Over my 18 months of comedy career I have performed at a few charity gigs (as well as organising one myself) Well last nights gig was an example of how not to set up a charity gig, which is unfortunate for the comedians involved. Here are three simple guidelines;
1) get the right room- last night had a huge (both high and deep) stage in a small room with too few tables and chairs and way too many sofas which left the majority of people standing at the back of the room at the bar. This ultimately means the performers talk over the majority of the audience. So what ended up happening was that everybody standing at the back chatted, whilst the front attempted to listen.
When on stage this is a strange experience as the room seems to be split, the laughs get lost, and you kind of feel a bit more alienated up there. You can see people smiling but not really hearing any laughter over the back of room chattering.
2) get the right comedians in the right order!
So last night was all local comedians, some which I have seen before and know are brilliant, some which I have seen before and know are not so good, and some I'd never seen! There was a headliner, an opener, four others, myself and a compere (I'll cover the compere in point 3). So when I got there I was told that the headliner now needed to leave early so will now be closing the first half, and that I was to headline. Now, I have no issue in headlining but for the headliner of a charity night to say half an hour before the gig that he has to leave early is wrong to me, he may as well not have turned up.
So (missing out the compere) the night ran like this: opener- very loud, got a few laughs and warmed up the audience but, from the back where I was sat he seemed to underwhelm, second, a small lady with tiny voice, who, even with a mic we couldn't hear her at the back, the people at the bar just ramped up their chat and drowned her out, third and finally for this section was the original headliner, who, performed like he was headlining, getting the big laughs, as well as a few things that didn't work, but nonetheless went down very well! He did over run though, doing a 30 minute set instead of 15, which caused the whole second half to be shortened, sped up and rushed.
Onto the second half opened by a young act on only his second gig, who quite frankly stormed it and you'd have never known he was so inexperienced, followed by two acts who I'm sure on a different night in a different venue would do really well, alas tonight was different and they both didn't seemed pleased with how their sets had gone. Then on to the headliner, oh wait he's gone home, it'll be my turn then! So up I stepped, got a response that I felt was par for the night and left, having not been able to expand as I wanted due to time restraints.
3) get a decent compere!
This will make or break your night. I have seen many comperes and the best ones can rescue a night, no matter how the room or the acts are.
Last night, this did not happen, the compere started on the wrong foot, by not getting anybody to laugh.
When introducing acts she was making fun of them and creating fictional stories about them, which I'm sure the audience new were false but people were giving weird looks in trying to work it all out.
She chose to speak to a lady in the audience (quite a common thing to do I hear you say) but this lady was sat right at the back, alienating the whole front of the audience, unsure whether to turn and look or just look at the stage. She had chose this lady for material use only, because she was pregnant, even though the material was poor and didn't go anywhere.
All night she had no jokes to warm anybody up and whenever she got on stage everybody went into their own conversations!
Now I don't claim to be an expert at performing or organising a comedy night, but Ive been to enough to know how not to run one. So to conclude, this is not how to run a charity comedy night, now I'm not saying they didn't raise any money, I don't know if they did or not. nevertheless after all this the audience seemed to enjoy it in the majority so I guess that's what it's all about?
2012! What a year! The jubilee, the Olympics, the end of the world! ( Haha, jokes on you Mayan
civilisation!) while that lot was going on around the country/world my 2012 has been pretty decent too, and as you're on my website I'm guessing you'd like to know a little about it? (And if not you'd better stop reading because that's all the words below are going to tell you!)
Lets go back to January and see who I was back then. I was Shaun Jacques aspiring stand up comedian. I was travelling to London maybe once a week performing at open mic nights trying to get myself noticed. (as are thousands of other comics all around the country.) I would turn up to the comedy night, jump on stage, do my 5/7/10 minutes of monologue and get off, as would every other act on the bill. Now I'm not one for blowing my own trumpet (in fact I'm quite the opposite as you will read further down) but I was doing ok,(in my mind) I had a couple of promoters asking me back and I would get people congratulate me on a good set (I'm sure they were just being curtious) and I would also get people surprised at how short a time I had been going.
At this point I had been going 6 months, I performed my "first" gig in my home town of Bedford in July 2011. I call it my "first" gig because I did perform 3 shows back in 2009 at the age of 18 but after dying on my arse I felt like I'd failed and wanted nothing more to do with this stand up lark, but the bug had bitten me and it wasn't until may 2011 that I decided to try it again, it went well (the evidence is on YouTube http://youtu.be/c2Pnbh4rBeg ) and so I continued, anyway back to 2012.
Among all of these comedy nights I had been attending I was starting to see a trend see if you can spot it... Guy comes on tells some jokes, gets some laughs, leaves. Guy comes on, tells some stories, gets some laughs, leaves. Girl comes on tells some jokes, gets some laughs, leaves.
Guy,jokes,laughs,leaves. Guy,stories,laughs,leaves. .... Have you spotted it yet? From sitting in these (quite often) basement based open mic nights I was starting to notice, they were full of people just standing up and talking, getting some laughs and leaving. Now there is nothing wrong with this equation, no, on the contrary this is quite often the best way to perform stand up, and
there are hundreds of new comedians out there on the open mic circuit doing it extremely well, but The other thing I noticed was that although all of the guys and girls standing up were getting the laughs (with a few exceptions) there was nothing particularly memorable from the night, and I was a part of this unmemorableness! I felt like I needed to do something different. Something that people would remember.
