The home of the haikulator



My Stand-up & gigs
The Coding Craftsman

The Musical!
Incredible Productions


Previous Posts

Let's blog again A comedic colleague has just star...
A lot has happened since my last blog entry. Well,...
Another mammoth post I reckon Despite advising p...
Too busy to be blogging A friend of mine, who will...
Fair play After about 3 years of asking for it, my...
2048, a webspace odyssey As my last post was my 21...
Post 1024 - that's 210 I still have a general disd...
Dawn of the deed Well, I just did a gig and did so...
Wouldn't it be loverly? All this talk of being nic...
Remember to be nice My life is sometimes a mass of...

Blog Archives

October 2001
November 2001
December 2001
January 2002
February 2002
March 2002
April 2002
May 2002
June 2002
July 2002
August 2002
September 2002
October 2002
November 2002
December 2002
January 2003
February 2003
March 2003
April 2003
May 2003
June 2003
July 2003
August 2003
September 2003
October 2003
November 2003
December 2003
January 2004
February 2004
March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
June 2004
July 2004
August 2004
September 2004
October 2004
November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
June 2008
July 2008
August 2008
September 2008
October 2008
November 2008
December 2008
January 2009
March 2009
April 2009
May 2009
August 2009
September 2009
January 2010
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010
June 2010
July 2010
August 2010
September 2010
October 2010
November 2010
December 2010
January 2011
February 2011
March 2011
April 2011
May 2011
June 2011
July 2011
August 2011
October 2011
December 2011
February 2012
March 2012
April 2012
May 2012
June 2012
July 2012
March 2013
April 2013
May 2013
June 2013
July 2013
August 2013
September 2013
October 2013
December 2013
January 2014
February 2014
March 2014
May 2014
July 2014
January 2015
February 2015
March 2015
April 2015
May 2015
June 2015
July 2015
August 2015
January 2016
February 2016
March 2016
April 2016
May 2016
July 2016
August 2017
January 2018
August 2018
September 2018

Global Domination

Locations of visitors to this page

Wednesday, January 25

What a Malarkey
I arrived at the gig last night, having driven straight from work (my journey started at 4pm and involved a very very quick toilet/food break). The promoter had contacted me during the journey to make sure I was coming. Given that his is on of the few gigs that I'd gladly travel through 4 hours of rush hour traffic to attend (and I did). I thought that it was decidedly unassuming of him to double check. He is truly a great guy.

So, it was a venue I've played often (and I've always had great gigs there), but it had a couple of changes. Firstly, it had been spruced up. Actually, it's possible that it was spruced up last time, but I just didn't notice, distracted by my own self-absorption, the presence of my cousin, and the obscuring effect on decor caused by there being a huge crowd of students in the place. Sadly, the other change was that the huge crowd of excitable students was somewhat lacking in the important property of its magnitude. It was a crowd, but not a huge one. Couple this with the fact that the mid-20's of January is the most depressing time of the year and the gig was, unusually subdued.

However, subdued at XS Malarkey in Manchester is the equivalent of roof-raising in other gigs. Plus, this was the first time I'd ever been put on the stage there without a strict imperative to keep to time. So, I was intent on having as much fun as I could with the audience. overall, it was a very enjoyable and rewarding gig. I think I had to work a lot harder than I've ever worked on that stage before, and there's no doubt that at least two of the songs I did could have been cut - indeed, cutting them might have contributed to the set, rather than taken away from it. But what the hell. I hardly ever do "Distracting Racists With Board Games" and I thought that a Malarkey crowd might play along. It didn't lose them totally. In addition, "Bridget The Diabetic Midget" is a good student sing-along number, but it failed to hit the spot as it has done on previous occasions.

Keeping control of an approximately 30 minute musical set is a skill. It's something I don't get to do very often, and I was reasonably out of practice. There were a few points where I lost my internal sense of rhythm and started belting along. Had the audience been interrupting me with huge uncontrollable laughter, then that wouldn't have happened - the trick is to be able to keep your own pace when there's no laughter, rather than rush on to the next guaranteed laugh. Overall, I didn't rush it too much, and I felt distinctly confident on the stage. It's hard not to feel safe among an XS Malarkey audience.

One of the things I've been doing more in longer sets is alternating between playing the show tight to the script and loosening up - usually in the links. For me, one of the skills is to make the scripted pieces seem spontaneous in their delivery, or at least not appear to radically be changing gear between making it up and doing something I've done countless times before. Between big hitters, I purposely made myself go off script, if only to make some pleasantries with the audience, or comment on one person who was particularly enjoying it. I even threw in a bit of audience banter. That should be good, right?

Not quite. Audience banter is an artform. There are various tricks you can use. One of these is the loaded question. For example, if you notice someone has a very expensive watch, you can put a question to them thusly: "Oooh, that's an expensive watch - is your daddy loaded? or did you nick it?". This is socially awkward, so when they reply with anything, you can either mock them for being a spoilt-rich-kid or thief - even if they try to deny being either. That's not a great example, but you get the idea. So, I started a conversation with someone who was sitting in the front row and who was the only person to clap a particular part of the set. I said this:

"You're the only one clapping. Thanks for that. Hey, you're balder than I am."

