Archive for the ‘ 32 Counties ’ Category

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 14; Longford

As the summer drew to a close, I looked back and counted up the gigs; this has been the busiest summer I’ve had since I went picking strawberries at a local farm to finance an electric guitar when I was twelve (my failure to do so torpedoing my musical aspirations and setting me on the comedy path… probably).  Last gig on my list before a week-long break was a gig I had forgotten about until a few days beforehand; Magans pub, Kilnashee, Longford.

This was a gig I’d signed up for possibly YEARS in advance. I was approached by Longford-born, Cork-residing fellow comic Barry Magan (probably during a quiet break while gigging in the Comedy Somme that was The Tap) who told me he was planning on running a gig in his brothers pub in Longford, and when it happened, would I play there. I said of curse, and since then every time I’ve met Barry, he’s kept me up to date with when this gig would be happening, how great it was going to be and how excited he was to be running it, all with his trademark ear-to-ear grin and machine-gun happiness. That’s one thing that can be said for Barry; you cannot fault his zeal, his enthusiasm for every gig he’s involved with.

"Brilliaaannnnnttt!"

Come gig night, a Friday, I wished I could have had but a fraction of that zeal. It had been a LONG week, working twelve hour days from Monday to Friday, and I was expected in again on Saturday morning to cover for someone. I was WRECKED. On top of that, I’d found out during the week that my girlfriend had gotten a great new job; great news, except it was in Galway which meant we wouldn’t see each other all week, so I was a bit down about that. Plus I’d gone home to Monaghan during the week to see my folks, and a bunch of shit went down there which was melting my head too. Pretty much everything would have been eased by a nice quiet night in with a pizza, a few beers and a DVD, but bookings are bookings so off to Longford I went.

Setting off from Monaghan, I quickly became pissed at the journey. A lot of the time when travelling to gigs, the car practically drives itself on the motorway. You get a nice big motorway or dual carriageway, you reach a nice safe speed, and the road whizzes by until BOOM; destination. Time flies. Not so the trip to Longford, which was ALL cross country. Carrickmacross… Shercock… Baileborough… Virginia… Ballyjamesduff… Granard… Edgeworthstown… Longford town… Kilnashee.

We're talking twisty, dirty, dangerous roads...

...in the pissings of rain...

... sitting behind slow moving traffic, staring up a horses arse for an hour...

... and a Mothra attack just outside Ballyjamesduff.

Anyone who knows me knows that if it’s one thing I don’t mind, it’s a long drive (I once drove from Carrickmacross to Dublin and back to cool off after a row with an old girlfriend at three in the morning). But there was something about this trip that just made me hit the wall. My head was THUMPING. I was in a foul humour. I was going to a one-off gig in the middle of the sticks, and these gigs can be disastrous. I was finishing up the show, so I’d be there till God knows what time, then drive this long-arse journey all the fuck way home, and be up in five hours to go do another twelve hour day. There probably wouldn’t be a big crowd (because the gig was running on the same night as Tommy Tiernan was playing IN LONGFORD TOWN) and Barry was MCing it himself, which I know from experience can be less OK-folks-here’s-your-next-comedian and more Ok-lions-here’s-your-next-Christian.

"So, anyone in from out of towaaaaaaaaaiiiiieeeeeeeeeeggggghh!"

So when I eventually landed in what my SatNav insisted was Kilnashee, I was one grumpy cunt. And this in itself is a test folks; if you’re going to be a comedian, can you be a comedian at all times? It’s no good if you’re only able to get out and gig when its sunshine and roses and you’re in great form; can you suck it up, put on a smile, and hit the stage and get a crowd laughing? Driving from Carrick to Longford, my set had been kinda re-written in my head from my usual witty observations and non-sequiters to a half hour ill-natured rant about how they should build a more motorways in this country, even if it means laying tarmac over every historical site we have. This is where comedy becomes WORK, and it always tickles me to hear people talk of quitting their day-jobs and doing comedy full time. Comedy isn’t something that will replace your day-job, it’s ANOTHER FUCKING DAY-JOB, albeit one you might like a hell of a lot better than whatever you do right now. Comedy is evenings and weekends, hard work and travel. It’s deadlines and pressure, it’s hard graft… and right then  was having one shitty day at the office, but instead of closing the office door and counting down the minutes till five, I had to go onstage and act like I was having a great time.

But do you know who WAS having a good time? Barry. Here he was, doing a gig in his hometown; something which I myself will probably never have the balls to do.  There were other comedians here too, and any one of them would have gladly have done my headline spot in place of their seven-ten, but Barry wanted me on last. It was a gig he’d been planning for months if not years, going back to those nights in the Tap when he first told me about this mythical gig he would one day run in his brothers pub. He went onstage in front of his friends and family and set in motion a gig that he had always wanted me to headline. And there I was out back, grumbling about the fucking journey. I copped on and put a few things in perspective. if you want to be in comedy, you have to WORK. That’s just it. It can’t all be lovely big packed arenas on your doorstep, there will be plenty of gigs in small towns that are hard to reach. I knew how hard a journey Longford would be, I knew how pissed off I would be after a long week at work, so I had plenty of time to ring Barry during the week and cancel. But the day you start cancelling gigs is the day people start thinking your head has breached your arse, and before too long you won’t have to cancel gigs; you just won’t get booked.  This wasn’t some gig I was doing in the middle of nowhere for some promoter who didn’t know my name, this wasn’t a gig that I was doing just so I could get in someones good books for later in my career; this was a gig I had been asked to do by a friend which I promised to do, and do well.

Gay.

There’s hundreds of comedians Barry could have asked to headline the gig he’d planned for ages, I should have been damn glad I was even considered. So fuck all the stuff that happened during the week that was getting me down, fuck the long trip (and the thoughts of an equally long trip home), and fuck feeling sorry for myself; I glucosed up, shook myself out of my fog and got ready to go out there and rock the shit out of it. And I’d like to say, my fellow No Punchliners, that I went out there and DID rock the shit out of it, and the hard days graft al paid off, but in actual fact from the second I hit the stage I was pretty much shouted down by an unbelievebly drunk local vegetable, who for the first ten minutes of my set I ignored, believing as I did that due to his contorted appearance and incomprehensible roarings that he was not in fact intoxicated but suffering from some severe mental and/ or physical disability.

sHHhhhuuruppptafuckya, huuuUUUUp yaboyyyah, yacunntsoyaaaaar.

