In which I attempt crowd work, shout at Canterbury and improvise jokes about Roman wiping their bums with geese.
Gig no: 30. Where? Heavenly Comedy, The Green Pub, Shepherd’s Bush
Who Held My Hand? Not a bringer.
What Happened? This gig is on the day of the Grenfell Tower fire and the whole area is alive with ambulances. It doesn’t feel right to be doing stand-up. But no one’s cancelled. I make my way to the Green. People are still in pubs, drinking.
Downstairs has no stage, no mic and we all pitch in to create a playing space our of chairs. Njambi McGrath, whose night this is, is a petite, softly spoken woman who is practicing 20 minutes of her Edinburgh Show. I’m still using my competition material but snipped to 5 minutes. Soooo bored of it now and working on new stuff, promise.
The excellent Dave Black is here, as is Dangerous T, a force of nature known to the open mic circuit and who I’ve seen before improvising a whole set about hating his sister. Both do new stuff. Both are great.
We’ve been warned not to complain about punters crossing the stage area to go to the loo is the pub doesn’t like it. This is quite a deal. Despite the notice on the door to walk round the other side, people enter frequently and literally cross confront of the mic before your face. I’m lucky, I only get one person, an elderly lady, very finely dressed who waves at me when I call her mother. CROWD WORK.
One guy, who is doing his first ever gig, turns to the window and says: “Its hot in here, has someone lit a fire.” Comedians are dicks.
Njambi’s 20 minutes is excellent. Very well written and observed. She likes my stuff and asks me back. I don’t tell her I’m not officially funny as I no longer think this is relevant.
I end up getting the tube most of the way back with Dave Black. He is full of brilliant advice, including disaster survival. I think Dave Black should have his own TV show. Instead of Ross Kemp. And with jokes.
Not all comedians are dicks.
Gig no. 31 Where? Nice N Spiky @ Regents Pub, Islington
Why? I was shit there last time, so am trying to make amends.
Who Held My Hand? No one but my current favourite Scouser, Jamie Allerton, brought 2 friends so I stole one.
What Happened? I throw all caution to the wind and write a new 5 minute set about fetishes and my first encounter with porn. It does not go well.
Last time I was in this particular comedy dungeon, I let nerves before a small audience of silent male comedians get to me. This time, I am one of 3 women on the bill and am determined not to shrink into my own skin with embarrassment. I do manage to hold my nerve but the material is a bit dark. It’s also not tight enough, having only been written hours before. There are no timed punchlines so it’s relying on people just finding me, Lizzie Hopley the woman, funny. This is going to be risky from the start.
Nathan Cassidy is MC’ing like last time and I warm to him more 2nd time around. Last time, he seemed very bitter about not winning a competition in Leicester. This time, I share his bitterness and hate the whole of Leicester on his behalf out of rejected comedian solidarity. He is also very funny. I get announced from the darkness and open with this:
“Let’s get political and talk about fetishes”
Which gets my first and only proper laugh.
The rest of it, about discovering animal porn in my mate’s dad’s car at 14, is met by a few gasps and uncomfortable quiet. I still think it’s funny and I was really selling it in my kitchen earlier. Now I realise how much it needs work, shaping, proper jokes. It needs to make people laugh and not freak them out. I run out of time on my chambermaid discovering Manga porn bit and sit down with that horrible gut-wrenching feeling you get when you know it’s not gone well and it’s YOUR FAULT.
This is what my mum means by saying my new pursuit is masochistic. I was raised a Catholic for about 5 minutes before my entire family collectively agreed we were more intelligent than that but I STILL have the guilt. Something is wrong in this room and YOU DID IT. I also think I might have been a bit racist when I mentioned Brixton at one point but don’t quite know why. I have Catholic guilt and White Person guilt. And now, not funny female comedian guilt. I have TRIPLE GUILT.
Jamie Allerton is funny. Again. He’s clever too. He does crowd work without needing his audience to respond. So they feel involved but they don’t f*ck him up. He is an annoying Scouse Genius.
Gig no: 32. Where? Lion’s Den Comedy, Bar Rumba, Shaftesbury Avenue.
Why? For some reason, lovely Tim who runs it, thinks I’m a headliner.
Who Held My Hand? No one. I’m a headliner.
What Happened? I do a tight 10 of tried and tested material to a boisterous mostly male Soho crowd and don’t freak them out about animal porn.
I also improvise a bit about Roman using geese as toilet paper. So I CAN make things up on the spot. Well, a bit. The comic before me is talking about Andrex toilet paper and how the puppy always looks like it’d be softer on your arse than the loo roll. I don’t quite know how I’m going to put it but i’ve read about Roman’s using live geese in toilets (ick) and am feeling quite relaxed about this gig so I just get up and go into it:
“Who washes the geese afterwards? Coz you can only rotate a goose so much per person. Who gets that job? And why don’t they just get paid to wipe the arses and cut out the middle geese?”
