Archive for the ‘ 32 Counties ’ Category

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 26; Monaghan

Yep, this week No Punchline is coming at you Straight Outta Monaghan. Or to be more specific…

Coming straight out of Carrickmacross, just like myself. Carrickmacross is a small town in South Monaghan, and it’s my hometown; born and bred on the outskirts, I lived, worked, played, and was schooled here for the first 28 years of my life until the bright lights of Dublin City lured me up. Hometown to me, Barry Mack, Michael Downey, Oliver Callan, Niamh Marron, and of course Ardal O’Hanlon, I’m willing to be that Carrickmacross has turned out more stand up comedians per head of capita than any other town in Ireland. I still visit home every week (more often if I’m gigging up north) to call in on my Mam and Dad and visit friends. No matter how long I spend away from the town, I always love to come back to Carrickmacross (or Carrick for short, or indeed CMX; home of the CMXicans for kickass-ness). For better or worse, it was growing up in this town that made me who I am; from the good times I had there to the bad. But despite all my fondness for my hometown, I have never done a comedy gig there and had vowed to myself never to do so. Until, of course;

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNNNNN.

Until of course fellow Pale-Horse Alan Gernon went and set up a comedy night in none other than The Fiddlers Elbow, a nightclub which was my stomping ground since Year Dot, a gig which happens this Sunday. For the first time on No Punchline, this is for a gig that hasn’t taken place yet. See, with No Punchline I can hide my bad gigs; after all, I only need to write 32 blogs so it’s easy enough to just write about the good ones. But here’s a gig that I haven’t done yet, a gig which could quite frankly go either way. I booked it without giving it too much thought;  Alan asked if I wanted the booking and fuck knows I don’t have the ability to turn down comedy work (I must be missing a synapse or something) so I said count me in. That was months ago, but now the reality is upon me; I’m doing a comedy gig in Carrickmacross. In my hometown. In front of a crowd consisting of people I know from school, from work, family, friends…

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

But why the big panic attack all of a sudden? Comedians do hometown gigs all the time (shit, I make a living doing the gigs that newer comedians run in their local pubs). Why am I so concerned about my own homecoming? This isn’t my first night out; I’ve played in more towns than Aslan. It’s not like the promoter is going to half-ass the night; I’ve gigged for Alan Gernon loads of times (sometimes with the exact same line-up as Sundays), and he always runs a good show which gets a good crowd. Whats the problem? Of course there’s the threat of a horrible death onstage… but a horrible death onstage could happen to me at any gig. I’ve had plenty of deaths, and I’ll have plenty more in the future. But the thoughts of dying in front of everyone I know; that’s a particularly grim prospect, and one that’s not out of the question. Why, I hear you ask, would I be under the impression that I wouldn’t do well in front of a home crowd?

1; The crowd might be too wary of me

When I’ve done gigs in front of people I know, they’ll be the people in crowd who are most ill at ease. This could be for many reasons, not least the fact that a lot of people are very wary of comedians. If your friend got up to tell jokes onstage, you’d be a bit cautious about just what the fuck it was he was about to say. He could be about to slag you off or make a show of you, or talk about a bunch of shit that you would rather people didn’t know about. So you’d be kinda bracing yourself throughout his set and not really enjoying it. I can accept that a lot of people would react like that. Even if your friends or family are comfortable with what you’re about to talk about onstage (or how much you reassure them that they aren’t in the comedy firing line), they may not fully relax; watching a friend get up to do something onstage can be like watching them wrestle an alligator or do a trapeze act. No matter how many times they assure you that they know what they’re doing, you’d still be on the edge of your seat hoping and praying that they don’t fuck up and die horribly. And if you spend all your time either worrying about what a comedian will say or worrying about him dying or making an idiot of himself, well, you aren’t going to be doing much laughing.

2; The crowd know me too well

Welcome to small town Ireland, where everyone knows your name. I love this aspect of rural Ireland life, but it’s a gift and a curse, especially when you want to present a stand-up routine as being factual. I’m going to be doing my set to a bunch of people who will know exactly what is truth and what is bullshit, and I’m dreading a wait-a-minute-his-father-never-owned-a-Berlingo situation where people are too busy trying to relate what I’m saying to what they know of me. On top of that, if when making reference to people I know or “some lad”, they’ll not listen to the rest while they try figure out who this “some lad” might be. And if I happen to make derogatory (and fictitious) reference to some ex-girlfriend or job, then instead of laughs I might get a dreaded “ooooooHHHHH” as they turn to look at any ex-girlfriend or employer that are in the crowd. Awkward.

3; I’m too pre-occupied worrying about the crowd to actually do a good gig

And there it is; in front of a hometown crowd, I’ll probably choke myself trying to second-guess them. I’ll drop my good jokes in fear that they’re too close to the hometown nerves. I’ll trip and mumble trying to re-word my routine onstage so as to not make reference to anything or anyone (which doesn’t work if you’re in a club and you want to re-word your one potentially racist joke halfway through your routine because you just noticed there’s a black guy sitting in the crowd, so how the fuck would it work if I was trying to re-word pretty much everything on the fly). I could get too nervous and it will show; I’ll stand up there looking like a guy who’s only ever had two gigs and bring the whole thing crashing down on myself.

This doesn’t happen in other gigs because the audience is a bunch of strangers- never met ’em before, will never meet ’em again. Therefore I can relax and not worry about making an ass of myself, unlike the CMX gig where I’m pissing myself at the thoughts of dying an excruciating death and then reliving it every time I come home. The barrier is very much a psychological one and as such, the only foreseeable way for me do the gig and not shit on the eggs is to just get the fuck out there and do it; treat it like any other gig, be a professional, man the fuck up and stop worrying about what people are going to think of you and whether or not this joke will offend that guy or this routine will make me look like an asshole. There is no impasse unless I create one. The crowd will relax if I relax. The crowd will laugh if I tell jokes that are funny.

So let's just all CALM THE FUCK DOWN AND HAVE A GOOD TIME.

A hometown gig will be a weight on my shoulders until I do it, it’ll always be there waiting to be done. You can’t run from it forever. I can’t claim to be a stand-up comedian without doing this gig; it would show that I’m embarrassed of what I do, or that I’ve no confidence in myself or my material. The people of my hometown will be like any other comedy audience, paying hard-earned money for a hard-earned night out and they deserve to get as good as I can give. There’s no sense in worrying about who will show up, from ex-girlfriends to old schoolyard bullies to those tiny pockets of small-town Bitterati that just straight up hate to see someone do well for themself… it’s time to put all that to the side and move on. If I chickened out and didn’t do the gig, it’d show that I’m still very much hung up on a lot of stuff from the past. It’s time for me to stop caring so much about what other people think. That’s the kind of thing that could drive a man crazy if he let it.

And hey, lets not forget one thing; the vast majority of the crowd are probably not going to know or care who the fuck I am (and I should probably just get over myself) and those that do know me, will know I’m no stranger to being on a stage. I keep forgetting that although this is my first straight stand-up gig in CMX, it’s not my first stage appearance in the town.

Citation; Me playing Fr. Dougal Maguire in the School Christmas Concert of 1996.