Half an hour of telling the odd joke inbetween Sam Dingle yelling and everyone else yelling at Sam Dingle to shut the fuck up, I said my thanks and left. By and large, the crowd had enjoyed the night, but none as much as Barry himself. Even though the whole night had damn near broke my heart , I was happy to have helped him as best I could. Now get me the fuck home, before I pass out.

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32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 13; Laois

My first ever comedy gig, about two and a half years ago, went extremely well. I went on last in the Battle of the Axe in the Ha’penny on a Tuesday night, went through the set I’d prepared (to the nth degree, I might add) and the quite large crowd of people that were there all laughed and applauded in all the spots that I’d hoped they would. I’d gone alone, told none of my friends (I didn’t want to die on my arse with them in attendance) and I left disappointed that I hadn’t told them. As I went home that night, I though hey; maybe I’m not so bad at this comedy lark. I’ll invite some pals along to my next gig.

As a complete newbie, I didn’t know where the hell to get gigs, but a Google Search for “Dublin Open Mic” lead me to a place known as the Peanut Club, which was at the back of the Hard Rock Cafe. They gave me an open slot, and I went down with a friend of mine called Noel, who I asked to record my set so that I could put it on YouTube. The MC called my name, Noel started recording, and what followed was the most humiliating five minutes of my life (and you gotta believe me when I tell you that’s saying something). What I didn’t know when I booked the gig was that the venue was Open Mic in the truest sense; you could get up to sing, play guitar, read a poem, do comedy, whatever you liked. The night I played, there were 24 acoustic guitar players and one comedian me. The crowd consisted solely of music fans. I went on in the middle and endured what to this day remains to be one of the the worst deaths I have ever suffered. I got offstage and fled the premises, copied the video file off Noel and made him swear to delete it. I uploaded it to my computer, watched it a few times, and promised myself that I would never, ever show it to anyone, let alone post it online.

And folks, here it is.

Some people record every gig, and watch it back to review their performance to see where they can improve. Watching this video when I got home that night, the only thing I could think to do was quit there and then. Two gigs in, I was going to walk. Nothing about this performance was right. I choked. I mumbled. I couldn’t get the fucking mic out of the fucking stand. I paused for laughs that weren’t there. I didn’t interact with the crowd. I had the cheek to trot out some “usually I gig in the Comedy Cellar, I’m just trying new material here” excuses. Save for my last line, I didn’t get on single laugh. They just stared at me. I can still see them now, staring. I can remember every face.

Except they look like this.

I had one more gig already booked after that, which I was determined to honour. If I died again, I was gone, but as it happened the next gig went extremely well, and the gig after that, and the one after that too. Then I died consistently for about six months. After every crushing death, I said that’s it; I’m done. But I’d always have a few more lined up, so I honoured those bookings… and some of them would go well, and some wouldn’t. But no matter how bad a gig went, I’d always think back to that gig in the video up there; I’d always think well fuck it, it wasn’t as bad as the Peanut Gig. And eventually, no matter how bad a gig would go, the thoughts of quitting completely left my head. I loved comedy too much. I couldn’t quit if I tried.

Which brings me up to earlier this Summer, when I got a call from the promoter in charge of booking the Comedy Tent at Electric Picnic, held in Stradbally Co. Laois. Casual as you’d like, he asked me would I have any interest in playing there this year (whenever I get phoned and offered gigs I really want to do, I usually get real cool and say “yeah, sounds ok… I’ll have to check the book but pencil me in, for sure” because I don;t want to sound too eager, but this time, I totally lost my shit in a completely unprofessional manner). And so a couple of weekends ago, myself and my girlfriend headed down to Electric Picnic, where I did a set in the middle of the Sunday, part of a weekend bill that included everyone from Ardal O’Hanlon to Reg D. Hunter. All along, I’d expected the audience to consist of maybe a hundred or so hungover people, burnt out and looking for somewhere to convalesce… What I got was a crowd at least three times the size of anything I’d ever stood in front of before, hundreds and hundreds of ravenous comedy fans.

 

This is about half the crowd, so yeah... No Pressure.

The joint MC’s for the weekend, Andrew and Damo, brought me onstage for what was a heartbreakingly brief set (although if I’d been given a full hour it still wouldn’t have been enough), and I delivered my set to a crowd that stretched for ages. Everything was amplified. When I usually ask is there anyone from up north in the crowd, I get maybe two or three people… this time, I got maybe a hundred cheers. Laughs were louder. Cheers lasted longer. I glanced at my watch and my time was up.

And as I drove home that night, I though back to the drive home from my second ever gig in the Peanut club, when all confidence was stripped away and quitting was all I could think of. And I thought of all the things that I would have missed if I’d quit, all the places I’ve been, friends I’ve made, and the experiences I’ve had along the way. And I thought of all the new comedians just starting, and how hard it is for them to sack up and get on that stage when they’ve everything to prove and nothing to prove it with except the best seven minutes they can come up with and a set of cast iron balls. Only a few make it out of the first year, and even after that it’s a grim, thankless task with nothing to keep you going except your love for performing, and sometimes even that can be poor motivation. To those comedians that are only starting, to the ones that love comedy but are wondering if it’s all worth it, will the hard work ever pay off, I say yes; it will. Look at that video up there of me, from two years ago; would you have put that lad out in front of a thousand people? If you’re willing to work hard, and take advice, to learn from your mistakes and try to improve after every defeat, to pick yourself up after you get kicked down time and time again… If you keep chipping away, comedy will reward you more than you ever hoped it would.

No Punchline.

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 12; Offaly

A midweek gig in Co. Offaly? Sign me up, I said, and off I went to Tullamore on Thursday last, despite Google Maps best efforts to send me to a town called Ballinangore in Westmeath. The misdirection left me cutting my time uncomfortably close,  with the promoter ringing to see where I was… so I fired up the Pratmobile, sped towards Tullamore using good ol’ fashioned road sign navigation, and pulled up at the gig just in time to wait another half hour for a crowd that never manifested. Small crowds in small towns are inevitable, especially mid-week, so I’ve learned that gigs like these aren’t going to be packed to the rafters, and to be content with doing as good a gig as can be done to twelve people in a huge function room.

SO DO WE HAVE ANY COUPLES IN?

