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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.