Monday, 14 November 2016
Monday, 31 October 2016
Monday, 17 October 2016
Sunday, 21 August 2016
14TH AUGUST 2016 - SHOW 11
Went to watch a load of shows today. I am feeling buoyant and inspired and upbeat. I have eaten two lots of sushi and a significant amount of coffee.
An absolute debacle from start to finish.
There is a palpable lack of traction from the off. There is a strong resistance in sections of the audience to even BEING an audience. In the front row, stage left, there are three older middle aged people. They clearly think that coming here was a mistake almost before I open my mouth. They keep looking at each other in a “What is this?” way. They seem to holding a conversation by staring daggers at each other and periodically me.
They will become a running sore throughout the gig but like communism I stupidly try to contain it.
My second routine, about vitamin D, gets interrupted by some distraction, that I can't now remember, and I judge it not worth going back to. I decide to bring forward a routine from later in the show but this just further bewilders the audience.
I have moments where I try to chat to the audience to bring them in but I am not sure if this is a mistake because it breaks up the rhythm and for what benefit exactly?
I have a section in the show where I list as many vodkas as I can remember. It works on the audacity and tedium. Some nights I list about 50 vodkas. If I can deliver it correctly it the laughter builds up. Tonight the laughter does not build up. Generally if people are enjoying the show they will enjoy it more at this point. Conversely if they are not enjoying it they will enjoy it less. Tonight as many of them are already hating it, well, this finally breaks the audience but not in the way I intended.
About ten people leave at this point and finally the three people at the front leave. It is only now that I realise that one of them is on crutches. He leaves very slowly and it is a long room. So he storms out at a snails pace. I cannot have dead air forever. At some point I have to talk and so I start commenting on it. And It becomes really funny. Certainly the highlight of the gig. I have to strike a balance. I cannot mock the afflicted too much. But neither can I pull my punches. He looks in bewilderment at the humour. Why has it got funny now that he is leaving? Is this some elaborate trick being played on him? I certainly hope this episode melts his brain.
I adlibed for around five minutes on this. I am not sure this is the right thing to do. It does relieve the tension but it comes too late in the show and is in many ways an admission that, with fifteen minutes to go, the show is effectively over.
I don’t think I have ever tried to bludgeon an audience into liking a show as much as this before. I kept thinking I could break them up until the vodka stuff and then that was it clear that they intended to break me.
I think I may be going deaf too. After the show some audience members complained that they were constantly distracted by the talking of the three people in the front row. I couldn’t even hear them talking and could only feel their hate waves. With hindsight I should have given them the opportunity to leave and that would have lanced that particular boil. I thought I could play to the rest of the audience and ignore them and to be honest I was kind of getting off on them hating it too. But I guess in non ticketed shows you should sometimes let them go.
May have been over caffenaited too. At times my tone was sounding a bit over aggressive with audience member and this wasn’t intentional.
Pretty much stuck to time today so despite absence of laughter I did keep to my rhythm. Am I supposed to take any solace from this whatsoever?
Made more money in the bucket today per head than any other show in the run? What does that mean?
Monday, 7 December 2015
There are two acts in this section. I am the second act and the first act has done very well. I feel a flicker of apprehension. I really do wonder if I will be able to top that. I try to keep my mind blank before I go on. I just think about how I will walk on stage. I have scrawled the word “face” on my hand in biro. It is to remind myself to do something or not to do something with my face.
I walk on stage and the mere act of walking gets people laughing. I wish I can remember what it is that I am doing right? I pause looking at them, this just gets more laughter. It feels the perfect comedic moment unsullied by jokes. Any talking or material will just ruin the whole thing. Perhaps I should do this for twenty minutes? I think they are laughing at what they image I will say. And I don’t think anything I will actually say can ever be funnier than what they imagine I will say. It is going really well but I am already in a quandary. How do I start my act? I don’t think I have ever had this sensation on stage before. I am hemmed in by expectation. I have set up some character that is unfulfillable. I know I have to do some transition before I can start the material or it will jar. I soften the persona. I do something with my face, not sure what it is exactly, but it indicates to them a change in gear. It works. The material lands really well and the gig is already at maximum output. I can’t see how it is possible for it to go better from here? This is not an ideal situation because there is no room to build. At best it can only flatline from here on…or dip.
