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…

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.