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…

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.








Relationship Status

Me: (for the hundredth time that day) Free comedy show tonight!

Man: (looks at flyer) Is that you?

Me: Yeah that’s me!

Man: Oh that’s so cool. Wait… is that your boyfriend?

Me: Yeah, we do the show together.

*Man cries out ‘NOOOOOOO’, drops flyer, stamps on it, sets fire to it and storms off into the distance to go and see ‘Single Comedians Trying to Impress You’ instead*

Yes, I’m exaggerating, but this sort of thing did happen, albeit to a lesser extent. While I was performing ‘Love Hate Relationship’ at Edinburgh Festival for 10 days with my boyfriend, Jake Pickford, I noticed that sometimes men would lose interest in the show as soon as they found out my comedy show partner was also my real life partner, which got me wondering – is your relationship status important as a performer? More importantly, should it be?

I was speaking to a comedian after a gig, before I went to Edinburgh, and she was telling me about building up an audience, talking to your fans after gigs and making sure you give them business cards to add you on social media so that they follow you and want to come to see you again. This is great advice and something I definitely need to more of (business cards coming soon), but then she said something which surprised me – she told me to stop talking about my boyfriend in my set and pretend I’m single.

She explained that even while she was in a relationship she used to give off the illusion of being single in order to gain more male fans. The idea is to make them think they have a chance with you, even if they have no chance in hell.  I said that I couldn’t really do that since my boyfriend is also a comedian, plus we are doing a show together. We’d have to take our relationship status off Facebook for a start. Cue a large amount of concerned “are you ok” messages, if we changed it to single.

Of course she’s not the only one; I know other performers who keep their relationships on the down low, even some who still do jokes or whole shows about being single. Musicians and actors have been doing it for years to attract more fans. Britney Spears even went as far as to pretend she was a virgin to keep her male fan base in the hope of being the one to ‘hit’ her for the first time. According to some internet sites, her mother has now said some guy at college got there even before Justin Timberlake.

I do understand why some performers do it, but I just can’t. If it was the other way round and Jake was going round telling women he was single to get more fans, I’d be upset and annoyed. It took me 15 years of dating to finally find someone who is so proud to be with me, and it would feel insulting to be hidden away.

There are tons of comedy couples who are successful, because they are funny, not because they are available. So now we just need to work on the funny part.

If you don’t want to come and watch me because there’s no way I will sleep with you; that’s okay. There are plenty of other people who don’t make all life decisions with their genitals. Like the audiences who came to see our show and enjoyed it.  Whether they were single, coupled, or even the Facebook classic ‘it’s complicated’.

‘Love Hate Relationship’ will be at The Plough and Harrow on the 6th September 2015 as part of the Comedian’s Club, 8pm