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…

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 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)!

To MC or not to MC

Last night I guest MCed an open mic night in Dalston, at first it was just other comedians in the room, even the one audience member was a comedian, just not performing that night, but luckily as the night went on, more audience members came in to watch. Some stayed for a bit, some came later on and stayed until the end, but one couple came in during the first act, stayed the whole night and looked like they enjoyed it. They live across the road too, so I told them to make sure they come back every week.

MCing is different from doing a set somewhere, you’re basically in charge of holding the night together and while you don’t need to be funny every second, you do need to get the audience comfortable with laughing. You also need to be upbeat and enthusiastic to keep the energy up in the room.

It’s easier to start getting more paid comedy work and better gigs as an MC; my boyfriend, Jake Pickford got into MCing quite quickly after starting comedy, and has two paid resident MC spots per month. This means he’s very experienced, and an obvious choice when people are looking for an MC. I have guest MCed some gigs in the past, but I would like to do more. I want to get to the point where if people know both of us, they genuinely find it difficult to choose which one of us to ask. Either that or they would just pick me straight away.

It’s not for everyone; some people don’t like the responsibility or the idea of talking that much to the crowd. I enjoy MCing because I don’t worry about what jokes I’m going to do in what order. I mostly do audience interaction with the occasional joke. I try to make it friendly and welcoming, rather than the standard taking the piss out of someone’s day job. For example, last night I managed to get laughs from discussing the favourite foods of the couple in the audience (potato waffles, turkey dinosaurs, avocado and sweet potato mash, if you were wondering).

MCing definitely helps with improvisation skills and generally feeling at ease on stage, which is an important part of being a stand-up comedian. It’s about self-control too; not talking too much in between each act, or after the last act has been on. Now give yourselves a round of applause and see you again next time.

If anyone would like to offer me anymore MCing gigs, please contact me

A Real Audience

Open mic gigs are gigs where pretty much anyone can get a spot. You don’t need to send a video or comedy cv. You don’t even need to be funny. It’s for anyone who wants to try 5 minutes of jokes in front of an audience. When I say audience, I mean room full of other comedians. Comedians are the worst kind of people to try jokes in front of because sometimes they either won’t laugh (so you can’t tell if joke actually works or not) or they will laugh at things that real civilian normal people won’t just to screw with you (giving you false hope in your new jokes).

Last night was different though, I turned up at an open mic gig I had booked a spot at, and there were several members of the public already keen to watch the gig. I couldn’t believe it. The last time I was there, there were barely a few real audience members and tonight there was a full room. The first comedian on even mentioned the fact that it’s not usually that busy.

One of the other comedians was doing his second gig after his comedy course showcase. I told him not all open mic gigs are like this. I’m sure he’ll soon find out anyway.

We found out as the gig went on some of the audience came from a meet-up group, some came to support friends performing and some had just wandered down from the bar. The best thing about them was that they were laughers. Not smilers. Not the sort that hold it in and then vaguely acknowledge a joke. They smiled louder than I’ve heard other people laugh. They clapped at jokes they really liked. No bitchy resting faces either. They genuinely looked happy to be there.

Everyone on the night was well received, but not in a pandering way either, the audience still had a compass on which jokes were better than others. I did 3 of my older jokes, a few new bits and some audience interaction/improv/chatting. I had a good time.

I think a few things helped the night along as well. There were only 12 acts on, as opposed to the usual 15 – 20 at other open mic gigs. The MC (Sonia Aste) spoke directly to audience members and got them involved, invested and laughing from the beginning. (It astounds me how many MCs don’t do this and then wonder why the audience are not as relaxed).

Generally, open mic gigs need to be better promoted and the length of the night reduced. It’s counterproductive to have too many acts on and you can’t get a true gage of how funny your new jokes are if the audience are too tired to laugh (or too self-conscious if there’s not that many of them). Plus they won’t come back again if they haven’t had a good time.

The logic that more acts equals more people and therefore more audience doesn’t work, as performing only to comedians is both unhelpful and soul destroying. Hopefully more open mic gigs will make steps in future to make them more enjoyable experiences, but probably not. I’m off to guest MC an open mic gig now. Or maybe just a room full of comedians.

If You Like it Then You Shoulda Put a Review on it

Reviews are important; they give you useful quotes and stars that you can use on posters and flyers to get more people to come to your future show. After all, if one person from one magazine/newspaper/website thinks you’re good, then you must be good!

Last year I was part of a two-hander show called ‘Nymphonerdiac’ with Ella Murray, and on our first night, we got an email from Laughing Horse telling us that Kate Copstick was coming to review our show. We panicked, as she’s notorious for being harsh on female comedians and we didn’t think our show was ready to be reviewed.  Luckily she ditched us last minute to go and see ‘Hate n Live’ and in the end, a guy I used to date came to the show, which actually made me way more nervous.

