaginary thick, black marker pen and push it squarely through the middle of the name in question. I’d then probably have an imaginary sniff of it afterwards because some habits are ingrained beyond the boundaries of the physical world.

The hypocrisy arises because I would happily can all of the above and respond with a simpering yes if an awesome act got in touch. I actually sent Alex Boardman a message on Facebook to book him for my Keighley gig. He accepted but not before he’d rightfully taken the piss for breaking my own commandment about doing business via Facebook. In a similar vein, I didn’t exactly respond with righteous indignation when Stephen Grant popped up on Facebook chat and asked if I was free to compere Komedia in Bath the following Friday. Far, far from it. I snapped his virtual hand off and the deal was made. As I said, I’m more than comfortable with my hypocrisy.

Komedia is one of a number of gigs in the country that have a certain, special aura about them. A weekend club that boasts top line ups of acts and a fine reputation from the perspective of both comics and audience alike. It was also one of the act on my list of clubs that I’d been eager to break into for a long time. A club that enchanced your reputation as a comedian purely by being present on your resume. Every high-end weekend club that you crack makes it a little bit easier to get your foot in the door at the others. If he’s playing Komedia then he must be doing something right. I had a few weekend clubs on the email I sent out looking for work but this would be a more than welcome addition.

On top of that it was a well-paid gig at a nice club in a seaside town filling a night I’d have spent lamenting my lack of work. I got in touch with Laura and asked if she fancied a day out in Brighton…

We crawled along the M25 in the pissing rain. Brilliant. So much for a day at the seaside. I was looking forward to seeing Brighton again, not having set foot there since my twenty-hour adventure there after playing the Quadrant. I hadn’t realised quite how much time had elapsed since I found myself eavesdropping the post-shift conversation of lap dancers in Buddies at four in the morning. My previous trip to Brighton was on April the 13th. Where does the time go?

The weather had eased off a little by the time we reached our destination and the rain had abated. We parked up on the seafront and went for a wander on the beach by the remains of the old pier. Laura found a stream running down the beach and her engineering brain took over. Within minutes she was rerouting it with a carefully arranged dam of rocks and pebbles. I had designs on standing romantically on the shore with my beloved and watching the waves come in. These designs were thwarted by a coastal breeze that threatened to turn us a fetching shade of blue after less than half an hour. We decided to romantically flee indoors and have a coffee instead before heading for Komedia.

On the walk down from the car we walked past a boutique with a dress in the window that caught Laura’s eye. The sign said that it was a one-off clearance piece so I suggested that we go in for a closer look. It was a bridal shop and as soon as walked in we received the full attention of the woman behind the counter. I couldn’t help telling Laura that we might need to let the ink dry on her divorce before we started shopping here. We enquired about the dress in the window, assuming it would be a nice and simple question as befitting an impromptu browse.  Nope. Nothing of the sort. In order to find out the dress size and price this unfortunate woman was forced to remove the dummy from the shop window to have a better look. At this point I think we all knew the outcome. Two browsers, idly curious and a dress that’s far beyond their budget. Nevertheless we were committed at this point and had to see it to conclusion. Laura and I waited awkwardly for the inevitable.

“One hundred and forty pounds? Erm. Thank you anyway.”

As the shop woman wrestled the manikin back together for the window she managed to hurt her hand, further compounding the extremely middle-class guilt that Laura was racked with. We beat a hasty retreat. On the way out we noticed that the shop closed at five. It was five twenty. Yep, all that and we’d kept the poor sales assistant from closing up on a Friday too. Still, nice dress. Should have taken a photo and found a twenty quid facsimile in Primark.

Komedia’s in a really interesting part of town, on a street packed with funky little shops and more boutiques. Laura, moderately ashamed at being so suddenly and stereotypically girly, was excited by the shoe shops and took a bit of time to check out the wide range of cool, quirky and slightly kinky footwear on display. I was rather more excited by the sweet shop that boasted confectionary from all over the world. Most intriguing of all was a Peanut Butter Twix, presumably from the United States considering their propensity to put peanut butter on everything. It’s a dangerous place to have a nut allergy. I’m surprised that John Cooper didn’t need a hazmat suit for his trips there with ComedySportz. I was going to buy one until I saw that it would cost more than a quid. I was intrigued but not thatintrigued. Normal Twix and a jar of Sun-Pat when I get home maybe. Laura was feeling a bit off-colour and couldn’t bring herself to stand in the place for more than a few moments. I could hardly blame her, it smelt like the inside of a diabetic’s kidney.

Our plan to spend loads of time on the beach had been thwarted by the sudden burst of frigid weather. Tired, cold and a little fed up we decided to head for Komedia even though it was rather early. The show was due to start at eight and we found ourselves sat in the green room of the Krater room nearly two hours beforehand. Komedia is an awe inspiring place, a rabbit warren packed with rooms and corridors. The Krater room, home to the comedy club, is a big cellar space with a low ceiling. It’s pretty much ideal and was already sold out for the night. Dave, the sound guy, was accurately named as he turned out to be a really sound guy too. He joked about my eagerness and told me to make myself at home. I thought about getting some work done but the wireless signal was a bit too weak in the basement and I wasn’t really in the mood.

In hindsight we should have gone somewhere else and had a coffee. Instead we stayed there and had one for the sake of simplicity. An hour and a half in the green room is a long time to think about an upcoming gig. I’d mentioned that I was playing Komedia on the usual places and received several messages from people telling me what an awesome gig it was. It was one of the best gigs in the country. Everybody loves Komedia. It’s a fantastic gig, so much fun. You’ll love it. You’ll absolutely love it. You’re perfect for it, go down a storm there. This played over and over in my head for the hour or so that I sat in the green room stewing. Consequently I was almost a nervous wreck by the time the other acts arrived.

Of the comics on the bill I’d only ever seen Josh Howie before. Mike Wozniak and The Raymond & Mister Timpkins Revue were entirely new to me. The R&MTR (For brevity’s sake…) was an act I regularly saw advertised for Just The Tonic when I live in Nottingham and went as a punter. I never got around to seeing them at the time and was eager to catch their act at long last. The previous Tuesday night I’d been the grizzled veteran amongst the acts in Fence. Tonight, in stark contrast, I was definitely the office junior. Having never met the other acts I didn’t know how they’d react to this unknown quantity in their midst, suddenly responsible for the entire night’s flow.

I needn’t have worried. TR&MTR arrived, known as Andy and Tony respectively. Hopefully I’m not breaking comedy kayfabe by mentioning their real names. They were both really friendly and pleasant to both myself and Laura. The last part may sound obvious but there’s a surprising number of acts and promoters on the circuit that absolutely blank partners, girlfriends or wives. On one especially telling moment Jayne Edwards, an act I shared the trip to a gig with, was blanked by the promoter because he assumed she was my girlfriend. Offensive. Then again, I’ve also got caught up in the usual pre-gig conversation and forgotten to introduce Laura. Oops. I make a point of introducing her to everyone now. Then she gets to play the handshake/hug/kiss on greeting and farewell social awkwardness game all by herself.

