Tuesday, 17 April 2018

FWP in Wales

When people mention the words "comedy festival" they usually first think of the Edinburgh Fringe. For those in the know they may also think of Bath, Brighton and even Camden.

What they are unlikely to think of is a small town in South Wales best known for having an unusual name and close proximity to some good countryside. However, who knows, in years to come maybe the words "Fringe Festival" and "Merthyr Tydfil" will become totally synonymous.

Merthyr (as all the locals tend to shorten it to) is an ex-mining town with fiercely proud (and generally quite fierce full stop) locals, more pubs that you might expect and one extremely active comedian-turned-promoter, Drew Taylor. Not for Drew the idea of starting small and growing year on year, instead the first ever festival of its kind in the town stretched across seven venues - albeit for a single Saturday.

We arrived a couple of days in advance and did our bit on the first night by drinking with the handful of locals we found in our venue, The Brunswick. Tales of all kinds followed and we somewhat inevitably saw out the night in the local nightspot, The Vulcan Bar. It's been a while since I've seen so many incredibly inebriated teenagers stumble about to music that included a dance remix of Stand By Me and a DJ who merrily shouted over pretty much every track. Craft ale was out. Cans of Carling for £2 were in.

And in the case of many of the attendees, back out again shortly after that.

The following night we watched the opening event at the local labour club. The acts were good and it was handy I was able to flyer the assembled in-the-know locals. Could we possibly pack out our modest little pub space?

The answer to that, as you may have guessed from the photo, was no. Despite flyering the town centre market for two hours beforehand we peaked at six people - all of which were either pub regulars or related to Lisa, our bubbly landlady. We performed like we were at Wembley regardless and took a better bucket at the end than Bear Jokes usually does. 

As a practice-run to the larger festivals it was invaluable too. There's nothing like trying to keep a verging on paralytic local who keeps making "jokes" about Syria in the flow whilst balancing this against the needs of someone's thirteen year old son. Anna J's dance routines stepped up another level and were bigger and bolder than ever whilst the new songs slotted in comfortably with the tracks which to us now feel like old standards.

Post-show we dropped our stuff off back to our very nice B&B before watching Andy Onions work his Powerpointless gold to a family of four and the now even more disinhibited local. Following that it was over to the back room of a pizza restaurant to see Aaron Simmonds and then Adele Cliff before finishing up at the closing show at the Redhouse Theatre to see Norman Lovett, Simon Donald and Barbara Nice.

Was our trip a roaring success by regular standards? Probably not. But when you've spent three days in good company seeing through a decent preview and not been choked by the toxic air of Waltham Forest it's been well worth it.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Freedom Fridge @ The Rose and Crown

Andy Onions always looks to put on a good show and so with a bank holiday spring in our step Anna and I headed to deepest darkest Kentish Town to try out a new song and our new somewhat theatrical links between tracks. If you haven't been before, the Freedom Fridge is based in an unassuming little cellar under a pub now embellished with a massive lit up sign that says "Me" on the back wall. Which is nicely in keeping with the vibe of stand-up.

Act-wise there were plenty of newcomers feeling their way through their first five minutes plus some experienced hands topping and tailing the sets. David Tsonos did some sterling work around cats and Dave Green had a good chair story. Onions himself presented a section of his rebooted Powerpointless with extra lemmings and someone did a rap about Whatsapp groups. We came to the stage in the second half fairly relaxed to an audience that was clearly keener on the occasional laugh and a polite round of applause at the end.

Following an in depth chat about being a Facebook legend with a random member of the audience, Clicking Like hit the spot as it usually does and we were into a link about house parties that worked well enough. New track, Gentrifried, then got its first airing and I forgot one and half lines in total. A new record for me given every time I've debuted a track before I've usually lost half of them before I even get to the chorus. The reaction was varied, people a little more self conscious about having to actually sing rather than shout or make noises but at its core it worked well and probably needs a couple of minor tweaks before next time. There's no rap in it. Possible signs of a change in direction post-Edinburgh this year.

Come half ten the show was over and it was up to the bar for a chat and a pint before the long and winding Uber home. Merthyr Tydfil in two week's time. We're looking forward to it.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Bear Jokes with John Pendal

John Pendal has performed at Bear Jokes for several years now and has carved himself out a very likeable niche mixing warm humour with tales from the more exotic side of life. A former “Mr Leather” title winner, his kitchen sink delivery of kink gained a family twist in his preview at Bear Jokes with the audience even invited to participate with post-it note contributions on their nearest and dearest’s most irritating eccentricities.

