“It’s my belief that history is a wheel. ‘Inconsistency is my very essence’ says the wheel. ‘Rise up on my spokes if you like, but don’t complain when you are cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away.'”
– Boethius, “24 Hour Party People”
I compered my first comedy gig precisely six months ago, so it was time to have another try. I learned some valuable lessons from that gig, and I learned some more tonight. For a start, I did away with any attempt at intro music because it flat-out did not work last time. I put effort into writing a suitable opening ten minutes, a combination of introductions, anecdotes, jokes, and rules. I even committed some of it to memory. I jotted down ideas for the opening of the second and third sections too, without going as far as writing everything out in full – mostly true stories that I planned to link together. These have worked countless times in conversation, and although I doubted their ability to make an audience laugh I reasoned that my role as compere was to be entertaining first and funny second – funny being the comedians’ job. Interesting theory.
The opening section went okay, I did about ten minutes of slightly-rehearsed stuff. It included a request that anyone excusing a joke that died with the words “that was new material” should be met with a cheer, and the audience duly obliged as – in true pantomime fashion – I ran three new jokes past them and ended each with the necessary phrase. Partly it is my own little dig at the number of acts who use that line as a get-out clause, and partly it was an easy way to elicit cheering and get them warmed up vocally. It also meant that any act deliberately using that line later on knew they could rescue a joke that had happened to fall flat. As it transpired, every mention of the words “new material” were met with a cheer for the rest of the night. There were a few basic house rules to cover too, and some stuff about hecklers that I’d put together, and I threw in a couple of pet hates as well – jokes mentioning a well-known high street bakery chain, and comedians commenting on anyone going into the toilets that are adjacent to the stage.
I’d decided to keep my existing material for between the acts, and planned to use it only if required. If the audience are still clapping the previous act, I prefer to get the next person straight on to keep the energy going. I only use jokes if the previous act has died or the energy has noticeably dropped, and even then I try to keep it short and sweet – pick them up, get them laughing quickly as possible, crack on with the show. I did a new joke after the first act, which struggled, and I was glad I’d set myself up with an easy way to get a cheer. Specifically, it’s a joke I wrote about a year ago and rediscovered recently. It was topical at the time, but removing the name from the set-up means it has a broader appeal. Or lack of appeal. It needs work. Or chucked. Found that out tonight on its first airing.
The second act did fine, from her material I realised I’ve seen her before, and so I got the third act straight on. His set was funny but delivered with hesitation. Fortunately, he toyed with the notion of an independent Scotland entering Eurovision, which allowed me to tie my tried-and-tested Glasgow Music material straight into it – seven jokes in quick succession – before bringing on the final act.
I used the break to run over my opening for the second section – a prepared intro comprising of a couple of my earliest lines, followed by a new bit musing on my existence. It was written to segue into a few true anecdotes – inexplicable situations in which I found myself – but it rapidly descended into me talking lots and nobody laughing. Worse, it features so much name-dropping that I just bailed on it midway out of embarrassment, aided in making that decision by Anna Devitt’s well-timed sarcasm. I jumped into the second untested anecdote, which features neds and buses and alcohol, and it fared a bit better. I threw in some further new jokes, these ones inspired by a chance remark during the week. One is less funny than the other, but one is so daft it makes me laugh. Thankfully, it made them laugh too, the bar much busier for the second half as normal. It was then onto my scripted abuse of Malky’s persona, an easy target and one that I poked fun at without resorting to the usual, obvious quips. I knew my final introductory line would set him up for one of his standard jokes, and he opened with that right enough.
The second act was absent, a fact not apparent until I was on stage looking for him. Malky had ticked the wrong name at the start of the night, marking him present. Simple mistake, and as much my fault for not going out of my way to be introduced to the people I didn’t know. Lesson learned. That bumped Sara Hunter up to second. She had some really nicely-written material that was all new, and she didn’t have to resort to pointing that out to get laughs. The third act was new to comedy, as evidenced by his reliance on the notes he was reading straight from his phone. He began by announcing that he hadn’t washed his hands after going to the toilet, and so good luck to all of us that had to handle the microphone after him. That really didn’t endear him to many – boasting of a lack of hygiene – and his use of a Jimmy Carr rape gag lost others. He completely died after saying something questioning the sex of “lesbian transgenderists” (I think, I caught that phrase but not the set-up), and after he repeated it to further silence it was Anna who dug him out his hole by yelling “New material!” and getting the audience back on-side. I thanked her quietly as I passed.
I’d planned to not touch the mic, instead clasping my hands behind my back and leaning forward to speak into it while making some reference to that being the stance of whichever Gallagher brother it is that sings for Oasis (Liam, right?) – but then it dawned on me that I’d shook his hand as he stepped on stage, and so I just mentioned that outright and said I’d scrub mine later. With a further no-show from someone who had contacted him through facebook, Malky had given a last-minute spot to a regular that I know to talk to but hadn’t seen perform. I picked the room up as fast as I could, tying my recent jokes about movies into the previous/offending act’s mention of action comics. That was pretty easy – “I don’t like comics, I’m more into my movies.” Fast and reasonably slick, even though I think the second joke needs a stronger punchline. In hindsight, I’ve just realised that these will fit nicely with an older bit that I haven’t used in nearly a year. Expect that next time.
For the third section, I canned all of the stuff I had planned to talk about – further anecdotes that I couldn’t rely on, and I figured I didn’t need to be onstage very long. Just enough to get them settled and laughing, and so I took the opportunity to explain the expensive backdrop behind me. It’s a prop from my short film, which will hopefully be online within the week. I’ve been saying that for weeks, I know. The idea had been to screen it tonight, in the main bar post-gig, but that sounded like a logistical nightmare to me: let’s get everyone to pile through as one, disrupt all the punters in there already, and play a DVD. Nah. It’ll go up on youtube and that’s yer whack.
I’m not sure how well I sold it – “I’ve decided to demonstrate my hatred for comedy by making a short comedy in which I play a stand-up comedian” – but I plugged it and then headed into another recent bit from my current set, embellished with further ad-libs. The first punchline wavered but the second hit, thankfully, and I brought headliner Sarah Cassidy on. I used her time to decide on the wording and order of my closing remarks – a simple enough task of asking if they’d enjoyed themselves, plugging the gig, thanking them for coming, then getting applause for the bar staff, acts, and headliner. Job done.
I enjoyed myself, although I’d underestimated or forgotten how much work goes into compering – cold starts, a decent amount of material required, and the having to keep going back and forth from the stage all night. It’s a lot different to my usual of doing five or ten minutes of rehearsed stuff and then settling back to watch the other acts, and as the host you need to be engaging and entertaining, able to keep the evening flowing smoothly without anyone getting bored or fed up. I know Malky was happy with my efforts, and Anna complimented me too, but if it is six months until I do it again then I’ll be happy. Oh wait, it’s not, just remembered I got booked tonight to compere a gig for Chris Stephen on the 8th of June. Still, six weeks recovery time will be plenty. By then I’ll be ready to do it all again.
There is mobile phone-shot video footage of my two main opening segments, but I can’t say what quality it might be. Principally, I just wanted a record for myself as a guide to improve from. Depending how cringeworthy it is, it may be added here once it is online, whenever that occurs.
Next gig, as it stands, is the Friday 8th of June at The Griffin Bar on Bath Street. Next update will hopefully include a link to the finished short film, which I will be publishing everywhere in the hope that it goes viral. I think it has a broad enough appeal that that’s feasible, but with the internet who knows?
Finally, don’t forget to vote in the council elections on Thursday, your chance to get rid of a few local jokers…