Mike arrived not long after carrying his conveyance, a fold up bicycle, under one arm. A cunning way to save taxi fare from the train station indeed. The atmosphere was jovial and went some way to alleviating some of the mounting tension I felt. We were well looked after too, with the show manager keen to provide food or drink as needed. There was even a backstage rider with little pots of jelly beans, chocolate raisins and chocolate mini eggs. I felt truly spoilt and hope I never take this kind of treatment for granted. If you ever hear me exclaim “You call these jelly beans? SHIT BEANS MORE LIKE!” then give me a stern talking to. I chatted to Andy and Tony, picking their brains about Komedia and that put me at ease too.

The room was absolutely packed by the time the show started. Several hundred people crammed into the Krater and place was buzzing. I went out for a bit to get a feel for the place and bumped into a dozen strong stag party with hilarious nicknames on their matching tee-shirts. Brighton. Friday night. Stag parties and hen parties were hardly a surprise. Tonight could well be the night that the lessons of my frequent Big Night Out gigs in Leeds would come in very handy indeed.

The show started and Dave cued up the intro music. I walked out to a rabid reaction and launched into my usual start of gig spiele as compere. They were a challenge at the start. Within moments of starting I was heckled from three different parts of the room almost immediately. The real challenge here was that with the lights in my face I couldn’t see a fucking thing. My instinct was to immediately pick one of the hecklers, the loudest and most witless one, and shoot him down. Unfotunately I couldn’t actually see where he was, all I had was a voice that retreated back into the darkness as soon as I went looking for the arsehole it fell out of. I chatted to a few people, got some material out, bantered with a couple at the front and things were rolling along.

As my eyes grew accustomed to the lighting I realised that the source of the heckling was somewhere in a large stag party to my left. There was a snipey heckler in their number, intent on being part of the show. He would shout something out when my attention was elsewhere, either on another punter or in material. Whenever I looked back I was greeted by a half dozen shadowy punters pointing at each other like an inverted, much cuntier version of the iconic scene from Spartacus. What the fuck was going on? This is Komedia. It’s a nice gig, everyone’s been telling me what a nice gig it is. What the fuck is going on? Oh shit, I’m not in charge of the room. I’m bombing as MC in a nice room. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I’m fucked. I’ve fucked it. My chance to crack Komedia and I’ve fucked it. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

I looked at the group for a moment, took a deep breath and told them to shut the fuck up because nobody put their money down to listen to them make cunts of themselves. The rest of the audience, already sick of their bullshit cheered heartily and I hoped they got the message. By this point I’d done my job and it was time to bring on Mike to open the show. I got everyone cheering, brought him on and went backstage.

I was distraught, convinced that I’d managed to put a dampener on the entire show with my compering at the top of the night. Komedia, as discussed, was a lovely gig and under my watch it appeared to have become something of a bearpit. Laura had elected to stay in the green room rather than find a perch in the Krater to watch the show from. I collapsed into a chair next to her, put my head in my hands and told her that I’d probably already blown my chances. An opportunity to step up, prove that I’m capable of playing with the big boys and I’d thrown it away in the space of ten minutes. I couldn’t even look at her. I’d failed and, just to cap it all off, my work for the night was far from over. Laura told me I was being silly and that it hadn’t gone badly at all but the words weren’t getting through. Almost inconsolable, I was genuinely close to tears.

Then Andy of TR&MTR walked into the green room. In the presence of someone other than my girlfriend I snapped back to reality and put on my best poker face. Eyes and teeth Brooker, eyes and teeth. I steeled myself for the non-committal nod of recognition that an act gets after they’ve managed to both suck and blow at a gig. Instead he complimented me on the work I did at the start, saying I did a great job out there and doing so with complete sincerity. This genuine praise from someone that had nothing to gain by blowing smoke into my colon did me a huge favour. It widened my perspective. My bubble of perception on the stage had shrunk smaller and smaller as I’d worked harder with the rowdy audience. I’d walked on expecting a fun gig, a walk in the park. After spending the best part of two hours winding myself up at the venue beforehand the fact that it was moderately testing instead of a breeze sent me into a massive, subjective tailspin. Weekend gig full of stags and hens in “Slightly rowdy and needing to be put in their place by compere” shocker. In other news, woods are full of bear shit.

In short I was much too hard on myself, ridiculously so in fact. Critical to the point that I was completely oblivious to any laughter, cheers or applause that I generated during my time on stage. Had I watched someone else have the exact same start to the evening I wouldn’t have given them anywhere near that much grief. On my first night I wanted it to be perfect and instead it was just good therefore it felt like a disaster. I thought about what I’d tell anyone asking for advice on compering. Don’t worry about being the star of the show. Remember that it’s just a room and those are just people. I relaxed considerably after this.

The rest of the show went absolutely fine. In the middle section I was again heckled anonymously by the stag party. One of them rather wittily called me a ginger cunt. My response, while hardly clever, was quick. I told him I’d dye my hair but it’s his mum’s favourite colour. Unlikely to find itself carved on a pillar in comedy’s hall of fame but it did the job. The huge cheer and applause confirmed that everyone else was on my side. I had an idea. I told the audience to sum up what they thought of him on the count of three. I counted one, two, three.

“Wanker!” yelled the audience in unison.

I’d not prompted them, I’d not cued them and yet almost everyone picked the same term of contempt. Nothing quite as humbling as finding out that a room full of people have individually decided that you’re a wanker and then called you on collectively. Security noticed that they weren’t playing nice and backed me up. Compere, audienc and security working together as one? Simple but effective. No more hassle after that.

Josh had an absolute blinder in the middle section, even when he dipped into his bag of considerably darker material. This time, rather than wander off in a miasma of self-indulgent whining I stuck around, listened and started to enjoy myself. I’d not actually gigged with Josh for several years meaning that he hadn’t crossed paths at all in a long, long time. I was therefore genuinely surprised when he struck up a conversation with me about my gig diaries, particularly when he said he was amazed at how brave and honest they were. I’ve never considered them to be especially brave. Honest maybe but brave? The brave part was my willingness to openly admit that I’d had gigs where I’d done less than brilliantly. Josh had a reasonable point. You never read about any bad gigs on the internet. Even awful nights seem to get rave reviews from those involved afterwards.

I was suddenly struck by paranoia. When I started writing the diaries I tried to be completely honest with myself about my performances. They were a writing exercise with the added benefit of forcing me to look at ways to improve as a comedian. As such being anything other than completely honest would have been a waste of time. As mentioned before I only made them public because that way I knew I wouldn’y wuss out after a handful. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that anyone would actually read the fucking things! Martin Mor had cautioned me about criticising myself too openly in case it damaged my reputation. All it would take was a promoter to read a couple of accounts of middling gigs and I could be consigned to purgatory forever. My mind raced back my write up of a recent Saturday at The Frog in Preston, suddenly acutely aware that I didn’t come out of it looking brilliant. Would that cost me work with The Frog? Would it cost me work for other people?

