How to win a comedy competition

Last week on Thursday, after writing a blog entry about creative rejection, I went to put myself up for the ultimate creative rejection – a comedy competition. I’m not sure why I keep entering them, but for some reason I do. I’ve done okay in a few in the past, sometimes progressing to the next round, and I even came third runner up in What The Frock! Newcomer Award 2014. I put that down to the fact it was on the day I had found out my dad died. I’d already dealt with a massive life event that day, so getting on stage for a competition somewhat paled in comparison.

But generally I get more nervous than usual, put pressure on myself and then don’t put in my best performance. Alternatively if I have put in a good performance and I don’t place in the competition, or progress to the next round, I find it takes the edge off the fact I’ve had a good gig, which is annoying. I’ve been advised by other comedians to just treat them like just another gig, so I decided that’s what I would do.

I arrived at the gig, a small dimly lit back room (but with no door so you could still hear noise from the bar). A blue hue surrounded the space, which also matched the temperature of the room.

The comperes were a surreal pair – two men dressed in matching suits, one of them played the drums while the other told old fashioned jokes about killing his wife or having a sex doll. Cymbals were hit to indicate punchlines. The drums player also sometimes did political songs on a banjo. The opening act (not part of the competition) warmed up the crowd a bit more, but I was not optimistic about how the night would go. This was a self-contained competition, with no future rounds, so only one person could win. I remember thinking 1 in 10 is not great odds.

I was also thinking about the fact that I was the only woman on the whole evening, and the fact that it can make it look to the audience like female comedians are some sort of rare anomaly. Sometimes it’s better to have more women on with you, so it doesn’t feel so much like tokenism. In retrospect, this probably made me stand out, so it could have been a good thing.

I was on second, and thought I did pretty well. I decided to go for it and do a couple of my darker jokes, which I probably wouldn’t normally do in a competition, but the crowd seemed to like it. I didn’t know whether I had done enough to win, but I was pleased with my performance.

At the end of the night the comperes called out two names they had thought had done the best to come back onto the stage and my name was one of them! The other was an older man called Jimbo who was a bit of a character, and did a set involving bodily functions when you get older. I was surprised that Ben Clover had not been called, as I thought he had done really well.

One of the comperes said my name to get the audience to cheer and they cheered a reasonable amount, I thought the other guy is definitely going to get a louder cheer, but then they said his name and the crowd cheered even less! I had won! I had finally won a comedy competition! Plus 50 quid prize! And a little trophy! They gave me the microphone  to say something, but I was a giggling happy wreck and just thanked the audience. Twice. While grinning insanely.

Does this mean I will be entering more competitions in future? Maybe. And if I do, I’m sure I will be more confident, and remember to treat it just like any other gig. I am also going to prepare a mini speech for next time. After all, this is probably the closest I will ever get to winning an Oscar.

carmen-ali-with-her-quipster-awards-trophy

They just weren’t ready for you yet

Last night I sent an article, I had written a while ago and just edited, to an online women’s magazine and got an email back just a few hours later to say it hadn’t been accepted. This is the same website that I applied to work for about a year ago and was not successful, but they encouraged me to submit articles on a freelance basis. It upset me that they were not taking it, and reminded me of all past creative rejections in the past (including their previous rejection) so I felt it even more strongly than if it was just a single incident. I may have cried a little, while listening to ‘You just haven’t earned it yet baby’ (the Kirsty MacColl version).

The article I wrote is not really in my usual tone of writing – it’s a bit more adapted for the tone I have seen their articles written in – way more cheesy  women’s magazine style than I generally write. That’s why I sent it to them. It’s frustrating when you see articles that you think are of a similar standard (or even not as good), and you think ‘if they take that, why won’t they take mine?!’

I recently went for an interview for a marketing job in a theatre and I didn’t get it – they said I was great but there were people with more specific experience. I wasn’t as bothered by this, as I knew only one person could get the job, and I know there wasn’t much I could do about it. But the writing rejection annoyed me because they publish lots of articles, rather than just a situation where there is one job available.

It’s the same doing stand-up – sometimes you see people doing gigs that you can’t get on that you don’t think are funnier than you. That’s the problem with writing and doing comedy. Applying for the same job over and over, and then comparing yourself to other people. Ah, high expectations followed by self-loathing.