We did eventually get a review from one of Ella’s friends, as she was writing for the site Loose Lips. It says *** but then it says (2 stars) next to it. So either someone can’t do maths. Or we actually got a total of 5 stars. Ella was described as being ‘achingly funny’, whereas the quotes about me are interesting, but don’t really mention whether I’m funny or not.  For example: “Her set challenges you to like her in spite of not being ‘nice’ in the way a girl ‘should be’” and “her material takes you on a rollercoaster ride through her dark fantasies and warm heart”.

Rollercoasters are amazing. My favourite one is ‘Stealth’ at Thorpe Park. But don’t forget before you come and see my comedy: I’m a challenge to like as a person, and girls should be nice, but I’m not.

Anyway, this year I was determined to get a review (from a non-friend) for Love Hate Relationship. I emailed at least 15 different publications with our press release. I got two replies saying they would put us on the list of shows for their reviewers but no one actually came. So as someone who is clearly succeeding at not getting reviewed, here is my basic guide on:

How to Not Get Reviewed

1 Register on the official Edfringe website late

Jake and I were originally offered our show in May by Freestival, but then we were caught in Cowgateheadgate and lost our venue, so we went back to Laughing Horse and asked for a free venue. Luckily Maff Brown who had booked Bar 50 at 11pm had cancelled his show so we got the venue that Ella and I had last year. But due to all the late planning, we paid for flights and posters/flyers at the end of June, so couldn’t afford to pay for Edfringe registration until end of July.

This is the main site that the public check and reviewers check, so if you don’t want a review, register as late as possible. (Although bear in mind that it took them around 9 days to put us on the app and the website, as they were confused about the whole Maff Brown thing so we had to flyer more as a result for the first few days of our show).

2 Start sending press releases in mid-July after everyone has already sent theirs

Again, due to the whole last minute show thing, we didn’t have press releases ready to send until a bit later on, by which time, many publications have already decided what shows they are going to review. Also don’t mention that you’ve done Edinburgh before. I found out later on from a pro act that reviewers are interested in consistency and will want to know if you’ve been in shows already, so make sure you leave that bit out when you’re emailing.

If you really don’t want people to review your show, send your press release so late that by the time they read it your show is already over.

Either that, or don’t send them at all.

3 Don’t do the full run

I’m convinced that not doing the full run puts you at a disadvantage as reviewers want shows that are committed to spending more time at the fringe so their readers have more opportunities to see them. The shows I see getting reviewed are always doing the full run, so make sure you have day jobs or other life commitments that mean you can’t possibly stay in Edinburgh for the whole of August.

4 Don’t have previous reviews from the reviewers you want to review your show

The best way to get a review is to already have lots of reviews. It’s like when you need experience to get experience. If you follow all the steps in this guide, you won’t get reviewed which means you probably don’t need to worry about getting reviewed.

5 Keep forgetting to mention the fact that you are looking for reviewers

During our show, Jake and I put up pieces of paper on the stage background with our Twitter details and would mention at the end that we were looking for audience reviews and reviewers to come to our show, so if they knew anyone, then they should let us know. If you forget to do this in around half of the shows, it lessens your chance of actually being reviewed.

6 Deliberately don’t ask review sites that you know to come and review you

I’m sure I could have got someone from Female Arts to review our show, but as I used to write reviews for them (yes, I’ve been on the other side) I thought it would be better to have a publication I wasn’t already affiliated with to write about us, and thus ruled out an almost definite review.

7 Make a YouTube video asking for reviewers to come to your show

Reviewers are like normal people, they want something they can’t have. If you’re too desperate they will lose interest and go to review a show that definitely doesn’t want them there. Make a video begging for people to come and review your show and no one will come to review your show.

8 Don’t be famous or successful

Being famous and successful means reviewers will get excited when they see your name. If you never win any competitions or perform at any big clubs, your name will be ignored and they will go and see someone else who is doing better at comedy and therefore better at life. Stay mediocre and under the radar and reviewers will treat you like the open spot that you are and therefore not worthy of reviewers’ approval.

9 Be unlucky

Bruce Dessau mentions on his site that sometimes you could just be lucky, once he wandered into a show once and nominated a joke for best joke of the fringe and it won (although he still didn’t actually review the show). Use up all your luck on getting a venue you thought you wouldn’t get. Then make sure you walk under ladders, let black cats cross your path and stare obsessively at one lone magpie in the run up to the fringe and reviewers will suddenly be overcome with the desire to walk the opposite way when they accidentally come anywhere near your venue. You won’t win joke of the fringe either, which we also totally weren’t trying to win with our one liner section of the show.

So that’s my expert advice on how not to get a review. It’s a shame no one came to review our show, but there’s only one thing worse than not getting reviewed, and that’s getting a bad review, so at least we didn’t get that. And no exes turned up either. Result.

If you went to see ‘Love Hate Relationship’ and you would like to write an audience review, or you would like to review ‘Love Hate Relationship’ on the 6th of September in London, please contact me. Or don’t, whatever, it’s cool.