I wasn’t brave. I was a fucking idiot, strolling blithely through the minefield without a care in the world. Still, I’d started and it was a little too close to the end of the game to suddenly change tactics. The devil on my shoulder suggested that I should miraculously discover the winning formula across the last few gigs in March. Every gig would be a 9/10 and a standing ovation. You can fool some of the people some of the time… Nah. I’ll see it through. People will book me or they won’t.  If a few admissions of my failings over the year is enough to put a booker off then they’ll have already made their mind up. I thanked Josh, said I couldn’t wait to be done with them and had a few more jelly beans.

I went back on for the final section, introduced TR&MTR and then got out the way. Laura and I went out so I could see them properly for myself. They picked up where Josh left off and had an absolute stormer. Two larger than life characters interpreting cleverly spliced and edited snatches of songs and music without saying a word. The chaotic nature of their act belied just how slick and perfectly timed it was. It was brilliant, loads of fun and they came close to a standing ovation when they finished. I was exhausted just watching them.

At the end of the night I slipped in a final joke TR&MTR them having managed to ruin the contents of everyone’s iPod across the space of half an hour. It got a good laugh. Tokenistic it may have been at that point but it meant a lot to me. I name checked the acts, thanked everyone, told them to clear off so they could turn it into a club and just like that my job was done. Dave, the sound sound guy, congratulated me on my work. As my first night at Komedia I didn’t know how the night had compared to the norm. All I knew was that everyone said it was a lovely gig. The concensus across acts and staff was that it had been unusually rowdy that night but that everyone had coped just fine with it. I’d completely overreacted. I was paid and paid well straight after the show in cash. It wasn’t handed over to me in a grudging manner.

Laura and I headed out into the night under the light of the super moon, the fullest full moon the world had seen in many years. Aha, that explains a lot. The eight o’clock start meant that we were wrapped up for half past ten. How wonderfully civilised. We drove back down to the seafront and found that the icy wind had stopped. The tide was high but on it’s way back out so we sat and watched it for a while. The moon was huge and bright in the sky and the sound of the waves washing up and down the beach was incredibly relaxing. I felt the evening’s stress wash away and thought back on the night’s events.

I put huge amounts of pressure on myself to do well, especially at “pressure” gigs where there’s more at stake than the night itself. I’m often so eager to impress than I wind myself up like a spring before I even take the mic out of the stand. It’s not just before the gig either. After a disappointing gig it’s hardly unusual for me to have an almost completely sleepless night. I decided that one of my tasks once the diaries were done and dusted would be to look into some relaxation techniques. As a wise woman once said, I need to stop getting in my own way.

I love my job, especially when it pays me to take Laura to the coast and sit on the beach with her in the moonlight. All the little details, the little stresses of the night were forgotten as we sat there. It was absolutely breathtaking. Komedia had, on balance, been an awesome night and I hoped I’d get the chance to play there again. The thought of a weekend spent there in the height of summer was incredibly appealing. It was, as everyone had said, a brilliant club run by brilliant people that knew what they were doing.

Afterwards we went to Buddies for food. There weren’t any lapdancers in.

Gig Score: 7/10

Lesson Learnt: Don’t be too hard on myself. Be as patient as I would be with anyone else, no more and no less. Time for me to try and find a Zen like place to gig from.

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Two Hundred & Three

The Gig: The Ha Ha Club, The Sparrowhawk, Fence, Lancashire.

The Date: March 15th 2011

The Line Up: Myself MCing for Rhys Jones, Lewis Phillips Calvert, Peter Otway & Andy Watson

Say what you want about comedians but we were carpooling long before it was cool. I’d love to say that it’s driven by some sort of ecological responsibility but it definitely isn’t. Anybody that thinks this game is a quick way to make a fortune will be rapidly disappointed. Your rookie years as a stand-up will invariably involve the hemorrhaging of money from all kinds of angles. The onus, therefore, is on getting as much stage time as possible for the minimum possible outlay. Thus I spent many a journey packed into an economical three door hatchback with four other comedians, thankful that my 6’2″ frame generally landed me shotgun based on practicality alone. In the summer of 2004 I spent consecutive months travelling across the M62 in Dave Ingram’s Nissan Micra for the ill fated Leeds Comedy Store’s version of King Gong. Five comics and the gong itself packed into a tiny car. If we’d lost it somewhere along the way we might have had an easier time of it.

Time went by and, bit by bit, I clawed my way up the circuit. Then I fell back down it. Then I clawed my way back up a bit. I found myself doing less of the open mic nights that neccesitated a busload of acts to make them economically viable. The carpooling continues but it’s generally myself and one or two other comedians rather than four or five. Pro comics are more inclined to drive themselves if they can so as to spend less time hanging around at gigs.

There was, therefore, a decidedly nostalgic feel for me as I drove to Burnley with four other comics in my car. Thanks to the logistics of public transport it worked out for the best if everyone grabbed a lift with me. Comedic carpooling at its absolute finest. As my trusty Skoda Fabia pulled into the car park of the Sparrowhawk pub I wondered whether we’d look like a funny car of clowns when we spilled out onto the asphalt. Fortunately the four other comics on the bill weren’t built like me or we may have had problems. One advantage of driving is that you pretty much always get the front seat.

Andy Watson, the headliner for the night, had been considerate enough not to play the comedy pecking order to call shotgun either. He squeezed into the back with Peter Otway and Lewis Philips-Calvert like a trooper. City Life Comedian of the year or not, he was most assuredly keeping it real. We disgorged ourselves from the vehicle and, once three of our number had massaged feeling into their limbs, went inside to check the place out. The Sparrowhawk, in the charmingly named village of Fence, was yet another pub that I’d gladly have as my local. Warm, cosy, friendly and definitely a place to go for a meal or a pint of something interesting. The comedy was due to take place in the function room upstairs as well, a definite plus for a pub gig.

Bryan, the promoter, was there to greet us and keep an eye on the night. The room, cosy with rows of seating for around eighty people, had been set up brilliantly. The combination of a proper sound system, a proper set of lights and a backdrop against the far wall made this feel less like a pub gig and more like a touring show. Simple touches but they work. Neville, our tech for the night, clearly knew his stuff and had a real passion for what he was doing. So much so that we had an array of effects far beyond your usual pub gig. It’s not often you have a smoke machine and a laser box for instance. Neville turned the laser box on briefly and, like the big kid I am, I was mesmerised by the myriad of dancing lights around the room. I begged him to turn the smoke machine on so we could see the lasers too. He did, probably happy to showhis gear off. It was awesome and I giggled like an imbecile seeing his first card trick. Unfortunately we then realised the inherent problems involved in using a smoke machine in a tiny room over a pub. The good folk of Fence had come for a comedy night, not to be gassed in the name of showmanship. Neville and I grudgingly accepted that we couldn’t use them during the show and I’m not entirely sure who was more disappointed.

In a radical departure from recent gigs, we didn’t use the pub’s kitchen as our green room for the night. Instead we relaxed in the pub office, conveniently located right next to where we would be performing. A brew was provided and I was a happy compere, my diva-like needs satisfied immediately. Earl grey too, I’m moving up in the world.