The difficulty of this particular gig came not from the fact that the crowd was small (because believe me, I’ve played crowds that would make 12 people look like the queue for X-Factor auditions). The problem was that the crowd consisted almost solely of friends of the MC, press-ganged into attending with very little heed in comedy. When a crowd is made up of a group of friends, what can happen is they take something you say, and start using it to slag a member of their party, thus forming a little conversation among themselves while you stand diligently onstage waiting on them to settle so you can persevere with your set (or you can try unsuccessfully to join in with what they’re talking about, which will only serve to make them go quiet and turn to you as if to say “what the fuck, are you still here?”, zapping you with a deja vu from every day you spent in primary school). But I was only the support act in Tullamore, dear readers, and if there was any man capable of grasping and holding the attention of these guys, it was the headliner for the night, the perfect man for the job: Mr. Tommy Nicholson.

Let's do this, Tommy!

A question that people often ask me is which comedians do I aspire to be like… probably expecting the answer to be a famous comic, a household name. And in the early days, that was probably true; I wanted to be like the guys on TV, on Live at the Apollo or the shows on BBC2 or Channel 4. But as the years go on, it’s comedians that are on the circuit that inspire me, guys that have aren’t on the TV, that don’t have a DVD shoved out every Christmas.  Top of that list has to be Tommy, a guy who I’ve never seen do anything other than decimate every room he’s gone into. From the minute he stands onstage, I’m crippled with equal parts envy and admiration; he makes it look so easy. Here is a guy that can play to any crowd, young or old… what a skill, what a thing to be able to do (before each gig I do, I look out to the crowd and start paring away bits that won’t play to an older crowd, won’t play to a younger crowd, won’t play to women, won’t play to men…). Tommy just gets up and starts swinging until one by one the crowd are rolling, even the snotty cooler-than-thou younger members of the audience, who judge him too quickly based on the fact that he’s an older guy until they too, reluctantly, have to start applauding.

My admiration for Tommy stretches beyond the stage; here is a man who despite his experience and standing, carries no ego with him. In my experience of him backstage, despite never having spoken to the man before, he could cite chapter and verse each time we’d performed together, be it an open spot in the International or when we shared the bill in Kusanta. I’ve seen him on several occasions at the Battle of the Axe (usually at his son Noel’s gigs) congratulating and commending each performer as the got off the stage. There are people who get that wee bit up the ladder and forget their manners when dealing with newer acts; Tommy on the other hand has nothing but time for up and comers, proving that the ability to be a comedian and the ability to be a gentlemen are not mutually exclusive.

In years to come, I’d like to be at the level Tommy is; experienced enough to rock any venue, respected enough to be asked. Working against me is an inability at times to keep my mouth shut; despite my grand schemes and oh-so-fucking-noble mottos, I’m a fairly nosey type who cannot mind his business. If there’s drama in the comedy fraternity, I want to hear it. If there are opinions to be voiced, I want mine front and center. If there’s a kick-off online, you can be damn sure I’ll wade in at some stage. When was the last time you saw Tommy Nicholson kicking off a shitstorm on Facebook? If you want a comedian’s footsteps to follow in when it comes to how to act when you don’t have a mic in your hand, Tommy’s your man.

Ask yourself: What would Tommy do?

Apart from Tommy, there are many other comedians on the circuit who I look up to, mostly for different aspects of the trade. For his sheer dedication and hard work, all credit must go to Rory O’Hanlon.

Not this one.

Rory O’Hanlon is a comedian I met early on, after just a few gigs. The thing with Rory was I’d meet him everywhere; from open mic nights in Dublin to fundraisers in Cork, there was Rory, doing a short set or closing the show. I’d be talking to other people backstage, guys who would talk about gigs they did and gigs they turned down, gigs they couldn’t be bothered doing. Not Rory. I’d see him at every second gig, just grafting away. Still to this day you’ll see him playing every gig available to him, gigs that guys of his standing turn down left and right (every new club that opens in Dublin has Rory in to headline in its first few weeks). People sometimes tell me that I’ve got a good work ethic, that I work hard at comedy… that’s not something that I licked off the rocks, that’s a mentality towards comedy that I learned from watching guys like the Ceann Comhairle.

As for sheer comedy horsepower, the guy that I admire the most is John Colleary. I first saw John when he MCed a Battle of the Axe I competed at, maybe my fourth or fifth gig. He totally blew the room away, something that he’s done every time I’ve seen him. Whether or not he ever gets the recognition he deserves in this country remains to be seen, but while he’s got an audience in front of him he’ll fail less than Rudie. What I wouldn’t give to be as good, as confident, as capable and as downright funny. The man is a goddamn comedic Tyrannosaurus.

There are dozens of other guys I could mention here, but I’m going to leave it with just one more: Enda Muldoon. The reason I admire Enda is not solely for his comedy (which is magical), but for his attitude to comedy. This may seem contrary to what I said about Rory earlier, but bear with me. Enda Muldoon does as many gigs as Enda Muldoon feels like doing. Here is a guy that could be the most booked comedian on the circuit right now, bringing his tornado style to more towns than Bagatelle. But anytime I’ve talked to him, he never seems to have much lined up. He doesn’t chase gigs, he doesn’t politic. He does the gigs he gets offered, and a specific few he wants to do. Very much the Terrence Malick of Irish comedy, he emerges every so often, wipes an audience off the face of the planet, and is gone. Me, I can’t go a day without hounding a promoter for a gig. If I went a week without performing, I’d go into the horrors.  Earlier I spoke of trying to work as hard as I could, trying to gig as much as humanly possible… but on the flipside, I wish that like Enda, that I didn’t feel the need to. Just like that crazy bastard, gig as and when I wanted, keep the quality high and the delivery fresh (there’s nothing like daily repetition of the same fucking story to wear you down), and maybe use my spare time to run a pub in Ardee.

Polar Bear not pictured.

So to recap, when I get asked who inspires and motivates me, there is no single answer. I’d like to be as funny as John Colleary, stay as level headed as Tommy Nicholson, work as hard as Rory O’Hanlon and be as laid back about the whole thing as Enda Muldoon. And sure while we’re wishing, I’d like to win the freakin lotto.

