Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Tag: comedy (page 1 of 2)

Gig Report: Warrington – 8 May ’19

I’ve not written a gig report for a few years – when I first started I used to write them after every gig, but then as 10 gigs became 20, became 100 I stopped – I think I stopped because I stopped progressing and feeling like I was getting better – of course that may be because I kept changing what I did constantly… Anyway, it’s back (for new readers wondering if i’m going to write about other acts I was on with, I’m not, this is a self-critique not a comedy wank-off).

Tonight’s gig was in Warrington, the site of many a fun gig for me, 90% of which have been at the Albion Pub, and 10% of which someone offered to sell me meat, or, more specifically, four steaks that they’d nicked from work.

Quality.

The gig was a pub gig, the type where you arrive and think “holy fuck how am I going to get through this”. Let me set the scene – flat stage, next to a busy bar, chairs facing away from the stage – table of six at the front all hammered (at 6:20pm) on 4 separate bottles of white wine, the football playing the Champions League (sound on) on 3 TV screens, people bringing their own fruit (easy-peel oranges), a man asking me if these “so called comedians” would be “good or alternative” and a league pool match in the next room.

So how was it?

Actually quite good fun, the room was distracted and hard to be honest, I got a massive boost from the MC who threw every adjective in existance into my introduction which really helped. I decided on a strategy of hitting fast, hard and silly. Essentially trying to pull concentration on to me by talking to audience members with single comments, doing a bit of material, more comments, a bit of material, all with the air of desperation to try and get the “we’re all in this together feel”.

I also deliberately sped up – there’d been quite a lot of backchat earlier in the gig and I wanted to control the space and mute it as best I could.

It nearly worked. A few mistakes on my part. Firstly I’ve not had a solid defined set for a few years and it really shows, remembering what I can go to and from is essential, there was a bit of note checking. Secondly I kept getting focus but then either stamping on lines OR, worse, getting distracted and talking about something else. Thirdly, I don’t trust my flights of fancy enough – there was real potential for playing with the idea of a Travellodge penis (opposed to a boutique penis) that had fun and stupidity in it, but I chickened out a bit and went to material, that FELT like material. Killer. I was hampered a bit by Tottenham scoring in the 97th minute (not my fault), and my exit offstage was a bit shabby (I tried to get booed off and they didn’t really go for it) and I also chickened out of a few jokes, largely at the landlord’s expense that I suspect would have smashed it or got my face smashed in.

Overall a fun evening, the first time in a long time doing a stand up set and not storytelling or musical stuff, but also a fuck-load of fun. So yeah, ask me to do a gig.

Night x

Holidays, Ideas and Ponderings

I’m currently on holiday in Lisbon having a bit of a break with my other half. I brought the mini-laptop along with all sorts of high aspirations to write a play, create some art or learn a new skill.

Suffice to say we’ve nailed a good chunk of Netflix late at night.

Anyway, I thought I’d write a short (ish) blog which is essentially a catch-all “My thoughts from the last few days” – for a couple of reasons really, firstly I rarely have photos to add into my blog and it’d seem a waste not to now that I do, and secondly Facebook keeps informing me that I’ve not communicated with the 167 Facebook Fans I have for a long time.

You should know that of the 167 Facebook Fans I have, only 3 of them are people who I don’t know in real life so… Yep, I’m writing this for 3 people. If you’re reading this and not currently following me on facebook, twitter or on my e-mail list then, well, you should join all three (to give you an idea of the frequency with which I send e-mails – at the moment it’s pretty much once every 2-3 years) – of course unless you already know me in which case you following me in those ways will do nothing but erode my increasingly fragile ego.

Lisbon
Lisbon is a very lovely place, steeps hills, coffee shops, old fashioned trams and riverside walks. It’s very relaxed and unpretentious – there’s something slightly glorious about the way that everyone seems beligerant but also simultaneously friendly – I think the most common expression we’ve seen is the shrug as if to say “well they would, wouldn’t they”.

We try to avoid doing anything too much in the tourist trap, but, inevitably fail along the way. We went for a 7 mile walk down the riverside to the fortified tower and monestary (who allegedly make the nicest Pasties De Nata’s – they don’t) just past the main suspension bridge. Beautiful and serene if slightly crippling when you realise this is the most exercise you’ve done in months. There’s a brilliant foodhall and market (annoyingly sponsored by Time Out which takes some of the glow away from it) – with a good mix of cuisine and good wine that’s relatively cheap.

We visited Sintra – much vaunted by many – and it is indeed a lovely town on a hillside with many beautiful houses and gardens built by stupendously rich people one hundred and fifty years ago. If I’m honest it left me a little cold – it feels like the shadow of a previously incredible place and at points a living museum/tourist trap, slightly devoid of normality and real life that I find so endearing in other beautiful towns and cities.