So that’s this Sunday, and I can’t wait. For those reading this after the gig wondering how it went, well, maybe it’ll have gone well and maybe it won’t. Like I said earlier, I can hide my bad gigs here on No Punchline by just not writing about them, if I’m ashamed of them or mortified by how badly I did… This one I wanted to write about ahead of time because no matter how the gig goes, it’s one that I’ll be happy to have done.

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32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 25; Donegal

I took my good lady with me on my trip to the gig I was doing in Donegal over the summer, a gig being ran by Magic George Quinn and Sinead McCullagh in the wilds of the North West. We had accommodation after the gig so it was a bit of a weekend away- do the gig, have a few beers, stay over and tour round the countryside for a while; just a nice bonus on top of what turned out to be a lovely night of comedy. I don’t bring my girlfriend along to many gigs, mainly because one of the first gigs I brought her to when we first started going out (and I was trying to pass myself off as this total fucking rockstar) was without a shadow of a doubt the worst gig I have ever done. I’ve talked about this death before and believe me when I say that it was a spectacular mortification to bring a new girlfriend to- a promise of a nice night out became a Danse Macabre as I died a death by a thousand cuts. After that, I rarely asked her to come along to gigs- I never wanted to risk her seeing me shot down and humiliated; seriously, I died so badly on that night that my mother heard about it the next morning on the List of Bereavements.

"The death has occurred of Gerard McBride, horribly in a comedy club. House Private"

So since then it’s only been the occasional gig that she accompanies me to; she’ll always ask me if I’d like her to come along if I’m going on long journeys or the such like, and I’ll always decline. This means we spend most of our weekends apart, where I’ll be off gigging in BallymaFuckOnlyKnows leaving her to her own devices. To her eternal credit, she has never complained at any stage, irregardless of how many times I’ve bailed on dates, festivities or gatherings; not even on the many occasions where I’ve been drafted in at late notice to do a gig and buggered off all pleased with myself, completely oblivious to the fact that I’m walking out on her and the plans that we had made that night that have completely slipped my mind. Such is the life of the partner of any given performer, be they a comedian, actor, singer or whatever; they’ll always be in competition with the showbiz life. But whereas the partner of say, a singer-songwriter can content themselves with the fact that their boyfriend or girlfriend is off at night singing songs written in their honour, telling tales of love and devotion, the partner of a comedian has to be at peace with the fact that their other half is away every other night telling jokes that nine times out of ten, are about how their girlfriend or boyfriend is a horrible nightmare of a person who makes their life a cursed misery.

"Take my wife, please"

See, whereas songwriters generally sing about relationships in a positive light, comedians tend to go down the “Take my wife, please” road. Comedy audiences tend to relate better to a comic lamenting the woes of his love life than they might to a guy telling yarns about how wonderful it is to be in a loving relationship. A lot of my relationship-based material consists of me grumbling about how crappy life with my girlfriend is, from day-to-day hardships to elaborate and outlandish accusations… most of which is mined not from my current relationship, but is instead a montage of everything I’ve encountered about the opposite sex from my first clinch outside a ceili house in the Gaeltacht to the present day, and even at that I still wouldn’t have much bad to say about the women that’ve looked my way (although I’d be certain they’d have plenty to rake me over the coals about). So when onstage, what an audience hears is generally a Greatest Hits of every  I’ve ever been a party to or have heard of happening to anyone, ever, all of which gets distilled and directed at my current girlfriend (because taking the time to direct it at the relevant partners over the years would take to long and make the routine too messy, and we couldn’t possibly have that, oh no). It doesn’t matter that my girlfriend is the most wonderful, kind person I’ve ever met; onstage she gets described as everything from a terrible cook (which she certainly isn’t) to an anti-Semite with a secret hoard of Nazi gold (which… I have yet to find any concrete proof of). And whereas the majority of audience members understand that what gets said onstage is fantasy, there’ll always be the few thicks who sit there in the crowd tutting and feeling appalled for “that man’s poor girlfriend!”, a situation which gets worse when my girlfriend is actually in the crowd and has to suffer the pitying looks from the portion of the crowd that just don’t fucking get that what I’m talking about onstage is all an act. Shit, if it wasn’t all an act, my set would consist of nothing but go-nowhere anecdotes about how me my girlfriend have pretty much sailed along blissfully happy from the day we met.

"So we went out for dinner in this restaurant, right, and the waiter was very helpful, the food was excellent and we had a really lovely time... No Punchline"

Other wonderful aspects of being a comedians girlfriend include the joys of hearing all new material as it gets created; after all, who wouldn’t want the thrill of hearing every half-baked imbecility that crept into someones head, usually interrupting their favourite TV show or a quiet relaxing lie-in? Trust me, if you aren’t a fan of my onstage work and think my material is hacky and tired, then you should see the garbage that DOESN’T make the cut; the material that I’ll always start with by saying “Ok, tell me what you think about this…” to my girlfriend (usually when she’s trying to talk to me about something important), who’ll always have to respond in a way that will walk the fine line between telling me the truth about how bigoted and unfunny the sentence I just came out with really was, and not sending me into a huff for an hour. And this happens ALL the time; I’ll just halt whatever we were talking about to bring her the latest comedy gem that just popped into my head, to fully drive home the fact that I was paying no attention to what she was saying (a nugget of hilarity which was probably an hilarious riff on whatever it was she was just trying to be serious with me about). But hey; this makes me sound like some incessant gag-machine that constantly bombards her with wave after wave of crap new material, which is not the case- sometimes, I’m just flat out ignoring her with my head buried in a computer scouring the internet for news of gigs, looking for bookings or chatting with other comedians about this gig or that gig, occasionally interrupting my silence with exclamations about scandals, fights and shenanigans that went down about shit she doesn’t care about between people she may have met in passing, once at best, maybe never.

"Look, Gerry, for the last time; I don't care what Gareth Stack said about Barry Mack or what happened between Robbie Bonham and the Bishops or that Gary Lynch and Simon O'Keeffe are at loggerheads over some club somewhere... I DON'T KNOW WHO THESE FUCKING PEOPLE ARE"

I’ll confess that comedy is an addiction of mine, something that I love and need in equal amounts; I get testy obnoxious when I’ve gone without it for a while, and I’m always kidding myself that I could stop at any time and not miss it all that much. There are times when I put it before all else, and it’s in times like these where everybody else in my life gets put in the background, first of all being the closest person to me. My girlfriend doesn’t always get the best of me; Unlike a comedy audience who always get my full undivided attention, she’ll get half-ignored and not listened to. No matter how bad I die on a comedy stage, I’ll always smile and wave at an audience and never get vexed with them; that waits until I get home and my girlfriend asks me how the gig was, and I sulk and pout like a child as I play it over and over in my head, lamenting about this missed bit and what I should have said to some fucking heckler … She has to sit through my long bouts of anxiety and sullen self-pity, up until such a time as my name gets called to go on some stage somewhere and I’m turn on the smiles for a room full of people who I’ve never met. And all she gets in return is the occasional weekend away such as our trip to the gig in Donegal, a small reward for putting up with all  the nights she’s been left at home on her own. And yet when I recently asked her to marry me, she said yes without hesitation; something so incredibly humbling that it changed my perspective on pretty much everything in my life, comedy included. I’m not just some lad anymore going out telling jokes to sop my ego. I’m going to be a married man soon, hopefully with a family some day. A choice will have to be made as to what are the most important things in life, and if comedy isn’t pulling it’s weight, it’ll be dropped. It can’t take center stage anymore, unless it’s helping with more than keeping us apart all the time. It’ll need to stop creating bills and start paying some. That’s all down to whether I have the ability to put in the graft needed to make comedy something that can help provide a better life for us. I just count myself lucky every day that I found someone who was willing to put up with me through it all.

