This week The Young’uns present BBC radio 2 Folk Award nominees Josienne clarke and Ben Walker live from a hotel bedroom in Kansas City. They play us a couple of songs and chat about their music, dreams, neurosis, children’s TV, and we collaborate on a couple of operatic numbers. Download
David has a dalliance with a lady of the night. But this does not alleviate his feelings of loneliness and emptiness, and so he desperately seeks companionship in a musical instrument repair shop. Michael underestimates the strength of the beer at Gainsborough folk club, resulting in a rather drunken performance. James Fagan provides aphrodisiac advice. We attempt to solve Britain’s homelessness situation. And we’ve music from and tributes to Ron Angel, a founding member of Stockton folk club, and one of the people who encouraged us to become The Young’uns. Plus, the return of the Folked-up Folk Song and clips from our gig at Butlins.
The Young’uns Podcast returns in 2015 with a new weekly series.
This week: Sean has a bit of a thing for The Fisherman’s Friends, while David is spotted holding hands with Sam Pirt from the Hut People; we once again delve into the mind’s of the Young’uns as we divulge another of our dreams; The Young’uns very nearly ruin a wedding; it seems as if manners is everything when it comes to Polish audiences, although, Sean does manage to rankle one Polish lady who takes umbrage with his geography; there’s music from the Young’uns, plus the return of our quiz, the Folked-up Folk Song, as well as the Young’uns Podcast’s crown jewels, James Fagan’s Talking Bollocks.
The ceremony will be held on April 22nd, which gives us a good couple of months to blackmail and sleep with the appropriate people. The awards will be aired live on BBC Radio 2. If we win we’ll have to do a speech, but don’t worry, I won’t use this occasion to try and tell my anecdote that failed twice at the King Gong.
Last year was a great year for us: we released a new album, did a session with Mark Radcliffe on BBC radio 2, played on stage with Billy Bragg at Glastonbury Festival, and on the main stage at Cambridge Folk Festival. But I think what really won us the award nomination was our innovative Podcast, featuring the jewel in the crown that is James Fagan’s Talking Bollocks. In fact, I think we really owe our award to James.
James returns next week, as we launch our new weekly series of Young’uns Podcasts, meaning you get to join us on our adventures in Kansas, Canada and beyond.
This time round, I was feeling much more prepared for the King Gong competition at Manchester’s Comedy Store. This would be my fourth standup performance. I wrote about my first and second standup spots in yesterday’s blog post. My third standup gig was last October, at another comedy club in London. This time there was actually an audience, and the compere was funny and friendly. My five minutes seemed to go down well. I was less nervous, delivered things with more confidence, slowed down a bit, and even interacted with the audience. However, this was not a King Gong night, and so the audience got five minutes whether they liked it or not. But they did seem to like it, and I went away a lot more confident, having received many positive comments from audience members after the gig.
Yesterday, I mentioned that my first King Gong performance started off well, but then audience members began to get a bit impatient when, after about two minutes, I got to the part of the routine that had quite a bit of setup before the joke eventually came. In fairness to the audience, I did go for one whole minute without a single punchline.
By the time my London night came along, I’d managed to extend the first part of my set, making it more joke heavy for the first three minutes, in the hope that this would be enough time for me to build up a rapport with the audience, in order to then be able to spend more time on the longer setup to the final bit. I also worked on cutting down some of that setup time. This seemed to work in London, with the first three minutes gaining lots of laughs, and the audience remained patient and seemingly attentive for the following forty seconds of preamble, before I eventually gave them a series of pay-offs which got good laughs and seemed to indicate that the last forty seconds had been worth the wait. However, these audience members did not have red cards. How, I wondered, would this material hold up in front of the judge, jury and executioners that make up the King Gong audience?
The King Gong night’s feature a wide range of people. Last time I talked about one of the performers who I particularly enjoyed called Benji Waterstones, who was one of the contenders in last year’s BBC Radio New Comedy Award competition. February’s King Gong show featured another comedian I recognised from last year’s BBC Radio New comedy Awards, called George Lewis, who is very funny and, like Benji, made the five minutes.
In contrast, there were acts who were very much at the other end of the funniness spectrum, including one, who by his own admission, wasn’t really an act at all.
“I’m not actually a comedian, I just do this for the free tickets.”
And he really meant it. He more or less just stood there until he was eventually gonged off. Surprisingly though, he did manage to last for one minute thirty-two seconds, which was longer than some of the acts that actually had jokes. Does this include me? Let’s find out.
Yesterday, I mentioned that I wanted to try slowing my words down a bit, as last time I tended to race through it due to nerves. Because I am new to performing solo standup comedy, I perhaps am not yet fully confident that laughs will come, and so I dare not take too long a pause after a joke in case I receive nothing but silence back. I’ve heard a lot of comedians talk about their first few gigs, and the ordeal of hearing a silent audience, and the sound of your dry lips smacking or your breath rasping loudly over the speakers. So a way to combat this is to talk quicker and don’t leave too many pauses, so that you don’t suffer this ignominy.