At sixty minutes long with few preview-related bumps the audience enjoyed it immensely, having already smiled their way through the ten minute spots in the first half. Lenny Sherman ably concluding proceedings at that end while I opened with Tales of the Unexpected and Tinny Drums linked by way of a post-Lidl bus journey.

The narrative for the 2018 show is slowly but surely taking shape. The freestyle improvised mid-set rap odyssey is, however, still some way off from Anna and I even taking it near an open mic. One month to our first festival of the year and counting...Wales you do not know what you’re letting yourself in for.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Festival Flyer and Poster Printing

With just over a month to the first outing of the 2018 FWP show in Merthyr Tydfil my attention has turned to the mind melting task of getting people to actually come. For anyone who has performed or intends to perform at an arts festival the amount you pay for such things is bewilderingly variable. 

Assuming you have designed your poster/flyer (minimum essentials in my opinion) printing these can cost over £100 if you go in slightly unaware. I recommend the following based on a short or long run. I’ll go with these suppliers for one date in Merthyr and 24 nights in Edinburgh (where I’ll be printing 5,000 flyers instead of 1,000)  as they’re always the best value. 

It’s unlikely you’ll need 1,000 flyers for a single date show (as FWP has in Hastings, Merthyr and Guildford) but to maximise value I’m using one flyer for two shows (Merthyr on one side and Hastings on the other) where I can. These shows will only need 500 each. You may see mileage in having a back to your flyer for more info but in my opinion this is only necessary if you have a ream of high profile reviews to quote or a really complex narrative to deliver. Even the Edinburgh show has FWP on one side and Clash of the Tight Tens on the other. 2-4-1 outweighing the need for me to print a pointless map (I’m flyering outside the venue and people have google maps anyway).

You need 10 posters (A3)  max. Even in Edinburgh. Put five up in the venue and use the rest to refresh them should they get damaged. Fly posting is illegal. Paid for postering is way too much for a relative unknown. Excessive posters = excessive ego.
Pay £7 with Swiftprint on EBay.

Order in advance from Helloprint.co.uk. £18 for 1,000 double sided on thick 250gsm card. £25 for 5,000.

Marketing for Edinburgh is just £32...plus £300 to be in the official program and app 🙀

Friday, 2 March 2018

Bear Jokes at The Leyton Star

It's no great secret that Bear Jokes has had a few lean months of late. Numbers of real audience stayed firmly in the single figures and the donations bucket rattled in a concerning way.

However, this all changed this evening when 8pm rolled around and every seat in the comedy broom cupboard I call home was taken. At last, a significant number of people in the bar had listened to my promo-patter and believed it. There was also a good showing for the first of this year's acts previewing their Edinburgh show, Jon Long.

The first half went well. Anna and I opened with our Edinburgh 2018 remixed intro track and then bounded our way through Meal Deal and Airport. Between the two there was an actual semi-rehearsed segue involving an audience member which came off nicely. Given the lack of spots in London over 10 minutes I guess we'll be rehearsing our links one at a time for now.

Adam Coumas then came on with a slick ten involving baby gender cakes, Sam Mitchell did similarly well with new material, Maddie Campion talked about sex with ghosts and Nig Lovell had enough ink on his hand to fulfil an ancient prophecy but couldn't read it so ably freestyled around the themes he's planned to try out.

The second half rolled around with some of the acts heading home to beat the snow-hampered public transport and new audience members arriving. This included a somewhat vocal and more than somewhat inebriated man. From the off it was obvious that he might cause some disruption to the show but, being a preview, I figured Jon would appreciate some heckler exercise and sat back as I watched the musical troubadour include, pacify and and at one point tell off then hug the voice at the back of the room. Did it detract or add to the show? Possibly it detracted but it's the kind of thing previews are made for and despite the interruptions Jon pulled off a engaging fifty minutes with an equal split of storytelling and song.

Show complete I rattled the bucket and actual folding objects put in an appearance. A shuffle is always better than a rattle. Another of these in a couple of weeks and my tax return might not look quite so embarrassing.

John Pendal previews on March 15th

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Comedy in Ewell

A small suburb of Epsom isn't the most obvious place for a comedy night but Leon, one time promoter of The Comedian's Club at the Plough and Harrow in Leytonstone, had put out the call online and we responded. A few weeks later we found ourselves heading over the Dartford crossing with nothing much to go on except that nearly the entire bill had performed at Bear Jokes at some point.

The pub was lively and friendly, the landlord was enthusiastic and the PA was fresh from the previous night's karaoke session. True, being positioned in one wing of the main bar wasn't ideal but we slung some chairs out and turned the football down, previously blaring from the large TV screens. It was showtime.

