When you are just starting out as a comedian, you only get a short set. Five minutes or so is the norm. There are good reasons for this. Who wants the newbie stinking the room out for too long? More importantly, can the comedian get to the point and also bake in detail and variation in a short amount of time? If not then their sets will be dull. It is good discipline to be able to do a tight five minute set. Longer sets should have some tight fives in them... In general.
Putting a five minute set in the context of one's night as a performer, though, it is a lot of effort to go through to attend a gig for only five minutes' stage time. There is travel - I've round tripped 300 miles for short sets in my time. There is the time waiting to go on, where the pulse is racing and time changes pace. Then there the post gig come down. All for a few seconds (300) in front of an audience. It can be soul destroying, but it must be done.
It can be worth it. A nicely run gig with a nice audience is decent pay back for your efforts.
Tonight, in front of a warm up for it crowd, I saw 6 of the night's 8 acts do their 8 minute sets before it was my turn to go on. I don't see them as the obstacle to my taking to the stage by the way. They were just literally ahead of me on the bill. I enjoyed watching them. I saw them constrained by their shorter set length, but similarly given room to breathe in the time they were allotted.
The night was notionally a competition. Not to me, but for the other acts. I would hate to be issued with a winner or loser status after my efforts. The fact that there was an audience vote and a winner clearly took its toll on the acts, but it was also friendly and lovely enough not to feel like a fight for superiority. The additional nerves rubbed off a little on me as I watched.
I found myself looking at these acts, whom I'd not seen before, and thinking how great they were. How could I follow the freshness of writing and approach? I had better raise my game...
I am not here to review anyone's performance, least of all my own. I will say this: on any other night with any other audience what I did and said, in the way I did and said them, would have had less a response than I received and pretty much milked. I was using the gig to get some cheer back into my soul at the end of a challenging week and it worked for me.
Unconstrained by time, I felt free to wander on and off the script and to play with the moments that happen naturally in a room full of people. This is what comedy needs to have when live, and you can't set out to do that in a five minute short set. It is odd to have to unlearn the constraints you need to master to get started in order to be able to progress.
In short, I had a good time, however long that turned out to take.