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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