Helen Lederer interviewing James for his episode
The last 12 months have been huge and very exciting for James!
The BBC approached James recently to be the featured comedian for an episode of their new series "Knock Knock" - a show where 10 professional comedians from around England talk to Helen about their life, their home town, and their comedy influences and career. Hear James' episode on BBC iPlayer in here! CLICK HERE TO LISTEN
James has also just been chosen to be resident MC for the BIG Value Late Show throughout the Edinburgh Festival for Just The Tonic. Track him down at the festival for that compilation show, and performing his first full run at The Caves, with his brand new show "Bring Back The 80s!".
The previous year James was asked to support Dane Baptiste on his UK tour in 2017 and Jo Brand in 2016 whilst also filming a new Sky Christmas comedy show, which aired in the UK at Christmas.
Collecting one of his awards & Supporting Jo Brand in 2016
Performing live most nights of the week, James has also spent the last 12 months developing his reputation with many major clubs across the UK, working for the best clubs in the country including Komedia, The Comedy Loft, Just The Tonic, Up The Creek, The Boat Show, Manfords, Off The Kerb, Barnstormers, The Comedy Store, Funhouse, Avalon, Buzz Comedy, Hot Water, Crack Comedy Clubs and many more during his 250+ shows in the last year!
James on "Scared of Santa"
James Alderson was voted "Best Comedy Act 2015" by the WOW247 Awards and was voted "Best Comedian 2014" by The Guide Awards, and 2017 just got better and better!
James has established himself as one of the most booked MCs on the circuit too, now regularly appearing as MC or resident MC for over a dozen professional comedy clubs around the country, including being made resident compere for Just The Tonic!
He also regularly gigs abroad travelling to Cyprus, Spain, Egypt, Crete, Turkey and various corporates including performing in Iceland for WowAir, Switzerland for Nestle and in New York at Christmas.
James also hosts the South Coast Comedian of the Year competition now in it's 6th year finding the brightest new comedy talent on the south coast!
James has an effervescent and exuberant style. He draws on his life experiences as a man to feed his routines. He's been described by many as an 'everyman comedian'. Women laugh at his hilarious observations and self-depricating style, and men laugh with him, feeling his pain and his frustrations....you rarely know where James will go with his comedic tales and punchlines, but he always takes the crowd with him, laughing all the way....
James is married to Charlotte, his dream girl, who he met whilst on holiday in Corfu in 1994, when he was just 19.
They tied the not in 2001.
James is the proud father of two terrific young boys, Louis & Joe, aged 15 and 12.
|18th||July||8:00 PM||SOLO SHOW - Bring Back The 80s! (WIP)||Stoke-on-trent|
|19th||July||8:00 PM||SOLO SHOW - Bring Back The 80s! (WIP)||Bognor|
|20th||July||8:00 PM||Just The Tonic||Reading|
|22nd||July||8:00 PM||James Alderson Presents...||Havant|
|25th||July||8:00 PM||Outside-In Comedy Club||Portsmouth|
|26th||July||8:00 PM||Whip & Kitten Comedy Night||Rawtenstall|
|27th||July||8:00 PM||Comedy All Stars "Little Summer Show"||Petersfield|
|28th||July||4:30 PM||SOLO SHOW - Bring Back The 80s! (WIP)||Stow Maries|
|1st||August||8:00 PM||SOLO SHOW - Bring Back The 80s! (WIP)||Sunbury|
|1st||August||11:00 PM||Wickham Festival||Wickham|
|2nd||August||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
|2nd||August||11:00 PM||Wickham Festival||Wickham|
|3rd||August||11:00 PM||Wickham Festival||Wickham|
|4th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|4th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|5th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|5th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|6th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|6th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|7th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|7th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|8th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|8th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|9th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|9th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|10th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|10th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|11th||August||1:00 AM||Lock-In Cabaret||Edinburgh|
|11th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|11th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|12th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|13th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|13th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|14th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|14th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|15th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|15th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|16th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|16th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|17th||August||1:00 AM||Lock-In Cabaret||Edinburgh|
|17th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|17th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|18th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|18th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|19th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|19th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|20th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|20th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|21st||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|21st||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|22nd||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|22nd||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|23rd||August||1:00 AM||Lock-In Cabaret||Edinburgh|
|23rd||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|23rd||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|24th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|24th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|25th||August||7:20 PM||Bring Back The 80s SOLO SHOW||Edinburgh|
|25th||August||9:45 PM||Big Value Late Show||Edinburgh|
|3rd||September||10:00 PM||Cocktail Comedy Club||Eastbourne|
|6th||September||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
|7th||September||8:00 PM||The Britannia||Italy|
|8th||September||8:00 PM||The Britannia||Italy|
|9th||September||8:00 PM||The Britannia||Italy|
|10th||September||8:00 PM||The Britannia||Italy|
|11th||September||8:00 PM||The Britannia||Italy|
|12th||September||8:00 PM||The Britannia||Italy|
|13th||September||8:00 PM||The Britannia||Italy|
|14th||September||8:00 PM||The Britannia||Italy|
|15th||September||10:00 PM||We Are Amused Comedy Club||Portsmouth|
|20th||September||7:30 PM||Comedy At The Kings||Southsea|
|21st||September||8:00 PM||The Stand-Up Club||London|
|27th||September||8:00 PM||Comedy All Stars||Horndean|
|28th||September||9:00 PM||Coastal Comedy||Lymington|
|1st||October||7:00 PM||James Alderson & Friends||Fareham|
|4th||October||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
|5th||October||8:00 PM||Just The Tonic||Reading|
|7th||October||8:00 PM||James Alderson Presents...||Havant|
|11th||October||8:00 PM||Laughter Live!||Fareham|
|12th||October||8:00 PM||Surgery Comedy Club||IOW|
|18th||October||8:00 PM||The Boat Show Comedy Club||London|
|19th||October||8:00 PM||Just The Tonic||Reading|
|25th||October||8:00 PM||Comedy All Stars "The Little Autumn Show!"||Petersfield|
|26th||October||8:00 PM||Southsea's Secret Comedy Club||Southsea|
|1st||November||8:00 PM||Comedy All Stars||Horndean|
|2nd||November||8:00 PM||Berko Beer Fest||Berkhamsted|
|5th||November||7:00 PM||James Alderson & Friends||Fareham|
|8th||November||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
|9th||November||8:00 PM||SOLO SHOW - Bring Back The 80s!||Havant|
|15th||November||8:00 PM||The Chuckle Club||Cobham|
|16th||November||8:00 PM||SOLO SHOW - Bring Back The 80s!||Petersfield|
|22nd||November||8:30 PM||SOLO SHOW - Bring Back The 80s!||Folkestone|
|23rd||November||8:00 PM||SOLO SHOW - Bring Back The 80s!||Fareham|
|28th||November||8:00 PM||SOLO SHOW - Bring Back The 80s!||Southampton|
|29th||November||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
|30th||November||8:00 PM||Laughing Chili Comedy Club||Marlow|
|3rd||December||7:00 PM||James Alderson & Friends||Fareham|
|5th||December||8:00 PM||SOLO SHOW - Bring Back The 80s!||Guildford|
|6th||December||8:00 PM||Comedy All Stars||Horndean|
|7th||December||8:00 PM||Comedy All Stars "The Little Winter Show!"||Petersfield|
|9th||December||8:00 PM||James Alderson Presents...||Havant|
|11th||December||8:00 PM||Stand Up Comedy Club||London|
|13th||December||10:00 PM||ROFL Comedy Club||Stoke-on-trent|
|19th||December||8:00 PM||James Alderson & Friends Xmas Special!||Fareham|
|20th||December||8:00 PM||Comedy Lounge||Hull|
|21st||December||8:00 PM||ROFL Comedy Club||Stoke-On-Trent|
|23rd||December||8:00 PM||James Alderson Presents... Xmas Special!||Havant|
|27th||December||8:00 PM||Coastal Comedy||Bournemouth|
|31st||December||7:00 PM||Comedy All Stars NEW YEARS EVE SPECIAL||Horndean|
|4th||January||8:00 PM||The Boat Show Comedy Club||London|
|17th||January||9:00 PM||SOLO SHOW - Bring Back The 80s!||Portsmouth|
|31st||January||9:45 PM||Jailhouse Comedy Club||Arundel|
|3rd||February||8:00 PM||James Alderson Presents...||Havant|
|4th||February||8:00 PM||James Alderson & Friends||Fareham|
|5th||February||10:00 PM||Comedy Bubble||Shoreham-by-Sea|
|8th||February||8:00 PM||Secret Gig||Havant|
|12th||February||8:00 PM||South Coast Comedian of the Year||Havant|
|13th||February||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
|14th||February||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
|15th||February||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
|26th||February||8:00 PM||South Coast Comedian of the Year||Havant|
|28th||February||8:00 PM||Comedy All Stars||Horndean|
|6th||March||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
|11th||March||8:00 PM||South Coast Comedian of the Year||Havant|
|13th||March||8:00 PM||Woking School Comedy Night||Woking|
|25th||March||8:00 PM||South Coast Comedian of the Year||Havant|
|28th||March||8:00 PM||Comedy All Stars "Little Spring Show"||Petersfield|
|3rd||April||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
|6th||April||8:00 PM||James Alderson Presents...||Havant|
|15th||April||8:00 PM||South Coast Comedian of the Year||Havant|
|24th||April||8:00 PM||Comedy All Stars||Horndean|
|29th||April||8:00 PM||South Coast Comedian of the Year||Havant|
|1st||May||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
|13th||May||8:00 PM||South Coast Comedian of the Year||Havant|
|1st||June||8:00 PM||James Alderson Presents...||Havant|
|5th||June||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
|10th||June||8:00 PM||South Coast Comedian of the Year||Havant|
|17th||June||8:00 PM||South Coast Comedian of the Year||Havant|
|25th||June||8:00 PM||South Coast Comedian of the Year FINAL||Havant|
|3rd||July||8:00 PM||Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club||Gunwharf Quays|
....a brief overview.
Well its been a rollercoaster of fun in 2016. At the end of 2015 I could see the bookings were up, but I had no idea how busy the year to come would be!
This will be briefer (is that a word?) than usual, as I have literally just stopped admin and gigging, and really fancy a Christmas eve with the family, but needless to say its been a blast!
I guess the main thrust of my year has been that my MCing reputation has grown, clearly, as many more 'big' clubs have started to book me to MC for them! If you'd said that to me 5 years ago I would have come out in a hot clammy sweat, and probably cried. I HATED MCing with a passion, and got scared every time I had an MC spot scheduled, but since 2014 when I took over as resident compere for the big Hampshire 450 seater Comedy All Stars gig, I've relished the opportunity to MC for anyone, and love walking out on any stage not knowing what I am going to be saying and laughing about with the front row.
This year has been exciting too, for many other reasons, namely that I was asked to join Jo Brand again at Leicester Square Theatre in the Autumn to support her which was super, and I also supported Dane Baptiste in the Hampshire leg of his UK tour too, which was another unexpected honour!
I also continued to gig abroad, although ISIS did their best to limit the trips thanks to the cancellation of Turkey and Egypt shows, but I still ventured a few times to Crete, Greece and Ibiza, so I can't really complain!
I've also been asked to perform at some of the bigger clubs that previously have passed me by in my short time on the circuit, and so adding weekend gigs for The Comedy Store, Up The Creek in Greenwich and The Boat Show on the Thames was terrific! I'm returning to those clubs in 2017 too, so hopefully I can keep the momentum going, but who knows! This industry sure is a fickle madame!
The real gauge of a working comedian is how many weekends off they get I guess, and I have just looked back through my diary and I had 5 Fridays without work, and 7 Saturdays, and that includes January and August, the dead months, so I really am pleased with how busy the year has been! It's sometimes sad not to be able to spend the nights when everyone else is settling down with family to relax, but we've got used to it now quite well, and our nights tend to be Sunday nights and Mondays, and we make time during the day for each other more than most I think, so it's not that bad really!
Hopefully in 2017 a few more doors open. I've chatted to a few agents this year, but really I'm so busy that I need someone who can help me push into other areas than I'm already gigging. Six different well known comedians this year have told me I should get into TV warm up, and I've had chats with two TV producers recently and will be following that up in the coming months. It's something I think would be great fun, and from chatting to a few comedian friends who already do TV warm-up, it seems a naturaly progression for me from my MCing duties at clubs.
