Monday, 1 January 2018

GSOH: Just Twenty Seventeen, Part Two Of Four

I don't gig that much in comparison to other comedians. The ones who aim for a professional career like to be behind a mic at least four times a week. I've been happy with two or three spots a month and then just running my two monthly nights, but April was a very hectic month, the busiest I've ever been.

A brand new open spot night had been put on by JAM Comedy in Milton Keynes, which was just a few miles away from my workplace at the time. Work colleagues warned me the area it was in, wasn't all that savoury, to put it mildly. They knew I'd be dragging up to do my character act and were a bit concerned.

Trisha Timpson in Milton Keynes
I had put my name down a while back and one thing I keep in mind is to never rescind a gig. I don't like it when acts cancel on my comedy nights, so I do try to commit to doing spots I said I'd do. (There have been a few exceptional times where I had a solid excuse to cancel.)

The venue in question, is a pub, in what's been described to me as the second-roughest estate in MK. I'm not based in the town so I don't know that for sure, but there did seem to be a 'flat roof pub' atmosphere (albeit the roof is actually pitched).

Something I've learnt about drag is that 99.99% of the public really don't give a shit about you doing it. By which I mean, I've rarely received the abuse/threats that I expected for dolling myself up as female. In this pub, the three regulars who stuck around for the comedy barely batted an eyelid.

The important thing is for my Trisha Timpson act to get laughs. Without the torrents of laughter, I'm just a middle-aged man who has had a breakdown and rummaged through New Look as a plea for help.

Thankfully this spot did work out well. More than I expected. Gig co-proprietor Mike Lord was so impressed that he offered me a paid spot at JAM Comedy's pro night in Northampton. The first time I'd be paid for comedy performance outside of running my own nights, and a sign of things to come.

A few days later, I'd be back in the wig in Norwich, then by the end of the week, I'd be doing a last-minute fill-in for NCF Comedy in Oakham. This was a nice gig, MC'd by the superb Stevie Gray and a well-engaged crowd who soon made it clear I made a mistake when my character claimed there was no Wetherspoons in the town. I ad-libbed heavily off that, owning up to the error and gaining a lot more laughs in the process.

Trisha with Lovdev Barpaga at Teknicolour Smoof in Telford
After my spot, I 'de-dragged', putting the jeans back on and going through a couple of make-up removing wipes. The opener, UK Pun champion Lovdev Barpaga, approached me and said how much he enjoyed the Trisha set. He didn't initially realise it was me. I was heavily pleased that this new character was picking up respect from comedians and promoters.

Lovdev and I would meet again the following week at Roger Swift's Teknicolour Smoof gig in Telford, where he was headlining. He had brought with him a promoter of several established pro comedy nights in the West Midlands to see my act. My spot was shunted closer to the headline spot. Quite a bit of pressure.

A lot of adrenaline ran through me for this one, and the audience bought into it for a fair bit, but I didn't quite gel that way I had at recent gigs. What also didn't help matters was trying out a new off-colour gag to end the set on, which just tumbleweeded.

"So how do you think that went?" asked the promoter.

"Great, very pleased with it!" was my immediate and foolish response, more out of nerves than anything else really.

A quick tip for those fresh to the comedy circuit. 'How do you think that went?' in promoter terms in a polite way of pointing out your performance was somewhat lacking in satisfaction. It's also the opportunity to own up to the mistakes you made. I should have done that, but didn't. Not because of ego, but because I'd been somewhat relieved to have got through the experience in such unfamiliar territory.

Unsurprisingly I've not been booked by that promoter and won't expect to be for some time. If at all.

Pete Prodge's Pop Tart Pop Quiz
Have I ever told you that Club Smashing is my favourite thing in modern live comedy? Helmed by shambolic quasi-double act Ian Hall and Bruce Edhouse in Leicester, it's a monthly night of alternative comedy that gleefully delves into the leftfield. It's a breath of fresh air, particularly if you spend time on the circuit enduring the tedium of stand-ups going through the same old Donald Trump jokes and routines on self-service checkouts.

When it comes to surreal comedy, most people do think of Vic And Bob, quite rightfully, but the local circuit can play host to daft prop acts and performers in costume. Usually as a token spot, but there are a few nights in the UK that are purpose-built homes for offbeat humour, and Club Smashing is just that.