So whilst continuing to gig I was planning and my plan was all set to come in to force at Parachute productions, a promoter who had asked me back, and in a venue that i felt fairly comfortable in trying out new stuff, in mid February. But two days before the gig it was pulled due to a disagreement between promoter and venue, bugger! My next gig wasn't for a couple of weeks and it was at Up The Creek, I had had this gig booked in for months, it is quite a prestigious venue for new comics on the open mic circuit and the waiting list for gigs is never less than two months. I debated with myself over them few weeks as to whether I was going to stick to old/samey/mediocrely received set or try new/different/very likely to fail stuff. I chose the latter!
Even as I walked up to the stage that night I considered going back to the old stuff, but I got up and after sorting out the mic and putting down my black bag, I started, all the mirror-time was about to pay off, I performed my first ventriloquist performance and got off. It went ok! ( you
can see that here on YouTube http://youtu.be/sb3IPRRY8EQ ) and I had few people come up to me afterwards and say how they'd enjoyed it, that they hadn't seen a vent for so long, and be surprised that that was my first time, I was overwhelmed at the response and it was then I decided to stick with it. So with a puppet, bought for me by my girlfriend as a joke because it looked like me, I started performing ventriloquism at open mic nights and getting similar responses to the first time, still being overwhelmed by this I wanted to better this somehow but wasn't sure how.
The next thing of interest from the year is the night of the lastminutecomedy Bedford new comedian of the year competition, this was a competition that I entered whilst still performing straight stand-up and it was also for a promoter for which I had performed the said straight set for back in the previous December. Anyhow, long story short, I didn't win, or come in the runners up. After getting a few comments about how people enjoyed the fact that they had seen ventriloquism again, I left, not feeling the slightest bit disappointed about not going through as I had gone on first in a heat of 15! A few weeks later I received an email saying that I had come 4th on that night and
that the 3rd place guy couldn't make it to the semi finals, so I was in if I wanted it, of course I did! So that's the Henlow comedian of the year gig, once again I didn't get through but again I had been on first and I felt like I had had another decent gig so all seemed to be going ok. (In my eyes)
Fast forward to June by when I had purchased a new ventriloquism tool, a face mask to turn a victim, I mean volunteer, into a vent dummy. I performed this for the first time in Kentish town (video here on YouTube http://youtu.be/W8OJ0at38mc ) I was supposed to do a 5 minute set but after I came off my watch said 8 minutes! I went to apologise to the promoter for not seeing the light he should have flashed at 5 minutes but, he said that he was enjoying being taken back to his childhood by the act! Wow! But then, lo and behold a week later, Nina Conti performed on Russell Howard's Good News using a similar mask. now I know neither of us were the first to ever use one (it was first done in the 70's) but no when ever I do that set i get some one say they saw Nina do it and how good she is at it! Also in June I got paid for a gig for the first time, now this may seem a small insignificant point but I feel like it meant a lot, someone actually wanted to pay me for my skills/services!
July, and I went to clapham common for my heat of 'So, You Think You're Funny?' A prestigious new act competition where the heat section is don slightly differently to other competitions. There is no guarantee that anyone from any particular heat will go through, in the same vain, all 15 from
one heat could go through. So my heat was the last of all, and it was the week after where all the finalists would be rung to be told that they had got through to the semi finals at the Guilded balloon in Edinburgh during the height of the Festival in August. I had all but forgotten about the competition, but one day in late July during my lunch break at work I received a phone call to say that I had got through and I would be performing in the first of the semi finals in Edinburgh! WOW! (Look proof! http://soyouthinkyourfunny.co.uk/heat-1-contestants )
Now, it was at this point I looked at the puppet I was using and realised he wasn't that great! He was small, not very moveable and he was commercially available for anyone to buy off of Amazon. I needed my own puppet, so I started contacting people who might be able to make one for me and I found one at a price I liked and commissioned it. The only downside was that he wasn't going to be ready for my Edinburgh shows.
So at the beginning of August we (my girlfriend, the puppet and me) headed up to Edinburgh to experience the festival for the first time, we only went up for a few days and I only did a few shows up there but what a place, what a buzz, what an experience! Alas I didn't win my SYTYF heat and
didn't get through to the final but hey, it was an honour to just make it to the semi's! At the end of August a big box appeared at my front door and out of it fell the brand new Real Shaun Jacques. bigger, better and ready to go. (As seen in the gallery section of this site)
September and October were a general mix of a lot of open mic gigs, sprinkled with a paid gig here and there. My travels also took me away from London or the local area for a gig, Telford was calling. I also launched this (YouTube link http://youtu.be/_5QkeWutOhg) ventriloquism without a puppet. This was something I had been plotting for a while, jotting little things in my notepad until I felt happy enough to take it on stage. Also it meant I could do London gigs without lugging a huge suitcase on the tube! Ventriloquism is often called 'a dead art' or 'an art form that has nowhere else to go' many vents all around the world are doing different things to try and reinvent the art form and hopefully this is leading me to my game changer.
We'll skip November and move straight on to December. Early December brought a real adventure and one that took two full days to produce, I appeared on BBC1's game show, Pointless. And not only that, the Real Shaun Jacques did too! The two episodes I filmed are due to air around March/April 2013 so at this point I can't really say much, other than it was a great couple of days for both of us.
Well that's 2012 done! I think that covers all the main points of the year, I do hope you have found some of this interesting because at this point I cannot issue refunds.
I hope this hasn't come across as anything other than an informative article, I don't want anyone to get offended by anything I've said because I'm just not like that! I'm also very aware that I am not the only person trying to make it on the British comedy circuit, I only hope that in reading the above review that you get a sense of my first full year on the comedy circuit and realise how much fun I'm having!
All the best and here's to 2013!