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 11; Down

For the next installlment of No Punchline, I skipped across the border into  Co. Down, where I finished up the show in the Bric Cafe in Warrenpoint. Unfortunately, the combination of a Bank Holiday Weekend and a Funfair across the road meant that there wasn’t many people in the crowd, but myself, Aaron Marshal and Morgan Hearst tackled the whole thing with a “The-Show-Must-Go-On” mentality (peppered with a bit of “Fuck-it-We’re-Here-Now”). I don’t mind small crowds, God knows I’ve played enough of them… they give you a chance to work on audience interaction, banter, new material, and other things that you may not have room to try in a packed room.

But of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and Tayto; one of the crowd had a bit of a lip on her. Most audiences will have at least one mouthpiece that chimes in on your set… but you’d be forgiven for thinking that in a room that had (including comedians and bar staff) twelve people, everyone would keep their opinions quiet and listen to the nice man onstage. But no, here she was, front and centre, giving a DVD commentary on everything that was said.

"Ok, so just as he says his punchline, thats when I chip in with something that makes no sense, right? Ok, let's go for a take..."

Hecklers, eh? Hecklers are to comedians what the Raccoons were to Cyril Sneer (google it); our life would be a lot easier if it weren’t for them. It seems that if you want to get onstage and tell jokes, you’re fair game. In no other art form are hecklers such a problem, something that bugs the fuck out of me. I was in the Sheebeen Chic one Sunday night, where as you may know the Comedy Crunch is downstairs, and there is usually a jazz night upstairs. This jazz groupie in her late forties came down to go to the bathroom and popped in to have a look at the comedy on her way (I should stress now that this is NOT the jazz lady you’re thinking of, the Miss Havisham-looking  one that sits to the left of the band giving it socks to those crazy rythms… she is unable to leave her seat while those crazy smokey jazz cats are going boomboomboombadamdamboom yeah). Anyrate, this lady strolls into the Crunch and INSTANTLY starts heckling, calling up shite and hassling the comedians. I ushered her to the back of the room and told her in no uncertain terms that her behaviour was not welcome, and that she should leave. She was TOTALLY bemused, and a little offended, as if I had taken away her God given right to heckle comedians, as if a comedy show was some sort of medieval punishment whereby everyday people who had caught commiting crimes were sentenced to the “stocks” of a comedy club, to be ridiculed and humiliated for 7-10 minutes.

"Child murder? An MC set in Kinsealy!"

The killing thing is, you just know that lady went back to the jazz night upstairs, and didn’t say a peep during the musical performance. If I had gone to the jazz night, and started shouting random “play some Tiesto” heckles at the band, you can rest assured that I would have never made it out of the building without a brush drumstick stuck up my arse. I have NEVER seen anyone get heckled except comedians. Actors don’t get heckled. Circus performers don’t get heckled. Spoken word artists and poets don’t get heckled… shit, even “Living Statues” don’t get heckled, and those guys DESERVE it.

I gotta run down to Grafton Street and yell at this guy for a half hour, out of principle

So alright, if you’re going to be a comedian then hecklers are something you have to deal with. But there are different types of people, and different ways to deal with them. You don’t hunt duck with a Howitzer, you don’t kill a mouse with a sledge… so here’s a list of they types of heckler that I’ve encountered, and what I feel is the best way to deal with them.

1- The Foghorn

Although we couldn’t really class them as Bona fide hecklers, every so often you’ll have a foghorn in the audience. The kind who, at the slightest hint of a joke, will PISS THEMSELVES laughing, usually a noticeable, distinctive bray of a laugh. And there’s nothing I’ve found that works, unless you want to look like an asshole chastising an audience member for enjoying themselves too much. I try to just laugh along with them, or give an eye-roll to the audience, or try and include them a wee bit, but most of the time I just try and plow on. I was in the Mish-Mash last week, and this guy at the front went into PEALS of laughter at a joke, and continued to corpse right until the end of the set. What set him off? I said I was from near Crossmaglen; that was it. “Crossmaglen!” he roared, and then lost his life laughing for seven minutes, rendering the rest of my set pretty much inaudible to the crowd. It was hard to be angry though; it was a very funny laugh.

2- Your “Partner”

This is about as much of a heckler as I can stand; someone who has no malicious intent, but just gets caught up in the fun so joins in with you. That’s nice, really that the audience is so relaxed and having such a good time that they start to chime in… until it goes too far. So there’s no need to destroy an audience member who thinks he’s part of a double act, but do try and keep manners on him to stop them from yelling out punchlines before you do. Most of the people that have chimed in along with me have been fairly sound, so just to acknowledge them and move on is enough for them to think they’ve had their fun, now let the show progress. These are the kind of people who come up to you after a gig and ask how you get started in comedy, which is a lead up to asking how THEY can get started in comedy. Fun, but don’t let them hijack your set.

3- The Sniper

Yeah, show yourself you asshole. This is the kinda guy who won’t show himself, just skulks in the crowd, harping up at the stage. It’s never constructive, it’s never helpful, it’s usually some random nasty bullshit that just set the whole audience on edge, like two drunk guys who start bickering in a chip-shop after a nightclub. There’s the kind of tension that suggests a fight could kick off at any minute, so it doesn’t matter how funny you try to be onstage, this fucker will ruin it. So here’s your chance; raze him to the ground. Here’s where you can use all your anti-heckle material, and do it quickly. If this guy is being an arsehole to you, then he’s probably been doing it since he sat down, so the crowd are sick of him too. This is the guy that if you zing him right, the whole crowd will give you a round of applause. if you zing him wrong, he’ll just continue to bitch at you and you’ll look like an idiot. So if it takes a few goes to shut him up, so be it.

4- This Show is all About MEEEEE

This is the kind of heckler that I encountered in Down… someone (usually a woman) who thinks the whole night should be about them, and tries to draw all the attention. Heckling because they want to be interacted with, they will chirp in after EVERYTHING; these are the kind of people that’ll say “that’s racist” or “that’s offensive” at the slightest opportunity (people who are actually offended never heckle, they just leave). To deal with this type is difficult; if you acknowledge them, they win. If you don’t acknowledge them, they keep harping at you till you do, then they win. If you get involved with them, then it’s just between you and them; the rest of the crowd gets ignored and loses interest. I always try to talk to the people around them; that drives them NUTS.

