All 82 entries tagged Comedy
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November 18, 2010
Some things annoy me disproportionately.
A few weeks ago a I had a really shit weekend. And on the Monday, I had a comedy show to run and MC. The last thing I wanted to do was get up on stage and be all nice and jolly and try and make a room of people laugh. I contemplated pulling the gig. For about three seconds. Then realised that would make me a cunt.
‘The show must go on’. It’s old cliche, but for some reason it’s one I believe in with a level of fervour. Perhaps it’s just general politeness. If you advertise a show and then pull it, you’re inconveniencing a bunch of people who had planned to go to that show. You’re ruined their plans for the night. If nothing else it’s rude. In my case it was probably just thirty or so people, most of whom wouldn’t have really minded. But still, the principle of the thing stands. Especially if you’re then going to go and ask them to come to future shows.
It’s a principle that I feel I apply fairly. Yes, I used it to mock Oasis when Liam cancelled gigs because he felt like being a dick. But I also dragged my favourite band, James, over the coals when they cancelled a show due to the singer having hurt his back and being told he couldn’t dance. Everyone else seemed to think that was perfectly reasonable. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t just get him a chair. In that case the crowd would have been robbed of the delight of singer Tim Booth’s insane dance moves, but when it comes down to it, he’s not Bez. His job is to sing, not to dance, and he was perfectly capable of doing that.
Still, that was a borderline case. And obviously there are circumstances where pulling the show is the only option: if the performer is genuinely too ill to perform then not much can be done about it. Unless you’re Frank Turner when you just perform anyway before running backstage, throwing up and fainting two songs before the end, then apologise profusely and try and sort out free tickets for a future gig for people.
Some cases though, aren’t borderline at all. If you’ve been avoiding it (good for you) you won’t be aware that Jenny Eclair has joined the cast of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. Even if you are, there’s a good chance that what you don’t know is that she cancelled 11 tour dates, including one on the afternoon of the gig itself, in order to get on the show. So what happened? It’s hard to say exactly as none of what she’s said about it makes any sense, but it seems she was on a list of eight reserves, who were flown over to Australia as potential replacements.
Now while I’m no fan of the show, I can see why she’d want to do it. It’s a big profile booster. It’ll help her sell more tickets for the rest of the tour. But the show is about two weeks long. Even if you’re a reserve, it can’t be hard to just avoid booking anything else in on those weeks. She basically knew there was a chance she couldn’t do the shows, but let the promoters and her audience continue to think she would until the day of the first show. Which frankly is hugely unprofessional and shows a disgusting level of contempt for her fans and the venues that booked her.
Still, I’d have let it pass. I’d have shut up because other people do this sort of thing all the time and why make a big deal of it. Then I read the official statement her spokesperson gave: “Jenny apologises profusely to all her followers and ticket holders who will be were planning to see her. She has never cancelled a live show before in over 20 years of performing and hopes her fans appreciate these are very exceptional, unexpected circumstances and looks forward to seeing everyone again very soon.” Sounds fairly reasonable, let’s just re-read a bit of that “exceptional, unexpected circumstances”... oh no, my mistake, it’s a bare-faced lie. If you’re booked as a reserve on a reality TV show, it’s not ‘unexpected’ if you’re then asked to go on it. It’s… what’s the word? “expected”. That’s it. Lovely of them to just insult the intelligence of her fans there.
My advice? If you’re a theatre comedy booker, and thinking of booking Jenny Eclair, check that the date doesn’t clash with any celebrity reality TV shows, as there’s a good chance that the producers of said show won’t actually want her to be on it but might end up asking her to do it if someone more famous drops out.
Dean would also like to point out that no, he didn’t have tickets for one of the cancelled shows, and you’re wrong, he really does rate Jenny Eclair as a comic
November 15, 2010
They lost me in the first ten minutes.
There’s something in comedy you have to do when playing clubs, or even the smaller rooms in Edinburgh. I call it establishing audience “buy-in”. Basically, you need to move the minds of the crowd from being a passive observer, asking themselves “will they be funny” to someone invested in the performance, by establishing rapport, getting them involved and re-framing their mindset so they’re thinking “this is funny, I’ll enjoy it”.
Frisky and Mannish have established a pretty good way of doing this: they do a bit of light audience interaction, some light mocking (which also establishes authority, important for managing more unruly crowds) and then they get everyone standing up and dancing. It’s good technique. Alas what works in other contexts is entirely inappropriate for dealing with a small, mostly sober crowd on a Sunday night in an arts centre.
