Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Why does Bear Jokes exist?

It seemed like high time to write a personal statement about Bear Jokes for the website and Facebook. So here it is.
Why does Bear Jokes exist?
It’s a fact that every night you will find a handful or more “new act / new material” comedy nights running across London. They populate similar bars in similar areas and many of them don’t charge a penny for your attendance. With so many promoters doing so many nights the above question is a fair one and one I want to answer.
For the audience
Many nights cram uncomfortably huge numbers of acts onto their bills simply to fill seats in the venue. It’s not unusual to find nights running for over three hours in order to cram in anything up to 25 acts doing 5 minutes each. By the tenth act it becomes a bit of a chore; when the twentieth comes in you could be watching the next Michael McIntyre, Stewart Lee or Sarah Millican and you wouldn’t care because by that point it’s become an ordeal and you just want your bed. Newcomers best suited to honing their first five minutes at open mics often confuse, bore or offend a crowd largely made up of the acts themselves and their well-meaning friends who’ve been dragged along because they can’t perform otherwise (what is known in comedy circles as a “bringer”.) Little more than glorified practice rooms, the event’s promoter spends little or nothing on advertising their event and the most common emotion come the end of the night is relief it’s all over.
Bear Jokes Comedy (home to the eponymously named night at London Fields’ Pub on the Park, Aldgate’s “Clash of the Tight Tens” and Leyton’s “Stand Up At The Leyton Star”) does not do this. I believe a real audience of people coming to be genuinely entertained deserve to see a variety of comedians with a wealth of experience mixing up new material with their finest tried and tested. Set lengths are long enough to showcase the talent on offer and there are never more than eight acts. I’m highly selective about who performs and book well in advance to secure the best up and coming acts on the circuit. It’s not unusual to find that the entire bill on a night have performed full runs at Edinburgh Festival, with many acts winners of national awards or with credits in TV, radio or print. That said; I book what makes me laugh so there’s always room for a few bafflingly good newcomers too.
For the performers
As both a promoter and a performer and I do everything I can to ensure every booked act enjoys their Bear Jokes experience. I spend money on actual print advertising (including decent full colour flyers and posters), I send out listings, I promote online and I work with and resource my venues to ensure they can do everything possible to let their locals know what’s going on. Past Bear Jokes events have been featured in Metro and recommended by websites such as Ents24. And, of course, not one of my events has ever or will ever be a “bringer”. It’s your ability to entertain a real audience that’s important – not how many friends you can bully into coming to support you.

Don’t be put off by what you may have heard about new act comedy nights in the past and come and be genuinely entertained by genuinely entertaining people. I look forward to meeting you,
Andy quirk

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Suburbaret at The Cavendish Arms

The last time I performed at The Cavendish Arms was probably about five years ago with my then band, Hot Beds. Located in the not-quite back and beyond from Stockwell Station "The Cav" (as anyone who's sat through a 22 act Comedy Virgins night there knows it) features a lovely little theatre style back room in the most unlikely of places.

Unusually, the show started at 6.30pm but this was slightly delayed until a few people could be coaxed in to watch. A small but enthusiastic audience were in place nearer the 7 and we were off. MC Gareth (pictured) ran a raffle for Waitrose Essentials products using everyone's car keys as tickets and also guided us through a range of fantastically diverse and genuinely decent acts. There was musical comedy, a drag queen gameshow based on names of paint, soft-play area themed stand-up and a character act spoofing Gardener's World with with their "mucky fingers".

As for me, I was the final act in the first half and hammered through Tales of the Unexpected, Airport and Shuffle and Stop. Reaction was good and I managed to get the whistle in my mouth correctly at least 50% of the time during the middle song. As small gigs go this was a lot nicer than many. It was just a shame there couldn't have been more people there to witness it.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Once Upon A Mic at The Castle

Once Upon A Mic is a show I have a lot of time for. Originally run by the duo Marine and Horatio, the first time I performed here at the start of the year I loved the venue so much I brought Clash of the Tight Tens to it. OUAM might now be steered by just Horatio but it's still in rude health with a focus on variety and giving performers set lengths they deserve.

The catch with this is of course the length of the show. After a ten minute opening of poetry I was up for four songs at 8.20 and delivered both newer tracks, Foodie and Airport, alongside a couple of my mainstays. The audience were fresh and up for it and this continued to be the case when Caroline Francess followed with her Dresden Dolls meets Kate Bush alternative musical cabaret stylings. Half an hour later we then had a short spoken word set before an extended break to enable a full on band to set up.

The band were good and Horatio controlled the desk well for someone dealing with a multitude of factors. Part folk, part anthemic rock, it felt somewhat 2012 but was enjoyable none-the-less. Set complete it was the job of three comedians and a singer/songwriter to push on to a depleting and tired audience. Hassan Dervish and Lucas Jolson worked well with what they had. The others less so. Come midnight the show was over and it was time to fall into an Uber.

Another good night. Foodie needs some work in the breakdown. Otherwise everything is on track for Edinburgh 2017.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Stand Up at The Leyton Star

The Leyton Star is a great venue for many reasons, and not all relating to the fact it's down the road from my flat. By the time James Harris took to the stage to MC the cosy little upstairs room had a good number of genuine audience in and my new lamp meant that, unlike the previous month, you could actually see the faces of all the performers!

Due to some last minute cancellations the bill turned out way more alternative that usual with only James and Daniel Offen doing what might loosely be called conventional stand-up. Gatis Kandis opened with his usual offbeat manner, David McIver followed armed with an abacus as an awkward maths teacher and after Daniel I did my new track about airports and deafened both myself and the crowd with a whistle I was clearly blowing far too hard. Note to self for future.