5- FUBAR

Sloshed. Smashed. Fucked up beyond all recognition. There’s nothing you can do when some drunk starts roaring and yelling. They cannot be zinged, they cannot be quietened, they don’t give a shit. They just wander in (usually at free-in venues) and start prattling away. All you can hope for is that the security staff will escort them out. If there is no security staff… you’re on your own, get ready for a very uncomfortable set as you try gamely to plow through your material like a golfer trying to take a putt as some cunt throws rocks at his face.

Those are my experiences with hecklers;  feel free to add your own horror stories in the comments below. As long as we’re doing comedy, there runs the chance of getting heckled. I try to keep my set free of things that draw heckling (for example, I don’t mention sports teams, as that tends to get a few boozy lads to start heckling), but sometimes you’ll just meet someone without the social skills necessary to keep their mouth shut when a performer is onstage. But the killing blow comes AFTER the gig, when a heckler approaches you and shakes your hand to tell you how good you were, and how great the night was! WHAT THE FUCK?? They tell you how much they enjoyed your set, after doing their damnedest to ruin it. Baffling!

"Dude, I just wanna say, this is a hell of a nice country you got here"

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 10; Wicklow

South of Dublin through mountains, forests and toll bridges, lies County Wicklow, where last Friday I had a gig in the Grand Hotel, Wicklow town. I was doing a ten minute open spot in a club that was packed to the rafters of people there to see PJ Gallagher (or as far as my non-comedy friends and family were concerned, I was supporting PJ Gallagher on tour… hey, you gotta big yourself up every now and then).

Eh... Tommy Nicholson is my stage name.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve gigged with PJ; I’d done a few open spots around Dublin on nights when he was on, in the International or Capital Comedy, just like we’ve all done with “Household Name Comedians”.  Whenever I’m talking to my friends back home, they’ll always want to know what people are like backstage (in a typical Irish desire to believe that everyone that’s gotten ahead in life is a drunk or an arsehole). Most of the big comedians I’ve met have been sound, but PJ is one guy I’ll always champion as being really the most down to earth and friendly, to even the newest comics.

The same cannot be said for this guy, who is an insufferable, arrogant blow-hard.

The thing I had heard about PJ, many times, was that despite his experience and standing, he’ll still get a bit nervous before taking to the stage. People would often tell new comedians such as myself when we were shivering with anxiety waiting to be called for the stage, to not worry about it; shit, even PJ Gallagher gets nervous too. And true enough, the first few times I met him in the Ha’penny or the International, if it wasn’t for the fact that I knew who he was, he looked just like another new comic going over his stuff one last time, waiting for his name to be called (albeit a new comic who then went out onstage and made every single person in the venue piss themselves for nearly an hour, a feat which flew in the face of medical knowledge). Knowing that someone that high up the ladder still gets butterflies before performing is comforting to new guys like me; it’s as if you were about to storm the beaches in Normandy and you noticed Tom Hanks is in your boat.

"Ah shit, Hanks is in the other boat... we got Telly Savalas"

Stage fright is something that has done it’s best to shanghai me since the day I started comedy. Before gigs, I would be a wreck; heart thumping, brain in overload, running to the toilet a dozen times. As the months and years roll on, it’s getting better (insofar as I might only go to the toilet six times before I’m called, and walk up to the stage with the feeling that I could have done with one more poo). In trying to describe what it feels like when waiting to be called onstage, not only in blogs but to anyone who asks, I’ve come up with a few descriptions;

1) It’s like waiting in line for a rollercoaster; you know it’s going to be a good time, but you know it’s going to be as scary as hell. But despite how scary it looks, you know you’re in safe hands and  that there’s only going to be a small chance that the carriage will derail and kill you in the most horrific fashion posible.

2) It’s like waiting to be called for an interview; you want this job, you need this job, now all you gotta do is sit face to face with an interviewer, answer whatever they ask, and not fuck things up. This isn’t the first interview you’ve done, you know how they work, but you know when you go through that door, you could get asked ANYTHING and be left siting there looking like a bollox.

2) It’s like waiting to be called for an exam; specifically an oral exam for your Leaving Cert; you’ve practised, you studied, you know you’re going to be asked something from a limited range of questions, and you’ve an answer ready for each one, all you have to do is go in, get stuck in with your answers and talk as much as possible so that the examiner doesn’t get a chance to ask you some bullshit you haven’t studied because you were up all night playing Goldeneye.

Those are the feelings that I get, before every gig. I used to let them get the better of me, to overwhelm me… I’d be damn near ready to puke before a gig, caused by all the old fears of humiliation and ridicule. It wasn’t enough to know that I was going to “do my best”, I wasn’t sure that “my best” was any good. Walking out on stage was like walking out on a tightrope… If I kept my head up and kept going I would be fine, but I was worried about what the hell else could happen to cause me to plummet to a horrible death.

This photo is a metaphor for what I just said.

But what really is there to get so worked up about? If you’re going to go out in front of a room full of people to tell them jokes, whats the worst that can happen? Most comics share the same fears and doubts, so if you’re feeling nervous before a gig, it’s probably something to do with one or more of these;

1: I might forget my jokes

This is a genuine fear; that your mind will go blank and everything will just be wiped, leaving you onstage gasping like a goldfish with nothing to say. But really, has this EVER happened to you? That you were left onstage with literally NOTHING to say? The only time it’s happened to me is when I was booked to do 20 minutes, died on my hole to complete silence and as such, blew through my material as fast as I could, leaving me with nothing left to say and 5 minutes still on the clock. What did I do? Got off the stage, of course – if I’ve been dying for 15 minutes, who the fuck would want to listen to another 5? As for forgetting the odd joke here and there, the only person that is going ot be upset about that is yourself; usually, it’s some new bit you wanted to try and it slipped your mind. The audience doesn’t have a copy of your script, they aren’t going to know if you missed a line here and there. As for people who are worried that they honestly will forget all their material, and fluff every line and fuck everything up, well… I hate to be a prick, but maybe you should practice your material and learn it a bit better before you go to try it onstage.

2: I might get heckled

Everyone gets heckled. All the time. Nobody is there to specifically heckle YOU. Nobody sees you take the stage and thinks; I’m going to heckle the fuck out of this lad. Getting heckled isn’t your fault (unless of course your material is the kind of thing that purposely generates audience negativity and draws hecklers upon you, in which case you should expect to be heckled and be ready for it), it’s usually some arsehole in the crowd who has no manners or social skills, or maybe he’s just drunk. I’ll talk more about hecklers in a future blog, but right now all I will say is don’t let some mouthpiece put you off getting onstage. Remember, those that have the balls to do stand up, do stand up. Those that don’t, heckle.