I read something recently that said you should aim for 100 rejections a year because you will surely get accepted by some of them. I like this logic and plan to follow it more, for both writing and applying for gigs. I know I shouldn’t be so sensitive as well – J K Rowling received loads of rejections before Harry Potter was published!

Maybe I will also not try to change my writing to fit a specific style that I think someone wants, and just be myself more. Then if people hate my writing or my comedy at least I know they will be hating me for who I am.

I went to a life coaching class once and they taught us this mantra to console yourself when you are rejected from a job, or an opportunity, or a romantic partner – ‘They just weren’t ready for you yet’, and I have to try and remember this when I feel like I’m not good enough. Because if i keep going, there will be people who are ready for me. And I will be ready too.

Date with a Tory

On Friday, I did my first half an hour show as part of Laugh or Cry Presents Cruel Brittania, and I invited a date. I had met this person the week before at a friend’s birthday and we had some pretty good chemistry. Mainly because, well, he’s a Tory Brexiteer and I’m a Labour Remainer.

I’ve never had political class based banter before with someone, but it turns out it’s my thing. I told him I want him to fuck me like he wants to fuck the NHS, and he teased me for being an ‘adorable lefty’. It goes against pretty much everything I stand for, but it’s like my head says leave, but my pussy says remain.

Having a date at the gig made me way more nervous, because obviously I wanted to impress him, but I wasn’t planning to talk about him while on stage until I did my joke about steak and blowjob day, where I ask the audience if they have ever done it, and he cheered, so I took the bait and told everyone he was there. I also ended up telling everyone his political views – which were surprisingly not very popular in a North London theatre.

Everyone likes a bit of real life drama, and some of the moments were funnier because he was there, however I think it also had the effect of distracting from the show itself, and meaning I was self conscious when some of my usual jokes didn’t get as many laughs as my commentary on the situation did. It was frustrating because I wanted to get a real sense of how my show could be, but couldn’t focus fully on that.

I still think it was good to do my first half an hour, develop a bit of a narrative, and get comfortable with being on stage for that long. I also did have a lot of fun. Watching back the video, I actually wish I had abandoned the specific jokes for the show a bit more, gone further with getting him involved, and been more mean to him. I mean Tories do deserve it.

It’s also difficult writing a blog entry knowing he’s going to be reading it. My last date story I knew wouldn’t be read by the guy it was about – it was a Tinder date, I never told him my full name, and I didn’t want to see him again. But I know this one is definitely going to be reading this, so I still feel like I am trying to impress him.

If you would like to see some of the best bits of the gig, below is a video of the highlights. Sadly my phone stopped recording before the end where I said ‘right I’m off now to get some Tory dick’, which may or may not have happened later on. Gotta keep some things private…(just not the railways or the NHS).

How to write a comedy show

The longest set I’ve done is 20 minutes, but next week Friday the 16th of September, I am doing a half an hour work in progress at Laugh and Cry at The Lion and Unicorn Pub in Kentish Town. But how to do it? Should I treat it like long set, just doing more jokes than usual, or give it a narrative?

Most comedians tend to centre their shows around a theme or a story, this involves writing specific jokes to fit with that story, so is it easier for your first show just to get all your best material together and screw the narrative arc?

I thought about doing a show about my father’s death (I’m sure I heard somewhere that Stewart Lee thinks this is one of the main reasons Edinburgh shows have become hack), but I don’t know if that’s too personal, or worse, too reductionist. I don’t want to have to leave out some of my best jokes, or force the show too much to fit to a theme.

Sometimes a show’s theme or story can change along the way as well. When I went to see Bridget Christie’s preview (which was hilarious), the Brexit result hadn’t come out yet, as it was on the day of the referendum, and she did make some jokes about it, but apparently after that happened, her show became much more focussed on Brexit. I might have to see it again now.

