Tuesday, 2 January 2018

GSOH: Just Twenty Seventeen, Part Four Of Four

I mentioned in the last entry how a couple of punters came to a gig because they heard me on a local community radio station, and I was just a mere support act.

What I haven't mentioned was that a few times in 2017, I appeared on national radio, talking about comedy and old computer games. I put in about three calls to The Late Night Alternative, hosted by former comedian Iain Lee, and got on each time.

Nobody came to my gigs out of this, but I remember after the first call that I got a few tweets and texts from friends who happened to be listening.

One of the country's most critically-acclaimed comedians, with Stewart Lee
I had an excellent birthday present from Samantha, who took me to see Stewart Lee at Northampton's Derngate theatre. He is my favourite comedian, he does comedy about comedy and shoves in shedloads of self-depreciation. That's right up my street.

There are a few idiots who take his on-stage persona to be the real thing. It's definitely an exaggeration, he's quite warm when being interviewed, as my writer chum and childhood friend Ryan Lambie told me.

Post-gig, I wanted to meet Stewart, having not seen him live for 22 years. I almost thought about showing him my viral tweet that mocked him and Richard Herring the previous month.

I clam up when meeting heroes, I don't want to come across all fan-boy-like, and I suspect that just adds to it more. Nevertheless, managed to snap up some DVDs and have him sign and pose with some Chuckle Pit flyers. He wished me luck with the night, which seemed like he thought I was going to do comedy for the first time. Well, it's not as if someone of my comedic stature would be on his radar.

The flyering campaigns had worked magnificently for Chuckle Pit, to the point where not everyone could get a seat. We had people standing at the bar because it was so packed.

Chuckle Pit, scoring more than a packed house
It was more than just flyering that worked out for us. A couple of niche social networks had also brought in the punters, and so had the cheap-but-very-effective 'table topper' idea.

At this point in my life, I was looking to get a new day job, but the freelancing work I was getting (and at time of writing, still am), was proving to be very good for my bank balance. I didn't want to go out gigging in case the freelance work came to an end and belts needed to be tightened (as it eventually will), so I turned down gig offers in October, stuck with Chuckle Pit and Laugh Yer Head Off. I didn't even go to other people's comedy nights, petrified at running out of dosh.

I'd been covering every gig I've done in an online note-keeper and decided to represent these jaunts visually with a map of Great Britain, colouring in each county based on what I've done there.

  • Yellow if I had performed comedy there.
  • Green if I'm going to perform comedy there.
  • Orange if I've performed and promoted comedy there.

The map currently stands like this...
The Pete Prodge Comedy Map™
It's been a motivator for doing far-flung gigs, reaching new audiences and getting to see acts you'd not see on the usual circuit. Or you could say it's a crazy idea fuelled by Asperger's Syndrome. What I do know is that I'm happier doing than going off to watch away football matches in the rain. The annoying thing was my predicament meant my plan to turn more of this country yellow, would have to be put on hold.

Comedy is something that doesn't really leave you. I'd missed doing Beerhouse Comedy, which as my monthly open spot showcase, was a nice 'nursery slope' where I could see new comedians and experienced folk trying new stuff.

Freelancing near Milton Keynes meant I could pop over to JAM Comedy's open spot night again in November. I had no intention to do a spot and certainly hadn't the gear to be Trisha Timpson, but it's so informal I ended up doing a quick straight spot as myself.

Martin Huburn asked me to do his Barge And Barrel night as Trisha again, so after nearly three months away from applying lipstick and waiting for eyeliner to dry, I was heading up the M6.

In that fallow period my legs returned to a natural hairy state, it took about two hours to shave them to a feminine state. Yeah, I always cover them up with thick black tights and I'm hardly convincing as a woman, but it's all about making an effort. My legs are the most feminine thing about me, so may as well capitalise on that while the rest of me looks like a half-arsed Brian Molko tribute act.

Bar made
I arrived in Tipton and did a pretty good set, shaking off the 'rust' and recalling the routines wasn't a problem. There's still life in the old girl, although 2018 will have me approaching comedy from a different direction. I'm not packing away the skirt and wig forever of course.

