Archive for the ‘ 32 Counties ’ Category

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 19; Westmeath

Westmeath! BOOM; right in the middle of the country,  and the destination for the next step of the No Punchline journey, where I was booked in to gig alongside FJ Murray and Alison Spittle. Being as I was the only one travelling from Dublin, I gave  the headliner, Patrick McDonnell a lift. Now, being in comedy a few years means that I’ve had the chance to meet pretty much all the bigger names on the Irish scene. It’s nice to be on the bill with a well-known act, but at times I find it hard to know how to act around them. Remember that before I was a comedian, I was a comedy fan, so I’ll confess that when I get to meet some familiar faces it can leave me a wee bit starstruck. I have been from the word go been a huge Father Ted fan, and as such will always associate Patrick McDonnell (regardless of his peerless stage act) with Eoin McLove, a brilliant character from one of my favourite episodes. Fast forward to present day, and here we are on the road to Mullingar to do a gig together. You try to be stoic about the whole thing and act like a professional and not like some giddy pleb, but I have to admit that it was one of the more surreal moments I’ve had in comedy when Patrick turned to me on the journey and asked, in a voice that I’ve known from the telly for years;

"Do you need change for the toll?"

Now the man that was bringing us all together in Westmeath was comedian, writer and fellow Pale-Horse Alan Gernon, who for the past year has started to build quite the comedy empire. Starting with Backrooms Laughs, a once-a-month comedy night he runs in Navan, Alan is becoming one of the busiest guys on the scene. Many people take on with running comedy nights, but how many can lay claim to successfully running seven (SEVEN!!) nights across three different counties? Shit, if Alan continues at this pace and I don’t fall out with him, I’ll be able to complete the 32 County challenge with clubs run by him alone.

Coming Soon; "Borris-in-Ossory Laughs!".

Now just looking at that picture is making me feel seriously fucking lazy; that’s seven venues, meaning seven venue owners wanting returns, seven different promotional campaigns to run, and seven sets of comedians to book, all before Alan gets to tell a joke. Me, I can show up and tell a few jokes for a while and after that, I’m useless. Some people are built for event promotion and love the logistical challenge of organising comedy nights,and it struck me that if I’m going to complete the 32 counties task I’ve set myself then I’m probably going to have to take matters into my own hands and run a few comedy shows myself. But before I go trawling through the Yellow Pages to find pubs in Roscommon to play in, let’s take a look at just what makes up a good comedy night…

1-Location

First up, where are we going to run our night? Of all the people that I’ve talked to that organise gigs around the country, this is the bit they seem to enjoy the most. Finding the right town and the right time to run a gig. Some guys I know get REALLY in-depth with this, looking into census figures to see the population and demographical break-up of the town. Are there a large number of 18-35 year olds living in this town? What is there for them to do in this town; do they have a cinema etc., or would they be looking for something new to entertain them? Is this town more rural, or developed; what acts will go over here well? And what date should we run our night; is there an upcoming local event that this coincides with? If we’re running close to a local celebration or bank holiday, will the people be able to afford to come to our night too; how are the employment figures in this town?

"Now, who can we get to perform in Murderville on Free Vodka day, which is two days after Free Knife day..."

And if you think that that’s in-depth, you’re not even taking into account the business end of things, where guys approach suitable venues with breakdowns of how financially viable a comedy night can be; with statistics of bar sales from previous gigs in similar venues, average door takes, repeat business… running a great gig takes a lot more than having a few too many in your local and asking the guy at the bar if he’d ever consider putting on a comedy show some Friday.

Of course, you don’t always have to approach a venue owner; sometimes, they’ll come looking for you. At this point, if you’re looking to run a gig for them, the very least you can do is VISIT THEIR FUCKING VENUE. The amount of times I’ve been driving to a gig and rang the promoter to ask directions only to be told that they aren’t sure where exactly the venue is as they’ve never actually BEEN to it, and that everything was done over the phone… well, it’s actually a small number of times, but each of those times was car-crash central. There’s nothing so soul-destroying as arriving at a “venue” (read; bar) with not even the most rudimentary aspects of a comedy club. For instance;

a) People don’t realise there is a comedy night on. You’re not in a separate area of the bar; you’re just put out in the lounge with the regulars who’ve been drinking here for years. Guys who, let me tell you, don’t take too kindly to all-of-a-sudden being asked to be quiet by some lad who just appeared out of nowhere with a microphone and started to tell jokes. But fear not, regular drinkers; if you don’t like the comedy, some bar-owers are kind enough that while the comedian is working, they  LEAVE THE FUCKING TELEVISION ON.

b) No Stage. Just stand at the same level as the crowd, sometimes IN the fucking crowd. Maybe, MAYBE if you’re lucky, you can stand on a staircase. There is no clear line of vision. People can’t see you. Forget adequate seating arrangements with lowered lighting for the crowd and raised lighting for the stage, I’ll settle for people facing in the same direction.

c) No sound. Look, we can work around a crowd that has no interest in comedy. We can work around a crowd that aren’t looking in our direction. But fuck me all day, if they can’t HEAR what we’re saying, we’re dead in the water. Comedy isn’t music. It can’t be background noise, a crowd MUST be able to hear us. Which means we NEED a proper sound system. I could write a bittersweet hour long tragi-comedy playbased on the reactions of comedians when they realise there’s no sound in place (which would include a fifteen minute segment about musical comedians realising there is no Mic stand and that someone will have to stand beside them as they play guitar, holding a mic up to their face like a quadriplegic being spoonfed). And don’t get me started on the harbinger of doom that is a wireless mic.

"I looked and there before me was a white horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hell was following close behind him."

When you see a wireless mic coming out, it’s time to go warm up the car. I was at this gig one time where when we asked what the sound set-up was, the lady behind the bar rustled through a drawer and took out a wireless mic, switched it on, tapped it a few times (to no sound) and said “There should be a few spots around the lounge where that’ll be picked up, if you find them, stand still and you’ll be grand”.  I could feel my Psoriasis flaring up with every word she spoke.

2-Promotion

Ok, so you’ve approached a venue owner (or been approached by one), you’ve been to the venue to see is it suitable (I repeat; YOU’VE BEEN TO THE VENUE TO SEE IS IT SUITABLE), and you’ve got a date in mind. So now it’s time to let the people know you’re coming to town. Now I’d be of the opinion that the burden of promotion should be shared equally with the promoter and the venue owner; it’s in the promoters interest to get a good crowd in, so that he can run gigs there again and again, and it’s in the venue owners interest to see a return on his investment. The first thing that needs to be sorted out is how much should it cost to get into the venue. There are two schools of thought;

a) Charge a fee in, and make your money on the door, or

b) Free in, and make your money at the bar.

Some venue owners don’t like the idea of charging people to get in, and I can see their point… It’d be hard to turn to a regular customer and say “look, I know you’ve been coming here since you made your Confirmation, but there’s a comedy night on this Friday and it’s a tenner in”. That’s an easy way to lose custom, one thing barmen can’t afford to do right now. So a lot of nights have no entry fee, and the bar won’t lose money because a bigger crowd will be more inclined to show up because it’s free, and they’ll spend that money drinking anyway. And comedians can look at it from the point of view that there is a bigger crowd in, meaning more people to play to; people who wouldn’t have paid into a gig in the first place.

"We're here for the free... thing. Whatever is is. We're not sure. But we heard it was free! So we wants it!!"

The flipside of this is that if people wouldn’t have paid into a gig in the first place, then those people have fuck all heed in comedy to begin with. Which means they’re more likely to be disruptive and disinterested during a performance. If you haven’t invested money in the night then you sure as fuck won’t invest your interest in what’s going on, which is why I’d always think look; set SOME entry fee, some cursory amount that means that if the thoughts of paying this small fee turns you off coming in, then DON’T COME IN. The people who attend will be the ones that saw that fee and thought “that’s not bad value”. I’ve played at as many free gigs as I have at ones with entry fees, and at the end of the night, it’s usually the free-in ones that I’ve driven away from thinking that the night would have been improved without the disruptive faction of the crowd that were obviously only at the gig because they didn’t have to pay in.

