It was finally here. The day I launch my first ever live comedy show. I’ve watched other people do this hundreds of times. (Maybe even thousands.) How hard could it be, right?
T-minus 5 hours
I spend a few hours in the early afternoon once again standing outside the local shopping hotspots handing out flyers for the gig and letting local shoppers know there was going to be a “Free Comedy Show” just a few hundred yards away later that day. Generally, the response was positive. Although a few did look at me like I was offering them a rohypnol-laden supermarket brand cola.
T-minus 90 mins
I was a little miffed that I still had about 80 flyers left. But it was time to get to the Fox and Goose and set up for the show. The staff at the venue have been exceptionally positive about the show. They did feel the show would be more of a success if it was in the main bar, but were happy for me to go ahead and run it in the larger room at the back.
I started setting up the tables and chairs in the usual way I’d done hundreds of times back when I worked at The Glee Club. The venue had predicted I might get ten people. Comedians on the circuit estimated between 30 and 40. Personally , I would have been happy with 20 punters, but set the room for 60 people just in case. Making sure to put out “Reserved” signs on the back three rows to force customers to start filling up near the front.
T-minus 60 mins
Having done a technical rehearsal the day before, I was reasonably confident everything would go smoothly. That was naïve! I had my main mic – a nice expensive one recommended by the performer forums online – and three backups just in case. Thankfully, the sound seemed to be working just fine! However, for reasons I cannot fathom, the system refused to accept my iPod’s music. An iPod that I’d painstakingly prepared with a playlist of upbeat songs especially for the evening. An iPod that worked absolutely perfectly the day before during the rehearsal. My first hiccup of the day, and one that could ruin my carefully laid plans.
It was at around this time that the comedians started arriving. And, thankfully, our compere for the evening, Dave Dinsdale, had brought along with him his iPod that he uses when he MC’s the Holly Bush. An eclectic collection of tracks road-tested and guaranteed to get punters in the mood for some comedy. Disaster averted!
T-minus 30 mins
As the comedians arrived, I directed them to their reserved table to the side of the room and informed them that Dinsy was in charge of the running order and I was only going to worry about audience and technical. They’re the acts and it’s up to them to work out what happens on the stage. I recommended that we have two halves with four performers in each section. But, ultimately, they needed to decide the format between themselves. I left them to it, and it turned out the show was going to be in three sections – three, three and two punctuated by a couple of breaks.
T-minus 10 mins
The show was due to start very shortly and there were about ten people in the room. A room that I’d set up for 60 people! I grabbed my mini-bucket of lollipops, wandered over to the other room and one-to-one informed the twenty-ish pub customers that there was a “Free Comedy Show” (I’ve used that phrase a lot recently!) next door and they were very welcome to come. About half agreed to take make the short journey. I also corralled a group sitting at the back of the main room into sitting on the third row – which was as far as they were willing to move forward. It turns out they were there because of the article in the local newspaper, and had never been to a comedy show before. That brought the crowd to about twenty. Enough to have a show, I felt.
It was at this point that Dinsy rolled up to the microphone and started talking at the crowd over the music. Which also allowed me to tweak the sound settings. It was popping a little, and sounded quite “boomie” at the back of the room. However, in the main audience section it seemed to be acceptably audible and understandable. It was a great move by our MC and warmed up the crowd nicely pre-show and set the right mood for what was to come.
Our advertised 6.30pm start-time arrived. We still only had about twenty people in, so I spoke to the MC and we agreed to delay for about 15 minutes. And then, something strange happened. Punters started arriving in dribs and drabs. By the time we were ready to finally start there were almost 50 people in the room and I actually had to remove all the “Reserved” signs I’d put out on the back rows. Eventually, the number would swell to 60 people with almost a dozen standing at the peripheries of the room.
The Show Begins
My review of the show itself will be brief as I’m rarely interested in critically analysing anyone’s act but my own. But here goes nothing…
Dave Dinsdale had said before the gig that he expected one of the all-time comedy show car crashes to take place at the POD Comedy Live launch show. I wasn’t sure he really believed that, and it was obvious he planned to do everything in his power from the stage to make sure that didn’t happen. Dave is one of the most experienced comperes on the circuit and his expertise and decades of experience really showed tonight. He has an armoury full of snappy old gags, including a skipload of Birmingham-centric jokes that he no longer feels he can use at places like the Holly Bush and elsewhere. However, as he had a brand new audience in front of him, he could dig deep into his well of comedy know-how.
To start off the show, he instructed the audience in how he wanted to be welcomed onto the stage… to the opening bars of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathrusta and thunderous applause. Dinsy had them eating out of the palm of his hand from that point onwards. He expertly bantered with the audience and had them laughing right from the start.
I had hand-picked every comedian on the bill for the opening show, based on the kind of audience I had expected to turn up. I’d had a couple of dropouts, but you gotta roll with those punches and I was grateful I could secure some exceptionally good replacements in good time.
