Monday, 30 May 2016

Ctrl Alt Comedy at The Railway Tavern

Thanks to bank holiday engineering works I made the 40 minute cycle to Crouch End to be greeted by Ctrl Alt's host and a small bunch of smiling performers in the back of a rather nice looking pub. Two older men sat at a table at the back and would be tonight's audience.

MC Tony Mcgee and his massive sign were set up in what can only be described as an equally enormous fireplace. He was welcoming and chatty. Given the numbers it was decided we'd be doing the whole show in an hour without a break.

Rosie Holt opened with a strong ten mixing old and new material. As can be seen from the photo, the venue lacked a mic stand so a human version was employed when the ukelele came out.

The fives that followed were on the whole charming and it was nice to see some new people as well as some rapidly becoming familiar faces. 

I closed the night with a ten featuring 'Shuffle and Stop' and 'West End' which went down well considering the numbers. Post show it was time for a beer before heading off on my marathon trek home.  

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Revelry at The Redchurch

For the first time in some time I ran a Saturday night event in Shoreditch. The last time I did this it was in a basement of a thumping nightclub and mixed bands with comedians. On reflection a very odd mix but it was how I met people like Andy Onions so it's probably responsible for my descent into mirth making rather than rocking out.

No bands this time around as not only did it turn out this combination simply doesn't work but also also that The Redchurch is a lot smaller than The Workshop and is much better suited to people standing up with a microphone rather than whacking out riffs on guitars.

Not that this stopped my MC for the night, Ariane Sherine, who intermittently belted out sexual innuendo and impressive levels of filth during her transitions from one act to another. Elsewhere Daniel Offen read the audience right and moved away from political commentary to sex, Kate Weston played with her boobs whilst singing a children's TV theme song and Dangerous T got more than a few bemused laughs for his prune juice material.

By the second half the lads in the front row who'd powered the room's energy level so far with their cocktail fuelled interaction and reaction had become lads who'd clearly drunk a lot of cocktails and had peaked into a contented slumber. This made things trickier for the performers that followed but late addition Andy Storey made the room his own and I convinced enough people in the room to join me in "Shuffle and Stop" to make it work. Headliner Sophie Henderson was better than she seemed to think she was, the front row woke up and the largely female audience down one side of the room discussed her take on Dalston and new relationships until way after the end of the show.

All in all, a promising debut which can only build from here.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Once Upon A Mic at The Castle

Once Upon A Mic is the reason I discovered The Castle and brought Clash of the Tight Tens there. Previous nights run by the passionately artsy combo Marine and Horatio had always had the acts but lacked the audience but there was no such issue tonight with a busy room and a supportive atmosphere.

Ian Lane (pictured) was on MC duties for the evening and guided the crowd from poetry to music to comedy with stories, quips and the occasional heckler put-down. Though the band weren't to my taste the rest of the acts were pretty decent. Ariane Sherine debuted her new song about relationship orientated blowjobs and the poets were a cut above the usual self indulgent open mic fodder fuelled by painful couplets.

I was on relatively early and had to follow the band. With twenty minutes I had exactly the right amount of time to road-test one of several narratives I'm preparing for Edinburgh. Linking tracks with a story is borderline musical theatre, though if I'm treading the boards it's more panto than West Side Story thanks to all the crowd interaction. The approach worked well and the shouts and claps I directed the assembled to do were taken enthusiastically. Granted, during Tales of the Unexpected I saw one girl looking utterly puzzled by my "c-r-i, s-i-s, t-f-l, need to guess" line but I guess spelling isn't for everyone. 

The night ran late and it was nearly midnight when Dread Fury had finished his loop pedal powered set so Horatio got in the drinks and we chatted for an hour or so before we thought it might be time to go home. This is now my second weekend spent partially in The Castle. Next week Clash of the Tight Tens makes it three!

Hilarity in Shoes at The Lion

Thursday was Hilarity in Shoes second birthday and I joined fourteen or so comedians for a night of watching each other have variable success in performing to each other. 

'Shoes is a great night and the venue is lovely. Matt Duwell was, as usual, on MC duties and faces both new and familiar graced the stage. Dan Atfield was an early highlight with his musical ode to Pingu and later someone would recognise that they were performing directly in front of James Harris and I - after pulling out of Famous First Words (which we co-promote) three days earlier. 

Performing to a room full of comedians generally goes two ways. Either you acknowledge the situation, relax a bit more than you perhaps should and more or less freestyle your way through five minutes. Or you do what I did and pretend the room's packed and attempt to create the energy that is otherwise missing by being louder and bigger than usual. Did it work? Well, it's hard to say if anything truly "works" in this situation but I felt I'd done my bit and had earned my right to collapse in one of the many sofas and cheer on the others.