So with an entry fee in mind, it’s time to start getting the word out. Mainly this comes down to posters, and going back to the opening of this blog, I’ll give a big shout out to Alan for the work he puts into his posters; colourful, vibrant, eye-catching. Well laid out; the time, the date, the acts, the entry fee. Of course  a poster is only as good as where it’s hung, and again I have to credit Alan for going into each town weeks in advance to pu them up in every chip-shop, newsagents, Service station… Alan puts posters EVERYWHERE.

"It's got yer man from Father Ted, it'll be a good craic, hey"

The promotional campaign for comedy nights are part of what makes comedy work in small towns, where fuck all usually happens and people are waiting for something like this…  The posters (and sometimes appearances on local radio stations) create a buzz around the water-cooler (note; there are no water-coolers in small town Ireland; please substitute the words “Londis check-out”) which leads to bigger audiences. Now, in addition to posters and the like, what you can also do is promote your night online, on Facebook and twitter and Entertainment.ie and the likes…. but for fuck sake, don’t use that as your ONLY form of promotion.

These three options ALL mean "Not Attending".

I swear, if I had a euro for every time I’ve arrived at an empty comedy venue where the promoter is sitting around wondering where the fuck are the 200 people who said they were attending when he posted a Facebook invite, I’d have at least seventy euro.

3-Acts

Last but not least, we’d better get a few acts on! Going by the template that seems to be working for Alan in all his gigs, you need;

1) A headline act, someone of high profile who would be known to the public either from their work on TV or their experience in comedy, a name that will generate interest and sell tickets. we all know that there are sterling headline quality acts up and down the country that will have a crowd ceaselessly rocking in the aisles but who don’t sell tickets due to the fact that they just aren’t known to people who don’t regularly go to gigs. After a gig has been running for a while and the crowd trust that they’ll get a good night, you can put these guys on to headline and still draw a crowd, but in the infancy of a Comedy Club, no-one puts arses on seats quite like that guy off the telly.

2) A support act, maybe two. Either one guy doing a long support set or two guys doing shorter ones, usually people who don’t clash styles with the headline act (as in, don’t have two musical acts on the same night). Sometimes, you might have a reasonably local act on as support in the hope that he might draw in a few extra punters, sometimes you might book the guy who has plagued you the most for a gig, or sometimes you just need someone to give your headliner a lift to the venue so you book the guy who drives. In any instance where Alan has booked me, I’ve been all three.

3) An open spot, for added value. As I’ve said in earlier blogs, these are the most sought-after spaces on the card, from newer acts who want to get a foot on the ladder. Alan usually has an open spot for each gig, and did I mention he runs seven gigs? If anyone wants his number, just send me an e-mail and I’ll give it to you, wuh wuh wuh!

"Holy fuck, the switchboard just lit up with hundreds of calls to this one guy..."

And that layout up there WORKS. Support acts first half, Headline act second, with a break in-between to let people smoke or go to the toilet or buy drink. The night doesn’t go on until half one. Everyone has a good time, they go home happy and recommend it to their friends. Barmen in nearby towns hear of the success of the night and consider maybe putting on a night of their own. More comedy nights spring up. More comedians get more work. More punters become comedy fans and go to see more shows. That’s the end result of a good night, run well. The flipside of this of course, is a night run badly; where instead of a support-headline structure, you have eight or nine people doing short sets with NO headline act, fuck all promotion and a shit sound/stage set-up. Now I’ve done countless shows in my early days like this and I’ve been thankful for them, the opportunities they gave me and the things I’ve learned at them, so despite my best efforts this will probably sound like me looking down from my fucking Ivory Tower saying “It was great when I was at it, but now it’s UNACCEPTABLE”… well, there’s not much I can do about that. All I can say to new comedians is this; be careful who you gig for.

When I started comedy, there were people (who thankfully have mostly all fucked away off from the comedy scene) who booked nights where a bunch of us open-mics were sent to the slaughter in once-off venues where we didn’t get paid a cent, and the cash brought in at the door went straight into their pockets. They didn’t give a fuck if they made people laugh, they just wanted to make a few quid off the back of the comedians hard work. In the end, the night would fold, and two weeks later spring up elsewhere. As new comedians, we didn’t have anywhere else to play (and I for one was seriously naive about the whole thing anyways and didn’t realise I was being taken for a fucking spin) so we just went night after night getting mangled and embarrassed in shitholes while they pocketed the door. These weren’t guys who were running gigs in their hometown (and I have to give special mention to people who run gigs in their hometown, they have the massivest of massive balls and the nights, although usually short-lived are almost always a great time), nor were they trying to put on a good show so that comedy as a whole would prosper around the country, these were guys running Smash-and-Grab gigs designed to make them a few quid; a Scorched Earth Policy that would do nothing except hinder guys like Alan who WERE trying to put on a good night, people who are in it for the long haul. Going into a town trying to sell comedy to venue owners not long after some idiot had run a terrible night, and the whole town had heard how fucking awful it was?

No crops will grow on Scorched Earth, man.

As for myself, will I be running any nights? Well, looking back over this whole blog, it’s obvious the work and effort that goes into a night before one joke gets told. Can I put that time and effort into making sure a night I would run would be a success? Almost definitely not, which is why I’ll be sticking with the joke-telling end of things. There are unsung people up and down the country that go to great effort to run brilliant nights while we comedians walk off with al the glory, so I’d like to take this as a chance to salute them and the great work they do.

Oh, and *COUGH*bookme*COUGH*.

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32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 18; Tyrone

In early March, I went back up North for the first time this year. I just want to say now that I fucking LOVE gigging up the North. Where I’m from originally, Monaghan, is just right smack on the border with the north, and as such I can tackle both north and south from an outsiders perspective; people from the south think I’m a Nordie and the people in Northern Ireland consider me a Free-Stater. So I can play the northern card in Dublin and do the reverse when across the border, which flips my set a full 180. So anytime I head to Northern Ireland to gig, having to shake thing up and challenge myself can really help to stop things getting boring or stale.

Now this is all well and good but as anyone who has seen my set can tell you, I play the Border card hard and often. I’ve got a LOT of material about The Troubles (or depending on your political point of view, “The Struggle”). I’ve always noticed in the south that audiences consider material about Sectarianism and Paramilitary activity to be a lot edgier and controversial than people up North. People ask me if I tell my jokes about the The Troubles when in the North, an if so how are they received… Honestly, it’s never really been a problem. People in the North just don’t seem to give a fuck; go to The Empire in Belfast and hear comedians rip into Protestant and Catholic communities with equal severity and you’ll see a community united in (if nothing else) an ability to laugh at themselves. Trust me, the shit you hear Northern Comedians talk about makes my jokes about The Troubles seem like Airline Food gags, and northern audiences love it. Tell the same jokes in Dublin, and you’ll see an audience getting slightly uncomfortable in an oh-shit-should-he-be-saying-those-things way. Southern audiences laugh at those gags because it feels dangerous and edgy, Northern audiences just laugh at the humour of it all. So I never usually worry about telling gags about The Troubles regardless of whether I’m in the North or the South, and just do my set as planned. The only time in a LONG time that I cast doubt over what I should and shouldn’t say was during this gig in County Tyrone, which I had been booked for by a guy called Terry Keyes, in a pub in his hometown of Omagh.

The question now became, do when gigging in Omagh, should I tell my joke about the Omagh bombing.

All the way to the gig while arranging my set for the night, I debated with myself as to whether or not to use that joke, with part of my brain telling me to omit it, and the other half wondering why the fuck would I leave it out… a conversation replicated below.

Using a classic "Good vs Evil" colour scheme.

So, there’s no way we’re telling the Omagh bomb joke, right?

No? Why the hell not? We tell it in every other town and it gets a good response.

That’s true, but this IS Omagh. There’s no way this joke is going to go over with this crowd.

How can you be so sure? You’ve proven to be a mighty poor judge in the past of what people will and will not laugh at. If gigging has proven nothing else, it’s that you cannot second-guess people. Things that you’ve been so sure were suitable gags have gotten rotten responses, while edgier or dirtier jokes that’ve come from my side of the brain have brought the house down. The jokes we did recently about concentration camps were met with a great response, even though you thought they were too harsh. On the flipside, that material you did about the singer Adele was damn near booed out of the building.