32 Counties 32 Gigs part 24; Fermanagh

A booking by Neil Dougan to support Kevin McAleer in his club in Enniskillen meant that Fermanagh got crossed off my list a few weeks ago; barely… I nearly felt like I had to cancel it a week out due to a fair bit of turmoil in the non-comedy section of my life. I had recently been informed that redundancies were going to start rolling around in my day job and a massive job search swung into action, resulting in a jammy break and new employment almost immediately. I started the new job the week before the Fermanagh gig, and the new routine and upheaval lead to me being barely fit to form a coherent sentence in the evenings let alone perform at a decent level. A few days later I managed to settle myself and go ahead with all my booked gigs, having settled into my new job and my new routine; a routine which no longer involves me commuting a hundred miles every day (at the expense of laying any claim that I’m still living in the country; I work in Dublin, I live in Dublin, I AM NOW A DUB).

IT WON'T WASH OFF.

While on the previous months job-hunt, several of my friends presented me with the same question; are you going to do comedy full-time now? That’s a thought, isn’t it? To not bother going to look for a new job; instead, just set myself up as an honest-to-God, full-time comedian. Why not, they’d ask. Is that not the general plan; to become an honest-to-God full-time comedian? After all, I’ve been doing comedy for nearly four years; if I don’t make the switch now, then when? Would I ever become an honest-to-God, full-time comedian? Or would comedy always be something I did in the evenings?

A pastime?

A hobby?

Something to do instead of playing golf or climbing a clock tower with a rifle?

I must admit, it was a notion I had often toyed with; breaking free from the Rat Race and taking the chance of being an honest-to-God, full-time comedian. There are many honest-to-God, full-time comedians working in Ireland at the moment, and I’ve always had great admiration for those that nutted up and made a living out of it… whether or not I have, or ever will have, the mettle (let alone the comedy chops) to become an honest-to-God full-time comedian is something that I often wonder about. My thoughts on being an honest-to-God, full-time comedian change from week to week; on one hand, you have the dream scenario where you journey from town to town playing to crowds who love all the material which you spent your afternoon writing… on the other hand, you have the pessimistic view where you trudge from meagre audience to meagre audience and they all hate the fucking sight of you and your shit jokes which results in you getting booked to do precisely nothing, resulting in the money drying up, the bank foreclosing and everyone you love forsaking you and leaving starving on the side of the road like a dog waiting to be put down.

"No Punchline part 30; Roscommon. Today I did a gig in Roscommon. Well, I yelled at the wind for a while, but it FUCKING COUNTS"

To make the transaction to being a full-time, Honest-to-God comedian would require me to be able to do many things. First, I’d need absolute discipline. If I was going to go full-time, I’d need to be banging out material left and right; good material, not just random shit on Facebook about how horse-riding helmets are sports most redundant headgear (although I do think that bit has legs, dammit). I’d need to be able to sit down for a few hours every day and WRITE. Not piss around online; WRITE JOKES. Write sketches. Write a book. Write routines, write material,  write what I need to write in order to put food on the table. In this respect, I’d fail the interview for the job of being an honest-to-God, full-time comedian. “How is your focus when it comes to writing, Mr. McBride?”, the interviewer would ask. I wouldn’t be able to give an answer, as I’d be too distracted checking my phone to see if I had any likes on that comment I’d posted about horse-riding helmets. You could argue that once the gun was to your head and you HAD to write material every day then you’d fall into place and MAKE it part of your routine, just as you would with any other job. It would become your schedule; from this time to this time, we sit down and write jokes. That’s a focus that I admire in honest-to-God fulltime comedians, and a focus that at this moment I don’t trust myself to have… meaning that I believe if I were to make the transaction to being an honest-to-God full-time comedian, I’d spend less of my time concentrating on producing new material and more on watching the Barefoot Contessa and looking up pointless shit online.

Seriously, I wanted an image to go here and got sidetracked trawling the internet for a FULL HOUR before I settled on this... Not because I liked it, but JUST SO THAT I COULD MOVE ON.

Second, to be an honest to-God full-time comedian I’d need more work. For this year, I’m going to average out at about three gigs a week; that’s nice uptick on the last two years, where I managed an average of about two a week. And I would consider myself busy, but to be an honest-to-God full-time comedian I’d want to get a hell of a lot busier. So it’d be back to the well of discipline; spending more time on the phone, more time sending mails and spending more time getting out there and getting booked. I’m not sure there’s enough work in Ireland to fully make a living on, so that would mean getting over to the UK and getting work there, which in itself means starting from the bottom again as I’ve never gigged for anyone over the water. So that means making the investment of both time and money to get over and make a name for myself in another market, so that in the end it would pay off for me. And the thoughts of that right now are so daunting that I’m not sure it’ll ever happen… but then again I have to take into account that I’m working in full-time employment at the minute, which in itself makes getting over to do gigs in England and Scotland an impossibility. Without the pesky need to be at my desk every morning at eight, I’d have TOTES LOADS of time to get over and lay some track on the UK circuit… provided I could do enough work here to get the funds needed to invest in it, or find some other means to afford it. You can get a business loan to set yourself up as a comedian, right?

Listen here, Cat, you may mock me but your presence on this blog will bring many hits, so WHO IS LAUGHING NOW, EH?

Lastly, I’d need dedication. If being an honest-to-God full-time comedian was a career, you couldn’t half-ass it. The guys who make the switch to being honest-to-God, full-time comedians bust their holes week in, week out. You never hear of them going long periods of time without SOME form of comedy work, be it straight gigging or working on something for radio or tv. You don’t just quit your day job and become a comedian; you quit your day job and being a comedian becomes YOUR NEW DAY JOB. You can’t just show up whenever you want. You can’t just decide when you work and when you don’t. You put yourself on a path and you have to be dedicated enough to stick to it. For me personally, right now comedy is a release and a relaxant, it’s a means of expression and it’s a fucking good laugh. I’ve got goals and I’ve got ambitions, but it’s all fairly low key… I want to do this gig and that gig. I want to finish No Punchline. It might be nice to get on TV or write a column for someone. But do I have the drive and tenacity to make a career out of it, week in, week out? Shit, all it took was one wee bit of turmoil for me to almost cancel the Fermanagh gig. What if I’d needed the money from that gig (for something other than to finance driving to three other gigs that is)? What if comedy became something I had to do, and not something I wanted to… Of all the things I’m sure of in comedy, I’m sure of this; I don’t want it to become WORK. I don’t want it to become something I dread doing.