Post-show beer and conversation followed and then it was back on the bike home.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Espanol Comedy at The Castle

As nights go this was pretty unusual. Last month a Columbian musician who I'd worked with in the past contacted me about co-promoting a Hispanic comedy night to accommodate a headline spot for his friend coming over to the UK for a week. Being the kind of person who likes a challenge I set about finding comedians who were prepared to perform in Spanish or at least prepare something along that theme.

Come this evening, the line-up was certainly diverse but the quality was more than consistent. Musician Juan opened with his first ever five minutes and did well for someone who decided MCing his own gig would be a good way to launch his comedy career. From there we went to me and a three song set which went down really well with plenty of shouting, clapping a "ch ch ch'-ing. After that Katie Lane did fifteen in Spanish based on the time she spent living in the country at one point. The audience loved her.

After a short break we resumed with Matt Giffen doing his first ever set in Spanish, Ariane Sherine singing songs specifically written for the night and Sonia Aste doing a flamenco character. All went down really well and the crowd were well up for headliner Juan who put in a storming forty minutes. Twice what was planned but with no real curfew in force and a crowd who laughed continuously - no bad thing at all.

Chances are they'll be more of these nights. Advance ticket sales were impressive and this is a niche that is clearly looking for a home. Even if I don't understand a word being said on stage...

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Brixton Veg Bar

This evening I hopped on a train to Brixton for my first south London gig in ages. Another charity event by the same person who'd organised the night in Clapton a few months back and I was doing a ten minute opener to ease people into the avalanche of fives that followed. Sonia Aste was on MC duty so I knew we were in safe hands.

The venue itself was called The Veg Bar. A Hackney-esque vegan restaurant that served the same organic ales once the domain of the now long gone Hornbeam open mic in Walthamstow. I grabbed a bottle of Eco Warrior and put my Leyton visor on.

The unassuming basement was packed out. At least 50 people had crammed in and the acts were relegated to the back or the adjoining room. Sonia got some energy going but when I stepped up I could see there were an awful lot of well meaning people in the audience who weren't sure what to expect from a comedy night.

I probably didn't help them clarify this.

They definitely clapped on cue during Tales... and a good number also bellowed "shuffle and stop!" when required but otherwise it was a case of not knowing if any of the humour had worked until after the track finished and people cheered and clapped. 

Leaving the stage I concluded it hasn't been quite the stellar set I'd envisaged and settled in to watch a huge variety of acts. Sally Firth and Dylan Dodds were really good and the crowd clearly liked them. The rest were a predictably mixed bag. Some good, some great, a couple still finding their feet. 

As I left I chatted briefly to the organiser and was on my way. As I said my goodbyes a stranger came up to me and said "just so you know, you were my favourite".


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

England's Smallest Comedy Club at The George

I estimate I have now done about 80 gigs. Not once has my iPhone let me down. It had to happen eventually...

So it was that in a tiny room above a lovely pub in Soho I performed Shuffle and Stop without the aid of a microphone to five acts and two real audience. It went well enough to go into West End in "tribute" to the area. 

At the end of the first verse the track skipped forward to a position unknown in the final chorus. I stopped, rewound, tried again and it happened again. I gave up and sat down.

On the tube home I listened to it on headphones. It played without a problem. Got to love technology.

The gig overall was simple, short and mercifully lowly attended given my tech issues. The guys who run it though are great and I'll return once I've given my mobile a talking to.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Bear Jokes / Clash of the Tight Tens

The sun is great. Unless you run comedy nights. Sod's law ensured that in the one month where I would be running shows on consecutive nights (Bear Jokes moves to the second Thursday in June) temperatures would rise and audiences would fall. At the end of the day it doesn't matter how many listings you feature in, how many people repost your event or the sheer quality of your line-up - if people want to sit in a beer garden that is exactly what they're going to do.

Bear Jokes at Pub on the Park had a brilliant line-up with a first half of Sam Deards,  Benji Waterstones, Naomi Mcdonald and Matt Duwell going down well with the group of six who'd reserved seats plus a couple of other real audience. Tales of the Unexpected kicked the night off well and as we hit the half-way point I settled in for a small but worthwhile night.

The second half, however, got very surreal when it became clear the party of six had left the pub. Later, I'd get a mail from one of them (the daughter) explaining her parents had just flown in from New Zealand and jet lag had kicked in. A fair reason, though it still left us with four acts and three real audience, all of which were friends with one of the performers. 

Saskia Preston (a stand-in for the ill Ariane Sherine), Maddie Campion and James Harris all did what they could with what they had with sets that at times felt more like a chat than a performance. David McIver perfectly summed up the night though with ten minutes of improv - using half a mic stand as a giant hand, observing the part deflated balloons in a corner and playing a song about how sharp knives are whilst tapping together two found in a nearby pint glass. I'm pretty sure this is what genius in the face of adversity looks like.

