Sunday, 30 October 2016

Thirty Minutes in Cambridge

Organised by Paul Richards (pictured), who I met at Edinburgh Festival, this packed to bursting point gig at The Red Bull in Cambridge was one I'd been looking forward to ever since it was booked. Not far from where my brother now lives I combined it with a family visit and come 7.30pm we arrived to find a nice pub with people already taking their seats in the upstairs room for the 8pm start.

The venue turned out to be the local for Rory McGrath and he was indeed in the audience when things kicked off. After some manic cajon based sing-a-longs with Paul, Izzy Rees did a ukulele powered ten minutes to a warm reception.

Adam Skuse was up next for fifteen with enough profanity to ensure his set was unlikely to ever be broadcast anywhere. His observations and musings kept the crowd laughing, particularly when he delved into the darker recesses of his mind. 

Mic handed back to Paul, I was then introduced and I launched into a five song set which is, to all intents and purposes, the work in progress for my Edinburgh 2017 show. Gone are the references to primary teaching but the formula otherwise remains pretty much the same. Presenting the set as my top 5 first world problems was effective and the crowd were more than willing to participate in the madness. Two verses in they were still rocking their arms back and forth to Selfie Stick - which is about a verse and a half more than any time before.

Thirty minutes later they and I had definitely had a pretty substantial work-out and it was down to the bar before heading home with my brother at the wheel - tired to the extent only possible of a parent with a one year old. At the bar I got plenty of congratulations and Rory called the set "superb". One for the comedy CV.

So what have I learned from gigs in Watford, Liverpool, London, Brighton and Cambridge this half term?

1. Watford books shops are actually really good places for a Friday night of comedy.
2. Liverpuddlians are huge comedy fans, even on a Sunday night, and love it rude and raucous.
3. Famous First Words is as thoroughly random and unpredictable as when I left it. 
4. Gigs in Brighton can be as light on "real" audience as in London despite a quality line-up.
5. Cambridge audiences are awesome.
6. Gigs outside of London are untainted by the grim realities of comedy in the capital - such as seemingly limitless amounts of acts on in a single night or the dreaded requirement for the acts to bring their own audience.
7. Train journeys are a great opportunity to write if you book a seat with a table and plug socket.
8. The difference in quality between two rooms in two cities costing approximately the same can be absolutely vast.
9. Soundcheck before you go on.
10. My sets work best with at least three songs.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Komedy Krackers at The Caroline of Brunswick, Brighton

After a typically Southern Rail journey down to the seaside (20 minutes late, half the interim stations skipped due to some unintelligible excuse on the PA system) I stepped out into an unusually sunny October afternoon in Brighton and made my way to Gulliver's B&B. Compared to Liverpool, the room is a dream. No ensuite of course, but modern with tea and coffee facilities and a TV. I duly emptied my bag and went shopping before taking some photos on the seafront.

Tourist time over I settled down at my room's desk and finished my new song about airports. It's a punk-funk number with a middle-eight breakdown verging on dubstep so musically rather adventurous. Perhaps more adventurous than the lyrics, though I am particularly proud of a pun based around baked beans. A recording will be up sometime in the near future.

Song complete I walked up to The Caroline of Brunswick for Sara Mason's Komedy Krackers. The venue is fantastically rock with the three headed Cerberus (know your Greek mythology) glaring down at you from above the bar. There was scant evidence of a night happening but I followed the signs to the performance room above and found Sara chatting to the acts and working out the running order.

Audience-wise there was nothing to shout about. William, who brought the three nice people to Famous First Words on Monday, was performing here also and had once again come through with a couple of friends in tow. The other acts hadn't brought anyone and my Brighton based friend had pulled out so it wasn't exactly packed.

The acts were pretty good throughout and after doing Tales of the Unexpected and West End Sara requested an encore so Craft Fair got an airing as well. The reaction was good, proof in my mind that whilst the audience numbers were similar to those on Monday the more intimate room made it much easier to connect. The room also benefitted from some nice lighting, decent chairs and a dedicated, working, PA.

Post-show I had a chat to Sara about promoting gigs before finishing my reasonably priced pint and heading back to base for a decaffeinated coffee. Rock and indeed Roll. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Famous First Words at The Gunners, Finsbury Park

In September I left James Harris and Nick Purves to run Famous First Words. My new job was the main factor as I, rightly, predicted I wouldn't be reliably available to host it on a regular Monday night. I was interested to see how the night had been getting on in my absence. Attendance had been patchy at best throughout my time there and I had my fingers crossed that it would have started drawing the kind of audience it so richly deserved.

