Saturday, 2 January 2016

GSOH: Wildling, you make my heart sing

The stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve saw me in a pub in Leicester, in the company of many local comedians who had just put on a storming end-of-year gig as part of Proper Funny. I was just there in punter mode, but having been introduced to these people throughout the preceding 365 days, ended up as the recipient of many kisses and an invitation to join Daniel Nicholas at his house party.

That was a fitting end to 2015. About a year ago, I was spending New Year's Eve/Day with my friend Monique. At that point, I hadn't performed for nearly two years and had agreed to organise and host a comedy night at a brand new pub in Market Harborough in January.

Monique's not a comedian but she has been locked and soaked inside the cage on Tiswas
I'd never compered before, but had still kept in contact with a few people on the local circuit, so getting the acts was not a problem. Trying to come up with material relevant to Market Harborough - a middle class picture-postcard town with a lot of high-end boutiques - was the tricky bit. Sure, I could go on and do bits of my usual set (I certainly did), but wanted to at least tailor my presentation to the audience for this one-off comedy night.

Slating the town you're in is a thing I'd seen many MCs do. It's a bit risky, so some tend to aim their comic vitriol at a nearby 'rival' town. If you're doing a gig in Newcastle, have a go at Sunderland. If you're in Sunderland, have a go at Newcastle. (Bonus points if you can say the same joke in both cities.)

Monique likes to introduce me to television I wouldn't normally watch, mainly stuff that's huge in America. I'm not entirely sure when the stroke of midnight occurred, but I know we were watching Bob's Burgers, which I enjoyed immensely. She's a huge fan of Game Of Thrones, something I had heard of (you'd have to live on Mars to not know of it), but wasn't too keen to start on.

After about three episodes, I was 1) hooked and 2) realising there was an idea in this. I believed this fantasy world could be partially modelled on Leicestershire.

Lions Eat Ice Cream Every Saturday

If you're not familiar with Leicestershire, well, I'd describe Leicester itself as a fairly decent city with a lot going for it. It is large, grey and sprawling, but with a bit more ambition than Nottingham or Birmingham.

I had dated a girl in Leicester back in 2010, and recall that she arranged a game of bowling for us over in Loughborough. We travelled 12 miles north to this desolate town, and it soon became apparent the sports centre was only host to Crown Green Bowling, not the cool American pin games we had been thinking of. She was mortified. I found it hilarious.

Loughborough is rather glum. It's primarily famous for the Ladybird books and Big Brother contestant Bonnie Holt. Until East Midlands Parkway was built, the town was the way you'd get to East Midlands Airport if you were on your way via train/bus. I spent an hour searching for the right bus stop with a past girlfriend, with some massive suitcases in tow. (Thankfully we did end up in Prague, avoiding the horrifying scenario of a Loughborough-based holiday.)

What has this got to do with Game Of Thrones anyway?

Well, for my first few minutes of hosting Beerhouse Comedy, I pretended to take a phone call from a very late act. I was giving them directions to Market Harborough - a town I decided they had not heard of, enabling me to describe the place.

"It's very posh. Full of Daily Mail reading farmers. They have Radio 4 played out from speakers on every lamp-post. And the streets are paved with tofu."

This went down well with the 70-80 Harborough residents who had turned up for the comedy night. I wasn't finished there. I continued with the phone conversation, ensuring that my (non-existent) comic foil wasn't even familiar with Leicestershire.

Having established my phone-based counterpart was a big Game Of Thrones fan, I then used its mythical world to describe Leicestershire. In the south, you've got Kings Landing, all posh, classy and where the wealth is. A bit north up from that, is Leicester - or should I say Winterfell - on account of it being cold and grey.

And anywhere further north from that? Beyond The Wall? It's all filled with zombies and incest. The perfect analogy for Loughborough.

I got a big round of applause for that one. I'd like to say I carried on with this hilarity for the rest of the night, but that wouldn't be true. Quite a few ideas I had, just flopped, but there was enough in there that established me as an adequate MC. The acts we had were pretty solid, and there's one final bit which had ensured a large audience and was a fantastic end. Pub owner Jon Pollard decided to set it as a monthly night - every third Thursday - which it continues to be.

In another time, I'll go into more detail into why that first night was pivotal in me having 2015 as a great year of comedy.

For anyone who is from Loughborough and is offended at my negative portrayal of their area, I give you the caveat that I describe my hometown - Wellingborough - as "the Loughborough of Northamptonshire". It's crap and we know it.

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