With the exception of Andy, everyone else on the bill was at least ten years my junior and I started to feel a little like Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black. Not exactly like him of course. If I had been then my car would have gotten us there an awful lot faster. I sat back and listened as Rhys, Lewis and Philip discussed new act competitions and their respective plans for the Edinburgh festival. Full of enthusiasm they talked about all manner of venues I’ve never been to and acts that I’d never seen. I found myself thinking back to the time I’d sit with my fellow comics discussing the logistics of all the competitions I’d entered or was about to enter. This particular act was good, this particular act wasn’t, this particular act had a bad night, this particular act was winning everything… At the time it had seemed so, so important but in hindsight seemed like quite a lot of fuss over nothing. I was jerked out of my nostalgic haze when I was asked if I had any competition advice. My response was fairly blunt.

“They mean fuck all in the grand scheme of things. Don’t take them too seriously.”

I probably came across as the cranky old bastard woken from his nap in the corner. Pesky kids… Nonetheless I stand by that statement. Winning precisely nothing in my time trawling through the various comedy tournaments hasn’t stopped me from making a living at it. A win might have helped but it might not have. I know plenty of acts that won a few competitions, were hailed as the next big thing and then spent years rebuilding themselves after failing to meet the artificially high expectations that greeted them afterwards. I didn’t get to where I am by winning a competition. I did it by being abysmal for two years and then realising how funny it was to replace the word “Dance” with the word “Wank”. At the time, I liked to think of myself as the battle scarred veteran attempting to impart a sense of perspective. In hindsight I probably ranted away like a pensioner in Subway. Fortunately I didn’t hit the point where I called anyone “kid”. I’d have needed a slap for that, followed by a nice sit down with a hot, milky drink.

There was a respectable turn-out for the gig when it started. This was in spite of the unexpected competition supplied by a Burnley FC fixture. According to Bryan, their local following was enough to dog any event that happened to clash with them. An unfortunate coincidence. Still, there were more than enough for a gig and if we gave them a good time then they’d be back with their mates once the footie crowd returned.

Those present turned out to be a lot of fun at the start of the show. A lively bunch with more than their fair share of characters spread about the room. I spoke to Dave, a chap at the front row and asked what he did for a living. He turned out to be a full-time dad of two. I asked him which one was his favourite, a question that generally leads to laughter and an embarrassed silence from the parent in question. He thought for a moment and then said it was the older one. Now that’s some honesty. The average audience age was somewhere in the forties and one of the acts had expressed concern about whether the age-gap would affect how his stuff went over. I thought back to the cricket club the previous week and told him to just go for it. Funny is funny.

The gig rolled along nicely and Rhys Jones was up first. Fresh faced, lively, intelligent, charismatic and funny with all his own hair to boot. He did a stellar job kicking the night off. Before the break I couldn’t fight the urge to ask Neville to turn on the smoke and lasers just because we had them. I told the fifty or so present that they were getting a light show more akin to a Jean-Michelle Jarre concert than a Lancashire gastropub. They were patient enough to humour me too but I defied anyone to not get at least a tiny kick out of it.

The compering was going alright and I was enjoying myself. I’d hit a couple of potential sticky patches with one or two characters that seemed intent on taking any banter around in circles. Rather than going back to them, I left them well alone and the night flowed nicely. They’d laid on free chips for the audience and one of them was gracious enough to offer me one at the start of the second section. Mistake! I’d not eaten and hadn’t been hungry until I ate a single chip and a chasm opened in my gut, growing like the sarlaac pit in anticipation of some fresh Han Solo.

Lewis had asked to introduced as Lewis Philips rather than Lewis Philips Calvert and I was slightly paranoid that I’d get it wrong. So paranoid in fact that while I’d managed to introduce him by the correct name I failed to announce him in the correct order. Peter was supposed to be on first and then Lewis but I did it the other way around, no doubt lighting a fire of panic in the green room. If Lewis had been rattled by the sudden change it didn’t show on stage at all. He had a great gig too, as did Peter in his impropmtu role as second act in the second section. I apologised profusely to all concerned for the slip in my concentration as MC. You wouldn’t have had that from a competition winner.

I was mildly disappointed that we didn’t get to hear the banshee-style vocal warm ups I’d seen used by Andy at a recent gig. Either he decided they weren’t needed for a smaller room or vaulted over a few fences and howled at the moon in a nearby field. There would be some nervous livestock around Fence that night and probably few nervous people too. In the final section one of the younger lads in attendence piped up and asked if I was using a Rock Band microphone. There was a bit of red tape around the end and this, to his mind, made it look like the toy mics you get packaged with the popular music simulation video game (Available across all platforms now…). I decided to defuse the situation in case Neville took this affront personally and strangled him with with a length of cable. For the next couple of minutes I ribbed him, much to the enjoyment of his mates, over his need to put down the controller and venture into the real world. No, this wasn’t Comedy Hero. If it was then there would be a screen at the back with jokes projected on them for me to read out as a bar scrolled across. If it had been then I’d be losing. I never tell any jokes.

Andy went on and despite not replicating his offstage antics from the Blackburn gig he soon replicated his onstage success. Once again he had them right from the start and didn’t let up. I went back to the green room and just about managed to resist the urge to scavenge some leftover gherkin from an abandoned plate there. Bryan and I chatted about the gig. The night was still in it’s relative infancy but ripe with potential to grow into a fantastic addition to the circuit. Around this time we were joined by Andy, the pub’s manager, who had popped in to see how the night was going. He seemed more than pleased with it and genuinely full of enthusiasm for the gig in future.

Andy had left a Mars bar backstage and I was eyeing it enviously by this point. Fortunately he wrapped up before it vanished in mysterious circumstances. I went on to finish up and everyone got a great response as I name checked them off. I made sure the lasers and smoke came on the end naturally…

Our work done we piled ourselves back into the car and headed off in the direction of Manchester. I was really enjoying the run of work at fledgling gigs, hoping that I was playing a small part in their growth. After all, that’s my job as a self-rightous grizzled veteran that had acheived intermediate levels of success on the UK comedy circuit. That and telling newcomers how easy they’ve got, how hard they’ve got it, how much the circuit has changed and that petrol was less than a pound a litre when I started.

Now, how do I get to Subway? I need to get something off my chest.

Gig Score: 6/10

Lesson Learnt: Don’t eat on stage, at best it makes me hungry and at worst I end up digging bits of chip out of my molar.

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Two Hundred & Two

The Gig: The Hoot Comedy, The Fox & Newt, Leeds.

The Date: March 13th 2011

The Line Up: Myself MCing for Alun Cochrane & Danny Deegan

A brand new gig on a Sunday night in Leeds on only its second week, I’d been offered the compering spot earlier in the day. Clearly someone else’s misfortune had turned out to be a blessing for me. The last minute gig offers in March had already gone some considerable to way to making up for the attention I’d received from Bastard, the cancellation fairy. In fact, the addition of this particular gig pushed my earnings for the month over that magical theshold whereby I wouldn’t be running at a loss. The pressure was off a little, assuming no more cancellations things were going to be okay.

