Improv Show: 7th Feb 2012, The Miller, London Bridge
I performed with a new improv troupe called Arthur last night. It was my first ever time ever performing in an improv show and big personal mile stone.
The group was put together by Steve Roe who runs the Hoopla workshops around London. The troupe has fifteen members, all Hoopla workshop alumni, and each show has five performers. There’s so much talent in the group it’s quite intimidating. For this show I was with a few people I have improvised with a lot before so I was comfortable, and after the pre-show warm up I felt playful and ready to go.
We are a shortform group, so we were playing a series of quick fire games. We did Limerick (five people each contribute a line based off a suggested place name), giberish replay (a scene is played in gibberish then replayed by different people in English), famous last words (..of suggested celebrities), the life and times (scenes played from the life of a character named by the audience), and the one minute scene challenge (based off a suggested genre).
The show went by super fast. The audience laughed and were nicely warmed up for the following long form improv show Do Not Adjust your stage. We got plenty of positive feedback. I was happy with how it went. Obviously there’s plenty of room for improvement. But it went fantastically well considering this was the first time we had improvised together on stage, and for many of us, the first time ever improvising in front of an audience. If there was one thing I would like to work on for the future it would be being fully committed from the very beginning. I think we were all a bit nervous and it took us a while before we were willing to jump head first into scenes.
Unfortunately I won’t be performing with this group again (in the near future, at leaste) as I am moving to San Diego for several months with work. I am on the look out for performance oportunities out there.
Had a fun night at the Cavendish arms last night. The standard of the acts was extremely high.
I went up in the first half. I did my tried and tested material about mumps. Then tried out my new material about locksmiths (I’ve only done this onece before). I haven’t quite worked out the beats of the locksmith material yet. It gets laughs, but these mainly result from the characters and situations rather than punchlines/afterthoughts. I think I could really enhace this material by working out which words kick off the laughter and pausing there so it can build. Unfortunately I don’t have a recording of that set.
It’s amazing how how new material develops as you start performing it. I spent about an hour during the day atempting to refine my material…and changed nothing. But when I got on stage I instinctively started molding it into something (slightly) better. I threw in a couple of improvised lines that both got laughs. I’ll certainly incorporate both of these into future performances. It’s a difficult to accept that you have to take something on stage in order to whip into shape, and as a result you’re going to have a fair few mediocre/poor performances with unpolished material. In the past I’ve tried to fight against this by over preparing i.e. spending far too long refining material on paper rather than taking it on stage. After a while you start getting diminishing returns.
This was the second film I was involved in creating.
This film was created as part of a one month challenge run by Kino London, an open mic film night. Each month they dole out a challenge to a group of volunteers from the audience. A title is picked at random from a bucket of audience sugestions. Then you have one month to make it.
At the November screening Richard and I signed up, along with four other people we had not met before. The title we got was “Once upon a time in Lapland…”.
Richard and I wrote the script together. I was involved with the general production and creation of the shot list along with the rest of the group. And on the day I was the sound recordist.
I’m very pleased with how it came out. It was a real team effort and loads of fun.
Gig #14 05/12/11, Stand up for the first time, The Miller in London bridge
I love performing at The Miller. They always get a good audience in. The night is for new comedians and experienced comedians trying out new stuff. I did about half brand new stuff. The other stuff I had only pefromed three times before.
This was my first gig in about two weeks. I’m letting the momentum slip a bit. Note to self: book more gigs.
I was very pleased with the response. I got some big laughs. There were weaker moments too, of course, so I know where I need to focus my writing.
Listening back to the recording I sound like I’m having a really good time. I even laugh a couple of times - it sounds like I’m laughing at my own jokes, actually it’s just out of excitement that the audience is laughing. I was pleased with my pausing, which can be my downfall when doing new material. I think after a couple of laughs I had the confidence to pause for longer, and to pause midsentance if I got a laugh I wasn’t expecting.
Overall I was pleased with my performance. My bit about mumps seems to be fairly consistent now. My new bit still needs considerable refinment, but I have plenty more ideas I want to incorporate.
Last night Richard Warburton and I screened our Short film “Time for a Date” at an open-mic film night called Kino London. This project was a learning exercise. And we certainly learned a huge amount. I’m reasonably happy with the final result. As the creator it’s difficult to watch it without focusing on the mistakes or the parts where we compromised due to a lack of usable footage. But we got some great feedback, and had loads of fun doing it.