I do think that having a ‘schtick’ or a theme can make audiences more inclined to come and see your show, but on the flip side, if it’s a good show, it doesn’t matter. Some of the best shows I have seen have had a story, and some of them haven’t. Some of them are a collections of little stories; snippets into a person’s life. I’m going to spend some time writing down all my ideas, and jokes I already have, and see what happens. Maybe a theme I hadn’t even thought of will come out of it…

Date at the Tate

On Saturday I was on my way to do Shaggers at Leicester Square Theatre when I got a message from a guy I’ve been talking to from Tinder asking to meet up that evening. I did initially invite him to the gig, although I’m quite glad he didn’t come now…

He suggested we meet at 9 and go to to Tate Modern (which is now open until 10 on Fridays and Saturdays). I thought that sounded cool and artsy so I agreed to meet him.

The gig was awesome and it was really fun being able to do all my dirtiest jokes. The audience seemed to enjoy my set, although one man did look shocked when I said the words, ‘but I don’t see you sipping out of my mooncup’. Apparently even at a sex themed comedy show, I’m still pushing the boundaries. Which I love doing. The show finished at 8.30 and I walked across the Thames to go and meet my date.

This man has spent the last few weeks or so basically being my news source. He likes to send me politics links, weather updates, pictures of the sky, and ask me stuff like who I think is going to win Euro 2016. (I can’t even remember who won now…was it France?!) Anyway, I was quite intrigued by his method of communicating and thought we might get along.

The problem with internet dating is you have no idea what a person is really like until you meet them. When I go on a date with someone, I generally know within 5 seconds if I am attracted to them or not. Which sounds like a really quick assessment. But that’s just how I am.

We meet, and I quickly realise he is not my type at all. I know that’s shallow, but I think that sexual attraction is very important, especially as I am not really looking for a relationship at the moment, more just some fun. I also don’t think that looks and personality are mutually exclusive and that when you meet someone in person you get a sense of that person as a whole and their general vibe.

But it’s rude to say straight away ‘Sorry I don’t fancy you, I’m going home’, plus I do (usually) like art galleries, so we go into the Tate and I think ‘well it closes at 10, so I can bail after that’.

The new building has a nice viewing platform, and the sky looks beautiful. I guess it could be quite romantic if you were there with the right person. I’m more interested in taking photos though.

Picture of the London Night Sky

We go back inside and see the Louise Bourgeois exhibition I have heard so much about, sadly I think I don’t really get it. It’s full of body shaped sculptures and dolls and I don’t understand or enjoy looking at them. I do like the spider on the wall though, I think spiders are beautiful and most people look at me oddly when I say this.

Picture of Louise Bourgeois's Spider

The gallery assistants keep telling him my date he’s not allowed drinks in the exhibitions, as he is carrying round an (unopened) coke can. (I ask him later when we are going back to the tube why he hasn’t drank it and he says he found it in a Boris bike and doesn’t want it. Right.)

We look at a few more rooms and nothing really grabs my attention. We talk about how art is all about networking and good marketing. For example, how the hell do you convince someone that this is worth putting on display?

Picture of Three Blank Canvases

I feel like art in a gallery should be at least a bit better than something I could make or just buy from a shop. Apparently this is not the case.

After a disappointing hour we walk back to the tube and my date tells me about how him and his last girlfriend dated for 5 years without having sex because she was religious (but he isn’t) and she wanted him to convert so they broke up. He also tells me that he was shocked when he came to England and saw people with Down Syndrome, as in Latvia where he is from ‘disabled people stay at home’. Wtf?!

When I get out of the tube there’s a message from him saying it was nice to meet me. I tell him it was good to meet him too (I’ve had worse dates and he did make me laugh a couple of times), but that I don’t think we have enough chemistry to meet again. He then says ‘why? I liked you’, so I tell him that he’s not my type (there’s really no need to ask for more information if someone says you don’t have enough chemistry). Do you want me to text back ‘I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP WITH YOU?!’

The next day he sends me a picture of the sky and I don’t reply.

The End

Living the Single Life

Just over three months’ ago, my boyfriend of one and a half years came over and said he wanted to break up with me. My response was ‘yeah I think that’s probably a good idea’. It hadn’t been working well for a while but we had been carrying on anyway, because it’s hard when you are attached to someone to finally let go. I had been thinking about breaking up too, (I mean it was on my to do list, I just hadn’t got round to it) so even though I was sad and part of me still wanted to hold on to what we had, I knew that it was for the best.