Unlike my previous Saturday night in the city centre, this particular Leeds gig looked rather promising. I’d been booked by Toby Jones, the man behind The HiFi, The Original Oak and The Library gigs in Leeds. He told me that The Fox & Newt was a great little pub and, if I got there early, I’d be well advised to take advantage of their Sunday roast. I decided I’d pass on the idea of Sunday lunch, no matter how good it might be, as I probably wouldn’t be at my best in the sort of food enduced semi-coma normally reserved for Christmas Day afternoon. Eating before a gig is generally a bad idea and I only do it in one of three situations.

1. I’ve not eaten at all and consequently find myself ravenous to the point it could put me off.

2. The venue offers free food and it won’t be available once the show starts.

3. I want to.

On this particular evening I’d eaten before I came out, would have had to pay for my own meal and wasn’t feeling especially hungry anyway. Hence I eschewed the bar menu and made my up to the function room where the comedy was going to take place. Toby had said my contact for the evening was the lovely Rosie. As Toby’s not given to Bruce Forsythe style superlatives at random I suspected this meant that Rosie really was lovely. I met Rosie, we chatted and she was. The driving force behind this comedy night, Rosie was enthusiastic, energetic and clearly loved her comedy judging by the way she spoke about it. She’d also made cakes, or buns as she called them. I thought that a bun was a bread roll but what do I know? In any case, it seemed ingracious to argue semantics as they looked fantastic. I got a coffee from the bar and, despite not being hungry, invoked Rule 3 and had one. It was delicious.

It was an early start gig and kicked off at eight o’clock. I’m a big fan of early start gigs these days. Generally speaking people are a little better behaved and, as a bonus, you get to finish up and go home a little earlier. Everything was rolling along nicely as we got closer to kick off. In fact we were only really missing two components of the perfect comedy night. Unfortunately those two components were comedians and an audience. Not that I was that worried, we had cake. No comedians and no audience meant more for us. Rosie wasn’t overly concerned at this point, people had shown up in dribs and drabs on the first night quite close to show time. This is part and parcel of establishing a new comedy night, training your audience. The room was brilliant too, a cosy space that could seat sixty people if you packed them in nice and tight with a proper stage, lighting and sound system. It would take too many people to make this into a nice gig and it wouldn’t take too many more to make it awesome.

Our comedian shortage was solved when Alun Cochrane arrived. There was momentary confusion as I was under the impression that Alun was closing the night but it turned out he was opening instead, doubling up with a show nearby. Danny Deegan, now closing the show, was on his way and would be there in plenty of time to go on. Assuming, of course, he didn’t run into any more sewage tankers on the way. The audience had arrived by this point as well and took their seats for the show, complimentary buns in hands. I went on to open the show and was immediately blinded by a lighting rig that could well have been hand me downs from a medium sized arena. With a small, cosy room I really needed to connect with the audience as MC. Hence I put my hand over eyes and squinted my way through the first five minutes. They were a little quiet and this used to be my cue to go into overkill mode, trying to shout them into life. Instead I relaxed into it and tried to meet them halfway. I had some fun banter with a young couple. One was a student at Leeds University and one was a student at Leeds Metropolitan. A modern day Romeo & Juliet indeed.

Alun opened the night, an unusual position for someone of his status to be opening at a little gig in Leeds on a Sunday night. As a bonafide circuit headliner with numerous television credits to his name and the skill to back it up you’d normally only see Alun close the smaller clubs. Tonight he was trying out new material ahead of his Edinburgh show. As you might expect, his new material was frequently better than most of the stuff I’ve considered my bankers for the past couple of years. Alun is a fantastic comic and makes it look very, very easy. A great way to start the show.

During Alun’s set and the break we had a few latecomers make an appearance. By the time the second part of the show started the room was very nearly full with a few extra bodies dotted around. Danny had arrived during the break. I asked how his poor car was after it’s liberal dousing with effluence two weeks previously. Nearly a hundred pounds worh of valeting and several bottles of Febreeze hadn’t been enough to mask the odour of fecal matter. Danny even said he’d spent time chain smoking in the car as the smell of nicotine was vastly preferable to that of sewage. Poor Danny, it’ll fade in time I’m sure. Failing that, sell it on to some Suffolk pig farmers that won’t notice it.

The consumption of a few more drinks and slightly swollen ranks meant that the audience of The Fox & Newt were much more relaxed in the second section. I found my stride much more easily and had a lot of fun, particularly the time-honoured device of borrowing someone’s hat and wearing it. A funky piece of head wear, it looked like it belonged in a stage production of Robin Hood. I also chatted with a latecomer sat at the front table that turned out to be the landlady. This also led to some fun exchanges, particular when she proved to have a great sense of humour, a quality I’ve not always found in publicans.

Danny came on to close the show. The story of driving his car through sewage on the way to Liverpool was revisited and it was interesting to see how it had evolved as piece of material. Two weeks previously he’d pretty much just told the story as it was. The audience at The Fox & Newt received a slightly tweaked version with a couple of details that were absent the first time around and a few well timed asides. A double whammy of comedy, appealing to an audiences love of both schadenfreude and stories about poop. It was a winning combination, hopefully enough to make back the money he’d spent on Febreeze and car valeting in the aftermath. The rest of his set went over brilliantly too and the night ended just as strong as it had begun. No mean feat either considering the calibre of the opening act.

The lovely Rosie joined me onstage at the end for the raffle. (You don’t fuck with the raffle…) In addition to the buns, every audience member had been given a ticket that could win them free tickets to the next show as well as a bag of random stuff. I accused the landlady of using this an excuse to clear out a drawer in her office. “You win two free tickets, a broken stapler, three post it notes and some blue-tak!” Ribbing aside, it was really nice touch and showed some appreciation for their audience. It’s the little touches like this that bring people back, especially at the smaller clubs. When you’re not some behemoth venue with a massive promotional budget then you rely on word of mouth more than anything. A night of good comedy with a few fringe benefits thrown in was sure to get people talking and talking in a good way. Two weeks in and The Hoot Comedy club was looking very promising indeed. Most organisations take on a little bit of the personality of whomever’s running it. With Rosie at the helm, it looked like it was indeed going to be a lovely club.

I drove off to Manchester in order to put in an appearance at Dan Nightingales thirtieth birthday party. Fuck, he’s thirty? It doesn’t seem that long ago that he was the newest wunderkind of the Northern comedy circuit, sat on the stairs outside the Hyena Cafe in Newcastle asking me if I was some sort of tosser. In actual fact it was nearly eight years ago. Christ’s teeth. Still, no sense in dwelling on that. There was a party to attend. A party full of comedians.

What could possibly be funnier?

Gig Score: 7/10

Lesson Learnt: This relaxing, going with the flow, having fun stuff really works. Continue to not blast the audience if they’re quiet, work with them instead.

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Two Hundred & One

The Gig: Sportsman’s Dinner, Stockport Cricket Club, Stockport.

