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It’s My Comedy Night And I’ll Cry If I Want To

So you’re thinking of starting your own comedy night. Well, I’ve never run one myself because it all sounds very stressful, but I’ve done my research and here’s what you should be considering.

Firstly, don’t go stepping on anyone’s toes. Make sure you know where the existing nights are and what they’re offering, then make sure you’re doing something different or at the very least, on a different night if they’re ok with it.

If you’re thinking of starting a night in London, then Jesus Christ there are way too many already, but if you insist, then a good place to start your research is the London Stand Up Comedy Map compiled by Gaëlle Constant, which has the locations of not all, but a bloody lot, of comedy nights running in London. If you’re starting your night outside of London then a Google search and an ask around will probably do.

The venue is important – they have to want you to be there and willing to put the work in to make the night work as well as you. And by put the work in, I mean they should at least be allowing you to have posters and flyers, and be telling customers about the event when you’re not there. Some London venues tend to treat comedy as if it were a Weight Watchers meeting rather than entertainment being provided that could attract customers, and that’s how you end up with bringer gigs and a two drink minimum. Oh yes, people outside of London, these are genuine things you may be asked to do for your 5 minutes of stage time in the nation’s capital!

But enough of that.

The layout of the venue is also a very important consideration. “Comedy works best in basements with low ceilings and tight crowds. The first Soho [Comedy] Store felt that way, even though it was actually several stories high”, writes William Cook in his book ‘The Comedy Store’, and the reason a low ceiling is important is down to acoustics. “Low ceilings are crucial, because they allow the laughter to bounce back and reverberate throughout the room, boosting the energy.” says Oliver Double, lecturer of stand up comedy at the University of Kent in his book ‘Getting The Joke’. He also points out that the layout of chairs and furniture helps to improve atmosphere, saying that at a night he ran he found the energy level of the room improved greatly when they “realised that by putting as many of the tables and chairs as close to the front as possible, the standing punters would be brought forward, and the whole audience would be densely packed around the stage. This made it easier for a really efficient exchange of energy to occur.” Reserve seats at the back to make sure people sit at the front, or don’t put out all of your seats right away, adding them as more people arrive.

It’s important to have the stage well lit, and the audience in the dark so that they don’t feel self-conscious about laughing, and to have people densely packed together into a room. “Laughter is like electricity” says comedian Simon Evans, describing The Comedy Store in Piccadilly Circus “It needs to conduct, and if you start breaking people up it doesn’t conduct so well. There’s no other club in England that I know of where so many people are so tightly packed in, all facing the stage, no distractions. They’ve got a beer in their hand, maybe, but they’ve got no table in front of them, dinner and menus and all the rest of it, and you make a significant number of them laugh it’ll spread.”

And for the love of God, make sure that your night is in a separate room to the main part of the pub. A separate room with a door that you can close, or at least some kind of noise barrier. Anyone who has performed in an Edinburgh Festival venue where the only barrier between you and the [insert misc sports match here] is a thin sheet of fabric hanging from a string will know that it very rarely works.

What kind of night will you be running? Will it be open mic or pro? And why are you running the night? So you can have more stage time, or because you love comedy? If you’re doing it to give yourself stage time, then know your limits – don’t decide to run a pro night, charge a tenner a head, and then MC it yourself if you don’t have a tight 5 and have never MC’d before.

Should the event be ticketed or free? Well, this depends on whether you’re going to be running a new act new material night where you book 20 random newbies to do five spots (in which case, probably just do a bucket donation on the door as people leave to cover your running costs), if it’s a booked night, where you choose your favourite acts, a pro night, or a mixture.

While people often start free comedy nights in the hope that this will attract more audience, some promoters believe that this is not necessarily the case. In her Ask The Industry podcast interview, Helen Stead who runs NCF Comedy in Nottingham runs the £1 Comedy Night on Wednesdays at Canalhouse, and the reason for charging such a small amount is to make it accessible, but also because “if you pay to go in, you’ve paid an investment into the show. If you’ve paid £1 you’ve paid an investment, and you’re going to sit down and enjoy it. But if it’s free you get people standing at the back and they’ll just chat amongst themselves, very often.”

Having done a spot at the £1 Comedy Night, I would have to agree that this minimal investment did provide a good audience and thus a good show, and while there are always exceptions to the rule I would have to agree that charging something is a good idea, as it adds worth to the evening. As a rule, if you are taking money on the door, or have been given a budget, then the acts should be seeing some of that money too.

And another thing to consider is, of course, what time and day to have the show. “A seven o’clock start might mean a rather formal, reserved audience, whereas a midnight show can be either lethargic or rowdy. In a Friday night show, the audience may be bad-tempered or over-excited after a hard week at work; a Saturday show tends to be more relaxed.” writes Oliver Double in ‘Getting The Joke’. This would all come down to dates available at your venue, what you could commit to and the kind of show you want to run. A consistent day and time will help build footfall over time.

