Seven Nights of Comedy
When I first started in comedy, I started slow. In my first year, I might have done twenty gigs or so, all spread out. A gig every two weeks. Two gigs this week then nothing till next month. Four weeks waiting round doing nothing. It wasn’t till last year that I started gigging with any regularity, when I decided that fuck it, who needs a savings account, and proceeded to wear a groove in the road from Carricmacross to Dublin. I’d see the higher-ups gigging left right and center, and thought that was a thing to aspire to to gig every night of the week. I personally had never done a full week of comedy up until a few weeks ago; I was booked from Wednesday to Sunday, then I got a phone call to gig on Monday. With only Tuesday being the missing link, I e-mailed for and subsequently received a quick slot in the Mish Mash on Tuesday, and my first full week of comedy was waiting for me. All I had to do now, was do them…
Ok, let’s get this show on the road; literally, as Monday gig saw me head down to Waterford city immediately after work, to be the MC/ support act for Steve Cummins in a bar called Revolution. MC/ support is something I’ve only done a few times, and it’s a tough one, as there’s no warm-up at all; no MC to bring yo on, no energy built up in the room. As with any MC gig, you gotta spend the first few minutes being a Schoolteacher telling people to turn off their phones and shut the fuck up, and where the fire exits are and all that, then have the craic with them a wee bit… but whereas in a normal MC gig you would then fuck off and let a comic come up and do his thing, MC/ support has to then start with the funny.
So this time, I just kinda played with the crowd for a few minutes then launched into my set, thinking fuck it, if there’s a fire these Waterford locals probably know the way out of this building better than I could ever tell them. I do my stuff and it all goes over ok, then there’s a break and I get back onstage to bring Steve on before I head for home in order to be any addition at work the next day. As gigs go, it was pretty sweet, a nice crowd, a few quid, and a good way to start the week…. Or so I though.
I wake up for work at six the next morning filled with reasons as to why it’s NOT a good idea to start your week with a gig on the opposite end of the country to your workplace. I was WRECKED, but SOMEHOW manage to haul the car to Ardee and haul myself through the day.
I get home at half six and pan out for an hour, before schlepping my drowsy arse over to the Mish Mash to go on first. Now, if anyone reading this is thinking hmm, exhaustion and comedy, that don’t sound like a good combination… Well, you’d be right. I gussy myself up as much as I can, but the cold hard fact is that I hit the Mish Mash stage at half speed. Now my plan for tis gig was to try new material, work on some new stuff. The audience in the Mish Mash are usually up for a good time, so it’s a good place for testing. However, the set I did went more like this;
New material (no laughs), new material (still no laughter), what was probably intended to be new material but was just a wandering statement as I searched my frazzled brain for what exactly it was I was supposed to say here (bewilderment), abort! abort! switch to tried and tested material to salvage the set! (confusion at what the hell is going on, and why it is that what the guy onstage is saying bears no relation to what he was saying a second ago), clinging to the sweet bosom of my old tested material, only this time delivered in a half-hearted, autocued way (mild laughter at the basis of the material, but no real connection to the performance), old material knocked into “high energy” (read; shouting) delivery, in order to build some atmosphere and try and salvage something of the night (mild laughter, some smiling, some phone-checking), BIG FINISH! Thank you! Goodnight! (applause that is les to do with the quality of the set, more to do with the relief that the set is over). I leave the stage followed ny the eerie penance stare of a German girl who was sitting front row center on her own the whole night, whose expression hadn’t change throughout the set from that of someone who was trying their best to make my head explode like in Scanners.
That’s how it is for me when trying new material; if it doesn’t go well, I turn to the case on the wall with all my regular jokes marked Break-Glass-In-Case-Of Dying-On-Your-Hole. If I’m going to die on my hole, at least get the new material all in. You’re not going to salvage anything halfway through by completely changing subject. Do the new stuff, or don’t. And try and wake the fuck up a bit before tomorrows gig?