Seems that no-one minds if you make fun of the extermination of millions, but you DAREN'T suggest that this woman likes the odd Garlic and Cheese Chip.

I’m not disputing that; Every crowd is unique, a separate entity that reacts in different ways to material. All I’m saying is that making jokes about a specific atrocity in the town that it actually took place in is going too close to the bone.

But who is saying that? You don’t know these people, you don’t know the community. All you know is what society has ground into you; that things which may cause conflict or offense should be hushed up and never talked about- a typically Irish point of view. For all you know, you could go into Omagh, tell your Omagh Bomb joke and it’ll go brilliantly. As a community, the people of Omagh could be sick and tired of people “not mentioning the war”. It could be a great release for them to hear comedians talk about it.

Well fuck me, aren’t the people of Omagh glad that we’re coming to town to do our half hour set, have a big group therapy session and save their fucking lives. Why don’t we do some more jokes about Tyrone-based trageies? Come on, we’ve still got an hour left to drive, I’m sure we can cobble together some knee-slappers about Cormac McAnallen or Michaela Harte. They’ll thank us for helping them to find the ability to laugh again. Idiot.

"Ok, we've got a memorial garden. Now all we need is a comedian to make some jokes and we can draw a line under the whole thing"

There are things that people will not allow you to joke about, particularly something as awful as what happened in this town. Things that are still fresh in the minds of the community.

See, now you’re working off the notion of  “too soon”. “Too soon” is bullshit. By that reasoning, there would come a time when it’s acceptable to joke about things, and until that time, you don’t mention it. You and I both know that “too soon” is nonsense. Remember that time we gigged in Sheebeen Chic? Michael Jackson had just died? We were playing around, shaking the chandeliers and pretending we were having a séance with Jacko. The crowd were loving it!

I remember.

And then we asked “Are you there Michael? Is Farrah Fawcett with you?”, and the place fell SILENT. Gig OVER. And one guy up front just shook his head and said, “Too soon, man. Too soon”. Too soon?! Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died on the same fucking day! Fuck “Too Soon”.  It’s been thirteen years since the bombing in Omagh.

Bullshit.  I never said “Too Soon”, I said that it was still fresh in their minds. It’s fresh in everyones minds. It’s one of the greatest atrocities of our lifetimes, right here on our doorsteps. It doesn’t matter that the unborn babies killed on that day would have been in secondary school by now. To the people of this community it’s still an open wound. Word association; Omagh, bomb. It’s synonymous with tragedy and pain, with reckless hate and senseless slaughter. Elsewhere in the country, our Omagh Bomb joke goes well because people weren’t there. It was something they saw on TV, they were moved by it, they moved on. They didn’t have to cope with it. They didn’t have to clean the streets and rebuild. Why don’t we vaporize some of your close friends and family and see how long it takes for you to have a sense of humour about it?

Ok Mother Theresa, if you’re so fucking righteous right now, let me ask you this; why do we even have a joke about the Omagh Bomb?

What do you mean?

I mean, why did we write that joke in the first place? And drive around telling it, town after town? If it’s such a sore spot, why focus on it? There were any amount of atrocities in the North, pal. Why make a joke about this one?

Well…

I’ll tell you why; BECAUSE it was such a sore topic. No-one would react to jokes about the bombs in Warrenpoint or Canary Wharf. But you say Omagh; boy, you have their attention now.

"Warren-where? Not interested..."

The mention of the bombing of Omagh was put as the punchline of a joke SPECIFICALLY to get a reaction from the crowd, so that THEN we could riff on that reaction. We couldn’t riff on NO reaction, so we needed something that would hit them and leave them reeling, so that the following jokes would work.My question is this; why do that? Why not just talk about something else?

OK, in this case you’re right. In writing a routine, we’ll drop in a few things that are a bit edgier. Sometimes for the laughter, and sometimes for the reaction. It’s “Shock and Awe” tactics; to give the audience something they weren’t expecting. The worst reaction that I can imagine for any of our jokes would be “Ah, I knew he was going to say that!”. I never want to be that predictable. So in order to surprise and entertain an audience, it can be necessary to include some things that they didn’t expect. And nine times out of ten, that means  a reference to something awful, or shocking.  I’m not sure why other people do it, but that’s my reasoning. If an audience starts guessing ahead, they feel they can predict what you’re going to say. If you drop something in that comes in way out of no-where, it splashes water in their face, wakes them up. Grabs their attention. They listen closer, waiting to see what you say next. It’s a good way to keep them from chatting or heckling, to keep them focused on the performance.

Sounds to me like if you have to employ these tactics, it shows a lack of faith in the rest of your material.

Well, that’s maybe true as well, but it’s a good way to keep them laughing. And it’s what I’ve always liked in comedy. Looking back, the comedians I loved as a child were always the ones that were funny first, dirty second. The ones that told great jokes, but laced them ever so slightly with a bit of edge. It felt that you were getting away with something bold; it was something that your mother didn’t like you to watch and it added to the giddy pleasure of watching it. Other comedians that I’ve seen that subscribe solely to the darker material… well, it’s not for me. It’s like a horror movie where a cat jumps out of the cupboard every five minutes to BOO! SCARE YA!… After a while, it gets old.

"Rape! Abortion! Molestation!!"

I mean, we’ve tried going down that road a few times, on nights in clubs where you were allowed and encouraged to use darker material. It was never a good time; it always felt forced, like we were trying too hard. It didn’t come natural, and the audience could feel it. And when they were EXPECTING it, there was no tension built in the room, nothing along the “whats he going to say next” vibe that we love. They weren’t waiting to see what we were going to say next; they just assumed that it was going to be something “shocking”. On regular nights, however, people laugh along and enjoy it, and nobody gets offended because they’re having a good time.

Nobody gets offended”… Man, who gives a fuck if people get offended? They’re grown-ups, at a fucking comedy club. If they don’t like what they’re hearing they can walk the fuck out.

I don’t want anyone to walk out of a club because of something I’ve said; fuck that. I would consider it an absolute failure on my behalf if I had done something onstage that had caused someone to say, “You know what? Fuck this, I’m going home”.

But I remember you saying the exact opposite, when talking about a David McSavage gig.

Right, I remember that; I’d heard of a gig with McSavage where people walked out, wrote letters of complaint etc. To me, that’s a different kettle of fish, because if you went to a McSavage gig, then you should have expected a McSavage gig. If you’re in that audience, you’re more than likely to be familiar with his work and his style. What would you expect at a McSavage gig? For him to be wheeling out Knock-Knock jokes? Same with Frankie Boyle, Doug Stanhope, Tommy Tiernan, whoever you might like to mention… If you’re in that audience, you’ve committed to that genre. It’s unlikely that you’ve wandered in blindly off the street. To suddenly decide halfway through that this offends you, or worse, to suddenly decide halfway through that you were ok with the majority of their material but suddenly they’ve hit a nerve with you personally and it’s unacceptable… No, I don’t buy it.

By that argument, it seems that only high-profile comedians can say what they want.

No, it means that at this stage in their career, they’ve “found” their audience. An audience that have subscribed to them, to their style of comedy. People see Frankie Boyle on tv playing to big rooms of rapturous fans and think; everyone must love Frankie Boyle. Wrong; that’s a room full of his FANS. Put him in a room of people that hate his style, and he’s unlikely to win them round. On a night that has Gerry McBride on the bill, there won’t be anyone in the audience familiar with him. The audience are only there because they saw a sign outside that said comedy, and came in not knowing who was on or what it was like. They’ve subscribed to the comedy, not the comedian. Should we get more famous and people are drawn to the edgier, darker aspects of our material, we can build on that.

Until then, we’ll keep wheeling out some good old watered-down Generic comedy, eh?

No, I would argue against that. The jokes we tell onstage aren’t vanilla. We’ve got jokes about everything ranging from Underage sex to the fucking Lockerbie bombing. But no-one would ever say, “He’s a dirty comedian”, or “His material is Dark”.

It’s the way ye tell’em, right?

