This is my final post about this week, for the full picture, please read: Gig 83, Gig 84 and Gig 85.
Sunday 18th 16:13
Phew, let’s get this final entry out of the way.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I decided to prepare my set list for Open for Laughs on my dinner break on the day of the gig. Since I’d decided to only blog about all this after the event, this actually gave me plenty of time to read through my notes and cobble together what I’d be doing. As the “On the bus” stuff was around 5 minutes long – and would be based on reading out tweets – it meant that I felt pretty confident in practicing the rest of the set on my drive home, and the drive over to Huddersfield. I also made sure that I had the set list written onto an index card (which I blu-tack to my dashboard), all my joke book jokes were written out and I’d printed out the other bits I needed.
By the time I got home from work, I was confident in my set, but also really tired. I planned on asking for an early spot and shooting off home during the interval. However, on arrival at the venue, I found out that half the acts had to get an early train and that I’d be on last. Luckily, the drive over, combined with getting myself up for the gig, had woken me up enough to not be a danger to myself on the drive home. I was also relaxed and looking forward to performing for what was a small but friendly audience.
The gig started out with a revelation from the audience about one of the other acts (I won’t mention what it was out of discretion), which created an air of awkwardness that took some time to shift. The act in question handled the situation as best he could under the circumstances and thankfully the gig moved on.
I was relaxed about performing beforehand, I think because the pressure of the last few days was off, and it was a nice opportunity to try out some new stuff. I wanted to use this sense of calm to really try and be in the moment whilst I was on stage. With this already in mind, I decided to make a significant change to my set, just minutes before going on. The act before me – who was doing a 5-minute spot – came on pretending to be midway through a phone call. Something about this entrance struck me as being too close to my out-of-breath ‘I’ve only just got here’ shtick that I usually open with. I instinctively felt I should change it and I realised that I simply drop the conceit and do my opening joke without it. Despite it being a last minute change, it actually only reinforced the relaxed attitude I already had. In this frame of mind, I decided to come on singing my new ‘personalised theme tune’, just to see how it felt.
As I found myself questioning my whole approach, I remembered a conversation I’d had with a friend (hello again, Tim) about the process of having a piece of material which is a response to an anticipated audience response, e.g. doing a joke that elicits a groan from the audience, and you having a response that references the groan. The discussion was about how a rookie mistake is to do the prepared bit even if the audience don’t react in the anticipated way. Now, this ‘mistake’ is something that I do when I segue from my opener to my ‘joke book’ bit, and I also do it during the ‘joke book’ itself. In my defence, I do know that the audience aren’t generally reacting in the way that I pretend they are, but this is on purpose as a stylistic choice. However, I did think it would be interesting to see what happened was I to actually try and deal with the actual reaction and that’s what I decided to do.
Here’s my set list and what happened:
Personalised Theme Tune – This was just me singing a popular chart hit, but replacing the words with my name. I also picked up a tea light from the table and held it aloft like I was at one of them pop concerts. It’s hardly a ground-breaking bit of comedy, but it felt a nice impromptu, relaxed way to start.
Revolutionary Era France – I decided to give this a go in place of my usual opening gag, “This really shifty looking bloke came up to me…”, as they’re pretty similar in structure (ridiculous shaggy dog story with pun-based punchline), and it’s been a while since I’ve done it. It’s actually one of the earliest bits of material of straight stand up that I had, but haven’t done it since Gig 49, at which I was trying it out as a one off because I hadn’t done it for a while. I was interested to see if my greater experience in performing would make it work better, and, thankfully, it did seem to help. I got plenty of laughs from the set up, and the punchline was suitably lame. Usually, I would pretend the audience didn’t get the joke and use this as a convoluted way of going into the joke book section. As the audience had clearly enjoyed the joke and got it, I just acknowledged this and said that I’d now do some jokes. It wasn’t the slickest thing I’ve ever done, but it was genuine.
Joke book – 3 new jokes, 1 relatively recent one, and one long standing one. I finished on the regular “Arnie Fancy Dress” joke, because I realised I could tie in another new bit to it…
My new catchphrase – I thought of a stupid catchphrase based on one of Arnie’s and this went down well at last month’s Magical Animals. Tying it into an Arnie joke helped it to make more sense and to justify its inclusion.
Stand Up Comedy Poem – As performed last month at Magical Animals (Gig 80) and The Beech (Gig 81). I really like this and it went pretty well. It was positioned here in the set for a reason you’ll find out shortly.
Moves Like… – A singing bit also from Gigs 80 & 81. Very silly and a nice filler.