I'd also like to finally get back into The Glee Club. I was performing there relatively regularly, early on in my career back in 2013, and then had a below par gig and they dropped me like a pair of stinky socks. Up until that point they loved me and booked me quite a lot, but as I say, comedy is a fickle lady, and there are a dozen comedians waiting for you to slip up, and take your place!
Looking at my diary for 2017 I am very excited, though. I have some medical operations that need to happen to fix this ageing body of mine, and already it's proving tricky to find a gap where to book them in for, so that's a nice but worrying problem to have I guess!
Thanks for all your support in 2016, if you're one of the lovely members of the audience laughing at my nonsense, and if you're a booker, agent or promoter reading this, then thank you for all the work - I really do love this job, and laughing and making people laugh is such a terrific way to earn a living that I hope to be doing much more of it to more and more people as the years go by.
Have a terrific Christmas, and a wonderfully happy 2017!
Sorry its been a while. I've been busy working ;)
When I first started writing these blogs, my aim was to do them regularly to keep everyone updated on my progress, but then I went full time, and I soon found that simply keeping up with admin with the comedy career in general was tough enough! Especially for someone as lazy about admin as me!
This year started brilliantly with the support of Jo Brand AND Stewart Lee at the Bloomsbury Theatre.Considering it was my first gig of the year in January it was an absolute corker, and with my Mum in the audience too, it was a great start!
Next gem for the year was being voted Best Comedian by The Guide Awards 2015. This is an award where southern comedians, particularly focussed on Hampshire and close counties are put into a pile (not literally, just on paper), and readers of The News vote for their favourite, and then judges decide out of the top few comedians. I was delighted to win, and now have a rather lethal glass trophy on the kitchen window sill. I've been nominated again this year, but hey - musn't be greedy eh? (you did vote for me though right??).
I'd decided to start writing my solo show at this point, and preview it around the festivals in the UK, and did the first ever show of The Hunger James in Leicester in February. It went brilliantly, and wearing the full Katniss jumpsuit seemed an added bonus for the audience. I also previewed the show in Brighton for two nights (both brilliant) and Bath (brilliant) and Guildford (brilliant) and then went off to Edinburgh. These shows were NOT brilliant. I got ill in June (no. they still dont know whats wrong with me), and this had a massive impact on my effectiveness in Scotland. Also, the crowds are unique in Edinburgh.
All my audiences were 90% international, and my show is very focussed on growing up in Britain, and all the nuances and unique experiences that come with it. Trying to explain about a finger of fudge and the birdie song to 5 Germans is not, it turns out, that funny. Although one night was particularly hilarious when 5 American college boys were sat in the front row and I translated everything I said into American. Turned out to be a brilliant night.
Anyway. I'm jumping ahead. I hosted and organised South Coast Comedian of the Year again this year, with a bumper crop of new comedians competing for the prize. Busier audiences and some great acts, but sadly for the last time as The Cellars had to close after being open for over 130 years. So sad, but happening so much these days. I also developed Comedy All Stars into the biggest comedy club in the south, now attracting 450-500 people to EVERY show. It really is a joy to host, now having hosted for 2 years this June.
I also worked with Fareham Council and Ferneham Hall to launch Laughter Live! It's proved very tough as the venue really hasnt had anything like this before, and its taking a while to educate the area that young, current comedians will come to the area, but slowly slowly its building!
With my own gigging, I continued to build my reputation on the club scene and appeared a lot more regularly at Jongleurs, and started working with Manfords Comedy Clubs, appearing in Sutton and Rayleigh. More dates to come in 2016 too!
I travelled abroad a dozen times in 2015 too, performing in Egypt (yes, I flew out on the last plane out after they stopped all flights following the terrorist attack!), Turkey (yes I flew out a day after the terrorist attacks there too!) and Crete (yes, I flew out there a day after the Tunisia beach attacks). It's always quite hair raising (if I had any) when security is on high alert and police are everywhere, but so far, no problems. Thank goodness!
Sadly, whilst the Southsea Comedy Festival was all lined up and ready to go with me asked to be host once again, the admin side of it all fell through, so it wasn't to be, but hopefully it'll be back in 2016 and I'll see you all then!
I did however invite a few friends and comedians down to Spinnaker Tower to coincide with the festival that didnt happen - but the spinnaker tower shows carried on regardless and we had a blast with 6 edinbirgh festival show previews. Some at the top of the tower and some down in the cafe.
One sad thing during the year was the cancellation of my solo show in Portsmouth. I thought with all the press I get on local radio and The News, and obviously hosting all the shows meant I could drum up 100 bums on seats, butI decided to cancel as I only sold 30 tickets. It has been rearranged for 11th March if you fancy grabbing tickets. Would love to actually do the show in my home city! http://www.wegottickets.com/event/322570
The second half of the year saw a nice opportunity with BBC Radio saying they'd like to include me in regular weekly shows, and hopefully that will come together in 2016. Also Sky got in touch and asked me to work on their Scared of Santa talking heads comedy show. A great show to be part of aired in America lat December, and hopefully to be shown on Channel 5 in the UK in Xmas 2016. Take a little look at the advert here: https://vimeo.com/146496958
I've already got a full diary for 2016, and am hoping to perform more regularly for Manfords, Jongleurs, Glee Club, and I've already got a lot of international shows to Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus, and Ibiza, so it's going to be a busy busy year.
Thanks for all your support in 2015. I hope to see you out there!
I can't believe it's been 5 months!
Firstly, wow. Has it really been 5 months since my last blog entry. So much has happened but I guess thats probably the reason I haven't had a moment to consider updating this blog. Sorry. If you were sat there waiting. You've probably had stuff to do.
A few years ago a comedy pal of mine said I should write about the horrible stuff that has happened in my life, and write jokes about it. I thought that was a bloody ridiculous idea. I guess it was too raw to even consider. Now life has picked up somewhat, and those horrible times are still fresh but memories, I've done just that and have written my first hour's show!
I have previewed it at Leicester Comedy Festival, Bath Comedy Festival and Brighton Comedy Festival so far and all the rooms have been great. Packed, and the perfect audience for my show - proper grown ups, mostly couples, and I guess people who read my flyer about me, getting fat and unhealthy, and fighting back middle age. I didnt really consider my marketing being something that attracted the right audience more than attracting AN audience, but I have to say its a wonderful accident that the explanation of my show on the leaflet naturally appeals to those in the same boat as me - it makes it easier for them to connect with my stories and laugh, or cry (as one audience member said after hearing some of the less happy stories in my show!).
Writing an hour's show about my life isnt easy. I spend all my time on stage projecting an image of a man people can laugh at. Most comedians have a personae, that, whilst it includes some parts of them, isn't really them. To then write a show that reveals the real you is very disarming, and I guess quite counterproductive if your usual audience comes along and sees it. For that reason I've held off doing the show in my home city where I tend to host a lot of shows and events. Until it's perfect anyway!
Last year I spent a lot of time writing and planning the show. I was struggling. Now having previewed the show 4 or 5 times, I am very excited and keen to preview it more and more. I am taking it to Guildford in July and Edinburgh for 11 nights In August, and after that it's full throttle. No more previews and work in progress. Then next year in Edinburgh is the year. Who knows!!
Last year I really struggled. My previous 2 years of doing shows had taken off to such a point where I had started getting some great opportunies. I had turned pro after 2 years, and was gigging for most major chains. Last year I reached a plateau. I remember losing my way. Standing on stage and taking it slow. Pausing. Contemplating. Becoming laboured in my delivery. I was experimenting. I know that now, but more than anything I lost the energy. The thrust of my personae and my stage presence.
From the beginning I was regularly told I look like I really enjoy myself up on stage. That's because I do. Last year the mix of confidence, success, a little bit of writing stagnation and to be honest some uncertainty in where I was going with comedy meant my stage 'punch' went. I was very worried.
Then Christmas arrived (a time I love!), a few new bits of material came out that became brilliant sections of my set, and my energy ignited once more! I was over the moon! Only then did I realise what had been going wrong the previous 9-10 months. Only then did I actually realise there had been a problem. I just thought I'd lost it, and started to worry that comedy was going to fall apart for me.
That new found energy carried on into 2015, and it started so strongly in January that it made me even more excited for comedy, and my future.
Whilst last year almost certainly lost me some momentum, this year I have started gigging for most of the major bookers in the country that I wasn't already, including Manfords Comedy Clubs, Rob Riley, CKP, Avalon, and just been given my first spot at The Comedy Store in London on my own merit too, not doing their nasty Gong Show! eeurgh!
This year does seem to be the year for cancellations though, as more and more clubs grow and thrive and other less organised shows crumble. The trick is spotting the less organised clubs before you agree to appear at their shows, so you avoid cancellations. Mind you. I if could do that, it would be a psychic show not a comedy show, I guess!
Talking of cancellations, I was very sad that Mic, Bike 'n' Hike had to be cancelled this year. Last year, and some of the year before, I worked tirelessly to organise the big charity walk and bike ride for 10 comedians to make their way over 4 days from London to Portsmouth raising money for Macmillan Cancer, in memory of my brother. Something I'd wanted to do for a while. As my life got busier and busier, this year's event was picked up by the other comedians, so I didnt have to organise it on my own, but sadly it wasn't to be. There's something to be said for team work, but sometimes doing something on your own means you only let yourself down if you fail to do something. Hopefully it'll be back next year, or I might think of something else to do in memory of Matthew.
Matthew gets a mention of course in my show. Losing him was one of the biggest kicks in my life. It's definitely tough to talk about the bad times. Though it has been quite cathartic too, to talk about all the times that you feel you may have bottled up to try and forget. haveI had some really problematic moments where I would cry whilst rehearsing the show. That's not a problem in itself. I'm in touch with my emotions, ladies....but us humans are such simple machines, and as any comedian will tell you, it remembers. The body and the brain form habits. Picking up a drink at a certain punchline. Coughing at a particular moment in your set. Repetitive actions and intonation that aren't intentional. For this reason, it can become very risky if you cry at a memory whilst rehearsing, because if it happens too much, you naturally start crying during the show, even if you actually aren't even thinking about the sadness whilst you're saying it! Weird and wonderful human beings eh?
I'm not overly worried about showing emotions during the show, after all, I do enjoy myself, as everyone points out, and I love comedy. The hour show I have written it almost all laughs, but as I have pointed out to the press, all our lives are not hilarious, so whilst the show is a comedy hour, my life hasn't been one long laugh, so there are sad bits. One lady after the show said she was crying with laughter and then crying with sadness. Another said it was hilarious and inspirational.
These are things I had not expected. I didnt set out to write a show that was inspiring. I didn't set out to write a show that made people cry. What I did set out to do was write something that shows I can write an hour of a story that wasn't joke, joke, joke. Like you see when I'm at Jongleurs, or Comedy All Stars, or The Comedy Store (I know. I'm very excited!). What I wanted to write was something that would connect with the audience, and get across my life story in a way that would make people feel like they leave knowing me more, and not getting bored whilst learning. Laughing as much as possible, and having fun.
That's hopefully what the poster portrays too. It seems to be working. If you're near Guildford on 5th July then come and see it. If you're going to Ednburgh between 19th and 29th August then come see it. Nothing worse than telling me life story to the landlord and his dog!
Thanks for reading, and thanks for coming to my show. You're coming right? Hello? Anybody? Helloooo.....?
I really don't like these headings that basically line you up so you know the whole blog will be showing off about how far they've come, after all, let's be honest, no comedian is in this job to not be recognised as successful at making more and more people laugh as time goes on, but I'll be honest, if those kind of blogs arent for you....probably best stop now and find a lovely clip of a cat playing the piano or a guy trying to climb a wall but falling flat on his face and hurting himself.
I write these yearly overviews every year at this time, and whilst it's great to keep everyone up to date about my journey in this wonderful career (because some people actually read this thing!), I can honestly say this is something I write more to remind myself about my year. I look down my accounts Microsoft Excel spreadsheet (sorry, name dropping), and every gig I've done, every casting, every appearance, and my mind comes alive with joy, frustration, delight, impatience about how each opportunity has gone, be it good or bad.
This year has truly been remarkable....and not in a 'I think it's been great so I'll say remarkable, so you keep reading', kind of way, but in a way that I've completed so many things, and ticked so many things off my ambition list that I feel quite exhausted looking through the list of things I've been part of. No wonder I've got bags on my bags!