Fuck you. Jokes in our set are arranged so that the edgier stuff flows with the funnier stuff. If you get the balance right, you can say whatever the fuck you want. People don’t mind dirt, it’s filth they can’t abide. Going back to the horror movie analogy, it’s the movies that are suggestive that have the most impact. Movies with wall-to-wall blood n’ guts are less effective. It’s all to do with balance; sure, people are coming to the nights we play based solely on the promise of  “Comedy” and nothing else, but I’m sure that they expect to hear a proportion of darker material. You can lose just as many people by doing “safe” material as you can by doing the harder stuff. If anything, I’d be leaning towards edging towards the grittier aspect of it as time progresses, instead of parking in the middle of the road.

That's where motherfuckers get driven across.

But can’t you see that what you propose is part of the problem? If there is an audience for darker comedy in this country, then they aren’t being well served. If every comedian thinks like you, they’ll all be doing their safest material, waiting for the day when they can say what they really want; a day that will probably never come. Meanwhile, the audience that WOULD like to hear some edgier material is staying away from comedy clubs, because they aren’t getting what they want.

Well, audiences that want darker material can seek it out. There are plenty of clubs that cater to that audience, the problem is that there is a lack of quality control. It’s not a lack of an audience that ruins darker material, it’s that so much of it is FUCKING AWFUL. Organisers of darker or alternative nights need to watch their acts, that is to say, you can say whatever you want, but just don’t be a child about it. This isn’t a forum for you to say all the rude words your parents wouldn’t let you. You have to have more than just a stream of garbage about pedophilia and Periods. Nobody at  a night that is Advertised as Dark will walk out due to being offended, but they will walk out after the third open-mic gets up and does ANOTHER seven minutes about Child Porn. And then of course, it’s these same comedians that will cry “CONSPIRACY!!” when they fail to get ahead. “Why are we not welcomed into the more mainstream clubs?!”, they lament. There is no conspiracy trying to keep you down because your amazing material will blow the freakin minds of all these squares. People who run clubs know what their audiences want and book acts accordingly. Simple. Do these audiences like your style? Parts of it, yeah. Are there comedians that can do your style, only better? Sure. Do they get booked for the mainstream clubs? YES THEY DO.

So where does that leave us with this Omagh Bomb Joke? The way I see it, we’ve three options; We cut it, which means we censor ourselves. And if we do that, then by right we should take a look at the crowd and see what else we have to cut. Old people in the crowd? Snip those ageist jokes. Women? Gotta cut out that sexist material. Better not do any jokes about drinking in case there’s an alcoholic or two, don’t want to offend them! if we don’t do this, it makes us hypocrites; ok with offending THESE people here, but not ok with offending these guys over here.

Finally, an audience I can play to!

Second, we change the joke. Try and make it work with some other reference. But if we do this, then we’re compromising any small, miniscule shred of artistic integrity we could ever lay claim to. Plus again, the fact that we would DO the joke in another town, but not here, means that we’re ok with laughing about these people behind their backs, but won’t say it to their faces. Which kinda makes you a bit of a cunt.

Last option…?

Last option is grow some fucking balls and do it. Best case scenario, they laugh. Worst case scenario, they don’t.

See, that’s what bothers me. We’re headlining; we’re last on. if we fuck up and die, no-one will pick it up after us. We have to go out and give 100% and make sure that people go home happy. That they go and tell their friends yeah, I had a good night last night; let’s go again next month. I don’t want them to go and say yeah, we had an alright night but the last guy on was shit.

Ah, there it is. You finally admitted it. You don’t want to do anything that might cause the audience to dislike you.

No…

Because GOD FORBID we go one night without being beloved! Forget art, forget integrity; the most important thing is that people say Gerry McBride; he’s good. Nothing else is acceptable! Let’s not take any chances with our reputation, lets not try to be political or relevant or do something worthwhile; that wouldn’t feed our ego, no. That wouldn’t get you a handshake after the gig. That wouldn’t chip away at the mountain of self-esteem issues we have, oh no.

Ok, for starters, it was never my intention to be overly political or controversial. That was never my motivation for starting comedy. It WAS my intention to entertain, yes. I like it when audiences have a good time. It’s more important to me to ensure they get their monies worth; that they didn’t feel like going to a comedy club was a waste of time. I’ve said it many times; in times that are as tough as they are right now, anyone in the entertainment business has an obligation to the public to entertain them to the best of their abilities. That is why I’ve decided NOT to do the Omagh Bomb joke tonight (well, that and the fact that this lengthy discussion has led me to believe that it’s kinda a shit joke to begin with). Fuck offending people,  I’m not willing to take the risk that it will UPSET people, as it is highly likely to do so. This is not about me being precious about my material and saying “Well, fuck the audience; these jokes are brilliant and they can fuck off if they disagree”. I have a responsibility to the paying audience; First, Do no Harm. This is not censorship. Censorship is watering down every bottle of Whiskey in case a child should drink it. This is more like serving Whiskey to a Whiskey loving audience, but just picking a fly out of one of the glasses. And sure, I could go out and tell some other joke that will offend them as much if not more than the Bomb joke. That’s the risk we take. I could make a joke about crashing a car and upset everyone because there was a fatal car crash recently that I knew nothing about; people give you the benefit of the doubt in those instances. Making jokes about something that you KNEW was likely to hurt and offend, but told it anyways because you were too self-indulgent to omit one of your precious jokes? That’s NOT what we signed up to do.

Fuck man, we won’t do the joke, fine. Jesus, have a fucking seizure why don’t you. So what jokes can we replace it with?

I dunno… check the setlist there.

“The song most likely to be played at the funeral of a teenage suicide”?  We’ve got fucking issues, my friend.

For the curious among you, it's this.

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 17; Cavan

 So ok, let’s go, 16 counties left to cross off, let’s do this thing, let’s get on the road! We’ve had a little break, we’re rested, and now we’re back with better motivation than ever to get around the country!

Yeah! But... but how about we have a wee nap first? See is there anything good on telly?

Early January dear readers, saw a serious dip in productivity. The short winter evenings and the terrible weather had put the kybosh on a lot of comedy nights over Christmas, and typical New Year slothfullness had crept into my bones. I was still gigging around the city, where I could walk into town or get a bus, but I hadn’t travelled that far into the country in a while. In early January, I got an e-mail asking if I wanted to do a gig in Gowna in Cavan, and seeing the chance to cross an elusive county off the list, jumped at it. I was thrilled to get asked; it was a headline gig, and a nice wee pay packet too that would help with the Christmas bills. Come the lead-up to the gig, however, and I was less than enthusiastic. Sheer, absolute, all-consuming laziness had gripped me. A long week at work meant I was shattered. And on top of all, the break over the Christmas had made me extremely gun-shy.

See, I’d done some HOWLERS over Christmas. A lot of party night comedy gigs where no-one had ANY interest, and the comedians just got at best ignored, at worst ridiculed and humiliated off the stage. A lot of gigs where I’d shown up to perform, been handed a wireless mic (a harbinger of doom at any gig) and been told ok, tell some jokes. The type of gig where you ask them where the stage is, and they turn to you and say “Stage?”…

..."You are standing on it, pal".

After a streak of bad gigs, enthusiasm for comedy can be at a perilous low. And so it was for me, driving to my Cavan gig, steered vaguely along the winding country roads by a Google Maps app on my phone which was starting to vex me to the point of wanting to smash it (seriously Google Maps, if you tell me I’m on the one road, don’t refresh a second later and tell me I’m on a different one). A ghastly weather forecast for the night had me thinking that there probably wouldn’t be a huge crowd in. And given that the gig was in such a remote area, I was having nightmare flashbacks to horrible pub gigs in the town of… well, pick one, I’ve done plenty. I just had it in my head that I was gong to spend hours upon hours driving to and from this gig, just to be heckled and ignored. I found my mind drifting to  something that I had often thought about, an ethos toward comedy that would mean an end to a lot of woes…

DEATHPROOFING.

Yeah, deathproofing! There’s a concept! There’s a mission statement, a resolution; no deaths in 2011. No more gigs where you leave the car running in the carpark so you can get the hell out of there before your red face burns the fucking place down. No more doing gigs in front of the door leading to the fucking toilets. No more doing gigs in venues where the crowd has no clue that there even IS a comedy night on until some jokes squeal through the feedback riddled PA system. A way to rule out dying on stage, and very easy to carry out;

1) Don’t do gigs in venues that you haven’t played,

2) Don’t use material that hasn’t proven itself time and time again, and

3) That’s it.

