Download or listen to the audio version of this blog post here
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.
Thanks for reading. I hope you didn’t get all restless half way through and start shouting wanker at your computer.