I've been Trisha at one of the nights in 2016, I've also donned a superhero outfit and deconstructed several genres of comedy for a one-off 10-minute spot as my Smashing debut.

At some point I came up with the idea to do a pop quiz, with Pop Tarts as prizes. That gets to shoehorn several gags I have on certain musicians and to be happily cheap-and-cheerful. The plan was to do this with my girlfriend Samantha, thereby establishing her comedy debut and for us to be a double act. Alas, she became ill and I had to hastily rewrite the set as a solo piece and then insert even newer ideas.

I threw in some daft cartoon drawings for one round, with a Catchphrase basis. In my youth, I'd wanted to be a cartoonist, although, in retrospect, I'm too much of a 'doodler' to be considered at a professional level.

The headliner, Masai Graham (winner of Funniest Joke Of The Fringe 2016) really enjoyed my cartoon puns and asked me to do some five spots at his showcase during Edinburgh season. (I never did due to the frantic frenzy that happens while you're up there, sadly.)

Auditioning for Olive in the On The Buses reboot
Another crazy gig I'd put my name down for was the Trent Barton Fun Bus, as part of Derby Comedy Festival. It takes place each year on a single-decker bus parked in the city centre during Saturday afternoon.

I had done this the previous year in my Pete Prodge persona. The location and time means that sometimes, your audience may have mums, dads, and kids in tow. That was the case in 2016 and meant I had to heavily censor my gags, replacing F-bombs with much cleaner words and still winning the audience over. A definite turning point for me, where I learned you don't need to rely on swearing to get laughs, and the post-gig experience I had in a nearby Wetherspoons landed me with the inspiration to create Trisha Timpson.

This time, I'd be returning to the act's spiritual birthplace. There were two kids at the very front, but Trisha never actually swears. There are many sex gags in the set, but it will fall on deaf ears if you're a child. It went swimmingly, I was lucky to perform at a time the bus was full and it generated masses of laughter.

Samantha and I had booked a few days holiday in Southend-on-Sea, which began straight after this gig. As soon as the wig was off and the last traces of mascara wiped out, I was driving 200 miles down into Essex.

No comedy was planned for our brief stay, but a chance comment by retrogaming videomaker @Chinnyhill10 on the merit of Southend's pier thanks to its place in the closing titles of Minder, had me dragging up in the morning and setting up video equipment. All to film a parody of that sequence, to be shown on screen at the end of Trisha Timpson's first hour-long festival show. (It wasn't even the good Minder era, but thankfully not the Channel 5 take on it.)

Pier-iod drama
Later in the month I took part in a charity comedy competition in Birmingham, where Roger Swift rightfully stormed it.

Fellow Wellingborough comedian Chris Harris had managed to get his hour-long show at Corby's Cube theatre and had appointed myself and my barmaid alter-ego as support/MC. Character acts aren't the kind of spots that should go on first, so I had the challenge of having to feminise very quickly to turn up as Trisha after Chris's first half.

There have been comedy nights where I've turned up as Trisha, they're an act down, so I go back on as myself. That's easily done by just sticking my regular clothes on top, wiping my make-up off and getting back on the stage. As I've said in yesterday's blog, going from male-to-female is a chore that takes at least half an hour. Yet in Corby, I managed it in the ten-minute break, but only just.

While I had MC'd very well as myself at the start, throwing in the cartoon pieces from the Pop Tart Pop Quiz and getting a good twenty minutes out of tried-and-tested material, Trisha Timpson's MCing of the second half didn't land with the audience that much. Some bits did work, but overall, it was a bit "meh".

I had previously MC'd as Trisha in 2016 at my own comedy night Chuckle Pit, in my hometown, and died an absolute death (save for one joke that did get a laugh). Gimmicks don't really work at that night anyway, as I learnt in its first few months.

Still, grateful for the chance to perform in a theatre again and I got a nice payment out of it too.

Also, my 'comedy empire' expanded with an agreement to do a roughly bi-monthly paid night at a lovely pub in the Northants village of Long Buckby. The Old Kings Head wanted to do a comedy night, tying in a two-course meal for the reasonable ticket price of £20.