I'm not overly sure if I've risen up the ladder too much, as I wanted to be a regular at weekend clubs at this point, 4 years in, and although I've done quite a few weekends and weekend dates doing paid work for the main clubs, I still am not on their 'go to' list, so I'm not going to kid myself or you that I've achieved that.
I wanted more TV stuff, and I had a very close call where I was filmed for Stand Up For Cancer, explaining my close call with Testicular Cancer, and then including my silly #feelingnuts bath time clips that I filmed to promote checking your nuts, and got to the final edit of the Channel 4 show, before being snipped onto the cutting room floor on the night itself when One Direction over ran on the live show....yeah I know, who??
I've also been filmed doing stand up and a lengthy interview for a pilot for Channel 4 about behind the scenes in the comedy world. Not sure whether this will ever see the light of day, but it was great fun to film, and maybe it'll get on your tellbox in 2015. Whow knows eh?
I naturally continued to develop my own clubs, Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club, which regularly attracts 100-150 people in its wonderfully intimate club setting (now running almost every month in 2015), and much to my delight, I have now started hosting Comedy All Stars, the 500 seater wonderful club also in Hampshire, which presents 3 TV stars each show, and will have 5 shows in 2015. Both are a delight to host, and have helped me fall in love with MCing - something I never thought I'd be able to bear back in the day!
Whilst I continued to struggle but found SOME time to write a few more pages of my book "My First 2 Years in Stand Up", two other projects of mine did get underway as planned. The first ever outing for Foster's South Coast Comedian of the Year, and the huge charity event "Mic, Bike 'n' Hike". The competition, attracted over 100 new comedians, and 72 got through to the heats and competed, and hosting the heats and final really did open my eyes. Some great new comedians coming through, old and young, but some truly awful acts as well. Haha! (no, you're right, I shouldn't say that, sorry!) What amazed me more than anything was how comedians don't have a recording of their act!! It was a simple way to gauge if the act was viable to enter our competition, and not even having a recording of their act was amazing! How do they expect to promote themselves and get the attention of a promoter or agent without being able to send them a recording of themselves!!!? The winner Mike Cox was a terrific result, and an act I've gigged with and met a few times before the competition and thought had a great confidence and personae. Who knows what 2015 will bring!?
The charity walk was an exhausting, emotional and exhilerating experience, with 8 other comedians who I really bonded with. A great bunch, and all of us walked 100 miles from BT Tower to Spinnaker Tower, London to Portsmouth, and I planned the whole thing! I know...miracles, and we only took one wrong turn that lasted about 30 seconds! I was amazed too! The training involved me walking about 30 miles a week minimum for about 10 weeks before the event itself - finding the time was the biggest challenge to be honest - the amount of days between the school run where I'd walk for 3 hours in one direction exhausted in the Summer heat only to realise I had just 3 hours to get back to pick the boys up from school was a rare treat I am glad didnt happen too many times!!!!
We gigged every night along the route, and raised over £5000! The shows were great, the walking was absolutely debilitating, but also so rewarding, in seering heat in July, and the crowds were brilliant - and all for Macmillan Cancer Research!
In total I travelled just over 60,000 miles performing in 2014. It was the year that my comedy abroad really developed as I went out regularly performing for TED, mostly in Egypt, performing at their wonderful club in their 5 star resort there, and also got asked to go out to Switzerland performing mostly to Nestle staff. The travel was tiring, especially when you get back in the early hours and then have to drive 300 miles the next day to perform up north or in the deep south west, but such an exciting part of the year. A tan, free food and drink, sun bathing on a glorious beach with waiter service, and a half hour gig, whilst away for 3 days - yeah ok! Sounds fine....:)
I was also involved in the record breaking attempt of the longest stand up - brilliantly arranged by fellow Pompey comedian, Joe Wells. Still not sure if we did break the record, but I had to do 3 single hour stints during the 84 hour record attempt, practising what was to be my first solo hour, in front of a varying amount of people ranging from 10, at 4:30am in the morning, to 50 just as the world record attempt approached on the final night.
...but those weren't the craziest shows, although they are certainly up there. I performed too at a variety of private shows and corporates, one that was a 'Grand Ball' in a huge function hall laid out with glorious table decorations and extravagant chocolate fountains and hog roasts, to which only 11 people turned up, in full ball gown attire, whilst I stood 100 yards away on stage with a mic and cable that wouldnt let me get any closer to them!
I also hosted the huuuge 3 day Southsea Comedy Festival where over 2000 people assembled each night in the most wonderful setting under the big top to watch Eddie Izzard perform his solo show on the Thursday and Friday, and then a host of big TV stars on a mixed Bill on the Saturday. Hosting the shows in my home city to such big audiences was terrific, and I was originally asked to simply 'support' Eddie Izzard as the local Portsmouth comedian, but hosting seemed the right thing to do, and giving my best buddies in the comedy world, Larry Dean and Craig Murray the stage to support Eddie on Thursday and then Friday was a terrific buzz to watch. They are both terrific guys and great comedians - such a terrific show, and meeting Eddie was certainly a tick in the box!
As I look back over each year, I can get a good general idea as to whether I have moved up or down in my career, and thinking it over I did wonder if I had progressed at all! Looking at the facts, I do feel I have, and looking at next year's bookings I have already surpassed 2014's bookings and earnings, so I am absolutely buzzing already. It's difficult when you dont get to sit down with your boss who then gives you a pat on the back, a pay rise or even a well done, with a handy productivity graph to help you - but earnings and bookings are really the only indicator. Especially when, like most comedians, your head is often full of self doubt as to whether you are completely deluded or whether you are actually even an ounce funny....
A wonderful handful of well respected promoters have taken me under their wing for regular paid work that I am quite frankly elated by, and wont embarrass them (or probably confuse you) by listing. They aren't famous clubs as far as the layman, but they are very well respected in the comedy world, and it goes some way to making my status as full-time professional comedian a little more authentic, as ridiculously fantastical as that sounds when I say it in my head, or type it out here!
I've only been full-time for 2 years, and only been doing this dream for 4 years, so it's still very early days, but when I glanced over at the presents under the tree and worked out what I'd been able to spend on my children, I felt very chuffed to pay for them with what is essentially laughter.
I've spent most of my life laughing with people and at people (in a nice way of course), and being able to fund my little family by laughter is such a blessing.
I'm a million miles away from a finished article. I've performed on the same bill as dozens of big stars this year, and seasoned professionals, and quite frankly have wanted the ground to swallow me up at the prospect of having to step into the same spotlight after them whilst watching them make the audience explode in laughter, but what I do know is that I love this job, and am constantly working to improve.
I'd say this year has seen me miss just as much as hit the mark in my shows. I am very tough on myself and still film probably 80% of my shows to watch them back, and there were certainly a few months either side of Edinburgh where I completely lost my mojo; Edinburgh helped me write lots of new material but completely distracted me from my personae....my voice. I became more eratic, more random in my style, and slightly more of a freestyle voice on stage. I had become very structured and mechanical. It didnt look like it too much to the audience, but I was well aware that I was becoming a bit too rigid. Edinburgh shook that out of me, and so now, as I write my first ever solo show "The Hunger James" I am rattling around with a relatively new approach to James Alderson, comedian.
It's the same me, but with a bit more freedom to express truths and my life. It's not what I think people want to hear as much as it is what I want to tell them, in a way they want to hear it. It's a twist on my style, but I loved Edinburgh, and I'm determined to evolve my work in progress show of 2015 into something which will make audiences love my first ever solo hour, and just as importantly, make me love performing it, and maybe evn give them more of an insight into me and my life so far.
As I grow and grow my own clubs, inevitably some promoters may get a bit twitchy about the success they achieve, which I've sadly sensed recently (surely there's enough of an audience to go around?), but more importantly... I'm trying to not get labelled as a promoter, as I sometimes feel that is already happening, so my aim in 2015 is to continue to grow my own career and continue to develop my rapport with the main clubs. I'm very very excited about the dates I'm being asked toperform at that are coming in right now, especially the northern club dates where I really feel at home. My 20 and 30 minute sets are really what I enjoy, and the bigger clubs are where they can really come alive. Saying that, the small function rooms at the back of pubs are often just as magical to perform in, but there's something exta special about the stamp of authenticity a comedian gets when a 'chain' of clubs asks you to perform - "what? you mean I count as a comedian??"
Once again, I'll be involved in the Mic, Bike 'n' Hike Charity Walk, and I'll be carrying on my book, and hopefully nearly finishing it. I've been asked to perform with Jo Brand again in February at The Bloomsbury Theatre which is magical, and hosting numerous shows and events for The Children's Air Ambulance, including warm up for Lionel Richie's show to the VIPs in a box at his show in March! I'm hosting the big top to 2000 people a night again at Southsea Comedy Festival with another huge headliner, and have numerous international dates on the cards, including rumours of a potential regular comedy club starting in Switzerland that I may be resident host for!
South Coast Comedian of the Year 2015 is just about to start as well, so I can see the next flood of new southern comedians coming through the ranks, and with over 70 other dates in my 2015 diary already I'm interested to see what comes of the next 12 months.
Whatever it is, I hope it continues to be healthy, and happy for me and my family, and that I'm allowed to make people laugh, and that it happens with more and more success. Quite frankly as long as the same happens as this year, and that I don't have to put on a grey suit and stare at a partitioned wall, all the while getting post it notes put on my computer screen whilst I visit the vending machine on my 15 minute break, then I'll be happy!
I often wondered what I'd do if this career never took hold, but I'm absolutely chuffed to bits that it seems to be geting a grip of my life more than I thought it could those few short years ago when I first mentioned starting comedy, sat with the wife on our sofa in 2010 watching Lee Evans at the O2 on the telly, in our front room.
Thank you for reaching the end of this long overview of 2014. As I said at the beginning, it's not really for you but more of a reminder for me of what I've achieved and where I've come and gone to and from :)
The fact you've come along with me, and seen me at shows, and who knows, maybe even laughed, truly makes it more special, because knowing you're on my wavelength makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, I have something funny to say that others understand: that these silly thoughts in my head aren't only that.....that I'm not on my own.
Life eh? Definitely a barrel of laughs, and mine feels full!
....see you in 2015!
(I hope )
It's been a while, but hey, I've only just recovered from the walking and Summer mayhem!
When I started planning the big walk from London to Portsmouth, I'll be honest, I was bored this time last year. It's happening again to be honest. September is a quiet time post Edinburgh, before the Autumn and Winter shows kick in, and whilst the grey matter is sat relatively idle after the Edinburgh mayhem (I did 27 shows in 6 days!), I find it hard to switch off.
This year I went away for 2 weeks to Mexico with Team Alderson - our first family holiday together since I started comedy over 3 years ago - so relaxing was possible, but even then coming home to a quiet house, boys back at school, wife back at work, it still gave me the twitches to start something. I resisted. Sort of. I've set all the dates for the 2015 shows for Comedy All Stars and Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club and set the wheels in motion for South Coast Comedian of the Year 2015. I have a few new projects in hand, but I'm primarily concentrating on my own comedy career for 2015 with some exciting new relationships being forged as I type this.
But back to the hike....!
It seemed a great idea at the time, but it quickly transpired that I'd taken on a lot. With 2 weeks to go, most of the famous faces had pulled out of the walk, and all of the cyclists had pulled out (two family emergencies and one broken hip - some people will do anything to avoid being with me!).
I'd been walking upwards of 40 miles a week in training, as had a lot of others, but again, a few 'hiking' comedians seemed very short on training, so that was another worry.
The big day came, and we met at BT Tower.
Day 1 seemed a breeze to be honest. 4 hours of walking, nice weather, and a Travellodge at the end of it, which I must say was mighty fine. The show went well - 45 people in the audience at Bearcat Twickenham, and we all settled on pizza (carbs are important!) after the show.
Later that night returning to my room, I was pleased that the mixture of heat and pavement pounding had left me with seemingly no blisters. I removed my socks only to find a layer of skin on the balls of my feet came off with it! I'd probably trained for 500 miles minimum, and never much of a blister or cut. Now after the first 15 miles my skin was falling off!! I put on blister plasters and hoped for the best!