The problem with this tactic is that you don’t allow time for the joke to register. A pause is a signal to the audience that you’ve finished your bit, and now it’s their time to respond.
Listening to the recording back now, I still think I need to slow down more and to pause for longer. I delivered my first joke, heard the beginnings of a laugh, and instantly moved on to the next bit. But my next bit was interrupted by the sound of the laughter crescendoing. People who were at the night might feel that the word “crescendoing” is a tad over-the-top, but look, this is my blog, and if I want to pretentiously use an Italian word to describe the audience’s reaction to my comedy then I bloody well will. But, semantics aside, I had to stop talking because I realised that people were still laughing.
The same thing happened for the second joke. One lady at the front with quite a loud laugh responded a few seconds after everyone else. I was pretty sure I recognised this lady as the person who’d been chatting to the compere just a few minutes earlier, who was from Dundee and had quite a thick Scottish accent. So, knowing that the audience had already been acquainted with this woman, I made a little joke about slowing down so that the lady from Dundee’s translator could keep up. Unfortunately, I had mistakenly identified the wrong lady and so the audience were confused as to what the heck I was talking about. I didn’t realise this until Isobel (my girlfriend) pointed this out after my set.
Still, the audience were seemingly still on my side. The jokes were getting a good response, and I was beginning to feel more confident, although, I was aware that the forty seconds of setup was upon us, and I wasn’t sure whether the audience would be in the mood to wait.
After thirty seconds, the first card was held up.
“One card,” shouted the compere. Fortunately, this time I realised it was the compere shouting “one card,” and not someone in the audience shouting “wanker,” and so I continued, largely unconcerned about it, given that I expected that this part of the act might result in a casualty.
Although there were no cries of “wanker,” I could nevertheless sense a restlessness throughout parts of the audience. But I had no choice but to continue. I was half way through the setup. I couldn’t just scrap it and move onto something else. So I ploughed on. But then a few people in the audience began vocalising their restlessness. The second card was raised. Despite this, one of the jokes still got a good laugh, but it was evident that this was polarising the audience.
I tried to continue. This next bit is really painful for me to listen to. The dissenting voices grow louder, and the third card holder raises their card, the gong sounds, and I am dismissed.
I made it to three minutes fifty-nine seconds. The first three minutes of which were going pretty well, but it seems as if this story – which I still believe is funny, and got a good response from the more patient crowd in London – needs a lot of work on it before I’ll try and tell it again.
After my first King Gong performance, I wrote that folk audiences are happy to wait for forty seconds for a story to be set up. They do not have the same rapacious appetite for joke after joke that a mainstream comedy audience has. I thought I’d learnt this lesson last time, which is why I attempted to cut the setup down; but I obviously hadn’t learnt the lesson fully, and so I’m going to have to stick to the concept of getting to the joke as quickly as possible. Maybe in the future, I’ll be able to tell more complex stories in front of the King Gong crowd, but for now I’m going to have to concentrate on jokes rather than anecdotes.
When the compere chatted to the chosen card holders, he asked them who their favourite comedians were, and the two names that came back more than once were Frankie Boyle and Lee Evans. It therefore stands to reason that such people may not be inclined towards more anecdote driven comedy, especially when that anecdote is deficient in comedy for at least forty seconds.
Again, like last time, I lasted the longest out of all the acts who didn’t make the full five minutes. There were five acts who managed to make the full time, and so I suppose I came sixth. So I did better in terms of my personal record, but worse in terms of ranking, as I was fourth last time. So, put that in your spreadsheets.
I’ll definitely be returning to the King Gong in the near future. I’d recommend it as a great night out. You get a chance to see some really good comedians, and some complete oddballs. There is the element of jeopardy introduced by the red cards, and it’s all expertly held together by the compere, Mick Ferry.
I am going to practise some more at other open mic nights, scrapping this irksome anecdote for the time being, and instead concentrate on compiling a solid five minutes of comedy from the best bits of both my King Gong performances.
Last September, I enjoyed a night with a drag queen, a horny teenager, a racist and a bitter disabled bloke. No, it wasn’t one of my legendary house parties, it was my first experience of the King Gong show at Manchester’s Comedy Store.
King Gong is an open mic comedy night where anyone can turn up at the door and perform. The maximum time you can perform for is five minutes, but rarely do people make it that long because three audience members are given red cards, which when held up, sounds a gong, indicating the performer’s dismissal.
Last September’s performance started well, but then after two minutes I reached a section of the set that involved me spending some time setting up the joke. I was a little bit worried about this particular section before hand, as the first two minutes were more joke heavy, but this next minute was essentially setup and no real punchline. I thought that the pay off would be worth the wait, but one of the card holders decided that the wait was becoming too long and held up his card.
