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)!

Lost my Mojo

I feel like Austin Powers in The Spy Who Shagged Me. It just disappeared. Perhaps a fellow evil comedian stole it. Or perhaps I just got bored.

The problem with comedy is repetition. You have to tell a joke a certain amount of times to get good at telling it, and by the time you’ve nailed it, sometimes you don’t even want to tell the joke anymore.

I’ve been told a few times that I sound too rehearsed on stage, like an actor who knows their lines too well. This means gigging has become a bit monotonous and mundane. I thought about giving up comedy, or at least maybe taking a break and not booking anymore new gigs while I figure about what I’m doing, which I may still do, but here are some other things I intend to try to get my mojo back.

1 Watch more comedy (not just stand up)

It’s easy to feel like you are going nowhere and forget what’s enjoyable about doing comedy and making people laugh, and how it is possible to become successful at it, it just takes time, hard work and not giving up. I didn’t watch enough shows when I was Edinburgh Festival so am going to try and watch more online and go and see shows every now and then when I am not performing. Not just stand up though; sketches, comedy movies, interviews. Someone posted this earlier on Facebook and it really made me want to get back into it.

2 Watch different art forms too

A comedian at Edinburgh Festival said he deliberately wasn’t watching any comedy shows, he was going to see art like dance and circus skills for inspiration. Sometimes you are surrounded by so much comedy that you need to look at creativity from other places to open up your mind.

3 Try new jokes more often

Trying new jokes is hard. Especially when you know you have jokes that work most of the time. But what is the point of doing it if it’s not hard and there isn’t the risk of failure? I need to try more new jokes more often, maybe at least one at every gig that isn’t an important one.

4 Write more new jokes

How am I going to try new jokes all the time if I don’t write any new jokes? In terms of joke writing, my technique is generally more ‘wait until something comes to me’ rather than sit down and write, but I think even just writing for 10 – 15 minutes a day will help me come up with new ideas. Some of them might be genius. You never know!

4 Leave jokes I’m really bored of for a while

Bored of my jokes? Well I’ll stop telling them then. Particularly the ones that don’t get as many laughs as they used to, because when I tell them, I sound like I’m watching paint dry in a hospice. Well they can just die, for a while. Then maybe I’ll resuscitate them when I get bored of all the new ones.

5 Bring back jokes I haven’t done for a while

Because I’m not bored of them anymore, they will be new and awesome like the first time I told them. At least for the next 5 gigs anyway.

6 MC more

I wrote a post about MCing recently and how much I enjoy it, because of how conversational it is, so I am trying to do more of this. I’ve got one MC gig booked for March next year but am definitely going to make more of an effort to apply for them.

7 Improv more

Similar to MCing, I am going to improv more during my stand up – which can either be brilliant or disastrous, but I find when it really works, it is worth it. My aim is to be able to shift seamlessly between chatting and material, and eventually I will sound more natural on stage.

I will let you know how it all goes…

Oops I Did it Again….Forgot to Press Record

Welcome to 2015, where everyone is obsessed with selfies, ‘food porn’, videos, pics from a night out; too busy trying to capture the perfect moment to upload to the internet, that they forget to enjoy their lives.

But as a comedian, recording yourself or having someone take photos of you while on stage isn’t just annoying and self-involved; it’s also very useful.

I first regretted not having someone film me performing when I did a drama course at Pleasance Theatre resulting in a play we devised and performed called ‘Pleasance Lane’. I assumed someone would have had it filmed, but no one did, we never performed the play again, and it was lost forever to the ether of the universe.

The next time was the first time I did stand-up. I was so excited and nervous (in a good way) about performing that I didn’t think to record it, but then afterwards I was sad I didn’t have my first ever gig on record. Although this may be a blessing in disguise, as I remember it going really well and being able to watch it back could destroy the memory.

Once you get past the nostalgia reasons, practically it is good to record yourself for two reasons:

1) So that you can improve – you can watch back to see which jokes are getting the best laughs, if there’s anything you can do better with your body language, if you are saying ‘um’ too much.

2) If it’s a good video, you can use it to send to promoters to get better gigs. This is really the only way of proving how funny you are without someone seeing you live, so it’s important to have this.

There have been various times over the last few years Sod’s law seems to have dictated that the times I don’t record seem to have been particularly awesome or useful gigs. I’m still sending promoters a video from around a year ago because I’m waiting for an amazing recent video I can use instead.

I did a gig in May at Instant Laughs in Wimbledon but because of where the audience were it was hard to set up a camera, so I used voice record on my phone instead. My set went really well and got laughs in all the right places. A few months later my phone broke and the recording was stuck on a voice record app that I couldn’t work out how to transfer to my computer, before the phone stopped working completely and when they sent me a new one the app data was gone.

I later found out the next time I did this gig (when I got Jake to hold my camera for me) that the lighting was quite bad, so the video would have been unusable, but I could have used the sound recording to enter the BBC Radio New Comedy Award Competition. (I didn’t get through with the recording I sent, but I will save comedy competitions for another blog post).

When I was at the Edinburgh festival recently, I did a gig where there were only 4 audience members, but they were good laughers and I ended up doing all improv and chatting. We found out before I went on stage that the couple in the audience were police officers and this made the gig a lot more interesting. Unfortunately my camera ran out of battery after 4 minutes so I can’t watch back the whole thing. I’ve had camera batteries run out on me before as well, so I now have a spare, and usually carry the charger, but was unprepared this time.

On our last show in Edinburgh, Jake and I were worried it wasn’t going to be that good. It was a Saturday and the Saturday before had been full of drunken people ranging from the extreme of heckling to being disinterested and unresponsive.  We also hadn’t done much flyering so we assumed it would be a bit of a write off. However, it turned out to be our best night. I realised a few minutes into the show that I hadn’t started recording on the camera, but I thought ‘oh well just carry on’, but I wish I had sorted it out as I could have left Jake talking on stage while I did it. Although part of me wonders if it would have been so good if I had stopped to do that.

I also didn’t set up the camera to film any of my MCing I did on Thursday because I was busy setting up the night, but realistically I could have taken a minute to do it, as I could have sent it to people in order to get more MCing spots.

Another problem is when someone else has your recording. I would generally say don’t let anyone else film it on their phones or camera, unless you’re very close friends or in a relationship. Even then, relying on other people can be…unreliable. I know that because I myself have videos of other comedians I haven’t even sent them yet.

So what have I learnt (several times)? No matter how difficult it is to set up the camera or how much planning is involved, from now on, I will always charge my camera and always press record. Who knows? My next gig might be the one.

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.