Thursday, 30 June 2016

Vocool at The Tooting Progressive Club

Tooting is an hour from Hackney by tube. I have grown accustomed to cycling to pretty much all my gigs in less than thirty minutes. As a taste of what the multitude of comedians I know who live in outer London and beyond have to experience several times a week I don't rate it.

However, once I did get there I was given a warm welcome by the locals at the social club (buzzer entry) and, having arrived about an hour earlier than necessary, settled in for an hour of TV, random chat and a sub £3 pint.

Once the promoter arrived we headed upstairs to a room best described as a lounge with the sofas replaced by rows of plastic chairs. From the photo you can see it got a bit of a makeover though. These mini roller-banners have been popping up (literally) everywhere I've been recently. The black backdrop was a nice touch too.

8pm arrived but the audience hadn't. A bunch of acts sat in a room deciding what to do. With the exception of one, we decided to plough on regardless. In a gig this intimate full credit has to go to MC Andy Zap for keeping things going regardless of how quiet the general reception was to every person who got up.

I opened the second half to the same room of quietly appreciative comedians, now joined by 3 older gentlemen who'd decided to pop up from the club below. They looked pretty unimpressed with my set but it turned out that was their natural state so I won't read too much into it. 

Overall the show was pretty good, a few poorly placed homophobic and Jewish jokes aside, and I did have a good chat with Sara Mason afterwards about delivery which was useful. I'm assured it's usually busier. I think the summer is taking its toll on all small shows.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Famous First Words at The Gunners

This was always going to be a risk. After pulling FFW last week due to football induced lack of interest we decided to steam ahead tonight and things looked promising with 10 acts on the bill. When I got to the venue the barmaid told me five different musicians had turned up on spec the previous week expecting to do a spot and had had to leave empty handed. Maybe they'd be back. Maybe this would truly be the return of a full strength open mic...

...Except of course it wasn't. We weren't full. We weren't even the original 10. There were 7 acts sat in an empty pub whose TVs were on the blink and kept turning away people looking to watch England crash out to Iceland.

When numbers are this small it's more like a chat than a show. So we all did our new material. We all laughed or winced depending on what was said. I remembered most of Clicking Like, Steve Hili workshopped a new story, a couple of new guys tried out their first fives, Dangerous T talked about prune juice, Nick Purves was slick as ever and Jimbo (pictured) returned after an open mic hiatus to ruminate on the migrant crisis.

By 8.50 we were done and I was able to pedal home in time to see the inevitable England collapse.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Edinburgh at The Castle

Three months ago various comedians were asking if I was running Edinburgh previews again this year after the success of the series of shows I ran at Pub on the Park in 2015 under the banner of "From E8 to Edinburgh". Experience taught me that though preview shows are often excellent it's hell to get regular people in to watch them.

"Hi, would you like to watch someone you've never heard of talk for an hour whilst occasionally glancing at notes in the expectation they might make you laugh?"

"Hmmmm, let me think about that....."

What regular people like is a sense of occasion. Something that appears greater than the sum of its parts. Which is why I came to be running my first all day micro-festival upstairs at The Castle yesterday.

The first show kicked off at 1pm with Ian Miller, Matt Wills and about 15 audience members mainly made up of people they knew. Consequently the show was fun, relaxed, genuinely entertaining and useful to the guys in shaping their August run.

The next few shows, Mirthquake included, had less people watching but maintained the optimistic energy of a festival. Eleanor Conway modelled Tinder interactions with me and made the lone Meet-Up attendee laugh throughout. Ariane Sherine's songs about fascist bikini waxes and left wing political love affairs offended the sensibilities of my dad's partner. And my one year old nephew invaded the stage midway through my own set and obviously completely upstaged me.

One of the most popular shows of the day then lead us into the evening segment. Wrapped in a Twister mat ,David McIver (pictured) brought us thirty minutes of the surreal and silly. I predict he'll be a big hit with the Edinburgh crowds as it's not only smart in it's ridiculousness but anyone from a primary child to a pensioner will be able to access it.

David was followed by Declan Kennedy who kept the buoyant mood of the crowd going. The transition from physical surrealism to overtly educated observation was miraculously smooth with particular members of the audience jumping onto material based on Ancient Greece with unbridled enthusiasm. We came back down the ivory tower eventually though with a genius bit of audience interaction involving singing and dancing. 

