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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.