Day 2 was interesting. The first blisters had emerged but not bad ones. Nameless comedians who hadnt trained popped in to drug stores to get supplies of creams, ointments and plasters, and the walk slowly melted from London concrete to leafy Surrey tree-lined roads as we exited through Richmond Park. This was a tougher day but the weather was still very kind. Cerys had to leave for a radio show half way through, back in the big smoke, but spirits were high, and the prospect of a busy show that night was uplifting.
I forgot to mention that at each night, we also had sports massage specialists as well, so the idea of this at Guildford was terrific! We stopped for lunch on this day at Sainsburys, and filled our faces, which was becoming a habit. Almost more than drink, we were stopping for treats and cakes and icecream and carb overdoses far too frequently, but it seemed to be working!
Once again the show in Guildford was a cracker, with a half full room, but still a lovely audience. The Macmillan buckets had bundles of notes in, and our tired muscles were given a boost. I also got to see my wife and boys which was lovely, if somewhat briefly.
In Guildford, we all stayed in halls of residence. My shower was on a slope, and I only just fitted in it (and I'm not even 6 foot!), so a 'relaxing' hot shower wasnt quite on offer. It smelt a bit as well, but we were greatful for somewhere for free from Surrey University. The next day, as we all sat outside you could tell the aches and blisters were a little more substantial. One of the comedians went off with one of the support cars to find more 'supplies' from a pharmacy, as we all walked into the city for breakfast.
So far we had managed to get loads of places to donate food and drink for our charity mission. Wetherspoons had offered us discounted breakfasts, one pub gave us water and breakfast bars and let us use their loo even though they were shut. Everyone was very generous. I mean, we all looked like we were about to collapse, and were dressed in bright green Macmillan tshirts, so its hard to be heartless with the state we looked, but still, they were very very kind!
The Guildford to Petersfield walk was tough. It took us through more hilly terrain, smaller country lanes, and the weather was hot. Blisters were pounding now on a few of the less trained people, and even a few of the tougher walkers, me included, had a blister or two. Blister plasters were very useful, but on hard to reach spots like little toes, they did bugger all!
During training, I'd managed to weaken a tear in my muscle wall, where a hernia was threatening to pop, and at this point in the walk, the pain was becoming quite overbearing. I was popping painkillers like they were smarties. Another comedian had ditched his boots, for casual boots, and had now changed into newly bought sandals to give the blisters chance to air/breathe/heal (?), and was walking much better.
Arriving in Petersfield was very tough. It took us over the southdowns, and the sun was literally beating down - the longest part of the route, and as we appraoched the rugby club where we were due to perform, half the walkers who we had been left for dust appeared in front of us. They'd found a short cut through a park, and had avoided the 2 mile walk I'd taken the front pack on - I wasnt popular. I blame Google Maps!
It was a slight panic to get everyone ready in time for the show, as the hotel was 15 minutes drive from the venue and we were relying on one car to ferry us backwards and forwards, but we made it, and the little club house had a lively 35 people to greet us. Luckily my mate Paul was on hand to set up the stage, lights and speakers for us, otherwise we may have died trying to set it up, as our joints and muscles were now truly hurting and burning. The girls seemed to like Paul as well, so that lifted their spirits!
That night's stay was probably our best. The Premier Inn was superb, and the next morning they gave us all free full english breakfasts, and for our final walk to Portsmouth we were invigorated. It was going to be long, but we were pumped!
For the final day, I had my own deadline. At 1pm my youngest son was leaving his infant school for good to move to big school, and they were doing a leavers arch that I wanted/needed to be part of. The wife was working so if I wasnt there he'd have no one.
The walk was going via my village, so we marched off, with the plan to stop for sandwiches and drinks at my house, halfway between Petersfield and Portsmouth. The sun was very hot, and with little tree canopy on the route, we really struggled, but kept up the pace.
Everyone throughout the walk kept asking how long to go, but it was always very difficult. 2 hours left quickly becomes 3 hours when you stop for a drink or the pace slows because of someones blisters, so obviously muggins here was the but of a variety of jokes from the comedians as they strained to work out if their little legs would get them to the next hotel and gig!
Rob, who broke his hip, was also sporadically passing us and coming to greet us on his bike, as he completed parts of the journey, as part of his rehabilitation. He also helped ferry people around and prep the shows, and was a great asset to the group. It was often quite a relief when we saw him cycling up, as we knew we were almost there!
I made it to my son's leaving arch, and being at home with the walkers was a surreal but terrific experience. One of the walkers couldnt complete the final day and jumped in Robs car for the second half, and another had bailed the previous day after having to jog along side the walkers, as his feet were hurting so much with blisters and cuts he could barely settle for long on each foot, so bizarrely jogging almost on the spot felt better than walking!
So the final approach left 5 walkers, one of whom had NO blisters or aches at all, and had spent the entire walk on his phone doing emails and making calls. He's only 24, but needless to say I dont like him any more... :)
As we walked over Portsdown Hill and saw Spinnaker Tower in the distance, it was a terrific experience.
War weary and exhausted we continued our march into Portsmouth.
One thing that continued to surprise us thoughout was the regular bibs we got from the cars, and cheers. Certainly towards the end, there were only a few of us, but still we'd get a few car horn beeps most days, and not just because I was wearing sweaty, dirty tracky bottom shorts!
The final approach was a relief, and the tower peaking up about the buildings as we entered the city was a contant reminder we'd nearly walked the 100 miles, and our job was done. We had 140 people waiting at the tower for us to do the show, and we ended on a bang!
3 of us sprinted the last 100 yards to the tower, and gave it a big kiss. We'd made it, and we were very, very emotional - and knackered
Sold out, and loads of money raised, the show was incredible, and although most of us hobbled onto the stage, and many even had to be helped onto the stage, we were all buzzing, and laughing, and having a great time.
Weeks later when some of us bumped in to one another in Edinburgh, it was emotional. Cliches aside, we really had formed a great bond, going through so many unsusual and challenging situations over those four days.
We didnt quite raise the money we wanted, but before we even finished, most were talking about doing it again next year. This year seems to be flying by, so I'm not sure how realistic that is, but we did something terrific, had a great time, laughed all the way, and no one fell out once. A real indicator of how super all the comedians were who took part. Great guys and girls, and I was proud to be in the group sharing the hike together.
A big thank you to all of them, and to all the people and businesses who sponsored and supported the events. Hopefully I'll see you at the next one...if there is one!
As part of my training for Mic, Bike 'n' Hike I walked from my house to Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower.....it threw up lot of things I hadn't expected!
As part of my 'foot conditioning' and training for the 100 mile charity walk I'm doing for Mic, Bike 'n' Hike in 3 months time, I've been walking every week, usually testing part of the route before the big week at the end of July!
Typically, I do the school run on my own, as the wife has a 'proper job' so I'd measured and tracked the distance between Denmead, the village I live in, and Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, and it said 6 hours round trip! I would be leaving at 9am from dropping my boys at school and would need to be back by 3:15pm to pick them back up. With no let-up in the pace of walking, and no margin for error, that left me little time even to stop for water breaks and something to eat, but I decided to go for it.
I use a mixture of google and apple maps, on the walking mode, and so far its been perfect and today wasnt any different. I knew where I was going as its my home town, but still, always nice to check that the route actually has pathways for all 16 of us to travel along for the final 10 mile journey. Obviously my journey today would be 20 miles (not including the school run at either end!) as I was walking there and back, but that way I could be doubly sure the route was suitable...and of course condition these delicate girls soles I have under my feet.
Foot conditioning is one of those ridiculous things you read about and think you dont need, but even if you've worked on a shop floor 9-5 for 10 years, nothing prepares you for the relentless slapping of feet on tarmac for 6-7 hours. Often people drag their feet around, or simply stand about and walk a bit from one end of the carpetted shop to the other. Up and down curbs, undulating pathways, and rough concrete and pebbled paths create a whole new stress on the soles of your feet and its important to toughen them up.
As I set off, the day was meant to be sunny, but as I left the village the air was clogged with mist and fog. A sure sign it would be sunny and hot later, but this was really foggy!
The time was 9am, and there was quite a lot of traffic on the road, but I kept on stepping, thinking how bloody far I had to go, and would I actually make it back to pick up my boys from school in time!! Within an hour I was climbing the foot of the first hill on the way up Portsdown Hill, which is basically the last edge of the south downs which separates the coast from the countryside. One side of the hill is villages and small towns, and mostly rural farm land, and the other side is the city and beaches.
It's only when you do these journeys at 4 miles an hour and not 40 that you realise just how undulating the roads and hills are. You also notice the little bits of history along the way. The disused doorway, the graveyard tucked away, the ancient signpost overgrown with ivy and long forgotten. As my journey continued up the hill I began to spot more and more.
I was now walking the old London Road, that originally went (and still does) to London from Portsmouth as the only route.
I continued on to the main hill and this felt tough. I'd walked about 3 miles I guess at this point, and it was warm. Only about 10am, but I was feeling the pressure and I had to keep up the pace, but my right inner sole of my walking boots kept slipping back, and I had already corrected it twice. I'd tightened the laces, but now with the increased temperature as my feet were swelling this was digging in. Slipping inner soles or digging in laces? An exciting multi-choice, I think we can all agree!
As I reached the peak of the main hill I looked across to where Portsmouth should be and saw this:
It was like one of those movies where they return to their home city after the end of the world and find just a dust storm and devastation. Portsmouth was completely burried in fog and mist. This happens quite a lot, as Portsmouth is on an island, but I hadn't seen fog and mist quite like this before. Maybe I should turn back? It's probably a sign.
By the time I had walked down to sea level, the town of Cosham was buzzing, and it was about 10:45am. People were bustling around the shops, and the place was very much alive for a Tuesday morning, but I had places to go, mostly McDonalds for a wee. It's amazing the things you learn from all this walking. One important thing is carry water. As much as your back pack will sensibly take. The second thing is don't wee when you think you need a wee. Your body needs fluids, but give your bladder 15-20 minutes of walking and you'll soon find you dont need a wee! That bladder full of wee has come in handy. Don't ask me where it goes, because I got a B in GCSE science, but it gets used, trust me!
I used the facilities in McDonalds and tutted at the unhealthy individuals, because now I'm so super-fit of course, and walked onto Portsea Island, under the motorway and across the water towards Hilsea, which is the oldest entrance to the city, and until about 50 years ago, the ONLY entrance to the city - amazing! This is where our beloved local paper "The News" has its HQ - they will be offering loads of support for our charity walk so I doffed my hat (I was wasn't wearing one!), and went onwards!
I was heartened to see that part of the new signage had dropped away showing the old 70s glittery typograhy of the old sign. Another glimps into the past, which gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. (no it wasnt the wee!). You can see the cool funky 'n' in this picture. It was the sign I remember from when I was young and used to go past this to the school playing fields.
Continuing through Hilsea, I walked past the old bus stop I used to wait at after playing rugby/football/cricket/hockey/cross country/tennis you name it, at Portsmouth Grammar School's playing fields, and past the little newsagent where I'd often stop with my friend Ed Wareham (sadly no longer with us) on my way back from playing sport for the school and off to choir practise (yes I was head chorister of Portsmouth Cathedral Choir when I was 12. Get over it!).
Hard to believe that was nearly 30 years ago. It was probably there 30 years before that, but a new big Co-op has recently opened a few yards up the road, where a pub once was, so who knows how much longer it'll be there for. I like to think that quietly at the back of their consciousness, every pub from the late 19th century has always longed to be a Tesco Express or a Co-op Food outlet. Here's hoping!
Anyway, I continued up northern parade, which is a very long straight road built in the late 1800s, early 1900s, when the northern dwellings on the island had started joining with the southern older development. Until the 1850s almost all of the island, and portsmouth as we know it today was just farmland and almost all the development of 'Portsmouth' was around the dockyard right in the south western tip, but with the advent of powered transport, the arrival of the railways, and increased activity in the dockyard thanks to the numerous wars of the 19th and 20th century, the city exploded, sometimes literally. This road was critical I guess to the increased traffic now coming into and leaving the island.
Most of the houses towards to northern tip of the island are 1930s/40s, but every now and again you get a glimps of earlier 19th century buildings, especially as you walk further up northern parade. I like to imagine how this area looked before the developer messed it all up, and before the councils whored the island to the big corporates. What a lovely place Portsmouth must have been before the war, especially. Fields, an airport, farms, docks and coastline all around.