I think the trick is to convince yourself it is never going as well as it actually is. That way I try harder. Fight for every bit of material, reach for every punchline, avoid cruising. It is human nature to ease off when it is going well and I have to over ride all of that instinct to conserve resources. That is how I can stop complacency creeping in. But it is impossible to not acknowledge it is going really well and I can feel myself taking my foot off the gas a bit. I am telling myself not to do it but it is happening. My inner animal is saying “what are you doing? This is going well enough, take it easy.” I am up against the limits of my will power. I am trying to over ride my sensory input, ego etc. I wish I was a Kung-Fu expert. Then I could master myself. The audience are such big laughters that it is also effecting my rhythm. I have to wait a bit to drop the next bit in and this expose the facade of it all. I am trying to give the illusion that this is all a musing but now it is revealed as a serious of set up and punchlines.
The first ten minutes are at full tilt. Maximum energy. There is little room to go anywhere further. I have mined this approach for all it is worth. I could continue in this vein like a bloated lottery winner coasting towards death. It is going too well and I am in danger of becoming unplugged from the gig and phoning it in while my mind thinks about something else. Christmas presents? Charlie Brown and Snoopy? I have to make things more difficult for myself, take a gamble, put myself on the line. I switch into a newer bit of material about God being autistic. I am less familiar with this routine material than my older stuff. This is a good call. I am less comfortable about it and I am taking a risk. It is forcing me to think each step through. The quality of the laughter seems to change as if it is more engaged with what I am saying whereas the earlier stuff felt more pavlovian response. To be honest it is not that much of a risk at all but it is all relative, compared to the start it is more off piste.
I am now around the fifteen minute mark, I have to think about wrapping things up. I have a number of options to choose from. I decide to talk about “Having sex for the first time” I have done this routine many times and sometimes I use it to close but tonight it’s choice proves to be an error. It is usually a universal and accessible piece so I don’t know why they don’t go for this as much? There has been a lot of material about sex tonight. Indeed my routine has been sex heavy. Possibly the audience feel it is going over old ground? Maybe it doesn’t sit well with my other choice of material? Perhaps I mismanage the link into? Possibly it is some unrelated performance issue or maybe the audience are tiring now? This section has been going on for fifty minutes now.
Whatever is the gig noticeably sags at this point. Noticeably to me. I don’t know that the audience notice at all? I am hyper-sensitive to these things. I am forced to switch tactically to something else to end on. It picks up the pace but perhaps I am now dining out on past glories. It works but gives the set an odd, deformed shape. The audience response is generous at the end but I feel strangely depressed.
I would be interested to know what a harsh audience would have made of this.
Thursday, 26 November 2015
GAGGING FOR LAUGHS - CARSHALTON, SURREY
Friday 20th November 2015
This is a packed social club attached to a sports club in Surrey. In many ways I have come home.
Central Scotland is doted with similar venues: bowling clubs, football clubs, rugby clubs, cricket club, British Legions. Most of the patrons never participate in the sports. Rather it is a chance to enjoy subsided alcohol prices, amidst unfashionable furnishings and petty bureaucracy. Many times as a child, I was parked in the corner of a room like this with a packet of crisps and half pint of cola and expected to “get on with it”, whatever it was? I should know how to play a room like this. The energy certainly feels a familiar one.
I am offered a complementary cornish pasty before I go on stage but the pasty feels heavy. I put it aside for afterwords as I fear eating it will change my centre of gravity and cause a sluggish performance. The first act has gone down well and the audience seem a high energy one, I have high hopes for this gig.