On the other hand Cascais (just down the coast) was a delight, lovely beaches, few joggers, the odd surfer face-planting into the waves and great views of the ocean. Really worth getting the train to Estoril and then walking down the sea front – I will caution that we’re here out of season and there’s enough British ‘inspired’ bars to make you suspect that this beautiful place may become a dickhead magnet in high summer.

Markets
Having spent a bit of time in a few markets in the UK, Seville, Lisbon and Copenhagen I’ve come to the conclusion that the UK’s a bit behind the times. What separates out the mainland European markets from the UK is how they seem to focus on environment as much as the stalls. UK markets tend, it seems (although maybe I’ve visited the wrong ones) to be a random mix of stalls, tricky to navigate for the uninitiated, not necessarily encouraging dwell time, and often a bit underloved and inconsistent. The Lisbon one cleverly unifies the marketplace with common brand identity, pays particular attention to the public areas making them feel welcoming and almost intimate, they play music to set tone, use the venue lighting to create a warmer ambience and focus on quality messaging rather than cost (that’s not to say they’re not good value). I wonder if there are cheap implementations that could be stolen and applied to UK markets. I appreciate that the natural reaction to this might be gentrification, which is why it’s about finding the balance I guess.

Motivation
As I said earlier I brought the laptop along to do something creative and have resolutely done fuck all. I’ve been thinking about motivation a lot. I wonder if I’ve been trying to do things I’ve been not at all motivated to do at the cost of not discovering new things I might be motivated to do. To elaborate. I’ve been trying to write plays since I was 15. One was good, one was average the rest have been pretty dire – I also, don’t particularly enjoy the process of writing them – it feels like i’m fulfilling an obligation not to fail rather than pursuing a passion. I wonder if the reason I struggle to feel motivated to write plays is the fact that now, 20 years on from being a 15 year old Ayckbourn wanna-be, I’ve changed.

The question is do what? I know it has to be more immediate, no waiting around for some tedious director of a London theatre to reject it 9 months after sending it with a note to say that due to their new green policy it’s been recycled (this is deliberately me being a dick head btw – I’ve been rejected by people around the UK – and in fairness everything I’ve sent them has been bad). It needs to be something I get the credit for – I am egotistical enough to get frustrated when my work has rarely been on by the fact that actors get clapped. Suggestions welcome.

Sales Reports
This is a Head Of Marketing question really. Everytime I go on holiday I have the same dilemma – keep the sales reports turned on or switch them off? I’ve tended to go with on as I get so anxious without the daily reminder that I’m not good enough at my job that it ruins whatever I’m doing. I wonder if turning off is really possible in the arts?

Asking the big questions
It’s also occurred to me that, in the arts, more specifically theatre, we spend too much time working through the small issues, the stuff that, I suspect, if we ignored, would lead to nothing happening. I guess my question is how do you have the big conversations you don’t know that you need to have to make sure you challenge the status quo and keep having conversations that offer a balance of both revolution and evolution? Devoted and disgrunted anyone?

No. But thank you for the offer, it’s very flattering

Sam

And finally… Drugs.
When we were walking home this evening a charming fresh-faced youth approached us and offered me weed (aka. Drugs). I was quite taken aback, clearly he has bad eyesight or a poor understanding of Marijuana’s key demographic. Anyway, I got flustered, said “no” but also “but thank you for the offer, it’s very flattering”. He looked confused and walked away grinning.

A final(ish) gig report.

On Friday I did, what will be, my last gig for probably the next 6 – 8 months. I’m taking a break while I get sorted in a new job and have also been struggling with my confidence to apply for gigs so it felt like a break might be good to reinvigorate me too.

Confidence is a strange beast, you see it when you watch football, the striker who whereas normally would calmly trust themselves to deliver instead lingers too long, overthinks, panics and then sky the ball kilometers over the bar, their confidence shot. For me its rarely shown up when I’m onstage but instead a lingering doubt that has accumulated with the single voice of “you’re shit, why are you doing this”. It affects me applying for gigs (and I realise as I write this how ridiculous that seems) and also has some other side-effects. In the lead up to a gig I’ll stop eating properly for a couple of days, my sleep patterns will change, hilariously I sometimes get the night sweats accompanied by dark dreams of failure. I know I obsess about anything that isn’t perfect and inherently don’t trust feedback. For example if someone says to me that I was good, my mind instant starts thinking “well you would say that wouldn’t you, because you’re a nice person and not a twat” – after all, no-one gives honest feedback, not really, unless 100% anonymous.

Which kind of begs the question why am I writing a gig report I suppose? I think as a record that I did the gig. Maybe so I can write down what it was like before it comes a tainted memory and also so when/if I pick up standup again I have a previous marker.

So the gig…

It was a charity fundraiser, a phrases that usually makes you want to stick a fork repetitively in your own eye, but it turned out to be really nice. Raising money so that kids can have new leotards for their gymnastics club is surprisingly fertile ground. I was MC which is a position I think I’m reasonably strong at and, in a hot room, I think it went okay.