This new thing was dubbed Laugh Yer Head Off and I'd proven I could run and host comedy on a higher level than open spot thanks to my experiences with the Kanned Komedy gig earlier in the year and the modest budget I have from Chuckle Pit. In a close-knit community, we were assured of an audience, although as my role is usually the promoter, I did come up with some flyer designs. In the end, they weren't needed, but more on that later

Katie Pritchard entertains at Laugh Yer Head Off
Over that weekend I did a competitive gig down south that left a sour taste in my mouth. There were a lot of great acts doing five-minute spots and I did alright as Trisha, although some of the biggest laughs were attached to some really nasty gags.

I'm not a fan of 'punching down' humour. I did start out in stand-up doing hacky shit, like paedophilia and porn gags which didn't make me stand out in a sea of Jimmy-Carr-wannabes. I've thankfully evolved from that dreck. It got the belly laughs back in the day, but it always felt too easy and there was nothing cerebral about it. In the wake of the rise of Ricky 'mongs, ha ha ha' Gervais, and the mean-spirited jibes Frankie Boyle comes out with, some comics feel the need to channel their inner schoolyard bully.

I wasn't impressed with the way the competition gave nods to some of the most spite-fuelled outpourings. Maybe I am - that cultural buzzword of 2017 - a 'snowflake', but what's the point of sneering over a missing toddler or reinforcing misogynistic viewpoints that were last socially acceptable in 1953?

Fortunately, Trisha had a belter of a gig at the launch night of Audiogiggles in Chelmsford. One of those gigs that go so well you've got to really wait for the laughter to die down and then it builds up during each set-up!

The final gig in April was at Rachel Day's awonderfulday comedy in Digbeth. May was a lot more sedate, with Caroline Of Brunswick's Open Mic night in Brighton; Comedy Ladder in Thame; Proper Funny in Leicester and Hungry Hedgehog in Rochester being the only times I put on the lipstick and wig.

The first night of Laugh Yer Head Off took place, and I went mostly with dependable comics I knew. Chris Norton-Walker is the perfect opener, he can immediately establish his charisma in a room full of strangers and just oozes comedy out of every pore. Nigel Lovell is a commendable pun-slinger and to finish, I thought the night could do with earthy everyman Dave Dinsdale.

"Ah, that's a male-only line up!" I hear you cry. Well, no, I had brought in Katie Pritchard alongside Nigel for the middle section. I had never met or seen her before, yet heard good things about her act.

Charidee in the MK, coming sometime, a maybe

When you're a booker and you ask for spots, whether it's open or paid, you are guaranteed to get more men than woman answering, by an utter multitude. The cold fact is, there are more men in comedy than women. That's not to say I'm all thumbs-up about this situation, I actually like to get female representation on my bills.

This is more than just a waving of 'look at how not sexist I am' tokenism, female comedians can offer a fresh perspective that you don't get with the blokey acts. Most importantly of all, they bring in and retain women as punters. To hell with the SJW accusations, having women on your bills is a great commercial move! You have more credibility with couples who are considering a visit to your nights.

This could be an exaggeration, but with male-only line-ups, there's a lot of talk about wanking and boozing. Great for us XY chromosome owners, but it can alienate women. Restricting your event to male performers is such an Absolute Radio thing to do.

"Yeah, but women aren't funny, they just talk about periods and that". That's a genuine quote an audience member said to me after a comedy night I put on and said with the expectation that I'd agree with it. Screw that. That guy obviously hadn't seen much female comedy.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make without wanting to be patronising, is that I've taken a pro-active stance on avoiding male-only line-ups on my nights. I can't say I've always been successful (what with last-minute replacements being needed sometimes), but my outfit has done a lot for representing women.

With about seven or eight male acts out there for every female (judging by my inbox), I have to hold back and reserve spots for women. Yeah, that does feel like sheer tokenism, but in an ideal world, the gender split in comedy would be 50/50.

Samantha and I, with the aid of Chromecast (seriously good for getting almost any app onto any television screen), had 'auditioned' the YouTube videos sent in by female applicants for Laugh Yer Head Off. Katie Pritchard really chimed with my girlfriend. I was a bit worried as it was a pub we didn't know - hell, a village we didn't know, and Katie was (well, is) rather leftfield.

As much as I really enjoy leftfield humour (as evidenced in my love for Club Smashing), I know it doesn't go down that well in smaller towns, so I tend to book more 'straight' stuff for Chuckle Pit.