The Date: March 10th 2011

The Line Up: Tomato & Basil Soup with a chunk of fresh bread, Basil cream cheese stuffed chicken breast with new potatoes and seasonal vegetables, apple & mixed fruit crumble with custard, coffee, mints, Mr Alan Stuttard (President of Walsden Cricket Club) & myself.

“Fuck.”

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”

I won’t lie to you. My inner monologues definitely had wittier and more eruldite moments than the one it was having at that precise moment. I was in the car park of Stockport Cricket Club, walking past a selection of expensive looking cars towards the clubhouse entrance. This particular booking wasn’t going to be like anything I’d ever done before. It was a sportsman’s dinner, a fundraising event for the club. I’d never performed at one of these events. I’d never been to one of these events. I knew precisely fuck all about sports and even less about cricket. My inner monologue became only ever so slightly more aticulate.

“”Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Why? Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Why? Why? Why? Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”

Why had I taken this particular booking? Simple. The money. I’d had a call from Alex Boardman the previous November giving me the heads up on a gig he’d been offered and had to turn down. It wasn’t a normal comedy night but he was confident that I could do a good job. I thanked Alex profoundly and rang Colin, the organiser, to pitch myself and my abilities. He went over the format of the night, said that I’d need to perform a half hour set after the meal and after the evening’s speaker. He offered me a figure, less than these type of gigs normally pay but still more than I can usually command for my efforts on a Thursday night by some margin.

A sportsman’s dinner is not a comedy night. Generally speaking you’ll be performing to big groups of men, quite possibly shitfaced by the time you step up. As a rule it’s a set up that favours the punchy, gag-heavy comedians towards the mainstream end of the circuit. Guys like Greg Cook and Mark Rough, no nonsense comedy bruisers with a machine gun punchline rate. I’m hardly the most whimsical, off beat or challenging act around but I doubt I’d be anyone’s first choice for this kind of engagement. A room full of cricket players on a night out… Were they going to be charmed by the likes of Generation Gap, Flux Capacitor, Word In Game and my usual bankers? The magic eight ball says “Don’t think so.”

It’s important to be honest with your limitations as a performer, both to yourself and the people that book you. On paper this was way, way out of my sphere of expertise and my comfort zone. If I was Colin and I knew what I knew about me then there’s no way I’d have booked me.

“That sounds fantastic,” I lied through my teeth “Shall I get that in the diary?”

So the deal was struck. Chris Brooker, armed with a setlist about call centres, Back To The Future and the ZX Spectrum +2 (With integrated tape player…) had signed on for possibly the most mainstream of mainstream gigs. I’m full of shit and even I knew I was pushing my luck there. Even with months to spare I felt nervous. I then did the only rational thing I could possibly have done under the circumstances. I pushed it to the back of my mind and forgot about it for four months.

The week before the gig I suddenly realised that I’d not heard anything from Colin in months. No confirmation, no call, no email. I suspected that he might have changed his mind or that the dinner had been cancelled. I say suspected, a good part of me was hoping that was the case. I could hardly afford to lose more work across March but it certainly would have been a welcome escape route. Hence I was simultaneously relieved and gutted when Colin emailed back and said it was all set. It all started at seven forty-five, I would probably be on around ten forty-five, dress code was smart casual. Fuck…

My smart casual attire was the same jeans, jacket, shirt and tie combination that had been so well received at the recent one-night-only reunion of Primitive Faith. As a result I felt more like a scruffy, underdressed bastard with every step I took up the stairs of the clubhouse. I had a hole in the pit of my stomach and my mind was racing in circles. I hoped this wasn’t too obvious from the outside. The room was laid out with rows of tables for the meal and there was nobody in there except a few waiting staff in the corner. The entrance to the bar was in the far corner and that was where I bumped into Alan Stuttard, the guest speaker for the evening. He immediately put me at my ease by being of the nicest, friendliest and most welcoming people I’d met in a long time. A veteran of the after dinner circuit, we chatted for a while and I did my best to pick his brain without looking too much like I knew nothing whatsoever. He asked for my contact details as there was a good chance he’d need a comedian for an event in the not too distant future. I suggested he might want to take them off me afterwards…

I was introduced to Colin at this point. He and his son were in charge of the night and, as such, were both running around in a mist of stress to make sure everything worked out. This was the first sportsman’s dinner at Stockport Cricket Club in quite some time, hence the need to run it at a modest cost. The time came for the meal to be served and the diners made their way through from the bar. A quick demographic check revealed an average age somewhere between forty and fifty. Not a group that I would neccesarily consider as my target demographic. It was, as was expected, entirely male as well. I was sorely tempted to nip outside to “Just get something from my car…” and then drive off. Knowing my luck I’d have pranged one of the nice cars in the attempt. Instead I took my seat between Alan and a gentleman called Mike, one the club’s higher ups.

There was a program on the table providing the details of the night’s proceedings. The meal, the speaker and then… Oh good. Chris Brooker: An extremely talented comedian. No pressure there.

I’m a social retard. I’ve been known to run away from people that I don’t know very well so as to avoid the pitfalls of small talk. The thought of being sat between two people I didn’t know for the duration of a meal was enough to make me uncomfortable in and of itself, let alone with the prospect of a half hour set afterwards. Nonetheless things seemed to go alright. Alan was friendly and Mike proved to be good company as well. I had my notepad to hand and jotted down anything I noticed as the meal went along. I asked Mike a few questions about the club, the players and so on. He was happy and eager to share anything he could, going so far as to point out a few of the players in attendence. Their star player, apparently, was working behind the bar that night. Keeping it real. I started to relax a bit.

The first course arrived, a very pleasant tomato soup. I say very pleasant, I didn’t actually get to eat that much of it. I’d managed to maintain a relatively cool, collected exterior in spite of the panic alarms going off throughout my adrenal system. My nerves betrayed me once and once only, when I tried to eat the soup. My hand was shaking so badly that I couldn’t trust myself to get spoon to mouth without spilling it everywhere. I suspected I was better off leaving it rather than throwing it all over myself.

The envelope game, a staple at these events, was drawn after the soup. For those unfamiliar it’s pretty straightforward. Everyone is given an envelope upon which they write their name and within which they place a sum of money, in this case two pounds each. The envelopes are collected, emptied and whichever one is then drawn from a hat wins a proportion of the cash. I ended up putting a fiver in mine because I had no change and was too nervous to ask for it. It certainly wasn’t in an effort to be flash. I did the draw with Mike and one of the winners was a higher-up at the club, nicely marking him out for later.

The rest of the meal, being solid, didn’t present the same challenge to my stress-addled motor skills. Mike was nice enough to point out various other characters around the room as the meal progressed. It also turned out that I wasn’t the only one having their first attempt at a sportsman’s dinner. It turned out that the caterers were too. Suddenly we noticed that there wasn’t any salt or pepper out on the tables. The solution? A single salt shaker and a dispensing container of Morrisons value black pepper. Not exactly silver service but this really tickled me. It also seemed to lance the boil of nervousness and I wasn’t anywhere near as stressed after that. Dessert was apple and summer fruit crumble served with custard. This also put me at ease. Crumble, it just makes everything alright. Besides, who could possibly get rowdy after they’d had crumble? I wondered if serving apple crumble with custard before talks in the Middle East would solver all the problems.