Good luck… and don’t fuck it up.

 

You’re Funny… For A Woman

As I stepped off stage in Manchester having done a good job of entertaining the room, I headed to the back to watch the next act. A man from the audience leaned over and whispered into my ear:

“You’re funny… for a woman.”

While the Light Entertainment comedy scene was traditionally a man’s world, the ‘alternative’ comedy scene that emerged in the 1970’s and 80’s (which is now very much the mainstream), with clubs such as The Comedy Store and The Comic Strip being formed, made the “art form” more accessible to women. The American model, of a performer’s material being their own and there not being a pool of misc jokes that acts could share, meant that people could express themselves and their ideas.

Maureen Younger talks in her Ask The Industry podcast interview of being described as a ‘specialist’ act when she first began her stand up career. Male life experience is considered ‘normal’, while female experience is the “other” – a concept developed by Simone de Beavouir in her 1949 book ‘The Second Sex’, which is why people get so angry when women briefly touch upon their vagina material, yet don’t bat an eyelid when a gentleman spends 20 minutes talking about tugging himself off.

I think that in part, women are judged more on appearance than men are, as is stated in the 1987 book “Jokes on Us” by Morwenna Banks and Amanda Swift – “it is often assumed that a woman can not be both attractive and funny”. But in many cases women can be perceived as a threat regardless, and have to work to put a room at ease before they can begin entertaining, as Marti Caine says: “if you are under 16 stone and under 90, you’re immediately classed as competition to the women, and the men will not laugh if the women don’t laugh, and if a man laughs at you, his wife’ll really hate you, strangely enough. So the first thing you’ve got to do, in my case anyway, is knock yourself so they start defending you.” That’s a lot to overcome in a set that lasts 5 or 10 minutes, when a male act can just get straight in to making people laugh.

But honestly, while it is improving, I think that there is still an issue of representation of women in comedy that makes things a bit difficult. While many argue that there are fewer female performers to put on line ups (which is very true), if women aren’t seeing women perform, then why would they consider it an option that is open to them to pursue? Plus, if audiences in general aren’t seeing many women performing live, and there has been a continuous questioning of whether women are even funny anyway, it is incredibly easy for audiences to dismiss female acts as rubbish.

But what about television? Surely there are loads of opportunities for women on all those panel shows?

Unfortunately, women are vastly underrepresented on the ol’ panel show. A study conducted by data scientist Stuart Lowe found that in 49 years, there has only been one panel show (on both TV and radio) where the presenter and all the panel were female – an episode of Heresy on Radio4, hosted by Victoria Coren-Mitchell in January 2012.

And quite often, on comedy panel shows, the female spot will be given to a non-comedian who has something to sell or promote and who will not be as funny as the professional male comedians for obvious reasons. If we compare the female and male panellists from the first season of the BBC show Would I Lie To You (2007) we can see the disproportionate representation:

Female Panellists Male Panellists
Natalie Cassidy (actor)

Fay Ripley (actor)

Ulrika Jonsson (presenter)

Myleene Klass (musician)

Leslie Ash (actress)

Wendy Richard (actress)

Claudia Winkleman (presenter)

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson (socialite)

Frankie Boyle (comedian)

Dom Joly (comedian)

Duncan Bannatyne (entrepeneur)

Patrick McGuinness (comedian)

John Barrowman (actor)

Dominic Wood (magician and presenter)

Eamonn Holmes (presenter)

Dara O’Briain (comedian)

Jimmy Carr (comedian)

Jason Manford (comedian)

Neil Morrisey (actor and comedian)

Russell Howard (comedian)

Len Goodman (ballroom dancer)

Vic Reeves (comedian)

Harry Enfield (comedian)

Dave Spikey (comedian)

While 11 of the 16 male guests were comedians, none of the 8 female guests were, despite around 25% of all club comedians being female. To be fair, this series was released in 2007, which was before the BBC announced that there were to be no more all male panel shows back in 2014 which did improve things slightly, though personally I think that it was a very patronising thing to announce, and I don’t see why they couldn’t have just started giving spots to the many, many talented female comedians out there without saying “LOOK GUYS, WE’RE DOING A GOOD THING”. Looking at the panellists from Season 9 in 2015, there are now 2 female comedians featuring across the entire series, and 14 male comedians.