Anyway, the sun was now starting to break, and the dull shape of the yellow circle through the thick clouds was certainly turning up the heat. I kept my hoodie on, as another thing I have learnt is that it may feel hot but when you're covered in sweat and on the open road, just a tshirt can feel absolutely bloody freezing!
I was now walking into Portsmouth city itself, and through a slightly less desirable area. Its always a road that I've felt is tired and been forgotten about. It's near where my Mum used to work, and I always felt the same when I was a kid, back 30 years ago, that the area has been left to degenerate, and nothnig really has changed. They've bulldozed the wonderful characterful dog race track and recently built a park and ride there, and apparently there is more development planned, but still, its such a shame.
Going back to what I was saying earlier, at the slow pace you can take it so much. I always thought the houses were just run down holes, that were built in the early 1900s at the earliest, but looking closely at the detail and the character of some of them I thought some were older. Many of the pubs (which had so much history, and detail in their architecture) had been taken over and converted into flats, but it was fascinating to think of how they were built out of necessity when the developers first built the estates around there in the early 1900s to service the dockyard workers and tradesmen now living there, who would HAVE to have a pint after work, probably before going to the dog track with their earnings.
Looking closely I noticed some older 'cottages' as they called themselves. They certainly weren't cottages now. Rented out terraced houses, but I could imagine the little houses being stand-alone buildings in the middle of nowhere back in the day. First I spotted a few with 1898 on. Then 1880. Then a few in the 1870s. These were run down houses now, but they were 144 year old buildings with a long and fruitful story to tell I'm sure.
The ones with the new roof are the oldest, which is almost impossible to tell. I'd usually just drive past these, but on closer inspection they had amazing detail to the door frames and windows, and I bet they were prized properties all those years ago, not run down rented hovels.
I continue my walk, and as you can tell from the picture, it was now steaming. Over 20 degrees, and I was running low on water. My feet were throbbing a little with the heat, but they had swollen as well which had meant the slipping inner sole was no longer a problem. I walked towards the main entrance to Portsmouth and could hear the motorway slipping into the city. A real tangible roar, which must really erode the lives of the people living around it. So powerful.
I came out of the small road I was walking on and arrived at this junction that used to be the main entrance to this part of Portsmouth:
Quite quaint. One way in, one way out (as it is now), and some lovely buildings around it including two large churches, and a vicarage. Quite near the docks, just over 100 years ago these houses would have looked out over the water, but now of course it has been replaced with a bustling ferry port, container port, and motorway.
This is the new entrance to the city built next door:
Flyover and 9 lanes of motorway entering the city, and still at most times it is gridlocked. The city has grown to the most densely populated in the UK. Much more than London. It's a wonderful place, but this little walk has shown the past and present in two very clear lines.
I walked alongside the motorway (on a seperate path) and it led me to one of the most historical parts of Portsmouth (as far as visitors are concerned anyway!). Old Commercial Road. This is the birthplace of Charles Dickens.
Again, its an amazing contrast as this amazing historical building and museum backs on to the road shown in the above photograph. Buildings that date back to the 1700s have their gardens and courtyards backing onto a motorway, where once they backed onto the shoreline.
Back in the days when the wife and I had money, we looked at the house next door (the yellow one), and had considered buying it. It would have been lovely to live next to this globally historic building, but it was haunted to hell! The wife and I are pretty in tune with this sort of thing, and often we'll be walking past a building and start walking a bit quicker only to turn to one another and say "jeese! that place gave me the creeps!". I remember when we walked around the house, we could smell pipe smoke in one part of the house. It was so weird because the rest of the house was so clean and fresh. As we turned the corner, there was a very old painting of a man smoking a pipe. The owners said it had come with the house, and that it was strange as so many people say they can smell it, but they couldnt. So we jokingly said "is this house haunted then?" and he replied "oh yes!", like he'd just told us he'd brought us back a bag of sweets from the shop.
We politely carried on the rest of the viewing but couldnt wait to get out of the house!
This road is steeped in history, and gets lots of tourists, and it is very quaint..
All the buildings date from the 1700s and its a conservation area so everything is very well looked after, even though one side has a bloody great motorway behind it, and the other has a very rough run down few streets of council houses behind it!
You only have to walk another half a mile and you come to the new Commercial Road. As the name suggests, the old commercial road was the original part of town that had stores and some shops, but as the city grew, the road grew with it, and extended. The old part became solely residential, and the new part took over. I know which part I prefer:
I walked around the edge of the shops, and made the final approach to Gunwharf Quays where the Spinnaker Tower is. I could see the tower in the middle distance as I turned the corner, but it was still hidden by the fog and mist, and the ferries and boats were regularly blowing their fog horns, as the docks were drenched in the mist, but mostly I was concentrating on the fact that I was nearly halfway through my walk! Hurray!
I'd seen so many old parts of the city and towns on my walk in, but now I was approaching the oldest part of the island where Portsmouth first started. The dockyard: said by many to date back to the 6th century, but officially recognised from the 11th century in the history books!
This is the earliest existing entrance to the dockyard - 1711. I've spent many happy school days looking around the HMS Victory, and Mary Rose, and more recently had our wedding meal and party with all our friends and family on HMS Warrior:
I tried to relax and soak it all in, but I knew I had to get back and get the boys. It was midday (which meant I had done the first half in 3 hours and had 3 hours to get back!), but its hard not to pause for a moment when you a) are surrounded by Portsmouth's wonderful coastline and dockyard, and b) when you've finally reached the end of what will be your 100 mile walk in July with 16 other comedians. A few tears will be shed when we see this on 23rd July I'm sure!
I turned on my heels and headed back home. The sun was now beating down, and it was about 12:15, and I checked my sat nav and sure enough, I had to keep my medium pace constant if i was to make it back to the boys for the school run. This was going to be close!
As I left Portsmouth and walked out towards the waters edge, I had another stark reminder of old verses new. This shot shows the original bridge that took cars over the water onto Portsea Island (and is now part of a car park by the side of the road), and in the distance the new bridge that takes cars beyond this entrance to Portsmouth, and across the water and directly into the city itself, rather than the through the northern part of the island, and northern parade that I showed you earlier. These would have had hanging lamps on when they were first built, and a plaque mark is clearly visible at the base of the first lamp column. It would be lovely to know what it said, but we'll never know I guess. You can just make out the college buildings in the distance. My Mum went to that college and has previously told me she used to walk across from the college at lunch and sit by the water in the break. She'd have to negotiate 8 lanes of motorway now!
One thing that struck me throughout all of this was how quick you could get around by foot!
I had walked from the edges of countryside to the coast in 3 hours. It takes around 45 minutes on a bad day to drive the route I'd taken. Longer if you hit summertime traffic. It was quite amazing to do. The most stunning demonstration of this for me was that within 90 minutes of me leaving Spinnaker Tower, and Portsmouth, I had this view of the city.
That's Portsmouth on the horizon and Spinnaker Tower is the point on the right. This is half way up Portsdown Hill. The other striking fact of this part of the route is that 3 lads with their BMXs were casually walking up the hill with me pushing their bikes and chatting, and even though I felt I was stepping it out, I couldnt shake them. They wre barely moving, and I was in full throttle mode. That shows how wrecked I must have been, even though I didnt feel it!
I say didnt feel it. For most of the journey back I had been feeling a little whincing pain behind my toes. In the old days before my hernia operation, I had done LOTS of cross country running, particularly up until 5 years ago, for a period of about 5 years, and I knew instictively that this was blister pain. Now I'd invested in blister socks and they were working brilliantly. I'd invested in expensive boots and they were working brilliantly, However, I hadn't walked in this heat before and I knew the blisters were there. I just darent take my shoes off! This is another thing I'd learnt from the walking and training. Your feet obviously swell during long periods of walking, especially in heat, but never ever take your shoes off. Except for emergencies like messed up inner soles or stones. Even if you're breaking for a few minutes. Getting the buggers back on can be a nightmare, and once you've moulded your soles and shoes to your feet, thats the most comfortable they're going to get. Leave them!
As I walked up the hill, and past Queen Alexandra Hospital I probably should have stopped at A&E to get my feet tended to, but instead I was distracted by this curious item hidden under the shrubbery.
It's hard to tell because of all the rubbish and dirt, but this is an old water pump valve, for drinking hence the drain underneath (now also filled with dirt!). This was right by an old disused and now dismantled bridge that ran alongside the road that took a tram from Portsmouth to Horndean in the late 1800s until the 1930s, and lost its use when petrol powered buses became popular. As this was half way up the hill, this could be a pump that was used for filling buckets to fuel the horses, or just for human consumption. Who knows, but yet another example of a time gone by on my little walk, that 99.99% of people never spot or think about.
As I walked up the hill, I was reminded of the old chalk pits, and caves that line the hill. There are various caves and holes and loads of history from the forts on top of the hill that then used the caves for stores and sesspits etc, and I caught a glimpse of a few on my way up to the top of the hill on the way back. Loads of chalk was cut from these hills over the centuries, and caves have also been cut out of them. Loads of folklore and urban legends fill the booklets and websites about the area, and absolutely tonnes of life filled this area when the hill forts were teaming with soldiers and parades and barracks, but now very little happens on the hills.
Then as I reached the top of the hill, the famous George Inn came into view - a reminder of forgotten times. It's been many things in its lifetime: a stopover for horses, a hotel, but most famously as a hotel and for being a meeting place for many famous admirals and generals over the last 300 years!
This is right at the crest of Portsdown Hill that runs in parallet to the coastline. Behind it is the hill down to the countryside and infront (behind us in this picture) is a clear view out to see and the city of Portsmouth. This is the hill top road in the fore ground. There are stables and a clock tower towards the back of the pub. A clear sign of its importance for the area, where it has stood since the 1600s!
I had now run out of water, and it was 2pm. It was all downhill from here literally, and I marched over the hill, as so many had done before me as soldiers, to Waterlooville. In fact Waterlooville (as the name would suggest) grew out of the settlement of soldiers who rested there on their way back home after fighting at the Battle of Waterloo. Many rested in the little Hamlet that was there, on returning from fighting, walking back from the docks, as I was doing, and decided to stay. They named it the village of Waterloo, or Waterlooville, and the town is obviously 200 years old next June!
The hill climb reminded me of a story my Granny once told me when I was a child. She worked in Portsmouth as manager of a hairdressers during World War 2, but they had to move out during the blitz, and she and her parents rented a single room where they lived together for a large portion of the war. This meant my Granny had to then walk from Waterlooville, to Portsmouth every day to work to open the shop and then walk home. She recalled the day during the war when she too had walked over the crest of this hill, just like I had done, probably on the same road, and she heard a deafening roar. She looked up behind her and she said she could barely see the sky, as it was absolutely full of planes. Crammed with planes off to battle.
I often remember this story, and now I had pretty much walked the same path she had done back 70 odd years ago.
I walked downhill towards Waterlooville, thinking of this time. My feet and my blisters had got into a rythmn and didnt seem to hurt as much, but as I glanced into the distance, I could see the main section of the south downs taunting me, as a dark shadow on the horizon, as you can see in this photo.
The sign said 11 miles to Petersfield.
That was a stark reminder that today's walk was nothing. Ahead was Petersfield and the south downs, and beyond that was Guildford, Twickenham and the BT Tower. Another 90 miles into the distance. I'd be walking over those hills in the distance in July, before the final approach to Portsmouth that I had just walked. I've tried and tested that route as well, and it is MUCH tougher than the walk I had just done, as you have to constantly walk up and down hills. This view was a reminder of how tough the last leg of this charity walk will be!
I managed to get back to pick up my boys from school in time, but my blisters were so big I couldnt actually see them. I mistook them for the balls of my feet.
Today they have reduced down to very bulbous 50 pence piece sized blisters, but one thing's for sure, I cant get blisters one day and walk another 8 hours the next, so these things need to toughen up.
And so do I, I think!
The history you take in on these walks is fascinating, and I'll soak in as much as I can during training, as one thing's for sure, when I'm walking for 7 and a half hours a day for 4 days, I won't care less about the history then!
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Thanks for reading!
My year in comedy and the real world, and the year ahead....
At the end of the last two years I've written a long overview of my past year and the year ahead. It's mostly cathartic, but as 2013 has seen so many developments for me, and it was my THIRD full year of comedy, I wanted to continue the trend, to remind me more than anyone else what I've done, and what I've failed to do. I know some will be interested, but many wont, and hopefully this long introduction has got rid of those that don't so I dont need to worry about those miserable gits reading stuff they really don't want to....there.....see? They've gone.