It’s strange when you have distance from a relationship. In the initial throes of romance I thought he was ‘the one’ (Peep Show style). I don’t necessarily believe in that, or that there is that one person for you, I just mean that I thought we were really good for each other and were going to be together a while. I was sort of right – I think a year and a half is a while to be fair.

I feel like when I first meet someone I get carried away with the lust and excitement that I don’t really think about if we are actually compatible or not, and how much of our Venn diagram overlaps. I ignore the bits that don’t fit, and I think a lot of people do this – going through their lives trying to put square shapes in triangular shaped holes. Sometimes people stay together because they want to settle down and have children. Since these are not things that I ever want, I think in future I need to be more picky about who I get into a relationship with. This will mean spending a lot of time alone. Fortunately, I like my own company.

In fact being single these last few months has been really good for me. I’m pretty sure I’m a better person when I am not in a relationship and I don’t have so many expectations from another person. Plus I’ve got loads of stuff done. Remember when I said I wanted to be more organised and tidy? It’s still a work in progress, but at least now I can see my bedroom floor.

My ex has already started dating someone new. At first I was a bit taken aback by it, especially when he said he wanted me to meet her. He said he was going to bring her to this gig we were both performing at.

I was worried it would be bitchy or awkward, but she was so cool and lovely, and it went so much better than I expected. As soon as I got off stage she said she had liked one of my jokes, which of course instantly made me like her. Luckily it was a good gig – you really don’t want to die on stage in front of your ex’s new girlfriend.

It was a bit weird seeing him hold hands with someone else, and be with her the way he used to be with me, but I didn’t feel jealous or annoyed, I just felt deeply happy for them. They seem to be better match than we were and I hope they are together for a while…

New Job, New Me

Remember that interview I went for a while ago? Well I got the job! Me? Yes! What I didn’t tell you before was that 270 people applied for the role before they narrowed it down to 30, then we had to do a sample blog entry, then they interviewed 5 and I was the one they chose. So no pressure!

Apparently I didn’t say anything stupid in the interview, although I do remember when they told me there were four more people to interview the next day,  I said ‘don’t forget about me yeah!’ I guess it worked because they didn’t.  We also talked about feminism! (No castration though).

I also didn’t tell you that I wore a bright orange dress to the interview. I wanted to stand out. I matched my nails too. Therefore, my future advice to everyone is to wear a bright orange dress to your next job interview. If you don’t get the job that will definitely be the reason.

I think the key thing is that because they were friendly and fun, it made me feel more relaxed, so I was able to project myself in a better way than I have in the past.  When someone is more on your wavelength, you are more likely to communicate well and show your best self.  I know it sounds obvious, but I’ve just realised how important it is for you to click in the interview, as you will be spending a lot more time with them once you get the job. And sometimes it’s not you, it’s them.

I started on Monday, and so far I’ve been getting myself familiar with the company social media channels, doing a bit of tweeting and pinning, and working on some ideas for the blog. There’s a piano and plants in the office and they’ve been super lovely to me.

I’m also trying to start afresh in other areas of my life, such as tidying my flat, doing more exercise, eating healthy food, being better with money and so on. This is proving to be slightly more difficult. I want to be like Hermione from Harry Potter, but I end up being more like Neville Longbottom: the early years. (Ok I’m exaggerating a little). The point is it feels hard to change. Today (day off work) I wrote a plan of what I was going to do, with times next to each task, and didn’t exactly stick to it. This blog entry was supposed to be done at 2.30pm. According to my time plan, I’m supposed to have just finished home yoga.