The room was again busy for Benji Waterstones and Jake Baker's hour with the former doing a solid thirty which had the room laughing throughout. From my point of view it's always nice to see the sporadic tens I've seen a performer do all year come together and make sense like a verbal jigsaw puzzle. Jake Baker's delivery was more erratic but entertaining none-the-less.

Sophie Henderson and Haran X took the penultimate hour and the verbal jigsaw puzzles came together once again. Haran's laminated diagram and chart metaphors for the age of consent and immigration turning initial bafflement into genuine amusement for the crowd. For Sophie, however, I shall give her own paragraphs.

Anyone who's spoken to me about comedy for long enough knows I'm a committed Sophie fan so you're not going to get anything but praise from this end about her set. It was during her set though that it struck me that whilst many female comedians I've seen (and love) tend to perform material that, though framed in the female context, still lean towards the male expectation of what women talk about. It's very rare to see a woman on stage whose set isn't made up entirely of one or more of the following: body image, diet, sex, babies or fashion. 

Sophie, conversely, has material that genuinely makes a connection with women but can still be enjoyed by men. Essentially mainstream comedy in reverse - a Leave/Remain, 52%/48%, Women/Men gender balance. Her material on hen do's is an example that is completely exclusive to the rights of passage for women yet is funny enough in itself to be appreciated by those of us forever destined to be paint balling and pub crawling rather than being accosted by themed strip-o-grams. Not to say her whole set goes down this path but it's refreshing to see it when it does. It's a genuine talent and is probably the foundation for a really decent article written by someone more capable than myself.

Anyway, enough with the lavish praise. Steve Mclean and his array of pound shop props topped off proceedings to an enthusiastic full room. A proper found-objects observational set with music and plenty of audience chat, Steve filled the room with his larger than life personality. How a show largely based on cost conscious sex paraphernalia will work at 3pm when he's up in Edinburgh is anyone's guess but if there's one man who can pull it off (sexual euphemism intended) it's definitely him.

By 10.30 the shows were done, I was full of lager and takeaway Korean food (thanks friends!) and it all seemed like it was all over much too quickly. Certainly this is something I'd be happy to repeat in the future.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Hilarity in Shoes at The Lion

I've known Hilarity in Shoes nearly as long as I've been standing in front of people trying to make them laugh with my rhymes so it seemed fitting that the first run-through of our Edinburgh show should be with them. Jack Brooks was on MC duties and we had a decent little crowd of open mic acts going on in the second half plus some genuine locals.

James Harris opened and immediately had the audience at ease. There was plenty of laughter for his material, most of which I've heard several times before now but never really gets old.

A burst of my hastily assembled Mirthquake jingle music (the opening of the chorus from 'Earthquake' by Labrinth with a computer generated voice saying "mirth" over the crucial bit) later and I went on with a truncated narrative about going to a barbeque. 

At this point it's worth mentioning we did a four man split for this show. This is something that will happen a couple of times in the middle of our Edinburgh run when both Andy Onions and James Harris are up at the same time but will not be the norm. Squeezing three 20s into an hour is challenging enough. Four 15s on the other hand is just asking for trouble but on the basis of tonight is perfectly possible. Of the three songs I did 'Tales of the Unexpected' made the biggest impact but there was some good reaction to both 'Phones' and 'Crisis of Conscience' that followed. Job done I introduce Nick Purves and jumped off the stage.

Nick's set hit home plenty and it was really good to hear bits he'd extended from what I had heard before. His delivery, like James', is more cerebral than either mine or Andy O's so the change of pace works really well too.

Speaking of Andy Onions, he was last on and eager to hammer through fifteen minutes of sweet throwing, beer drinking and material linked loosely by the theme of Trivial Pursuit. Rowdy and anarchic it was everything I expected it to be and he closed the show well. 

Total time on stage for Mirthquake: 58 minutes. Nicely done.

The second half of the show highlighted some genuinely interesting newcomers including a fantastically concise two and a half minutes from an autistic guy doing his first ever set and Dangerous T being brilliantly baffling as always. There were a couple of fives which resembled a car crash in slow motion but if anything it simply enhanced the anything-goes vibe of the night. Post show it was beers with Jack and conversation with a girl who sells cupcakes at Leyton's new gentrifying Saturday daytime artisan bakers / craft beer market. 

At some point in the future saying you're from E10 is going to get the same change in reaction to what's happened when you say E5 nowadays (formerly, "whoah...murder mile". Now, "oooooh....I love the bottle shop they have on the high road".