As a part-time comedian rather than an honest-to-God full-time comedian, I can still look at gigs as being fun after-work activities rather than being actual work. And when you take out the stagetime and the ehhhh, glamour, comedy is tough work. It’s hard travel and high pressure. The hours are evenings and weekends. And although the money end of comedy is nice, where I am right now it’s not what would pay a weeks wages at any other job you could care to think of; on the week of the Fermanagh gig I had two other gigs where I’d headlined, one up North (where I’d been soundly ignored by 7/8ths of the room), and one in the midlands which took so much out of me that I nearly fell asleep while driving home on several occasions (much to the alarm of my young comedian passenger). Even the gig in Fermanagh was a tough one, with the dual challenges of one drunk arsehole yelling random shit constantly and one drunk female arsehole who lost her shit at something early in the night while Neil was onstage and continued screaming laughing all the way through my set, during set-ups, during punchlines, just a constant din of female cackling that I just COULD NOT get to stop. That was three nights of hard graft, in a row, that after travel netted me as much money as I get from the overtime I do in my day job. If all I wanted was to make money, there’s a better way right now for me to get as much money, drive equally long hours and talk just as much shit; become a taxi driver.

A captive audience awaits.

So for now, I’m sticking with my day job and kicking the dream of becoming an honest-to-God full-time comedian up the road another bit until I trust myself to do it justice (as if the fact that I’ve accrued levels of debt in my life that I’m never going to be able to pay for have made the decision truly mine to make). I do have ambitions in comedy, with a nice vision of maybe sometime having a family life wherein I mind the kids during the day and write material between school runs before heading out to gig in the evenings, maybe get some tv work or writing a column or a book on the side, but if none of that comes to pass then I’m content with what I have right now; a good day job and a great hobby.  Anyone that follows me on Facebook will be able to tell you that I actually love my day job (and my NEW day job is frigging brilliant). On the surface it may just be a basic retail job, but for me it’s a means to get out and get interacting with people, to keep the mind active which in turn keeps the creative cogs turning. A hectic retail job with demanding customers like I have is practically Comedy School; I get basically heckled the whole day long and have to be sharp and focused and witty all day. Having co-workers around means that there’s constant banter which in turn can help inspire and create new material for when I’m onstage. I’d be frankly lost without it, and my onstage material would degenerate into a tired mess of all the random crap I’d thought up while wasting my day lying around the house watching garbage on TV.

Seriously, look at that helmet and tell me that thing would be ANY USE if she fell of that horse. Am I right? I mean, come on!

 

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 23; Cork

Part 23 of my quest to become Irelands foremost comedic Romany Gypsy (always on the road, always begging for gigs) finally brought me back to Cork City for the first time in far too long.

Ah, Cork; known to Corkonians as the Real Capital of Ireland  and to everyone else as, well, Cork. Back when I started doing comedy, Cork was the first big journey I took to do a gig; I’d never driven so far in one go, to anything. The gig that I went down to do that night was the same gig that brought me down this time; The Craichouse. Although The Craichouse has changed management a few times since that first journey, and indeed has changed venue (this was the first time I’d played the new venue, and it is a LOVELY room), the Craichouse credo remained a comedy club offering the best of local talent but also allowing newer comedians a place to work, while bringing down eager acts from around the country. I have fond memories of the Craichouse of old, and indeed Cork in general, being that it was the one place you could go to gig when the Dublin work was in short supply; there was The Craichouse in the city, the Laughing Langers in Middleton, and even the chance of doing a spot in City Limits if there was one going… that’s before you counted up all the once-offs and pub gigs in the surrounding area. The Cork comedy scene became an alternative to the Dublin scene; familiar yet different, audiences that were just as challenging and fun but with that unique Cork twist.

As I said earlier, this was my first trip down to the new Craichouse, which was on hiatus for a while until the Cork comedians got together to find a new room and keep the club going. This I feel is very indicative of the Irish comedy scene; it is kept going from the ground up by the comedians themselves. There is no central governing body, there is no Comedy Council of Ireland; most clubs are run by the comics who gig there. Taking Dublin as the best example of a comedy community in Ireland, you’ll see a very distinct pattern emerge; there are the higher up clubs and the starter clubs, open mic nights and the like. The new up-and-coming comedians cut their teeth playing the smaller venues before graduating on to the more prestigious rooms. As this is happening, the smaller venues gain traction as being good clubs in their own right (although in my time in comedy there have only been a few that have managed to stay the distance and literally dozens that have fallen by the wayside), and start attracting bigger names.  When you’ve done all the gigs on one scene, you go looking for gigs in another, where you start at the bottom and the cycle spins up all over again.

WELCOME TO COMEDY.

This was what happened with me personally in my first few years, when I was gigging regularly in Dublin up until the point that I had played all venues, and had to go to the back of the queue to wait to get booked again. The solution was simple; strike out to scenes in Cork, Galway and Belfast. There was a range of new clubs to play, but you had to start again from the beginning. This I can see happening now especially with the lads I gig with in Belfast; they have been gigging regularly in their own communities, headlining and MCing their own shows, and then they come to Dublin and start again on the Open Mic scene. Dublin has gigs for comics of all experience levels, and always another target to aim for; something true of all the local scenes. Going back to Cork, for newer acts you have the CoCo Comedy Club on Thursdays and the Craichouse on Saturdays, with the prospect of eventually getting some City Limits stagetime further down the road. In Belfast, you can aspire to make it onto the stage in The Empire, but there are venues if you’re just starting. But by sheer numbers, Dublin has the most attractive comedy scene in Ireland- on every single night of the week, you can do a gig in an open mic venue, or you can do a gig in a paid venue.

Dublin is friggin MARDI GRAS.

I had this discussion with one of my Belfast comrades about the Dublin comedy scene; he was extremly envious that in Dublin, you could gig every night of the week, and wanted to know how Belfast could copy this model for their own scene. I said what I said earlier in this blog; it’s by the comedians, for the comedians. Although I don’t claim to be any comedy historian, I’m fairly sure it would have started with Kevin Gildea, Ardal O’Hanlon and Barry Murphy in the Comedy Cellar and almost twenty years later, here we are.  More and more acts came out of the brush looking for a place to perform, the next thing you have the International Comedy Club, then The Hapenny… All started by comedians. I said to my Belfast Friend, you too can have comedy every night of the week, if there are comedians willing to run gigs and put up with the slings and arrows and financial ruin associated with it. To have a fertile comedy scene, you need an audience. Dublin is a busy city, with plenty of tourists and people out looking for entertainment at night. Not every city has that. If you’re working in a city with a smaller comedy audience, then the more clubs you have, the more spread out that audience is going to be (unless you live in the city of our dreams, populated with ravenous comedy fans who will attend every gig on every day). If you wish to expand the comedy scene in your locality by putting on a new night, it will invariably take a portion of the audience away from someone elses gig. It could happen that your new venture (well-meaning and all as it may be) will cause friction with this other promoter, what with your business model being almost identical to his, operating on basically the same turf and in direct competition to him.

I hereby cite the case of Mr Plow vs The Plow King, 1992.