I'd set myself a few targets for the year, and one was to do my own solo show. I did this, albeit only once, but I took it to the Brighton Festival, and had a packed room for the only night I performed it, so that is fine. More than anything, I was delighted when my material came to its conclusion, I looked down, and to my amazement it was 60 minutes exactly.
My first hour show...
For me, doing the hour wasnt something I saw as a necessity to further my career, but something of a challenge to see if (in future years) I really could put myelf up on a stage and keep people interested and indeed myself interested long enough to justify me being stood there for 60 minutes!
The laughs were regular, albeit not always as strong as I'd like based on a circuit set, but a number of people (friends and strangers) commented that it flew by and it didnt seem like an hour. To me, that is brilliant. Theres nothing worse than a comedian's set seeming to drag, and my main aim is to hear this kind of feedback, so I was delighted with the response to my first and only ever hour.
My second objective of 2013 was to get more telly work. This didnt happen. I went for a few castings, but nothing transpired. However, my Channel 4 debut did finally get its airing, where I appeared for just under 10 minutes on the Channel 4 prank show "Eye Spy". It was great to film, and brilliant to see it come together.
It's official...Channel 4 have said it...
I loved filming it, and being involved with the production which overall took a couple of days. Hopefully I'll get to do more TV stuff, but without an agent, I'm not sure how realistic that is. I'll keep trying though!
My next ambition for the year was to go to Edinburgh with my show. I was all ready in June to evolve what I'd taken to Brighton and give it it's proper airing in Scotland, but I was disappointed with the venue offer and times presented to me by the organisers of the Edinburgh Fringe, so I sent an email out to promoters saying I was available for any normal circuit gigs in August, and got a heap of gig offers, including performing over a long weekend in Egypt, so I shunned the Edinburgh option once again for another year!
Hard at work in Egypt between shows.
I've since found out through other comedians that the time and venue I was offered was a gem, which I should have taken, but my Edinburgh knowledge is zero really, so on reflection, the money was preferred in 2013.
The final main objective was to get into more weekend clubs. In 2013 I did a couple of half spots at The Glee Clubs, and these went ok. Nothing earth shattering, but hopefully I'll get more shots with them this year.
Another little spot for the wonderful Glee!
My recent brilliant tryouts with Jongleurs came to nought when the powers that be only had me down as doing one tryout with them way back in Feb 2011, at the dreadful Portsmouth venue, where I'll be the first to admit I struggled! Since that time I had two corkers with Jongleurs Croydon and Jongleurs Picadilly, and these notes and any record of me appearing at these shows had gone walkies. Bugger!
Reluctantly I agreed to do a final try out in front of Donna in March 2014 at Sway, so hopefully this will be the end of the try out runs for Jongleurs. Saying that, more and more of my friends and colleagues have been left owed money by Jongleurs this year, and everyone has been getting very twitchy, but at the end of the day, I know I can cope with Jongleurs gigs, and as long as I'm only doing the odd weekend and not putting all my eggs in one basket, I'll treat the gigs as character building and experience, and presume the money is coming to me some day, but always keep at the back of my mind that it might NEVER arrive. That's what business has taught me, and the comedy world is no different. It's just business at the end of the day.
I am delighted to say though that after a second wonderful try out with Highlight in Camden in front of the lovely Julia Chamberlain, I am getting some weekend dates for 2014. I consider Highlight gigs to be somwhere between an average Jongleurs and an average Glee, and its nice to know that Julia saw me first hand and in her own words "could keep offering me try outs, but we should be realistic and know I should be getting paid stuff from them now!". Great feedback, and nice to hear honest industry words.
In amongst all of these things obviously came the unexpected.
Doing a run of shows in Crete for TED Entertainment and two runs in Egypt as well were all surprises, but luckily they went rather well, and hopefully I'll be returning this year. The shows to children were a challenge, as to be honest they were a juggling act (not literally, although that could have been easier!), between pleasing the parents and grandparents AND the children, as the shows were at 10:30 at night!!
Anyway, the resorts were 5 star, and everything was amazing, and I really do consider the opportunity to be yet another way for me to carve my craft and learn more and more about handling every single type of room thrown at me.
Doing a small show last Christmas in Milton Keynes also meant that I got to be introduced to a friend of Jo Brand, Andy Williamson, who was sat in the audience watching me. He contacted me afterwards in early 2013 and asked if I would like to support Jo Brand in the Autumn. She helps the Air Ambulance raise money by doing a warm up tour show or two for them, and her usual support act was in the states. Obviously I thought about it, for half a second, and accepted the offer. This was an AMAZING experience, mostly because the gig was something completely outside anything I had done before!
Me and Jo Brand. The year's highlight for sure!
Most gigs involve me, and 2 or 3 other comedians. The crowd come to watch comedy, you convince them you're funny as quick as possible, do 20-40 minutes and then leave. Supporting Jo Brand I didnt really think about before hand, but as they entered the theatre it hit me that they were all there to see her. Although they knew I was there to support her, as my name was on all the posters and notices, I was just the side dish. Not even that, A dressing. I had to appeal to her audience. Not convince them I was funny. Convince them I was funny and worthy to support Jo Brand! To cut a long story short, I did. My material actually dovetails nicely with a lot of Jo's stuff, as I like to write about approaching middle age, my other half, and things that frustrate me, and obviously so does she.
My name in ink....proof!
We had wonderful chats back stage about our careers (hers as well as mine), our families, and the industry in general, and it felt like I was chatting to an old friend. Really quite endearing to see someone so unaffected by it all, but I personally think thats because she hit fame in the late 80s and early 90s before the 'celebrity' nonsense came to town. She's very grounded, and a real person. Refreshing to experience.
I was also asked to be the sole comedian on a great variety bill at The Kings Theatre as part of the Children In Need Gala in November. This was a great experience. A huge theatre, and a wonderful chance to feel the buzz of a massive crowd. Hopefully I'll get a chance to perform in more theatres in 2014. I've done a few, but The Kings Theatre is something special, especially as my comedy heroes Laurel & Hardy performed there in the mid 1900s!
On stage at The Kings Theatre
There were people sat in these seats when I was on....honest!
On top of all these amazing things I also secured the club I had just started, Comedy All Stars, at the end of last year, with 4 more brilliant shows. It is now going from strength to strength and with an amazing line up exclusively of TV comedians, we are now regularly getting 350 people to every show, which happens once a quarter.
My aim was to grow the club, which in September 2012 at its first show had 225 people, and every show since has steadily grown to the 350 figure we now enjoy. It's only run by me and the wife, and it's something I wanted to do to secure us financially to put a top on my regular comedy gig earnings.
2 days til the next show.....aaaaand victory!
On top of this came the opportunity to run a show at Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth. I had approached them at the end of 2012, but they were asking crazy prices for the hire of the tower, but in early 2013 we met again and we carved out a plan, and I am delighted to say that since March I have run a bi-monthly show there again, with big names, but also some up and coming comedians, and me as resident host, and we regularly sell out, which gives me more security to work on my own comedy career.
I've seen many of my friends and colleagues in the industry stress and struggle financially with their career in 2013, and I have been no exception. Many of you will know that before starting a career in comedy I did have a very lucky and secure career with a proper job and my own business, and the one thing I wanted to do with my comedy when I gave up my 'proper job' was get to a point one day where I was earning similar amounts every week/month, and had security. I also wanted the freedom to have family time, and to carve and mould my career with care and without panic.
Running the two clubs has given me that freedom but more than anything I have worked hard on my profile as a comedian, as I dont want to be known as a promoter. I have made the decision to take over the hosting of Comedy All Stars in June of this year, so that the two clubs I run will also give me the chance to host more, and work directly with the big names I get down to perform. For me that is key. For me to be on stage with them, and for them to get a chance to see me in the light I want, a comedian first and foremost!
It's only by exposing myself to as many opportunities as possible that I'll get the chance to improve and raise my profile and success in the comedy world. I dont circulate the London clubs, so hopefully with all the activity I do, people will still get to hear about me, and the bookings will continue to come in. So far since I started back at the end of 2010 I have averaged 3 gigs a week. On top of this in 2013 I've also started writing two articles a month for a local magazine and regional paper, and do a weekly guest spot on ExpressFM - a Portsmouth radio station.
It's me. Coming in your ears!
During 2013 I also started up a few extra things to keep me busy. I started writing my book "My First 2 Years In Stand Up!", which I wanted to do, again, for my own way of remembering, but also because I regularly get into chats with comedians even newer to this than me, and decided it could be quite useful to some people, as being a comedian is such a lonely job. I've contacted publishers, but may well self-publish, so watch this space!
One thing I also noticed during my first few years, is that competitions and the circuit in general seems very centred towards London. It's a shame, as at the end of the day its one city, not the universe, and so many agents never leave the underground zones to see comedians. I guess considering that London is where all the talent settles.
It doesnt, and on top of that, it's very difficult to get to, even for south coast dwellers like me. Even though on a map I'm little more than an inch away from the big smoke, door to door its a 3 hour journey to central london, so with that in mind I decided to start my own comedy competition "South Coast Comedian of the Year". By attracting only comedians who live or were brought up in a county on the south coast, we have now got 72 participants, wittled down from around 100, to take part in 9 heats and culminating in a final on 10th July.
Our lovely sponsor.
Hopefully I can build this competition, so that the winner will be regarded as the height of new (less than 4 years in the industry) talent to be emerging from the south coast, and that it might possibly even grab the attention of London agents, if only in a small way. We have a comedy consultant from London, and a great TV headline act coming down from the big smoke for the final as judges, so its looking promising. Obviously I am hosting all the heats as well and the final. Couldnt let that slip past!
And finally, planned for July 20-23 is a huge charity walk that I have arranged for 16 comedians (including 5 off the telly!), from London to Portsmouth, to raise money for Macmillan Cancer. My brother died of Cancer, and I never felt like I did enough to support and thank the nurses and hospice that cared for him. Indeed I suppose I couldnt do enough to thank them. I certainly wasnt in a position to financially support and donate, but this charity walk will hopefully raise a lot of money and raise awareness of their hard work they do.
Some are cycling a longer route, but most are walking...then talking!
Starting Sunday, we are going to do a show in central London to launch the walk, and then every day walk around 25 miles southwards, stopping each night to do a show, probably crippled with blisters and chaffing thighs, until we reach Portsmouth on the Wednesday evening to wrap the event up with a big finale of all 16 comedians.
The final line-up!
It's a massive undertaking that is proving more problematic than I ever imagined, but I am determined to do it, and with some of the other comedians' help I'm sure we can get there, mentally and physically!
I'm obviously also in the middle of writing my new show that will be evolving from my sole show I did in Brighton in 2013, and will be the development of the theme about trying to be healthy and fit as I get older, but a little more specifically about losing weight. I have some possibly brilliant tie-ins with some interested parties about my solo show, so it could mean my short spell up in Edinburgh could be awesome, or it could end up being another brief flirtation with the festival, away from the usual comedy circuit. I went to Edinburgh in my first year in 2011, and although it was interesting, I wasn't completely consumed by it like many comedians are. I'm hoping that in 2014 by taking my own show up there, I'll feel more of a buzz, and that the show will create some interest with agents, but also that I'll get to show more people who love comedy what I'm up to these days.
I just watched a short clip of my stand up from early 2011 and its amazing how far my set and my material has come. It's exciting, and who knows where I'll end up, but I suppose looking at the year ahead, for 2014 I just want more of the same that 2013 gave me. Continued progression, some nice surprises for my career, and more regular high-end show and club appearances.
Specifically if I had a wish list I'd put:
1) Get signed to a voice over agent
2) Clinch a handful of weekend gigs from each of the 3 main chains, Glee, Highlight, Jongleurs
3) Do 10 days of my solo show in Edinburgh
4) Gig abroad at least once again
5) Enjoy myself
It's a lot to ask, but hey, you can't be too shy in this industry. There is always someone around the corner shouting louder, doing better or even trying their best to make you doubt yourself or make you feel stupid. In that sense the comedy industry is like every other industry really, except you know that annoying person in your office who is a continual joker, but a little bit unhinged and emotional? That is EVERY person in the comedy industry. You need to take from it what you need, befriend those who you can trust, and keep an eye on everyone else......but more than anything enjoy yourself and try hard, every day.