That’s as simple as it gets. A system which almost guarantees that every gig will be a pleasant experience. A set full of material that has been honed to perfection, with any and all dodgy and unreliable jokes weeded out, performed to crowds of audiences that I know will appreciate it. No more traipsing around the country unsure of what is waiting at the other side. No more waking-nightmare gigs in front of crowds of people among whom the politest ones are flat out ignoring you. Let’s not take risks. Let’s just rock the venues we know we can rock.

Yeah, lets get stale!

Every time I consider the concept of deathproofing, I consider what I would have missed if I’d never done all those shitty gigs over the years. Yeah, it was a pain in the hole getting humiliated and ridiculed up and down the country all those times, getting jeered and booed, but it thickened my skin and strengthened my act. Every death is a lesson in itself, and I’ve always said that you learn more from dying on the high hole of your arse than you do from a brilliant God-I-wish-I’d-videoed-that Stormer. Comedy is like anything else; if you don’t practice, if you don’t challenge yourself, you will atrophy. Soldiers who were victorious and celebrated within their castle walls for too long became bloated and lazy, and were not fit to defend themselves and their womenfolk when the Saracens attacked (just another nugget of knowledge gleaned from listening to Jinx Lennon there). Couple this with the fact that all the deaths I’ve ever had were at gigs I’ve BEGGED FOR, and was DAMN GLAD to have gotten at the time. What’s happening here is I’ve gotten too comfortable, too lazy. Too spoiled.  So yeah Gerry, you stay at home. Let us know how long it takes for the phone to ring. And don’t bother testing yourself by writing new material; let us know how long it takes until people are sick listening to the same shit over and over again, until those jokes that are so fun to perform are being trotted out in a bored, hacky fashion. The only way to progress in comedy is not by relaxing the pace, but by upping it. So every gig is appreciated; as for whether they’ll be as good as you would hope is not something that can be banked on. Gigs that you expect to be horrendous can transpire to be great experiences, and “easy” gigs, ones that you expect to be no problem, can be tooth pulling nightmares.

In the end, I don’t know what I was shitting it for. The venue was lovely, with a great stage, lighting and sound set-up. Graham Storey did a hell of a job as MC, and Gary Lynch and Geo did rocking sets too. The cold winters night kept a lot of punters away, but those that showed up were wonderful; hugely responsive and great fun to play to (in fact, you couldn’t get me off the stage; I ended up doing almost an hour). Cavan is a border county similar to my home county of Monaghan, and it’s people are very similar to those I’ve grown up with and lived with my whole life; why I ever doubted their capacity to have a good night and enjoy a comedy show is beyond me. So my first big gig of the year shook me out of my stupor and got me revved up to start 2011 as I mean to finish it; travelling the country and playing to the best of my abilities, to small crowds or big, come rain or snow. An interesting way to end this blog, seeing as how on my way home from Cavan, it did indeed start to snow… and freeze… and lower a zero-visibility fog over the small country roads, resulting in me missing every signpost and ending up somewhere the far side of Granard at half three in the morning, car spun sideways on the road, wandering around looking for any indication as to where the fuck I should be going.

Seriously, Fuck you, Google Maps; FUUUUCK YOOUUUU.

No Punchline

There’ll always come a moment when I’m onstage, about halfway through my set, where I’ll look out over the crowd and wonder what the fuck to do next. Maybe the night has being going well and I want to ensure that the audience continue having a good time.  Maybe there’s been a fair few hiccups and quiet spots and I need to do something to turn it around. Maybe I’ve misjudged them. Maybe there are as many people who want to hear more as there are those who would  rather if I just wrapped it up.  Maybe I’m exhausted and I need a minute to dig deep to get the adrenaline going so that I can finish what I’ve started. Maybe I just need that quick instant to mentally scan my material, take a deep breath, remember where I was, focus on where I’m going, and remember what it is I’m here to do. You can’t just quit halfway through.  You didn’t sign up to do a half job.  Just focus. You can fuck this up at any minute if you get too complacent. You can start getting too smart and turn the crowd against you. You can wreck any bit of goodwill you’ve built up so far in the blink of an eye. You would have no-one to blame but yourself.

Let’s not do that. Let’s tell some stories. Let’s finish this.

And then I look back over the crowd and say ok, lets go.

For new readers; that’s me up there, and my name is Gerry McBride. I’ve been having a go at being a stand-up comedian in Ireland for the past three years. It’s taken that long to get my name out there, to be seen by promoters and to get trusted enough to be booked. As for my standing in comedy as of now, I always say that if I were a football team I’d be Stoke FC. Recently moved up from the lower divisions, still very much a low-to-mid-table side, good in certain aspects of the game and lacking in others. Capable of pulling off enough high profile wins and scoreless draws to remain relevant, but not immune to the odd crushing defeat, enough to remind me that I still have a lot of work to do if I ever want to make it as a top-flight team. And so it went for me for the first few years; every so often, I’d go out and have a fantastic night of comedy that felt like a solid step in the right direction. And other nights…

...not so much.

Around about this time last year, however, I started to get very unmotivated and beleaguered. To shake things up a bit, I decided to set myself a wee challenge; to perform a stand-up comedy gig in each one of the 32 counties in Ireland. For every county I performed in, I would write an online diary entry, so in the end I would have a full account of the travels I’d made, the experiences I’d had, as well as posting the occasionally article about some of the other comedians that I had met along the way. So last March, casting aside any gigs I had done up to that point, I started from scratch and went county by county around this fair island.

And this is where we are so far.

Counties in red are DONE. If you would like to read up on a county that I’ve performed in, you can click on the relevant tag on the right hand side of the page. For every county I do, I try to make the blog a bit more than just “So today I went to X, and did a gig with Y”. Each entry will be more about things that I learn along the way that will hopefully make into a better comedian. I’ve faced hecklers in County Down and been completely ignored in County Louth. But I’ve triumphed in County Laois and overcome my nerves in County Wicklow. I’ve played tiny pubs in County Longford and large venues in County Waterford. Every gig is different. Every gig teaches something new.

Now, the reason for the three month hiatus of No Punchline is simple; the gigs dried up. If you look at the map above, you’ll see that a lot of the counties done so far are ones that would have comedy gigs happening fairly often. Up and down the east coast, there are plenty of comedy nights run in  satellite towns on the commuter belt around Dublin, and plenty of comedians to run gigs in their home towns etc. Having reached 16 blogs done, the new counties started to trickle in sloowly, with new blogs appearing weeks and weeks apart. So the decision was made to hold off for a few months getting six or seven in hand, so that when the blog re-appeared I could have a new county to talk about every ten days or so (and thankfully that has happened, so updates shouldn’t be as infrequent as they had been). Second, the thing that was beginning to happen was a slide in quality of my onstage work, as the toll of bashing out blogs meant that there was less time to work on material. So, there was that. The past few blog-free months have left me free to work on new stuff for the stage, which in turn has helped me book more gigs. Third, I had UPC installed and got hooked on Mythbusters.

"Today, we're going to bust the myth that it's possible to achieve ones targets and goals while also scratching ones balls watching TV"

And this I feel is where I really let myself slide in the past few months; procrastination, laziness. I didn’t chase as many gigs. I didn’t write new material. I just sat up after work and watched telly and pissed around online. And online, dear readers… that’s a dangerous place. With a laptop in front of me and no blogs to write, I found myself getting involved  in every online pile-on and bitching fest there was (and fuck knows, starting a few myself of my own via a combination of self-importance and downright idiocy). It seemed like the last three months I’ve been trying to eradicate all the work I did in the three years before. So yeah, you had better believe that it’s blog time again. I need something to focus on, something to work at. A project that’ll keep me from sabotaging myself, to keep me out of trouble, as it has transpired that when I’m not doing the one thing I’m anyway good at…

... I can be a bit of a prick.

