There is nothing more frustrating than being heckled when you know you haven’t time to deal with the mouthy cunt.
This was only my second appearance at The Stand, but contrary to last time when I fretted for two straight days beforehand, this time I left it to the afternoon of the gig to revise and rehearse my material – it’s much of the same set I have been using and honing for the past few gigs. With a strict five-minute time limit on my set, enforced by the cutting of power to the microphone and the playing of music, I had to try and edit my set down from the seven minutes it lasts, as judged from the latest video of my set filmed at my last Bier Halle gig.
It was a fairly straightforward process, because I knew what I definitely wanted to include. Same opening line as ever, all the Cunt stuff so as to have it committed to film and documented so I can phase it out, the Gladiator Plumbing and Fish Fucking stuff, and then the Hair jokes to tie into that. It meant dropping some of my favourite one-liners, but in favour of a couple of ‘bits’ that tie together and work quite well. I can always add them back in if I get bumped up to ten-minute spots.
My material was timed at a consistent 3m 50s, leading me to joke on facebook “If anyone is coming tonight, please be sure to give me a full minute’s laughter, distributed throughout my set. Otherwise you’ll throw my timings off. Cheers.” – All I had to do was deliver it at that same rate, and not rush through it. Which sounds easy enough… Having picked up on an unprofessional trait from past videos of myself, I made a conscious decision to endeavour to plant my feet this time – as I have this nasty habit of rocking back and forth on them when onstage, which is obviously borne of nerves but which must also convey as much directly to the audience. Watching various stand-up DVDs recently, with my latest video in mind, it is something I’ve picked up on. So that was my aim for tonight – deliver at a consistent rate and stand still while doing so.
I had a few friends coming down tonight, under strict advice to arrive early in order to secure entry into this often sold-out show. What I didn’t expect, since he had already sent me a text wishing me good luck, was to see my da’ near the front of the queue outside the venue. I only recently told him I’ve been doing this, and then only because he asked directly (very few of my family know, and most of them are cousins), so I didn’t anticipate him coming to see me – certainly not unannounced. In truth, it didn’t phase me any more than performing to anyone else I know, since I’ve repeatedly warned him that my language and material isn’t the kind of thing many parents would be proud of. I’m not sure if he knew exactly what he was in for (like the frequent repetition of the C word at the top of my set), but I appreciate anyone making the effort to see me. My friend Rebecca came along too, as did my cousin Laura and her boyfriend Matthew, who had kindly agreed to film me once more. Poor bastard must be getting sick of my set – although there is now talk of him doing my material at the next “Comedy Covers” night, which I think would be quite funny. And very flattering, even as a pisstake.
When one old school friend (who didn’t make it there in the end) asked for directions, I looked up The Stand’s facebook page and discovered a post from Darren Henwood, whom I knew from a very early age and who was also at school with us. I had no idea he’d gone into comedy (we were never particularly close, just because that’s the way things worked out, and by sixth year I only really knew him to say hello to), and when I posted this on my page renowned/notorious promoter Alan Anderson informed me that “Ten years ago he was a promising act.” Pretty cool, but also quite weird that two of us from the same year at the same school ended up doing stand-up entirely independently of each other. Maybe one day when we are both famous we can reminisce on a chat show together about half-remembered Sunday School trips… I searched youtube for videos, and here’s one. He’s on at The Stand on the 24th, and I plan to go down to see him and catch up.
The first scheduled act tonight didn’t appear, and so his name was unceremoniously scrubbed from the running order – bumping me into second place instead of third. I was frantically running my set through in my head, eager to have a good gig in front of so many people and in a club whose reputation is second to none, which I was filming in front of some of my family. Backstage, I admitted that I wasn’t sure how many times you could run through a set without realising that you know it, and headliner John Ross told me that “When you know your set, you don’t get nervous.” I hope I haven’t misunderstood or misquoted, but it’s something I’m slowly learning. My “problem” as such is that my set is forever changing and I have to make a definite effort to remember what is in and what is out. With a tight five-minutes there is very little (no) leeway. Which is what really fucked me off about that heckler.
The sound guy had informed me at the start of the night that I’d be “flashed” at four minutes, and he advised that I should end then if possible or wind down fast afterwards, on account of the packed bill, and since my video will look bad if my mic is cut at a crucial punchline. I told him I knew it was just under four without laughs, and he was happy with that. I missed the first act, reciting my set to myself out by the main doors. The girl on the door saw me pacing and asked if I was okay, and I told her “I’m fine thanks, I’m on. Next. My dad’s in for the first time, so I’m not sure how it’ll go.” Before joking “If you see me leave here in tears, it went wrong.” I returned backstage shortly after, so as not to panic or worry anyone with my absence. It’s their policy, but as someone who has been involved in theatre for over half my life, I also know the score. JoJo Sutherland’s introduction to me was succinct, and before I knew it I was onstage and mentioning Jesus. In hindsight, I remember that got some kind of comment as well as some laughter and some “shock”.
Next was the Cunt stuff, which is a pretty full-on way to open a show – and then on from there. At one point, some arsehole to my left chimed in. I looked at him, knowing I have written a dozen putdowns of which I can easily recall and use half, on top of others I have picked up from other people, but I was also extremely aware of the tightness of my set and that any departure from it would have a knock-on effect. My final punchline is the Fish Fucking bit, and the build up is so long there’s no way I could risk losing the payoff to a mic cut-out. It was, as I noted at the beginning of this blog, incredibly frustrating to not be able to tear him a new hole, since I know I’m capable of it. Rebecca told me later, and the video will confirm this if she’s right, that I just looked at him with disdain, and dismissed him out of hand with a casual “Whatever.” If that’s correct, and it worked, it’s worth remembering, and adding it to the arsenal. Coincidentally, comedy website Chortle has just posted an article about the annoyance hecklers cause – here.