Sadly this was not the case. As before, there was a small cluster of genuinely interested audience (friends of one of the acts), a smattering of uninvolved locals and the pops and bangs of dodgy mic leads that had plagued the shows I'd hosted previously. I settled in for another night at London's friendliest open mic with Dangerous T opening the show, as he has done since the start of the year.

T's set was typically adventurous and experimental and the interested cluster provided encouragement. Three guys at the bar though were pretty much instantly dismissive and turned their backs for the majority of the set though. Not exactly the spirit of an open mic.

From there four more acts tried their hand against a mix of awkwardness and indifference. This included one of the guys from the rude trio at the bar, who I'll avoid naming on the generous basis that it was his first gig and he clearly wasn't aware of good open mic etiquette. Unfortunately he compounded this disrespect by slagging off a previous act from the stage and then being woefully unfunny for a full five minutes. Shouting about how strong you are does not count as comedy - even if you can make your pecks wiggle a bit.

After this I took my turn and, upon seeing that the trio had gone back to chatting amongst themselves with their backs turned before I'd even opened my mouth, did what I could for Nick, James and the nice group of four at the front.

Sheraz Yousaf rounded off the comedy nicely and it was left to the rather good musical duo Mirror Maze to play to a dwindling audience. The bar trio walked off before the third song, ticking the final box on the list of reasons never to invite them back.

So it wasn't a great gig but it still has the potential to be. Here's hoping Nick and James can draw in a few more enthusiastic performers and three less dickheads.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Hot Water Comedy @ The Holiday Inn, Liverpool

Sunday evening new act nights don't look like this in London. 

Having rocked up at 2pm this afternoon for drinks with my Mersey-based cousins I'd then walked around the city and then continued work on my new track back at my budget-friendly hotel-come-student hall room. Shared bathroom and broken desk lamp aside, very much worth the £29.

Come 7.30 I walked down to the Holiday Inn and found the 50 capacity room filling. By 8pm kick-off every seat was taken and the affable MC was doing some kindly crowd work before launching into the £3-a-head night featuring 7 new acts doing 10 minutes each.

I closed the first half after two acts putting in fair sets. The crowd were a nice enough bunch but were more tepid than warm. Tales of the Unexpected went down well once the music/vocal balance had been worked out part-way through the track but I could see that I was probably convincingly winning over about two thirds of the room. My voice was breaking from time to time thanks to the far from perfect state of my throat at the moment, which didn't help.

Given the crowd size I opted to go with One Shot for the second song (where I split the room for different parts) and though I couldn't give it the welly I wanted to the crowd fell in with me by the second chorus and by the end pretty much everyone had shouted their part. The MC came back on with "Fucking hell, wow, it's time to go to the bar and keeping singing those songs". As reactions go, I'll take that. During the interval one of the acts that preceded me commented that he was glad he hadn't had to follow me as I'd "built the room's energy up so high." Again, something I'll take as a positive.

From a critical point of view though I'd have to say my performance was a 7-8/10 at best. My croaky vocals and only tacit connection with the audience, at least initially, ensured I didn't proverbially "smash the room" and left pretty certain no Friday or Saturday night slot will be forthcoming for the time being. 

Still, as learning experiences it was invaluable - not just as a performer but also to see how a small club can grow to running three shows a week and be in the process of building their own dedicated theatre space in the space of six years. There's a lot to learn from Hot Water Comedy when it comes to putting on a low cost night that doesn't feel like one and has a consistent crowd free of gremlin gimmicks like bringer policies or huge bills of 5 minute slots. 

One of the promoters is performing at Clash of the Tight-Tens next month. It'll be interesting to see what he makes of it.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Stand Up at the Star / Yellow Comedy

Stand Up at The Leyton Star
The debut night of my new local venture took a twist in the 24 hours preceding it when Yuriko Kotani had to drop out and I found myself performing at my own show in her place.

The room I have at The Leyton Star is truly adorable. Seating just over 20 people its little stage and ever so East London wallpaper (depicting, amongst other things, mugging and street drinking) made for a cosy night with a friendly audience ready and willing to enjoy what was in store.