See, when you’re playing a venue off the beaten track (Warwick University campus) you can be fairly sure that everyone their made the conscious decision to go and see you. It’s hugely unlikely to have been a spur of the moment thing, they’ve probably done some research, figured it’s something they’ll like, and so gone along. They’ve bought in already. Or at least they had, until you made them get up and dance.
Since the preceding opening number was decent but not brilliant, in the first ten minutes Frisky and Mannish basically throw out all the good will the audience came in to the show with. It’s to their credit, then, that by the end of the first half they’ve already won us all back around, to the point that one can’t help but wonder if they’re bored by everyone loving them and tanked the start on purpose to make it more interesting.
That overly rambling introduction hides the fact that Frisky and Mannish are a very difficult act to describe, and even more difficult to analyse. There are generally two types of musical comedy: the one where you write your own original comedy songs, and the type where you parody existing songs, generally by changing the lyrics. Except there’s barely a single original song in the whole show, nor do they ever change any lyrics to existing ones. Instead they draw comedy out from the music itself, playing with styles and forms to create something hilarious. The only comparison that I can think of is Bill Bailey. And that’s a ridiculous comparison as they’re nothing alike: Bailey’s deer-in-headlights confused-hippy performance style couldn’t be further from Frisky and Mannish’s assured self-confident delivery. But at a very high level, that notion of finding humour in music, rather than just ‘being funny with music’ is something they have in common.
And so they offer a wonderful couple of hours of musical manipulation. Noel Coward and Lily Allen sing each others songs. They explain how horror is the over-riding genre in pop music by showing just how sinister some songs become when done in a minor key. They entirely deconstruct Florence from Florence and the Machine beautifully. And when you least expect it, they’ll do a dance routine to B*Witched.
I can’t urge people to go and see this show enough really. It’s not for everyone. Indeed, watching it I was consciously aware that I had certain friends who would enjoy it a lot more than I did. But that’s down to my lack of knowledge of most music from the past ten years. Indeed, one could argue that musos would probably get more out of it than your average comedy fan. But for that average comedy fan it’s also a revelation, as it shows a due doing something that feels original, which is such a rarity in today’s comedy scene that it should be embraced whole-heartedly.
November 14, 2010
Sometimes you read something that just makes you angry. So it was with Wend Smith’s amazing article on Chortle last week.
When I read the opening I thought that this was going to be one of those pieces that both annoyed me and made me feel a bit guilty. I like to think I’m something of a feminist, but I’m not the sort that will deny their own sexuality just to prove it. Obviously someone physically grabbing a woman at a club or on public transport is wrong. Equally it’s pretty bad shout sexual remarks at a woman you don’t know in public. But then some people always take the argument too far and start saying that even checking out a woman wearing a low-cut top in public is just as bad as the rest. And while you can’t argue the point that being looked at in that way makes some women uncomfortable, at some point one’s right to wear what they want has to be measured against one’s right to look in whatever direction they want.
So I thought it would be with this article. I imagined that it’d highlight the shocking truth that some promoters book female acts based on their looks, and after doing so they flirt with them. Obviously a promoter shouldn’t be book acts based on anything other than comedic ability, but to assume it doesn’t happen is naive.
Luckily the one night I run has a pretty open booking policy, with a mandate to find stage time for anyone that wants a chance, regardless of level. So it’s never been a call I’ve had to make. But yes, lots of promoters are sad lonely men approaching middle-age (I count myself in that) and might well book a young female comic based on her looks in the pathetic hope they might get lucky. I’d like to think it’s not something I’d ever do, but I can certainly imagine not living up to that hope. So I expected to mostly be made to feel uncomfortable by the article and find myself disagreeing with it in parts. Then I read through it.
Go read it, but if you can’t be bothered, a few quotes:
“receiving communication from a middle-aged man using unsavoury language based entirely on my appearance, my gender and my sexuality is somewhat hard to swallow.”
“I have been told by one promoter that he ‘must be in love with [me] as [he] is willing to offer more work’.”
I’ve talked before about the backwards relationship between promotors and open spots. Specifically that, as far as I’m concerned, the open spots are doing me a favour by performing at my gig, and I feel awful that most of the time I don’t have the budget to even buy them a drink. Hell, I feel too guilty to even accept drinks from open spots when they offer.