Unlike last time, when there were huge laughs and a few rounds of applause, tonight the laughter was consistent but more muted – to the extent I got in my ad-lib about “Laughing at the prospect of an early death” – and the final punchline got only a groan. So whereas last time it got a huge laugh, which I killed with my follow-up jokes, and which led to Sandy Nelson advising me to “End on the huge laugh”, this time I added in the follow-up jokes – having taken his advice and since determined that it’s useful to have those extra jokes for when there’s more groan than laugh. I’m not sure how long I did, but I’m told I came off shortly after the flash and I definitely didn’t over-run which is ultimately all I was concerned with. I mentioned backstage about the difference in reactions tonight, and JoJo reminded me that “Every audience is different.”
Here is my set in full, as filmed by Matthew Cowan.
Sitting backstage for the next act (or two, I forget), I spoke to John Ross about various aspects of writing, and about the Cunt stuff. I told him it was only in tonight to document the joke and my take on it, so that I can drop it – I’m aware that Raymond Mearns does it, as does Pearse James and Daniel Downie, and that’s just three. Having just watched Ricky Gervais’ Live 4 DVD, even he has a joke about it becoming a term of endearment. John’s suggestion was “Keep it until you’ve got something to replace it”, the advice implicit within that that I should definitely drop it. At this point, JoJo came in the room and said, coincidently, that I should drop the Cunt stuff because it’s a common observation. She told me Scott Agnew and others also do it, so it’s even more widespread an observation than I was already aware of. It will be retired from my set henceforth, since I have other ideas I’m working on and since it is not related to any other part of my set.
Andrew Learmonth paid me the huge compliment of saying that my Fish pun is one of his favourites, because in the lead-up everyone wonders where the hell I’m going with it. As I’ve noted before, it gets varying reactions but always gets a huge reaction of some kind, and part of it is based on something I wrote when I was seventeen. Which ties back in to my conversation with John Ross, where he told me to write everything down because you never know when you might use it. Twelve years later, in this specific instance.
Andy Learmonth live:
I sat with my adulating fans(!) for the second section, which opened with Bluto Balthazar doing a comic magic act, his third ever spot. He was funny, and I enjoyed his set, but the inclusion of an adult toy (without wanting to give away a “reveal”) detracted from his material, partly because he handed it to an audience member whose subsequent interactions with it distracted many of the audience. His finale was also positioned on a stool too low for most of the audience to see, which was a drawback because overall I liked him and his set. I had hoped to make these criticisms constructively in person, but I didn’t see him post-show.
He was followed by Andrew Learmonth, and by a seventeen year old doing his first or second spot. The poor kid got heckled immediately, as someone shouted “Meerkat!”, in reference, I think, to his general demeanour. Three tables of hecklers interrupted him throughout, but he managed to hold his own, helped by the support of the rest of the audience who applauded him when he addressed the ignorant bastards. It was my impression that The Stand is strongly anti-heckler and won’t stand for repeat offenders, but that wasn’t in evidence tonight. These three tables not only heckled many of the acts, but during John’s headline set he eventually and exaggeratedly stood back to allow for cross-talk between them, before ripping into them. There’s a good chance it was just an off night though, and since I’ve only been there twice now I can’t say if this is a regular occurrence or not. Sarah Cassidy ended the second section with her American Cheese and Sarah Palin set, which I haven’t seen for a while but which I enjoy.
John Ross then closed the show, the first time I have seen him, but I really liked his set and hope to see him again. After that, we all pegged it up to The Halt to catch Ross Main’s debut headlining set – of which we saw most – and the audience up there was tiny. Perhaps due to the student exam period, as was pointed out to me. His set was good but, performing mostly to regulars, and not very many of them at that, a lot of people were already familiar with his material. Addressing an audience member whom it had been established worked with horses, he adapted all of his cat material to be about horses instead – which made it ten times funnier, especially when their characteristics didn’t match and he had to ad-lib.
A friend of Sarah Cassidy’s told me that he’d enjoyed my set, and I naturally thanked him, our conversation leading me to say something along the lines of “It’s great doing comedy, crafting a joke until you know it always gets a laugh, knowing that when you tell it a roomful of people will definitely laugh. That’s a great feeling. And then you do the same set to four people and a dog, and you deliver that foolproof line and nobody laughs. Then the dog barks, and everyone laughs at that.” I quite like that, to the extent I wrote down for posterity as close an approximation to it as I could remember.
And that was the end of the night. I’m pretty happy with how my set went, and feel I made a reasonable attempt at standing more confidently on stage. The video will show how well I actually managed, and will be uploaded here in due course. My next set is at the Bier Halle this Sunday (15th), and I won’t be doing my Cunt stuff. I have some music stuff I’m working on, and a couple of anecdotes that will be referred to as the Nightbus Vomit and the Tattooed Dots. I related the Nightbus Vomit to my friend Marion recently, and she cried with laughter. Since I trust her to judge me harshly, I think I’ll try telling it onstage – although perhaps not when people are eating, which rules out the pizza-serving Bier Halle. The Tattooed Dots relates to someone we worked with, and I related that to another friend yesterday and she found it hilarious, so there might be merit in it. Since I was in refined company, I reeled my language in and proved to myself I can do the Gladiator stuff without using swearing as punctuation. Chris Henry advised me to cut down on it, and I’ve also realised that the less swearing I do the more time I have for actual material. So while I’m never going to stop, I am going to make a conscious effort to cut right back on it – which ought to make it more effective too. Let’s find out.
My next gig is Sunday 15th May, Bier Halle, 7.30pm – free entry and free pizza. Hopefully see you there.