The opening section is always slightly terrifying as you’ve no idea whether an audience will be coming with you – I think I need more material sometimes at the top of the show, but then I’ve seen MC’s who rely on the material and don’t improvise from the room and it can seem a little formulaic and staid(sp?). Usual interactions with the front row bounced nicely if not explosively and although they were warmish when I brought Allan Finnegan on (who is ace, book him, actually book everyone I mention) they maybe needed prepping a little more. The audience was on tables which in theory is great (somewhere to put the drinks) but in practice means you’ve audience further away than you’d like and a row of people who were late on row 2 didn’t help.

The middle section was much better, lubrication with beer invariably helped as did some pretty crude fingering jokes, material about Bluetooth-enabled leotards and a giant of a man whose sperm was the size of a subway. I think going a little crude in the middle tends to work for me if they like me after section one, it also means I can gauge it for the final bit about whether to go worse or rein it in. There are occasions I notice that I go a little panto-dame-esque with “you can do better than that” but I think I manage it by making sure that I keep dipping to my reference points in the night (leotards, man giants, subways).

Final section was spot on (which I rarely say), I asked the audience if they wanted darker material, they said yes, I said no, then told an elongated spitroast joke about an elderly 3 some in their 80s which gets darker everytime I tell it. I particularly like being able to use a stage whisper to change the tone and also find that silence for this works really effectively. The punchline “vaseline” is as horrendous as it sounds but hit perfectly and it also gives me chance to talk to the audience about how it’s lucky I’m not telling that joke tonight.

We ended, as invariably charity gigs do, with an epic raffle. 20+ prizes of differing quality dispatched within 5 minutes including the most hideous cuddly toy ever seen. Overall it was a nice gig I suppose. One downside was Radio 4 not working in my car on the way home but then I’m not sure I can include that that as an element of my gig report.

So that’s it really, keep up with tedious marketing blogs on here and the odd bits of theatre stuff and I’ll write again when I start again!

 

P.S. Oh, another blog worth reading is by Jim Bayes, it’s really interesting if you like the gig report/thoughts of a new(ish) comedian – click here)

 

Resolutions

I could never quite make my mind up if resolutions are a brilliant idea or a terrible idea. On the one hand they can motivate behaviour, change and achievement, but then at the same time they can also be monumentally depressing when, at 2am on Jan 1st you find you’ve already broken four of your resolutions and the fifth (not being sick after a night out) is a mere 6 hours from catastrophic failure and a sore throat. Continue reading

50 Gigs In

It’s 10 past midnight and I can’t sleep. This I suspect may be for one of two reasons. The first is that I woke up at midday today and as a consequence my body thinks that it’s 9pm, the second is that it is from the adrenaline of doing my fifty third (I think) gig. Continue reading

Who am I? Being a brand

“Who am I?” 

I’ve had a few conversations with both new comedians and theatre companies recently about marketing themselves to increase bookings and profile. Continue reading

A tale of three gigs

It’s inevitable over the course of doing something that you will have moments of great highs, moments of great lows and long periods of bumbling around in the middle desperate to achieve the former and avoid the latter. Continue reading

An open letter to my 16 year old self.

Circa 2004 Dear Sam,

This must be a bit strange getting a letter from your future self – I imagine you’re wondering about all the cool shit you’ll be getting up to in the next 12 years.

Maybe you’re imagining I’ve just got back from my high flying executive job going from my office at the World Trade Centre in New York (where I build my fortune) by jet (British Airways of course) to my chateau in France to hang out with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and have jumped on my hoverboard before loading up the holonews on my Playstation 8 watch to view the sad news that national treasure Jimmy Saville has passed away quietly.

You’re in for some surprises.

I’m going to leave plenty of them for you to find out yourself but suffice to say quite a lot of unexpected things happen, quite a few predictable things go on and a few things that everyone suspected yet kept remarkably quiet will hit the metaphorical fan.

There’s a few things I wish I’d known at 16 I wanted to share with you. Little tit bits of knowledge that took longer than expected to discover. This shouldn’t change you but it’s just useful to know.

  • You will not master sex for a while and that’s normal. To be honest, it’ll take quite a few attempts. There will be times when you’ll look around at other people and wonder why they always sound like they know what they’re doing – they don’t – they’re bullshitting with confidence and wanking lots.
  • Dancing is not a strong area for you in social situations. For comic effect – yes. To bring a group of strangers together – yes. To attract women – no. I can’t stress enough how much you shouldn’t dance around women to attract them. Also, the patented “fry up dance” isn’t good. Nor funny.
  • Dress better and get contact lenses. I know you think you look cool – but seriously – in 12 years time you’ll think “why didn’t I pull more girls” and then look at a picture and there will be the reason in front of you. You should also not cut your own hair, what you can’t tell in the mirror is that you’ve missed a bit in the middle and you look like you’ve got a crap pony tale.