Well, at least I had today off work, thank Christ, so I could get a wee bit of a lie-in and freshen up a bit. Already I’m starting to doubt whether it’s possible to hold down a full time job and gig every single night of the week, without letting the quality slip. It’s ok when the gigs are here in Dublin, but when you start travelling round the country on top of that, something has to give. With my day off, I get a feel of what it would be like to quit the day job and gig at nights… it’s actually very nice. No mad rush to get up in the mornings (unless you’re married with kids, in which case you would have to get up quite early indeed, and spend a long time looking after the kids and the house, as I’m sure is the deal struck between comedians with families and their wives)… have the afternoon to yourself, just watch a bit of telly (unless you’ve got a midday gig somewhere, or an interview or a writing assignment, which as a working comedian I’m sure you have, to help bolster the income and keep a high profile for yourself)… in the evening, chill out with the missus, have a nice dinner (unless the gig you have that night is the far side of the country, which it more than likely is, in which case you’ll be heading off early to drive cross country, or get the train, grabbing a roll out of Spar on the way), then rounding off the night with lovely half hour set which makes it all worthwhile (or dying on the red of your arse in front of a stand-offish shower of pricks).
Midweek, I’m thinking that as it stands I’m not doing all that bad; I have a full time job that pays the bills, and enough comedy on the side to feel like I’m not just another face in a crowd. people often ask would I ever quit the day job to do comedy; My take on it is that you don’t QUIT your day job, you CHANGE your day job (or indeed a night shift, to be exact). It’s a job that you may love a hell of a lot more, but it’s ajob nonetheless. Still, it can be great fun, as Wednesday night proved for me as I did the opening fifteen in Anseo. It was the kind of gig I needed after a death; a good crowd who weren’t just pushovers, who I had to stay on to keep them laughing. Just the right balance of we’re-up-for-a-laugh and listen-pal-we’re-not-just-going-to-laugh-at-any-old-shite. It was just what I needed to build up my confidence going into one of my busiest ever weekends…
Thursday morning and I’m back at at work, propelled by enough caffeine to kill a horse. I’ve perfected the technique of yawning without opening my mouth; the only trace of a yawn is a fluttering of one eyelid, which makes me look like I’m having a mild stroke. I’m all set for tonight’s two gigs; the opening fifteen in the Laughter Lounge, followed afterwards by the headline slot in ComedyDublin. As a bit of a jape, I post on Facebook; “Gerry McBride is gigging tonight in The Laughter Lounge, but not only that, I’m headlining!!” followed by a line in the commments section saying “… in ComedyDublin directly after”. LOL, indeed, except not any people read the bit in the comments, so now when they learn that I wasn’t headlining the lounge it looks like I’m just totally lying out of my arse and making shit up. This whole episode is the second time I’ve done this cry-wolf joke on Facebook, after a status a few weeks ago which announced that I would be supporting Dead Cat Bounce in Vicar Street (the joke being that I was supporting them from the crowd, as a customer).
So for about a week later I kept getting asked how the headline gig in The Lounge went, and I had to stand there like a guy telling his new neighbours how he was obligated to tell them that he’s on the sex-offenders register. As for Thursdays gigs, the opening spot in the Longe went very well for me, and the ComedyDublin gig got called off cos no-one showed up.
Friday night was just as busy in The Laughter Lounge as it was on Thursday (and would be on Saturday), and I went up first and had an absolute peach… although if I couldn’t have a good gig in front of three hundred plus people who had paid to laugh, then i would have to take a serious, serious look at what the fuck at what I was doing. I went to these gigs in the Lounge wanting to keep the sets as tight as a drum; this is no place to fuck around. The customers here didn’t show up to see a comedian practice, or to see some new experimental style of humour, or to see a guy indulge himself. They just want a good ol’ time, so my plan for my fifteen minutes was;
1) Quick start, straight into a little bit of audience interaction to break the ice and get everyone one the same page
2) A short introduction as to where I’m from, and a few of my best, leanest jokes based thereupon
3) Straight into a well rehearsed bit, with jokes delivered at as high a rate as possible
4) A short bridging link where I reassure the audience that they’re brilliant before leading in to my closing routine
5) A final, well rehearsed bit, where the jokes come thicker and faster than before. Build up to closing line and get the fuck off the stage before they quit laughing.