So the idea that a promoter wouldn’t just book an act based on her looks, but then proceed to pretty much tell her this and make a point of it just boggles my mind. In an ideal world, it shouldn’t happen in the first place. Gender and appearance shouldn’t be part of a booking policy. We don’t live in an ideal world, but we do live in a world where a degree of basic human decency is expected, which surely should include not sexually harassing your open spots.
In an industry that’s worked hard to shed the aggressive, laddish image that’s been built up around it, it’s depressing to see that parts of it are stuck in the 1940s.
June 08, 2010
I know, a month, no new blog, but I have been writing elsewhere and shall collect those pieces right here. Then the next few days I’ll throw up a few bits and pieces I did for other places that never got used. Deal? Yeah I know, you like the exclusive stuff written just for you. But I like the increased exposure and clicks I get from writing for other more popular sites.
I’m sorry if that makes you feel unloved, I do like you really, but we’ve been at this for over five years now, and secretly I’ve always wanted you to watch me do it with other people. But I promise, I’ll save the really sick and twisted stuff for you, not like I have much choice, you’re the only one filthy enough.
Top Ten: Sci-Fi Politicians
This has my by-line though I only wrote about 80% – didn’t do the bits about The Doctor or The Mayor. I’d have gone with John Simm’s Master for the Doctor Who one to be honest, but then I’m a little twisted.
Review of Flight of the Conchords at Birmingham
This was fun. I’m still struggling with music writing (after all, you can’t pull off the make it all about your break-up instead trick very often). But this let me cheat, by basically treating it like a comedy review while also playing a bit with the tension between and comedy, theatre and music gig, and exactly what this show was. It was a music gig, ultimately. Hence being published on a music site.
Review of The Divine Comedy at the London Tabernacle
Awesome night, and the best of the three pieces I’m linking to here. If time is short, and you only read one, read this one. As I mention, I’m still struggling with music writing, but I think I got the balance right with this one and it’s probably the piece of writing I’m most proud of from the past few months. It covers the gig, makes observations on the songs, drops a few quotes, and wraps it all in a tasty narrative of indie-rock kid out of his element in a posh fancy muso gig. I think it works.
That’s me for now. Not going to say what I’m writing up next, but do have a few pieces lined up just for the blog, but it seems if I ever blog about writing something, it’s like a curse and it never sees the light of day. Plus it’s fun to tease you all. You know you love it.
March 26, 2010
I’ve had this question crop up a lot lately. Both from people in real life, people online, and indirectly through the sizeable number of people who want to make a career out of it as part of Mark Watson’s Ten Year Self-Improvement Challenge . Now Mark already did a great blog that gives some great advice on having the right mind-set to approaching the whole thing, but it doesn’t tackle the very basics: how the hell do you go from a regular person to someone that “does stand-up”.
I should set out my stall to start with. I first did stand-up about four years ago. I’ve done it on and off ever since. I enjoy it, but have no ambition to make a career out of it. I’m not particularly good, but nor am I toe-curlingly bad. Outside of performing, I’ve been peripherally involved in the industry through reviewing and promoting for about eight years now. Some of my advice other people will agree with. Some they won’t. Let’s go.
So, you’ve never done a gig in your life but you want to get in to stand-up? Where do you start. Well first, you need to work out where you are currently. The obvious response is “nowhere”, but even among those that have never performed, people are prepared to different levels. Some people have routines and material already worked up in their heads, they just need a bit of a push to actually go and perform it. Others have vague ideas of things that are funny but haven’t really developed it in to a routine. While there are some that want to be stand-ups, see themselves as ‘funny people’ but don’t have any particular ideas to speak of. Work out how far along you are already.
Warning If you fit into the latter group, sometimes it can be tempting to just try and get some stage time and go on with no plan other than to talk to the crowd. After all, you can make your friends laugh in the pub, so you can do the same with a room of strangers right? Wrong. Audience interaction is not like joking with friends in a pub, and even the masters of the form like Ross Noble use a lot of pre-prepared and re-usable stuff when doing so. You are far from a master.