US Style Stand Up – Again from Gigs 80 & 81. I really like this bit and it seems to go down really well, even though it seems a bit too niche.
(Flying without Wings) – I didn’t do this new bit.
Non-Impressions – I’ve done a couple of non-impressions (where I don’t do the celebrity’s voice, but I say something that I think they might say) over the last couple of months, and I combined them here. The first one (a popular TV chef) worked quite well, but more because of my explanation of it, than the thing itself. The second (an eccentric pop star) didn’t work, as it didn’t at this month’s Beech gig.
Vietnamese Tourist Jingle – I’m pretty sure I didn’t do this new bit.
(80’s Corner) – This was always going to be a maybe, but I decided not to bother as there were too many young people in the audience.
On the bus – I’d already done this twice this week, and had liked it as a piece. Tonight’s rendition was notable as it contains a callback to the Stand Up Comedy Poem I’d performed earlier on. I don’t usually do callbacks, so it really felt like it added an extra element to my set. Overall the section felt like it went on a bit too long and that it let the audience get a little too flat. It’s based on genuine tweets that I’ve made, and I think I should probably try and re-write some of them to gag it up a bit (and then I can obviously make reference to the bits that aren’t real, because, you know, I like doing that sort of thing). I noticed that I’d already done 12 minutes (of an 10-minute spot) at this stage, so I quickly wrapped up with…
Supermarket Poem – Not an explosive finale, but it works.
And that was me done. Overall, it went really well and I had a lot of fun with it. The Bus bit didn’t quite work, but it gave me plenty to think about. I was incredibly relaxed in performing and just took my time, and this felt like the most positive aspect. On top of this, I now have a bunch of extra material that I can use, and that’s never a bad thing.
The other notable aspect about this particular set was the realisation of how much of it was about comedy. I know that I often do stuff that refers to some of the tropes of stand up, but looking back it was staggering just how often I use that idea. I don’t know yet whether this is a good or a bad thing (or whether it’s actually neither good nor bad).
After a good night’s work, I drove home happy, looking forward to going to sleep and not worrying about what I’d have to do tomorrow.
Jerry Springer-style Final Thoughts
So, after writing the four mega-posts this week, I should probably try and reach some conclusions.
I love having my blogs as a creative outlet. I’m also really glad that I decided to keep a gig diary when I started to perform comedy. It’s an invaluable record of what I’ve done, what material I’ve used, where I’ve performed, and, hopefully, some of the things that I’ve learned. I also hope that from time to time, other fledgling comics, or those with an interest in comedy, will read the posts and take away something that is useful for them. If anything, writing the diary posts forces me to think about and organise my thoughts on what has happened, and this probably helps me glean more from the experiences than if I didn’t do the diary.
That said, choosing to write, what is now rapidly approaching, 8000 words during and about a week where I was already worrying about having too much on my plate was an act of madness. It’s fine now that it’s all over and I have an excellent record of what happened, but it was too much to take on and the week became so much easier when I decided not to complete up-to-date entries. Combining a full time job with being out every night, writing new material and, effectively, writing a lengthy essay, takes a lot of mental energy (the scientific part of my mind has just questioned the phrase ‘mental energy’, but I’m sticking with it because, frankly, I’ve expended too much mental energy this week to think of an alternative).
I do wonder how much easier the week would have been if it had been 4 regular 10-minute spots. I wouldn’t have had the stress of writing an entirely new act for one of the nights, I wouldn’t have been so on edge about trying to be a competent MC, and I wouldn’t have found so much to write about them. I’m sure it still would have been pretty tiring, but much more manageable. That said, I do like doing different things, and think it’s the best way to learn, so you can’t have your ball and eat it. Or something like that.
What have I learned? Well, firstly, that I was able to do it. Secondly, if you stop worrying and thinking about it all as much, it becomes easier. Another valuable lesson from earlier in the week was that if you have a new bit of material and it doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t going to work. You either have to find a way to make it feel right or not bother doing it. I’m sure I’ve learned other stuff, but it’s too late for me to trawl back through and work out what.
Some of you may remember my infamously pedantic post about gong shows (see here if you don’t, and make sure you read all the comments too), which was described as ‘frighteningly analytical’. I totally understand why someone would form that opinion, but it doesn’t really reflect how I felt about the subject. The process of writing about something forces you to look at it at a level of detail that you otherwise wouldn’t. My point is this: Don’t worry, I’ve not gone completely mad.
And that’s finally it. I’ve only got one gig next week, and it’s straight stand up, so it should be pretty easy to prepare for (famous last words). See you soon.