These are just a few tips, I know you’re probably hoping for lottery numbers or recommended stocks and shares but seriously don’t bother, although if you must try then Google it from your Apple mac.

I’m going to shatter the illusions you probably have right now. I remember we dreamed of working at the National Theatre – being a famous director and playwright – Artistic Director by 30, or was it 25? Working in a theatre with dreams, ambition, where anything was possible and the only limit was our imagination. Those were heady days.

The shattering reality is that your 28 year old self is lost.

That’s not to say unhappy (you make mistakes along the way (all your fault, sorry to tell you) however your love life looks up around 26…) nor are you a total waste of space – that suspicion that you may be quite funny isn’t too far off the mark and you have plays on that you’ve written and directed.

What I mean by lost is that the dreams and ideals you held up for your professional life don’t quite measure. Your 28 year old self has reached a point, a turning point where he can either fight for a dream or fly off and seek it somewhere else. And it scares the shit out of you – you don’t know whether you are strong enough to do it or whether people believe it too or even if it’s a cause worth fighting for.

What I’m saying Sam, naive innocent badly-dressed 16 year old Sam, is that you’ll reach a moment where you don’t know what to do and you’ll have to take a leap of faith. You’ll have to take a leap into the unknown where you may end up unemployed, hated, an outcast and failure and more lost than you ever were before.

But you shouldn’t be afraid.
You shouldn’t want to curl up and die.
You should find those around you who believe.
You should find those who inspire.
You should find those who dream of more.
And you should take that leap.

Besides, you’ve done it before and it worked out rather well.

Good luck and remember: clothes, dancing and google.

Best, Sam.

P.S. Stop idly dreaming about the girl you meet and never talk to at sixth form – and seriously if the moment to talk to her does arrive then don’t try and seduce her with the “fry up dance”. It’ll never happen and besides, better things are on their way.

Gig #16 – Roast Bar, Leeds

My first gig outside the North West tonight at the Roast Bar in Leeds. I have to admit I like to journey to Leeds, it’s quite relaxing travelling through the snow-topped Pennines and finding yourself in a city where the predominant food source appears to be Greggs the baker. Anyway…

This is a new gig and the first night – the bar feels a little remote being away from anything else but we had a good audience of 50 – 60 crammed into the room. It’s becoming increasingly clear to me how important good setup and good room management are to create a good atmosphere for a gig. People rarely want to sit on the table at the front which often means an empty barrier between you and the audience. In narrower rooms this becomes even more important because it means that the distance to the back of the room is increased and you  find it more difficult to communicate with people who are standing or can’t really see.

This aside though I found myself writing down a few set pieces for memory aids on my hand and a lot of time observing the audience. I find that interacting with the audience early on helps them warm to me and create a sense of rapport which makes the delivery of material easier. I picked out a few groups who I’d talk to early on – even just briefly – to try and break down the 4th wall and get that sense of inclusivity – again aiming to not be too aggressive but just passing observations. Some bits work better than others and i need to work on linking these observations in with my material more strongly. Binty added the great suggestion of the creamy moustache into the evening which I’ll use in future.

I used my “everything’s gone wrong ending” which seemed effective – again it could be developed further and relies a bit on audience confusion and picking the audience members who are likely to fufill their roles and not try to be funny.. a lot harder to find than you might have thought… It’s also fun seeing people fighting the urge to clap because they’re not sure if they’re allowed.

I seem to be getting more confident onstage, relaxing to a point where I can talk the audience through what I’m doing and even sitting down at one point – again it disrupts the expectation of the audience and creates a new dynamic to play with.

Overall a fun night – I feel like I’m learning all the time – maybe I need to do some longer sets (20 – 25min) as I’m worried that my improv and compereing skills may be getting better at the cost of using, well, material. I avoided using my 1842 Cotton Strike material tonight, I was feeling daring but not suicidal.

Cheers and goodnight!

Surviving a seeming arts apocalypse… (part 1)

It seems not a day passes without further signs in the decline of British Theatre in the regions, from the liquidation of the Byre Theatre in St Andrews to Taunton’s Brewhouse moving into administration it seems clear (in the media at least) that the arts are enduring a torrid time of uncertainty, fear and closure.

My arts career began at the Stephen Joseph Theatre around 2002 as an usher and continued through jobs at York Theatre Royal, Grassington Festival, TakeOver Festival and now to Unity Theatre and running my own brand new touring company. I currently work as Marketing Manager for Unity Theatre (please note the views expressed here are my own and not those of the organisation) and am also a playwright, director and comedian (although vastly unsuccessful at all three).

