No Punchline

gerry

Monaghan sod ape, and rippling buffster Gerry McBride is known throughout the Irish comedy scene for his here to fore sorta secret (facebook only) blog Chronicles of a Joker. I’ve featured guest posts from Gerry on this site in the past, so it’s my pleasure to let you know that easily the best narrator of the Irish comic experience has finally opened up a public blog. So far, No Punchline looks to be just as informative as Gerry’s old blog. Irish comedy fans and freshman standups would do well to check it out…

I used to think that getting ahead in comedy was impossible; now I realise that it’s not. It’s really easy, it just takes a long, long time. Initially, I was like a lot of open-mic guys; I wanted everything all at once. I wanted gigs in venues that wouldn’t give them to me, so I got frustrated and pissed off. I yelled conspiracy and shenanigans, that the whole comedy circuit was a sham, and it wasn’t what you know but who you know. A couple of years down the line, and my attitude has all changed. Those venues that told me I wasn’t ready to gig with them? Turns out they were right, which is something I learned on nights when I jumped in at the deep end and suffered painful death in front of a demanding crowd. When I returned to the same venue a few months later, with a pared down set and a less cocky attitude, I rocked.

Gerry’s set himself the goal of doing a gig in every county in Ireland, and writing about the experience, so join him on his herculean quest!

Quick Update

– Patten Oswald deals with a heckler

Haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve continued to film all my gigs. In two minds as to whether to continue to post all my videos, as the bad gigs I’ve had recently have primarily been in almost completely empty rooms, and I’m not sure a lot can be learned from this. But i’ll definitely be uploading / posting a couple of good recent gigs soon.

One thing I’ve learnt is to avoid tiny gigs, and especially tiny rural / suburban gigs. It can be tempting to view these gigs as a ‘challenge’, but really they don’t teach you anything useful; except that people are even more stupid than you suspected. This applies trebly if it’s a free local show. Tempering your comedy to please drunken hicks is only going to end up producing a dumbed down variety act.

I’m planning to do some dates in London soon, so I’ve been ploughing through Johnny Armstrongs magical list of open mic nights, which though astoundingly thorough and useful, is pretty time consuming to read. Originally I was thinking about aiming for bookings towards the end of February, but now I’m thinking March is more realistic. The time scales promoters plan ahead can be very frustrating!

Comedy is still the best kick I’ve found, next to writing; and I’m finally starting to get a bit less nervous before gigs. Moving to Dublin next week, the plan being to head to as many clubs as possible, smooze and do open spots, try out new material, and give this stand up thing my all. Wish me luck!

Breaking My Cherry

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I started the Virgin Standup project right after my second comedy gig. By fluke I’d had both of my first gigs filmed; already I was addicted to performing and unhealthy fixated on becoming the best standup I could be. I set out to rigorously analyse each show, to learn as much from my mistakes as my successes. This was easy at first, a real thrill, as beginners luck & nervous energy meant it was quite a while before I faced a genuinely tough room. Cringing as I watched over each set was excellent motivation to improve, and helped me hone in on elements of my stage persona that needed most work. However, as time went by on I got lax. Starting with a run of bad gigs in October I became more and more reluctant to commit to the hard work of reviewing these shows. As a result I’ve written less material than I otherwise would have, and made a couple of mistakes that I didn’t need to. I hereby resolve not to let this happen again. Join me as I watch over all my gigs, and catch up with the crits on the ones I’ve been to terrified to review.

First couple of gigs I coasted on nervous energy, twitching about the stage like a mannequin with burning strings, and speaking faster than an torrents patient watching the Wire. My nervousness made the audience sympathetic, but increased their anxiety in turn. I didn’t wait for laughs and spoke so unclearly that I now can’t make out half my sets. Still they’re much less terrible than I remembered. What a harsh judge I was, like a teenager discovering his parents infidelity, my lack of experience made me the arch pedantic critic.

Perhaps I’ve just gotten to a point (thanks to a couple of horrific gigs) where I don’t necessarily judge the success of my material based on audience reaction. If the medium is the message, then delivery is content- the route to engaging the audience, setting the tone and mood and building character, setting and ultimately humour on stage.

Something as simple as speaking slowly, clearly and with emotion makes a world of difference.

I need to decide this year whether or not to drop the ‘Professor Byron Frump’ accent. It’s been good to me, and saved me the trouble of writing good introductory material. But it’s become a a crutch, and although it sets me apart on the Irish scene as a ‘character comedian’, it also directs the tone of my material toward dark perversity.