Is there such a thing as a front row that laugh too much? I wouldn’t have thought so but here we are. For the first few minutes I thought I might be in trouble. After the reception the first act received I found the response under whelming. I really thought I had my work cut out but now it turns out, I DO have my work cut out but in an entirely different way. The front row are on board, they are big laughers. They could have been hand picked for optimum performance. They comprise a cast of every individual type of audience member you could want. They are the perfect and that is their problem. The very fact that they are enjoying it so much seems to make it a private gig exclusively for them. Ideally their laughter should spread through the room but instead it erects some kind of barrier between them and the rest of the audience. They are an obstacle to be surmounted. In an attempt to connect with the back of the room I am forced to try harder. But this trying harder just makes the front row enjoy it even more. And this enjoying it even more results in the rest of the audience feeling even more disconnected. The room is long and deep. It is getting longer and deeper. I am pretty sure I can see the curvature of the earth now. Maybe the people further back are enjoying it? I cannot really tell. It is the ten minute mark now and I can feel the audience really start to separate into two distinct gigs. There is the front row and their private corporate gig and there is the rest of them apparently enjoying it on television.
There is a woman on the front row with red hair who now reaches some kind of tipping point. She gets into hysterics. She laughs at a segue between material. Not a punchline. Not a set up, a segue. It no longer matters what I say. She is just is in hysterics. It may seem a compliment but I find it mildly insulting. Is this laughter at me or with me? Does it really matter? This may seem a nice problem to have, and it is, but it is still a problem none the less. The hysterical laugher is no respecter of rhythm. The usual call and response between performer and audience is shot to pieces. The audience equivalent of the car alarm. And any attempt to tackle her hysteria just fuels it further. She is probably embarrassed and in her case embarrassment induces hysterics. She is stuck in vicious circle of mirth. She is as much victim here as anyone. But this problem peaks the interest of the rest of the audience and I sense an opportunity. For a few moments this becomes the gig: my attempts to quell one hysterical woman. I really am trying to work out how best to deal with this and I let the audience in on my dilemma. I have to park the material for awhile, I can’t ignore this problem. I do have fun here and I noticeably take the energy down and make the whole delivery more relaxed, giving the impression that the gig is sort of suspended as I mull over this particular problem. I find the way forward here is to pretend that this is a really big problem, that it is somehow beyond me, that I find it an imposition to have to even deal with it in the first place and furthermore it isn’t really my job to deal with it. Basically it is the British customer service option. This works well but I still have a several false starts getting back into material. She is still going off on her own. The audience are an orchestra, I am the conductor and this woman is an errant violin playing her own composition. This for me is the best part of the gig but I don’t feel totally in control of it here. There is something going on underneath that I can’t quite fathom. Perhaps my perplexity adds to the humour. This incident gels the audience and I feel that the gig needed it. Did I will it in some subconscious way?
I feel I did a good job there but not one member of the audience approaches me afterwards to say that they enjoyed it. As I walk amongst them at the interval they seem a bit nonchalant. I therefore am forced to conclude, that empirically, I didn’t do a good job.
I listen to the tape afterwards. It went better than I thought it did at the time.
Wednesday, 18 November 2015
Blog 6th November 2015 - The Hideaway Streatham
This Friday night club has a warm and civilised crowd consisting mainly of couples or family groups. The venue is primarily a music venue and a live soul band are playing elsewhere in the building. The audience have been warm and appreciative all night. Just before I am brought on a man enters the room on his own and starts to heckle. If there is such a thing as an old man hipster then this man is it. He sits down, heckles, then realises he wants a drink, so he gets up and walks to the bar and gets a beer while continuing to chip in. There is something about this wandering about that really gets my goat. There is a cockiness about it, as if he owns the place. I have rarely seen a heckler so relaxed (perhaps he really does own the place?) He doesn’t seem drunk, just full of himself. Nether does he seem deluded in anyway - like he thinks he is helping. I get the impression he knows exactly the impact he is having. He wanders about and heckles with detached interest like a kid torturing an insect. I could see this guy take the gig down merely as a social experiment. It is now that two emotions start simultaneously. The first disappointment. Disappointment that the lovely gig I had been promised by fate will not now be mine. The second: a swelling anger at the future direction this gig is about to take. I can already smell the soured atmosphere that will be unleashed during my set as I clash with this guy and fail to contain my contempt. The compere reads the heckler the riot act and he shuts up for the time being. But this is surely only a holding position.
