I was in a bit of a weird headspace for this gig, for personal reasons. Suffice to say I didn’t give a great deal of thought to this one, between that and expecting to be gonged off fairly sharpish. I had notions of trying out something different – not just material, but performance style – but ended up mostly using the same stuff, which I didn’t even run through in my head beforehand due to preoccupation. I figured I’d be able to remember enough to get by.
Chris Henry compered and also adjudicated from the stage, with his own microphone, marking the end of the minute’s grace afforded to each act and encouraging the audience to heckle, boo, jeer, and so on. Mostly, they didn’t. He wrote on Twitter later that they were too nice, but then again he has spent two straight years asking the Tuesday night audience to respect the acts, show them love, refrain from heckling, and otherwise support new acts and those trying new material. So it’s understandable that people were perhaps loath to go against that.
Names were drawn from a bucket, and there were around twenty contenders – with the comedy festival still running, and the reputation Gong Shows have, there were less participants than might have otherwise been expected. Tonight, there were also two complete newcomers in the line-up, which is pretty brave for a first time.
One of these newcomers was drawn out first and had to open the show. I’ll euphemistically say that he “wasn’t very good” – it’s always an idea to think about your material at some point before stepping on stage, and if you are going to jot ideas on your hand don’t just have a mental blank and draw a cock instead. And if you are going to graffiti something with a cartoonish rendering of a throbbing member, I’m not sure why you would choose your own body as the surface to deface.
[Ed. Note: This was Scott Reilly’s first gig, and – writing this in October 2011 – he has had many more successful gigs since.]
I don’t particularly recall the order or line-up, though I think Johnny Thompson went up second (he opened the Red Raw gig I did at The Stand. I now know his surname, though not which spelling he uses. One step at a time.) Having missed him last time, it was good to see just what was generating the laughter I could hear backstage, and he had some entertaining topical material. Third up was Ed Whitley, the eventual winner. He is a very energetic, trombone-wielding comedian, who leaps about the stage even when playing his instrument. He was very entertaining, and doesn’t merely rely on traditional jokes – at two minutes thirty he played the Indiana Jones theme in response to a request he “heard” from the audience, thanked everyone and triumphantly left the stage, before having it pointed out that he still had two minutes to go before reaching the five-minute finishing line. Having leapt about, bounced around and off the stage, gained several big laughs and three separate rounds of applause, he made it to the hallowed five minutes.
I still hadn’t decided on whether to try being an “angry comic”, and if so on which subjects, whether to do my usual material, new material, or try and mix it up a bit. It’s hard to gauge a Gong Show audience, or to know whether to go with one-liners, or slightly longer bits where you risk losing their interest just long enough to be gonged off. While turning my mind back to this, my name was called out. Nothing to do but go for it, and with the room still buzzing from Ed’s performance I got my first laugh by just acknowledging as much and saying self-deprecatingly “Yeah, follow that ya cunt…”
I opened with the “War” joke I first used at the previous gig, and it got a laugh. Then I used new punchlines to two of my longest-standing set-ups – firstly, “Jesus welcomes you with open arms, because it was dark and he thought you were someone else. Judas.” And secondly, “My name is Jordan but I think I might change it to Michael in the hope a multinational corporation force small children to make trainers in my name.” Both pretty much bombed, and I was conscious of speaking much faster than usual – a psychological effect from knowing there was a clock to beat, I suppose. I reverted back to the tried-and-tested Gladiator Plumbing stuff, but the set-up isn’t ever funny and I worried that I might get gonged off right on the sixty-second mark without getting a single laugh. When I made it to my “hair” jokes I got such a big and unexpected laugh that I thought Chris, sitting behind me, was maybe poking fun at my expense. I turned and asked him as much, and got gonged off as a result of abandoning my routine to interact with him, when the third of the three audience cards went up. He hit the gong so vigourously that it fell onto the floor. I leaned into the mic and said “There’s no need for anarchy,” to which he responded with a casual “Get off the stage.”
Chris Grady, another of the three who managed to make it to the full five minutes, and on only his fourth gig too, asked me later why I’d changed the punchlines of jokes that I know work. Partly I was trying to wrong-foot the audience, many of whom have heard the same set or at least those jokes countless times before. I thought if I could catch them off-guard by using different endings to familiar set-ups that it might hold their interest and keep them listening for the full five minutes, to see what else was new. I also thought it might be interesting for me to try new punchlines to jokes that I wrote so long ago and have been telling so often that through repetition I’m now desensitised to them and find myself questioning if they are funny, or if they were ever funny to begin with. Funnier than the punchlines I used tonight, it seems…
I had such a massive high with last week’s gig at The Halt, followed by the lacklustre experiences of the Victoria Bar (heckled repeatedly), the Bier Halle (had my opening jokes pre-empted and in front of a much smaller audience than I’d anticipated), and the Halt tonight, that I find myself seriously demoralised and wondering if it’s worth continuing. I suspect that it’s just a natural comedown from that gig, at least in part, but it’s also making me question whether my material is any good. Sometimes it gets laughs, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually funny. Sometimes it gets groans, specifically the dentist and fish puns, and really I don’t want to be groaned at. I’ve always watched as much comedy as I could, and as many comedians, and occasionally feel frustrated when I see someone whom I feel could, or should, be somehow better. “Better”. Funnier, sharper, more succinct, cleverer, punchier, more political, more pointed. And right now I feel that whatever I felt they were missing, I’m also missing. I don’t know how to get to where I want to be, but I’m also not really sure where I want to be, and that’s an obvious hindrance. But also means the next step – working out where I want to be, or at least where I want to go – is pretty clear cut. This will require further thought.