Richard and I are both massive film geeks and we’ve been talking about trying to create something for ages. In August Richard moved to London and I did a short film course. One night we went along to Kino film open mic night, it was a really interesting and fun night. We decided to put something together to showcase there. The biggest issue in getting this project off the ground was writing a script. The story was born out of our constraints. We had a low budget so we decided to limit ourselves to a single room and as few actors as possible, speed dating was a perfect fit. I was amazed at how quickly things gained momentum after it was written. All kinds of people started volunteering their time for free. I recruited an actress and an actor from my improv class. And I recruited a director of photography that I met on my film course. He runs a production company and was able to provide us with all the equipment and his vast experience. I also got my friend Tom on board to be the Assistant Director to handle many of the logistical things on shoot day. I learned that getting people people on board is easy. The difficult thing is location. We called around a whole load of pubs asking to use their space. Most places responded with a flat out “no”, some asked for a large fee. We ended up using The Cavendish Arms. I’ve performed stand up comedy there so I knew the venue, and their rates were very reasonable. We ended up spending about £100 to use the room for five and a half hours. The rehearsals and shoot day were great fun. Being the director is a very administrative role. You have to keep your eye on the clock and make sure you get through the shot list. There is really very little time to do anything creative, that has to be thought out well in advance. The editing process took around thirty hours. I learned a hell of a lot here. We used Premiere Pro, which is a fantastic tool. By far the biggest problem we had in the edit was choosing and encoding to the right codec. I was amazed at the complexity of this issue. I was also impressed by how elegantly Apple seems to have solved this, I might have to buy a Mac and switch to using Final Cut.
Another big problem was colour correction. I downloaded a free version of Magic Bullet that helped a lot, but watching the video back I think the colours look a bit unnatural. Overall I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not going to win any awards, but I think it’s entertaining and I certainly think it fulfilled the objectives of being a learning exercise.
Gig #13: 20/11/11 Wits End, The Princess Alice nr. Brick Lane
Witt’s End is a really nice gig to do. They’ve got a great room, attract a big(ish) audience, and have a nice (and funny) emcee. This was my second week in a row doing this gig. This time was slightly unusual as the pub had had a power cut. They had a small generator to run the speakers and keep the fridges operational. Everything else was turned off and the bar was illuminated by candle light. It made the bar feel very cozy an intimate, unfortunately the gig couldn’t be run in the usual private room so the gig was set up in the main bar meaning that some of the audience had just come out for a drink and were not expecting comedy.
I was up third. I did the same material as Wednesday’s gig at The Alchamist. I’m beginning to feel comfortable using the new material. I know where the laughs will come and I’m confident to pause for long enough, I’m also experimenting with the performance aspect, really trying to compliment the material with voice and body language.
I’ve also been experimenting with more sustained eye contact. I’ve noticed that when I perform I tend disasociate from the experience. I make fleeting eye contact, but in my mind I have constructed a mental barrier and I am just running through my material as if the audience isn’t there. This time I picked individuals and tried to keep eye contact for a few seconds, especially when I was delivering a punchline. This was pretty difficult. Whenever I held eye contact for more than about a second I felt uncomfortable and had to fight the urge to move along. There’s also the added pressure that you become more aware of people’s reaction (or lack of reaction) to your material.
There are a few traites that I have noticed in some of the better open micers that I would like to incorporate.
The first is a calm stillness. I think when people are nervous they tend to pace around on stage and avoid eye contact - quickly jumping from person to person. There’s an obious difference when a more experienced comedian comes on stage. They are completely relaxed. Their shoulders aren’t tense, they pause and there movement is deliberate and never unnecessary.
The second trait is a tendency towards quick fire personal jokes at the top of the set. I am currently telling personal stories, but they are set pieces and don’t have much flexibility for improvisation. I’ve noticed that many of the better comedians will begin their set as a kind of conversation where they are “introducing” themselves to the audience by throwing out facts about themselves (apperance, background, family, career, opinions) and following them up with punchlines.
The third trait is acting out the emotion of the joke. If they are angry/upset/happy they will emphasise that through body language and tonality. This really enhancese a set. Five minutes of the the same monotone voice can get very boaring (unless it is a character and done to the extreme).
Gig #12 16/11/11, Comedy Bin, The Alchemist, Clapham Junction
Last minute sign up for this one. I was doing similar material with a few tweaks. The audience was considerably smaller than at the Cavendish Arms on Monday, so I wasn’t getting massive laughs. However I did think that the changes I made really enhanced my new material, and I actually got a better reaction with this crowd.