The stage is very wide. Too wide. When I take the mic out of the stand and walk with the stand to the edge of the stage I don’t know when to stop. If I walked to the literal edge of the stage, it would take too long and I would have turned into a physical comedian. I have to plank the mic down where I arbitrarily decide the edge of the stage is going to be. The start is sluggish and it doesn’t quite connect, I don’t know if I have done anything wrong or they are just getting used to me. I do adjust the delivery, injecting a bit more energy and now it seems to land better. Things start to build gradually but steadily. Even within two minutes I am throwing in some new lines so it must be going reasonably well. The momentum continues to build. The women are particularly enjoy it. There is one woman who has a noticeable laugh and this injecting more energy into the crowd. Rolling laughter is now picking up. Each routine is building on the laugh. By the five minute mark I am thinking that this could become an exceptional gig if I continue to build upon it. At the end of the dentist routine I deliver the final punchline and the heckler chips in and tags it. He isn’t funny but it never the less cuts the energy out of the routine. He is very calm as it chips it in. A sort of sniper heckle. It ruins my punchline but in a very specific way. I try to tackle him in a more conventional way, stating that his heckle wasn’t funny. But I don’t think that was the point and neither do the audience. I am irritated by him and it shows. There is a bit of an atmosphere. I marvel how the warmth and energy of a few seconds previously is now dissipating. I can see this turning ugly. Not really aggressive just majorly awkward. For a few seconds I am not sure how to handle this and then I know what to do or I accidentally do the right thing and build from there, who knows? I think it was a conscious decision? I switch to congratulating the heckler, apparently sincerely, for taking the momentum out of the gig, for preventing me from resting on my laurels. I hate comedians cruising on previous energy, I tell the audience, cheats, charlatans, every one of them. This is now getting traction. There is an American woman in the audience. I now bring her in, berating American comedy for not having similar in-built hurdles for the comedians to overcome. Now the momentum is building so I just continue, saying that I hate doing material and that I prayed to God something like this would happen so I could get out of doing it. In a way everything I am saying is true. I am basically offering a commentary of what is actually happening although sometimes flipping my attitude: saying that I am happy with something that I am clearly not happy about. But other times it is just straight forward candid admission. I am now pushing at an open door. I wonder how long I can run with this? It has been approximately three minutes. I muse aloud of the problems of getting back into material after a prolonged ad-libbing section. This is of course true. I know that the window of opportunity, to switch back into material, is narrowing. I am debating with myself whether to go into material at all now. I feel I could ad-lib indefinitely but perhaps another ten minutes is a stretch? I worry about the absence of any shape in a prolonged riff. Soon I will pass the point of no return where the rhythm of the ad-libbing will jar too much with scripted stuff. I decide to go back to material but that is a decision of the head not of the heart. I would dearly love to keep winging this to see where it takes me. Even at this point it already feels a leap to get back to material. I have to go back to material but ad-lib a bit about the absurdity of going but to a routine from 5 minutes ago. This softens the landing and then I go back in. And it is fine but I never quite regain the momentum of the early set. I spend the remainder of the time regretting my decision to return to written material. I don’t know if this regret is justified. I never will but it feels like a cop out on some level and a wasted opportunity.
The Heckler buys me a pint of lager. He plonks it down in a slightly cocky manner. He gives it to me in front of the other acts. He fails to offer them a drink. This is like when a punter compliments one act in front of the other acts and fails to say anything to the others but only ten times worse.
I don’t even want the drink. I offer it to the other acts. They don’t want it either. It is as if has been tainted by the heckler. I drink it. I don’t enjoy it. It gives me a headache. I go home.
Later at home I listen back to the recording. I can hear the note of annoyance in my initial exchanges with the heckler that I had to overcome before I really started taking him on. Perhaps of more note however is that the highlight for me is not now the ad-lib section at all. Listening back the best bit is the early section of my set prior to the heckler. This is the bit that really crackled and felt alive. And while I was loving the ad-libbing at the time, now that I listen back I feel that the set could have been really good without it. So my regrets are of a different kind now and I wish I could have worked out how to get back to the spirit of the early bit as I minimised my dealing with the heckler. Lesson: what feels best isn’t necessarily best.