So hopefully you’ll stay tuned as I set off round the back 16, armed with a few good jokes and above all else, a healthy dose of delusion. Delusion in comedy is common; who here among us hasn’t seen a new act bomb onstage with terrible material and awful stage skills, and not said to themselves, how can they be so deluded to get onstage? I know I’ve said things like that, and to anyone I was talking about at the time, I’d like to apologize; Especially when you take into account the fact that I’m probably the most deluded comedian working in Ireland today. I’ve been deluded in the past when I’ve put myself forward for gigs I wasn’t ready for yet. I’m deluded enough to think that I’m good enough to get certain gigs now, that I’m on a certain level that I’m almost certainly nowhere near. I’m deluded enough to think that I’m going to actually complete the 32 county challenge I’ve set myself, and I’m deluded enough to think that it may be something that people will want to read about. I’m delusional enough to peek round the curtain at an audience before a gig and think yeah, I’ve got something worth these peoples money. I’m delusional enough to think that I’m doing some good; that in these tough uncertain times, me and those like me can go from town to town bringing some humour and some levity, that we can help people have a good time when there’s fuck all else to smile about.

Delusion is a powerful motivation. If I just keep telling myself that I can do this, then Christ, I just might.  Because believe me; if I were to shake off my delusions and get a good dose of reality, if I were to sit down and fully accept how unlikely it actually is that I’ll succeed, if I sit down and count how few people actually “make” it, if I stopped to look at the material I use and measure it against those who have inspired me, if I looked out at an audience and fully came to grips with the fact that in a few moments time I have to stand in front of their judging eyes and make each one of them believe that leaving the house tonight wasn’t a waste of their time… I’d probably quit and get a new hobby.

Y'know, something easier.

So that’s the plan. Hopefully by the time I finish this challenge, I’ll have learned enough to be the best comedian I can be. It’s time to do something worth talking about. This is not an ego trip. This is an apprenticeship. It remains to be seen whether or not it will take me anywhere, but fuck it, I’m going to try, until I’m struck dumb or the wheels fall off my fucking car. Hopefully, you’ll all enjoy the ride. And hey, if nothing else, in years we’ll be able to look back and pinpoint the exact time I fucked everything up, right?

"McBride? Never heard of him. Oh, wait... is that the guy who did THAT gig in Leitrim years ago? Yeah, I hear he gets out for an hour at weekends if they can find a suitable nurse"

Halfway There…

So there’s the 32 county situation at the start of 2011 folks, after starting work on No Punchline in March 2010 and pledging to do a gig in every county. The 16 counties in red are done, leaving 16 more left to do. Here is where the hard work really starts, given that the majority of the counties done so far have all been generally easy to get gigs in, leaving the likes of Sligo and Leitrim and Clare for me to work through over the next twelve months, just like a tin of Roses or Quality Street where you would eat all the Hazelnut-in-Caramel and Toffee Fingers really quickly, then sit looking at a half-empty tin of Strawberry Creams for fucking ages.

Pictured: Carlow

But no-one ever said this was going to be easy, and I certainly didn’t think I’d get through 16 counties as fast as I did (although if I’d started No Punchline in January instead of March, I’d have 5 more done, but them’s the breaks). Looking back at the crazy year that was 2010, here’s a few stats and figures  for fun…

1) A rough head-count at every gig I did this year, noted in my Gig Diary (yes, I’m that sad) shows that I gigged 120 times to approximately 9,500 people. Of all those people, I’ve been recognised in everyday life ONCE, in a chip shop in Ardee. Conversely, I’ve been approached after gigs countless times by people who want to know if I’m the guy they bought their bathroom suite from, or the guy who sold them the wooden flooring for their sitting room. Despite being active in the Irish comedy community for nearly three years, I’m still more famous as a Hardware store clerk.

2) Adding up the time I spent onstage reveals a nice figure of 40 hours; over one and a half days of standing in front of (generally) lovely people, telling jokes and having a good time. I like this statistic. It makes me feel all brilliant. On the other hand, further sums reveal that in order to spend 40 hours onstage, I had to drive for approximately 170 hours. That’s over four hours driving for every hour onstage. 170 hours (which is a conservative estimate), equals over seven days spent in my car driving. I do not like this statistic. This statistic makes me feel unusual.

3) Of course, I got a few nice big gigs this year, and with them the shining ray of light that is an odd few quid here and there. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, sometimes way more than I deserved for how I performed when I got them, but overall a definite increase in comedy wages. Which would leave me feeling great, except when you go back to statistic number 2 and factor in what it costs to keep a car driving for seven straight days. Petrol, tolls, tyres, oil, maintenance… I think I managed to juuuusssst about break even, or maybe I’m just telling myself that to make it easier to sleep at night.

"Aghhh!!!! The R154!! The N52!!!!"

So ok, the stats suggest that even though my bollocks are well and truly broken, I’m not all that further on than where I was this time last year. It’s not like I’ll be selling out Vicar Street any time soon. But such aspirations have long since been abandoned for more reasonable, achievable goals, and I like to think I’m crossing those off more and more as each month goes by. I’m getting booked a lot easier now than I was before. I’m not letting people down as much due to a shaky act like I used to. Every now and then I’ll get offered a big gig that makes all the work and sacrifice worthwhile, and baby step after baby step, I feel like I’m getting places.

On top of gaining experience by traversing the country doing gigs, I fell like I’m gaining a lot of patience. When I started comedy, I felt an unwarranted sense of entitlement, like everything I would say onstage was so fucking brilliant that it would only be a matter of doing a few gigs before people would be clamouring to book me. The more time I’ve spent in comedy, the more this nonsense has been drubbed out of me, whether it’s by watching other comedians work, hearing stories from more established acts about the trials they had to go through, or seeing newer comedians who have only just started get angsty and frustrated at the slow pace of progress in Irish comedy. The more I gig around the country, the more I realise that the standard expected is way more than a few good jokes and an overabundance of (often misguided) confidence will deliver.  It’s like every county I cross off the list is one more lesson learned, one more milestone reached. that leaves sixteen lessons still to be learned, sixteen more hills to climb before I can claim to be any sort of comedian at all. Whether it’s gigging to a thousand people at a festival in Laois or getting heckled incessantly in a cafe in Down, be it rocking the socks off a packed function room in Wexford or getting ignored and dying in an empty pub in Louth, every gig has taught me something new that I try to implement the next time I’m onstage. This time next year, I’ll still be best known for being a guy that works in a hardware shop. I’ll still be trying to break even from gigging. My car will be TOTALLY fucked.  I won’t have a TV show. I won’t be selling out Vicar Street. But maybe, just maybe I’ll do enough to prove to myself that all this isn’t just a big waste of time.

I’ll be taking a short break from blogging here for a while, just to recharge the batteries, work on some new material and get a few counties under my belt so that the wait between blogs isn’t as long as it may have been last year. I’d like to thank everyone for reading, and for those that don’t read, I’d like to apologise for the endless Facebook notifications that have clogged up your newsfeeds for the past nine months. I’ll be back real soon, and hopefully you’ll tune in for more from Irish comedy, more reviews, more features from working Irish comics, and of course the last 16 counties on the map.

*insert Incredible Hulk closing music here.

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 16; Derry

Man, after gigging pretty solid for three weeks or so, I was never as relieved as I was when I got a call from Greg Marks to say that he too was booked to perform in Masons in Derry on the same night as I was, and that he could drive us there and back. Sweet hallelujah! So of we both went to Gagging Order, which is Masons once-a-month gig for new comedians. Although neither Greg nor I could be described as “new”, we were new to Derry, and in order to get booked for full gigs, we had to go up and do well at the new night. It was a long journey for very little stagetime, but when you’re still unknown in comedy circles, you’re holding no cards; you have to go and get seen.
And the night went very well; despite our short sets we did enough to both get booked for support gigs in February; job done.  We headed off home, glad to have our foot in the door in another market. We chatted away on the long journey, and I was in a very pensive mood. I was about to turn thirty (and have successfully done so since). Sometimes, i wonder if I’ve left it too late for myself, having only started doing comedy when I was in my late twenties. I look at a lot of new acts coming through now, guys and girls in their early twenties (and even late teens, fer chrissakes) all striking out on the comedy trail. I get annoyed with myself for having left it so late when I see how far up the tree some people are, who are still a lot younger than I am. So with the digits on the ol’ mileometer about to roll round to the big three-oh, I figured now was as good a time as any to take a philosophical look back and see what the fuck took me so long to get on a comedy stage, and how much further on I would be if I’d just started a little earlier.