Small and mid-scale venues are coming under increasing pressure to reduce their reliance on grant-based funding (or in some cases forget about it completely) which, for small-scale organisations with limited capacity seating causes problems, it’s not a case of selling more tickets, moving from selling 70% of tickets to 100% of tickets, as we’re often talking 30 tickets not 300, there is limited spare capacity and the costs for producing and receiving small-scale work are very high. It’s a case of selling all the tickets, increasing prices and wringing every dime from the audience from donations to support the valuable work the venues do as part of the UK’s theatrical ecology – developing work and artists for larger venues and ultimately the West End, TV and film – even with that it’s a huge struggle.

There’s also the diversification of incomes, often mentions as a saviour, from bars and cafes, to weddings and gaining corporate sponsors all while providing challenging programmes, maintaining price accessibility, providing quality work for young people, working with schools, the list goes on and on…

Many of the smaller venues, with skeleton staff have,  I believe, one major limitation, time. To do all these things, on top of the day to day, on top of creating and supporting art, takes a huge amount of time. Even something as seemingly simple as finding corporate sponsors takes research time, resources, time meeting people, and even then it may be a sales relationship rather than philanthropic. And the best organisations to approach for donations are often being targeted by larger venues – with dedicated teams for development (or “give us money”).

Time though is the killer. Show me someone who works in the arts with an empty to-do list. They don’t exist, especially so in small-scale venues.

People often talked about the glory days, when theatre was a centre piece of people’s lives, queues round the block every night, in draughty spaces with wooden bench seating they came from far and wide – in those days there wasn’t even an Arts Council, so why now, why not any more? It’s easy to point at the competition theatre faces now, film, tv, computer games, facebook, on-demand porn, gig venues, indoor mini golf, the expansion of theatre venues – there are so many more demands on our time. Perhaps it’s relevance, or function, or the forms we use, or perhaps social expectation of theatre. Maybe it’s all of these things and more.

Scary times.

So what’s the solution?

To be honest I don’t fully know. I’m about to start work on a document to explore all that – a daunting undertaking but one I’m excited about in a strange way. I have some initial ideas, around shared services, building audiences, producing small-scale work, balanced programming, marketing strategies, pricing and operations and about experience management and development, but these are ideas rather than anything fully formed and don’t consist of a fully fledged theory or hypothesis forming “the solution”. I will write up and then share as much as I can over the next 4 months, for interest but also as a record… I’d love to get your thoughts as I broach different issues and offer questions and ideas many people will hate or find scary, or both.

For now, however, goodnight – see you next time.

 

P.S. – If you’re wondering why I’ve not mentioned many gigs recently it’s because I’ve found getting regular gigs hard, I really want to find a show to compere, any ideas please get in touch!

Gig #10 – Rawhide RAW

rawhiderawI really didn’t want to do this gig if I’m honest, I think I’d had a rough week at Beat The Frog where I got my bi-monthly assassination and was losing the love for stand-up a little. I’ve never been particularly good at dealing with disappointment and tend to beat myself up when something’s not perfect so Preston (as it was the first time) was particularly galling. Anyway, it was nothing to do with the show or people, it was that I had another BTF based mauling in my mind and so walked to the gig with severe trepidation and a real sense of fear.

So, how did it go? Well it was  a quiet gig, but probably one of my favorites so far. Their gong format is much friendlier to acts and more supportive – as usual I was a bag of nerves up to the moment I hjad the mic in  my hand and then I became my alter-ego and everything was fine. I decided to use my clapping opening as a preamble as I was worried about filling the time – which is weird as I’ve recorded the full set and it runs at 23mins if I go fast. Anyway, I finished the pre-amble and was just about to start on my material when I ran out of time.

I didn’t win (and didn’t deserve to – the guy who was on first was phenomenal as was Mike Edge who was also on) – but it felt like a strong showing and I’d love to go back there and do a 10min slot and really explore my set a bit more. Everytime I get onstage I feel better and better about it and more confident – I was chatting to an act in Preston who’d done 70 gigs and I can see why each one must count for something. I need to develop my first 20 seconds onstage, probably a one-liner to get me in a bit more, although I don’t know if that’d run against my style? Also I get distracted too easily and go on a tangent… Must stop that. I think I learnt a lot from watching the compere tonight, he was excellent, a different style to Paul Smith, but really kept a small crowd motivated and engaged. I’d love to give compering a go, get my stage time up in an improvisational role.

Right, pretty late now as I completely redesigned my blog before writing this!

Night! xx

Gig #8 – Beat The Frog, Preston

It’d been nearly two weeks since my last gig and I was feeling kind of nervous about my next outing. Firstly gig #7 had gone so well I was wondering whether to give up on a high and also my previous encounter with Beat The Frog in Preston had been pretty hideous. So it was with trepidation that I boarded the train to Preston, with nerves jangling and a Beef and Onion sandwich purchased from M&S.