As long as I can continue to move up, have fun, spend precious time with my family, and get to enjoy some new experiences along the way, I'll be fine.
Thanks for coming along for the ride.
This blog is my take on how to run a successful comedy night, simply based on things I've discovered since running my own clubs!
“TIPS ON RUNNING A SUCCESSFUL COMEDY NIGHT”
By James Alderson
In my previous life I had a proper job in sales and marketing, and sometimes people in the comedy world can’t believe the effort I go to to promote the clubs I run. Some consider what I do standard, but as so many are surprised at the success of my nights and what I do, I thought I’d put pen to paper and write about my thoughts on running a proper night, in case it helps other clubs get more in the door! Don’t get me wrong…I’m not an expert, and this list isn’t all encompassing. I just thought some ideas might help. There will be lots of other things you can do, and I might do another of these at a later date, if people think it helped in any way.
In marketing anything, the important thing is to make sure that every single experience your customer has encourages them to want to come back, from the way you answer the phone, the first thing they see when they come into your business, or the way the website helps and welcomes them. The better the experience all round, the easier to resell, and gain a loyal customer who will tell people about your club.
Here are my tips in no particular order, on building a successful comedy night:
1) List every single show you do on EVERY SINGLE event-listings website. These are free! BritEvents. Eventful. Wherecanwego. Skiddle. Ents24. Remotegoat. There are loads. And obviously every single local council event site. Just Google 'things to do in your town' and whatever websites come up with listings, get your shows on there as well! It takes me about an hour for every show to list them all properly with images and ticket links, but probably 75% of all my audiences these days come from typing in 'comedy show Portsmouth' etc. and we’re talking 400 people to some shows, so it’s worth doing!
2) Make sure that every piece of marketing material from a Facebook update and a Facebook listing, to posters right through to event listings on websites are ALL properly spellchecked, and grammatically clear. Nothing puts off someone more than if they think they're dealing with a top class business and then the wording doesn’t make sense, has badly spelt words or just isn't clear. Not only that, but ensure that EVERY piece of marketing blends with the other (you’ll see a common trend on all Comedy All Stars promotion as you read through this guide). If they all match in design and style, then everyone that sees your marketing efforts will be certain what show its for, and what club it’s for. You want to build a blanket of marketing to catch people at every opportunity, and build their confidence in you and your show. By ensuring everything you do matches, you make sure they’re DEFINITELY getting the message!
3) Get your local newspapers on board. They are always desperate for articles these days, so every time you have a show, get the newspaper to interview you, an act or just write a piece about it. Of course make sure your event is also listed in their entertainment guide and event calendar in the newspaper. Also, don’t under value those little free directories that get pushed through your door either! Again they are always looking for editorial and always have a calendar of events in for the local community – get in there, so that the 10,000 doors they drop through feature your show! Next time that little book is read whilst they’re on the loo, they’ll read about your club!
4) Make sure there is somewhere in town, other than just the venue and online that people can get tickets. Not everyone wants to travel to a venue slightly out of town to get tickets, and not everyone wants to use their credit card online. Find somewhere popular, and central in the nearest main town (or village), like a newsagent or cake shop, that (for £1 commission a ticket or something similar) will sell your tickets, and obviously put a few posters up saying “TICKETS ON SALE HERE NOW!”.
5) Put leaflets in every single fast food and takeaway place within a 5 mile radius of the gig. Further if you can. It’ll take you one evening of driving around but it’s SO worth it. DON’T put leaflets in shops or pubs. They get ignored. Put posters in the windows of as many shops as will allow, and every newsagent (they usually charge £1 a week for an A4 poster). No one is more bored than a hungry person waiting for Chicken Chow Mein, so a pile of comedy leaflets is perfect. Much better than reading a 3 year old copy of Hello Magazine. I never sold any tickets from leaflets when I put them in pubs, but from the very first night I put them in fast food takeaways, I saw a marked increase, especially every following Friday, Saturday and Sunday!
6) Get your local radio to announce the event or go on local radio to talk about it, or phone in. Or even better, get one of your acts, especially if they are well known, to do a 5 minute phone interview with the DJ. Offer the station 10 tickets to give away. This is SOOOO much better than giving cheap tickets away on Groupon.
7) DONT USE GROUPON OR LIVING SOCIAL. Everyone knows these days now that Groupon is a last resort to get rid of something that doesn’t sell. It sends a bad message to your audience. Yes, it helps market something to a wider audience, and maybe attracts them short-term, but why devalue your brand and reduce profits? Instead of Groupon, just use a giveaway of tickets in newspapers, radio, local directories and online to spread the word instead. It makes you look really generous, rather than something which smacks of desperation.
8) For every single line up have an MC, a strong opener, 2 middle shorter (in time not height) new acts, and a strong closer. That is pretty much the maximum for any gig. If it's a full pro line-up then an opening act, a middle act and a closing act, all doing 20-25 each. No more. People get bored, and at the end of the day you’re not selling Tesco stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap. People want quality if you’re convincing them to spend money, and taking them away from their sofa and Mock The Week on the telly!
9) The MC shouldn't be a circus entertainer. They don’t need to juggle, fire breathe or do back flips! The job of an MC is simply to talk to the crowd, and prime them for a great night, and make the room as easy as possible for the comedians that follow to storm the show and want people coming back! The MC should talk to as many people in the crowd as sensibly possible, with some witty banter, relax everyone, a few giggles and some very small doses of jokes if needed, and obviously take them through the rules. The comedians need the MC to actually interact with the crowd rather than just standing there doing a routine (or juggling!), as they can sometimes pick up tips and audience member names for material or banter and the crowd feel continually engaged.
After the MC does 10 minutes of that, the Opener does 20-25 minutes. Then a break of 10 minutes. Then the MC for 5 minutes, the first new act for 10, a few minutes from the MC (if the room needs it!), another 10 from the second new act and then a final 15 minute interval. 5 minutes from the MC before bringing on the headliner to then do whatever he thinks is needed - 25-35 minutes usually.
10) Start the show at 8pm. Doors at 7pm so the bar sales go well – the venue will love you for that, as will the drinkers. Generally don't serve food. Food before a show is OK, but even then it tends to make the audience sleepy and lethargic for a good hour and a half or two! Not great for laughing. Especially with a full stomach! And keep the intervals TIGHT! Nothing worse than an audience getting leathered in a long interval and struggling to get the crowds back in, as they’ve been smoking in the car park for 25 minutes! Often if you do that, you lose audience members who go home during the second interval….be strict and (if necessary) firm with the crowd to get them back to their seats.
11) Put road signs up if you can, or find local businesses with road side barriers and fencing to put signs and banners on. The cost of a decent sized sign or banner is less than £50 and these can last a good 12 months. All you then need to do is change the date with a laminated stuck on adjustment each time, for the cost of £1. Then you’ve got a focussed, geographically specific advert to attract the locals, and all in return for a few free tickets to the business that let you put the sign up - remember how generous you are?
12) Wear branded shirts/tshirts. Customers love to know where they are. They much prefer the relaxed look of a branded polo shirt or tshirt than a suit or formal shirt. It's a comedy night remember? I even get the bar staff wearing our tshirts. It makes the audience think they're in a proper club, even though they're often in a college/community centre/function room!
13) Get everyone's emails and tell them they'll get special deals. Then once every couple of weeks send out genuine deals and sneak exclusive news about future shows. They’ll then value the emails - unless you send them out with general nonsense and blurb that everyone knows about. Make them exclusive, and give tickets away if you want. Generous, but not Groupon stupid!
14) See point 4!!!! By selling tickets at a shop (or two!) in town, this will almost certainly give you cash for the night to pay comedians. The online sales can then be your money, and by paying the comedians cash on the night it keeps the industry happy, comedians happy, and your cash flow happy!
15) Don't make promises on line-ups that can’t be backed up. I never say "some of the best comedians on the circuit!" unless they really are. It devalues your brand because if the audience really don’t enjoy the night, or don’t enjoy a few comedians, they'll start to wonder whether you know what you're doing booking rubbish acts that you are selling as "some of the best comedians in the UK" etc etc. Those customers won’t come back. Ever.
16) Get a website! One can easily be set up for less than £50 on yola.com or similar. They don’t have to be singing and dancing, just clean, fun and easy to follow. Make sure the online ticket link is live and on EVERY PAGE of your website as well as info about where people can buy tickets in person! Set up a twitter feed into the site (again it’s simple, if I can do it!), and you're away. It's a bare minimum these days.
17) Put signs on your cars. Your brothers, your parents, your girlfriends. Just a little magnetic sign on the back to promote your clubs or specific nights. It's amazing how many people I find reading my signs when I return to my car after the shopping! How often do you get stuck in traffic and laugh at a bumper sticker or notice something they have on their car. Usually it’s rubbish, but imagine what reaction you’ll get if it’s about a super comedy night locally. They cost about £10 each tops, and last forever (just change the date yourself each time with a laminated sticker over the top)! Then make sure you park your car in obviously noticeable places in car parks where ever you go. Having 3 or 4 cars driving around the town with your club details and comedy night dates on is worth its weight in gold!
18) Don't book shit acts! Even if they'll do the gig for free, it's just not worth it, if you’re charging £10 to get in! It diminishes the chance of getting the audience back. Short term gain, long term loss. THIS is the reason in my opinion comedy clubs start well and then lose momentum. People will lose faith in your nights because you have rammed them full of free acts and then a big headliner. They got bored of the rubbish acts, didn’t hang around for the headliner because of long intervals, and never see what they had really paid for, and leave thinking it wasn't worth it, never to return.
Book acts that you can have for free that probably are starting to get paid work, if you want (as the middle acts obviously!) for one or two shows, and use this to see if they're as good as the clip they sent you. If they are, move them up to open or MC. Always view at least one or two video clips of someone, ask around, and check references. If you offer progression then comedians will like your club more. AND the audiences will value the night more knowing you've obviously vetted the acts.
19) Make sure every night has a spot light at the stage, a stage (even if it’s just a few pallets covered in a black cloth!), a decent sound system/pa, and that all seats face the front, ideally in my opinion with little cabaret tables and candles on, or just rows with some leg space. It makes a world of difference for the gig to feel intimate. The lights need to be completely off, including the bar lights, and the fruit machine! At worst on a really low dim light so the audience can't see each other in fluorescent strip lights! They need to feel like they're in a comedy club not a show room!
20) Get quotes from comedians and audience members about your night, and film a few short bursts of your club to demonstrate how lovely it is, and how much fun everyone is having and then put it all together on a short YouTube video. Nothing better than people seeing first hand before they book how great your club is, and reading that 10 people loved the night and are coming back, or that 6 famous comedians agree that your nights are the best in the area.
21) Contact your local college, and speak to their work experience liaison. Most colleges do hospitality and events management these days, and they really appreciate the chance for students to get experience. Imagine your club with 4 extra happy friendly young faces with your club logo on a tshirt helping people to their seats, helping with directions to the bar, toilet, car park etc. A great image, and for the sake of a few drinks for the students, and obviously they get work experience and a free show, you get free staff!
22) Attend networking events for businesses. You’ll be amazed how work colleagues socialise together – I know…weird. Not only that, but bosses sometimes take their staff out for Christmas parties and special anniversaries, so spreading the word to businesses is very important and having the chance to speak in a focussed 2 minute speech to 70 businesses at a network event (and usually just for the cost of £5 and including a meal) is a brilliant opportunity! Also, business people are normal people too with normal lives. You never though, they may bring mates to your show after seeing you at a business event, or even their family! Wow!
23) Think of different ways that don’t break the bank to promote your night. People often scoff, but I put up big displays at car boot sales. For £6 I get my vehicle with graphics, and exhibition stands and tables with tickets, posters and flyers in front of 1000s of passers-by for 5 hours, on a Sunday morning. Where else can you get that kind of exposure locally for that kind of money?? Not only do I sell tickets, but that night I ALWAYS sell tickets online.
Similarly, have you thought about some posters in unusual places? Community notice boards? Toilets? Staff notice boards. Places people don’t expect to see a comedy club promoted and it catches their attention. When you grab attention, you grab interest and you are remembered. Think up ways you can get your club remembered, and you’ll sell tickets.