“One card,” cried the compere. It was at this point that my nerves got the better of me and paranoia set in, and rather than hearing the shout of “one card” from the compere, I instead assumed it to be someone in the audience shouting “wanker.”
Immediately I began to become flustered, unsure of how to deal with this heckle – whether to ignore it and continue or come up with a repost. While my brain was busy thinking through this dilemma, my mouth was still generating sounds, although given my mind’s preoccupation, the sounds weren’t really making much sense. It didn’t take long for another of the card holders to lose faith, and the second card was raised, causing the compere to declare “two cards!” And as soon as I heard the compere’s words, I realised my earlier mishearing. I never really had the chance to regain the situation, and the third card promptly followed, sounding the gong, heralding my departure after three minutes eight seconds on stage.
That particular performance was only my second standup spot. My first was a year earlier at a comedy club in London. It was an odd introduction to the world of standup. There were only about twenty people assembled in the backroom of the pub, and twelve of those people were performers. The compere opened the night in a rather dower fashion.
“Well, thank you for coming along. Perhaps if there’d been a couple less of you then we could have cut our losses and pulled the night, but I suppose technically there are enough people in to try and make a night of it.
As you may know, our numbers have been suffering considerably due to some bastards deciding to put on an open mic comedy night in the pub over the road, which is taking place as I speak, and is completely free. I make my living as a comedy promoter, and I therefore charge a fee to punters. This is not a hobby, I am a professional promoter. My job hasn’t exactly been secure since the credit crunch, and it certainly doesn’t help when a group of hobbyist hippy student bastards put on an identical event for free. So, if you want to know where everyone is, there all in the Dog and Duck over the road, enjoying free comedy, and the beer is better and cheeper as well. So that’s where they’ve all buggered off to. In fact, some of our performers tonight will apparently be buggering off immediately after their spot here, as they’ve apparently booked themselves into the Dog and Duck’s night as well. Well, I suppose we’ll have to just make the best of it.”
Two or three of the eight audience members laughed awkwardly at the compere’s introduction, presumably believing it to be his act, but I knew he wasn’t playing a character and that he was genuinely disgruntled, as I’d arrived at the venue earlier than the other acts and audience members and had already heard this rant when I’d made the mistake of enthusiastically introducing myself and asking how he was. The remaining members of the audience met his words with silence and the occasional throat clear. The other performers didn’t seem to be paying any heed to what he was saying, and were instead gazing at their notes. I didn’t have any notes, but I was making a mental note to try the night at the Dog and Duck next time.
The night was hard going. It turned out that as well as losing its audience, this comedy night was also losing its performers, and therefore the compere decided that we should all do ten minutes rather than the originally agreed five. All the acts seemed to be very inexperienced, and ten minutes is a long time for a new comedian to do. As a result, the sets were very laboured and painful.
The acts obviously hadn’t developed ten minutes of material and so they employed methods for getting around this. For some of the comedians, this seemed to involve speaking twice as slowly, pausing for twice as long, or repeating lines again. Other performers decided to kill time by using the audience for inspiration, asking stock comedian questions like, “what do you do for a living<‘ but because there were only eight audience members and because the comedians were too busy looking at their notes and not listening to each other’s performances, the same audience members were often asked the same question two or three times by different performers.
I was the last performer on that night, and by this time all the other performers had buggered off, leaving me to end the night in style in front of eight audience members and a suicidal compere.
I’ve performed to thousands of people, last year I did over a hundred gigs with The Young’uns, but I felt extremely nervous and vulnerable when I rose to my feet to take the stage to speak in front of these eight frazzled people.
I made the decision to just talk without pause, and to just keep on talking until the ten minutes were up. If I didn’t stop talking then I wouldn’t be able to hear the sound of eight mentally battered people not laughing. So I opened my mouth and let the words flood out, with the aim of continuing until the ten minutes had elapsed. But then I heard the sound of laughter, and I began to feel a bit more at home, and I actually had quite an enjoyable debut standup comedy experience.
I think the audience might have been laughing through sheer relief that their ordeal was soon over. I was the harbinger of their blessed release from this place. Perhaps they were just happy that I was keeping myself to myself, rather than asking them what they did for a living for the tenth time that night. And so I talked, and the audience laughed, and when the ten minutes was up they applauded. In fact they all rose to their feet as one, meaning that my first ever standup gig got me a standing ovation, albeit from eight exhausted people desperate to leave, in case the compere had any final thoughts he was planning on sharing.
I decided it might be advisable for me to make a quick exit as well, given my final words before leaving the stage, which were, “thanks for staying to the end. I’ll see you all same time next week in the Dog and Duck.”
So, just like with my first King Gong appearance, I’ve spent far too long on the set up, and now this blog post has exceeded one thousand words and I haven’t even started talking about last night’s King Gong show. So I’ll return tomorrow where I’ll discuss some of the other acts, and then reveal to you how I faired.