Friday night was Clash of the Tight-Tens at The Castle and another brilliant line-up, this time MC'd by the mighty Andy Onions. The weather did its best to kill off the audience but through a mix of repeat MeetUp members and people in the bar lured by my wallpapering of the place in posters there were a comfortable amount of people to laugh at the funny.

Stella Graham, Haran X, Janet Bettesworth, Ben Lund-Conlon, Daniel Offen, Winter Foenander, Sasha Ellen (pictured) and myself gave it our all and Andy Onions got homoerotic with a Glaswegian. A lovely night made even better when a couple in the audience decided that instead of popping a fiver in the bucket they'd buy every performer a drink - setting a new donation record of the equivalent of about £40! 

Post show chat in the bar carried on for a couple of hours and two happy audience members went home with posters. All in all, a pretty decent night!

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Prince of Wails at The Plough and Harrow

The Plough and Harrow is a venue I'm more than a little familiar with as in 2013 you'd have found me in it one Saturday every month running "Turn Off Your Television" and then last year on the bill of "The Comedians Club" several times. 

Both nights ultimately ceased to exist due to low turnouts and although the numbers tonight were no better the warmth and enthusiasm shown by those who were there more than made up for it.

The bill was entirely music based and had a house band who were more than happy to play backing to the various singers and guitarists on request. "Rock and Roll Gerry" (pictured) was just one of many who took advantage. This particularly cool eighty-three year old knocked out Johnny Be Good and other fifties standards with similar energy to what I imagine he had down the hop some sixty or so years ago.

Arriving early, the organisers gave me twenty minutes at 8.10 and with some amusement I noted that straight after me was the angry rap stylings of Unique Technique. A man who I bump into rarely nowadays but still holds a special place in my heart for his vitriolic hate rap about me he was performing last year. Sure enough I saw him on his own little table at the back of the room looking shifty. This was going to be interesting.

Given I had twenty minutes I decided to road test one of my embryonic Edinburgh Festival sets. In a similar style to that of a really amateur musical I tell the story of a particularly frustrating day in my life where I'm regularly confronted by first world problems and break into song. It seemed to work and the small crowd listened carefully throughout and joined in each track with the enthusiasm of numbers 10x the size. Afterwards pretty much every person came over and asked for flyers and had a chat. Though this may have had as much to do with my particularly pretty female accomplice sitting next to me as to do with my set...

And Unique Technique? Well sometime during my set he upped sticks and left never to be seen again. One day he'll let it go.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Monkey Business at Camden Holiday Inn

The function room of The Camden Holiday Inn is not the most immediately obvious venue for live comedy but it does have some advantages. The room is huge, the furniture isn't rickety, the air doesn't smell of stale beer and the lobby bar doesn't have much in the way of a queue. 

True, in terms of atmosphere it probably suits your aspirations best if you're looking for work on cruise ships but as a novel alternative to the regular London pubs and bars circuit it's certainly worth a punt.

MC and promoter Martin Besserman is a truly individual character with a truckload of stories to tell about the comedy circuit and a thoroughly laid back attitude when it comes to running a show. On stage he's at ease and talks to the audience like a man at the bar with a story to share. It's his club but it could as easily be his lounge. The audience certainly warmed to him.

As for the show itself, one became two when my initial booking for the 7pm show was extended to the 9pm one as well. This being largely due to the second show not having any new acts to add to the bill. Well, with one very notable exception. Martin had sweet-talked 2013 Britain's Got Talent runner-up Jack Carroll, staying at the hotel that night, to come in and do ten minutes. Now a grand 17 years old Jack was exceptionally engaging with his observational humour - the small but perfectly formed crowd of older couples, extended families and a handful of random tourists wasn't a million miles away from the typical BGT audience and loved every bit of it.

That's not to run down the other acts, who were superb throughout. Zara Brown's northern charm is always going to be a winner and the Russian oligarch wife character act (played by Laura Bodell was genius. Seeing acts do two sets in one night was really interesting too - though a couple did back-reference parts of the raps I performed in the first show to the second show audience to general confusion.

For my part it was overall a good night. In the first show the numbers were pretty low so I went and chatted with the Spanish and Irish tourists to match their first world problems to my tracks. A gamble that paid off and had the familiar "two shots! one shot!" bouncing back and forth across the room. I did another three tracks in the second show and after hitting the funny bones across the room with both 'Tales of the Unepected' and 'Chilling' I managed to kill them stone dead with 'Selfie Stick'. Perhaps a little too close to home for the selfie lovers in the room or perhaps having two songs where the interaction is restricted to hand claps is one too many. Probably should have gone with 'Craft Fair'.

Still, 11pm rolled around and I'd been in the function room for nearly five hours so I hopped on a train and found some kind of food on the way home having realised on the tube home my stomach ache probably had less to do with a pints I'd drunk and everything to do with not eating since lunch.

I return to Monkey Business in June.