The thing I find hardest about telling a joke is the start; as in, the first joke of the night, the introduction. Every other joke, every other story, they all flow together or are linked in some often tenuous way, but to start cold, from scratch… This is something I don’t find that easy. Turns out, it’s not just when I’m on stage, it’s also when I’m starting to write something, such as this blog. I’ve been staring at a blank screen for two weeks, wondering how to get this show on the road. I know once I’ve got this first paragraph out of the way, everything else will Tetris into place, down to the last paragraph. All I have to do is get through this opening, and then we’re off.
So, for those of you who don’t know me, that’s me up there. My name is Gerry McBride; Straight Outta Monaghan. Two years ago, I took to the world of stand-up comedy for the first time. The first year, I didn’t do much; the odd gig here and there, finding my feet, learning the ropes. In my second year, I set myself a goal of doing fifty gigs in one year, and set about it with such fervour that I had done fifty gigs in five months, along the way winning several comedy competitions, playing in some of the biggest venues all over Ireland. Starting 2010, I had gotten myself into the mid-leagues of Irish comedy; not troubling the top flight comedians of the country but safe from relegation for a few seasons, enjoying the occasional high-profile victory but also the occasional crushing defeat.
I used to think that getting ahead in comedy was impossible; now I realise that it’s not. It’s really easy, it just takes a long, long time. Initially, I was like a lot of open-mic guys; I wanted everything all at once. I wanted gigs in venues that wouldn’t give them to me, so I got frustrated and pissed off. I yelled conspiracy and shenanigans, that the whole comedy circuit was a sham, and it wasn’t what you know but who you know. A couple of years down the line, and my attitude has all changed. Those venues that told me I wasn’t ready to gig with them? Turns out they were right, which is something I learned on nights when I jumped in at the deep end and suffered painful death in front of a demanding crowd. When I returned to the same venue a few months later, with a pared down set and a less cocky attitude, I rocked.
Gigging as much as possible in as many towns as possible taught me things that I didn’t know when I first started comedy. I wrote material to suit different tastes, so that if something wasn’t working, I could switch to something that might. Nowadays, I’m more open to criticism if a promoter doesn’t book me, or tells me I’m not ready for his club, so be it. maybe he’s seen something in my set that he doesn’t like, or knows that the room he runs might not suit my comedy. there’s no sense in losing sleep over it; just go off, get better, come back and rock the place. What I’ve learned over my two short years of comedy can be condensed into three simple rules;
1: Let Them At It
Let them at it; that’s what I say. Nothing anybody else does with their comedy career is going to affect yours. Some people get bent out of shape about other peoples acts; some get angry at guys that steal material off the internet or tell crappy jokes that we’ve heard in pubs ten years ago. I say LET THEM AT IT. Anyone that steals material or does shit jokes won’t be taking food of your table anytime soon. It’s just some guy who wanted to try comedy but doesn’t have the ability. I used to get really annoyed at this, and many other things that I noticed comedians doing, but now it doesn’t faze me at all. Things like people getting up and doing boring material, or trying to be overly “dark” used to piss me off, because I felt that comedians doing shit boring comedy gave everyone a bad name; that if someone would go on a night out to a comedy club and leave with the opinion that all comedy was like that.
Now I just say LET THEM AT IT. Your shit act is not going to cost me one booking. All I have to worry about is my own material and my own act. Sure, if I’m on a roadtrip to a gig with a couple of guys to a gig down the country somewhere, you can rest assured there’s going to be more than one comedian with redhot ears, but you’re definitely not going to find me on the stairwell telling some guy where his act is going wrong in an overly condescending, patronising way; I hate that shit. Help and advice is always welcome in this game, and there are times when I’ll actively seek peoples opinions, but to the guys that we all know, the ones that think they know everything, I say I’ll mind my set, you mind yours.
My LET THEM AT IT attitude extends also to other peoples politics. I spent the first few years listening to every opinion I could. That’s good, in a way, but it leads to you never really making up your own opinion. It’s only in the last six months or so that I’ve shrugged off any preconceived opinions that I’ve had, and started forming my own. By and large, I’ve found pretty much everyone to be easy to deal with as long as you approach them the right way. There’s a lot of new comics that are walking around with opinions based on half-stories and gossip, most of which is about things that happened years before any of us started comedy and as such, really isn’t any of our business to begin with.
2: Dance with the Girl that Brought You
My set hasn’t really changed that much in the past twelve months; I’ve added sketches, lines, removed bits that didn’t work, but by and large if you come to see me do a gig, you’ll see my intro about being from the north, my carsex sketch, my bit about rural Ireland nightclubs and then the Tayto routine. Thats my twenty minutes, that I go from town to town with. It rarely changes. Some of it, I’m completely and utterly bored of; I’ve been doing the Tayto sketch for nearly 18 months and it drives me crazy.
