Saturday, 9 January 2016

GSOH: The comic itch I had to scratch

Just how did I get into the modern stand-up comedy scene? The answer was when one of my favourite local pubs, the Horseshoe Inn, decided to put on a weekly comedy night on Sundays.

The idea of there being a regular comedy night just five minutes walk away from my doorstep really appealed to me. However, at the time, I was in a long-distance relationship with a woman in Swindon. I'd spend every second weekend with her in the Wiltshire sort-of-city-but-not-actually-a-city.

The Horseshoe Inn is run by landlady Debbie Dexter, with her husband Nick in charge of a lot of the stage presentation, in particular, sound. Since they took it over in 2005, the pub has a solid reputation as the home of live music in Wellingborough1.

My friends at the first night of comedy at The Horseshoe
Now, this wasn't the first time I'd seen comedy in my hometown. In fact, a local pub - The Royal Oak - put on a monthly night of comedy that my friend Marcus took us along to. The night we attended there was a bit of a disaster, not due to the comedians, but because of some of the drunken clientele really spoiled it. The MC for that night detailed that catastrophic night on a comedian's forum.

This was 2011, Debbie and Nick of The Horseshoe had been scouting around for new ideas. In the wake of the BBC showing stand-up in prime-time with Live At The Apollo and Michael McIntyre's Comedy Road Show, there had been (and arguably still is) an explosion of stand-up comedy across the UK.

Subsequently, pubs found it fairly easy to get a night of cheap entertainment with semi-pro comedians and open spot acts. Debbie and Nick saw such a night over in Northampton and approached one of the organisers of it to do the same thing for them.

Tweed-jacketed Will Morris may not have been the typical idea of a comedian, but he took charge of Horseshoe's comedy Sundays. The format was established in that around ten open spot comedians would do five minutes each on one Sunday, in a gong show. The following Sunday would be pro and semi-pro comics. Three in total, finishing on a decent 30-40m headliner. It'd alternative like that.

Being a huge fan of comedy, I came back early from Swindon to see the Horseshoe's first stand-up night, which was all open spot. This is where I had my comic epiphany. It is the reason why I'm doing comedy now, running two monthly nights, compering, booking acts, designing posters and being a prat in daft costumes.

More from the front row...
The moment came when one comedian asked the audience a question...

"What's the collective noun for slags?"

I instantly yelled out "Wellingborough", which caused everybody in the pub to erupt with laughter.

The comedian had to proceed with his planned answer - which was "limousine". Not a bad gag at all. Yet I had the bigger laugh. I'm not saying I was the better comedian, I just managed to think of something good at the right moment. And what a moment it was, those four seconds where an entire pub is laughing at something you said.

Later on that night I had managed to say something else that got a fairly good round of laughter2. I hasten to add that I'm not a heckler and I do try to keep my gob shut. However, there is something in the water over in Wellingborough which means the regulars do like to 'contribute', something that continues even today.

After about four or five pints and the entertainment ending, the huge lift I had from my spontaneous shout-outs had grown my ego to the size of a George Osborne deficit. I approached Will Morris, asking if I could "go on stage next week".

He looked stunned for a moment, spluttered and then insisted that it'd be a few months before I could have a spot. "And it can't be here. Not in front of your friends and family."

These are very very wise words indeed. However, at the time I was taken aback. I felt I could easily knock up five minutes of comedy and be on stage being the Bill Hicks I imagined I was. Will was already booked up for many of the following nights and in any case, he treated me perfectly. Not that I saw it at the time.

Will insisted that I do his mate's gong night over in Northampton before I could be ready to take the stage at the Horseshoe. I was rather taken aback, but he held the cards. He could green-light me if I did well in a place where I didn't know anyone. I was given a date and had to take it.

The following morning, I woke up, got washed and put on the shirt and trousers for work. On my forty minute trek I realised what happened the night before. I had to come up with five minutes of really funny material in a couple of months' time, or face public humiliation.


1: Very much helped by The Deportees' Rob Matheson's weekly acoustic nights on Wednesdays, plus Trina Breedon bringing loads of punk rock bands over.

2: Don't ask me what it was, I simply can't remember.

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