The Gig: The Last Laugh, Sheffield University.
The Date: November 21st 2010
The Line Up: Myself MCing for Alex Maple & Daliso Chaponda.
In my mind it hadn’t been that long since I’d last entertained the guys and gals at Sheffield University. It wasn’t until I had a quick look back at my diary that I realised that more than six months had passed. The last time I’d MCed was in April, more than half a year previously. Time flies when you’re having fun. This time around I’d landed this particular gig at the last minute, getting the call to action the previous afternoon. It was a call that brightened up my day considerably. The Sheffield Uni gig had been a lot of fun the last couple of times that I’d played it, once with Zoe Lyons and Nige and again with Rory Motion and Sol Bernstein. It certainly didn’t hurt that the resulting pay cheque would plug the gap that had been opened by a last minute cancellation and subsequent Friday evening spent twiddling my thumbs.
Upon arrival at the gig I bumped into Alex Maple and Joseph Wilson. I knew that Alex was the opening act that night but I’d not expected to see Joseph. Not that it’s especially unusual for a line up to change at short notice. I assumed that Joseph was there to close the show until I realised, by his expression, that he hadn’t expected to see me either. One gig, two comperes… This show wasn’t big enough for the both of us. Any danger of a Mexican stand-off situation was thankfully averted by a quick call to Jules, the organisational power behind The Last Laugh gigs. It turned out that Joseph was MCing Sheffield Hallam University rather than Sheffield University. Hallam was a few miles and a few less A-Level grades away from our current location so he headed off. Inconsiderate cities with their multiple universities, it must have been a lot simpler when half of them were polytechnics.
I was immensely relieved that I’d managed to go to the right place. Turning up at the wrong Uni is very much something I’d do. Fortunately there was further proof that I was in the right place as all the posters had been adorned with strips of paper that announced I would be picking up the hosting duties for the evening. That was a relief, now we’d pre-empted anyone kicking off because they came to see the original MC. Let’s manage those expectations and just hope I can fill his shoes.
One of the benefits of playing a gig regularly is that you become increasingly familiar with the venue and the folk that run it. No more driving in circles trying to figure out the best place to park. A friendly welcome from Graeme, the man that holds it all together behind the scenes as well. It was nice to say hello and catch up before the gig, especially as he wondered if our household was on a mission to monopolise the place having had both of my co-habiting comics compere in previous weeks. Yes, first Sheffield Uni and then the world.
Familiarity also presents its fair share of challenges. When I started the show I immediately recognised a few of the punters sat in the front row. One, in particular, had an unusual name that I couldn’t quite remember. Turns out that this was Arkady, a chap I’d spoken with at length during the opening section of the April gig. I’d discussed his unusual name at length that time and decided to leave it be. I challenged myself to avoid the material I usually break out when I’m MCing to make sure that any repeat customers hadn’t heard it before.
Conversations with the audience revealed that a couple of them weren’t students. Most notably Emily, a lovely girl in the front row who had finished her studies and was ashamed to confess that she was working in Next over Christmas. This prompted me to go off on something of a tirade about how abysmal the general public can be when you’re forced to be polite to them. The tirade ended with the idea that anyone who couldn’t figure out how to put clothes back where they found them should be sterilised. I’m not entirely sure where this anger came from, I’ve never actually worked in retail.
Matt, a medical student, was the source of some quality banter as well. As a first year student I asked, rather morbidly, when he would first be allowed to get his mitts on a dead body. He said he already had. No time like the present clearly. Welcome to University, here’s a corpse. Try not to break it. I asked if he knew of any crass or insensitive practical jokes that had been played using all or some of an unfortunate soul that had seen fit to donate their body to science. He hesitated and then said he didn’t.
The time came to bring Alex on and I asked Emily if she would be my cheerleader for the evening. Her reply was an emphatic “I’ve been waiting three years to be asked that!” and I knew we were going to be off to a great start. I’d not seen Alex in a couple of years, not since he played The Comedy Balloon as part of a trip around clubs in the North West. I was impressed then and he’s clearly gone on to bigger and better things since. Verbose, clever and at times abstract, he was the tailor made comic for this particular audience. One part, a series of apologies delivered to God on the subject of homophobia, was just as brilliant as I remembered it and got the huge round of applause it so richly deserved. A great start to the night.
During the interval Matt came over for a quick word. Apparently he did have a story about a borrowed cadaver and a less than responsible medical student. It involved a fountain, the deceased and a big box of soap suds. The net result was a grisly foam sculpture that would make Damien Hirst uncomfortable. The student in question was immediately struck off for this and I suspect, to paraphrase a much more famous comic, that we didn’t lose a cure for cancer when he walked away from medicine.
Alex said goodbye and headed off into the night. The headliner for the evening, Daliso Chaponda, was doubling up with the aforementioned gig across town at Hallam. Their night had started late, something to do with the MC going to the wrong venue. As a result we were left twiddling our thumbs until Daliso finished up and made his way over. The break ran it’s course and I suggested to Graeme that I go on and begin so as not to force people to sit and wait too long. The old “Go until you get the signal..” routine. This was the moment that Daliso arrived, perfect timing.
At the top of the second section I went back into rant mode, this time focusing my impotent rage in the direction of my cinematic adversary of late, Twilight. I raged for a while that they were letting vampires down badly and slipped in my joke about vampires getting more sun than gingers. There was a satisfyingly large geek contingent in, as evidenced by the big cheer I got when I wished that Blade would turn up in the next movie. That was a lot of fun and, across the night, I managed to stay away from a lot of my usual MCing lines.
Daliso, as headliner, was also feeling the side effects of familiarity. This was a gig that he’d played rather frequently over the preceding year and he was naturally concerned about trotting out his tried and tested stuff. Subsequently he opened with some brand new material about adoption. Annoyingly his brand new material about adoption contained one of the best premises I’d heard for ages. So simple and damned funny. I was impressed and more than a little jealous that I’d not spotted it first and used it to pay my rent. The Sheffield Uni posse absolutely lapped this up along with some of his regular material that came into play a bit later. Daliso was having a ball up there and it was hard not to have a ball with him.
All in all it was a great gig. I’d been presented with a fistful of drinks vouchers at the start of the night. Several of these were given away to people I’d bantered with during the night. Emily, my cheerleader, clearly needed another pint to help forget what she had in store for work. (No pun intended) My plan for the night then involved heading back to Manchester in time to watch WWE Survivor Series at a secret location. As such I had a bit of time to kill so I stuck around for a pint with Daliso, Arkady, Emily, Graeme and the others. I’d forgotten how nice it is to unwind after a gig without rushing off, it certainly gave the pent-up adrenaline a chance to dissipate. I also got plenty of hugs when I left, something I’ll never complain about.
Daliso, not knowing that I would be driving back to Manchester, had opted to sort himself out with a hotel for the night in the city centre. As I drove him over we noticed scores and scores of students dressed in attire that could only be described as uber-geeky. Apparently this was the geek walk, a chance for “normal” people to embrace geek chic and go on an epic pub crawl. I mused that this might be the perfect chance for a bona-fide geek to pull well above his station. Where was this when I was at University?
Oh wait, I went to a former Poly. It probably happened but none of us noticed.
Gig Score: 7/10
Lesson Learnt: Mix it up and go with the flow, being challenged by familiar audiences helps keep things fresh.