This is the downside of having such a fertile comedy scene as the one in Dublin; there are so many comedians that the existing clubs simply can’t book them all. As such, a new comedy club opens up every month (no bullshit; literally every month). Some last three or four months, other stay the distance and become part of the regular scene, through the sheer hard work and determination of the guys running them. Since I started comedy nearly four years ago, only two weekly clubs have been opened in that time that are still operating today; Laugh Out Loud in Anseo and The Comedy Crunch in Sheebeen Chic (with Comedy HaHa in The Mercantile showing good legs too). Other clubs come and go within weeks, having achieved nothing except maybe pissing off guys who are running gigs a hundred yards up the road on the same night. Acts can sometimes get caught in the crossfire, with the old play-his-club-and-you-can’t-play-mine hand being dealt out. The more people on the comedy scene, the more toes get stepped on. Factions and cliques can emerge when too many clubs swarm a scene. There’s only so much business to go around, and the guys that got here first don’t seem to take too kindly to those that just copied their success… a bit like how that milkshake bar on Dame Street must be livid at all the imitators that have sprung up since they opened.

Seriously, who'da thought that Milkshakes would be so recession proof?

Me, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue of “How Many Clubs does a Comedy Scene Need”… it’s not long since all I could get booked for were the type of here today, gone tomorrow clubs that put on nine lads doing seven minutes apiece, and I have fond memories of those times and greatly appreciate the opportunities they gave me to perform when no-one else did; on the other hand I appreciate how frustrating it is to run an established comedy club and have someone set up stall two doors up and siphon off your customers, treating them to a less polished product and possibly souring the comedy-going audience altogether by giving comedy nights in general a bad name. Dublin gets by due to it’s sheer size, but in cities with smaller pools to fish from, is it good business to flood the market with more and more clubs? It’s bound to piss SOMEONE off, but then the counter-argument by new acts would be to say fuck it; we’re not getting booked in the bigger clubs so if we don’t start our own, what the fuck else are we supposed to do? Wait around for months between gigs? To my Belfast friend I said this; the Belfast scene can have as many clubs as the Dublin scene, if you guys really want it. If you’re prepared to get out there, set up venues, working in competition to each other. You can have comedy every night of the week, but don’t expect everyone to be friends at the end of it.

The Dublin Comedy Community reacted harshly to the re-re-re-opening of The Underground Comedy Club.

Cork seems to be working well though, with just the right mix.  They’re not diluting the market with far too many clubs, and seem to be sticking together as a comedy community and helping each other out. On the night I was in Cork, there was a great camaraderie among the comedians, most of whom weren’t performing, they had called in to see the show and support the night (which was greatly appreciated as the crowd was scarce on the night). I feel the return of The Craichouse will be great for the Cork Comedy scene, helping the newer comedians get some stagetime and giving them confidence and motivation to get travelling to Dublin and further. God knows somebody must be doing something right down South, given that County Cork has exported more of the countries comedy talent per head of capita then any other county (if you like, count up all the comedians from Cork… It’ll take longer than you might think). Through time, more acts will travel from Cork to test themselves in other waters, just as at the same time acts from around the country will travel to Cork to perform. Dublin acts will head to Galway for gigs, Belfast acts will try their hand in Derry, Derry acts migrate to Dublin… Gigging in different scenes in different cities is great for your set, as you’ll be playing to a different spectrum of people all the time; a Cork Audience and a Belfast audience are two very different things. And after you play the cities, you start going from town to town, again starting at the open mic level and working up. There are ample oppurtunities. People often complain about how the Comedy Scene in Ireland pales in comparison to the UK, but remember that it really isn’t that long since Mr Trellis took the stage in The International bar. We’ll get there. And when we do, we’ll all fuck off to the UK and hit the Open Mic circuit and start again.

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 22; Tipperary

It’s a Long Way to Tipperary… well, not really these days, what with the new motorway and all that. Say what you want about those wheeler-dealer fuckers that bankrupted this country, they knew how to spend EU money on building cushy roads. But I digress; it may not be a long way to Tipperary, but it was a bit of a search to get a gig there (and a bit of a wait for a new 32 counties blog, what with last months Edinburgh fixation). I eventually got sorted out with a gig by Tom “The Bear” O’Mahony who was running a gig in Cahir in the early Summer (like I said, I’ve a bit of a 32 county backlog to work through) where I would be playing support to the Rebel counties finest, Ross Browne. I tipped down (ROFL) in a sunny Saturday night and met up with Tom The Bear about a half hour before gig time.

Re-enactment

I camped up in the hotel room for an hour, got something to eat, and headed down on time. Ross had landed, the room was laid out for about a hundred seats, wonderful lighting (with a real, honest-to-God spotlight; not a few halogen floodlights borrowed from a building site balanced precariously on a chair blasting 1,000watts of face-crimsoning, testicle irradiating heat onto the stage) and a wireless mic that FUCK ME, actually worked. And outside the venue, a big massive banner declaring COMEDY HERE TONIGHT, with posters up all over town. Tom had put in the grunt; All we needed now, was a crowd.

And, we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

This is the thing with gigs in the country; sometimes it can be so hard to get punters to a gig. City people and Country people run on two different clocks; tell someone in Dublin that an event starts at nine, they’ll be there at nine. People in the country however, run the alleged starting time through the following algorithm;

  • If the start time says half eight, then arrive at ten.
  • If the start time says nine, then arrive at ten.
  • If the start time says half nine, then arrive at ten.
  • If the start time says ten, then arrive at half ten.

It can be infuriating, but at least in the country you’re not doing a double-up in some other venue like you might be doing in the city, so there’s no real pressure to get things started. Still, as ten o’clock arrived with still only twenty people in, it was looking like it might be gig-pulling time. This can baffle me at times, particularly in relatively small towns like Cahir; why wouldn’t you come to a comedy night? What else is on that would get your money? It’s understandable in cites, which have entertainment venues around every corner, but the main complaint from any inhabitant in a small town in Ireland is that in their town, there’s NOTHING TO DO. So then someone like Tom sacks up and runs a comedy night, something new, entertaining and relatively inexpensive to attend, why not go to it? We studied this as we waited for a crowd which (spoiler alert) never really manifested. As it turned out, there were a few other events on that night which could attribute to the low attendance;

"Who needs comedy when you've a First Communion to attend?"

"Who needs comedy when you've hay needs baling?"

"Who needs comedy when you've a fight to go to?"

That’s the thing with country life; although there mightn’t on the surface be much to do on a Saturday night, it takes very little to reduce your potential punter pool (I think the main culprit in Cahir was a local 21st Birthday party, which would have taken significant numbers of arses off our seats). You don’t have to worry about things like this in a city; just be careful that your night doesn’t clash with, say, the  Champions league Final and you should draw a healthy dose of customers. In the country, there are so many wee things that can draw your crowd away from you that you would never see coming. If you want to draw a good body of people into your event, then you’d better be offering something special; which in the country means bringing down a comedian that people know from TV, a recognisable face on the posters to get people through the doors.

I can almost hear Conor O'Toole grimacing at this poster.