So what’s the goal? What you need is five minutes of material. For some people that seems insurmountable – if a joke is thirty seconds then it’s ten good jokes – but it’s amazing how quickly a routine can build up. For others they already have twenty minutes of material worked out and find five minutes somewhat constricting. The truth is that in that twenty minutes you’ll be extremely lucky to have five minutes good stuff in there. Either way, what you need is a five minute set – if it’s longer, cut the chaff, get it down to five minutes of what you think are the very best routines.
Learn from others
Now if you’re struggling, hell even if you’re not, the most important and useful thing you can do is GO AND WATCH LIVE COMEDY. It sounds obvious, but take in as much as you can. And I’m not talking about seeing Frankie Boyle at the O2. Hell, in this case I’m not even talking about seeing Daniel Kitson at your local theatre. Instead, check out the local comedy clubs. You’ll get to see four or five acts, mostly doing 10-20 minute sets. It’ll give you a much better idea of what you’re aspiring to. If you can find an open mic night, or a new act / new material night, even better. By watching people closer to your ‘level’ you’ll get a better idea for how it’s all put together and what you’re aiming for. Watching Dara O’Briain’s latest DVD is a great way to spend your time, but it’s a show that’s been performed literally hundreds of times, and polished to the point where the joins just don’t show. It’s so effortlessly natural that you won’t learn much.
Getting to the funny
Now explaining how to sit down and actually write or develop material is almost impossible. Different people do it in different ways. Some can actually literally do just that: sit down and write stuff that might be funny. For others, we have to wait until we notice an interesting or potentially amusing idea and try and develop it. The actual process of how that works is different for everyone, but I will offer one pointer: punchlines.
There are different styles of comedy, but unless you’re doing something entirely off-the-wall (and are therefore, prepared to not get many laughs), your routines will need punchlines. Now, the punchline ideally pulls together all the elements of the set up in to the biggest laugh of the routine. Ideally. But not all jokes work like that and not all styles work like that. The punchline serves another purpose though. It indicates to the audience that that bit is over, instructs them to laugh, and allows you to move on to the next bit. It paces the set, and keeps the rhythm going. Now, when you get good you can have all sorts of fun messing with the audience’s expectations and subverting that, but for now, punchlines = good. They don’t have to be brilliant, they don’t have to be the point of the routine, they don’t have to get the biggest laugh, but it’s unwise to ignore them entirely. Even if the point of the routine is just to put across an amusing concept or use a funny turn of phrase, having a punchline, even a predictable one, grounds the routine in something familiar for the audience, making it easier to get them on side. It shows that you understand their expectations and respect them. Yes, I know, you’re a comedy maverick, you don’t play by the rules, you confound audiences and are entirely unique. But if you want to get laughs, trust me on this one.
As an adjunct to this: try and work out where the laughs come in your routine. Look at what you’ve written, and work out where you think the audience are going to laugh. In a five minute routine, if you have 30 seconds without a laugh then you’re pushing it and the next laugh best be a big one. If you get to a minute without expecting a laugh then you should maybe rethink your material. Despite all this you will find the audience will laugh in unexpected places and fail to laugh in others, but then you take that and adjust for future performances accordingly.
Note that again, I’m no expert. And yes, much of the best comedy breaks these rules. These are not rules for being a good stand-up in general. These are rules for getting some laughs from your first five-minute open spot. Once you’ve got a good number of gigs under your belt and feel more confident, you can throw them out if you like.
Getting a gig
This is always tricky: you need to find someone willing to give you five minutes on stage when you have no experience. Fortunately there are a lot of very nice promoters out there, you could do worse than check the forums at www.chortle.co.uk in the industry noticeboard section, and ask about open mic or new act nights in your area. There’s bound to be someone that can help you out. If you live in the West Midlands / Warwickshire area or don’t mind traveling down to Leamington Spa on a Monday night, that person could be me. There’s a link to e-mail me at the top of the blog.
It’s tempting to enter one of many stand-up competitions just for the stage time early on. It’s not a bad idea, but I wouldn’t suggest it for your first gig, the added pressure of being judged directly isn’t something you really need.
Likewise, under no circumstances fall for any sort of pay-to-play scheme, even if it’s just “bring along so many paying friends to get on.” Not only do these shows damage the industry at large but you also end up performing to a bunch of people that don’t give a fuck and just want to see their friend.
If you’re a student, you can try and find some sort of performance society that might be able to give you a slot at an event. These are generally quite friendly and can be a nice place to up your confidence, though often you’re on with all sorts of other performers and again, you’re playing to people that are mostly friends of other performers.