This was not a remarkable observation and it seemed to stun him and the audience to silence. Given that he'd probably just shaved his head, it wasn't too shocking. So, like an idiot, given the opportunity to avoid the slippery slope, or jump headlong down it, I followed with:

"Oooh, you're not undergoing chemotherapy are you?"

Yep. I managed to turn the whole room into a crowd that wanted to know if the big man with the guitar was picking on a guy because he had cancer. I then pushed the point to get an answer and he said that, in fact, he was undergoing chemo.

Oh hell!

In fact, two things occurred to me simultaneously:

1. I think I've heard talk of a regular at the club who may or may not be disabled, possibly cancer ridden.
2. I don't feel like I care a great deal about this moment - I can talk my way out of it.

So, I pushed the point. I asked him if he was okay, he said he was and I got the crowd to cheer him. Then I feigned embarrassment at the situation I'd caused. While doing this I studied him and noticed that his facial hair was still there, a sure sign that he hasn't got some hairloss disease thing going on. So, I pushed the point with him. Actually, I momentarily debated reasoning with him in front of the audience that he wasn't chemo using this logic, but decided it might be risky. So, I pressured him to admit that he'd been lying. He admitted it. I then was able to break the tension which I'd somehow created.

I've listened to this moment back a couple of times from the recording I took. While there was clearly a tension in the room, there were laughs throughout the banter and the big thing I got wrong was that I didn't really pause between the next bit of the saga. For me, it seemed like 2 or 3 minutes had elapsed when I came out of the moment the other end. In reality it was about 20 seconds of silliness! I learned an important lesson. Don't use "have you got cancer?" as a comedy-loaded-question!

The audience were still laughing in my last song and I left the gig with my head held high. I think.

I look forward to playing that venue again. It was definitely worth the drive.

In a change to the planned itinerary. I drove to my girlfriend's parents' house to stay the night, despite having planned to spend the night at my new place in Farnborough. So, I had to make a quick trip to the house in Farnborough to get a change of clothes before work. The things I'll do to avoid making a bed!...

Finding your voice
I was reading in another comedian's blog something about finding one's comedic voice. He somewhat pooh-poohed the idea of a voice as being some americanised inanity (I'm paraphrasing). In fact, the "voice" or "persona" or "mojo" or whatever you want to call it, are vital in being funny on stage. It's now three years into my time as a stand-up comedian, and I know that I'm still finding my limitations and my strengths on stage. I think there was a time when making the transition to "performing mode" from being me was a big thing (the wind-up and wind-down from a gig were huge and I didn't quite feel natural when on stage). Now, I transition between the two easily, and there's some of my stage-persona in my daily interpersonal behaviour and vice-versa. However, my behaviour on stage is very particularly different to my behaviour off it.

I was going to post about this on the comedian's blog (mentioned above) but the comments screen went wrong. So, I'll write about it here. There is a story that illustrates this. It happened back in November when I arrived at a Friday evening gig in Manchester after a horrendous car journey - Friday on the M6 is never fun. I was stressed and tired and due to go on first at a tough gig. I moaned at the nearest person, who happened to be the promoter. He said - "Yeah, but once you're on stage, you'll turn on the energy and cheer". I imagine that he may well have been suggesting this partly as coercion on one of his acts to go up there and BE FUNNY. However, he was also observing the fact that when you take to the stage you're there to do your act and not reflect too much on your mood. Being funny involves using a stylised way of behaving to communicate with an entire room full of people (or in the case of this gig, a room, one-third-full-of-disinterested-people).

So, one's comic voice probably starts with the persona. To be funny in company requires a certain way of behaving which would probably not work if you did it exactly like that on a stage in a big room. By exaggerating the things which make you funny and making them as big as the room, perhaps using them to signpost things in your material which are meant to be funny, you can make a room full of people laugh. Being funny partly comes from within, and is partly a straightforward skill of audience-coercion. Finding a comic persona is the junction of these two things.

Once you know who you are on stage, you have to make sure that you deliver your material in character. As such, some material simply cannot work for you and some of it comes very naturally. For me, singing self-deprecating, rude, or wordplay intensive songs seems to work quite well, where biting political satire never truly fits me. I can learn to adapt to other areas, and my persona will expand. Somewhere, though, after gigs and gigs worth of experience, a particular sort of behaviour and a particular branch of comedy will shine out as the most comfortable for me, and the most entertaining for audiences. That's what it means by finding a comedy voice.

I think I know who I am on stage at the moment.

I also think I'm enjoying it.

I hope to do more gigs and make the most of it. I won't be young and energetic enough to be able to cope with 7 or 8 hours in the car after a day's work forever!


Post a Comment

<< Home

All content ©2001 - 2012 Ashley Frieze