The last time I performed at Preston’s Beat The Frog (Gig 31) – just over a month ago – I had been left clueless (and a little despondent) at how I would approach it next time. I didn’t feel that I had the skill or the material to win the audience over with my current straight set. I conceived of four possible options:
1) Do it in character.
2) Don’t prepare any material and just see what happened.
3) Try and write a set of material that I thought they might like.
4) Just try my usual stuff again.
Interestingly, I didn’t have “don’t do it” as an option. Although I had questioned whether this particular night would be of any use to my development, I still hadn’t decided and thought the best way to find out would be to do it anyway. Of the options I did consider:
1) I would have quite liked to have tried Den Kodd (Gig 33 & Gig 36), but as there’s not really a back stage area, I wasn’t sure of the logistics of doing my “Den Kodd” hair and inserting his teeth without anybody noticing, and I didn’t want to lose the impact of his initial appearance.
2) Although I would like to try this at some point as an experiment, it felt too much like giving up, under the circumstances.
3) They say that you should just write stuff that you think is personally funny, but I did think of trying a different style as an experiment. I ran through some ideas of more observational stuff, and which bits of my existing material I might be able to convert. I soon gave up when I realised that everything just ended up in my usual style anyway.
4) Realistically, it was always going to be option 4, wasn’t it?
Basically, I looked through my material and tried to pick bits that weren’t too obtuse, leaving out bits that were, and making sure I framed it all by explicitly making clear that my act was like this on purpose. It had only been three weeks since my last straight stand up gig, but it felt like forever, and my material felt quite alien to me. As I tried to pick a set, I felt as if I had no material, and it was a horrible feeling, but I managed to concoct something that I was willing to try, even if I didn’t hold out much hope for success.
I didn’t feel great in the lead up to the night. It was perhaps the first gig I’ve done where I hadn’t had any enthusiasm for it beforehand. To make matters worse, my previous gig (Gig 37) hadn’t gone great and on the day of BTF I was hit with a wave of epic tiredness that made me just want to go home to bed. I knew I couldn’t do that, though, and got myself up to Preston.
The venue wasn’t as busy as last time – although still with a very healthy crowd in attendance – and I felt like I might have a better reception from those who were there. This was based purely on gut instinct from scanning a room, so I don’t know how valid an opinion it actually was. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I did have a better reception. They didn’t say how long I lasted, but it must have been over 4 minutes. Going off my timed run throughs, it could have been very close to five minutes. Close, but no cigar… although that’s not quite the full story. My set list for the night was:
1. “Stretched cat” – this is becoming a standard opener for me. It works as a joke, but also indicates the kind of material I’m going to do.
2. The “lawyer-advised” Joke Book variant. I’ve used the “joke book” in many forms. Essentially I’ve got a book full of lame jokes and I use the book as a device to get them over. On this occasion, I decided to address the fact that some people might not ‘get’ the opening joke – although I’m sure the vast majority did – specifically that it was supposed to appear to be going wrong and that I might do something else similar. By addressing this early on, I was hoping to give the audience confidence that any apparent mistakes were actually part of the act. I then suggested that my lawyer advised me to read out some pre-preapared jokes as a way of assuaging any fears they had about my competence. By doing this, I was able to use some easily recognisable jokes, but in a slightly unusual way.
3. ”Can’t fight the Moonlight” – now a regular bit.
4. Peter Andre – This was a brand new bit, which was just a throwaway one-liner that I thought of in work. It’s not spectacular, but I liked that it was very short and completely unrelated to anything else. Importantly, it got a laugh.
5. Arnie. This is the first time I’ve done the Arnie bit without immediately going into the “controversial incomplete joke” bit. I thought this would be a bridge too far and would almost certainly have gotten me gonged off.
6. “So she lost her job…” - another bit I’ve done a few times before. It seemed to go down OK.
7. One Day in Liverpool. This is the point that I got gonged off. I was going to go into my short play, and to do that I had get the microphone back in the stand. I’ve noticed with BTF that if a card or two are up and there’s anything approaching a pause\hesitation then the remaining cards shoot up, so I knew that this could be a key moment, especially as two cards were already up. I probably faffed about too much at this point – partly because when I’d done timed run throughs, it had been about 6 minutes to get to that point, so I hadn’t expected to have to do it – and the final card unsurprisingly was held up.
So, I was frogged off and I was, quite literally, a loser. Yet, it really didn’t feel like that. There were people who were in fits of laughter, and quite a few people came up to me afterwards to say how much they had loved it. Overall the reaction had seemed pretty good, despite the inevitable bunch of people who weren’t into it. It felt like a win.
I don’t entirely know what to make of it all. I’m still not entirely convinced about doing gong shows, but it at least showed that there is something for me to get out of them. Who would have thought it?