What to say. Well, it was busier than last time, nearly sold out I’d guess and for a pretty busy bar that’s at least 120 people, although I might estimate more. That made a difference to the vibe, less eerie silences and certainly easier for compere and acts alike. Again I didn’t beat the frog, but I bumped up my Preston BTF time to a new PB – 2 min 51 sec, which I was quite pleased with. It’s difficult at the best of times I think to do gong shows but as a story based act that is very wordy I’m not sure the format suits me in a way that it suits the one liner guys. I was on third following two brilliant acts who nailed it, I think part of the room went with me, but I lost the majority by not moving through the material quickly enough and getting the the meat of my act. At the last minute I cut my usual introduction (clapping) and started with relationships which seemed to work better, although I’m not sure I developed the section enough or pushed my ideas to their weirdest areas. I tried a bit of new material about bread that seemed to be received okay so that might stay for gig #9.

Not a total success – however I was reminded why i am putting myself through this – before the gig all the acts were sat around a table talking, some had come from Birmingham, others Salford, others closer by, but it was a lovely conversation, all of us bonded by a shared experience. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – 99% of the open acts I have met have been dedicated, brave, interesting, incredibly supportive and nice people and yet again that was proved true. Without them doing this would be really tough – but tonight, it made the 4 and a half hour round trip worth while.

One comment maybe – the gong show format is hard enough, so why do comperes build it up as if it’s a blood sport? Sometimes that can feel a little much and doesn’t build the supportive audience you need. Although, that said, it gives you much thicker skin and if the blood sport element gets people seeing live comedy then perhaps a good thing.

Meanwhile I’m very tired.

Night x

Prestogigaphobia – The fear of gigging in Preston

Guess what this blog post is about…

Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m heading back to Preston to see how I get on at Beat The Frog. Me and Preston have not had a good relationship since we first met nearly a year ago. Well actually it started long ago when I decided not to go to the University of Central Lancaster and instead go and live in York, it was a tough choice at the time, in the last year it’s seemed incredibly wise.

The first time I was in Preston (in what I’ll now refer to as “the modern era”), it was for a conference. I arrived very early on a dark windy rainy day and as the rain pounded down soaking me from head to toe, i crept through industrial estates, climbed over walls, sneaked through gaps in the the barbed wire and arrived at the hotel across the wasteland for a conference about pricing in the arts. Not a great start.

The last time was for my first experience of Beat the Frog, gig #2 as it happens and was equally horrendous, my set was greeted with silence, awkward silence, a man at the back of the room saying “not this shit” and me leaving the stage sharpish. It was terrible.

So why am I doing it again. Well for a few reasons:

#1 – The last time I was there it was gig #2 and was early in my stand up life, all i need is a slight improvement on that last gig to find satisfaction. I took it too seriously, didn’t relax before I went on, assumed that the audience would go with me and didn’t work hard enough. Next time, a beer before I go on and a more chilled out vibe.

#2 – I’m slightly scared of this gig, and unless I face my fears and what I’m scared of I’ll be held back by it. Big changes start with small steps, and this is a small step that’s not going to hurt me too badly.

#3 – Preston can’t be a fully bad place. I did my first gig and got a hard audience. I can’t write off a place because of one night – there must be nice people there – it’s a northern city, I love northern cities, the people, the friendliness – I want to see it in Preston.

I still feel nervous though, I’ve run my material but it’s not seeming to flow – two weeks of not performing takes it away from you a bit – I wonder what happens if I fail to find the right vibe, or the right flow or if words and improvisational cleverness fails me… ARGH! What to do. I guess if it goes well then great, if it doesn’t then, well fuck it, nowt I can do but learn from it.

I’ll update you all about how Preston goes after the gig. Night all!

What I learnt this week…#1

I think it’s important to blog regularly, and to be honest for the last few weeks I have been quite neglectful as of late. Partly it’s because I’ve been really busy, I’m not making excuses, I’m just saying, loads on, once I’ve finished with work, other work, play stuff, stand-up, curing cancer and stand-up blogs there’s not much time for writing wistful but witty posts with a hint of poignancy. So I thought I’d put down a few notes about what I learnt…

  1. Different ways to ruin movies – Two films and two different ways to ruin potentially perfect movies. I saw Lincoln and it had amazing acting, brilliant cinematography yet Spielberg has found it necessary to make the pacing so slow that it becomes the most tedious film i’ve seen in a long time. But that’s nothing compared to Quentin Tarantino. Django is a great film, funny, clever with the best Klu Klux Klan scene I’ve seen – But why, why when you expensively assemble a cast of stellar actors would you ruin it all by inserting yourself in the film – at least he had the good decency to kill himself off in a good fashion.
  2. Good food in warehouses – I had lunch in the Camp and Furnace with Louise on Saturday. I’d been there before for the launch of the Biennial where it was full of hipsters and I felt out of place, but in the cold light of day it’s quite a nice place to grab lunch and had a lovely warm fire! It also has the best light bulbs ever!
  3. Playwrighting is hard – I have no motivation to write plays at the moment, not quite sure what to do about it. I think the problem is deadlines – with gigs you get immediate feedback and you have to sort it before the next gig – playwriting takes ages… I need a deadline.
  4. Not gigging makes you stressed – The longer between gigs the more worrying the next gig becomes. Pretty obvious stuff.
  5. I’m obsessed with The West Wing – I seem to be held into a trap of watching The West Wing from series 1 – 7 on loop. I’ve just started from series 1 again and i’ve noticed little things. Like Martin Sheen’s hair gets dyed with grey in towards the end of the series – the theme tune speeds up and becomes more cinematic in series 3 AND Leo doesn’t age. Not at all. Even slightly.