There’s basically two aspects to comedy: writing and performing. Now at some gigs the performing is more important. If you’re playing to a room of loud, obnoxious stag-parties then confidence is everything. They smell any weakness and will eat you alive. Fortunately, most open mic or new act nights will generally have a fairly comedy-savy audience that come along regularly and are willing to listen. They’ll forgive a somewhat ropey performance if the material is good. However, they’re less likely to laugh at bad material just because it’s delivered confidently.
My suggestion for a first gig, is to just focus on remembering your set. Walk on, take the mic out of the stand, move the stand away, do your jokes, put it back, walk off. If you can manage that, the rest doesn’t matter so much. Yes, try to make eye contact with the audience, keep your head up, speak clearly, don’t rush through your set. But even if you screw all that up you’ll be alright if the jokes are good (as long as they can hear you!).
One thing that crops up a lot is how well you should prepare. There’s nothing wrong in stand-up these days in knowing exactly what you’re going to say, word-for-word, and just saying it. The whole ‘pretending it’s all off-the-cuff’ style mostly went out years ago. If you feel more confident doing that, then do it. If you’d rather just have a strong idea of what you want to say, but not the exact words, then that’s okay too. By this point it should be obvious that if you can’t speak a version of your set out loud to an empty room then you’re not prepared enough. One caveat: if you don’t learn your set word-for-word, it’s essential that you identify the key phrases in the set. Generally these are the punchlines, but also any clever wordplay or smart constructions. You have to get these right, and you have to know these word-for-word, as messing them up can ruin the entire routine. Practice them.
Drinking: don’t go on stage drunk. You will forget your words or screw something up. That said, if you’re nervous and drink calms your nerves, there’s no harm in having one drink to steady yourself – we’re not driving heavy machinery here. If it helps boost your confidence then go for it, just don’t get carried away.
Once on stage, stick to the script. Write some keywords on your hand to remind you what order things go in. If you’re not getting laughs, don’t panic. Don’t start editing, or skipping ahead to something that you think might be ‘funnier’. You only have five minutes anyway, just stick to your routine, don’t lose faith in it. You’ll confuse yourself, or end up skipping something that would have got a laugh anyway. If you forget something, it’s okay to pause for a few seconds, try and get it back. If it’s really gone then own it: “and I’ve totally forgot what I was going to say, so about [next routine]” – it’ll break any tension and you’ll probably get a laugh from being so blatant about it.
A wiser man that me once told me that a wiser man than him once told him that “if the worse thing that happens to you on any given day, is that room full of strangers don’t laugh at you, then it’s been a good day”.
Even if it all falls apart, even if you don’t get one single, solitary laugh – well, go back to the drawing board and try again next week. And it was probably a crap audience anyway. Some people spent five minutes not laughing. Who cares? But chances are it’ll go fine. You’ll get laughs. Maybe not in the places you thought and maybe not even as many as you hoped. But the second you get that first laugh you’ll realise how awesome it is and why we do it. “Better than sex” is an overused phrase these days. But it is. You’re bringing a bit of pleasure in to the life of a load of people all at once. It’s basically like making 50 people all come at once, but less messy. So enjoy it. If you want to do this professionally you’re going to spend years traveling around the country performing in tiny pub basements for no money, so if you don’t enjoy there’s really very little point!
Hope that helps someone anyway. Weird way to follow up that last blog but there you go!
March 12, 2010
I spent today mostly watching Tim Vine and bemoaning how the rise of the cheap, easy to use, contact lens has decimated the previously wonderfully prevalent “cute girl with glasses” look.
Try as I might I can’t spin the latter out in to a blog entry, so Tim Vine then.
He’s an odd one. The only person that really matches him in style and substance is Harry Hill: it’s that mixture of smart one-liners crossed with utter insanity that means they can both fill venues like the 1500 seater theatre at Warwick Arts Centre. Yet pretty much no-one else is doing it. Every other comic doing one-liners tends to be either dark and understated (Jimmy Carr, Gary Delaney) or sardonic and understated (Milton Jones). A quick look on YouTube pretty much explains the act and tells you if you’ll like him, so I’m going to get straight in to the deconstructionist comedy geekery.