Gig of the year

I had some great gigs this year, many of them with the always generous crowd at Comedy Dublin, but gig of year year has to go to my 6th show. Exchange Words is a monthly night I established to showcase the best of Irish spoken word entertainment, from standup comedy to storytelling, theatre and poetry. Working with a crew of amazingly talented young people we put together three great shows, but Exchange Words 1 will always be my favourite. It was the first gig of any kind I’d ever organised, and after a hectic few weeks sorting out performers, seating, lighting and sound, it came together magically on the night. The audience, a combination of friends and alternative kids was so welcoming that even my monstrously offensive ‘Maddie’ routine went down well.

Since then Exchange Words has played host to Gordon Rochford, Ronan Grace and Enda Muldoon, and all three have gone down a storm; proving that an alcohol free venue is no impediment to a successful set. Actually I’ve found the opposite is true, the drunker the audience the more difficult they are to engage.

MCs of the Year

I’ve become convinced of the importance of a good MC. Watching my first gig I’m blown away all over again by how well the audience reacted to my (poorly rehearsed) set. A great MC doesn’t have to be funny, or witty, or famous or even use any ‘material’ at all (although all these things have their place). A great MC is one who prepares the audience for the comedians they’re about to see, excites them, makes an event of the evening, and makes the acts feel like the stars of the night. Two comedians stand out for me at the moment, knowing that the audience (however large or small) will be most attentive, tolerant and game for a laugh when they run the night- Aidan Killian & Kieran Lawless.

Comedians of the year

So I’ve performed at 19 gigs so far, and probably attended ten more. Although I’ve plenty of standup’s still to see, I’ve been surprised at the narrowness of the Irish scene. There’s very little ‘theatrical’ humour going on, very few female or ethnic minority comedians, and what masquerades as satire is usually an ossicle shattering Bill Hicks impersonation. That said, there are some excellent comedians performing in Ireland right now. Comedians that like as not you haven’t heard of. The ones that stand out off the top of my head, in no particular order are Gordon Rochford, Steven Elliot, and Enda Muldoon. If you get a chance to see any of these guys, and they all tour regularly, go.

Material & Delivery

I’m proud I tried lots of different material- at least a couple of new minutes most nights. Even where it didn’t work it expanded my range, and my understanding of what does work. Learning to improvise, slow down and let the night choose my direction are things I need to focus on in the new year.

I’ve gotten tired of being the ‘dark comedian’. While there’s a certain thrill to be had having seasoned veterans shake their heads and tell me I’m ‘not right’, the pitch black stuff is getting monotonous. This year I want to focus on writing more surreal scenes, more audience participation bits and brief ‘openers’. Watching over my old videos I keep seeing how important it is to have a great kick off. You can lose an audience and win them back, but if you don’t have them from the start, getting them to laugh at all is a herculean task. Herculean, but not literally impossible. At my ninth gig I lost the audience at the starting line, then made it worse by running my most offensive material, but I managed to get them back with my first rollout of my ‘Noshing on one another’s Periwinkles’ bit. The trick I think was standing still, holding my ‘frame’, and carrying on regardless. Tough to do when your facing a silent room.

I need to increase my on stage energy while keeping down my pace (and shoutyness). I also need to focus on varying my emotional tone- sadness, joy, hilarity, the gamut of bountiful human experience are all to play for darling.

Just as I need to drop some material… I could do worse than reworking some old material- I can definitely pull something useful from the ‘Life is absolutely filthy’, and ‘blasphemy’ bits, now that Dermot Ahern’s disastrous defamation bill has finally gone into law.

The Audience

I’ve learned something this year about the individuality of comic tastes. Techniques are either successful or unsuccessful, delivery is either good or bad, but different audiences have distinct preferences. Women can feel understandably alienated by comedy that targets them for abuse. City audiences (and educated folks generally), don’t want to encounter racist or homophobic bits, even if they’re ‘meant well’. Audiences from more deprived socioeconomic groups have a much lower tolerance for grotesque / sexual humour, preferring bawdy end-of-pier ‘cabaret’ comedy.

Students and young people generally are my natural audience. With a high tolerance for surrealism and perversity they fit my material and inclinations. But it would stand me in good stead to be able to succeed better with a wider variety of audiences- especially the typical Irish drunken office worker crowd. To be honest, right now if given the opportunity, I couldn’t do a televisible act, and that’s a bad thing.