The meal finished, I made my seventh trip of the nights to the gents in order to pass water and the after dinner segment of the night began. Alan stood and proceeded deliver a forty minute after dinner speech based around his years of playing the noble sport of cricket for Walsden cricket club in Yorkshire. A mixture of anecdotes and gags, his gentle charm and charisma had the hundred plus in attendence rapt throughout, frequently getting good laughs and rounds of applause. An awful lot of what he said went sailing straight over my head like, erm, a cricket ball that had been hit well by someone who had a bat. That clumsy sentence is the limit of my knowledge when it comes to the sport. Or, at least, I thought it was. I’d jotted a few ideas down over the course of night and realised that I didn’t know fuck all about cricket. I actually knew next to fuck all about cricket and it would prove to be a crucial difference. A quick text to Sully O’Sullivan to check I had something right and I had a few opening lines I was fairly confident in, one of which was in fairly poor taste. Fuck it. In for a penny…

Alan wrapped up his speech, during the course of which he’d had a gentle rib at me for being ginger. Game on fella, this gave me permission to rib him back and I wasn’t going to pass that up. He’d also dropped the F-bomb a couple of times which opened that side of things for me too. I thought that the plan was to go straight from Alan to me. Instead they decided to have the raffle next. You don’t fuck with the raffle. I’d offered to do this for them and, with the advantage of a cordless mic, walked over to the alcove where the various prizes were on display to make the draw. All of a sudden my night became an awful lot easier. Drawing tickets, picking prizes and bantering with the winners. In essence I had an opportunity to compere for myself! I had a whale of a time, taking the piss out of the prizes and the winners, especially when they won a prize they had no enthusiasm for. One guy, a Man City fan, won VIP tickets to see Stockport Country. I told him he had to go. One of the club’s higher ups won a pair of pens and I got a big laugh for asking whether we could trust him with anything that sharp. You get the idea. I wasn’t exactly pushing back the boundaries of comedy but I was relaxing, having fun and proving my comedy credentials. Let’s hope I could keep it up for when my set started properly.

There was due to be a break between the raffle and myself but the good folk of Stockport Cricket club wanted to just get straight on with it. Democracy prevailed  and I went back to the table to deliver my set. This is is. No gimmicks, no prizes to hide behind… Now it was time to sink or swim. I took a deep breath and began.

“I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I know absolutely fuck all about cricket. The good news is that next week I’m taking over as coach the national side.”

My scant cricket knowledge thankfully included the fact that England had been beaten by Ireland not so long ago. I also knew, and had had it confirmed by Sully, that New Zealand had recently defeated the mighty cricketing nation of Pakistan. Hence my next joke, admittedly in poor taste. I said that a Kiwi friend had ribbed me over England’s loss to Ireland while boasting about his nation’s win over Pakistan. I played that this had gone until I’d snapped and told him that England wasn’t a bad team, they were just a little shaky. A bit like Christchurch.

Referencing a natural disaster to help me get through the opening minutes of a tough gig? Yep, that’s pretty low. That said it definitely worked. There was a loud “oooh” followed by laughter and I was off to a start. I went on to reference the fact that I was considerably younger than everyone else on the top table and got my first rib in on Alan, a gentleman in his late sixties. I suggested that he was actually thirty four but that was what living in Yorkshire did for you. Yes, that’s right… A joke about Yorkshire in Cheshire. It worked like a charm. I then took the opportunity to joke about the scarcity of salt and pepper, suggesting that they put them on chains by the bar for next time or ask for a deposit. By this point I pretty much had them and we were off. I snuck in a few more lines here and there about the players in attendence but mostly I stuck to my usual stuff. To my immense satisfaction it went down an absolute storm. All of the material I usually rely on went over brilliantly. Yep, the stuff about call centres, Back To The Future and the ZX Spectrum +2 (With integrated tape player…). I finished with my usual closing piece, something that I hadn’t expected to do, and was astonished at seeing the previously reserved audience join in with the finish. Yes, it’s lightweight and hack but it fucking works. Big response to finish and my job was done.

Well, almost. There was an auction of various merchandise that I ended up running. By this point I was just having fun, teasing the bidders and playing off of each other for chuckles. “How can you go home and adequately satisfy your wife knowing you’ve bit outbid on this autographed rugby shirt? Time to man up!” Eventually my role in the night really was over and it was time to head out. Colin, Mike and the other folk at the top table shook my hand enthusiastically saying that I’d done a superb job. Alan, to whom I confessed afterwards that it was my first ever after dinner speech, was pleasantly surprised or at least polite enough to act as if he was. He admitted that my humour wasn’t exactly his cup of tea but that it had worked brilliantly. A gentleman through and through, I thanked him sincerely for helping me feel so at ease. Cliched as it may sound, I might not have gotten through it without him.

I walked out into the car park, leaving with a very different feeling to the one I arrived with. I was absolutely buzzing, riding high on the adrenaline of a job well done. It’s rare these days that I get that sort of buzz after a gig, the sort that can keep me up all night afterwards. I can count on one hand the number of times it’s happened in recent memory. I really felt like I’d acheived something, walking into a gig and completely out of my comfort zone. I’d been a bag of nerves at the start of the night but I relaxed, had fun and everything flowed from there. My extremely rudimentary attempts at bespoke gag writing had proven successful too which was a confidence boost in and of itself. I might not be too bad at that writing lark after all.

I had a text on my phone from my Dad. He’d seen my status update on Facebook earlier that alluded to how nervous I was before the sportsman’s dinner. Were they comforting words of encouragement? Nope.

“Bet you wished you’d gotten into football now.”

Right idea, wrong sport. Then again, maybe sometimes it’s better to know nearly fuck all anyway.

Gig Score: 8/10

Lesson Learnt: Relaxing, having fun and occasionally writing gags is pretty good. I should do that a lot more. Another lesson about not judging an audience before I start as well.

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Two Hundred

The Gig: The Comedy Balloon, The Ape & Apple, Manchester.

The Date: March 9th 2011

The Line Up: Chris Tavner MCing for Richard Batt, Carl Gillespie, Rachel Lancaster, Nathan Hudson, Lee Peart, James Ferrington & myself

The cancellation fairy hadn’t just visited in March, she’s pretty much decided to move in. As the weeks unfolded I watched gigs drop out of my diary left, right and centre. By the second week of the month I was down somewhere in the region of four hundred and fifty pounds worth of work. The last minute gig in Sunderland was a blessing in no uncertain terms as it helped me claw some of that back. Aside from that the week was looking rather poorly. My Friday night gig had been pulled, I had nothing in for Saturday and I’d not had any confirmation or contact for the Thursday gig. Unless something came in, I was looking at a very poorly paid week and a sizeable gap between gigs to boot.