Seriously kid, what the fuck is the hold up?!

What’s most annoying to me is the fact that from a very young age, I had great interest in perhaps not comedy, but in acting and storytelling. I could read from a very early age, and loved TV and movies. Whenever I would watch something on TV, I would always try and figure out better ways to end the story (although your description of the word “better” and mine may vary, depending on how much “better” you think a story is when you add helicopters). My favourite part of school was writing stories in English class, and I watched enough funny shows on TV to guarantee that anything I wrote was probably going for a humourous angle. As for stage work, I got my first role as Joseph in a Christmas nativity (hardly a laugh riot) , and I seem to vaguely recall being the wolf in Red Riding Hood at a school panto in High Infants or something. The part was written for laughs and I had a great time, but it didn’t strike me as something I wanted to do later in life (I wanted to be a stuntman, which seems to be a common ambition of people my age, probably due to the awesomeness that was ‘Stuntmasters’ on Saturday morning ITV). As a kid, the pieces hadn’t fit together that if I liked being on stage, and I liked writing things, maybe I should aspire to write things that I could perform on stage when I grow up?

"So how about buns, eh? Have you seen these? Have you heard about these?"

Fast forward a few years into secondary school, and this is where the real groundwork started. I went to secondary school in the early nineties, and was put in a class with none of my old classmates from primary school. So straight away, I wouldn’t have been all that quick to make new friends. Coming out of primary school, I would have been fairly clever (which attracted more than a few kickings on the playground, great for the ol’ self-esteem), and big things were expected from me at home (mainly because my sister was VERY studious). So in secondary school, I felt I had two choices; either knuckle down at studies, or ingratiate myself with the other kids. I had watched enough Saved by the Bell (and learned enough on the primary schoolyard) to know that the clever kids were dorks and had no pals, so any aspirations I had of being an A-student fell by the wayside. As the years at secondary school went on, I did enough schoolwork to pass every test and stay in a top-flight class, but goofed around enough and gave enough cheek to teachers to stay in with the rest of the kids. My big love at this stage was comedy on TV, so I the “funny” kid in class… Not the naturally funny kid in class who doesn’t have to try so hard, but the other type, y’know… the borderline annoying attention seeking type. But I felt I had to do something; I was holding no other playground currency. I was shit at all sports so I wasn’t on any teams, and I was pretty fat and dorky.

Yeah, there's no way this kid is going to a mixed school for five years and not coming out the other end as a smartarse.

One thing I will say for secondary school is that I got plenty done creatively; I did very well in English, particularly essay and story-writing. Every year the school would put on a Christmas concert, and every year I would be doing something onstage, including one year performing in a play with the rest of my class which I had written myself (no-one wanted to do it and I volunteered/ insisted that I do it). Although when I went to college, it wasn’t to do Arts (like I should have done), I instead went and did an Electronic Engineering course(three years with nothing added to my life except the ability to play a card game  called 25). This, I feel was where I fucked up a bit, and something I wish I could change. I didn’t gain anything from college career wise (I’m basically doing the same job now as I was doing part-time during school) and I fell that if I’d done a course in, I dunno… maybe journalism or something, I’d be a lot further on right now. In my three years at college, I didn’t do anything creative in the slightest (except maybe a few tall tales when chatting up girls). I still had the same vague notion of doing SOMETHING creative with myself, but the drive had been sidetracked in a fit of laziness and/ or waiting for the world to fall at my feet without working for it. Plus, no-one told me that when you go from being a teenager to a young adult, what initially was boyhood cheek morphed into adolescent arrogance. I was still playing the wiseguy, but it didn’t really work anymore. I was coming across an an asshole, and wasn’t overly liked in town. Leaving college to go out and work, the twenty-one year old Gerry had made no advances at all at any sort of a stand-up career.

... Except maybe in his taste in T-Shirts.

And so my twenties were spent in the usual way; working, going out, dating girls, breaking up with girls. My nine-to-five job was fine, I liked it, it was well paid, so I was alright for money (even if in hindsight, I didn’t invest it all that well). After college, my group of friends all scattered to their own pursuits; jobs, relationships, the usual. That meant less and less time in groups where I could be myself and let loose; telling stories and jokes and having a laugh. This, I think, was where the real urge to start working on something more creative started to grow roots, a serious feeling of being just another face in a crowd, not standing out or being special (and being just needy and insecure enough to want to do so). I tried my hand at acting in local productions of plays, but being one piece of a larger performance never really suited me. By 23, I was trying my hand at writing works of my own, and knocked out several scripts for plays, short stories etc… but as an arrogant man, I struggled to take constructive criticism, or just lost patience in the whole endeavour. If I spent six months working on a script and it got rejected (or I sent it off, never to hear from it again), then fuck it; move on to the next project. I had a short play produced locally, but didn’t get the kick I had wanted from it. Again, this is when the penny should have dropped that stand-up comedy was what I really wanted, but instead I just got sullen and dejected, and wasted a few more years doing nothing except sporting increasingly absurd hairstyles.

From Hawaiian Nazi...

... to whatever the hell this was supposed to be.

And then a revelation; the internet! A few years ago, I started writing blogs online. This is way before I started No Punchline (or indeed my Chronicles blogs from last year), and was a real easy solution for my attention seeking; instead of spending six months working on a script and presenting it to an uncaring public, I could spend an hour knocking out a blog, post it online, and wake up to a chorous of LOL’s in the comments section. I became OBSESSED. For a few years, I wrote hundreds of blogs and articles, and did it all anonymously so as to be free to say whatever I liked. My style was a very caustic, snarky look at life (in the vein of Charlie Brooker, except more vicious and less intelligent). As the readership grew, I felt more and more confident in myself, although hours spent writing will take it’s toll on all other aspects of life, and it’s here that I feel the cracks in my then-rock steady relationship started to show. And then came along a whole other raft of issues in life, which left me with no time for even my beloved blogging, leaving me back to square one, with no outlet to express myself. I was turning 28 soon, and I had run aground. The pieces still didn’t fit into place until one night I watched on RTE what I belive was a the Liffey Laughs (or some other stand-up show, I can’t remember). The idea of doing stand-up had briefly occurred to me before, but I’d never considered myself able to do what those guys did. However watching Liffey Laughs, I watched one comedian get up, and instead of being hit with a lightening bolt of that’s-it-I-want-to-be-like-that-guy, I watched him die on his arse and thought that’s it; If he can do it, I sure as fuck can do it too. It suddenly made sense, it was the most direct adrenaline to the heart way to address all my issues; neediness + depression + self-esteem problems + arrogant outspokenness + cockiness…

...equals Comedy!

And so before I turned 28, I googled around and got myself up onstage. And looking back as I did this week gone by, I always ask why this couldn’t have happened sooner, until I accept that for me, it REALLY couldn’t have happened sooner. The first year of comedy is ridiculously tough, and whatever you think you’re going to achieve, you are NOT. The first year of comedy is hardship and rejection, it’s graft and disappointment. If I’d tried comedy any younger, I wouldn’t have stuck it. I’d have said fuck this after the first death. I wouldn’t have worked like I do now; if you asked the 22 year old me to drive to Derry to do seven minutes in order to see if I was worth booking for other gigs, he’d have told you to get fucked. Now, with a wee bit more maturity on my side, I do it gladly. If you told the 24 year old me that he wasn’t that good, and needed to work more on his material before he got booked for a gig, he’d have gotten thick and indignant and stormed off cursing you from a height. Now, I take criticism on board and accept when I do fuck up, it’s usually my own fault.