3: My material might be shit and no-one will laugh.

Again, every comedian thinks the same thing (except the up-their-own-holes kinda guys). But surely you wouldn’t have dreamed of getting onstage if you didn’t believe that people would laugh at your jokes. Take strength from that, and go out there and try it. If it doesn’t fly, try it again. If it repeatedly crashes into the mountain, try and see what isn’t working about it. Maybe you’ll go out one night and it’ll do well, and the next night it might die. WELCOME TO COMEDY. It’s not just people that are new, it’s the same for guys that have been doing it for years and are trying new material. It’s not something that you can predict, but if you’ve got the comedy bug, it’s not something that you can ignore; you have GOT to get onstage and knock it out. The only thing that is standing in your way is your doubts as to what a room of people you’ve never met nor will ever see again will think.

Once you get over those, there’s nothing else to worry about (apart from the sound system fucking up, or the building falling down, neither of which will be blamed on you). Whenever I feel the nerves kicking in, all I do is take a look at the crowd… have I played in front of a crowd like this before? What happened that time? If it went bad, why did it go bad? How can I do it differently this time? If it went well, then how can I replicate that? How can I improve, how can I make it better? The more experience you have in comedy, the more you can try to guess how a night will go (but don’t get too cocky thinking “this ones in the bag”). Fretting about things will change nothing except making you appear less confident when you hit the stage, or set you up for a nice big stroke in your fifties.

“Hmm… clotting… swelling… haemorrhaging… yeah, this guys played Kinsealy a few times”

But getting onstage for me is still a BIG deal. Now before gigs, I’m still as jittery as ever I was, pacing the floor and wringing my hands, but I don’t feel as panicked as I used to, I feel like I just want to get out onstage as fast as possible. I’ve had some great experiences onstage, and for all I know this night could be one of them, so I’m pounding adrenaline, I can’t get on that stage fast enough. I’m giddy, I’m hyper, I want that rush when the MC calls your name, your stomach lurches and the audience cheers as you hit the mic. I can see why people say that even big names like PJ get jitters before going onstage, but I don’t believe it’s nerves, it’s excitement. Taking that as inspiration has left me more enthusiastic about performing than I’ve ever been, just wanting to get out there and feel the adrenaline kick of  rocking a room, which is what I did in Wicklow. Of course, that’s all very well and good when you DO go out and rock a room… when you’ve gotten all psyched up and buzzing, there’s nothing worse than dying a death. You’ve gotten yourself all built up for a fantastic gig, and what do you get left with?

Blue balls like you couldn’t imagine.

32 Counties, 32 Gigs Gigs part 9; Waterford

Waterford is number nine on the 32 Counties list, and last night I went down south to gig in The Laughter Lounge. As far as I know, Waterford county has very few comedy clubs, The Lounge and Alfie Hales being the only two to the best of my knowledge. This was not my first trip up the deise (matron), having already gigged there last year at the now defunct Revolution comedy club, where the stage was an actual light-up disco dancefloor, which made me feel like I was in Saturday Night Fever.

Or trapped inside Matthew Collins' brain.

The gig I did in The Laughter Lounge was my final gig of my ” Lounge tour of Ireland”, having spent the Summer gigging in the lounges in Galway, Dublin and Belfast. These were pressure gigs; if I wanted to get bumped up a wee bit further on the ladder, I had to show that I could do well playing to the big rooms in front of big crowds. Most of the gigs I’ve done for the past four months have all been focusing on the same thing; getting a 15-20 minute set that was as sharp and focused as possible. Every line had to be as concise as possible, I had to have my timekeeping down to a tee. I haven’t written a new joke in months, I was just hammering away getting 20 minutes that would go down well. Like any form of training or study, it got monotonous doing the same thing over and over, but it paid off in the end.

Set-up on... Punchline off... Set-up on... Punchline off...

Although I lke to tackle all my gigs, big or small, with the mentality of going out there and being as funny as possible, I always feel that when doing gigs to bigger crowds that I have to watch what I say a bit more, and I always feel like a lot of my material won’t fly. For the gigs I’ve done in the Laughter Lounge, I’ve dropped the Tayto routine, knowing that there would be a percentage of the crowd that weren’t Irish and would sit there bemused. I know this flies in the face of my “Dance with the girl that brought you” rule, but sometimes common sense dictates what material you use. Any references that are TOO specific to Ireland won’t play to peoples from overseas, and if the venue is 50% from out of town, that means 50% of the venue won’t be laughing, and the other 50% won’t be long copying them.

So in practising my set for the Lounge, I got rid of any references that would coast over the heads of tourists. I also worked on my accent, which when I get excited onstage can go full-nordie, an unintelligable mess that makes Brad Pitt in Snatch sound like Steven Fry. This might sound like in order to play the bigger venues, I had to wheel out a watered down imitation of what I normally do and at times leading up to the gigs, that’s what it felt like. But doing the gigs, I didn’t miss anything that was cut. Most of what didn’t make the grade was mostly examples of my dyed-in-the-wool country ignorance and ropey political ethics, which when they were cut, never went back in regardless of where I was gigging. I’m pretty sure that anyone that goes to a gig, whether it’s free in or costs 25 euro a ticket, doesn’t want to spend a portion of the night listening to the random viewpoints of a thick northerner.

"Folks, you've been wonderful, I've got to go soon, but before I finish up, I'd like to talk to you for a moment about why we need prayer in schools"

But that’s not to say that these bigger audiences want some neutered, censored routine; they’re rough and ready and don’t really care what the fuck you say, as long as it’s funny. They just couldn’t care less for someone that would take the stage and wander off and start preaching. They aren’t looking for anything deep or meaningful. They didn’t go to a night at the theater, they went to a comedy club and paid top dollar to do so. They just want as high a laugh-per-minute rate as possible. They aren’t that easily offended, but I wouldn’t push it… I’ve seen a few guys do not so well when they got a bit TOO offensive.