Grin City's logo what I done

In the end, nothing to worry about. Katie's set was epic, brought the house down. As did the others. A great start a new night. Oh, and it also meant I had to set up a business account and properly establish myself as a sole trader. I was now dealing with 'Artist and Practitioner Agreements' and invoices.

This meant coming up with a 'brand' and the 'imaging' surrounding it. Such duties were part of my day job at the time. If I could conjure up graphics for two of the world's most famous technology brands, the personal stuff should be a cinch, eh?

Punning on Sin City, I came up with Grin City as the 'umbrella' brand for Beerhouse Comedy; Chuckle Pit; Kanned Komedy and Laugh Yer Head Off. I like the idea of the logo I made, although it's a little bit 'off', as graphic designers are keen to say. Ah well, it's not really a publicly-facing brand, it's tucked away in a tiny spot of the posters. The average Joe won't be able to say that Avalon promoted that Richard Herring or Frank Skinner gig, it's not on their radar and never will be.

Tying in with the day job, I had managed to land a second Kanned Komedy night in my then-workplace's home of Wolverton, just outside Milton Keynes. A colleague from the town pointed out that Wolverton's Bar Bar Black Sheep would be the perfect venue for a fund-raising night of laughs. I can't fault them, the venue does a lot of creative events for dementia sufferers, the homeless and many other vulnerable people.

Continuing with the same formula, we raised another three-figure sum for the local foodbank in Milton Keynes. The £5 entry fee combined with the competitive 'vote using money for your favourite comedian' concept worked wonderfully, and I'm pleased to say we got £210 raised for MK Food Bank.

Matt Bragg; Chris Norton-Walker; Donna Scott; Adele Cliff and Chris Harris did excellent turns. Mr Norton-Walker won the audience poll and was given the 'Golden Kan' award (yes, an empty tin can spray painted gold) and then we had the awesomely talented Alex Hylton as the headliner doing a 20 minute spot.

Chris Norton-Walker, a one-man purveyor of "yeah!"
A week later I was gigging in another country. Wales, to be specific.

I have always enjoyed long distance driving. I only passed my driving test about four years ago and the novelty hasn't worn off. I'm in my forties and I love just turning on the ignition knowing I can create a new adventure almost entirely of my volition. Maybe I'll get jaded about motoring in years to come. I'm certainly no petrolhead, I just love being a car owner for practical reasons and I really love a long scenic drive.

Rhyl Comedy Club is a small but outstanding open spot comedy night in north Wales, which advertises heavily on social media. To be frank, the purpose is to attract acts from across the UK to the seaside town of Rhyl, and I've found their marketing to be really compelling. I love that.

Continuing the brutal honesty, Rhyl is a seaside town that has seen better days. I'm not going to just knock it, hell, I think about all the comedians who pop over to Chuckle Pit and end up navigating through the visual disaster that is Wellingborough, my hometown. Well done on enduring that, by the way.

Run by couple Sarah Roberts and Nia Lloyd Williams in the Rhyl Little Theatre, this is a great outpost for comedy. The regulars are the locals and it was a delight to play there as Trisha Timpson. The long drive meant I had to take an afternoon off, but the sight of the mountains and the hills made me feel like I was playing Out Run again.

As you might have gathered, a lot of my motivation for gigging is to visit new places. My brother, a fan of Watford FC, regaled me of tales of his away days up and down the country. While I could hardly be jealous of watching Elton John's favourite team (and I gave it a go, witnessing a goallless draw in Oxford and a few battles in Vicarage Road), I did like the appeal of getting the hell out of Northamptonshire, being able to point at any corner of a UK map and go "yeah, I've been there".

Rhyl Communication
Hence why I was pleased to do the Oakham gig. A performance in Rutland got England's smallest country ticked off my personal 'comedy map'. Yes, I have one and I update it county by county. That's what having Asperger's Syndrome does to you.

Anyway, Rhyl, absolutely awesome. Made a quick visit to the beach (notable for being the scene in Red Dwarf where they portray a computer-generated 'paradise') and then back to the venue. Being an actual theatre, I blagged a dressing room to get tarted up.

Fellow Viz fan and contributor Kevin Caswell-Jones was on the bill. Great to see someone you know. When you step well out of your television region, you don't tend to know any other performer.

Also known to me, the compere booked was Rob Mitchell, who had done really well at Chuckle Pit and at the Teknicolour Smoof night I was at. Oh and there was Will Preston, a London-based comic who came over and who I first saw at the competitive gig down south that I wasn't too fond of (er, not because of Will).