So before any gig, most promoters will ask you to provide a good image for the promotion (or just nab one of your Facebook photos, normally the last one you would ever choose) and to write up a wee biography to send round to local papers, things like that. This is the one thing about comedy that I hate, HATE doing; writing a bio. It’s basically being asked to write yourself up as the greatest thing since someone looked at a loaf and thought, “that won’t fit in the toaster as is”. I’ve gotten enough “well don’t you just love yourself” snarky replies from promoters who asked me to send in bios to be weary of sending more. There’s a tightrope of self-promotion over a precipice of sounding like a cock that I tend to fall off when writing a bio, so let’s see what we can do about that…

1) It helps greatly to have supported a big-name act… If you have REALLY supported them. Most of my early bios crowed about having supported this guy and that guy (read; done an open spot before them in the International on a Sunday night). This doesn’t fly with ANYONE (except maybe your easily impressed mates) so unless Eddie Izzard has vaulted the guard rail to plead with you to support him on tour, leave it off the CV. With no tours and no high-profile supports to my name, I’m out of luck with this one.

2) In the absence of having done anything on TV or Radio, perhaps maybe someone on TV or Radio has mentioned you? A quote from a famous person or respected Newspaper looks great on a poster; this is one of the things that I envy most about the guys who came home from Edinburgh with great reviews. Some of them don’t even have to post the quotes, just the ratings they got; “*****”-Scotsman, “*****”-Chortle, “*****”-Hotpress… all of these sound BRILLIANT. So far, nobody famous has said anything about me, nor have I received a review about anything, for better or worse. But surely there’s SOMETHING that has been said to me by a famous personality that I could use on a poster?

"If Gerry isn't beaten, he'll get for himself an O'Neills Odd-One-Out Hoodie"; Ray D'Arcy, Today FM

3) Past accolades, a subject which in which I am at last blessed. Winning comedy competitions in the past few years has really been the one thing that has pushed me on up a bit, in particular the TedFest comp last year which opened up so many doors. Although that is the trouble with past accolades; they are from the past, and competitions which I have succeeded in or won have since either folded or crowned new champions; after all, The Rose of Tralee only gets the sash for one year. To still crow about past victories can lead to a “what have you done lately” line of questioning. Jesus, the more I study it, I have fuck all to send to a promoter to put on the poster at all.

You might think it strange that a guy who regularly writes a blog humblebragging about himself for thousands of words would find it so hard to sit down and write three lines to put in a newspaper telling the good folks of whatever-town why they should come see him perform at a comedy night, but hey; there you go. Regardless of what I could or could not have written on a bio, I doubt it would have drawn anymore punters into the gig in Cahir, which we eventually kicked off at half ten to a two hundred seater room with thirty people in it. It dawned on me before taking the stage that although you could blame the fact that it was a small town and that we weren’t overly well known comedians, and you could blame the other parties and functions taking place elsewhere in the town which would have siphoned off a few dozen more punters, at the end of the day what it probably boiled down to was that maybe people just don’t have the money to go out anymore. Maybe comedy isn’t as reccession-proof as I had arrogantly thought it to be. People just don’t have the disposable income anymore. Maybe this is how it’s going to be for the next few years; half empty clubs, gigs pulled due to low attendance.

Well, if that’s the case, we made damn sure that night that the people who did pay in got their moneys worth. There may have been only thirty, but man were they up for a laugh. Tom set them up, I knocked them on another bit and Ross smashed it out of the building. We all did the only thing you can do at a low-attendance gig; Don’t play to the crowd that IS there, play to the crowd you WISH was there. Don’t get all sullen and moan to the crowd that your stuff normally works “with a bigger audience”. Don’t blame the ones that did show up for the ones that didn’t. Don’t half-ass the job; leave them going home spreading good word-of-mouth for future gigs and feeling like they didn’t waste their hard earned cash. They’ll other people that they went to a comedy night, and it was a good night. Next time the comedy rolls into town, maybe the crowd will be a bit bigger… That’s what I hope to do when I go out to gig. I’m just trying to leave comedy in as good a condition as I found it. Maybe I should put that on a poster?

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 21; Kerry

My recent trip to Kerry was a double-header over two nights; Killarney on the Friday night, Cahirciveen on Saturday. Good news all around, as it gave me a nice weekend away around the beautiful Ring of Kerry, and also that it was double value to do two gigs so far away from home. I’m normally very stoic about driving distances to gigs, and think nothing about driving anywhere at anytime, but even I have to admit that to Kerry and back  is quite the roadtrip. Kerry is FAR the fuck away. In fact, the gig in Cahirciveen holds my record for furthest the fuck away gig I’ve ever done in Ireland, a record that probably won’t be broken (unless there’s some small-print stipulation in the No Punchline clause that states I have to gig on all the islands as well).

You're not part of the deal, Arranmore!

The five hours there, five hours back journey really hammered home the work aspect of comedy life, and the long nights spent driving and driving. It’s to my great advantage that hey; I love driving. I would count it as one of my freakin hobbies, frankly. It stems from a time before comedy, when my Dad was in hospital for nearly six months and I would spend every single night of that driving the rest of the family the hundred mile round trip to see him. After we got him home safe and sound, I was hardwired to drive long distances. Once a week I would get in the car and just go on wee trips, to no-where in particular. “How the fuck did I end up in Enniskillen?”, I recall saying to myself one night at half twelve. I needed no prompting to drive long distances for very little reason.  So when I decided to give comedy a go, it was to my benefit that I was able to be at any gig, anywhere. “I know you’re in Monaghan, but is there any chance you could be in Dublin by nine to fill in an open spot?, I’d be asked. No problems, I ‘d say.

"Sure wasn't I going up to get chips anyways"

I have no problems admitting that when I was starting out in comedy, if I hadn’t got the means to get myself to gigs, I wouldn’t be gigging now. The fact that it was no hassle to get me to and from a venue meant a lot of promoters were more inclined to book me for open spots around the country and the minute I realised this, I played it up big time. After six months of just asking and asking and asking for gigs, it was when I turned round and offered something in return, that I started to get booked a bit more.  It became less of what a promoter could do for me, and more what I could do to help him out. I believe my earlier self-promoting emails went along the lines of;

Hello,

My Name is Gerry McBride and I am a new comedian, trying to get as many gigs as possible. If you have any open spots at your club, I would love an oppurtunity. So far I have gigged in the Ha’Penny Inn in Dublin, the Craichouse in Cork, and also some Gigs in Belfast and Bray. IHAVEACARANDCANGIVEYOURHEADLINERALIFT If you have anything available in the coming months, I’d appreciate it greatly,

Thank You,

Gerry McBride

And that was how I got booked until enough people had seen me to give me the benefit of the doubt. And it still happens to this day; someone on a bill that was supposed to drive everyone to the gig drops out, and the promoter goes to the list not marked “Comedians who I would love to play at this venue” but to the list marked “Comedians who know how to at least face the right way and can drive”. And to anyone who like me can offer that service and soak up all those luvverly gigs, it’s freakin Mardi Gras. But know this; your success in this endeavour will bring down the full wrath of the Comedy Bitteratti. Yes dear readers, not everyone in comedy wishes you well, and those that don’t will always find some way to diminish your achievements, to take the sting out of their own shortcomings. In this case, they’ll bring out the “Only people who can drive get ahead in this business ” hammer.

Pictured; probable car-owners.