I lasted something like 2 minutes 15 or thereabouts, which is a hundred percent better than I did at my previous (and first ever) Gong Show, and I think that if I’d stuck to my usual set I might have lasted longer than I did. So it goes. Next time I’ll either do whatever’s working for me at the time verbatim, or do something totally removed from it and just go for it.
Other contenders, in the order I can remember them/find them on facebook, included Chris Dinwoodie, Allan Park, Alan Scott, Malky, Tony Hilton, Scott Horner, Will Setchell, etc etc (I went out and got drunk afterwards – see the opening sentence of this blog – and then on Wednesday I saw the Caustic show I helped set up and got drunk after that too, so my memory is, at this point late on Thursday night, hazy.) There was also another newcomer, semi-resident audience members Sarah Crone and Matthew Cowan, and both Chris Grady and Jamie Dalgleish, who made it to the full five minutes un-gonged.
There were, I think, three sections of Gong Show before Obie headlined to round the evening off. Here are the edited highlights:
– Chris Henry pulling out and reading the name “Hugh Jorgan” and not realising until after he’d read it that he’d been set up.
He kept encouraging heckling and jeering, and I said I’d get drunk and oblige, but then it still really goes against the grain to heckle other acts – since it’s ordinarily frowned upon. So I mostly didn’t.
– Scott Horner getting a verbal ass-kicking when he continued to try and banter with Chris rather than leave the stage post-gong. Essentially, don’t insinuate that someone is gay if they can use the fact they pulled your ex as ammunition against you. Whether true or not, I don’t know – but it was a damned funny comeback.
– Malky spending the first 45 seconds of his minute’s grace silently taking abuse and heckles, before beginning – in order to get more material out before being gonged off. When the gong came, and it did, he continued and heckle of the evening went to some unknown audience member who shouted “Didn’t we boo this cunt off already??”
– Matthew Cowan having no clue who stuck his name in the bucket, and guessing it was everyone apart from the culprit: me. He agreed to go up a few weeks ago, while drunk, and then reneged on the booking when he was sober. That night he was a bit daft, as we’ve all been, and planned to do the gig as “punishment” [his word], but then pulled out despite Malky calling him chicken for doing so. So this was karma, and fair play to him for actually getting up when he could just have flatly refused. Instead, he got “carded” immediately by his girlfriend (my cousin), and gonged off very shortly afterwards when the other two audience cards went up.
– Sarah Crone having to get up because she wrote an insult aimed at Chris, but stupidly signed it. Since Matthew reluctantly got up right before her, she felt obliged to do the same. I think she enjoyed it though.
– Some guy floundering, introducing something with the words “I’ll talk about childhood, we all had one.” and me shouting “I didn’t.” He made some remark about had I blocked it out due to being abused, which I just booed. Some people laughed, others also booed (all in good fun.) I’m not saying I’m big or clever, but I was a bit pissed and felt like since no-one else was really doing any heckling/jeering I should contribute. Any other night I’d have cheered support for the guy. So it goes.
The most awkward part of the evening undoubtedly arrived with Will Setchell, and the widespread awareness that both his ex (Sarah) and his new girlfriend were in the audience. Sarah had a card, which she thrust prominently in the air the second he took the mic, and Chris drew attention to that. This prompted some cheeky mischief-maker to shout “Which one’s better?”, which created a really beautiful tension and was the first time I’ve seen Will stuck for words, so after a few seconds panic I helpfully hollered “Be funny!” just to try and get him back on track. And because it was awkward as fuck. Haha. Then I just booed him good-naturedly anyway, since there was no real recovery from that. I think he was nervous anyway before getting up, so yeah, it could have gone better for him…
After everyone had been on, Ed, Chris Grady and Jamie were all summoned to the stage for a cheer-off to determine the overall winner. There was no disputing Ed’s outright victory, to the extent that after his cheer Chris just left the stage rather than wait for his own. Glad I’m not the only one who found him hard to follow. The prize turned out to be a future headlining spot, which I think has been pencilled in for early May, so I’m looking forward to seeing that – he was easily the star of the evening.
Obie closed the evening, and did his tree impressions which I love. And that was that. Ask any of the people I’ve named if it was a good night, I was in a downer of a mood and so can only really say that it was alright. Wasn’t great, wasn’t terrible, wasn’t packed, wasn’t quiet. It just was. Yup.
No idea when my next gig is – the Car Crash nights in a fortnight have, to my knowledge, been postponed, so that might make my next scheduled gig my second Stand appearance, in early May. Subject to anything cropping up beforehand. At least by that time I should be feeling a bit more positive generally, and it gives me plenty of time to try and come up with some new stuff, or maybe a new take on the whole thing. We’ll see.
Catch you somewhere out there. 🙂