After the break the room filled to capacity for Sasha Ellen's 2017 Edinburgh Preview. Drawing on tales of her childhood and life ever since, it was a good forty minutes of smile raising narrative, even if I could have done with a little less about the unfortunate end of her pet rabbit. Show complete, the collection bucket said it all with fivers from pretty much everyone in attendance. December 15th's return with Yuriko Kotani previewing her first ever full length show should be even bigger.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Bear Jokes at Pub on the Park

When four acts pull out of your show on the day its happening it isn't usually a good sign. That said, I'd got someone in last minute and the room was looking pretty decent thanks to a new spotlight and roaring fires at both ends. Half seven rolled around and I waited...and waited.

By 8pm the acts were in but the actual audience numbered just one. The pub itself wasn't as busy as usual and despite a decent round of listings, retweets and event shares it looked like this would be more of a workshop than a show. I stepped up and delivered my new song about airports.

As songs go this one is pretty challenging. To indicate when the audience needed to join in I'd gone with a whistle for this one. Though I'd put it on the backing track it was clear it would work better if I had one physically with me and so had bought one for far too much from a tourist shop on Oxford Street earlier that day. The track started, I remembered most of the first verse and then went into the whistle bit.

Juggling a microphone and a whistle whilst trying to remember freshly learned lyrics isn't easy. I missed my mouth several times and when I did connect it wasn't exactly Match of the Day. However, I soldiered on into the second verse and by the time it came around again it worked more often than it didn't and what there was of an audience were breaking down over the ridiculousness of it all. I finished the track and introduced the first act.

Given the reduced bill and the small audience figures we'd opted to run the show straight without a break and this turned out to be the smart thing to do. Surely but slowly more audience joined us throughout and by the time Sonia Aste was on stage we had a half-full room. Given the numbers the gig had a pretty odd feel, somewhat similar to one of the slower days at Edinburgh. Some of the acts were great, others were patchy, but all did well in the unusual circumstances. 

Wrapping up by 9.45 all that was left was to thank everyone and head home. Airport's cherry is popped so expect to hear my whistle plenty in the coming months!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Comedy Competition at Stratford East Theatre Bar

I have never done a comedy competition before as I've assumed the typical five minute slot will never be enough for me to pull the crowd into my raps enough to get them fully engaged. Recently though a monthly competition caught my eye. Ten minutes was promised with the winner gaining a paid headline spot at a future night. Just down the road from me, it seemed worth a punt.

The bar had a few groups sitting around tables when I entered but not exactly what you'd call an audience. Still, I figured things would improve and settled in with a pint. Five minutes before showtime there were a few more people in and I was sitting with some other acts checking the running order. The MC introduced himself and told us we were all doing fives. So much for breaking people in and the capitalising with a second song. Tonight it was to be full pelt from the off.

Lew Fitz was first on after the compere and was confident, off-hand and thoroughly entertaining. Trash talking various aspects of the venue resonated with the crowd and running with more improv than planned elements in his set he connected well. I dialled back my expectations on perhaps winning this little popularity contest.

Lew was followed by acts who missed more than hit and were more akin to what I thought I might find at an event promoted as a "new act night" (a phrase that in most circles simply means you aren't employed full time in comedy but here genuinely meant some of the acts had less than twenty gigs to their name). 

The first half ended and a huge influx of people arrived, completely skewing the voting away from anyone who'd performed so far. I picked up a lime soda (so pro) and waited for my slot in the middle of the second.

The guy before me didn't completely die but the audience were far from warm when I took to the stage. When "do we all know what a first world problem is?" was met by mumbles and people checking their phones I prepared myself for a rough ride...

...which didn't happen. Once the music kicked in attention focussed on me and by the first chorus large chunks of the audience were doing their required claps. By the second a table of diners were dancing in their chairs. I rounded off to a decent applause and hopped off stage. 

For the second time in a month the MC came on pretty much speechless and managed to do little more than introduce the next act. Which is where I watched my potential win come crashing down.

The guy after me wasn't terrible. A character act pretending to be a clueless Polish immigrant who confuses similar sounding words has milage but I'm a long standing fan of Gatis Kandis and this paled in comparison. The audience, however, loved it.

So come the end of the night Lew Fitz came third, I came second and the character act won. Credit is due to Lew - making the top three on the votes of less than half the potential audience is some achievement. As for me, well second is better than nothing but unless I write something more crude I don't think I'll ever win this competition.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Clash of the Tight-Tens at The Castle

The phrase, "you can't win 'em all," seems more than an appropriate way to describe last night's Tight-Tens. After a run of busy shows across the Bear Jokes empire November 4th decided to be the one where eight acts sat in a beautiful theatre room above a bustling pub with just two audience members (joined later by a third). The busy bar turned out to be hosting a private party and despite assurances by many they'd come up for a few laughs regardless none did so.

So did we cancel? Did we heck. Andy Onions opened proceedings with a warm meandering monologue and identified that every female in the room was called Sophie. The acts were relaxed and largely went with trying out new material, this included Sophie Henderson reflecting on the clueless ego-fest that is The Apprentice and Mawaan Rizwaan throwing his shoes into the back wall. I ran through Clicking Like and Shuffle and Stop with Andy leading the audience participation.

Come 9.40 we wrapped up and headed to the bar for a few drinks. I took a photo of Andy looking cheerful in a stairwell for our Hastings Fringe application and remembered to take down all my direction posters for the first time in months. 

My luck only lasted as long as my return to Leyton station though as I found my bike had been stolen. The place is becoming more like Hackney every day.