I did do a few things on the list though, and that’s a start. So I’m not going to feel too disheartened. Plus there are 5 hours left before I have to sleep. That’s loads of time! *opens Facebook*

But seriously, I will let you know how it all goes. *Ticks ‘write blog entry’ off list*

Tell me a bit about yourself

Today, I have an interview for a marketing job at a design company that works with arts organisations. I’m very excited about it, but nervous about totally messing it up. I have obviously done well in some interviews over the years, because I’ve had jobs, but I’ve equally come out with wildly inappropriate sentences that I would never advise anyone looking for a job to repeat. So, as a potential expert in the field, here are 5 things not to mention at a job interview:

  1. Periods

I once said in an interview something like ‘yes I would be able to handle this situation, unless maybe I was in a bad mood because I had PMT’. This was in my early 20s, it was an interview for a membership/ subscription assistant for some sort of book order magazine, and the company told my recruitment agency that they wouldn’t give me the job because I would ‘get bored too easily’. It was too late to say ‘I want to be bored’ a la Lee Holloway from Secretary. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. Menstruation is probably one of the worst things you can mention in an interview. Unless the job is for a tampon company, in which case, l say go with the flow (#sorrynotsorry).

  1. Castration

In another interview around a similar time for an admin job in a car garage, I mentioned that one of my favourite books from University was ‘The Passion of New Eve’ by Angela Carter. I can’t remember if I actually mentioned the graphic castration that occurs (spoiler alert), or just that the book was extremely feminist.  Either way, needless to say I didn’t get the job. Not saying that car garage companies and feminism are mutually exclusive, but I think 8 years’ ago, it was probably a bit more unexpected to bring up feminism in a job interview.

  1. Fame

Last year I went for a job for a part time assistant tour coordinator in a youth theatre. It started off awkwardly, as I had to do a role play of a phone conversation. I then had to enter the info from the ‘phone conversation’ into an Excel spreadsheet. However their version of Excel was so old that I couldn’t find the ‘wrap text’ button. I tried to explain this, but was told that my time for the task was nearly up. I then had the interview and a couple of questions in, I was asked ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?’ I said ‘Still doing comedy in the evenings and possibly doing a creative part time role somewhere creative like in a theatre …unless I get famous ha ha ha’. At this point the interviewer stood up and said ‘Well thanks for coming’, and ushered me out of the door quicker than an MC trying to get a comedian to get off stage who has overrun their time. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. (On a side note, I saw the same role advertised again about a month later, so either they couldn’t find anyone, or the person they hired left again pretty quickly).

  1. Flexible Working

I know someone who went to an interview for a telesales position and asked in the interview ‘Can I work from home?’ I was shocked that they had thought this was an acceptable interview question, but I was even more shocked that they were offered the job about a month later. Until I remembered how quickly telesales companies turnover staff, and this means they will usually take pretty much anyone. Asking for special working arrangements at interview stage is never a good idea though. It’s like questions about salary. Wait until you are offered the job, then you can negotiate on that sort of thing.

  1. Over-Confidence

I went to an employability course once and one of the course instructors told us that it’s good to ask at the end ‘So do you think I have the necessary skills and experience required for the role?’ which is basically like blatantly asking ‘So did I get the job?!’ I did use it once in the next interview I had, and I did get the job, but the manager that hired me teased me about how forthright I had been, even years afterwards. I stayed at the company almost 6 years in the end, so sometimes over-confidence can be a good thing, but it so easily could have gone the other way.

So there you are – 5 things not to say at a job interview. In retrospect, I didn’t really want any of the jobs (especially not the telesales job I didn’t even go for!) including the job I stayed at for a long time, as they were all admin roles. Maybe now I have the opportunity to do something creative that I am much more interested in, I won’t be as likely to say something ridiculous to my interviewer, I will just be myself and answer the questions as best I can. Even if I don’t get this particular role, the fact that I got an interview means I’m getting closer, which is good, because I don’t really want to be bored. I want to be inspired.

Part Time Blogger

I love blogging. I love writing. But you may not know, because I haven’t written on this blog since October. I say it’s because sometimes I find it hard to think of topics to write about, but I do have ideas and even start writing about them, then abandon them because they’re not ‘good enough’ or ‘not the right style’ or ‘not relevant anymore’ or…I don’t know WHAT’S THE POINT OF ANYTHING?!

I posted on Facebook last week asking for friends to suggest topics they would like to see me write about and received a few ideas, but there was one comment which said ‘My advice is to work out why you want to write a blog in the first place’.