Jay Cowle (pictured) performed 40 minutes of his developing show, "Hello Humans", in the second half to a warm response. The first half did the ground work with Doug Gordan, Matt Duwell, Lenny Sherman and myself doing well - with MC duties expertly taken care of by Maddie Campion. Come the end of the show the donations bucket suggested every last person in the crowd had stuck a fiver in and a couple of people even came back ten minutes later to say how much they liked both the show and my set.

Good times!

Yellow Comedy, Watford
A quick trip up to Watford tonight proved to be time well spent with a fantastic bill performing at a charming independent book shop on the high street. Alongside Victor Preda (pictured), other familiar faces included Rosana Bosanac, Zara Brown and Andy Storey.

With no beer available and a mature audience it was a different kind of gig for me and probably had more in common with the show in Edinburgh than anything else. I was on early and did "Tales of the Unexpected" and "Shuffle and Stop". Both went down really well and afterwards the promoter suggested the possibility of booking me in the new year for a headline set at one of the various nights he runs in the area. Things are indeed looking good for 2017.

Next show, Liverpool this Sunday for Hot Water Comedy.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Bear Jokes

Steve McCann talking up some geezer truths
If last month's Bear Jokes had been good then this evening's went one better. Thirty minutes before the show had even started there was a healthy audience. By showtime they'd filled the room to the point that some people had to sit on the floor. 

As anyone who has either run or attended a "new act night" before knows, to get more than a handful of real audience (heinous friend bullying "bringer" gigs aside) is a total rarity. Bear Jokes has now performed consistently for a good few months. After a summertime lull things are definitely back on track.

The mix was as random as it could get and was all the better for it. With Tight-Tens and Stand Up at The Leyton Star populated largely by acts I have long standing relationships with and trust to bring the house down with relative ease, Bear Jokes is now very much my launchpad for those I'm less well acquainted with - with a few gold plated regulars I can rely on to bring the audience up from any slightly more wayward sets. Comedy poetry, character acts, music and storytelling got into the mix with more conventional stand-up and provided more twists and turns than the average rollercoaster.

Large parts of the crowd were difficult to read though and increasingly boisterous towards the end. Ariane Sherine, debuting her brand new song about male genitalia, probably hit home more consistently than anyone else but everyone had their moments of mass mirth. As for me, "Clicking Like", got a reasonable reception opening the first half. "Foodie", however, did well enough with the first row but from there on back the audience were simply too reserved to get involved with the, admittedly stupid even by my standards, participation elements. Given its reggae dancehall rhythm its role as a breaker in longer sets is assured but standing alone it probably isn't in its element.

Come 10pm everyone wrapped up, drank a pint of whatever the hip ale of the week was and headed home more amused than they had arrived. Which, let's face it, is a win by any standard.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

The October Shows Begin

This week has been pretty full-on with both work and comedy. Originally I would have simply been hosting Clash of the Tight-Tens. Instead I performed last-minute shows at both Crown the Knave in Balham and at a charity event in Brick Lane on Saturday evening.

Crown The Knave at The Bedford (Tuesday)

My new day job is currently giving me long hours so after an extended day there I was pleased to be hopping on my horribly cheap thief-deterring "bar bike", parking up at Walthamstow Central and tubing it to Balham for Janet Bettesworth's Crown The Knave.

Hosted at The Bedford, the show took place in a slightly run-down side room at odds with the rest of the bar. The lights were bright and you had to go outside to go into the main room to get your drinks and chunky chips but the line-up looked strong and I was getting paid so I prepared myself for a really good night.

As nights go it was pretty good, with the vibe of an offbeat open-mic the evening was opened by a blues band who then gave way to a string of comedians performing to each other and a small but perfectly formed real audience. I saw Madge Hooks for the first time in ages and Daniel Offen showcased some new material. 

The food theme of the night was largely ignored by those performing but I did my best by performing Foodie alongside Tales of the Unexpected. I remembered all the words this time and the way people in the audience mis-timed their "Hey!"s was comedy gold in itself. However, it's still not there compared to the other tracks and I'll need to do it a few more times before it really beds in.

Before the end of the night I'd failed to win anything in the raffle but had eaten a delicious flapjack made by Janet herself. All that was left to do was to hop on the tube with JB Carter and make my way back to bike theft central.

Unsurprisingly, no-one had stolen my crap bike.