My favourite of the night was Will Newall from Dunfermline, who had time during his camping holiday in Wales to book the spot. I cannot say in words how superb this guy's set is. It's a proper laugh-riddled set that's right up my street. One of the best acts I've ever seen on the circuit.

Heading for a drive that could last four hours, I didn't bother reverting to male mode, just threw my clothes into my suitcase and drove out of Wales, meeting the M6 in Cheshire and then heading back home. Stupidly, I left my beautiful blue suede DMs back in the dressing room, which I didn't realise until the morning when I was faced with Trisha's plastic flats. I made do with trainers as a stop gap.

I regained my shoes a week later when Sarah and Nia posted them back to me. I still feel guilt at that.

June also saw Trisha at an open spot gig in Birmingham where long-time friend Martin Fenton and his wife Janine came out to support me. They both ended up doing an impromptu musical spot at the end of the night. Despite not being stand-up comics, the acerbic pen and jazz talent of Martin had crafted a dark song about serial killers. One that I was very fond of and had to join in with. I don't do musical comedy because I can't sing, but managed to pull this one off.

Trisha getting on board at The Ark

The next day I had the paid spot from JAM Comedy over on The Ark in Northampton. A literal boat, sitting in water, in the midlands. I do like being in unusual venues. It's a successful restaurant with a bar. Two big stalwarts of the midlands comedy circuit - Freddie Farrell and Masai Graham - were opening and headlining respectively.

Speaking of which, I did the cover for Freddie's comedy album that 'dropped' (as the young people say) in 2017. I did the photography and graphic design. Literally, it is me on the cover. That's my finger poking through my jeans.

Jeans genie
I can't claim credit for the idea. It's in homage to a proposed album cover The Doors wanted, but it got rejected by their record label. It's Freddie's decision to use the concept and we came up with our 100% legally compliant version of it.

Freddie told me that the sight of my finger in this context, made his mother gasp out loud.

As for the Ark gig, it was superb. I had already found the right set for Trisha at this point, but I then managed to squeeze in a new joke I thought of minutes before, into the 'bar menu' section and it's pretty evergreen, remaining as part of the whole routine ever since.

A rule I've put in place is to only gig in London once a year. Past experiences show it's a fairly soul-destroying place for comedy, with audiences that are usually 97% acts, 3% actual punters. The quality is rarely good, there's a lot of hack material and copied jokes, it's just not what I want to be part of.

Oh, and then there's the 'bringer' culture. I have not and will never do a 'bringer' gig. If you're calling yourself a promoter and you're asking your performers to bring an audience, you really are not a promoter. Clue's in the title.

I'm careful picking out what I find acceptable in the capital. There's a well-known promoter who has regular comedy nights in north London with a few big names here and there, but I hear of very concerning things on sexual harrassment issues. I'm not willing to gig for that man. Reliable friends in the comedy community are appalled.

Anyway, enough of the dark side, Nathan Derienzi Brett appealed on Facebook for leftfield performers to do a show in Camden.


The Young Gifted And Terrified Cult Cabaret Show was a one-off showcase of off-beat comedy and burlesque taking place in celebrated pub theatre The Lion & Unicorn. Trisha certainly wasn't the weirdest on the bill.

This was the first comedy circuit event I'd seen in London where the audience outnumbered the performers. With it being paid entry, people were attentive and the hand-picked line-up certainly impressed. The set was like a dystopian game show and Nathan, as booker/MC, resembled a bleak version of the Rocky Horror Show's Rocky.

I remember it being a very very hot day and I wasn't looking forward to spending much of it in close-fitting man-made fibres. I made the most of being bare-legged right until showtime. Still, a cracking gig and we performers got those mirrors with all the lightbulbs around them, like you see in any movie about showbusiness. Or The Muppet Show.

I rounded off the month with a Trisha ten spot at a gig in Willenhall. Rob Kemp (he of Elvis Dead fame) has run a monthly night at the United Kingdom pub for quite a while now and he asked me/Trisha to put in an appearance.

Matt Hollins at Anarchy in Willenhall
That was another cracking gig and here we are at the halfway point of 2017. It feels like it's taken me half a year just to write this blog entry. Well, it was pretty feature-packed. The remaining parts will be a lot quicker to read, I can promise...

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