Female Panellists Male Panellists
Moira Stuart (presenter)

Gabby Logan (presenter)

Katherine Parkinson (actor)

Alex Jones (presenter)

Germaine Greer (writer)

Claire Balding (journalist)

Judy Murray (tennis coach)

Gaby Roslin (presenter)

Ruth Jones (writer and actor)

Dame Kelly Holmes (athlete)

Sarah Doon-Mackichan (comedian)

Jo Brand (comedian)

Danny Dyer (actor)

John Richardson (comedian)

Joe Lycett (comedian)

Bob Mortimer (comedian)

Steve Backshall (naturalist & presenter)

Rick Edwards (presenter)

Greg Davies (comedian)

John Cooper-Clarke (poet)

Alan Davis (comedian)

Jermaine Jenas (footballer)

Richard Osman (presenter)

Rhod Gilbert (comedian)

Nick Grimshaw (presenter)

Rob Delaney (comedian)

Richard Hammond (presenter)

Sean Lock (comedian)

Trevor Noah (comedian)

Jack Dee (comedian)

Tinchy Stryder (musician)

Romesh Ranganathan (comedian)

Bill Bailey (comedian)

Alex Brooker (journalist)

Ben Miller (comedian)

Henning Wehn (comedian)

In an interview with the Telegraph, Sarah Lloyd, Director of QI Limited, suggests that female comedians are being asked to appear on shows, but they’re not accepting the invitations. She said “We ask women to come on, but they won’t. You tell me who you’d like to see on the show and I can tell you we’ve asked them.”

But as Deborah Francis-White points out: “A lot of the time what people don’t realise they are watching is five men in their local pub – they are regulars, they look like everyone else and they are made to feel welcome – and one woman on a job interview. Because she knows that not only will [the audience] decide whether she is good enough to be allowed back on this show and other panel shows, but they will be judging whether all women are funny.”

The fact that people are talking about these issues is definitely a positive thing as it is bringing about awareness and this will undoubtedly bring change. And as double Chortle award winning comedian Kiri Pritchard-McLean said in an interview with The Wee Review “The industry of telly and radio are definitely pro-women because they’ve realised that they need to correct a lot of stuff that’s been going on…I think it’s a great time to be a woman, but like anything else, you might get the first break if you’re a chick but you still have to do the job as well.”

 

Here are some links to female comedy nights and organisations:

Funny Women

Laughing Labia

Laughing Cows

MY Comedy

The 99 Club Female and Non-Binary Bursary

G&B Girlpower

Zero Hours Podcast

Drum roll please…

Zero Hours Podcast has been released today!

I talk to other comedians about the best and worst jobs they have done to get by in their pursuit of the arts. The first two episodes have been released, where I speak to comedians Andrew Forsyth and Joshua Massen.

You can listen here

Edinburgh Ain’t The Only Festival

Edinburgh Festival was set up in 1947 following the Second World War as a celebration of the arts. It was invitation only, but eight uninvited theatre groups arrived and decided to take part in the festival anyway, and so Edinburgh Fringe was born. Now it has essentially become the comedian’s trade fair and has expanded beyond belief, being worth £260million to the economy and as a performer you find yourself constantly being asked “Are you doing Edinburgh this year?”

Gone are the days of driving “around Edinburgh under cover of darkness in a panel van, fly posting illegally with pots of paste and brushes… Nobody on the Fringe had seen anything like it. Advertising!” like Stewart Lee and Simon Munnery in the ’90s, gone are the days of sleeping “in a church hall with no running water, but in a city that, until 1995, still had a 50p public bathhouse.” Edinburgh Festival is now big business, costing anywhere between £2000 and £10,000 to put on a show for the month, and often leaving performers in massive debt.

I do see the value of working at Edinburgh – in 2013 I was a Venue Technician for one of the big venues and the connections I made there kept me in work for the next 2 years, and as Frankie Boyle said in his autobiography “Edinburgh itself has always felt a bit inauthentic to me… [it] is full of mainly white, middle class, Presbyterians… [but] Jimmy Carr saw us at the festival and gave us a job writing for him on his quiz show Distraction.” And similarly, Russell Brand said in his autobiography that his career was helped by Edinburgh as “some people from MTV came to see me perform in Edinburgh, and asked me to audition for them when I got back to London.” Even so, surely it’s more beneficial (financially, if nothing else) to just do all the other festivals instead?

There are at least 50 fringe festivals across Britain and Ireland every year, with most big cities having their own festival, and often the fees to take part in these festivals are much more affordable than Edinburgh. Below are examples of the registration fees for 2018/2019 to do the whole run at 6 UK Comedy festivals (the fees are less for shorter runs).

Festival Month Registration Fee
Edinburgh August £393.60
Camden August £99
Brighton May/June £199.50
Hastings June £20
Leicester February £150
Nottingham November £36

But then I do love a deep fried Mars bar…

Best In Class Showcases

What’s that? You’re not going to be in Edinburgh, but still want to see the fabulous acts that will be performing with the Best In Class collective?

