Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Funny That at The Morden Arms

"So what's the audience like in here?"

So said a fellow comedian venturing down to Greenwich for one of my new favourite new act / material nights. 

Initially the description I gave seemed unfounded. The locals were there true enough. However, MC Doug wasn't taking the good natured flak I had experienced the last time and the bar props were actually keen to watch and not shout at either the acts or each other. My set concluded the first half and their shouts of "Phone!" and tube related fist pumps were both enthusiastic and actually in time.

Well, nearly all. The thirteen year old daughter of a regular was fully focussed on her phone and whatever was playing on her headphones. Though this may or may not have had something to do with a motherly intervention brought on by Kelly Convey's in depth exploration of female masturbation early on.

Seconds into the second half the inevitable happened and it turned out that the locals had been enacting a metaphorical calm before the storm. Doug revived his heckle-sponge role and against incoherent shout-outs and confusion introduced a number of acts who held their ground and flexed their developing put-down muscles. An interesting indication of the audience's true tastes and experience surfaced when Sara Mason took the mic though. Her retro references to Jerry Hall and Joan Collins most definitely striking a chord.

By half ten the show was done and dusted and it was time to enjoy the sights of the city courtesy of the DLR. I will definitely return.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Memoirs of a Geezer at The Thomas Neale

From the outside this did not look like a good gig. A run down shopping precinct in Shadwell which, as one of the acts noted, was only notable for having a Wimpy that wasn't even open at dinner time. The pub itself was a boozer of olde east end proportions, dark on the outside, darker on the inside and festooned with England flags. I double locked the frame and both wheels of my bike on the rack featuring the remains of several other cycles and took a tentative step inside...

...And it was really nice! The staff were charming, the main space in the pub had been set out with rows of chairs and at 7pm, a full hour before the show started, people were taking their seats.

True, the "PA" was a guitar amp with a microphone plugged into it and the pub dog roamed around the stage at will but this, if anything, added to the charm of this proper gentri-free space.

There were far too many acts and nearly every one ran longer than was entirely sensible but there were certainly more gems than rough in the mix. Newbies rubbed shoulders with the likes of Stella Graham, Nick Purves and a couple of other thoroughly experienced comedians who I can't remember the names of and it worked very well. Three acts bombed, including the technical headliner, but 13/16 is a very respectable hit rate all told.

I avoided the bluetooth soundbar option provided by the venue for my backing track and whipped out my trusted Roland micro-PA. It worked exceptionally well and the clapping happened at the right points for Tales of the Unexpected. Shuffle and Stop also hit home once the crowd got over their initial nerves. It's a good song, though more than any other of my tracks it definitely lives or dies on the crowds contribution. Once I stepped offstage one of the other acts, a seasoned pro in his sixties, congratulated me and asked if I was a fan of Jilted John (look him up). I know nothing of the act except their biggest hit (again, look it up) but as someone who sincerely believes in the DIY punk spirit I took it as a massive compliment.

Will definitely return.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Famous First Words at The Gunners

Another Monday at The Gunners and there was a solid night of comedy to be had, plus an unusual poetic ending. Like Hilarity in Shoes, Famous First Words has an informal vibe about it with an audience largely made up of acts plus a scattering of real audience.

All three organisers: James Harris, Nick Purves and myself did spots with Nick holding down MC duties for the night. Revisiting Craft Fair for the first time in ages went down well and I kept it to one song simply to accommodate the ever expanding bills we're getting.

Elsewhere, Sheraz Yousaf gave us another eight minutes from his forthcoming show about manliness, Dyland Dodds (pictured) mulled on life's troubles and Belle Busby talked about being simultaneously agoraphobic and claustrophobic. 

The night was unexpected rounded off by a poet taking all his clothes off and talking about how the British have no genitals. Certainly a first for the night.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Hilarity in Shoes at The Lion

Tuesday night I get a phone call.

"Hey, it's your brother. Dad's down on Thursday and I can get us all free tickets for a big comedy gala in Croydon. Are you for it?"

"Sorry, I'm booked in for Hilarity In Shoes that night."

"No problem, we'll come to that instead."

And so it was that on Thursday night approximately 18 new/ish comedians performed to each other, my brother, my dad and a random Statistician at The Lion in Stoke Newington.

What I've always loved about HiS in the atmosphere. More like a social club than a gig, the atmosphere is good natured and people have free reign to try something new. After a quick pep talk from MC Matt Duwell we were off at speed. And I really do mean that.

Usually, you see, a new act / new material night is characterised by people ploughing through new material, often with notepad in hand, until the MC starts waving their mobile phone at them or something similar to let them know their time is up. Seven acts in, however, and no-one had done their full time. When Dangerous T decides he'd rather do his new bit then hop off you know the night may not be quite as long as you'd first predicted.