Gig #6 – The Beech Inn, Chorlton

I’ve been inspired to write up some gig notes by Ste Price (click here for his excellent site) to evaluate the work I’ve been doing, how I’ve felt after gigs and where I need to develop.

Gig #6 was at The Beech Inn in Chorlton and was a really fun gig. I was slightly apprehensive when I arrived though. Just before Christmas I had performed my second Hot Water Comedy Club set using my original material developed on the course and, although moments were effective, I felt like I was giving a self help lecture rather than performing stand up. The opening of my set helped me talk to the audience and helped me improvise a bit to get my mind up to speed but the remainder of the material felt forced and, well, a little dishonest. It was all about growing older and while it does bother me, I didn’t really feel passionate about it and didn’t feel there was enough room to improvise around themes. I rewrote most of my set over Christmas, moving it towards more traditionally funny subjects (sex). A sense of structure is really important to me, I want each set I do to feel like a mini-Edinburgh set (how much of a pretentious prick am I!), so it had to develop logically rather than jump around, this also helps me remember what I’m doing and when and has helped me remember bits.

It was a small gig in the backroom of a pub and I was on first. I was slightly apprehensive about going on first – it always seems like a mixed blessing – on the downside the audience aren’t drunk enough, and aren’t warmed up so it can feel you have to put lots of energy into the room – on the upside it means that you don’t follow anyone vastly better than you (which takes a load of pressure off your shoulders) and means that, for me, a quite wordy act, they can keep up (i sound like such a prick right now).

So the set went well, I was strong with my opening (Clapping) and that helped me find pockets of the room and talk to people – I need to add more references to the audience later in the set to get a sense of callback more engrained in what I’m doing – great comperes do it and it endears the audience to them. The next bit (GF’s Exs & Insecurity) was ok, I pushed it further than I had while practicing but it wasn’t quite as eloquent as I was hoping for – my persona tends to use high brow words and I think I might have forgotten them all… The strongest moment was about the confidence of entering a bedroom comparison – it places me in a vulnerable position and physically works as a good moment, maybe needs work to pad out the movement into the room (at gig #7 I found talking to members of the audience, ideally butch males, as if they were my lover, tends to be very effective.) The ending was an idea I’ve been toying with a while and it didn’t quite work (as well as gig #7), where I make my set a disaster… People find it unnerving but went along with it, and I think, in combination with the clapping opening creates a rounded feel to the set.

I appreciate that reading this will mean very little to many people, these are more my notes than anything else – to help me analyse my act and make it good!

Gig #7 to follow soon!

Things to remember when performing!

I’ve been feeling quite nervous about my upcoming gigs so I thought I’d write down some tips I’d been given and some things I’ve learnt.

  1. Confidence Matters – People inherently trust and follow confident people. If you look nervous onstage then the audience will be nervous and won’t follow you.
  2. It takes time – It can take some audiences time to like you, just because they don’t warm up in the first three mins doesn’t mean you can’t win them over.
  3. Deep breath – When you get onstage, give yourself a moment, don’t rush into it, instead get used to the lights and the staging and where the audience are (but don’t take ages).
  4. Slow down – Most people speed up when they’re nervous, try to consciously start a bit slower at the very start, you’ll speed up naturally after that and then slow down too when you get a bit more comfortable.
  5. Don’t point out negatives – Don’t point out negatives (unless it’s part of the act): eerie silences, a joke not working, if you’re pacing around – it only draws attention to the fact that you’ve pointed it out. Most people won’t have noticed.
  6. Ad Lib – Don’t worry too much about getting back on material if you find a nice direction to go. The material is your guide and your back up plan.
  7. You have balls (even if you’re a lady) – Most people will never get up onstage, what you’re doing is harder and scarier than they can imagine, and they wouldn’t dare do it. So you’re brave, you’re taking a risk, and that’s better than them
  8. Sometimes it doesn’t work – I’ve seen Perrier winners land material and get no reaction while I have seen TV comedians deliver lazy, dull material and get amazing praise.
  9. Your fellow standups are your biggest asset – Audiences don’t know what it’s like. Talk to your fellow acts, mostly (if not unanimously) they are kind, considerate, helpful, reassuring, nice people who have a passion burning inside them.
  10. The bedroom audience can be bad – Sometimes you can practice and practice in your room until you lose the will to live. It reinforces your act, but doesn’t make it better, only gigging will do that. Don’t feel bad if you’re not feeling it in the bedroom (so to speak).
  11. Have one drink before and two drinks after – It calms the nerves a bit which is never a bad thing (so long as you’re not shitfaced), and have a drink after you’ve been on. It’s easy to leave straight away afterwards but it’s about engaging in a community and learning. No better way than over a pint.
This is what I’ve got after 4 gigs. I hope I remember them!

