Comedy is not a sport. There's absolutely no reason why people should compete in it. Yet comedians do. There's something about being a not-yet-established-act which puts enough desperation into the equation to make it seem like a good idea to go on stage and try to be better than the other comedians on the bill. Worse than that, the definition of "better" is completely arbitrary in the world of comedy.
So, despite the fact that I'd been telling people that I wouldn't get to the final, I went along to the semi-final of the Laughing Horse New Act of the year competition in Wimbledon on Saturday night. Worse than that, I even half-expected to get through to the final. I even had the gaul to be gutted (albeit temporarily) when I didn't even place in the top three.
Overall, the standard was quite disappointing. I wasn't on top form myself, though I got a reasonable response from what was proving to be a relatively hard-to-please audience... and if they were hard to please at the start, the fact that they had to endure 12 different acts (I was 9th) didn't help at all. To make things a little harder, there was no way to plug my guitar in, which meant that the audience probably just heard someone singing to themselves, rather than to the basic backing track I usually provide with the live guitar. I was playing it, but the poor wee bodied-thing is not the most audible of instruments in a big room.
On the up-side, I saw a few acts who made me laugh hard, one of whom I was to meet at a later gig.
On the down-side, where at most gigs it's left ambiguous whether you were really liked by the audience, at this gig, it was very clear.
From the loser to the headliner
I've been having nightmares about stand-up. My confidence has been quite low. This partly comes from the rarity of gigs in my diary at the moment, along with how I think I've been feeling about life in general (out of control). To have the confidence to make the mental journey between driving away from Wimbledon a loser and being the final act of someone's comedy night is a big thing. However, I have, in other aspects of my life, been regaining control, and I am actually quite enthusiastic about comedy. Laughing out loud at other acts at the competition on Saturday was a good combination of being a good sport, enthusiastic about comedy, and not as insecure as perhaps I've been fearing that I was.
So, I shrugged off my defeat and started plotting. Plotting is what I do best. Usually it's quite benign - I architect some software or plan a trip or whatever. I'm not anticipating an explosion under Westminster.
So, my love of comedy, along with one of my head-clearing and fat-expunging walks, put me in a suitable frame of mind for Monday night's trip to Kidderminster. I was looking forward to seeing one of the competitors from Saturday night do a set that didn't require a judgement. I also had the extra responsibility of knowing that my girlfriend's brother and his other half would be in the audience - I'd got them in as guests. So, I had to get myself back into the mindset of being the big comedian-man.
The longest set I've ever done is about 42 minutes. That required me to do everything I could possibly think of doing. Since I did that set, back in August, my stand-up has gone into decline. The longest set I'd done more recently was in Chester at 20 minutes. To headline, you should be able to do a comfy 25 minutes, preferably longer. In some ways, comedianing is a bit like a muscle, in that if you don't exercise it, then you get rusty and lose stamina. So, to do a solid 30 minute set was something which I felt I might need to build up to and I had to go from the 6 minutes on Saturday to the full 30 on Monday without any real opportunity to rehearse.
Well... the stakes were high, but not that high. The audience at Kidderminster are a very nice crowd and I felt like I could easily relax in their presence. Funnily enough, if I'm relaxed, I don't blast through the material so quickly, so it fills more time. Moreover, I don't run out of energy if I'm more relaxed. The fact that my guinea-pig-food diet (salad, not the wee pellets) had detoxed me a bit and made me feel more energetic (or less lethargic) probably helped. I made the time I wanted to, pretty easily. A couple of things got in my way, one of them was the fact that I foolishly did a very energetic bit of material before my preferred ending, which is more subtle, and thus didn't work so well. Secondly, I didn't take to the stage until about ten past eleven, which undoubtedly had some effect on the energy levels in the room - I felt sorry for my guests, who had a long journey back and had witnessed quite a lot of goings-on before they were free to leave.
So, for the second time at that gig, the unofficial feedback from the audience was that the second support act (i.e. the one who was on just before me) was the best act of the night, and for the second time that weekend, the act in question curried more favour with the audience than I did (he had placed in the top 3). However, I had nothing to be ashamed of. I should have been slightly ashamed that I'd used a headline spot to try out some new material, but I wasn't ashamed... because it worked a treat... making some really nice giggly sounds from the room.
I'm happier than I was when I was having the nightmares.