Also in November, I tackled something else that was well overdue. As some know, the year started off with really nasty things being said about me, publicly, by another comedian. I'm not going to waste time outlining this. Hence why I concluded the matter, it's done.

I don't regret a word I said, but the negativity went on way too long and I should have just ignored it much much earlier. Like, in January. If you find yourself in this situation, Jay Islaam's Online Marketing For Comedians blog post covers exactly what you should be doing in its bonus tip.

Comedy is a rare industry - being positive really does help, and you find competitors helping each other. I'm no stranger to this, giving out access to my three local MeetUp group subscriptions to other promoters. You find the most-loved comedians work together, hand out free advice and help support fledgling nights. I've refined how my nights work after visiting comedians have pointed me in the best direction, and I'm keen to spread this over to others.

If we all put on the best live comedy nights we can, it improves the public's perception of this entertainment. You have to remember there are still people thinking "comedians in a pub, free entry, can't be any good then", so you have to be up for convincing them that you have a great event for them to see.

Gong show
Having been off the circuit (save for my own gigs) for quite a while, it was nice to enjoy The Midlands Comedy Awards before Christmas. Founded and run by comedian Jay Islaam - who by his sheer conviction to ethics refuses to have himself nominated - the annual night is more than just a get-together for comedians and promoters. To be frank, it's an absolute roasting.

The 2016 affair, held in Nottingham's Canal House, was pretty brutal, lots of in-jokes about the scene. Plus, in some pre-arranged spots, comedians got to 'steal' each others' material. People outside the comedy industry wouldn't have got this, but hey, this wasn't a night for them. It was lovely to see Paul Palmer's take on Roger Swift's act and then see Roger Swift do Jay Islaam's Bam Bam Sheikh routine.

Rather naively I never went to the 2015 ceremony where my night Beerhouse Comedy was up for an award because I had already committed to doing a Club Smashing spot at The Cookie in Leicester. I had a hunch we'd not win, and was sadly proven right.

Anyway, this is about 2017 and a lot of the shortlist was absolutely dominated by Rob Kemp's Elvis Dead show, and rightfully so. The Midlands Comedy Awards took place in Leicester, a city where the Elvis Dead had established itself with a standing ovation.

The one from the ParaPod podcast who isn't Ian Boldsworth
Much of the 'Joke Thieves' concept was retained from the previous year. We had compere Barry Dodds really roasting a lot of the circuit over 2017's happenings. Much of it well deserved, but, in my view, it crossed the line a couple of times.

Double act Jack Kirwan and Andrew McBurney delivered a very acerbic set, again touching on what had been going on the midlands comedy scene over the past 12 months. No shortage of material there. All in all, a fantastic night out and I always laugh loudest at this more than anything else in the year. It was no shock to see Rob Kemp do so well.

Trisha would have one last outing of 2017, over in Birmingham, at the request of Laura Monmoth. I was to be a support act, along with Harvey Hawkins and Stu Woodings. This was to be the final showing of Laura's LGBTQZX show - something I had always meant to see in full, as it was the combination of comedy and retrogaming. Those are two subjects close to my heart.

Alas, the compere for this gig had pulled out just days before, leaving Laura to ask me to MC it. Now, as I've outlined in this blog, previous turns at MCing as Trisha had not done well. I still said yes, because I could at least build on improvisational skills if the prepared stuff failed.

Laura Monmoth's block party
This was a weird gig in that the LGBTQZX show had already been at the venue (The Gunmaker's Arms) a few times before and that there didn't seem to be that many people around to see it. Ah well, I've played to single-figure audiences before and managed to have a good night. Then something strange happened, in that we suddenly had a crowd in minutes before we started.

When you guest MC, you throw bits of your set in here and there as well as chatting with the audience. Trisha Timpson really landed with the crowd, I got strong laughs for the first bit of the act and even stronger laughs by simply having conversations with the first few rows and sheer ad-libbing off that.