New dad JB Carter was on MC duties and eased us in with some baby-related material before Jake Pickford chatted at ease and a few blokes wandered through the stage area to go to the toilet. A blind performer told some nice one liners and then someone on their fourth gig did a surreal piece based on a dinner party. We were set to close the half.

"What words come to mind when I say rap?" questioned JB. 

"Shit", came a response.

On we came.

And it wasn't too bad at all. We cranked the volume up and launched into Meal Deal. The people chatting at the bar stopped and stared. Shortly after everyone was shouting "Meal de-al." Breakthrough. From there we revived Crisis of Conscience with Anna's new interpretive dance routine and got a solid clap afterwards. Turn taken we drank our drinks, caught up with Peter Merriment and Sonia Aste then headed off into the ominous south London streets in the rap car.

Jon Long previews his Edinburgh 2018 show at Bear Jokes this Thursday at The Leyton Star. Come along. Read more here: https://www.facebook.com/events/154029105254415/

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Edinburgh Confirmed

Finally it's official, both First World Problems and Clash of the Tight Tens will return to Edinburgh this summer for their second full length runs. After some unfortunate business with the man at the top of PBH last year it was touch and go if we'd be able to find an organisation who we could both work with and afford but Laughing Horse came through with a great offer.

So it's off to Espionage we go and into the Kasbar room on the lower floor we delve. A room verging on double the size of last year's at the very inclusive time of 2.45pm. True, they'll be a part of me that misses having an office sink in the back of the room and lighting provided by desk lamps but you can't have everything. Clash of the Tight Tens goes matinee with a 12.15pm slot in the same room. Acts, there will be an email for spots going out in March.

Edinburgh excitement aside, this week had another highlight with a debut performance at Angel comedy. A packed out room, acts who knew what they were doing and a very strong MC explained why this new act/material show is the most successful in London. Plenty to think about when it comes to building up Bear Jokes. 

Overall I did fairly well with a rendition of Meal Deal but it usually takes two song for me to really break down the audience and hook them in and tonight was no exception. By no means were they muted but it deserved more. Some acts did well, others less so but crucially the night had flow and the audience were happy. I'd do it again, obviously.

Next stop, Epsom this Saturday.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Front Room Comedy at Pub on the Park

Last Thursday I returned to Pub on the Park, the home of Bear Jokes for many years before I upped sticks to The Leyton Star on account of it being more local to me. It's a wonderful pub with fantastic staff (including this evening Johnny from Folked Up) and a comfortable and genuinely nice upstairs room.

Since my departure the space has been given yet another overhaul and now completely justifies Benji Waterstone's choice of name for the evening. There are gold painted fireplaces, a huge round mirror, several chest of drawers and a vintage style spotlight. The great and the good of Stoke Newington would give their souls for their living room to look like this.

One thing that hasn't changed though is the variability of the night's turnout. Whilst we were joined by real audience around the midpoint, the start was very much a workshop with each act running through new material and taking feedback. Where comedy treads the line between entertainment and therapy becomes more distinct in these scenarios as the raw basis for material usually comes from personal experience; often initially difficult, awkward or dark. From this starting point to something that makes you laugh is a process that verges on pure alchemy. I look forward to seeing where what I heard this evening leads to in the polished final form in 3-6 months time.

As for me, I debuted the newly remixed intro track for our 2018 show and then ran through Meal Deal. Reaction was positive in as much as any reaction can be judged from eight comedians sitting in a room. In terms of the big festival push this year it looks increasingly likely my two-and-a-bit minute tale of inconvenient convenience food will be the lead track for promo. Maybe even a video if I can find some actual time to do it.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Folked Up at Palm2, Hackney

Thursdays are usually spent at Bear Jokes or slowly working through my admin email (for Bear Jokes) so this particular Thursday was somewhat of a novelty. We were headlining Folked Up, a music and spoken word night held above the legendary Palm2 on Lower Clapton Road, Hackney. An institution as much as a convenience store, Palm2 has reacted to the introduction of a much-despised Tesco Metro on its doorstep in the only way a Hackney business can - with art

Folked Up is fantastically new-Hackney in every sense. From the unusual decor of house plants and a chair hanging from the ceiling, to the art installation on one side of the room and the throws all over the floor for the audience to sit on, it was hipster to the core.