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Foxtrot Comedy @ The Fox, Shoreditch

Somewhere in the hinterlands of Shoreditch, moving towards the big bad city there is a nice gastro-ish pub tucked away called The Fox. The beer's good and they serve excellent sausage and mash. They have a lovely upstairs room in which a Mexican man called Jilberto has started his own night armed with a big speaker and a small hi-fi unit for iPhones.

The audience was made up of the comics plus the pub chef's girlfriend and two friends of the promoter. This put somewhat of a dampner on it being my first official "headline" show where my photo and biog had been featured on the Facebook invite. However, a show is a show and I settled in for an hour of comedy from faces new and old. William Lee was particularly strong with a whole arsenal of new surreal observations since I last saw him. Jilberto himself was charming and personable.

Given the numbers and the lack of a mid-show break I kept my set to two tracks and delivered them with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. Not even the hi-fi micro-system piddling out my backing tracks was going to stop me. It worked well enough for everyone in the room to join in and yet another audience member to start videoing me on their mobile mid-song, something that is happening at pretty much every gig I've done recently. 

I've no idea what people do with half-song snatches of footage but if it means more people are seeing me somewhere I'm more than happy for them to do so. Maybe these small open-mic level gigs should be called social media nodes then we could start including our virtual audiences in the figures as well as those on the seats that night.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Famous First Words at The Gunners

Blame the summer, blame the rain, blame the football. Tonight's FFW was a truncated affair with just 7 acts on the bill rather than the usual 15. Not that it worried us particularly and the hour long show was impressively good, enhanced by a decent showing of actual audience!

There were some very Gunners moments though. Dangerous T got into a shouting match with a drunk, another drunk got thrown out after shouting at one of the comedians for supporting the IN campaign and the somewhat lubricated landlady decided to give a speech midway through the hour about how anyone thinking of Brexit could get out of her pub right there and then.

The acts, several of which were in single figures in terms of gigs were really rather too good for their short time on the circuit. They were then topped off by a great set of new material from Nicole Harris (pictured) followed by Sheraz Yousef, who dissected his set with the audience on stage at the end of it.

As for me, I introduced the acts with rhyming couplets and topped and tailed the night with "One Shot" and "Tales of the Unexpected" respectively. Two more shows are in the pipeline this week, starting with a headline feature at Foxtrot on Wednesday and then Revelry on the weekend.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Monkey Business at Camden Holiday Inn

Running a comedy night against England's opening Euro 2016 European Cup match was never going to be easy but I kept an open mind as I descended into the depths of the Holiday Inn to find Martin Monkey Business in a dark and slightly creepy function room.

I was booked for the early show and so at 7pm we kicked off with 5 acts and an equal number of audience - including a couple of Harry Potter fans out on their first internet-sourced date. Trying to do call-and-response in songs with so few people is never easy and my set went adequately. "Clicking Like" got it's third outing when I clocked that the male Potter-fan was sporting a thoroughly rock hairstyle but response was best for "Shuffle and Stop" with "Chilling" sitting somewhere in the middle. 

Ariane Sherine MC'd in a warm friendly manner and played some stunningly rude songs on her guitar. With the exception of an act who played a folk song about paedophilia the rest of the line-up were great, even if the crowd were somewhat muted.

Martin offered those acts that want to stay on a spot at the later show so I hung on and waited to see if more people would show up. Come 9.15 there were a small but keen audience and we piled through a ten act bill split into two halves with a much needed break in the middle. The acts were again superb and the audience were more engaged. Well, if you count an older gentlemen who announced to the room he was mentally ill as a significant portion of the crowd. Said audience member got up and danced around when I did "Tales of the Unexpected" which was much appreciated. A group video'd the whole thing on their mobiles too. 

Come 11.15 the night wrapped and we headed home. There's a certain anarchy about Monkey Business which is personified in Martin, particularly when he adopts his rambling MC style as in the second show, and the show is all the better for it. I'm back there next month - hopefully in the sunny ground floor function room rather than tonight's SAW inspired dungeon. 

Friday, 10 June 2016

Bear Jokes at Pub on the Park

The temperature on the outdoor terrace was warm. The temperature in Bear Jokes' darkened upstairs room was approaching defcon:sauna. With a real audience of seven the night was an intimate and entertaining affair with the feel of a members club. Opening act Michael Brookes (pictured) certainly made an impact, strategically pouring drinks all over himself to music and then delivering a highly original skit on performance art in a pair of felt pants. 

