A set of pure, unadulterated terror

This week I had 2 gigs which for me is a lot.

I don’t do as many as I used to, I get bored of my material incredibly quickly which is problematic as it’s incredibly unmotivating for doing gigs. A good example might be the storytelling set(s), I know that they work every time, but that makes them so dull, yes there’s a pleasure from getting the laughs but it feels monotonous. I’ve tried a few things to try and break free of this but to no avail really. I’ve written stand up sets which are okay but I think feel a little safe, the storytelling is easy but quickly loses excitement (and takes a long time to create) and then the musical comedy, well, everyone largely hates that so that hasn’t been so much of a problem. The closest I’ve got is compereing, unfortunately regular compere gigs are hard to come by and it’s unlikely any promoter will get me compereing unless I’ve done middles or opened for them. Anyway, that’s beside the point.

I’ve been fascinated by improv for a long time doing bits in school, college and uni although never seriously and only fleetingly. I think part of the issue with improv is that I struggle to believe I’m a good actor, pretty much because I’m a lousy actor. I feel like the fraud a lot of the time in the presence of other improvisers, being on stage I feel like the audience are looking at me asking what the flying fuck I’m doing there. I also struggle with the competitive nature of it, there’s the “we’re all in it together” nature, but combined with my insecurities I feel like a non-league player being placed with a team of Lionel Messi’s and horribly out of my depth, or, to put it another way, like Newcastle in the Premier League.

Which is why I guess it’s odd the set I did on Thursday. Me and Mike Osborne have used improv in our writing sessions to good effect, spitballing ideas based on the other persons suggestion. Essentially we write random ideas and have to do a minute on that subject with what comes first to mind. It’s a great point to jump off at. But I started to think what if the audience suggested my entire set, a bit like SetList but with more audience engagement so people feel more connected to the performance and have more buy-in. How could i have the terror of doing new material each time but with the fun of improv but feeling secure on stage?

So at the start of the gig I gave everyone a piece of paper and asked them to write down a statement or question that might be my material for tonights show and put them, sight unseen, in a black velvet luxury bag. I opened with some silly stuff, getting the audience to chant (When I say Com, you say Omedy), then told a story about other gigs I’d done well at and that I was doing this material to be the most versatile comedian ever. What followed was Operation Prawn, a vague story about a mission at the Sealife centre to push prawns to the top of the food chain by killing off sharks through breaking natural selection, to do this Rolf Harris was called upon to fist the sharks to death with the only lubricant red and brown sauce, taken from the insensitive fish and chip stall at the centre. Everything underlined was audience suggestion.

So did it work. In a nutshell “kind of”. Firstly I was opening which made the room tricky and it was a little cold. The intro didn’t really work as playing high status and crucially pretending to be successful doesn’t work for me because I don’t have the supporting material, persona or verve to pull it off – i don’t do arrogant on stage well, I’m much better as politely vulnerable. Making it lower status and me as the underdog would help more but I’d need 3 bankers at the top to aid this. The audience were engaged apart from two people who arrived late who I’d not spoken to pre-show. I think the early interaction was good as was using the audience members but that it needs streamlining to keep the pace high otherwise there are lulls when a new idea is taken out of the bag and read by an audience member (the bag lady).

Slowing down and placing myself firmly in the story and establishing the problem needs to be centre of this – finding the resolution to the problem is the journey and I didn’t quite find it. Visualising the space helps the audience, and it’s not a set for huge laughs (yet) more oddity… I need to structure what goes on the suggestions, a few people wrote jokes (to help) while others wrote questions – i needed a mix and maybe another device to create these would be nice – maybe a dictionary, a random phrase from a book or something else.

It was terrifying but not awful and really enjoyable to do. Although I was chatting to a comedian afterwards who said he felt sick during it as each idea he’d try and play along. It’s definitely one that will develop over time. I think key to this is getting more comfortable with finding the ideas and stretching them as far as possible. I was very conscious that when practicing with Mike and Steph that the longest I’d managed was 8 minutes. When I actually did it I reached 15mins. I need to slow the fuck down. Take my time, relax and also smile as much as possible – the audience need to know I could be fucked at any second but I’m okay with that.

I’m going to try and develop it over a bit of time so if you have a shit gig I can try this out at then please let me know, also let me know what you think/whether I’m a lunatic or not. Night, Sam x

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