" You are fined one credit for a violation of the Verbal Morality Statute"

I think it’s down to the fact that the audience at a big gig or a gig in the Laughter Lounge are the by and large the kind of people who wouldn’t go out of their way to go to the Halpenny Inn on a Thursday night, the kind that enjoy the comedy in the “trenches” of the more intimate clubs. Looking out at the crowds, I could see a lot of people on company nights out, or birthday parties, or indeed, hen and stag  nights. These people were just out for a good night; they wanted jokes fired at them BAM BAM BAM, one after the other. They don’t care about intricate wordplay, they don’t care about obscure references or subtle pithiness. Everyone I talked to in the run-up to the gig had told me just to go hell for leather from the start, and thats what I did. I rattled out as much material as I could, all of it tried and tested a hundred times. I figured I’d come across a bit more professional if I was smacking through my  “bogger nightclub” routine that I’ve done a hundred times, instead of chancing some new random thought that I’d had the day before, a half-baked and probably unworkable skit about how when I was younger, the only thing I wanted from Santa was one of those hand-powered tricycles that disabled kids had (I thought they were AWESOME).

How cool would it be to take one of these sweet puppies off a ramp?

As for the party night crowd, well on the nights I played there were several Hen nights in, and several company nights too. I’ve played to crowds like this before, and have been torn to shreds several times. But the thing you gotta know about people out on nights like that is that they ARE there for comedy… otherwise, they’d have just gone elsewhere. Some bunch of girls from England didn’t plan their hen weekend around purposely destroying a bunch of comedians in Dublin or Belfast. Ok, when they get a bit drunker, they get a bit lippier, but thats when you’re tested. Most of the time, I just kept my cool and pushed through the set, and thankfully the material engaged them enough that they kept basically attentive throughout (even if I did get arse-fingered onstage by a bride-to-be…. but that’s a long story). I’d have loved to play around with them a bit more, have a bit of banter, but I’ve found if you focus on one group in the audience, the rest of the crowd feel left out and get bored and disinterested. I just tried to play to the whole crowd, that way I didn’t have an audience split into 75% bored and isolated, 25% drunk as fuck girls yelling obscenities.

"C'mon, get up, we've got to go heckle the shit out of this comedian"

All in all my experiences in the Laughter Lounges were fantastic, but if they were the only gigs that I did, then I’d atrophy as a comedian very quickly. As I’ve said above, they are no place for new material, and if a comedian isn’t writing and performing new material then that’s going to be one short career. Thankfully, there are plenty of clubs in the country that are open to comedians performing new or untried jokes… A happy medium is being able to book a good spread of open spots and short sets in friendly clubs to workshop new routines, which can then be performed with confidence on the more demanding nights. That’s not an arrogant, “ah sure I’ll wheel out any old shit in the small clubs” mentality; Even when trying new material in smaller clubs, I still try to give 100%, still try to knock it out of the park. I treat every gig I get with the same amount of respect, because if it wasn’t for the smaller gigs, then I would never get the bigger gigs, and if I don’t book the bigger gigs, then quite frankly I go back to living with my parents in Monaghan. Seriously, it took last nights gig in Waterford for me to be able to tax my fucking car.

"Honestly officer, the tax will be in the post next week, I just gotta go tell a few gowl jokes first"

32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 8; Louth

County Louth was crossed off my to-gig list with a gig a few weeks ago in The Phoenix Bar in Dundalk, which is only about a twenty minute drive away from my home town Carrickmacross. I would consider Dundalk my second home town; I went to college there, I’ve worked there, I go out there whenever I’m home. I’ve a lot of friends around the town, and along with most of my mates from Carrickmacross, they have yet to see me do a gig (unlike my Dublin friends, who have been to so many of my gigs that frankly they could do my set for me) . That my hometown pals haven’t seen me is mostly down to logistics; I just haven’t performed anywhere nearhand (apart from the hundreds of Dublin gigs, which is a whole HOUR away), so I always keep them up to date with gigs that I have a bit closer to them. When I booked the Phoenix gig, I put out the word: I’m coming to town.

"He's finally here!"

Now, if your friends are like mine, then when you first outed yourself as a stand-up comedian, they probably had a few questions for you (on top of demanding that you tell them a joke, immediately). This has happened with just about everyone I’ve ever told about my comedy sideline: friends, co-workers, family, they all have basically the same questions. See if any of this lot sounds familiar…

First of all, most people will want to know HOW. If they know you at all, then they won’t really be that surprised that you started doing comedy/ acting/ politics/  singing/ performance art/ hooker-murder, but the vast majority of people won’t know just HOW you got started. The public don’t seem to know how comedy in this country works. By and large, its run by… well, the comedians themselves: just a bunch of lads who run gigs and book people they’ve seen and rate highly. Most people ask if I have an agent… me, who has been doing comedy in my spare time for a little over two years.

"Ok, I want the titty guy opening that show in Moat next week, or I will FUCK YOU ALL UP"

But that’s the Irishness coming out in people, refusing to believe that anyone can do anything without someone helping them along the way. I just tell them the truth, that any gig I do, is a gig I’ve booked either myself (by sending out e-mails, making phone calls, meeting people) or been asked to do (by people who have seen me perform, or have been given the glad word about me from someone else). As for agencies, well, I don’t really know a whole pile about them. The one agency I do hear about from time to time is the Lisa Richards agency, and it’s normally in conversations with a bunch of comedians who badmouth the shit out of it (you know, the same comedians who if offered representation by Lisa Richards in the morning, would kill each other with pool cues to get it).

"Get the FUCK BACK, I'm supporting Delamere in Birr!"

As to how to get signed up to this (or any other agency)… well, I’m assuming that when you’re wanted, you’ll be sent for. There was a time last year, however, that I struck upon what I believed was a cunning plan. I fell across a girl called Lisa Richards on Facebook, with whom I had dozens of friends in common (all comedians). Figuring this was the Lisa Richards of Lisa Richards fame, the following plan emerged…

1) Add her as a friend

2) Make with the hi-fookin-larious status updates for a few weeks, until my MaD SKILz were recognised

3) Get signed, be on easy street.

Call me psychic, but I reckon right now a lot of you are thinking the following-

"Dude..."

Yep. No sooner than I had added this girl, we had the following converstion on Facebook chat.

Lisa

Hello! Do i know u?

Gerry

Hey

Gerry

I added you, we have a bunch of friends in common. I always add people who facebook suggests in the top corner, LOL

Lisa

🙂

Lisa

Are u a comedian too?