Clash of the Tight-Tens (Friday)

For the first time ever, my Tight Tens line-up didn't feature a set by myself. Partly because I'd forgotten to reserve myself a spot, partly because I just wanted to relax, it was another great night with people far too talented to be doing pay-what-you-like on a Friday night. Yuriko Kotani, Nathan Cassidy, Daniel Offen and Rosie Holt all put in appearances alongside MC Andy Onions (pictured). The audience wasn't as big as I'd expected but was still a very much respectable size. 

This show appears to be doing quite an important job for the bar as it was busy enough when I arrived, dead when I dropped down during the interval and then busy again around 10.30pm. Having a quiet bar doesn't hurt of course as anyone who does come in inevitably goes where the people are and come in for the show. This lead to a real comedy highlight just before Daniel took the stage where four very drunk women decided to up and leave and as they walked out the door another three less drunk people walked in and replaced them like some kind of audience tag-team.

All that was left to do after the show was pack and buy everyone a drink for their efforts.

People For Change Charity Fundraiser @ Dark Sugars, Brick Lane (Saturday)

10am Saturday morning and I'm in bed recovering from the drinks the night before. The phone goes off and it's a Facebook message from a musician I'd performed alongside at Once Upon A Mic earlier this year asking if I could step into a comedy spot at a charity fundraiser that night abandoned by an act, "who may have had a nervous breakdown." Not one to turn down such opportunities I agreed and got myself down to Brick Lane for 5pm.

Dark Sugars is a very cool authentic-looking chocolate shop halfway down Brick Lane with the tiniest of bars in the back. Behind the bowls of raw chocolate slabs and intricate fancies a PA had been set up and a projector was running through images of African children receiving education and healthcare. It turned out the whole thing was running late so I decamped for food before returning to see a small number of people largely ignoring a music act who'd been selected to kick things off.

Following the music the event organisers spoke about the project they were involved in and the room filled considerably. Four speakers later I was announced on stage as, "a comedy music kind of act," and jogged up to open with a carefully prepared line about how rapping about first world problems really highlights how trivial our problems are compared to those in the developing world. Potential offensive opening disaster averted.

Given how the first act had gone down I was prepared for the worst but having opened with my little speech the 30 or so people in the room were prepared to give me their undivided attention. Tales of the Unexpected, with it's sniping about supermarkets, hit home in an independent business venue. We were rolling. One Shot also went well, the shop also served coffee so taking a swipe at Starbucks was never going to hurt. I finished with Shuffle and Stop and the crowd had swelled by this point to numbers that ensured the call and response couldn't fail. I left to cries of "encore" but my voice was packing up so I retired to the back for a drink and a de-brief with my girlfriend.

This week...
So far it's just Bear Jokes on the cards but you never know what might happen...

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Freedom Fridge

This week I picked up an actual paid gig for next Tuesday on the theme of food. Having just written a track about foodies I realised I needed to perform it somewhere beforehand to ensure it was ready for an audience who may have paid anything up to two actual pounds to see it.

The choice was obvious. At that point the day was Tuesday and Andy Onions was on MC duties at The Freedom Fridge in Kentish town that Thursday. A few emails later I was on the bill alongside JB Carter taking a sideways look at child birth and Rasputin Something who performed a really funny song about Lidl.

Onions hosted with his usual charm and gave us a good dose of his new projector driven comedy under the title of "Powerpointless". Some of the material was brand new, some of it was adapted from his Edinburgh show. All of it was damn good.

I warmed up with a rousing Tales of the Unexpected and encored at Andy O's insistence with Crisis Of Conscience. In the middle I hacked my way through Foodie and forgot most of the second verse. In the past I may have considered this a disaster but experience has taught me I never get my songs right first time yet second time around it always comes out fine. Regardless, the audience didn't seem to mind and the first few rows indulged me with the tummy rub dance move and shouting "hey!" on a regular basis.

Balham, you are in for a treat.

In other news, Clash of the Tight Tens returns next Friday with an indecently all-star lineup featuring vast numbers of award winning acts returning from successful runs at the Edinburgh Fringe. If you'd like to see Daniel Offen, Yuriko Kotani, Nathan Cassidy, Rosie Holt, Gatis Kandis, Sonja Cheekykita, Jonny Gillam and Sasha Ellen you should seek out more info here.