But based on my own experiences, I must admit… Maybe the Bitterati have a point this time. I mean, before I was any way competent onstage, I was getting booked based solely on the fact that I could transport other acts, or just get myself to the venue without being a massive pain in the balls for the promoter. In those instances, there were many other acts that would have been far more deserving of my spot. Being serious for a minute, I believe that emerging talent is poorly served in comedy; the tenacious win out over the talented. Should this be the case? It seems to be the same in most arts; if you’re going to be in a band, you’re going to need a van. Does this leave the more talented people by the wayside? Should there be in place a system that spots emerging talent and helps them along, or should it be the case that the good new acts get stuck playing their local clubs while the less deserving gig up and down the country based solely on the fact that they can transport themselves, hoping that they’ll EVENTUALLY get good enough to be booked on merit? Of all the accolades that I’d like to see on a poster of myself, “Persistent” and “Passed the NCT” are ones I’d rather omit, to be honest.

Just as I was starting to side with the Bitterati though, I remembered the guy who gigged with me down in both my Kerry gigs; young Cavanite (no, not the stuff they froze Han Solo in) David Reilly. Here’s a guy with lovely material, great style and get this; no car. And here he was gigging on the far end of the fucking country. He’d gotten trains, busses, bummed lifts, done everything he could just to perform to an audience. To the Bitterati, I say THAT’S how you get ahead in comedy- not through persistence, through passion. Fuck how CAN you do it, how much do you WANT to do it. That’s how you get ahead in not just comedy, but in anything you want to achieve. I could be talking shit here, but if I am then answer me this; why is it that when I get the call offering a gig if I can give someone a lift, nine times out of ten it’s the HEADLINER that needs it? How did he get to be the headliner if he doesn’t drive?

You said it, hat.

So yes in the early days, I was getting picked for gigs just because I could get to them and give lifts, but let me tell you; that’ll only last so long. When I really started getting booked was when I started putting the journey time to good use. It’s very possible that when I look back over my time in comedy, I’ll be able to say that the true turning point for me, when things started to pick up and I started to get better, was the week after I snapped the aerial off the roof going through a carwash. With no radio to entertain me, I’d just do my set over and over again. It’s an hour and a half from Monaghan to Dublin, let alone Cork… that’s plenty of driving time to have a seven-minute open slot learned off by heart, and it’s a long, solemn journey on the way back after dying on your hole, with plenty of time to reflect on where it all went tits-to-the-sky and how you can do better next time. And whether by bus, train or car travel is expensive; there will come a point where it cripples you so much that you have to get better or you have to quit. You simply cannot afford to continue if you aren’t willing to improve. I’ve totted up roughly what it cost me driving to do my first 100 open mic slots in my early years, and it’s a figure far too vulgar to mention in polite society.

SRSLY, toll charges alone are something like 500 euro.

The notion that only those with cars are those who get ahead in comedy is an insulting one. The road is a cruel Drill Instructor, there to weed out all who don’t have the fire in their belly to put in the effort needed to improve. There are many ways to get to gigs and if you’re passionate enough to want to perform, you’ll fucking walk if necessary. The further away the gig is, the better; it’s more time to practise, getting each line, each phrase, each punchline down to a tee. By the time you reach a gig 300 miles away from where you’ve started, you’ve got too much invested in it to half-ass the job. There wasn’t huge audiences waiting for me and David in Kerry, but we went out like there was anyway. After going all that way, there was no other option. Looking at David onstage I could see that here’s a guy who is going to do great things in comedy; not only has he got the material, he’s got the guts and the thousand-yard focus. As for me, I’m going to stick to a gameplan that has served me well so far; just keep driving until the engine falls out.

SO fucking staged.

Oh, and just a wee postscript here… I’m sorry if I was arrogant or dismissive earlier in this post; let me just say now that I would LOVE a gig in Arranmore. If anyone is running a club in Arranmore, I’m your man.

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 20; Leitrim

Well, never let it be said that I didn’t get fair warning about my recent trip to Leitrim; I was contacted a week beforehand by a fellow comedian who presented the project to me in a frank and upfront manner, stating from the off that he had turned down what was probably going to be a rough gig that he had zero interest in, and would I be interested in doing it. Well, I thought to myself,  Leitrim is an elusive county, plus the pay is nice, my car needs to be taxed, I’m free that night and I’m a total gig prostitute… sign me up!

OY.

Oy indeed; what was on the agenda was not a straight-up gig, but instead a MC slot at a local heat of a nationwide beauty pageant. My job was to compere the night, introduce guests, bring on the participants, chat to them, chat to the audience, keep the night moving and keep everyone entertained. If you’re thinking to yourself that this sounds a lot like the Lovely Girls competition from Father Ted, well….

....You'd be basically 100% accurate.

But whereas more seasoned comics (or indeed those with even a modicum of artistic integrity) would steer clear of such an event, I embraced the opportunity to try my hand at a straight hosting gig; I wouldn’t be doing a “set” as such, I had to go out and be personable and charming and shit. So off I went to Carrick-On-Shannon on a warm Summers evening, to the local nightclub where the event was being held. And though I may have been a little flippant earlier in calling it a “Lovely Girls Competition”, they really were lovely ladies each and every one, and the organisers and proprietors were extremely welcoming and professional. Hell, I even got to meet the special guest judge; the original Lovely Girl herself, Andrea Roche.

Me and Andrea, comparing chests.

So really, all anyone was worried about was whether or not I would make a total fuck of the whole thing. I reassured them that this wasn’t my first time MCing, that I’d done plenty of hosting gigs at comedy clubs but this night was of course going to be different. See, my MCing is in need of SERIOUS work, given that what I usually do is just go out with my set diced up into five minute segments to drop in here and there before bringing on acts. All year I’ve been doing as much hosting as I can to get out of my bad habits and get better, and tonight in Leitrim it was all going to be put to the test seeing as how I couldn’t just fall back on the ol’ reliable gags when the patter dried up. So all I had to do was take a look at what makes a really great MC, and try my best to replicate it…

For starters, being an MC is pretty daunting. You’ve got to be the first guy up onstage, plunging straight into an as yet untested room. Are these people nice? Are they a shower of bastards? The MC has to be the first guy to wade in onstage and find out. And not only that, but he’s the one guy who can’t start with a joke; first thing he’s got to do is lay down the rules.

"Listen up you pukes, we have a show lined up which you WILL laugh at. You WILL turn off your phones and shut your holes, or I will DEFINITELY fuck you all up"

To any non-comedians reading this; doesn’t that sound like the most awkwardest task of all time? To be the guy to stroll out into a room of people who are chatting among themselves and tell them to STOP enjoying themselves, only to turn around seconds later and tell them that the time has come for them to START enjoying themselves again, only this time there’s to be no chatting, they have to turn their phones off and sit the fuck down while there’s a guy onstage. There is a very slim margin for error with the level of strictness an MC should utilise; hit them too hard and the night is off to a bad start, they’ll get frosty, turn their noses up at your gags and not be fully invested in the other performers. Hit them too soft, and they won’t shut the hell up, and run roughshod over the whole night. A good MC can stroll out and calm a room, welcome everyone, tell them the general layout of the night and get on their side enough that when he asks them to be good little boys and girls and enjoy the funny people that he’s about to bring on, then that’s exactly what they do. In my mind, all this has to be done in less than a minute for a night to be off to a good start.