Quite a surprise to learn how the character of a dim-witted barmaid would work under improvisation. I'm pleased with how this went, proving there's more scope to Trisha than the standard ten-minute act I do. Maybe one day I will finalise that hour-long show for her, her colleague and her boyfriend (the intention is for me to play all parts).

LGBTQZX is a fantastic show, accessible not just to ZX-Spectrum-obsessed nerds like me, it can work for those who have zero interest in a Kempston joystick.

Talking of retrogaming, a few comedians had noted my interest in 80s and 90s computer/console/arcade games and recommended me for a specially themed night at Lemon Rocket Comedy in January. That was really nice of them, but truth be told, I don't have much in the way of material, save for about a minute's worth of jokes. I naturally put Laura Monmoth forward for the role and I certainly wasn't the only one to have done so. (It's a goer - Fri 12th Jan in Cheltenham, I'm there as a punter.)

Sal Drummond at Chuckle Pit
One of the people behind Lemon Rocket Comedy is comedian Sal Drummond. She was part of the line-up for the final Chuckle Pit of the year and had wanted me to do Lemon Rocket so I could at least colour in Gloucestershire yellow on my comedy map.

I have to be honest, December is not a nice time for live comedy and I don't relish the prospect of running a night so close to Christmas. Pubs end up full of the once-a-year drinkers, there's a lot more noise than usual. I'm sure it's very good for venues' turnover of course, hence why it's a bit of tough situation when it comes to taking on those gigs. Make no mistake, doing stand-up around Christmas is about ten times harder than it normally is.

A hand-picked line-up of experienced comedians was used for Chuckle Pit's 22nd December date. It was a difficult one to do, battling against conversations going on from the newbies, but we just about got through it. We had a decent turnout again, so, I've been very pleased with how this night has performed throughout 2017.

That should have been it for my year in comedy, but shortly after doing Chuckle Pit, I was asked over by a local micropub to consider a new monthly comedy night.

I had to really think about it, as 1) It's a very tiny space, a literal micropub. 2) Is it just far away enough from Chuckle Pit's venue? The couple who run it wouldn't appreciate me setting up competition for them.

Well, I had decided to make the micropub's small size into a selling point rather than an apology. I've themed the comedy night's brand around the compact space, there's no point trying to hide it. It can work in its favour. It's going to be open spot only, so it's not like it's taking on Chuckle Pit, and at the edge of town with a menu targeted at real ale drinkers, it's not really in the same market.

It is what it is, a small pub doing free entry open spot comedy for an hour. Not that different to how I started with Beerhouse Comedy. The comedians have been booked for Thu 25th January, we'll see how it goes. I'll start to publicise this night over the coming weekend.

If that's not enough, there's another pub in my county that's open to doing comedy and I really need to go off and sort that out, it may well be another paid night to run.

For 2018, there is the rather annoying concern of paying the bills. The past few months have seen me earn a really tidy sum from freelancing. The pessimist in me points out it's a finite number, money has that habit of running out. Do I continue in complete self-employment or do I get another day job? That's the dilemma I'm grappling with.

I am at a point, having seen my creativity pay off very well in the day job as well as comedy, that I should properly build on those skills. A chunk of the money I've earnt is going to be invested so I can take on bigger challenges and be generally more attractive to businesses. Anyway, that's my own thing to take on, I'm just musing out loud.

Trisha at the Young Gifted And Terrified Cabaret Cult, July 2017

2017 taught me...

  • Never be lazy about comedy night promotion
  • Keep going for the weird gigs
  • Playing an idiot is really awesome
  • Dealing with actual idiots only leads to misery, just move on
  • Stick to the Cowgate/Royal Mile part of Edinburgh during the Fringe
  • Don't leave it to the end of a year to write about your antics in comedy, you end up with very long posts that not everyone will read to the end and just cut down on this sentence, it's way too long you doofus
Right, here I am on the precipice of an uncertain future. Let's see if I come out of this shining in twelve months time. I try to start a new year with fresh plans for comedy, but usually, I end up taking a different (yet still fresh) route.

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