As this was my ninth consecutive month compering at The Beech Inn, I was a little surprised to be feeling physically nervous on the drive over. It’s strange because I don’t generally suffer from nerves, but they do crop up from time to time for no discernible reason. That said, I am more prone to them when MCing, because, to a large extent, you don’t know what you’re going to say when you get on stage.
My method of quelling the butterflies was to start singing and shouting as I drove. Sure, I must have looked a complete knob to my fellow motorists, but it was a good way of expelling my anxious energy. As always, I felt calm by the time I arrived at the venue (which is weird in itself), and I was looking forward to the gig.
As the weather has been so nice, I was a little concerned how many people would turn up, but I needn’t have worried as there was actually a larger audience than usual. There were a healthy number of regulars in attendance, plus a large group of obvious newcomers. The room was full and there was a lively atmosphere, so it boded well for a good night.
I wasn’t too sure what to do when compiling the running order for the night. As usual, the night was split into three sections. There would be two acts in the first, my monthly report and another act in the second, followed by Ruth E. Cockburn doing an Edinburgh preview in the third. Two of the acts – Les Kershaw and Andy Mannion – had only done a handful of gigs between them, whilst the third was lovely Lee Moore. In many ways it would have made sense for me to put Lee on first, as it can be tough spot for a brand new act. But I also felt that since there would only be one act in the second section that it would make sense for Lee to go there. In the end I went for Les to open – as she had some friends coming to support her, and had 10 minutes of material – followed by Andy who’d be doing 5 minutes, and then Lee in the second section. I don’t know if I did the right thing here or not. Probably not, but, fortunately, it didn’t work out badly.
Remembering a lesson learned last month (Gig 109) – where I’d tried to cram in loads of prepared material right at the start – I decided to ease myself in with some general nonsense and audience interaction. I asked early on how many people hadn’t been to the night before, and it was a large proportion of the audience. Since Les had said she had friends coming to support her, I asked how many of the newbies were there to support an act. It was all of them. At this point, it confirmed that I was right not to start with material. As many of the audience knew each other they were a bit too chatty and I was able to take a bit of time to get everyone settled down and ready for the acts. Once I felt comfortable, and that they were on side, I tried out some new jokes. They were my typical convoluted groaners, but the audience seemed to go with them and take them for what they were.
As Les was first on, the crowd didn’t need much encouragement and she had them in the palm of her hand throughout her set, before leaving to a rapturous response. I had another tricky decision to make here. Generally if an act has done well, it’s fair practice to bring the next act on straight away; they’re already warmed up, so there’s nothing for you to do (if anything you could actually bring the mood down by trying to squeeze in your own ‘funnies’). The exception to this (and this is only from advice I’ve read online about MCing, rather than from personal experience) is that if an act has stormed it, then you should give some breathing space to let things calm down a bit as the previous act is “unfollowable”. I decided that bringing Andy on straight away would be the lesser of two evils – the audience were really receptive and I thought it was best to bring him on with so much energy in the room. Again, this wasn’t necessarily the correct decision, but I did what I thought was best in the moment. Andy managed to get plenty of laughs from his one-liners and did really well for what was only his second gig.
I started the second section off with a bit of chat before launching into The Donnie Hotlips Story: Chapter 7 - a fictional biography of one of the night’s regulars. It must have been utterly baffling for the newcomers (this chapter saw Donnie approached by an alien to save his planet using his drumming prowess), but seemed to work pretty well. I followed this up with my Monthly Report about May 2013. It wasn’t one of my stronger ‘reports’ and perhaps I’m getting a bit tired of the format. It’s nice to have a regular piece to do, but it’s also tough to squeeze them out. That said, I think the process of having to write something regularly to a set format is probably a really good skill to have. Perhaps I’ve just become a bit complacent in churning them out and need to plan my time a little better to allow me to do a couple of drafts on them.
And that was pretty much my work done, as I only had to do a brief introduction for Ruth in the final section. All in all, it was an enjoyable night and the audience really seemed to appreciate all the acts. Compering is hard work – the closest comedy feels to having a real job – but when it goes well it’s incredibly enjoyable and rewarding.