I noticed that Neil Smith, aka Spider, was short of a closer for The Comedy Balloon on the Wednesday. I volunteered my services, thinking that I was better off gigging than not if I could. After all my talk of writing new material and putting it to use it was also high time that I actually did it. Talk is cheap. Spider booked me in and I swore blind that I’d spend Wednesday afternoon stockpiling fifteen minutes of embryonic Brooker gold for the delight of everyone at The Ape & Apple.

Of course I didn’t. I pissed Wednesday away doing nothing in particular. On the plus side an old friend, Katy, was in town for a few days and it looked like we’d get a chance to catch up. In typical fashion I scrabbled a few half formed ideas on a pad, stuck that in my pocket and headed out. It was amoebic rather than embryonic but better than nothing. Well, hopefully. I’ve certainly written stuff that’s gone over so badly that three minutes of silence would have been preferable.

I picked up Katy on the way. The poor lass was suffering, having just come out of hospital a few days previously. As a consequence of her stay she was in quite a considerable amount of pain. As a consequence of the pain she was taking an impressive cocktail of painkilling and anti-inflammatory medication. As a consequence of this she was in a very floaty place and likely to enjoy the night’s proceedings on an entirely different level to anyone else. I also got lots of hugs though I hope this wasn’t entirely drug induced.

The bill at The Balloon comprised mainly of acts I’d never seen before with my bitter, sworn friend and fellow beard-wearer Chris Tavner at the helm. The night was in pretty safe hands as I’ve found Tav to be a sorely underrated compere. There was a carload of acts down from Middlesborough, namely Richard Batt and Carl Gillespie. Those North East boys, hardest working guys in the business. There was also a fairly respectable audience present, very few empty seats throughout the room. Tav had a lot of fun chatting away with them. They proved to be a good audience too, laughing when they were amused but being patient when they weren’t. It’s pretty much what you need as a new act taking your first steps or as an ill-prepared pro act throwing any old shit out there in the hope it’ll work.

Not there weren’t a few slightly gobbier audience members keen to make their mark. A table of students in the centre of the room featured a couple of girls that needed admonishing from time to time for their chattiness. There was also a lad hailing from Grimsby that got a little excited whenever someone mentioned Yorkshire or the North in general. That said, it rolled along nicely and they were never too much of a nuisance. Richard and Carl, the first and second acts respectively, set the room up nicely at the start. Rachel Lancaster, the second act, provided a really change of pace with her deadpannery and showed a lot of promise. Nathan Hudson was confident and assured with enough proper gags in his set to make me wish I’d written some.

Laini Johnson, another friend I’d not seen in far too long, had come along to see the show and catch up. I probably should have spent the sole break of the evening actually getting my material in order but I slacked off and socialised. By the time the break ended I had a sheet of paper with a collection of words on it and almost no idea what any of them meant. So much for mixing things up. The second half of the show began with Lee Peart, who proved to be sickeningly natural at this comedy lark. A hugely promising act with immense charisma to boot, he won the audience over quickly and easily and didn’t let them go for a second.

He was followed by James Ferrington, a man that epitomised the spirit of The Comedy Balloon. The Balloon has seen acts over the years that have been brilliant and acts that have woeful. It’s seen acts that have gone on to greatness and acts that have no doubt been sectioned for the good of the community. I saw a middle aged man have a mid-life nervous breakdown live before my very eyes. I’ve seen acts  shout, scream, weep, plead, sing, dance, caper and even threaten in an effort to elicit laughter. The open door policy means that anyone can get up and do their thing for five to ten minutes so long as they don’t start a fire or hurt anyone other than themselves. Often this is where you see the most wonderfully unique acts you’ll ever lay eyes on. James was certainly one of them.

He stepped up to the mic with a wad of what appeared to be business cards in his left hand. It soon turned out that they weren’t business cards or playing cards. Each one had a joke on it, a one liner or an observation. James’ act was as straightforward as it could be. He would read the joke from the topmost card, put it to the bottom of the pack and then read the next one. This was a disarmingly charming approach in and of itself and some of the gags were absolutely brilliant. That said, some of them were painful and some of them were simply baffling. For every gag that got a huge laugh there was one that left everyone rather confused. The net effect was absolutely brilliant and the lines were unrelenting. A pattern started to emerge. If a gag went well it went to the bottom of the pack. If it didn’t get a response it was torn neatly in half and dropped on the floor. This soon became almost heartbreaking, no matter the quality of the line that met it’s demise on the carpet of the Ape & Apple. There was an noticable “Aww…” every time a card was ripped in two by the end.

Like the rest of the audience I was in a state of low-level confusion after James’ unique approach to comedy. Unlike the rest of the audience I had to on stage prett much immediately so I had to get my game face on. James’ was the cult hero of the night, eliciting huge applause when he decided he’d read enough of his cards. Lord only knows what Katy’s prescription addled mind made of him. Charming, likeable and quirky. The Comedy Balloon had embraced him. Now it was my turn. Follow that dickhead!

Tav, as a friend, was more than happy to take the piss out of me as the night went along. He explained that the purpose of The Comedy Balloon was for new acts to take their first steps and for established acts to try new material out. He said that the final act of the night theoretically fit into the latter category but, as he was more than aware of my shoddy work ethic, I’d probably be pedalling the same old shit. I’d show him. Show him he was right…

As it turns out I did about half and half between the same old shit and stuff that I’d only roadtested a couple of times. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. I chatted with a student called Jess, on a performing arts course, and used it as an excuse to try out the School Of Dance stuff I’d not gone near in years. I soon remembered why. Part way through my set a gag pretty much died on it’s arse and I described it as a transitional gag between better stuff, much like The Iron Sheikh was a transitional champion between Bob Backlund and Hulk Hogan. This was an entirely self-indulgent line and I said it just because I could. Imagine my surprise when it actually got a laugh from several people in the room, especially Richard and Carl. Grimsby boy heckled me with “Fucking bullshit!” and I was about to have a pop until I realised he was impersonating one of The Iron Sheikh’s famous outbursts of the modern era. At least he didn’t threaten to break my back and make me humble.

Of an audience of twenty five to thirty there were maybe four people that knew just what the hell I was on about. I decided to try my luck anyway and launched into the long dormant piece involving my girlfriend and an Undertaker tee-shirt. This was only the third time I’d tried it onstage and, along the way, managed to hit a few interesting asides that stopped it from just being a lengthy joke about wrestling. The payoff to the bit isn’t nice and certainly won’t be something I’d consider for a clean comedy set. That said it seemed to go down alright. I just need a payoff that won’t just appeal to people of a similar geek status to myself. Everyone seemed to enjoy the ride though. That’s filed away for more attention once the diaries and done and dusted.

The Comedy Balloon gig was a minor landmark too as it was my two hundreth gig over the twelve months from April to March. Kind of nice for that to happen at one of the clubs where I did most of my early gigs in Manchester as well as my first ever compering spot. This particular night had featured everything you’d want in an open-mic comedy night. Plenty of laughter with a healthy dose of good-natured chaos along the way. I’ll definitely be back again as the year rolls on and this time I might actually have some new stuff.

Gig Score: 6/10

Lesson Learnt: If you book a night to do new stuff it might help to actually learn some before you go onstage.

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