My immediate reaction was ‘That’s not what I asked for!’ The comment was from my ex-best friend, (we’re still friends, but no longer best friends), with whom I have a wonderful yet tumultuous relationship with. I used to write poetry a lot, but since I started doing stand-up I don’t write poems as often. Then she started writing poetry a lot and set up a blog with poems on it, and there has been a bit of ‘It’s my thing!’ ‘No it’s my thing!’ between us in the past, so I initially reacted in a less than positive way.

Perhaps I envied her dedication and self-discipline. She gets up early, walks for hours and writes on her blog almost daily. Just to give you an idea – I have to start my alarms an hour before I actually want to get out of bed, and I’ve used forks as knives in the past because I can’t be bothered to wash up.

I thought about the comment some more and I realised that tone doesn’t come across well on social media, and that she was probably only trying to help. I decided to write on my blog about why I blog.

So why do I want to write a blog?

1. Love

As I said at the beginning of the post, I enjoy writing a lot. From a young age, I was interested in creative writing. I found it the best way to express myself and I even won two story writing competitions at primary school. As I got older, I became obsessed with the English Language and good grammar in particular. Reading or writing something with no mistakes makes me feel warm and happy inside.

2. Career

I would love to do more writing for other websites, and work in marketing/social media/editorial, so this blog is a great way to show off my writing skills and write articles on my own terms. Being able to direct people to a blog that you write on regularly (from now on!) is invaluable.

3. The desire to make my voice heard

As with stand-up, blogging is a great way to communicate your feelings about the world and attempt to bring about positive change. I can write posts about feminism or social injustice/inequality, which are topics I feel strongly about.

4. Validation

Honestly, it makes me happy when I get a lot of hits on a blog post or when people tell me that they appreciated something I wrote or found it amusing. It’s like doing a gig where the audience laugh at my jokes, I feel like maybe I haven’t failed at life after all. For a bit.

What is stopping me and how can I overcome this?

1. Confidence 

The confidence to go for an idea I have even if I’m not sure it will be good, or people will agree with me, or anyone will want to read it. Some blog posts are better than others. Like this one is probably a ‘7 out of 10’ at the most, but I needed to write it for me, and I can’t use self-doubt as an excuse not to at least try and write something amazing.

2. Time

A common reason I use is that I don’t have enough time to write on my blog. But this isn’t true. You make time for things that are really important. If I can spare 45 minutes to watch an episode of Vampire Diaries, then I can write a blog post once a week. My writing career is way more important than a show basically made for teenage girls that makes me cry every episode, right?

To be continued…

 

 

 

Man Up

On Tuesday I did a gig dressed as a man in a night called Gender Bender.  The line-up consisted of women playing the parts of men, with a token man on the night – Hollie Would (who regularly performs stand-up dressed as a woman).

Charley Harrison, who organised and MCed the gig in a suitable manly way, encouraged us all to embrace our inner man, and it was great arriving at the gig to see my fellow female comics applying facial hair with eyeliner in the toilets, and getting into character. Thanyia Moore was so convincing that one of the bartenders was initially fooled by her man-wear.

So what to talk about as a man? Some of the comedians went for specific men, such as Jeremy Corbyn, some made up their own men such as Colin the Terry-er-ist, but I decided to go for a generic man, with some inspiration from past and current boyfriends. (Side note – just to clarify I only have one at the moment)!

This involved a lot of talking about my ‘dick’, and a couple of jokes which were supposed to be subversive, but I think came out sounding a bit sexist. The most difficult part of it was keeping a straight face while trying to maintain a manlier voice. But, I had a lot of fun! It felt really good to do something different and not be myself on stage for once.  I think a lot can be said for stepping out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself as a performer. Every woman on the night rose to the occasion and Kate Smurthwaite gave us an unexpected surprise right at the end of the show.

Did I feel funnier as a man? I think because I wasn’t being me, in a way I felt more confident about just saying whatever and not caring if it was funny or not. I guess some bits were funnier than my usual set (at some points just because of the situation) and some bits weren’t, mainly because gender actually has no effect on hilarity levels.

As to what my boyfriend thought (who has previously dressed up as female stripper for comedy purposes), well I sent him a pic of my man-ness and he messaged me back saying ‘hot’. Looks like I may have to dress up as a man more often…

Here’s the video of my man gig if you want to see it:

(Yes I did bang my head while walking off stage)!