But here’s where rule number 2 comes in; DANCE WITH THE GIRL THAT BROUGHT YOU. I’ve booked nearly all my gigs on the strength of that Tayto routine. Sure, I may be sick to the back teeth of it, but just because I’ve done it a hundred times doesn’t mean everyone’s seen it yet. Pretty much every time I’ve done that routine, it’s gone down a storm. As have the other bits that make up my whole act. When you get booked to do a gig, you get booked on the basis that you’re going to go out there with your A-material. That’s just good business.
This leaves a comedian in an awkward situation; sure, we want to keep audiences and promoter happy, but we want to be able to work on new stuff, and express ourselves onstage. I’ve started introducing new bits here and there, in what I consider to be friendlier clubs (where the promoter won’t blacklist you for not sticking with the tried and tested). Sometimes, you’ll look out and see a smaller than usual crowd, maybe a few familiar faces that’ve seen the act before, and I’ll introduce a few new elements. Sometimes I’ll OK it with the promoter beforehand, and do a whole new set. But by and large, my rule is DANCE WITH THE GIRL THAT BROUGHT YOU.
This comes into play especially at one-off gigs around the country, where people are paying in. Times are hard these days; money is scarcer than ever. So if someone is at a comedy club on a Friday night, maybe that’s it for them- that’s their weekend. Do they want to pay their hard-earned money to watch me practice some ghastly new bullshit onstage, or do they want to hear the best material I can give them? As entertainers, comedians have a responsibility to ENTERTAIN the audience. Some people turn their back on this, not wanting to be known as “crowd-pleasers” or “Joke-blowers”…. well, I say see Rule 1, let them at it. In hard times like these, I’m going to do my best to be a crowd pleaser, by doing the material I know works best.
3: Don’t Believe the Hype
When you’re doing well at comedy, people will tell you so. You’ll finish your set to a huge applause, and get backstage to be told you did a good job. Maybe, like me, you’ll win a few competitions along the way, and start to believe all that’s been said; that you’re doing a fantastic job, you’re the next big thing… DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE. Don’t listen to it, don’t acknowledge it. No-one is the next big thing. no-one, no matter how good they are, is immune to a bad gig. Everyone loves to be encouraged and congratulated, but if you listen to it too much, it will start to affect your attitude and your performances.
The worst deaths I’ve died onstage have happened when I swaggered into the venue thinking yeah, this one’s in the bag. I’m Gerry McBride; I’ve rocked gigs like this before, this’ll be a piece of piss. WRONG. DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE. Every gig is different, every gig needs to be treated with respect. Hit each stage like you’ve never stood in front of a mic before. Assuming that you know your audience before you get onstage is the road to no town.
Worst than believing the hype about you, is believing your OWN hype. We all have a comedy CV; a list of accomplishments that we send to promoters to try to fish a gig out of them, as if they’ll read your e-mail and jump out of their seat, yelling at people to book this guy, quick.
Now, you’d really just want to read my CV; a flurry of half-truths and embellishments that have only the most tenuous link to reality. The worst sin would be for me to believe that which I have written about myself; DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE. We all say from time to time the big gigs we’ve done, and big names we’ve played with, but there is a difference between being the comedian that knows he played an open spot before some big name, and the one that truly believes that he’s that guys support act. Believing the hype leads to believing you’re at a level you aren’t, which leads to not giving every performance the respect it deserves. You want to get ahead in comedy? Then DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE.
So where do I go from here? Getting ahead in comedy is the one thing I’m deadly serious about. I do all my joking around on stage; when it comes to gigging, there is no punchline. I intend to work hard and get known. Last year, I had set myself a very definite 50 gig goal, and it helped having something like that to aim for. It meant that I always kept my foot on the pedal, always had an endgame in sight. So this year (and indeed it may take longer) I’ve set a new task for myself;
Play a Gig in Each of the 32 Counties
This is something I know a lot of guys are trying to do, and in actual fact, it was something that I’ve been trying to do for sometime myself. But to set it as an actual goal, and announce it publically as my intention, means that now I’ll start to pursue it. What I plan is to write 32 blogs for 32 gigs that I’ve done in 32 counties and post them all here. Given the nature of this task, they probably won’t be weekly, but I’ll be posting some other stuff in between too. Writing about these experiences has become something I’ve loved, and really missed since I finished my last blog. Keeping a diary like this about my 32 county task will help me actually accomplish it, as I’ll always want to write a new blog for a county that I haven’t played yet (as well as the fact that I’m very conscious of what people would say if I fail)
Rather than just 32 reviews of gigs, these posts will be my take on comedy in Ireland; on how people in different communities react to different comics, how hard it is to get known in Ireland, interviews with comedians, plus plenty of other random funny shit too. I’m throwing out any gigs I’ve done so far, so you won’t be reading about a gig I done in Westmeath last year; I now have to go get 32 brand new gigs to write about. I’m not expecting it to be easy, but hey; nothing worthwhile ever is. Hopefully you’ll stick with me as I travel the country creating a carbon footprint for myself the size of Croke Park, gigging to whoever, wherever, whenever I can. Given that I’ve never heard of comedy happening in an awful lot of counties means that this task is gonna take a while… I mean, is there even any gigs in Laois?!?