It’s a regular comedy dilemma. If you’re a stand-up that work almost entirely with one-liners you’ll generally do well on the club circuit (assuming you can write). But how do you take that and turn it in to something that works for an entire hour or more – which is almost a necessity these days if comics want to get ‘noticed’ at the Edinburgh Fringe. Vine’s answer is to sandwich the jokes with songs. Taken on their own the songs are fairly bad. If you pull them apart they’re about on par with a musical comic who’s just starting out. Rarely more than one gag per song, some don’t even have punchline, others are just weird for the sake of it. But to do that misses the point. They exist to provide a respite from the rapid-fire joke-joke-joke of the rest of the show. It’s okay to have just one joke in a two minute song, or try and get a laugh from just how silly it is, since in the previous two minutes he did 15 one-liners.
That’s the genius of Vine’s act really. It’s paced so the jokes are always coming, but never to the point where you feel fatigued, or slip in to a rhythm and stop paying attention. He’s squared the comedy circle…
March 05, 2010
So Mark Watson is doing a thing over on his blog in the spirit of the old 24-hour shows. The idea is to set a goal to accomplish within the next ten years. I decided it’d be fun to play and it led me to thinking what, exactly, I should choose.
There are the obvious ones. The things I want to achieve in life. To find someone nice to share it with. To build up my freelance work so I can support myself just through writing. To become more confident. But these are all things that I am either already working towards, or have solid plans to work towards. They’re aims that already exist that I need to accomplish regardless in order to be generally happy. So choosing any of those feels like a bit of a cop out.
Then there are the trivial ideas which might lead to some interesting stories. Change my look and style every year. Go on 120 dates. Kiss at least one beautiful girl every year. Visit 12 different countries. They’re all decent ideas but seem ultimately hollow. Would I really be any better off afterwards?
There’s two ideas that nearly made the cut that I’m going to have a go at anyway. They basically tackle my cultural deficiencies. I watch a lot of (good) TV. I see a lot of comedy. I listen to a decent amount of music. I play far too many video games. I read a bit, though narrowly, but I don’t enjoy at all battling through a tough book for the sake of it, and when I read for pleasure, I read really slowly. That leaves two of the major cultural forms by my count: film and theatre. I only ever seem to go to the cinema when I’m in a relationship. Since I’m more than often not, films tend to pass me by. Nevertheless, it’s not like I don’t know how to get them off the internet (legally through Netflix, of course) but whenever I sit down to watch something I end up catching up on my backlog of TV shows instead.
So here is secondary idea number one: every month there will be a film night. I will watch a film, and crucuially it will be one suggested by someone else. Either on here, Twitter, Facebook, or 3D-Social-Megathon-5000 or whatever the social network of ten years’ time is called. I ask, you suggest, I pick one I haven’t seen, watch, and write about. 120 films total. Not many, but the idea is that it’ll get me seeking out other stuff by the same writers/directors of my own accord. And it should be nearly impossible to fail at.
Secondary idea number two: get in to theatre. Yeah, that one is a lot more nebulous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a proper live theatre production ever, with the exception of the odd comedy play at the Fringe. I’m entirely clueless about the whole thing. Honestly, I couldn’t even say if I’d enjoy it or not. Which is disgusting really. There’s an entire art form I don’t even know if I like. I’ll need some help on this one too as I have no damn clue how or where to even start. Somewhere cheap, preferably! Any suggestions and offers of assistance would be greatly appreciated.
But idea number one is easy. Idea number two is kind of impossible to measure the success of. So my main choice is the first thing that came to mind when I read about this thing.
I’m going to learn piano.
See, I learning piano isn’t really that much fun. I know, I’ve tried a few times already. But I want to be able to play. Not brilliantly, just enough that I can bang out a few tunes for my own amusement. Unlike the other ideas, this one is about the goal, not the process. It’s something that won’t be much fun to do, but without the added motivation of TYSIC it’s one thing I know I’ll never find time to get around to.
So there we go, first step is getting the digital piano back from Cannock and tracking down my learning books…
March 04, 2010
So I’ve been running this comedy show in Leamington on a weekly basis for about a month now. For those that don’t know, it’s called Reckless Comedy and it runs most Monday nights in the basement of Robbins Well. It’s exhausting, challenging, and a lot of fun. But while I’ve run my fair share of comedy nights before, they all had a proper big budget of someone elses money. This is the first time I’ve run a show on my own with very limited funds. It’s been eye-opening.
