Ah Kilkenny… a beautiful city in a beautiful part of the country. Kilkenny is best known for three things: Chevron-garbed mutant super hurlers, booze encrusted Hen/ Stag weekends, and of course this;
That’s right folks, The Cat Laughs: Ireland’s foremost comedy festival, where I went this past weekend to gig, stroking Kilkenny off my to-do list at the same time. As with most festivals, the Cat Laughs is split between the main festival, where all the big names play, and the fringe, where newer and less established acts perform, in the bars and lounges around the city. I’d been down to Kilkenny once before, at last year’s festival, where I managed to do two sets, to a total of about twelve minutes of stagetime, like most of the other guys that were down. The rest of the weekend, we spent writing new material, and visiting some of Kilkenny’s fine historical buildings.
The problem with The Cat Laughs is that there generally isn’t that much to do on the Fringe, and last year it descended into madness as empty shows got pulled and comedians started to trample over each other to get a gig at the remaining venues. As for booking something on the main bill? Not an option. If you’re wanted, you’ll be sent for. That doesn’t bother me too much, I’m only at comedy a wet weekend so wouldn’t expect to get booked for any of the main shows, but others don’t look at it like that… maybe in a few more years I’ll think the same way, and start to grouse about how the festival organisers seem to book the same acts year after year, seldom giving the newer guys a leg-up.
So in the run-up to this years festival, I wondered to myself… where would be the best place to gig? I wanted to go down, do a few shows, maybe get seen by a few promoters from around the country, and try book gigs off the back of it. But in the run-up, it didn’t seem that many guys were going down at all. Guys that had run shows last year were giving it a wide berth this year. This baffled me; with so many clubs around the country, it seemed like a no-brainer to take your promotion to the biggest comedy festival of the year, along with a selection of your tried-and-trusted comics. Furthermore, there were next to no people bringing down a solo show. This was what got me the most; loads of people are willing to assemble an hour-long show and take it to Edinburgh for a whole month, but few bother to stage it for a weekend in a city they can practically see from home, for a fraction of the cost. Why don’t these people put on a one-man show in Kilkenny? In fact…
Why don’t I put on a one-man show in Kilkenny?
Shit yeah, that’s not a bad idea. Why wait around for someone else to put on a gig, when I could just head down and organise something myself. Instead of griping about the lack of opportunity for guys like me, why not just seize the bull by the horns, and run my own show? If it was a success I could do it each year. Maybe if I did well, it would inspire others to do it next year. If enough punters saw my show, and had a good time, they could go off and tell their friends that they were in Kilkenny for the weekend, and rather than go to the big shows, they had just as good a time in a wee show that only cost them a fiver to get into. When they came back to next years Cat Laughs, they’d be more open to searching out shows on the fringe, and see more and more of the new comedians breaking through. Instead of The Cat Laughs descending into Jobs for the Boys, it could become a weekend where Irish comedians truly got a chance to showcase their talents. I could help kick off a revolution. Plus, how good would it look on the old comedy CV, so say I ran a successful one-man show at the Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival?
So what would I need to stage a one-man show? Well, for starters, I’d need the show to run at about an hour, from start to finish. As it stands, I have a twenty minute working set, which can swell to about a half-hour if I’m allowed. Throw in some crowd-talk at the start, that might add about ten minutes. So that still leaves me with a twenty minute shortfall… Time to write some jokes.
But with the festival fast approaching, I knew I wouldn’t have time to write, rehearse, and stage test that much new material. So back to the drafts folder I went; gathering pretty much every joke I’ve ever performed, and cobbling it into a rough one hour show. Everything; from jokes that I’d used in my very first set, to the Coldplay story that had gotten me booed off stage every time I’d used it. Fuck it, I have an hour to fill. Most of the material I shoehorned in had been tried a few times, and it was mostly funny. I could pepper enough of the greatest hits through it to gloss over the dodgy bits. Besides, I had a bigger problem; if I was going to run a show, I would need a venue.
I figured getting a room wouldn’t be too hard… I’d head down to Kilkenny some Sunday, scout from pub to pub, find one that was near enough the beaten track, and ask if I could use it. I’d offer a high percentage of the door, although to be honest I wasn’t heading down to make money; after expenses the bar could have the entire door for all I cared. If they had a P.A. I could use, and an alright room, then I didn’t care for the twenty odd quid profit from the door. I wasn’t heading to Kilkenny for the money; I just wanted to put on a show. That reminds me; I would need punters! I’ve heard it said many times that Kilkenny is a “credit card” festival; people book their tickets online and head down to the shows they’ve planned to go to, and no others. How would I get them into my one-man act?
I’ve been to enough empty clubs to have a fair idea about how to hustle people in. Flyer the shit out of it. Get a bunch of posters printed up (read; print them in black and white on my ropey Hewlett Packard) and go down a few days beforehand and plaster the city. Get a sign, stand outside the venue, even if it means getting struck by fucking lightning. Offer group rates. Run my show at times that didn’t interfere with bigger shows. Got a ticket to see Dom Irrera? You’ve ages to kill, and I promise I’ll have you out in time. Other than Joe Punter, this would be a good time to approach Joe Promoter. Offer free tickets to every show I do to every comedy promoter, comedian, agency, everyone that might possibly have interest in booking me for their club or gig. I know I’ve e-mailed you for months to no avail, but here’s a free ticket for my one-hour show so you can see if I’m good enough for your club!
So, to re-cap; use my Tedfest and ComedyDublin accolades to bamboozle some pub owner into believing that he’s about to get super mega-rich off the back of the three nights of comedy in the back room of his tavern, and beg, harass, and harangue as many not-bothered tourists into the room as possible, to listen to every joke I ever wrote, for better or worse.
Well folks, Kilkenny came and went, and as most of you would have noticed, I didn’t stage anything during the festival. Instead, I found a promotion that was running shows, and went down and did a set for them; The Craichouse crew from Cork graciously allowed me to headline one of their shows on Saturday, and I had a great time in a packed sweatbox of a room in front of a hyper-giddy audience. The thoughts of running my own show disappeared when I realised that simply, it was something I wouldn’t be fit to do. Although the thoughts of hiring a venue and hustling a crowd together didn’t daunt me too much, the fact that I don’t have an hour of good, tested material to showcase rendered the whole thing pointless. The whole lets-shake-up-the-fringe thing wasn’t anything new or revolutionary; many comedians, with much more experience and skill than me have gone down year after year, staging their solo shows. An upstart like me who’s clearly out of his depth, showing up and running a half-assed version would do more harm than good. All it would take would be for one bad heckler to crucify me in the first ten minutes and I would have lost my shit altogether, and instead of people going home telling their friends of the great time they had at a small fringe show, they’d be telling everyone they met to stick to the main shows and give the amateur garbage on the sides a miss; the exact opposite of what I was trying to do.
Going by my own rules, #3 is Don’t Believe the Hype; study what I’m capable of and don’t bite off more than I can chew. Right now I’ve got a good 20-30 minute set; that’s what I did during my set for the Craichouse, and I rocked it, just as everyone else that took to that stage. The crowd left with smiles on their faces, and would have gone and told all their mates that there are great shows on the fringe, if you look for them. It’s better to be part of a great show than sole owner of a half arsed one. As for running my own show at a festival? Well, that’s realistically a long way off. But if I keep turning in good performances, gigging constantly and getting known, hopefully I’ll get a chance someday at one of the bigger stages.