This all changed when I stepped up as the final act in the first half and after a bit of chat and an experimental use of a chair and table (sat on the stage for no apparent reason) as a virtual checkout to kick off Tales of the Unexpected I forgot the first line of the verse. Twenty seconds later I was still stood on stage with the backing track hammering, my dad and brother watching expectantly and my mind in a complete fug. It turns out that if you forget the first line it's almost impossible to pick up this track until you hit the chorus. And in the this song the chorus is a long way off.

So I did something I've not done before. I made a half-joke about how my attempt at spontaneity with the table and chair had completely thrown me off and reset the track. This was not going to be a short set.

The track started again. This time I didn't use the table and chair and talked about why as the lead-in music played. I hit the verse this time and we were off. Well, until the second verse when I forgot half of that too. This was less of an issue though as by this point it was beginning to look like I was playing some kind of convoluted in-joke so I just rolled with it.

The audience were laughing. Possibly at the song. Possibly at me ballsing up the song. Possibly a mixture of the two. Tales... ended and there was a far too generous round of applause. I moved into Shuffle and Stop.

I don't know Shuffle and Stop half as well as my other tracks on account of it being the newest. However, whatever gremlin had invaded my brain for track one had gone by this point and I delivered the whole thing as intended. The 99% comedian room were self conscious to the point of nervous laughter at the, admittedly, huge amount of audience participation I demand in the track but where the wheels could have fallen off I could always here my brother shouting, clapping and doing whatever else was required. For this I will always be grateful. The track stopped. I got off and finally relaxed to enjoy the second half of the show.

The Statistician told me I was his second favourite act of the night as I was leaving. Given my brother and dad had left at the interval I guess that represents 100% of the real audience. Thumbs up, the mission continues.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Famous First Words at The Gunners

Famous First Words was busier than ever last night and I was in the fortunate position to be at the helm linking every last act together. With five walk-ups joining the fifteen act bill we started early and despite crowbarring in a couple of beer breaks the show still concluded little after 10pm.

The line-up was as diverse as ever. Callum Stewart (pictured) travelled from Wales to do his five minutes. At just eighteen years old and on a gap year to break into comedy it could have been a studenty disaster. However, he was actually really good and certainly has the potential to be going places in a year's time if he fancies forgoing higher education endorsed crippling debt for at least a while longer.

Elsewhere on the bill, Ariane Sherine premiered a new song, Sinead Wheeler road tested some new material and Victoria Howden gave us an all singing performance of how her imaginary lesbian musical would go. As for me, I performed Phones and West End. The former being particularly popular as the audience zoned in on one guy actually checking in on his device during the song and started shouting the chorus at him. As the first track I ever wrote for this little comedy character of mine it's holding up well.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Spoonful of Poison at The King Eddie

Tonight's Spoonful of Poison in Stratford was the typical anarchic mix I have come to expect from Vis. When there wasn't a teen grrrl duo covering Lady Gaga's "Teeth" through grunge bass and guitar, there was a man covered in face paint screaming his way through a puppet act involving songs about a wild west grandpa (pictured), or Dangerous T verbally battering three people for ten minutes who had made the fatal error of talking over the start of his set.

Occasional chatting aside, the crowd were a lot more respectful to the acts than the previous time I went and also a lot less drunk. Ruskin Denmark put in a good comedy set and his girlfriend presented some thoughtful poetry. My own seven minutes dragged participation out of the crowd with grim determination through the medium of Chilling and Crisis Of Conscience but it was a footnote in a night that celebrated the truly weird.

Earlier today I spent several hours redesigning the Facebook banners and posters for my various nights and also the flyer for the Edinburgh Preview all-dayer (June 25th at The Castle, make a note now). The flyer is incomplete so I can't punt that up yet but here are the new style posters - taking feedback from The Castle that the LIVE COMEDY bit needs to be the most prominent feature to draw in casual drinkers in the bar who don't have time to read more than the biggest bit of text. I've decided to really focus on developing these nights in 2016 and possibly adding a few more to the stable...

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Bear Jokes at Pub on the Park

This evening's Bear Jokes at Pub on the Park wasn't as full as usual but the people who were there were definitely ready and willing so I kicked things off.

Shuffle and Stop got aired and part-amused / part bemused the audience. I really like the rhythm of it and the structure with the repetitive refrain. However, it's become clear that when a track relies so heavily on people joining in it needs to come after something less demanding so they've got the gist of what's going on. Bringing Phones back for the second half was certainly an easier sell, remembering to shout one word a couple of times each chorus being somewhat less demanding. It also helped the room had gained some more audience by that point.

