With so much comedy available in County Dublin, I’m not going to focus on any one gig in any one venue. Instead, I’ll just give my two cents on what I’ve learned about comedy in Dublin in the short time I’ve been here.
With so many comedy clubs in Dublin city, it’s inevitable that some don’t make it very far. In the two short years I’ve been doing comedy, I count at least a dozen that have folded after a few short months; grand opening, grand closing. This hurts comedians like myself starting out; we need to play as many venues as possible to get an act together. The more that close, the more of us there are fighting for slots elsewhere. But clubs aren’t a community service; they need to make a profit and with the city saturated, that’s going to be tough. Is there room for so many comedy clubs? I think there is. Clubs are spread out all over the city; it’s not like there was a cluster of comedy clubs and only the strong survived. There were clubs in areas that were highly trafficked, and clubs that were in busy pubs. What it boiled down to was lack of promotion and advertising. Unlike in small country towns where comedy might come to town once a month, there are PLENTY of things to do in Dublin. Cinemas, restaurants, nightclubs… all jostling for punters money.
From where I’m standing, a lot of clubs are losing out due to lack of awareness; many times, there won’t even be a sign outside to say comedy is on. People aren’t looking for it; you have to show them where it is! The most frustrating thing I remember before I moved to Dublin was driving all the way to Dublin only to find a night cancelled, and having to get into the still-warm car and drive home. It was maddening; especially if the club was in a room in a bar that had dozens of people in it. I remember distinctly going to a comedy night once, to find the promoter staring at rows of empty seats. I bit my tongue, despite having walked past dozens of people in the lounge who hadn’t been flyered, approached, or made aware by posters that there was a comedy night happening at all. As we waited for a crowd that never arrived, another guy wandered in, who ran a club of his own across town. The two promoters sat and wondered about how their clubs were doing so poorly; that there was “no room” for small-time promoters, and that there were other clubs that had the market “sewn up”. I bit my tongue near in half, thinking of these guys griping about their lot, knowing full well that they never bother to do any promotion outside of sending around Facebook alerts while Tony from the Battle of the Axe stands in the pissings of rain week after week, trying to get just one more punter into the Halpenny Inn.
While there are plenty of venues that book acts sight unseen (because a new open mic comedian is bound to bring loads of his mates to see him perform the first few times), there are many that are more selective. Gigs in The Bankers, The International, Capital Comedy or even Battle of the Axe on a Thursday are harder to book. Now, if all you wanted to do was perform the odd gig here and there, you mightn’t bother pursuing these venues; for some people, it’s enough to do open-mics slots here and there. But most people in comedy are in it to get ahead; to play the bigger venues, to bigger crowds… like any addiction, there’s escalation of need. the old fix doesn’t do it anymore; you need something MORE. Sooner or later, every open-mic comedian has to go ask Aidan Bishop for a gig.
Now, when I was starting comedy, I got advice from a lot of people. And the one thing I kept hearing from a lot of people was that it was pointless trying to get a gig from Aidan Bishop. I was told that you’d be made to wait, or just ignored. That you’d be made to jump through hoops and if you looked sideways at him, you’d never see the inside of the venue again. So, with tremendous trepidation, i went in one night to ask for a gig. I danced around the subject a wee bit, then came out with it; I’ve been gigging for a year now, and i was wondering if I could have an open-slot sometime. He gave me his number and told me to ring him during the week, and he’d give me a gig.
And true to his word, he did.
And I went in and did the gig, and did well, and asked for another… And got one. And on it went, I did well, I got more gigs. then one night, I went on and didn’t do so well; not a death, but just not a victory either. Was I blacklisted? No, on the strength of good gigs done, I kept getting booked, and getting longer sets. No jumping through hoops, no tortures cruel and unusual. It was not the hard slog I had been warned about, but then again, maybe I was just a bit naive. Maybe I’d just dodged the wrath? Maybe everyone else got the rough treatment, and I was being an innocent from the country? I got my answer soon enough.
I was talking to another comedian, and we were talking about getting gigs around the city. I had said how I was hoping to get gigs in The International soon, but they said, and I quote;
“I have no interest in playing there. I have no interest in kissing Andrew Stanleys arse to get a gig in the Mish-Mash”
And that’s just when I thought ok; there’s some ill-informed, bitter or just downright ignorant people out there. I’ve been listening to their opinions and basing my own on their experiences, not my own. When I had been told about Aidan, I went along with it because I had never met the man, but I HAD met Andrew so I knew I was being told a load of shite. Kiss arse? To get a gig in the Mish Mash? When the fuck has that EVER happened? I could tell straight away that I was talking to a very bitter, insecure comedian, unsure of their talent, unsure of their ability to play bigger gigs, unwilling to even try, and looking for someone to blame. I could see them, having played the Mish Mash once and died on their arse, and gave up trying to get back. Not wanting to accept their failings, they tried to claim that they didn’t get bookings because of politics or claim that they didn’t want them to begin with. Bollocks. Sell that shit elsewhere.
