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.
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.
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.