Nice big laughs, more so coz they know I’m just riffing and making it up. It’s a strong start. They’e thinking: “Ok, she’s a woman but we can relax.” I’ve introduced Bob the Builder to my Postman Pat/Fireman Sam bit and it’s starting to become more funny than the dating shite – I’ll go with this.
One of the regular comics tells me off for leaving early last time with my wino-director mate. I therefore stay to the bitter end of a veeeery long and varied night. Lion’s Den is an odd gig. It’s so central and always well-attended and Tim is lovely, he’s Mc’ing tonight and very likeable. But it’s a very straight, male dominated pit with a of of testosterone. Even the girls here are tougher, less Sisterhood-y. I imagine this is as close as I’m getting to a rough Hen/Stag do crowd. Whatever doesn’t kill you.
Gig no 33. Where? Comedy at the Cricketer’s, the Cricketer’s Pub, Canterbury.
Why? Desperate to gig out of London.
Who Held my Hand? Not a bringer.
What Happened? I’m doing this to broaden my audience experience so not all my gigs are to London-based comedians in London dungeons. I’ll be commuting from Stratford-upon-Avon (don’t ask) and paying lots of train fare in the process but figure it’s worth it. I’ve recently been to Canterbury too on the back of my husband’s motorbike. I am THAT cool. Well, he is. I just sit on the back worrying about what my hair’s going to look like when the helmet comes off. So I know what Canterbury looks like a bit and I’ve a chance of not getting lost.
The gig is organised by a girl called Maddy. I find her looking unsure and distracted about 40 minutes beforehand, with 2 people who look like her parents. After not much of a greeting and a distinct feel of “I wish she wasn’t here and this wasn’t happening to me”, I sit and watch for about 20 minutes as the shambles unfolds.
It’s clear there’s no stage area and some big tables have to be moved from the front corner of the pub, very close to the working bar and the front door. This will be a gig of distractions. By what I can overhear, this is not the first gig Maddy has done here. The comics will stand in the corner and there will be about 5 seats directly in front of them and a table that can’t be moved just to one side. Anyone sitting there will basically be ‘onstage’ with the comedian. Still, I feel happy to be out of London and will cope with anything.
Then Maddy sidles up to me and says there’s been a ‘miscommunication’ and there’s no mic. Fair enough. I can project. I meet the MC, a very small man with a club comedian air who seems fun and 2 other comics who loiter at the back. The MC guy is thrown by the lack of mic and asks for my beer bottle to pretend. Then dumps it as it smells of beer and he’s a recovering alcoholic. I grab an empty tonic water bottle and he uses that instead.
The bar is hot, noisy and we have about 6 people watching, including Maddy’s parents (?) and two people at the table onstage who are very keen NOT TO LAUGH.
I’m first on as I want to get home. Just as the MC guy is about half-way into his tonic water bottle, a small crowd of 18 year-old boys enter on a birthday pub crawl and, seeing what’s going on, decide to stay for one and be NOISIER THAN EVER. The MC fights to be heard. The other 2 comics look worried. I literally don’t care. Not coz I’m cool or professional – I just reckon I’ve nothing to lose.
I get announced and start shouting. I am effectively shouting at a pub. Three of the 18 year-olds sit behind me so I join them or they’ll be watching my arse. I’m now deafening 3 teenagers on a fake velvet bench in front of Maddy’s parents and 2 embarrassed old people. My material gets coarser and so do I. I try to talk to the boys but just sound like a female end-of-the-pier wanker.
I get to the bitter end of my 10 minutes, having pretended to have fun, whilst sweating beneath circling bluebottles in a hot and weird environment and escape to the station. I don’t see Maddy. Maybe she has already left Cambridge, leaving her parents behind??
It’s not all been a waste of time and money. At least I know what kind of comedian I DON’T want to be.
Gig no: 34. Where? Funny Feckers @ The Constitution Pub, Camden.
Why? It’s on my list.
Who Held My Hand? Wino Director Mate.
What Happened? Gig was brilliant. I was ok.
I’ve been developing a set about Mr Men. A natural progression from the whole Fireman Sam / Postman Pat / Bob the Builder thing.
“If one of the Mr Men came down here now with a gun to the head of my family – it’d be a really shit kid’s book – but if I had to, if I HAD TO…”
My main discovery tonight is how brilliant Funny Feckers is. And how I prefer this gig to most of the others I’ve ever done. It’s run and hosted by Wes Dalton who is a brilliant MC and immensely likeable Irishman. It’s a bringer night that works coz it’s not shit. A small basement room (again) on the banks of the Camden Canal, it appears crowded with very few people, has a little decorative stage area and great sound. It’s also filmed so for a mere £5, you get a beautifully edited 2-shot clip of your time. Sound and filming by James Quintin, also a comedian, also lovely and is on each week.
My Wino Director mate actually enjoys herself and adores Wes. For once, I don’t feel guilty about bringing a bringer. My jokes go down well but I look flustered and nervous on my clip. I’m clearly trying too hard.
I don’t know how many times I have to be told: do less, be cool, stop TRYING TO MAKE THEM LIKE YOU.