Monday, 16 February 2009

UK Comedy Observations pt.2

With the inconclusive Electric Mouse experience under my belt I moved on to my first proper booked gig in the U.K.. It was at the football ground in Norwich and was booked by Joss Jones at Cosmic, who was quite charming and communicative regarding the booking. I have dealt with dozens, if not hundreds, of agents over the years and have worked as one myself. My dealings with agents in North America usually are reminiscent of an Indiana Jones scene: there are assorted trials and trickeries before the glittering goal (read gig) can be achieved and even then, one is not always certain what has been procured. While this is an exciting aspect to the career that leaves one attuned to both human nature and the consolations of defeat, it can be somewhat wearing over time. I don't mean to say that all the individual bookers in North America are scheming agents of nefarity, but the politics they are woven into makes every move potential for the highlight reel of tragedy. I assume that to some degree I am simply ignorant of the Machiavellian machinations which exist in U.K. comedy booking, but for now, let me breathe that unpolluted air of innocence.

I travelled up to Norwich with James Dowdeswell who was charming, amusing and informative and not put off by the fact that I was drifting off during the journey - (a rude by-product of shifting time-zones). The gig was in a large-ish room with 80% of the crowd of 400 seated to the left and the right (for pedants and the mathematically inclined:160 to the left, 160 to the right and 80 in front). The show was a sell out and the manager of the room, whose name escapes my tiny brain, was very enthusiastic and liberal with food, drinks and positivity. I made a point of going up on stage and looking at the room in advance - both to see and be seen. I also returned a beer coaster to it's original tosser and exchanged some free comedy with the front row in advance - I hoped to have learned something from the chummy-ism of the Electric Mouse and was keen to present a friendly face.

The MC Dan Atkinson did an excellent job with a good dose of interaction, intelligence and elbow. The crowd took a little bit to bring around but were generally very good. I noticed with more than a little surprise that the house lights were dimmed almost to the point of blackness as the show began and (shock!) the bar was actually shut down while the show was on. These two manoevres had the effect of making the show feel like, well, a show! I was brought on after about 15 minutes and started with about 2 minutes of wobbly/waffly meet and greet seasoned delicately with the bitter trepidation. Up to this point I had been unsure how my comedy would translate to a British audience and what alterations in material and delivery would be required and the "Mouse" had given only the wobbliest compass needle.

While waiting to go onstage I had written a line to explain how as a Canadian I was different from Americans: "...if you were to burn my flag next to me, all I would feel would be......warm"
The material was received enthusiastically from the start and some of the more animated story-telling pieces went over very strongly. I could not have asked for a more solid affirmation of what my potential would be over the next two weeks and though I did engage in some banter to connect with the crowd it was evident that material, and in particular, material with some intelligence and involvement, was consumed with relish. I enjoyed watching the other acts: James, and the headiner Tommy Campbell - James was a solid act who writes well and delivers confidently but in a self-effacing manner - a pleasure to watch. Tommy is a much more punchy act - originally Canadian, his style was more familiar, and thus, less interesting to me, but he has his act nailed down and delivers it with a wrenching verve.

Both James and Dan were very accessible on stage - dressed neither shabbily nor stylishly, intelligent but not arrogant they personified another interesting fact about the evening: the intros the comics are given involve no credits. In North America, credits are the backbone of an intro for every comic. Less so in larger centres such as L.A. or New York but in general you let the MC know all the most impressive (to the crowd) things you have done and he bundles them to together to form an intro. This serves to build up enthusiasm and expectation in the crowd. Americans in particular, are very impressed by any brush with celebrity you might have had and mentioning it in advance serves to legitimise you as a performer. I have said before that in America, crowds will laugh for you because they think they saw you on HBO, but in Canada crowds laugh at you because they think they saw you on CBC. While less inclined to worship at the altar of celebrity, Canadians still feel an act is legitimised by their credits. In the UK, not so. We discussed this before the show and I was told that credits are never listed off as it would seem arrogant and/or raise the expectation, which here was seen as a bad thing. This little fact also seem to run in line with what I had already witnessed; that the comic should appear as much as a friend as an entertainer.

After the show the promoter encouraged me to come back for a summer festival (which I am now booked to do) - When work leads to more work, one can only be walking down the right path. Next point on this path ....Bristol.

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