To use a sporting cliché, last month’s Beech Inn Comedy Night (Gig 84) was a game of two halves. The opening section suffered from me trying to cram in my pre-prepared material, but the later bits went much better as I relaxed and concentrated on what was happening in the room. It would have been stupid of me to not take something away from the experience, and I decided that this month I’d try and be less prepared and more in the moment from the start.
That’s not to say that I didn’t do any preparation. I think it’s a good idea to have something to fall back on, and there was also the matter of my regular monthly report. I came up with 6 new ‘joke book’ jokes, some ‘contingency questions’ (daft questions to ask the audience should ‘Where are you from? What do you do for a living?’ not work) and the obligatory monthly report. I also decided to write the first chapter of the Donnie Hotlips biography (read it, here). Donnie was the name I gave to an audience member last month, along with an accompanying back story (he was a drummer in a 1970s rock band). It was far from guaranteed that he’d be back this month, but it didn’t take that long to write and I thought it would be a nice surprise if he did show up.
I was nervous on the afternoon of the gig, which is a recurring theme for these Beech gigs. It’s not something that really happens in the build up to standard gigs, but when you’re MCing there’s the double whammy of a) knowing you’re going to have to improvise most of your stuff and b) you have the responsibility of ensuring the night runs well. As the MC, you aren’t expected to be the funniest performer on the night, but you do have to make sure that the audience know what’s expected of them and that they are suitably warmed up enough to enable the acts to be successful. It’s not an easy job, but luckily it’s extremely rewarding and enjoyable when it goes well.
In the lead up to the gig, I thought about different approaches that I could take. It struck me that if I was going to be MCing in character as Terry Dowling then I probably wouldn’t be as nervous; I’d feel confident that I’d be able to deal with the improvisation stuff and organisation more easily. As I wasn’t MCing as Terry, I don’t know for sure if that was true, but it was still an interesting observation. I tried to use this as a psychological trick to convince myself that I needn’t be so nervous, after all I am Terry. This technique proved semi-successful. As I would be primarily making stuff up, I wouldn’t really be able to rehearse, but on the drive over to Chorlton I started to talk out loud in a stream of consciousness, to warm myself up.
Unlike previous months, the night had 4 acts plus the headliner, meaning that I didn’t need to fill one of the spots entirely with the monthly report. My report was split into two halves: the first was a unsuccessful explanation of Bonfire Night (read it, here), the second being some “Radio 4 style topical jokes” to make up for the fact that the first part of the report was rubbish The plan was to split the two parts between the first two sections of the gig.
I was still a bit anxious as the gig was about to start, but it was good to see some familiar faces. If people were coming back then I couldn’t be that terrible as MC. Just as I was going to kick things off Donnie Hotlips and his wife made an appearance. At this point I got a bit over excited, and pretty much started the gig with the story. I think it worked quite well, but I really should have let things go a bit longer and built up to it. I then quite quickly went into the joke book, where again I should probably have eased into it. With both of these out of the way – and at some point making the decision to leave the report to the second section – I was left with having to improvise.
From this point on, I find it really hard to judge how I did. Some bits worked nicely, but I’m not sure I fulfilled all of my roles and responsibilities adequately. As compere, you need to do admin: explaining the format of the night and laying down ground rules for the audience. I sloppily explained the format, but completely forgot about the rules. I got away with this because there were lots of regular audience members, and the audience is generally lovely. If I was compering elsewhere, this would have looked amateurish and it could prove costly if you don’t make sure the audience are all singing off the same hymn sheet. Also, some of my introductions for acts were clunky, which I made reference to and light of , but I hope that the acts didn’t think I was being purposefully disrespectful. I also don’t know if there were times when I brought acts on when there was a bit of a lull; it’s really hard to judge when you’re so wrapped up in the moment.
With the negatives out of the way, I should probably mention some of the stuff that went well. I felt comfortable with my on-stage persona and was pleased that I didn’t get bogged down when stuff didn’t work and just had the confidence to go with it. I didn’t have to resort to the contingency questions, instead I got plenty of mileage from asking about how prepared people were for Christmas. I managed to get a few audience members involved. Aside from Donnie, there was also Helen and her boyfriend Mr Loverman. I ended up acting out being a door-to-door charity worker with two friends called David – eventually nicknamed Cruel David and Nice David – and I practiced some rubbish chat-up lines on a young lady called Cat. I had a lot of fun, and hopefully this came across to the audience.
I opened the second section by explaining that the monthly report was too rubbish to read out, but that I’d do my Radio 4 jokes instead. I’d written these by looking through Wikipedia’s November 2012 summary, taking individual bits of news and trying to add a stupid tagline. These jokes were generally quite poor, and, because most news is distressingly tragic, some were really inappropriate. I wanted to make a thing out of being embarrassed of the inappropriateness and my inability to do this type of material. The jokes in full were:
Who shot JR? No one. He sadly died of …ahem… complications of throat cancer.
On November 3rd, the city of Turin, Italy, was chosen as 2015 European Capital of Sport. Critics say that the decision is shrouded in mystery.
Two suicide bombers attacked a restaurant in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and a security guard is killed in the attack. Apparently their soup was cold…
During the Syrian civil war, 7 Generals defected to Turkey. The rest decided to stick with the chicken.
Celtic shocked Barcelona in the 2012–13 UEFA Champions League group stage. They used one of them hand buzzer things.
Phillip Schofield handed David Cameron a list of suspected sex offenders live on This Morning. Let’s hope it included the guy who had his hand up Gordon the Gopher’s arse.
The president of the Central African Republic François Bozizé ordered the detention of his son after he refuses to pay a hotel bill. The son claims he definitely didn’t watch Council Estate Slags 4: Suck My Turkey Twizzler.
Following Israel’s recent assault on Gaza, some footballers sign a letter of condemnation against plans to hold the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship in Israel next summer. Gaza said: “Wie eye, that’s cannie nice of them.”
A freight train derailed at the Stuttgart-Feuerbach station, Germany, after a collision with the railway platform. There were no reports of injuries, but the platform was said to be badly shaken.
A committee charged with developing a new Egyptian constitution released a final draft as protests against sweeping new powers granted to President Mohamed Morsi continue. Protesters claim that the floors don’t need to be that clean.
Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo announced that Hurricane Sandy ran up a bill of $32 billion in New York. It was very much like a meteorological Brewster’s Millions.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he backed the principles of the Leveson Inquiry’s recommendations, but has “serious concerns and misgivings” about introducing any new legislation to underpin a regulatory body to oversee the media. What a twat.
I started with the JR joke but I really didn’t sell the concept of the section well enough, so it just looked like I was making a horrible, cheap joke. At this point I decided to just pick and choose a few of the less contentious gags, and ended with the David Cameron, as it had a crowd pleasing ‘punchline’. By the time I’d finished this section, it was time to bring on the acts, and I didn’t have that much more to do.
Overall, it was a great night, with some really good acts: Chris McIlroy, David Tandy, Gunther, Zoe Iqbal and brilliant headliner Peter Brush. I’ve still got so much to learn as an MC, but it’s great to have such a lovely gig to practice at, and have a lot of fun as I do it.