NEVER FEAR MY DEAR

We will be doing showcases to raise funds and have a laugh at the following venues:

Gulliver’s in Manchester on the 20th May at 7:30pm

Get your tickets here: https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/best-in-class-gullivers-tickets/8292085

The Bill Murray, Angel Comedy in London on 28th May at 5pm

Get your tickets here: https://www.angelcomedy.co.uk/event-detail/45423/

The Everyman Bistro in Liverpool on the 26th June at 7:30pm

Get your tickets here: https://www.skiddle.com/whats-on/Liverpool/Everyman-Bistro/Best-In-Class/13202607/

Best In Class at Edinburgh Fringe

Just as soon as Brighton Fringe finishes, I’m talking about Edinburgh Fringe. This one will be real fucking cool.

Sian Davis has began something beautiful, with her show Best In Class – a collective that allows working class comedians to take part in the otherwise inaccessible Edinburgh Fringe. She talks about it here, in her article written for Funny Women:

http://funnywomen.com/2018/05/18/why-i-launched-best-in-class-kickstarter/

The Best In Class vibe is as follows:

As up and coming working class comedians we know how hard it can be to break into the industry. There are so many barriers facing working class performers, who remain underrepresented in comedy and at the worlds biggest arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe.
Often parodied and mocked in mainstream comedy, working class comedians have strong voices and unique experiences that need to be heard at the fringe. Growing up, they often have little access to the arts, they don’t have industry contacts or money and are unable to finance Edinburgh shows. They also struggle to take the time off work and to justify a full run at the fringe.

Best in Class gives talented comedians the opportunity to perform at Edinburgh Fringe whilst minimising the barriers they usually face, such as cost and length of commitment. Talented comedians from working class backgrounds can perform at Best in Class for a maximum of one week. They won’t have to pay anything towards the running costs of the show and will receive a share of any profits (because Socialism).

This show was created because/in spite of (but not limited to) the following:

Spam, chippy teas, waste grounds, hanging around, knock off trainers, a fella your dad knows, weed, the unions, crap schools, bunking off, electric metres, Brixton, Toxteth, hand me down clothes, holidays in caravans, shit on a stick, the back of a lorry, failed MOT’s, failed GCSE’s, bus stops, pay day loans, Daniel Blake, Grenfell, cheap meat, pubs, pints, tobacco, Margret Fucking Thatcher, cash converters, job seekers allowance, zero hour contracts, jam butties, gravy, pyjamas, broken glass, broken homes, playing out, white lightening, E, backyards, slums, tenements, The housing, The social, The NHS, grants, grasses, benefits, belts, credit unions, hiding from the milk man, tired dads, fierce mums, dying young, Aldi, Iceland, fighting, skin heads, Grime, underdogs, mental health, beans on toast, second hand everything, Brookside, watching the match, endless cups of tea, futility and empowerment.

Presented by Sian Davies (“affable manner and sharp wit…an excellent MC” Laughing Cows) and featuring Tom Mayhew (“a fascinating brain…obvious writing talent” Chortle); Cheekykita (“like The Mighty Boosh on crack” Broadway Baby); Jamie Hutchinson (XS Manchester comedian of the year); Nena Edwards (“Wild, utterly ravishing, provoking instant laughter” Lets Laugh); Vince Atta (“a force of nature” Chortle); Lindsey Santoro (semi-finalist BBC New Comedy Award); Drew Taylor (WUSA finalist) and Kathryn Mather (Beat the Frog World Series Champion).

Putting on a show at Edinburgh Fringe is a costly experience. Costs incurred so far have included: £100 to secure a venue at the Fringe, £295 to register the show in the Fringe programme, £100 for poster/flyer art work There will also be the cost of poster and flyer printing, marketing, advertising and promoting the show. Not to mention the exorbitant accommodation costs that the comedians will pay to perform at the fringe.

This kickstarter campaign has been created to minimise any out of pocket expenses in giving talented working class artists a much needed voice at the fringe. Become a part of something, join the collective, contribute to getting the best working class comedy talent to the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe.

You can be an absolute hero and donate some dolla on our Kickstarter here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1564965075/best-in-class-working-class-comedians-edinburgh-fr#

Third Wheel Successfully Complete Brighton Fringe

At 9:30pm on 14th May, Third Wheel successfully completed the Brighton Fringe at the Brighton Toy and Model Museum.

We sold many tickets, handed out many free shots, and looked at many vintage toys. What a wonderful weekend – everyone should go and visit that museum, it’s bloody lovely.

If you didn’t manage to get to our show, do not despair – I hear that there’s going to be a recording of the show at a secret venue in London. Watch this space!