We were headlining and so got to see a whole range of heartfelt poetry, observational commentary and well considered acoustic music before our 10pm slot. Come the time, the sizeable crowd seemed intrigued and after a bit of a chat we broke them in with Shuffle and Stop, followed up with a rousing Meal Deal, blew the doors off with Clicking Like (the PA being truly turned to 11) and concluded with an all inclusive West End - an easy win in East London.

In other news, our video from the Musical Comedy Awards is online now here.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

The Musical Comedy Awards at The Phoenix

Last weekend we performed in the opening heat of the Musical Comedy Awards and although we didn't go through (sorry, spoiler) we learned plenty and enjoyed ourselves regardless.

Now in its tenth year, the MCAs have earned a good name for themselves having been part of the start of many successful career acts. Their marketing is spot on as could be seen from the capacity crowd of a hundred and their sense of fairness also came through with every punter getting more than one vote so as not to tip the balance in favour of whoever brought the most support. Tech was excellent and the bar food not bad at all. You can rarely go wrong with a burger.

After a fair first half the talent quota shot up markedly in the second, enhanced by the drinks flowing and thus the laughs less inhibited. We were sandwiched in this end of the show and did what we could with Shuffle and Stop and a fair bit of crowd work to get them in the mood (video here). What was apparent was that most acts backed away from their full length songs though and went for tightly edited highlights instead. This made their sets seem fuller and brought out laughs more regularly. Having never done a competition before this "greatest hits" approach was a novelty for us and one we'll have to adopt should we enter again in the future.

Award show over it was off to an overpriced Chinese in Soho with Andy Onions before a few drinks and an Uber home. Drunker but wiser to the ways of the comedy competition.

In sharp contrast we headline Folked Up at Palm2 in Clapton (Hackney) tomorrow with a twenty minute set. If you're in the area and have a fiver to spend feel free to come and shout along with us!

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Bear Jokes at The Leyton Star

Bear Jokes has had a rough old time of late with the Christmas and new year battering audience numbers but last Thursday's event showed the fresh shoots of a spring-style recovery with cheerful couples in attendance looking for something to lift their January blues.

The line-up had plenty of variety and, of course, bucketloads of talent. Whether it was Cheeky Kita going for surrealist impressions (see photo), Dan Attfield singing London Underground based love songs or David McIver introducing his fantastically awkward Shy Man character there was nothing not to like in our comedy broom cupboard. For my part I dusted off a reinvigorated Shuffle and Stop and confirmed that Meal Deal is a bona fide classic. I have an avalanche of Edinburgh previews booked from March onwards which will no doubt pack the room and give Leyton something to laugh about as we all slide into a Brexit related collapse by the summer. Ian Lane headlines the next show on Feb 1st - which is also the start of my birthday weekend so perhaps I'll see you there as I'm more than likely disappearing to the coast the next day to clear the smog from my lungs.

Today Anna and I are off to the Musical Comedy Awards opening round to see if we can make a hundred comedy fans smile enough to give us their vote then next Thursday we have a twenty minute set in Hackney for Folked Up. The festival calendar is filling up nicely with appearances booked for Brigton Fringe, Hastings Comedy Festival and the Merthr Tydfil Comedy Weekend. We should know where we are for Edinburgh this year by the start of February too. 

It's all so exciting I bought no less than four different retro computer t-shirts today for stage wear. Yes, four.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Two gigs in east London

Last week I found myself at two east London gigs. The first was my own Bear Jokes whilst the second was Peter Merriment’s Comedy Beast in Bromley by Bow.

Bear Jokes had a storming lineup with great new material on offer. The minimal crowd didn’t detract from this but more bums on seats would have been better. 

London gigs with large audiences appear to neatly divide between newbie “bringer” nights with 15+ acts doing 5 minutes each with a friend in tow a contractual obligation and pro shows with names off the telly charging big money. 

Low cost / pay what you want shows with high quality established circuit acts, Bear Jokes being one, find themselves full one night and empty the next on the whim of the great British public. It’s a challenge and should anyone have any fresh ideas I’m all ears as there has to be a middle in this turnout sandwich somewhere.

By contrast, Comedy Beast was packed out thanks to its bringer policy for all but a handful of more established acts doing longer sets (Anna and I included). The newbies were of decent quality and with Ali Woods on MC duties it all hung together rather well. We nailed two songs in eight minutes in optimistic readiness for the Musical Comedy Awards semi-finals (at 6 minutes the opening heat will be a single song job) and had plenty of good feedback from the crowd. Peter, you are a legend.

So is the person who, according to my download site, bought the FWP album on iTunes in the last month. I figured we’d all gone to streaming by now. £4 in the bank. Kerching.