I had met Andrew, and gigged with him, and found him to be very good to new comedians, and very willing to give them stagetime. I had to kiss no arses to get gigs anywhere. There is, however, an alternative to being a Kiss-Arse, and I find it has helped me get gigs anywhere I looked for them. It’s called NOT BEING AN ARSEHOLE. If you can manage that, then there’s no-one in comedy that is difficult to deal with. If you can’t manage that, then I’ll leave you to your bitter half-baked conspiracy theories about the General Zod-esque “Gate-Keepers” of comedy who use the tears of open-mic comedians to gather energy to take over the fucking world, or some shit.
I am, however, not immune to frustration. Despite gigging everywhere in the city, there was one promoter that was proving annoyingly hard to get to; Simon O’Keeffe, who runs Capital Comedy in the Halpenny Bar. Simon wasn’t like other bookers who would just hand out gigs left and right. To be fair, he would give you a gig… you just had to wait a long time for it. I remember my first gig list looking something like this;
- Tues 16th February; Battle of the Axe
- Fri 26th February; Neptune Comedy Club
- Sun 28th February; Angelic Banana Comedy Smackdown
- Tues 2nd March; Comedy Dublin
- Sun 20th November; Capital Comedy
Seven months waiting! At the time, I thought that was just how comedy clubs were run; they booked people for months in advance. Then I assumed that maybe Simon gave new comedians to see if they’ll stick it, or is comedy something they just want to try a few times before giving up. With this in mind, I was determined to prove myself. I’ve got seven months to wait for a gig? That’s fine; I’ll gig the crap out of myself around the city, get a rock solid set and go in there and blow the walls off the place! Of course, it didn’t work that way; I went in and died on my hole, and went back to the start of the waiting list. Determined to rock the place, I tried contacting Simon by phone, e-mail, on his Myspace, his Bebo, his Facebook… Eventually the planets aligned and I got another gig. Despite the fact that i was getting loads of gigs elsewhere, this was the one I really wanted… mostly because it was the one I couldn’t have (plus I was hoping to run into Simon’s sister at a gig, cos I’d seen pictures of her online and I thought she was pretty cute).
So I waited for the gig, and when it came I did a little bit better than I had done the previous time. I asked for another and got another, and didn’t have to wait so long. I did better in that, got another one. But it was slow, hard work, much slower than in any other club. But the harder it was, the more rewarding it became to do well. That was how it worked; I got gigs on merit. It was the same with Aidan Bishop in The International- start you off slow and promote you as you get better. A lot of the smaller clubs can’t afford big name headliners so it’s easy to move up quickly. I’d finished up gigs in other venues so when it came time to play The International and Capital Comedy, or The Woolshed or The Comedy Cellar or any of the bigger venues, it was frustrating to be back doing the open slot again, and to have long waits between gigs. I can see how people would get bitter about that and lose their tempers and patience, and start to grouse about how they’re getting “held back”. It keeps going back to the clubs that have staying power and the clubs that close after a few months; some book tried and tested acts that they know are going to give the audience a good time (and in turn the audience will spread good word of mouth). These clubs are rarely empty, and in no danger of going under, but like any other entertainment venture, they need new blood to keep people interested. They need new acts, so if you’re as good as you think, you’ll get your shot. It’s a pain in the hole going door-to-door looking for gigs, but no-one will do it for you.
As a performer, it’s a good indication of how well you’re doing when you get bookings for clubs. I’m still doing open spots in The International and Capital Comedy; but I’ve accepted that when I get booked to do longer sets, I’ll know it’s because I’m doing something right, that I’m moving forward. The guys that run these clubs get requests from comedians like you and I get spam e-mail offering Nigerian lotto money. The only way you’re going to get gigs in their venues is by earning them.. You can argue that there’s no such thing as one club being “better” or more prestigious than another, and if you’re finding it hard to get a gig in one venue then fuck it; there’s plenty more out there. That’s true to an extent, and I am appreciative of any gig I get, anywhere, but the fact remains that whenever I go trying to book gigs around the country, the first thing I get asked is whether or not I’m getting paid slots in either The International, The Bankers or Capital Comedy. They won’t book you till you do well in those venues, and those venues won’t book you till you do well elsewhere. This may take longer than you would like, but like I’ve said about getting ahead in comedy a few times; it’s not hard, it just takes AGES.
I’ll have more to say about gigging in Dublin soon… probably to fill the long, blogless waits for gigs in Offaly and Leitrim.