Thanks

I owe a lot of people a lorra’ love for the help and advice they’ve given me getting my start in standup. Aidan Killian gets props for giving me my first gig. Margo & Gabby are legends for putting me on unannounced (and at my absolute filthiest) in Comedy Dublin. Ditto Edwin & Jonathan & Gary on various occasions, at this point a good third of my gigs have been dropped in my lap after I walked in the door and was cheeky enough to ask for them. Thanks also need to go to everyone who came along to the weekly Comedians Anonymous material workshops we held this year at Exchange Dublin. The advice and reactions of the folks involved- like Mark Cahill, Lisa Joyce, Ian Perth (whose career seems to be strapped to a rocket right now) and Gordon Rochford, was invaluable. But I owe most of all to the absolute star Gary Lynch, who’s been a kind of mentor this past few months. In addition to being a talented standup, Gary runs the Underground Comedy club in Thomas Reeds, and is a font of advice and support for new comedians. Gary also did an excellent job MCing our first Exchange Words event, and has helped me out behind the scenes in innumerable ways. Lest I forget I shall continue to steal material throughout 2010 from my friend and occasional writing partner, the outstandingly hilarious Andrew Booth.

Gig 18, Boards.ie Comedy Gig

Gig 18, Boards.ie Comedy Gig – Cassidys, Westmooreland St, 05/12/09

Some lovely guys from mixtape.ie filmed this gig properly with HD cameras and such. Should hopefully get the footage from them at some stage.

Pre Show

I had a good feeling about this gig going in. Geek crowds I suspected, would be smart, self deprecating, and (according to world beating sex columnist Dan Savage at least) kinky. The perfect audience for my creepy routine. The gig was a lucky snatch (ok ok), as I’d been fortunate enough to stumble across a thread on boards.ie discussing it, and offer my services. So when the first promoter pulled out, and Drogheda’s Graham Duffy stepped in, he was able to offer me the gig. Just another demonstration that in comedy, it never hurts to ask. Cassidys on Westmooreland St, where Shane Browne runs the excellent ‘27 Club’, is a strange room. Wide rather than long is a good thing in Comedy, as more of the audience can see and hear the acts, and there’s a normative pressure against talking to their table rather than listening to the set. However Cassidy’s is bisected by two mirrored walls, so that the audience is divided into three Chunks, and in some seats the view is better through a mirror. One result of this was that I spent this gig glancing left and right like a nonce in a infant care unit.

Watching the Video…

Apologies for the cruddy video quality- there was actually a video crew at this show from Mixtape.ie, so perhaps a good quality recording of this show will emerge at some stage! MC Rory O’Hanlon (a comedian with probably the most comfortable stage presences in the country) messed up my name, made me sit down and reintroduced me, which messed with my intro a little. Right before I got up Graham told me 10 minutes rather than 7, which of course I didn’t hear, meaning I did a shorter set than I needed to with such a great crowd.

I’ve discovered at this point that anything you can do to reference the night you’re performing, this venue and this crowd in particular goes down a storm: Caveat, that’s assuming it’s a joke- merely saying ‘Tim talked about this earlier’ doesn’t get a reaction. I’d written a brief derogatory intro with lots of geek references, but I threw in a ‘callback’ to an earlier performance by Hamlet Sweeney (an up and comer with great delivery).

Right away I can see how distracting all that looking left and right was. Must remember to focus on one portion of the audience. On the plus side I’ve reduced my wandering about the stage and general twitchiness to a minimum. I’ve also gotten better at slowing down and waiting for the laugh. This is so important. When I first started I’d watch comedians with awful material get up and get laughs that I couldn’t explain. So much of this is due to simply waiting for the audience to respond, guiding them (and occasionally cajoling them), and giving them permission to find you funny.

Really happy with how I adapted my material to the audiences reception. It’s a small thing but saying ‘Never since have a found a lady under-confident and psychologically screwed up enough to lick my arsehole’ is so much better than ‘…kind enough to indulge’.

This show was the first time I shortened the intro to the ‘older girls’ bit. Contrary to most comedians I think being verbose is fine- assuming the audience understand that you’re being intentionally pompous. But ‘bits’ do need a quick payoff. It’s alright (better in fact) for grotesque descriptions to go on and on and on, as Richard Herring says “Past funny, to unfunny, and back to funny again”; but introductions should be slow but brief.

My intonation during some of this gig was great. I really inhabited that ‘character’ (Edgar Oliver by was of Francis Urquhart), with lines like ‘a yooooung girls vagina…’ Although I’ve done the ‘vagina impression’ much better. This is a bit that I really need to commit to. I need to become the cunt. The description afterwards was well done though, I feel I did the ‘older girls vagina’ gestures better than I have before. I still don’t understand the last line in that bit, “It’s not the teeth you need be afraid of, it’s the acid tongue.” It seems to work, so what the hell!

Tried a ropey new bit at the end, ‘Pooing old man’, which went down OK, but doesn’t work in practise nearly as well as I’d hoped. Still, glad I tried it.