Once the housekeeping is out of the way, an MC is free to proceed with the night as he wishes. There are those MCs who choose to launch into their own set and get the crowd hyped up that way, or there are those that spend time warming up the room so that when the acts can come out, they rock the bollox off it. For ages I was the first kind; I’d have my set all chopped up into segments which, if the night was going well, I’d hog the stage and have to be dragged off (and if I started to bomb I’d just bring an act on real quick to save MY ass). To any acts that have in the past had to wait patiently in the wings as I poured Liquid Nitrogen on the atmosphere in the room, I do apologise. What I’ve tried to do in recent months is to go out and find out as much about the crowd as I can (which any comedian waiting to go on can then use to their advantage when making last minute set changes and the like). This I do by just… well, just chatting with them, getting to know them table by table, engaging in friendly banter in a so-who’s-from-out-of-town style; a technique favoured by several highly respected MCs, generally enjoyed by yer average comedy audience, and despised by elitist navel-gazing comedy snobs.

"He iz not telling ze jokes! He iz zimply azking zem vere dey are from! How long have zey been going out! Vot iz it zey vork at! Zis iz not comedy!"

So yeah, ok, it can be a bit hacky to start picking on people in the audience, but at the same time it requires a large degree of improvisational skill and timing to build up a good atmosphere in a room, a lot more than just ok-we’re-going-to-start-the-cheer-from-this-side histronics. The MCs that blow my mind are the ones that can get everyone on board by finding out the names, occupations and origins of the bulk of the room and in a matter of seconds make up a wee routine or skit based on that information. I’m watching these guys thinking DAMN that’s fast… how the hell can they do that? When you see the same guy MC a few times, you can start to se the strings a wee bit, but overall what you’re looking at is either a guy who has incredibly fast comedy improvisation technique, or has literally gone through every possibly occupation and place of origin (and you must NOT omit anywhere, as an audience can be from even the most unlikely of backgrounds; like a few weeks ago when I was in Sheebeeen Chic and half the audience was from Chad, for fucks sake) and written a joke pertaining to it. Either way, that’s a hell of a lot of work to go into meeting and greeting a comedy audience. Me, I can honour the “So where are you guys from?” part, although I have yet to master any actual, eh, comebacks, relying instead on some serious bluffing and high-energy tomfoolery until the audience laughs at some perceived notion that what I’m doing is funny and/or relevant.

"That WAS a good comeback. You don't NEED to hear an actual joke"

As you get more and more MC work, it starts to get a wee bit easier… if you’re like me, you usually come up with your best comebacks and zingers while analyzing the gig on the drive home, in a shit-you-know-what-I-shoulda-said kinda way. The best MCs are the ones that can think of that stuff on the spot, and mix it in with topical of-the-week material to create an atmosphere which relaxes and entertains the audience so that they’re prepped and ready for the acts to come on. Of course, that’s providing that all is lovely and well and that the crowd aren’t the aforementioned shower-of-bastards, in which case MCing becomes less of an ice-breaking and introduction exercise,  and more of a hostile riot-police standoff situation as you try to get everyone to have a bit of fucking decorum.

"This is your last warning. I'm about to bring on the first act. Return to your seats or I will release the dogs. Ok, I need you to start your applause at a 2, we're going to build it up to a 10..."

This is what can turn MCing from a fun gig to straight up Hard Work; you’re not there to have a great gig, you’re there to make sure the other acts have a great gig. This can mean being the bad guy in the eyes of the audience; the authority figure who came out like a primary school teacher telling us when it was time for little break and big break. When we the audience got a bit chatty, this asshole on stage told us to shush like we were fucking children, then he chastised us when our phone went off and told us not to be going to the bar during acts. Fuck this guy! Get him off the stage and bring on a guy that will just straight up tell us some jokes!… And then you introduce an act and everyone has a great time. If the act does well and the room is on a high, then the MC has to come back out and not kill that buzz; usually when I’m introducing an act after the first guy has rocked it, I’ll do fuck all except just bring the next guy on. However, if the room is now so sugar-rushed that they’re giddy and not interested,  it’s back to being the nanny telling all the boys and girls to settle down. And you’re the bad guy AGAIN. If the first act didn’t do well, it’s back to square one trying to raise the playing field for the next act. If there is some cunt in the crowd heckling throughout, the MC has to deal with him in a manner that he behaves himself when the acts are on. If half the crowd fucked off to the bar the minute the previous act finished, the MC has to fill the time until everyone is settled back into place, so the next act doesn’t come on to a half empty room (or worse, a room where everyone gradually makes their way back to their seats during his routine; stepping on punchlines and generally being a fucking nuisance). MCing is HARD WORK. You would love to just do your material and join in the fun, but your job instead is to be the guy that takes one for the team; the guy who throws himself on a grenade so that the squad doesn’t bear the brunt of it, the secret service agent who jumped in front of a bullet to save the president.

"groooo... uhhhh.... Folks, we'd like to.... thank you all for coming here tonight.... grrraaaa.... one more time, for all the acts we seen tonight...."

And after all that air-traffic controller levels of effort and concentration, after making sure not to fuck up and panic and introduce acts in the wrong order and remember everyones name, after moving things around to accommodate for the acts that wouldn’t get off the fucking stage and went way over time, after facing off against some shithead heckler until he got the message so that the acts didn’t have to deal with him, after trying to make sure everyone went on to a well warmed-up crowd by being the guy standing there filling air as best you could while the barstaff started collecting empty glasses the SECOND they seen you back onstage, after playing a game of Banter Russian Roulette with the crowd where if you get TOO cheeky and say the wrong thing to the wrong person it could fuck up the whole night, after ALL that, what thanks to you get from the crowd?

Someone will come up to you after the gig and say “Fair play, that was a good night, the comedians were brilliant… here, you’re fairly funny yourself, have you ever thought about giving the comedy a go?”

So with all this in mind, I took to the stage in Leitrim to host the night, knowing that I didn’t have the failsafe of switching into comedy routine mode should the night go awry. And I will admit, the night served to show that when it comes to MCing, I need a lot of work. My banter with the crowd and with the girls was weak, my lack of stage presence made the crowd uninterested and bored, and I failed to deal properly with some minor heckling (you wouldn’t expect heckling at this kind of thing, but some overly red-blooded males in the audience got a bit lascivious and seeing as I wasn’t allowed to swear, I wasn’t allowed to tell them to go home and continue fucking their livestock). Had I been at a comedy gig, I would have reached for the safety net of a few tried and tested gags to haul my ass through, but instead I had to, y’know, make an effort to be a real host. It was a learning experience which I was very thankful for, and a testament to how much hard work the MCs I admire must have gone through to make their craft seem so effortless.

Of course that’s all very well and good, but some of you may have read this entry and thought “Hang on Gerry; wasn’t the whole No Punchline challenge to do a COMEDY gig in each of the 32 counties? Because this gig wasn’t REALLY a comedy gig, and therefore shouldn’t really count, right?”…. well, what can I say; I was out on a stage in front of a crowd, mic in hand, with an onus on me to provide laughs and entertainment. The whole escapade made me feel a curious sense of self-loathing throughout, and as I drove away with a pay-check that felt dirty in my hand I was filled with a desire to get home as quickly as possible so I could block everything out with alcohol before getting into the shower and washing all the bad feelings away.

Sounds like a comedy gig to me. It counts.