Gig 8a: On The Funny Side @ Pulse, Manchester – 28th July 2011
July 29, 2011 12 Comments
Well, I still don’t quite know what to make of last week’s gig; I think the main problem was that I didn’t feel like I’d learned anything from the experience and that’s really worrying. I understand that there are going to be ups and downs at this stage, but even if it doesn’t go to plan you hope that you can take something away from every gig. Maybe I’m just asking too much and should just accept that some gigs are going to be so-so. Anyway, with another imminent gig to prepare for I had no chance to dwell on it, which is probably a good thing. I quickly came up with my set for this week:
1) Another new opener – not exactly starting with a quick joke, but it gets to the point much quicker than previous attempts.
2) Bits 2) and 3) from Gig 8, which usually more or less work.
3) Retrying the second 3 minutes of new stuff from Gig 7 – after the first 3 minutes didn’t work so well last week.
4) A different one of my “short plays” from Gig 6 than what I performed at Gig 8.
5) The closing bit from Gig 5\Gig 8 which generally works.
Aside: I am self aware enough to know that these set lists are abstract in the extreme and will only make sense to me and anyone who has seen all of my gigs, i.e. Me. They’re there partly as a reminder to me about what I did, but also to illustrate how many changes I make. It’s not like I’m going to transcribe my material is it? If I did then I’d lose even the element of surprise, which might be the only thing I have going for me.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about this week relates to my persona when performing. I realise that I’ve not really mentioned in any of my gig reports what my style or content is when doing straight stand up. Partly that’s because I don’t know how to describe it, and partly because it’s a bit embarrassing to do so. Much of my material is pretty daft – I’m definitely not observational or someone who talks about themself. Because I wasn’t really sure how to present the puns\stupid wordplay, I dressed it up as a series of stupid stories and a non-specific character who tends to make (deliberate) mistakes and do bits that (intentionally) don’t quite work. My intention has been to ride this out and hopefully eventually get from the non-specific character to an exaggerated version of myself. I’ve been thinking about it more this week after an e-mail exchange with a fellow comic (am I allowed to use the phrase “fellow comic” yet?).
Anyway, whilst working out how to adapt bit 3) from the list above to work without the proceeding 3 minutes, I stumbled across a change in tone – adding bits with a different bit of attitude that seemed to work better and put more meat on the bones of what I had. This change seems to have filtered through to my other material when I’ve been practicing. Admittedly, this is quite a subtle shift and may not be apparent to any one other than me, especially when I have to perform it in public. It’s also quite possible that my re-tooled bit 3) might fall totally flat. So, I thought I would write about this before the gig, so that if it doesn’t go well then I will remember that it feels like a move in the right direction.
I’ll be back in the next paragraph to tell you how it went.
So, you may have noticed that this is listed as gig “8a” and not gig 9, which is strange given the whole “pre-gig” build up that I gave it. The reason for this will become apparent.
The venue was Bar Pulse, scene of the less than successful gig 7. I arranged it last week, but when I spotted the line up listed on the bar’s Facebook page - yesterday tea time - I wasn’t on it. I emailed the organiser and he got back to me at 18:50 to say that I was still ok to perform.
I got to the bar about half eight and it seemed that Danny Sutcliffe – who I assumed was the regular MC - was nowhere to be seen and I didn’t recognise anybody else, so I wasn’t sure who to speak to. If I was less of an idiot, I would have sought out Rich – the organiser – and asked, but I wouldn’t be the loveable socially awkward idiot that you all know and tolerate if I were to do something like that. So, when everyone went downstairs, I followed and assumed that I’d catch up with whoever had the running order. Plus, you know, I had e-mail confirmation from less than two hours prior that I would be performing, so I’m not a complete moron.
This would have been a fine plan had the MC not started pretty much as soon as he got down there. There weren’t loads of people in attendance, but there were enough to make the gig work. Only, it turned out that the bulk of the audience were a bunch of French students. I’ve certainly not got anything against the French, but making wordplay and cultural references work is an uphill battle with an audience whose first language isn’t English.
There were a couple of acts in the first section, and when the second had finished, the break was announced by Rich because the MC had left. I don’t know why he left or even what his name was, but it was a sign of things to come. Anyway, as everybody filed out to get a drink, I went over to the table where I had spotted the running order…I wasn’t on it. Nightmare.
As it transpired, I needn’t have worried. Not only had most of the other names on the running order not shown up, but the audience pretty much all left. Those who remained – me, AJ Johnston and another fledgling comic (whose name I didn’t quite catch because I’m rubbish) – conspired to arrange the second half. AJ would introduce the other comic – but then he had to leave- and then other comic would introduce me.
Let’s cut to the chase, I performed for the unnamed comic, his friend – who was a lovely young German lady – and a guy who was a random bar patron – who also happened to be German. That is why this “gig” will forever more be known as 8a.
I could have just said that I didn’t want to do it – it really, really wouldn’t have mattered – but at worst I could view it as a kind of dress rehearsal. In the end, it was quite a weird experience, but I did learn a few things from it so it wasn’t as completely mental as it would first seem.
Firstly, there was a lot of conversation going on. As soon as I started, our two German cousins discovered they had a shared homeland and had a bit of a chat about it. It seemed churlish to interject under the circumstances. There was also quite a bit of chat directed at me. You couldn’t really categorise it as heckling because they were just making conversation. This seriously disrupted my flow in some sections, but this is probably a good thing. I’ve not had to deal with hecklers as yet, and this was about as friendly an introduction to people derailing your set as you’re going to get.
I also learned a few things about bits of my material. My opening line was a question – but one that I don’t want answering until I’ve done my “hilarious” spiel (I know I’m cagey about revealing material, but let’s just say that my opening was WW2 themed and two thirds of my tiny audience were German. Thanks, Fate). Well, if you ask people a direct question then they’re going to answer. I know, it’s obvious if you stop and think about it for a nanosecond. If I were to use that opening again then I’d have to rephrase it so that I didn’t prompt a response until I wanted it, or to deal with the response and then interject my spiel in later so that it worked.
I also did one of my “plays” – a different one to last week, because last week’s didn’t go as well as expected. Each “play” fits onto a side of A4 and I produce the A4 sheet when performing because I felt it fitted the character, not because I don’t know the words. I practice my set when I’m driving and so can’t read it, so it ends up being loosely improvised around the basic structure, which actually improves it. The weird thing is that if I perform it with the paper in hand then I end up not only reading it but becoming reliant on it. I actually forget the bits, even though I’ve performed it loads on my own without. The paper must go. Or, as the audience member shouted out: “stop reading!”
When you perform in front of three people then its unlikely that they’re going to be rolling in the aisles – especially when they interupt your punchlines with questions – but I could have been the unfunniest man alive. Under the circumstances, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. If I was a different type of comedian then I could probably turn last night into a routine, but I’m not. It’s a shame. A real shame.