Gig no. 1 (Actually Gig 4 but, like Madonna, I am being Touched for the Very First Time).
Where? Blackout at Up the Creek, Greenwich. There’s a little bar and tiny kitchen and a decent-sized comedy room – 275 capacity. You can’t get a 5 minute slot at Up the Creek without winning the Blackout gong night several times over.
Why? I’d first heard of the venue in Rob Brydon’s autobiography Small Man in a Book, where he describes one of his worst deaths as a stand-up. Being ‘Baa’d’ at for being Welsh by the entire audience. It stopped his stand-up career for years. I’d forgotten this, however. I’d just seen Henning When and Kerry Godiman there and thought the usual “I could do that” and stupidly told my other half. He’s very much a “Don’t just say it, prove it” type of man. I knew this. Which is why I told him. I’ve always been a “book it, then shit yourself” type of gal. Up the Creek is a great space. Not all spaces are great. Performance spaces have a kind of quality. You detect it the second you enter. Some are great. Some are shite. This venue is close to where I live which makes it doubly great. So I emailed a man called Geli who put me on a waiting list. Like with most respected Comedy nights, Up the Creek take what they serve up to the audience seriously. You have to earn your spot. And here, you earn it at the Blackout on a Thursday. Blackout nights are basically gong nights. In this case, you get 2 free minutes on stage, then 3 audience members who have been given a card get the chance to vote you off. For each vote, a red light goes on and when all 3 are lit, the lights go out. Hence, Blackout. If you last 5 minutes, the lights flash and you go up for the final (judged by the management who know their audiences and know what they’re doing).
What happened? I lasted 2 and a half minutes. They were generous.
The nerves started 2 days before the event. Then they vanished a bit. In that stupid lulled-into-a-false-sense-of-security period, I invited my husband, my sister and her husband (who I asked to film my spot) 2 mates (one who has directed stand-up shows) and my old RADA tutor (who is currently writing about us weird actors-SLASH-stand-up hybrids). I decided to wear a bright orange spotty top so people would remember me (a bad idea if you’re shit) and spent aaaaages doing my hair. The material was all over the place. Obviously I thought it was hilarious and had practised it millions of times. I started with a bit about myself – the fact that I’m from Liverpool:
“So. I’m from Liverpool. (in the accent) SHUT YER FUCKIN FACE WHAT YER LOOKIN AT LAAAA?? (normal voice) What is the “La” about? Coz it’s not ‘a note that follows So’ in – BOOTLE. Ey, Von Traps – Calm Down.’ Hitler came to Liverpool. ‘Parently. Yep. We said “them paintings are shite” and it was all downhill from there.”
It was, indeed, all downhill from there. I thought my Hitler joke was priceless. Later my husband said he hadn’t known it was a joke. I was outraged when the lights went out. OUTRAGED. A few days before the gig, I saw a friend who was performing at the RSC in Stratford and told him what I was up to. He’s a really funny guy. His face fell. “You know it’s nothing to do with the material in stand-up don’t you?” he said. “You can have the best material and deliver it really well and it can still mean nothing.” The gig was the next day.
Out of the many times I’d run through the lines, I’d settled on a joyful, buoyant delivery. My logic being, if they saw me enjoying it – they might. Genius.
I was 3rd on. The second of 2 women on all night. The first was young, nervous and spoke about kebabs. So far, everyone seemed very new. No-one lasted 5 minutes. Then it was me. I felt the wave of positivity when I got onstage – no audience wants you to be shit – it’s horrible for them if you’re shit. (See my King Gong post coming up, when I realise this is incorrect) I knew I was nervous but hell, I was better than the first two. After 2 minutes, the lights flashed, indicating to the card holders that they could vote. It took them 30 seconds.
As I said, I was OUTRAGED. Couldn’t believe it. I was just getting into my stride and had been stopped in my prime, they hadn’t even heard my bit about gender categories, the bastards. I came off-stage, hurt, bewildered and wondering why no-one was looking at me like “she was really funny, weren’t they mean.” Nope, every member of the audience ignored me at the bar in the interval and people started getting through to 5 minutes. Well f*ck ‘em. They’re clearly men and I was on too early, the audience are all drunk. I got pissed and listened to my friends who all said “You’re so brave, how did you learn all of those lines.”
I was surprised how quickly I bounced back. The failure hadn’t destroyed me, I wasn’t mortified, I was hooked. I booked another slot immediately, determined to prove them all WRONG. My tutor asked how much new comedy I saw. I lied. Not enough, was the truth. I needed to watch more live stand-up. New stand-up too. I needed to STUDY this.
Listening to Jason Manford’s autobiography (the audiobook version of the autobiography is usually always read by the author so it’s like hours of extra stand-up. Michael McIntyre’s is great. Frankie Boyle’s are read by a man who sounds just like him – but isn’t – still great). In Jason Manford’s he talks about Peter Kay asking him how much work he did a week on his comedy and how little he realised he was actually doing. Frank Skinner keeps a joke file that adds to daily. You have to put the work in. 5 minutes of great comedy takes a lot friggin longer that I thought. I had improvised my 5 minutes over a few hours and refined it a bit and then left it at that. Written. Done. It’s NEVER done until tested in front of an audience and even then – that’s just the start.
I watched my 2.5 mins on my iPad at home. I would have voted me off after 30 seconds. That explains why I lasted 2 and a half minutes. The first 2 were free. They were forced to listen to it. From the moment I bounded onto the stage full of joy and buoyancy, I was HATEFUL. Even I didn’t care to watch me. Who was this middle-class spotty-orange blouse woman saying these things. The final card went up during the following material: “We Scousers are proud of swearing. Not attractive in a woman apparently. I was old that by an EX boyfriend. The one who said “your face is really pretty – when it’s still.” I killed him. Buried him under the patio. If you are too young to remember Brooky. And only know Hollyoaks. Fuckkkkkk Off.”
There were a lot of funny men. They all had a thing. One looked Jewish but wasn’t Jewish. One looked like the Muslim Peter Andrei. One was Italian and did pig pauses. The Italian won.
PS. I was intending to upload the video but it has mysteriously disappeared from my iPad. And I’m not even lying. That’s what the blog is FOR – to show this shit. I think even technology was ashamed.
So. Lessons learnt:
1. Work on your material.
2. Work on your material.
3. Don’t wear a spotty orange blouse unless you want to be a fucking children’s presenter.
4. The audience knows best.
5. Never be aggressive to them. Unless you’re Jerry Sadowitz.
6. Work on your material.
7. Be Italian and have a thing.
Next up: 2nd attempt at The Blackout. You ‘eard.