Experience: My first 20 gigs as an aspiring stand up comedian

Microphone-Whealans

It’s my first gig. I’m at Angel Comedy, and it’s rammed. There are people standing, there are people being turned away from standing. The MC, Barry Ferns, has got the crowd properly warmed up. This is an audience that wants to be entertained, they want to laugh at every joke and unless they find a very good reason to not, they will.

There’s been about fourteen comedians on before me and I’m the penultimate act. I’m nervous, properly nervous. I’ve got about five friends in the audience, well three friends and two friends of friends. This is a room of total strangers, about a hundred of them, and I have to make them laugh. Mental, why did I ever sign up to do this?

Barry does about five minutes, calls my name and before I’ve had time to do any final preparations  I’m on stage. I take a deep breath and launch into my first joke. It’s a good joke but I tell it badly. It gets a big laugh anyway and my nerves dissipate. My next joke goes well too and the one after that. My entire routine about King Solomon goes down a treat, it doesn’t really have an ending and there are no proper punchlines, but if it’s getting laughs like these who cares? Comedy is easy and I’m fucking brilliant at it.

It’s my second gig. I’m at Heavenly comedy. It’s a small room below a pub which the comedians have to set up before the gig. There are seventeen comedians on and two genuine audience members. The room is hot and the audience is bored. They want to go home but they aren’t allowed to because they’re all comedians, they have to stay to the end to support the other acts and turn makeshift comedy club back into a small room beneath a pub. They don’t want to hear two minutes of incompetently told jokes about being tall and a three minute routine about King Solomon that doesn’t have any punchlines. Especially not from a man who is visibly shaking from nerves. At best, I get two laughs. Comedy is impossible and I’m fucking terrible at it.

I’ve done twenty gigs now and many of them have been like my second. A room either beneath or above a pub in front of around fifteen other comedians and a few genuine punters who look somewhere between confused and concerned. I genuinely love it and my only regret is not having done significantly more over the past three months. I secretly think I’m quite good too. Don’t tell any of the other comedians I said that though or they’ll shun me for being immodest.

My earnings thus far are: three drinks (two Cobras and a Yakima Red) and eleven AAA batteries. I won the batteries for coming joint second in my heat at the Jaunty Lark competition, which is my career highlight to date, and every appliance I power with them will a reminder that I’m at least a reasonably good comedian. Unfortunately all my alarm clocks, nineties Gameboys and anal vibrators require AA batteries, so I’m hoping I’ll win some of them in the final (which is later this month).

I’ve performed, all in all, about twenty-five minutes of material. Some of it has worked, some of it, like my 4 minute routine about Stewart Lee, has conclusively not. I write a lot of material as the writing is probably my favourite part of the whole thing. Aside from the booty and batteries obviously. The process of watching a routine turn from a half baked idea based around a single pun to a genuinely tight five minutes of comedy is wonderful. I’m seldom happier than when I’m in-front of six other comedians trying to turn my new routine about satire and feminism into something that’s at least serviceable.

About half of the gigs I’ve done have been ‘bringers’. A large proportion of the gigs available to new stand-ups require the act to bring audience members along with them. My friends, generally, have been very supportive and I’ve only had to cancel one gig due to unreliable companions. Most comedians seem to hate bringers and some refuse to do them on principle. I’m somewhere in the middle. Most of the ‘great’ audiences I’ve had have been rooms full of people dragged along by acts. It’s a pleasure to perform in-front of a packed room but I’m also beginning to run out of friends who haven’t seen most of my material. There’s only so many times you can sit through my puns about Ed Balls.

I’m not sure the friends of acts are proper audience members anyway. They either only laugh at their friend or are so surprised that some comedians on the open-mic scene are actually quite good that they laugh uproariously at every single joke. My twentieth gig, this evening, was in front of my first genuine, paying, audience who’d come of their own volition (for some reason) and the atmosphere was very different to what I was used to. Obviously I’m far too new a comedian to make wild judgements about the nature of audiences but my feeling is that bringers aren’t a particularly good place to hone your craft. I’m only going to become a great comedian if I learn to kill at the nights where it’s just the other comedians and a few bedraggled people off the street. After that, a room full of real, actual, people will surely be a doddle?

Anyway, I’m getting better slowly. Lots of comedians have come up to me and said they’ve really enjoyed my sets, or given me invaluable advice, which is always lovely. I’m constantly humbled by how many other brilliant comics there are on the circuit. As arrogant as I am, there’s rarely a night were I can conclusively say I was amongst the funniest on. I went to see the wonderful Bridget Christie a few weeks ago and her brilliance reminded me quite how far I have to go before I’m considered even competent. I reckon I’ll need to do at least eighty more gigs before I can even begin to think of myself as a proper comedian, I’ve got around ten planned in over the next two weeks. That’s a start.

About the author of this post

Daniel Offen is an aspiring comedian and writer. He has written four jokes and half a book. He assures us he is capable of all of the usual thoughts and emotions of an unusual twenty four year old man and will talk about them at length. He deal primarily in irony and whimsy. He tweets as @danieloffen.

2 thoughts on “Experience: My first 20 gigs as an aspiring stand up comedian

  1. Totally awesome thoughts; though, I don’t know what could be better than winning batteries. I’m always running out of the damn things and taking them from the controllers.

    Liked by 1 person

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