Headaches and Heckles

I’ve just had gig #3 (this time at the lovely Hot Water Comedy Club). It was the first gig I’ve really enjoyed I think while performing but also one where I think I might have learnt a lot about myself as a performer, myself as a crazy knobhead, but also, crucially, my material.

So what did I learn (I hear you ask!)…

Well.. In no particular order.

  1. When I have a gig in the evening I feel sick for the entire day and don’t want to eat, even when at a lovely restaurant with my beautiful girlfriend.
  2. I also need to wee an incredible amount prior to the gig. I mean seriously, I am probably the most dehydrated person in the UK right now. 6 pisses is not natural. But less pisses than my first gig (#8).
  3. The stress disappears when I’m backstage for the 20 mins before i’m due to go on.
  4. My opening is good, however after 5 mins I lose the audience.
  5. Being too self referential, or comedy referential, isn’t interesting to your average audience.
  6. Sometimes you need a cock joke up your sleeve to bring the audience back.
  7. Talking to the audience and ad-libbing from that is easy, delivering material to mix in with it isn’t.
  8. Sometimes heckers won’t give up
  9. I mean seriously won’t give the fuck up.
  10. I mean, stop it.
  11. In that situation it’s very difficult for anyone, especially a new act, so I shouldn’t read too much into one guy throwing the second half of my set.
  12. I should, however, read in that the second half of my set wasn’t interesting or funny enough to make the audience self-police. This I will address.
  13. Some comedians are so bad they’re good. Some comedians are deliberately bad and are amazing. Some comedians are neither. Some are one. Some are the other.
  14. What I was trying to say in #13 is there is variation.
  15. Comedians are, I have to say, some of the kindest, most supportive people I have met.
  16. Nothing unites a group of comedians like a heckler in the 3rd row.
  17. Worrying about whether I’m dressed right for my act is pointless until I have a better act.
  18. I need my act to be bulletproof. And it will be. Watch this space.

The problem with 5 minutes

What can you achieve in 5 minutes?

I ask this question because, after a drought of gigs in the past month I find myself with four coming up all of which are 5 min slots (Preston, Manchester, London and Liverpool in case you’re interested). The problem is that my “act”, as it is, is 17 minutes long. I also don’t really tell short jokes, or even use punchlines either, i tend to build up stories or ideas into longer anecdotes (also I’m not that funny in short bursts, or longer bursts either…). So what do I do?

It’s an odd amount of time, in many ways it’s barely anything, in others an eternity. It’s also hard to judge the room and make comedic adjustments (when I’ve only done 2 gigs) in such a short amount of time. If this were sex it could be both good and bad. For example “I lasted 5 mins” is seen as bad publicly (but maybe good privately?!?) whereas “a quick shag” is good (or better). So how do I, comedically, have ‘a quick shag’ rather than ‘last five minutes’.

I’ve been reading a load of comedian’s autobiographies and 2 things struck me.

The first is the omnipresence of Daniel Kitson, I mean seriously, every book has 2 pages devoted to a gig where they shared the bill and were left trailing in the wake of him (Lee Mack & Michael McIntyre), destroyed by his brilliance. This “Kitson moment” seems to always happen in the first 3 gigs of a comedian’s career. This presumably means that as I approach my 3rd gig that Daniel Kitson will be there to make me vastly more inferior than I already am.

The second is that they all took between 60 and 100 gigs to get good. Yes 60 to 100. You didn’t read that wrong. Fuckin’ loads. The problem is that I’m currently working on a 20 gig per year basis. So, I won’t be good for another 5 years. Firstly that’s ages away, and even after that there is no guarantee that I’ll have elevated myself from “pretty shit” to “amazing”. More likely i’ll have gone from “pretty shit” to “not terrible but still pretty shit”.

So what do I do?

Actually I have a plan. Oh really? You do surprise us… Yes I do, shut up inner voice. Or what? Well, nothing. Anyway…

I’m wondering whether to make the lack of time the asset of my piece, that i have to get on and get the material out there, and that a good bit is always just round the corner, but never quite make it… All appearing ad-hoc, but actually very cleverly manipulating the audience. Like a puppeteer. With puppets. In an audience. Of a comedy club.

So yeah, my next post will probably be about me being beaten up for being shit and not preparing a set…

Also should i wear a shirt and tie or a stripey t-shirt for my act. I’m finding that a real dialemma..

Bye for now.

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