Following him were a host of Bear Jokes favourites all testing out new material for their Edinburgh shows - namely Sophie Henderson, Rosie Holt, Declan Kennedy, Aaron Simmons, Sophie Duker, Lucas Jolson and Ian Miller. An aspiring stand-up who'd come to see what ten minute sets looked like certainly got to experience a wide variety of approaches delivered over the 90 minute show.

For my part, I remembered 95% of the words to "Clicking Like" and did my usual rhyming couplet intros for each act. Come 10pm it was time for lights up, a bit of chat and putting up the posters for next month's Mirthquake preview.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Famous First Words at The Gunners

After several quiet weeks The Gunners was looking busier tonight when I arrived with brand new laminated posters for the venue. After attaching them to walls with enough blu-tac to secure an elephant I settled in for the night’s entertainment.

As usual it was pretty mixed, though it was good to see familiar faces testing out plenty of new material rather than going through the motions of their first five minutes again. The crowd was muted with the notable exception of some middle-aged builders who had taken up residence on one of the far tables. Though they talked over acts occasionally their presence made a huge difference to the vibe of the room and gave everyone someone to aim at in preference to other comedians. Though two of the men left half-way through, the lone “John Boy” stuck it out to the end and gained himself an appreciative round of applause for his troubles.

The featured music act broke things up nicely with some acoustic singer/songwriter stuff – vying from songs with a reflective Snow Patrol feel to jauntier Ed Sheeran inspired numbers. The only other music on the night was from me with a haphazard “Clicking Like”. The audience joined in with enthusiasm. I forgot most of the first verse. Hopefully this won’t happen at Bear Jokes on Thursday.   

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Spoonful of Poison at The King Edward

It's my own fault. I was late. I wander into Spoonful of Poison (Stratford) at 8pm to find Vice Magazine filming acts performing and Dangerous T being interviewed. I find Vis the Spoon and sign up for what will turn out to be a midnight "headline" set with Vice long gone but a hardy bunch of open mic veterans and drunk pub people in attendance.

My brother and his wife arrive. A man dressed in a long fluorescent jacket and wearing a gas mask last seen in a Slipknot video is randomly hitting a stick connected to a wire plugged into an amp (pictured). He makes ambient noise for ten minutes. My sister-in-law goes looking for another drink.

Spoonful is weird. Spoonful is great because it's this weird. Following the ambient noise terror there is an eighties disco-beat backed singer who can't sing, a punk poet who shouts swear words randomly, the mighty return of Spinmaster Plantpot + some singer/songwriters everyone ignores because they don't have the impact of the rest. Plus Nick Purves and Lizanne being funny. And me. 

How to judge if a song is landing when your audience are trashed is tricky but I get shouting from some quarters for One Shot. Most of the assembled are warmed up by the time we hit West End and by the time I launch into the brand new Clicking Like there are less people but they're focussed. An AC/DC fan is waving his hands in the air and Spoon seems to like the nu metal edge. My sister-in-law has passed out from her 7th double gin and tonic and my brother is chatting to a band about fatherhood.

All in all, pretty memorable.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Clash of the Tight Tens at The Castle

Sometimes you finish a night thinking a little be "eh?"

The bill was phenomenal. I mean, seriously good. Sandra Hale and Dimitri Bakanov have smashed Tight-Tens on previous nights and people have signed up to the mailing list specifically so they can see them again. The signs for a good night were further enhanced when Gatis Kandis (pictured) appeared on Britain's Got More Talent less than a month ago and the ITV2 footage purely about him that came out of it hit 3,000,000 views a few days ago. Add to that likes of David McIver and MC Sasha Ellen and the room should have been packed.

Instead the room was tepid. The MeetUp group, which has brought anything up to 30 people in recent shows, provided 2. A smattering of Gatis fans made up the rest of the "real" audience plus a good friend of mine. My heart sinks when things like this happen. The world is not a just place.

Still, in a true sign of professionalism everyone did their utmost to play to the crowd that was there and there were some seriously funny moments. David McIver took his trousers off and it looked like it all might go a big Naked Poet for a minute but despite the encouragement by the front row he left in his pants. James Harris, Jonny Gillam and Matt Duwell all did well in their own unique ways and Rebekka Turner opened with some impressively weird stuff. As for me, 'Shuffle and Stop' did pull everyone on board so it was good to see it works in pretty much any room.

Damn you summer and your gig-depleting ways!