Weirdly, my one year anniversary stand up gig last week was delivered to a way smaller audience than that first tentative step up to the mic at Siberia in July 2012.
In some ways, the one-year gig was even more of a challenge than that first open mic, when I shyly delivered a couple of poems and some bad Game Of Thrones gags. That first bill, with talents like Bill Dykes and Sean Patton - it's a wonder I survived, really. I must have looked pretty green.
Last week, a dozen or so regulars sat in their local pub, doing what they normally do on Saturday night, only my friend Beth, having played a couple of songs on her bazouki to warm them up, was introducing me and they’re suddenly having to listen to…what is this, stand up? Performance? POETRY?
And by a Brit to boot.
You could hear every reaction in that room. To my Fox News gag (“So he’s a f*cking liberal, then.”), to my painful puns (“Some of these jokes are f*cking awful.”). This is ten minutes into a one hour set, with some even more delicate wordplay and a faux-homoerotic poem about an ex Pope still to come. Set phasers to "BOMB".
A year ago, I would have crumbled there and then, colour drained from the cheeks, mouth dry as yesterday’s ashes and knees collapsing. Last week I thought: “Well then. Here’s a challenge.”
When the room is that small and somewhat resistant, and you know you’ve got an hour or so with a mic, with some tricky internal editing you can start to pick people off. It became like stealth missions on a video game: focus on Fox News guy until he grins. Stay on Pun Hater until he laughs at your most contrived word play. Go after those laughs.
Energy picks up, the rest of the room (already good) come with you, the gig turns around. I end feeling like Rocky in Rocky IV, each hard won laugh is a clap from a Russian, each book sold after the gig is one of the politburo standing up to applaud my fighting spirit.
Of course, it’s great to play to a theatre full of friends who’ll indulge your We Didn’t Start the Fire parodies and Miley Cyrus remakes for two hours, but scrapping for a grin at a locals’ pub from people who only went in there for a quick Guinness? That’s a good feeling.
One year in and even just beginning to learn shows you how much you don’t know as a a new stand up comic. At least I know to always have a drink on stage because that nervy dry mouth is still there, and you can easily be reduced to that kid stepping up for the first time.