I played my first non-comedy-only Open Mic night tonight. I was the only comedian. I did not feel like a comedian. I felt like an interloper who was interrupting a very nice, relaxed acoustic guitar and soft lighting evening with his loud jaded cynicism.
I went on a whim. I spent the entire day editing, 8am until 6pm were one blur of frenetic film choppery and when I took a dinner break, I realised that if I didn’t go out and socialise then days would start blending into each other separated only by dreams of Oxford music luminaries endlessly winding backwards and forwards and just repeating one line over and over for hours. Anyway, I checked facebook as to what was going on and found that my pal Humphrey’s Open Mic night was happening, so I signed up. It was advertised as ‘EXTREME open mic’. It was. It was EXTREMEly pleasant. I liked the idea of being out of my comfort zone but with no other comedy happening and the amazingly warm acoustic vibe, I found myself for the first time absolutely dreading my set.
It’s not entirely accurate to say there was NO comedy. Earlier in the show had been co-host George who is a local performance poet. I really like George and I think in terms of performance poetry, he is genuinely amongst the best. But I hate performance poetry. I agree with Armando Ianucci who said of the craft ‘if it isn’t good enough to write down then SHUT UP’. I’ve always generally found poetry as the utlimate cop-out medium. I’ve probably blogged about it before so won’t go into full rant mode but performance poetry has earned a special place in the part of my heart which hates. It’s a fucking cop out of a form, hedging its bets between actual poetry and stand-up comedy. Its brevity allows it an opt-out from the beauty, complexity and gravitas which good, real poetry requires. But its ‘funny performance’ form allows it to engender laughs whilst pussying out of the true skill and the spontaneity of performance demanded by stand-up. They’re allowed to read off the page a rehearsed performance, whereas a standup has to commit material to memory and work it into an appropriate order and phrasing for the situation at hand. It’s safe, easy and a fucking cop-out. I could shit out a performance poetry set in about half an hour. Here, I’ll write a funny poem now, just to show you.
He takes to the stage and he has a good time
cliched of wit and powered by rhyme
his words piling up in hyperbolic structures
sometimes he SHOUTS and other times, mutters.
In his left hand, a tatty old book
which feeds him his lines and completes the look
of a ‘bohemyeccentric’ who makes up mad phrases,
gesticulations and comedy faces.
Sometimes he sets up an obvious rhyme,
but confounds your expectations by not rhyming at all.
Which is really fucking clever and not something that every fucking shitty performance poet does endlessly.
And sometimes the poem just stops.
Oh, modern day poet, you razor-sharp wit
put down your notebook and set fire to it
Cos nothing is easier than reading out loud
and extorting giggles from a good natured crowd
You twee fucking bastard
You smug little runt
You talentless hack
You lazy, scared, cunt.
See. That might have got me a round of applause. But fuck that.
So, it really made me appreciate the role of a compere – to keep the evening moving and work the crowd to be warmed up for comedy and not just staring at them with a slack-jawed frown of bemused sympathy. What I’m saying is… it didn’t go well. My opening joke, a completely new bit, was a contrived gag based on much rubbish stand up comedy that I hear at open mic gigs. The anal-sex/dyslexia based gag got a good laugh and a round of applause but when I revealed the point of the bit, in which I essentially coolly berate the audience for their complicity in such material… they just stared. They liked the ‘then I fucked her in the arse!’ gag at face value and saw little comedy or indeed point in my picking apart of both the joke and their reaction to it.
I moved my usual opening bit to just after this. The slow build which starts with a long, unfunny and seemingly arbitrary story. Usually, the longer I milk it, the greater the expectation and will to have a punchline to release the pressure and the louder the laugh. They politely ‘ha’d the punchline and I felt my head getting hot. I must have been bright red and looked like a gibbering idiot. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe the atmosphere was such that this kind of audience quietly appreciates. Maybe I miss my fellow comedians and the palpable feeling of support they offer.
It just wasn’t much fun and I felt like I’d kind of buzzkilled the evening and trashed some of the goodwill built up by great acoustic acts that had preceded me. Every other set I’ve done, even when I’ve felt like I’ve bombed, people have wanted to chat to me afterwards. This time, despite polite thanks and congrats from Humphrey and George, I found myself feeling very alone.
I’m not sure what I’ve learned from tonight. Maybe to stick to just comedy gigs. Maybe to improve my crowd skills. Although, this was the first gig I’ve done without any rehearsing or writing prompts on hands, which felt like a real achievement. Maybe to just take the easy route and write some poems.