I have no issue explaining to anyone how the financials of my club work: people pay two quid to get in, I pay the headliner £50 and everyone else is an open spot performing for free. If I get 25 people in, which makes the room look reasonably busy, I break even. Any extra goes to make up losses on the really quiet nights or pay for a better headliner at a future show.
But it’s in the open spots where the story is truly fascinating. It’s fairly well established that the comedy scene in New York was decimated by the introduction of “pay to play”, this ridiculous notion that new acts should be paying the venue for stage time. Sometimes it’s direct, sometimes it’s indirect (eg. you have to bring five friends who each pay an entrance fee and have to buy two drinks each). As you can imagine, once promoters start booking acts based on who can pay more, rather than who is funnier, things go downhill. It’s a mental system, and fortunately any attempts to introduce it over here in London have been met by a collective “fuck off” from the industry at large.
Nevertheless, for some reason the mindset seems to remain that promoters are somehow doing the open spots a favour by letting them perform. This is backwards, bullshitty, bollocks. I will say it right now to anyone that will listen: if you’re an open spot, performing at my show for no money, you’re the one doing me a favour. I’m grateful to you for making making my show even possible.
These wonderful people travel down, literally from across the country, to perform at a show, for no money, at their own expense. A lot of those just starting out won’t even be set up to reclaim their travel money from the taxman. They’re literally losing money to be there. I wish I could pay them all. Or at least cover their expenses. Or y’know, afford to buy them all a drink (when you’re running a weekly night with 5 or 6 open spots a time, even doing that costs a decent chunk of change in the long term). But the economics of the night I’m running don’t work that way, so I settle for providing a nice relaxed atmosphere for them to perform to an appreciative audience in. It’s all I can do. And giving them a nice gig is, frankly, the only thing that stops me feel like I’m taking advantage of them.
But what amazes me is despite the fact that they’re providing the entertainment, and that they’re losing their own money to do so, is that somehow they think that they should be grateful to me. That by giving them stage time I’m doing them a favour, rather than the other way around. Okay, so I run a fairly open booking policy – anyone can do five minutes, they just have to ask – and if it’s someone’s first ever gig then maybe I am helping them out. But I get e-mails from people that have been plugging away at it for years, still looking for stage time from whomever will deign to give it to them. People will apologise profusely if they have to cancel because they’ve been offered a paid gig elsewhere. People will even ask if it’s okay to leave early after they’ve done their set.
I have no comedic ambition. Running and MCing a nice little club like this and maybe fitting in the occasional extra gig is about my limit. Maybe I’d be interested in getting in to writing or critiquing work some day but for me stand-up is just something I do because it’s fun. I love running this night, and I love seeing all these up-and-coming comics and I know in five years’ time I’ll be able to point at someone on TV and tell people about when they gigged for me in a pub basement. But when people ask why I have no interest in taking the stand-up any further, it’s pretty much because of all of this. Years of chasing promoters and begging for gigs and being thankful to anyone that will give you stage time… as fun as the endgame might be when you’ve got an agent to do all that for you and you just have to turn up and be funny… I’d never get through it.
I’ll just stick to trying to make things a little easier for the ones that do brave it, even if I can offer nothing more than a room, a mic and an audience.
January 24, 2010
Should have written this ages ago, but anyway, I’m promoting, running and MCing a new comedy gig in Leamington. I say new, it’s basically the old Reckless Moment gig, insofar as it’s in the same place, with the same aim, at the same time, and hopefully with the same awesome crowd.
Just now being run by me, and Tom and Pete kindly let me use the Reckless name.
Our first show is this Monday (Jan 25th) and the details are like this:
MONDAY 25th JANUARY
ROBBINS WELL, LEAMINGTON SPA
Doors 8.30pm, Comedy 9pm
Entry just £2
Comedy returns to the basement of Robbins Well in much the same state it used to be in, but a bit different. Same confectionery, fewer 80s music icons.
We kick off a run of shows on the 25th January with some awesome acts, bringing you some of the best funny people on the comedy circuit.
Possibly the funniest night out you can have in Leamington – please come along and tell all your friends.
January 06, 2010
It sounds pretty good, there’s still some hiss and a few annoying peaks, mostly as everything I learned about editing podcasts 18 months ago I’ve now forgot.
Show notes below, and apologies for neglecting the blog of late, am planning a “TV shows of the Decade” mega-feature, but need to decide what they are first.
All music by How To Swim