First up was Thomas Rackham, who is a new comedian based down the road from the Fox and Goose with close to ten gigs under his belt. I’ve seen him perform a couple of times now and he has an easy charm and sincerity that stands him in good stead. The last time I saw Thomas take to the stage, one of the comedians after him – a veteran of more than 5 years on the circuit – mocked him from the stage afterwards (in what seemed a rather childish and bitter manner) for his stage technique. But, Thomas took it on the chin with grace and is very quickly growing into a polished act with a bright future. For today’s show, he brought his bankers with him as well a whole raft of jokes I’d never heard before today, playing very well on his local knowledge to get big reactions from the crowd. He left the stage to thunderous applause and we all breathed a sigh of relief that the night had opened so well.
Next up we had the irrepressible Martin Huburn, who has been a regular on the circuit for the last year. His background prior to his comedy work is fascinating and you can read more about it at his blog. Martin was another act I’d chosen specifically for his local charm. Like Thomas before him, he has a likability and sincerity to his persona that makes it easier for audiences to enjoy his story-telling style. His football references inevitably drew some boo-ing and heckling from the sports-mad crowd as he mentioned different local teams, but it was all in good humour. Martin did try some new bits in the middle of the set that he’d recently written and for a couple of minutes the set wasn’t as sharp as his tested material, but he brought it all back with a beautiful callback to his childhood football story right at the end.
Taking the stage immediately before the first break, we had Dinsy inform the audience the next act was going to be a foreigner. I was relieved when the boo-ing I imagined would be inevitable failed to materialise. And on walked Zach Zannettou. I’ve seen Zach’s act before a few time and it gets more and more polished every time. He talks about his work running a chip shop, his Greek-Cypriot background and the social (and spelling!) differences between the two cultures he straddles. At the end of his set he likes to break out his alter-ego “P. Fishy” – a rapper who spits rhymes at the crowd about his work in the chip shop. Strangely, his backing music iPod was also rejected by the PA system so we had to go old school and get the audience to give him a beat to rap to. Which went well and ended the first section on a high.
The second section opened with our first female performer of the night. Given the testosterone-heavy, rough crowd it was no surprise they were a bit hesitant when the exquisite Hannah Silvester walked on stage. I wasn’t phased though. She’s a polished performer used to playing to a broad range of crowds, and her material was going down an absolute storm. She ended with a song that totally blew the audience away and she was one of the crowd’s favourite highlights of the night. Several people came up to her afterwards to tell her so, and that she totally confounded their blinkered pre-show expectations.
Young newcomer Mike Crump was next up. He plays a very Larry Grayson-esque camp character on stage which, coupled with his charm, allows him to get away with a lot of dark material including some nice pieces about tensions with his working-class dad. Mike even went off-script to ad-lib with the roughest, most Hooligan-ist looking table at the show, playfully implying they’d inappropriately taken advantage of him in the toilets. They played along happily and the rest of the crowd enjoyed it too.
Closing the second section was Leon Clifford, who hasn’t performed much recently but has a good stage presence and energy. He enlisted the help of a volunteer from the crowd – a very obvious “straight man” to his own hyper stage persona – who was given a list of bulletpoints to read out one-by-one that Leon could use as jumping-off points for gags. This played well and ended with a manic Peppa Pig routine with Leon stepping into the audience to deliver the punchline.
After the break, Dinsy brought out his ukulele for a musical interlude that was delivered at exactly the right time during the show. The final section had only two acts, both of whom are widely respected on the circuit. First up we had captivating newcomer Jessie Millward, who was a late replacement for the under-the-weather Matt Richards. Jess hasn’t gigged in about five months and so she essentially stopped performing comedy at about the same time I joined the West Midlands circuit. I’d never seen her before, but heard so many positive comments from others that it didn’t really feel like a risk adding her to the bill. She was a revelation, and the positive word-of-mouth she gets is well deserved. Her stage persona is confident but humble. Her material, conversely, is quite dark and dirty in places. It shouldn’t work. But her charisma and natural comic timing elevate the performance, and the audience really connected to Jess. I think everyone sees great things for her in the future.
Which brought us to our headliner for the evening. The award-winning Mike O’Callaghan – recently recognised with the “Rising Star” trophy at the West Midlands comedy awards – is one of the most admired acts on the local circuit who I’ve only seen a couple of times, but has always delivered a tour-de-force performance every time. He delivered a character piece for our show called “Mystic Mike” who is a menacing, downbeat and entirely incompetent David Blaine-esque Mentalist who regular invites “volunteers” from the audience on stage to help him prove his psychic and hypnotic powers. I won’t spoil the surprises for you by describing it in detail but suffice to say that, as usual, the whole routine went down exceptionally well and the crowd loved every second.
And there it is. The first night of POD Comedy Live. A triumph.
What’s that? I have to do it all again next month?!? Oh sloblock!
See you next month folks. 🙂