Gerry

yep, do a bit LOL

Lisa

I get added by lots of comedians

Lisa

They mistake me for some agency

Lisa

There is some lisa cook who runs an agency with her brother richard, they call it lisa richards.

Gerry

Yeah tink I heard of them LOL

Lisa

So loads of comedians add me! Ha ha!!

Gerry

Ha ha! LOL!!

Lisa

So do u live in dublin?

Gerry is offline

So once you’ve convinced your friends that you’re winging it on your own without representation, the next thing they’ll ask is how much you get paid (because God forbid someone in this country would do something solely because they love doing it). Up until recently, I was like everyone else doing open slots for no money, but this year I’ve started to see a few euro here and there. Most of the time, by the time I drive to the gig and back (counting tolls and speeding fines) I just about break even, or failing that I make enough from one paid gig to take me to some that I’m not getting paid for. My friends look at me like I’m cracked for doing something that I’m not profiting from, so I usually hit them with a figure that has emerged from the following equation…

1: Take the MOST money ever earned for a gig

2: Add to that the MOST money I’ve ever been given for petrol and expenses, even if it was for a different gig. If the was accomodation for the night, add what that room WOULD have cost.

3: Divide that by the amount of minutes usually spent onstage (say, 15minutes).

4: Multiplty that by 60, and present it as an hourly rate. Say: this is what I earn in an hour.

Don’t bother mentioning that you might have to drive hundreds of miles and incur several penalty points to actually DO an hour of comedy. Most of my friends back home became more accepting of my hobby when they thought it was making me shitloads of money (even my friends who have played GAA every Sunday since they were six without any form of payment at all).

Believe it or not, there is something less lucrative than comedy.

The next question I get asked is about what it’s like to have a crowd of people cheer when your name is called, for an audience to laugh until they cry at the jokes you tell… nah, I’m just kidding. Most of my friends are only interested in what it feels when a comedian dies. Again, this may be a rural Ireland thing, but nearly everyone asks me what happens when no-one laughs, or what happens when someone starts heckling. I don’t mind so much the question, but the implication that it’s something that happens regularly… as if they don’t really believe that you can get up onstage and bash out your material without SOMEONE heckling you.

How people believe most comedy gigs end.

See, for most people, public speaking is their worst nightmare. So when you tell them that you regularly get up in front of rows of drunken people to tell jokes, their brains can’t comprehend it. Get up and not die? Not get nervous, not stutter, not get heckled or booed? Surely some mistake. Tell people you do comedy, they’ll say “I could NEVER do that!”… which suggests we comedians are either especially courageous, especially brave, or just a bit special (in my mothers “Ah-bless-he’s-a-bit-special” sense of the word”).

Of course, you’ll fall across the occasional nay-sayer who’ll slate you from the get: who sneer at the mention of your comedy ambitions. Not friends, of course, just the occasional bollox you meet along the way: this is Ireland, after all. I’ve met a few along my way, who’ve told me that anybody who does comedy is a clown and should be ashamed of his life for getting up and humiliating himself week after week. To them I say, sell that bullshit elsewhere. I’ve wasted enough of my time listening to the opinions of these pricks in my time, to arrive at the conclusion that they can kiss the high hole of my arse. Small-minded rubes that have never done anything nor never will, trying to pull everyone down with them. Humiliation? Mortification? Let me tell you this: I’ve done things in life that even to this day make me SQUIRM with embarrassment. Burst the seams of the arse of my trousers at work, fall over at mass on the way up for communion, get my jacket caught in the door of a taxi and get dragged up a street… mortifying shit from years and years ago that if I think about it even today I gasp and freeze. But in the mix of all those scarlifying moments, there is NOTHING that features me onstage with a mic in front of me: not even my worst deaths. They wash off me like water off a duck. Does not affect me, except teach me how to be a better comedian. And nothing anyone can say will change that, especially some asshole who was sitting at home watching The Late Late Show while I was getting paid to rock the shit out of a 300 seater venue.

This is your life, and it's ending one tabletop drumroll at a time.

The last thing most people will ask you is the old classic: where do you get your material? Do you write it yourself? Again, I believe this is down to the majority of people not understanding the way a comedy show works. Perhaps they expect to go to a club one night and hear a Billy Connolly tribute, or a bunch of old playground classics? A lot of people I talk to think that it’s a case of making everything up on the spot, and  totally don’t understand the concept of having a fixed set that goes from town to town, verbatim (of course, if you can make that set sound like something you just thought of, all the better). What is annoying though, is friends who believe that you are trying to coax them along to a show, so you can destroy them from stage. “Here, don’t be saying anything about me from the stage!” is a half-threat, half-plea I hear from a lot of mates before a gig starts. Jesus… like the lives of my friends emit comedy gold, that I can riff on for a half hour.

"So now folks, I want to talk about... My mate Mickser! This guy right here! Ha ha! Look at him! You wanna see this guy play Xbox, man, he LOVES his Xbox..."

After that, you have the friends who think that what you need for your set is… some joke they heard the other night. “Here’s one for you…”, they’ll start, before regaling some godawful yarn they heard in the pub, finishing it with gusto and then telling you that you can “change it, tell it your own way”. I always say thanks, and leave it at that. People think they are helping, but again if they went to a comedy club just once, they’d see that it’s a world away from the hoary old stuff you hear told on the street… although as we’ve discussed, there are lots of hack comedians who actually DO take those jokes and put them in their set, and are glad when their mates help them out.

"So let me get this straight... when you said 'a man walks into a bar', you meant like a metal bar, right? That's why he said Ow, right?"

So most of the time, I manage to happy my friends enough that they feel they might actually have a good time at a gig, and they agree to come to the next one that happens anywhere at all local… and usually, whenever such an occasion arises, such as my gig in Dundalk, they don’t show. Hey, I’m the same; if I had a Friday evening to myself and 0ne of them wanted me to go to one of their pursuits, I’d be wholly enthusiastic but at the same time, wondering how I could duke out of it. That’s how we do things in the country- if it was happening in our gardens, we’d have an excuse not to go to it. As it turned out with the Dundalk gig, it was actually a blessing in disguise that nobody I knew came to it: it turned out to be one of THOSE gigs. You know THOSE gigs, don’t you?

Yeah. One of THOSE gigs.