And as for comedy in general; age doesn’t matter in the slightest (apart from some very young audiences who are ageist little fucks, excuse my french).  There’s no age limit on comedy, whether you’re 30, 40, 50… worry about being funny and the rest will sort itself out. As for my own thinking that perhaps I’ve left it too late to ever get to the higher reaches… well, if that’s the case, then my new thinking is that I’d better work that damn sight harder to make up lost ground. Where I am in life now isn’t a hindrance, it’s a kick-off point; my point-of-view on the world these days seems to be more attractive to audiences than my point-of-view on life would have been five years ago (when I would have been doing some very dodgy “clever” material which I’m sure would have stunk up every venue I played). You can’t learn experience. So I’m heading into my thirties now, considering myself not to have wasted my time up until now, but having spent my time getting off to a good start. All I gotta do is take what I’ve learned from life and work it into my material, and we’ll see where we go from there.

"So have you had a bun lately? What's the DEAL with those things, huh?"

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 15; Wexford

Friday nights are a great night to either A) flop into the sofa with a pizza and a few cans and chill out after a hard weeks work, snuggling into your significant other (if you have one) or yourself (if you don’t), or B) get suited up and head into town with your mates and get either nicely tipsy or totally shitfaced, depending on what your idea of a good night is. But for the amateur comedian, there’s option C; drive a three hour round trip to play a gig in a town you’ve only ever drove past. No prizes for guessing what I chose to do at the start of this month, of course; it was off to Gorey in Co. Wexford to do an open slot between the support-headline combo of Colum McDonnell and Dave O’Doherty.

Cite.

This is the thing that I find hard to explain to my friends, the concept of an open mic comedian (and open spots would still make up the bulk of the gigs I do). Weekend after weekend, I renege on functions and nights out to go do gigs around the country, and my friends always say wow, you must be getting well paid for all this… you should see their faces when the get told that no, the guy doing the open set usually only gets a very short set, and normally doesn’t get paid a bean. Being an amateur comedian is a costly process, and it’s only after two full years of graft that I’m starting to see a bit of money here and there, and the paying gigs only serve to bankroll travel to the gigs that don’t (and indeed chip away at the mountain of credit card debt that years of travel will rack up). When you put it to people like that, they come to the conclusion that if open spots in comedy clubs don’t pay, then they can’t be that sought-after… LOL. Open slots are like freakin gold dust, and as soon as a new club opens up and an open slot becomes available, every amateur comedian in the country descends upon it like locusts. Shit, I only got the gig in Wexford by e-mailing the promoter asking for it, and when that failed, by finding his number and rininging him night and day until he finally cracked and gave me the gig.

"Ok, you can have an open spot, now leave my family alone!!!"

A lot of gigs in the country like the one in Gorey don’t bother with open mics; they just have a headliner and support.  Clubs just sometimes throw in a quick ten-minute act before the headliner, as a buffer between acts, or to settle the crowd after the break. The open mic is not an integral part of the night;  if I hadn’t been there on Friday, I wouldn’t have been missed. No-one would have went home thinking damn, I wish we’d had just one more short act before the main guy came on. But by and large, promoters will throw on some form of new act, whether it’s a local comedian (who is bound to add a few ticket sales when you count his mates) or an up and coming act who has launched a multimedia bombardment at their Facebook, e-mail and mobile inbox. Basically, the open mic is this; have you ever been at a wedding, where between the soup and the main course, you got served some other starter? Nothing major, perhaps a wee Vol au Vent or something. You didn’t ask for it, you didn’t know it was coming, but here it is; a bonus course of food that wasn’t as filling as the soup, and doesn’t leave you too full as to spoil your appetite for the main course. If you liked it, well and good- you might even mention later in the night that hey; the soup and the main course were delicious, but that extra starter wasn’t bad either. However, if you didn’t like it, you might find yourself saying that the soup and the main course were great, but what the FUCK was the deal with that Vol au Vent? They shoulda left that shit in the kitchen.

Pull lads, Pull! Stretch that metaphor!

So all that leaves is for me to go out in front of a crowd of mad-for-laughs comedy fans and knock out a set, right? WRONG. Here’s where experience as a comedian can goose you folks; because the more gigs you do, the longer they get, and before long you’ll find yourself regularly doing a nice round twenty to thirty minute routine. Going back to doing open slots, and your time gets quartered, and now you have to scramble to make up a seven to ten minute set that will still work. How do you take twenty minutes of jokes and routines and squeeze them into ten minutes? This would be easier if I were a joke teller, with a slew of set-up/ punchline gags that I could rattle through, but my set is based on routines; long routines that need to be set up and worked through to conclusion. If you only have time for one routine, which one will it be? What will best suit this audience? What have they been laughing at so far? Sometimes the routine that will suit the crowd is not one that you were prepared to do (or indeed your prefered set). What stays? What goes?

Shit, you only THINK you've got it tough, love.

Basically, it comes down to editing. Sometimes I’ll have jokes and bits that I know in my heart are a bit rambling and not as to-the-point as they should be. And yeah, there could be a bit of filler and waffle in there too. But dammit, that’s MY filler and waffle, and I want to share it with all these lovely people. So when I’m finishing a show somewhere and the promoter says yeah, go ahead and do as long as you like, you can be sure that the crowd that night may get the odd wandering story or the occasional new bit that hasn’t been tested and just got thrown in cos I was being indulgent. But when the hammer is on you for ten minutes, all that shit goes out the window. Would I love to have a bit of a chat with the crowd? Sure. Do I have time? Fuck no; so now instead of having a wee craic with the front row as a lead-up to a bit, you gotta just get stuck in. Find a new way to tell your jokes. If it’s taking you six lines to set up a punchline, you gotta now do it in two. If a jokes has five elements in it, then you gotta pick the best three. Yes, you would love to tell all five, but there’s no time. Everything has to be as streamlined as possible, but still hold together. It’s like seeing how many fingers you can cut off but still have a wank.

This is something I’ve gotten used to over the past year (editing, that is, not thumb wanking); when entering competitions and the like, you GOTS to be on time. So when going in for the likes of the Bulmers last year or Tedfest, I had to get chopping. You know what the funny thing is though? After those gigs, or after a high profile open slot, when I had cut strip after strip out of my routine; I never put any of the material back in. I had cut it out, the material still worked, and now the excess that had been trimmed off was just that; excess. Surplus to requirements. When writing new material, it’s so easy to get indulgent, to fill the routine with as many gags as possible. It’s only when you need to pare everything back that you see how much excess there was. Material that you couldn’t bear to be parted from is chopped, and is rarely missed. You found a newer, quicker, better way to tell a joke and now it works better than ever. After a while gigging, you realise that you have to stop being so precious about your jokes and accept that material which doesn’t belong in a ten minute set, doesn’t belong in a twenty-five minute set either. This is why close self-scrutiny and editing is essential, and doing as many open-mic gigs as possible will only prove this time and time again… or failing that, you could just get up and tell all that jokes that you’re convinced are BRILLIANT until you find you’ve run out of time and haven’t connected with or made an impact on the audience at all.

"Bollocks, I haven't even told them my joke about the Thalidomide prostitute yet! That shit is GOLD."

And so it was for me in Gorey; I went down with what I hoped was my best ten, but turned out to have just that bit too much waffle early on, which sent me over time by about two minutes. Looking back at it, there was a good ten minutes and two lame duck non-starter minutes. Next open mic I go to, it’ll be better, and the one after that, better again, hopefully. Going back to my friends at the start who think I’m crazy running round the country doing open mics; they wonder how I can afford to do so many of these gigs if they don’t really pay. Well, the answer isn’t if I can afford to do them, but if I can afford NOT to do them. Every open mic you do, you’re advertising your full set. So it stands to logic that the more you do, the more people see it, the more recognition you get and hopefully as time goes by, the bigger the gigs get. However, with belts being tightened and all that, it’s not EVERY gig I can afford to go to (much as I would love to), so I’m trying hard these days to be smart and do open slots in good, reliable clubs with good headline acts. If I can get out there and do well in front of those crowds, then maybe the cooks in the kitchen will take note. They’ll say hmmm… that Vol au Vent went down alright, didn’t it? People seemed to really like it. Maybe next time, instead of having soup as our starter, we’ll have Vol au Vent instead. And as for the crowd, if they enjoyed the Vol au Vent, and are walking around in town some night and see a restaurant that’s serving Vol au Vent, they’ll be like hey; there’s that Vol au Vent we had at that wedding, remember? Let’s go in and eat it!

C'mon, stretch that metaphor! I know you can do it, lads! Pull!!!