May 21, 2012 3 Comments
In the previous post of this series, I took a look back at my first ever gig. This time, I’ll look at the gigs that immediately followed and how these shaped my approach to my future performances.
In one 10-minute fell swoop (Gig 1), I was officially a performer (although, I’m not sure who or what makes it “official”). It might be reasonable at this point to ask what my aims\goals were going to be as a fledgling comic. Frankly, I didn’t have any. It seemed so unlikely that I’d be doing it in the first place that I didn’t even consider what my aims were. The closest thing I had to a goal was “keep doing it”, but even this is slightly disingenuous as from the second I’d done my first gig, it just seemed to become something that I would continue to do. I didn’t ask myself whether or not I would. I just would. As time has gone on, I’ve still not given myself any specific goals, other than trying to do a gig every week to make sure I don’t get rusty.
My second gig (Gig 2) came three weeks after the first and was at the Comedy Balloon; Manchester’s longest running open mic night. Like my first, it was also arranged for me by Vic, but, you’ll be glad to hear, after this I have learned to source my own gigs. The Comedy Balloon is a pretty standard open mic night, so I just assumed that I should do straight stand-up. This meant that I had to develop a whole new set for my 10-minute spot. Luckily, I had enough nonsense in my notebooks to cobble together 15 minutes or so of material and then I whittled this down to 10 that I thought might be passable. I also made sure that I practiced a lot, to make sure I didn’t cock up, and thankfully this paid off. The gig went really well and I got loads of compliments and positive feedback about it. Although I did mention this in my original write up of the gig, I felt reticent about doing so as I didn’t want to appear like I thought I was amazing or that I wouldn’t be dying on my arse very soon. It was really important to get this good gig in early, though, as it got me through a lot of indifferent and bad gigs. At least I knew I had made people laugh once, so there was at least the possibility of it happening again.
Gig 3 came just a few days later and was, once again, at SAS Comedy. Don’t worry, I’m not going to mention every gig, but there is a point to this. I had asked to do this gig again straight after the last once (I assumed that’s what you did), and didn’t think I could just do the same character again. I also had the urge to get the “pompous poet” character – which I originally had planned for Gig 1 – out of my system. So, that’s what I did. The gig went OK – I didn’t die, but it wasn’t spectacular – but the significant thing was that, without planning to do so, I’d performed completely different sets in each of my first three gigs. A pattern was emerging.
The next two gigs were straight stand up. Gig 4 was impromptu effort where I recycled some material from the Comedy Balloon (it went terribly). Gig 5 went a little better and was a mix of stuff I’d done before with a few new bits. We then come to Gig 6; the last nail in the coffin of my unnecessarily eclectic gigging strategy (tellingly, I also did an improve showcase (Gig 5a) and another pub quiz (Gig 5b) in this period). Someone I’d met through improv, Jackie Hagan, contacted me on Facebook and asked if I’d like to do a 4-minute spot at her night Magical Animals:
“ I run a spoken word night, the next one is on 12th July, tell me if you want to perform at it, it’s only a 4 min slot, comedy, poetry, anything spoken. “
Later in the conversation, she wrote:
“Oh and the last one was mostly poetry but you can do WHATEVER.”
I knew I was definitely going to do the night – there was no way I would turn a gig down – but I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d do. I considered doing straight stand up, but I couldn’t really work out how I could make the material I had work in a 4-minute spot. I was also conscious that if it was mainly poetry then just doing straight stand up might prove to be a little odd. I latched onto the “spoken word” aspect and thought about what stuff I’d written on my blogs that I might use. I have lots of short stories and nonsense on TWoS57 and it didn’t seem a stretch that I could pick something from there and give it a try. This idea really appealed to me as I had loads of (hopefully) funny material on the blog that wouldn’t really work as normal stand up. There was a chance for this to lead to a whole new type of material for me to use. It just so happened that some of the recent posts at the time were “short plays”, so I picked three of them and so had a “theme”. As it happens, I still use these plays – in different formats – to this day, so it proved a good decision.
I wondered, in my original diary post, whether this counted as an “official” gig or not, but I went with it and my fate was sealed. I decided to call this series of posts “A Year in Comedy” not “A Year in Stand Up” because I don’t just do stand up, and the turning point for this was Magical Animals. Along with SAS Comedy, it’s a night that I regularly do, and which I love. It’s interesting to note that M.A. has evolved to be anything but “mostly poetry” – it’s a haven for oddity – and I’d like to think that I played my part in that transformation. Apologies to anybody who enjoyed it as a “mostly poetry” night.
It was at this stage that I entered a period of indifferent\bad gigs. This didn’t worry me per se. I was getting to a point where being on stage seemed something I actually did, and I expected things to get harder as I started to learn what I was doing. What did concern me was I couldn’t work out what, if anything, I was learning from the experience. I’d come away from a gig which had gone OK, but I didn’t even know what OK meant. I had trouble judging which bits had gone well\badly, let alone why they had gone well\badly or what I could do to improve things. In hindsight, I think I was expecting too much and was frustrated by the lack of tangible ‘lessons’. This expectation is probably due to the way my brain works. After a performance I expected to be able to quantify exactly what progress (or not) had been made: “I said thing A, which got a laugh of magnitude X. The last time I did it I paused for T seconds when delivering the punchline and on that occasion it generated a laugh of magnitude 1.5X”. In essence, I’m a geek. The reality is that the lessons aren’t necessarily conscious and the act of continually repeating something incrementally changes something in your brain until the ‘lessons’ work their way in via osmosis. As such, it can be difficult to sum up what I’ve learned, other than practice makes perfect (or, more accurately, practice makes you better than you were when you were totally shit). Suffice to say, everything I’ve done has been a learning experience. This includes Gig 8a, which was so poorly attended that it didn’t actually count as a gig at all.
And that’s nearly it for this time. The final thing I’ll mention is why I haven’t gone into what it’s like to die on stage, when it clearly happened to me in this period. As I mentioned above, I expected for gigs to go badly at this stage as I had no idea what I was doing. I think it will be more interesting to discuss what it’s like to die when you’re not expecting to.
Stay tuned for that little gem.