The acts were, as usual, brilliant. Nick Purves delivered his tightest ten yet, Tim Ballantine abandoned the microphone and delivered his set stood on a sofa, Alexander Bennet's Bear Jokes debut was observational and smart, Rosie Holt was her fantastically crude self, Jake Howie delivered a cautionary tale of praying the gay away amongst other smart stories, Jethro Bradley was cool, collected and very funny, Fiona Ridgewell was charming as ever and Ben Pope (pictured) topped things off with some great new material. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Funny That at The Morden Arms

And so it was that on a Tuesday evening I hopped on the DLR and made my way to Greenwich to join a pub full of rowdy locals for Funny That at the Morden Arms. Unlike pretty much any other comedy show I've performed at, this particular night didn't have its own room and had instead appropriated one corner of the small bar. 

Initially, the locals didn't seem that impressed to have their drinking interrupted. However, Doug Gordon (pictured) was MCing and, for the most part, soaked up the abuse and random shouting on behalf of the performing acts. The crowd went easier on those that followed but by the time I was due on we were all very familiar with the names of the local characters/crazed alcoholics and their heckles. One particularly glorious gentlemen was, in essence, a strange hybrid of Father Jack and the guy who repeats himself endlessly on The Vicar of Dibley. However, he shook my hand afterwards and mumbled something positive sounding so I'll let him off.

Prior to me the acts had either gone with ignoring the background noise or abandoning their sets and taking the talkers head on. Given my set lives or dies on the interaction with the audience I had to pretty much combine the two. The start was unusual enough. I'm used to the usual "waaaaaay" when I reveal I'm a primary school teacher by day. However, here this fact resulted in a round of considered applause and someone shouting "well done". A positive, if unusual, start.

I launched with Tales of the Unexpected as I figured everyone, no matter how old or drunk, had been to the supermarket. Also, the pains of the self-checkout are usually most acute in those of a certain age. It actually worked and the crowd not only behaved but clapped in the right places too. Moving into West End they grew in enthusiasm. Granted, more than a few completely lost sense of all timing and just shouted the chorus randomly throughout the track. However, this at the very least ensured I got some practice in how to keep a song on the rails in the face of such fantastic ineptitude. 

Afterwards one of my most out of time enthusiasts came up and told me I should have been on first to "lift the crowd". This was sweet but I'm glad I was last in the first half as I'd pity whoever would have followed me and been faced with a den of loons expecting to contribute regularly throughout their set too.

All the acts were pretty good tonight. Special mention to Jonny Gillam for a typically up front and combative closing set though. With a venue like this the last place you should remain is in your designated corner.

Thumbs up also to the students in the crowd who I had a beer with afterwards. Tonight I learned even 21 year olds can be avid followers of Peep Show when I assumed it would only be us past-it thirty somethings.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Famous First Words at The Gunners

A busy but quiet night at FFW with Nick Purves on MC duties. One of those nights where people preferred to tell each other they were good rather than laugh during sets, the nicest bit was probably the group chat at the end. A real feature of this night now.

Something went wrong with the DI input to my iPhone but once we'd plugged it directly into the desk I finally got through Shuffle and Stop without mistakes. It sounded pretty good and the crowd did their bit. 3 gigs this week so this was a good start.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Clash of the Tight-Tens at The Castle

Last night Clash of the Tight-Tens returned from three months in the venue-less wilderness at it's new home in Aldgate East. The Castle is a cool little bar with an upstairs theatre room that more than one comedian noted gave the appearance of the world's biggest lounge. 

This look was somewhat enhanced by the random furniture that was provided: Sofas, wooden chairs, folding chairs, tall stools and small stools all shared space with tables that ranged from grand coffee tables to the nesting sort your gran might own. Thanks to this mix the sixty capacity room could only seat thirty but on the plus side this did mean every seat was taken and that always makes for a good vibe.

Being the promoter, my opinion from here on in no doubt lacks total objectivity but the acts were all absolutely storming. Be it Jacob Hawley crescendoing with an impression of a camel, the observational humour of Darren Harriot (pictured), Sally Firth's take on the middle class mother, Ian Miller's sexual self deprecation, Sonia Aste's Spanish charm or Sophie Henderson's legendary lasagne line - they all hit home and kept the crowd laughing throughout. In the words of my own dad (sipping half a Guinness and taking it easy near the back), "They were all very good weren't they".

I closed the first half with Tales of the Unexpected and West End. Both worked and had the audience claps and backing vocals in the right places. For the second time in four gigs, when asked to name a terrible nightclub someone offered Heaven. I'll be able to create a bar chart of these sometime in the future.

The next Clash is on May 6th, with Bear Jokes somewhat closer next Thursday.