I should say that one of the acts WAS getting massive laughs from this small crowd, so it is possible if you’re good enough! I had a chat with himafterwads and he’s done over 350 gigs. While he was on stage I found myself analysisng his performance. When he acted out conversations he came to it with such commitment, doing accents and voices. He began many of his jokes by intorducing a subject and asking the audience if they’d had any experience with it (has anyone here tried internet dating?), it seemed very organic and natural. If someone said yes he would follow up and say something along the lines of “so you’ll know that…”, or if no one in the room said anything he would address that too.
The worst bit of my set was when my last joke bomed. I heard maybe one or two titters. I couldn’t leave on that. So I fell back on a joke that I used to use when I was in San Doego. Although that situation is undesirrable, I’m very pleased that I remained calm enough to keep my composure and think of another joke to do. But I was very disapointed the joke fell flat in the first place.
This was my second time performing at Comedy Virgins. It’s a fantastic night to be a part of. Each performer has to bring an audience member, resulting in a large friendly audience.
This time I challenged myself to do some new material. I took the best jokes from my usual set and squashed them in to two minutes. Then the last three minutes was all new stuff (partly adapted from the speech I did for the Toastmasters Humorous speaking contest).
I was very happy with the reaction. Being new material it was rough around the edges, but there were plenty of laughs, and plenty of room for extending parts of the set and enhancing the performance. Towards the end of the set I act out a conversation between a mother and son. I think I could really throw myself into the performance and really make use of voice, expression, changing positions on the stage for different characters, and pretending to make eye contact during the conversation.
My friend Tom also suggested I could have milked the laughs more by pausing for longer.
I felt really good afterwards. Not because the audience laughed, but because I had challenged myself to do something different. I think I’ve been doing exactly the same set too much, just going into auto pilot and avoiding risk. It’s nice to have tried something new.
Gig #10: 13/11/11 Wits End, The Princess Alice nr. Brick Lane
The Princes Alice is a lovely pub. The room where the comedy takes places is lined with wooden panels. There are mismatched leather sofas and cofee tables with candles. It made for a lovely atmosphere.
The audience seemed enthusiastic and many of the acts were given a bit of leeway on timing. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try out a bit of new material. So I spent some time revising and reordering my notes intending to put some new stuff at the end if things went well. Unfortunately things didn’t go so well…
I got a good few laughs throughout. But my second joke tanked. And I think that phased me. It’s a relatively inconsistent joke, and I think it probably needs to go, or at least be moved from the top of the set. I continued on as if everything was fine (what else can you do?) but I didn’t have the laughter momentum when I went into the slightly more extended/weird jokes. So they fell flat. In fact a few audience members looked completely confused, as in “why the hell is he talking about this?”.
I think I really need to work on building that platform of laughter for the first few minutes to give the more interesting stuff a fighting chance. I think the beginning of my set needs work. It should really include all of: 1. A joke about my appearance 2. A couple of comments/jokes about the room/audience 3. One or more consistent one liners. Some of the other guys did a great job of interacting with the audience and pulling in smaller bits of material when apropriate. If I only have long bits I don’t have the flexibility to change things up when they’re not working.
Towards the end I was getting laughs. But I couldn’t face trying new material. So I got off asap.
Someone gave me some unsollicited advice at the end of the evening, which really pissed me off. I ended up going home really angry with that person and disapointed in myself.
Gig report 2/11/11, Jester Jesters, The Plum Tree Bar, Farringdon
Second gig of the week, and my ninth ever in the UK. Five minutes in front of about eight people. It was tough. A few titters. They really needed warming up, and that’s what my set lacks.
What is the difference is between “warming up” material and regular material? To get the audience warm and laughing you need quick fire jokes that hit with 100% consistency and also take a more conversational style to establish the audience/performer connection. Once you have the audience’s trust and attention you can move into longer story/surreal/monologue based material.
At the moment I am jumping straight into a prepared monologue. I noticed a few people on the night beginning their set with comments about the room and the audience. I think this really helped their performance. It also gave the impression of talking off the cuff, even though they could be saying the same thing every time or thinking about what to before they go up.
I’m working on some new material, which I will attempt to learn over the weekend. I tried it out on one of the other performers. They gave me some good feedback, but also suggested that I need to take it on stage to really get an idea of what’s funny. At the moment I am being too perfectionist - trying to hone my material too much before I bring it on stage, a process that has diminishing returns.