And boom, I’m gone. Repeat for three nights, without changing so much as a facial expression. If they like it, don’t change it. Everyone has a good time. Whether you think that the set you do on a gig like this is the pinnacle of your comedy or the most lowest common denominator, crowd-pleasing set you can muster, doesn’t matter a shite; if you’re asked to do a job, do a job. If the job does not suit you, or you feel that it compromises your artistic beliefs, well, don’t take it.
Me, I friggin love gigs in the Laughter Lounge. They don’t come along often, whereas opportunities for me to die on my hole trying new material in front of twenty people are EVERYWHERE.
Just my luck (or shit management skills) to book so many gigs on a week where I’m working on Saturday, but fuck it, only one more day left. I soar through the day fueled by Arabica goodness (although my rock-n-roll week has left me with what appears to be an odd facial tick that two weeks later, has still not fucked off). At night, I head down and have another great night in the Lounge; three for three, my work here is done. With no work in the morning, I have a pint or two and relax to watch the other acts as they put my own well-recieved performance into a cocked hat. I head home, where I’m greeted by a young Dubliner drinking cans outside my flat. He assures me that he’s just waiting for his mate, and I have a wee chat with the rapscallion, zing him with a few one liners and a bit of guff, and then head in to the flat confident that I’m the closest thing that Dublin has to Mick Dundee, and soon I will be on a first name basis with the majority of the fine cityfolk.
Of course, when I wake up the next day, I find that the little shit has broken into my car.
He’s done this because I, country thick that I am, have left a bag lying on the backseat-
The kid had broken the wee fly-window in the back and put his arm in to open the door, and turned out the contents of the bag to see what was worth robbing, before tipping out everything in the glovebox and such like, finding nothing but petrol receipts and a Padre Pio medal. Nothing got stolen, but it was a pain in the arse having to fix the window (twenty euro out of a local scrapyard instead of 100 euro from Autoglass; I’m thick but I ain’t fuckin stoopid). All in all, I feel it was worth it, if for nothing other than imagining the face on the little Scobie cunt when he went through the bags contents finding not cash (as I’m sure he’d hoped), but out-of-date crisp packets tied together with string, and a picture of a strange northern version of Mr. Tayto.
Jesus, you wait ages for a comedy festival and then two come at once… Both the Galway Comedy festival and the Halloween Howls were on this weekend, and I was booked in for a midday show in Portlaois. At four o’clock, this would be the earliest in the day that I’ve ever gigged. the car window kinda had my mind elsewhere, but I still managed to do an as-good-as-I-could gig to the small but lovely crowd that had turned up. With the weeks drawing to a close, I had to head immediately afterwards to go do some other non-comedy related jobs before heading down to MC the International at nine. This was the fullest the Inter had been on any of the times I’d MCed it (we’re talking people sitting on the stage full), and the line-up was top notch, so all I had to do was go out and have some fun with the crowd before bringing on the acts; and that was just what I did. No trying new material, no sticking regimentally to a fixed set, no pressure. Just have some fun with the crowd, keep their enthusiasm high, and bring the acts on as best I could.
And that was that; eight gigs in seven days, a week where quantity most defiantly won over quality. All I can say is thank fuck the next day was a bank holiday, because I would NOT have been able to do a tap. I slept like a corpse and only woke up to eat some breakfast then pan out again. With the busiest week of my short career so far over me, I stayed in and watched garbage on TV all night, and while it was nice to curl up on the sofa and relax, I got to admit…. round about half nine, I did start to get the gig withdrawals, and wondered if I headed into town would I be able to swing seven in the Woolshed…?