24) It might sound like a lot of effort, but as mentioned above, staff notice boards are very handy to grab groups of work friends and generating group bookings. Every single business on every single industrial estate gets a poster dropped into their reception before every show I do. It takes me about one full day to do this, dropping a leaflet into every shop, store and company in the local area, but I know that quite a few make it into staff rooms, and it’s lovely to turn as I leave a reception area and I see people huddle around the leaflet and chat about wanting to go to it, AND I get to shed some weight at the same time!
25) Where ever possible, try to get your night shortly after pay day! It sounds simple and maybe a bit too basic, but most people feel skint, even the rich ones, halfway through the month, so having the show in the first week of the month really can impact on sales. For example, if I put my night ON payday, I find we sell a lot online on the day and quite a few more than usual buy tickets on the door. If I put the night a week after pay day, we sell lots more of our tickets in that final week online, but almost none on the door.
26) Make sure there is a decent price difference between advance sales and door sales. We sell 98% of our sell out tickets before the show. That’s 340 of the 350 or 130 of the 135 at our other club. That’s before the night even starts. How great would that feel? That’s because the tickets are £10 in advance or £15 on the door or similar. If you charge £5 in advance or £6 on the door, that’s not enough to convince people to buy early. Early advanced sales give you security, and confidence before the night arrives, to push harder, work harder, and be happier!
27) Make sure you have an active Twitter and Facebook page. Put little clips up of the acts (not too much – don’t give away ALL their material!), and put up images of the acts that might mean something, like a show they’ve been on, or them winning a competition or in the press, and keep the pages updated. Also list the event on Facebook, by all means to help raise awareness, BUT NEVER EVER USE THIS AS A GUIDE FOR WHO IS GOING TO THE EVENT. We normally have 4 people going on our Facebook event. I’d panic if I relied on that. Use it merely as a way to convince that extra person who wasn’t coming. It’s just one very, very tiny way to spread the word. Not the only way…
There is only one way you truly know who is going to an event, and that is by who turns up! Even when I’ve sold 350 advanced tickets for a comedy night, we always have 10 that don’t come. That’s fine, because they’ve paid for a ticket, but don’t think for a second that by clicking “going” on a Facebook page it’s a guaranteed sale or even close! It almost certainly isn’t. This is why the whole advertising and marketing mix I’ve listed above is critical to get those advanced tickets sold!
28) Give your event TIME to sell. There is no point putting an event on Facebook or a ticket site, or a poster up a week before hand. That’ll almost NEVER work. I heavily promote my shows for 2 months in advance usually. Normally all the year’s events are at least listed on the ticket site, and that way if people have birthdays coming up, they can check the dates and book their night out ahead. You might not have all the acts confirmed, but list who you have, obviously after getting the dates confirmed with the venue, and crack on!
29) Tell people where the show is! Put some arrows and signs up to direct people to the show. Nothing too heavy – you don’t want the local council and busy-bodies complaining, but something functional. Also make sure you take down the signs promptly after the show. Not only will it look helpful, but it will act as a reminder to those who are yet to book tickets.
30) Lastly, enjoy yourself. Smile, at every opportunity. Remember you’re promoting a comedy night. Talk, laugh, mingle, joke. Whether you realise it or not, everything you do when you’re out promoting your night reflects directly on whether people book tickets. Forget the acts, and the rest of your promotional effort. If you walk in and dump leaflets, or answer the phone like it’s a call from your ex, then you lose the sale instantly. Going right back to my first comment, you are the show. You represent it at every turn, so have fun, enjoy the ride, and look forward to a great night!
HOPE THAT HELPS! IT’S NOT EASY, BUT IT’S GREAT FUN, AND THE HARD WORK IS WORTH IT!
Sometimes Edinburgh isn't the answer....
I remember the day very well...the Edinburgh email came in...venue options and times - I was disappointed. Since then I've discovered that the times I had been offered were actually prime, and the times I wanted were stupid, but hey, you live and learn.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I decided that I was going to earn a crust during August, and not just eat them, so forgot all about Edinburgh. I emailed a bunch of promoters and got a handful of gigs booked in that already made me think I'd made the right decision.
Then after quite a busy first week of August gigging I was at the Southsea show promoting my own club, Spinnaker Tower Comedy Club, when I got a random text "Long shot, but are you free tomorrow and Monday?". Looking at who the promoter was, I had a good idea what he was asking. Sure enough a few texts backwards and forwards clarified that someone had pulled out of the Egypt shows (worried about the riots), and they needed me to get back out to 'fill-in'!
I had no shows for the Sunday and Monday so there I was, less than 18 hours later on a train to Gatwick, flying out to one of the hottest places on the planet.
The days I was there it topped 50 degrees. Free food and drink, and this time I got one of their luxury rooms to stay in, rather than staff quarters. It really is a delightful job to do.
One reason some acts avoid this particular gig is that on the Monday evening you do two shows: one to children (at 10:15pm!) and one to adults at 11:15pm. The adult gig is a dream, just like a typical circuit gig, but the kids show is a bit tough, to say the least. 50 children high on a week's worth of free Coca-Cola and ice cream, and 150 parents and grandparents wishing they hadnt had to come with the kids, whilst sat burnt to a crisp.
The first venue is massive, that could easily hold 1000 with the right seating, but they spread it out to seat a few hundred.
This is a shot before the people were sat down by the way - this would have been an even tougher room. The gig went ok. The opening act Kane Brown, did a cracking job of just MCing through his 20 minutes, as by his own admission he didnt have any material for kids, but that was easily the right thing to do. He threw in a few safe jokes, but essentially he chatted his way through the set with numerous big laughs and a few applause breaks. My set was received less warmly, but I did enough.
I never like that experience: just doing enough to avoid a promoter's scorn, but some gigs aren't always 'smashable', and this was one for me. Kane certainly has the mileage behind him in this game to generate the laughs from nothing, and my material was safe, had some child friendly stuff, and I did a few bits of banter to involve the parents, but as the manager says every time I see her "That was fine. You were good, don't worry - every comedian hates doing this show and finds it tough!". I wouldnt say I hate it, it's just a massive challenge to engage such a diverse audience of 2 year olds up to 80 year olds.
The second gig as expected was a beaut. Once again Kane smashed it, and pleased to say I wasn't left as much in his wake this time. Much more comfortable, and some great chats with the audience and a really lovely room to play.
I returned to the UK the early hours of Wednesday morning, and thanks to the knob'ed lady guard at Gatwick train station, arrived in Worthing at 1am. I know. I don't live in Worthing. Luckily my Dad was still up so the superstar came to save me from a £100 cab journey, and drove the hour to pick me up and get me back home.
Less than 48 hours later and I was off to headline Farmer Phil's Festival in Shropshire.
One of the benefits of not doing Edinburgh is that ANY opportunity that arises or is offered I could pretty much grab, having only half a dozen gigs in the diary at the start of the month. This festival headline spot was offered before Egypt, and before being offered the headline spot at Newquay's Boardmasters Festival the night after was booked in!
Now the more astute amongst you will see the geographical challenge that this represents.but hey, Farmer Phil sounded like a decent chap.
The journey took 6 hours. Now that is pretty long, but when you get to the main town where the festival is based after 5 hours and that the satnav says the festival is just 4 miles away, you starts to feel relief that you're finally there. No. No. You are not there....
To put it in perspective, the dark strip in the middle of this track is where my wheels went either side of. It's less than a single track, on the edge of a cliff (which the handy reflective post is protecting me from in the picture): the track is two way, surrounded by sheep, and weaving around rocks and blind cliff corners. It was horrific. Those who have been a passenger in my car and know me well, know that I've driven many millions of miles in my various careers, and passed my test 20 years ago. Never has a journey been so nerve racking, especially as my 100 miles left of fuel diminished to 25 miles very quickly as I climbed the various hills on this track.
Finally I found the festival, and first things first.....it wasn't a festival. Well. it was, but this was like nothing I had ever seen, and I've been to a few festivals in my time!! This was the first day of the festival, from what I could tell, and the 'farm' was basically a huge muddy car park and tents on mud, some trees, and a few awnings put up for stages, some toilets with no lights, and some hand made products scattered around for selling. It could have been mistaken for a fracking protest, that's all I'm saying.
Anyway, I met up with a few of the lads also on the bill, Ash Frith and Justin Panks, who looked just as scared as me. We shared some grunts about what we had got into, and then they persuaded me to look in the purple tent we had been 'assigned' for the show. It was a disco in a small tent, like you'd get at someone's posh garden party - there was Rob Coleman and Mark Rough. No seats, no bar, no space really, and with 20 minutes to go, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers were doing a grand job of making sure no audience would come and if they did, they wouldn't hear.
We congregated in a comedian-cluster and stuck together to make sure none of us were picked off by the festival goers: you know....a bit like penguins in a snow storm. It was now 9pm and no one had come over to start our show, and the DJ in our tent was making sure the handful of people who had arrived for comedy were having a really good time dancing - I know...let's stop that fun and dancing, and make them sit on the wet grass and listen to us. That'll work!
We hunted down the organiser as a pack and SHE asked how our show was going. As all the comics involved in the show looked at each other, we all clarified that it hadn't started as we were all talking to here, and no one had come over to sort it. Anyway, Ash Frith hosted the night and got it off to a good start, and the 20 under-10 year olds at the front sat cross legged didn't seem to care when he said "this is an adult show, so any parents need to be aware". Obviously the parents were either off their tits on Ketamin or too stoned to realise, so the children stayed, and to the comedians credit, one by one they did their stuff, and ignored the kids. Bizarely, because of the spotlights, even as the crowd grew, from the stage, we could only see the children, so it was rather bizarre.
The crowd ebbed and flowed, but once the music stage stopped, slowly the tent filled. Justin went on before my closing set, and the kids were in full-throng, sat discerningly at the front whilst he did some of his final jokes about jizzing in a girls eye - to be fair he did a great job. Good on him as well. You can't go into thee things half-arsed.
Even as a parent, I can honestly say that when a comedian has been booked for an adult festival comedy tent at 10pm he/she should do his job. Every comic did what he was booked to do, and if the parents don't care, then so be it. At this point though, the lady sat front right in the picture (above) had had enough and voiced her disgust. Aiming her desperation at poor Ash she said we should get the kids out of here. How a comedian leading 15 young children out of a tent at 10:15pm into a dark field is any better I don't know, but he and I looked at her powerlessly. Quite rightly Ash said "they aren'y my kids". I've been about, so I couldn't be so sure, but still....I know what he meant.
As Justin finished, the children left, and I was quite disappointed. I wanted to make a point of the hilarity of my club set being presented to children. This wasn't a 'family show' in Egypt, where I was booked to do family material that was safe, and appealed to kids and families. This was an adult show where kids were being left by their parents or pushed to the front by their parents. Wrong wrong wrong.
Luckily, they came back just as I started, which helped me have some stupid banter with them - my favourite moment being when I directed one of my first jokes to a girl probably 11 years old, and made it purposely condescending, which got a laugh from the adults followed by the girl saying "I'M NOT SIX!!!" - beautiful - no love, sorry. Probably 7 yeah?. I actually had a really good gig, and enjoyed it immensely which was weird, and quite a few of the silly-hatted, woolly jumper wearing, spliff-smoking parents came over afterwards to say hi. Thank God it did go well, after that journey!
The journey back was a near disaster though. After making sure I didn't go back the death-track route, I realised I had to drive as calmly as possible as a) I was running rapidly out of fuel b) any comedian will tell you that the '24 hour petrol' stations aren't as common as they seem in the daytime, when you're trying to get home at midnight and c) there was no phone signal anywhere. After 20 minutes of driving without seeing a single street light, house, or phone signal, on zero miles of fuel remaining, I was starting to panic. I was approaching Kiddermonster (no that's the correct spelling), and I was certain it would have a petrol station, and there it was...wow, what a bloody relief. No fuel, a town, and this was a Tesco at 12:02am and I need fuel.
I lifted the nozzle and plopped it in my car....then the lady looked at me through the window and did the slit throat gesture. I guessed she either wanted to kill me or something was wrong. I walked over and she clarified they had shut at midnight. No fuel. Christ almighty. They explained the best they could how to get to the next petrol station 2 miles away. Luckily it was all up hill, so my nerves calmed lots (not!). I thought I was lost again, and then suddenly like a Twix you find at the back of the cupboard when you really didnt think you had anything sweet left in the house, there was the lit up ESSO sign on the horizon. Great! Fuel. Phone Signal. And in less than 3 hours I was home. Sleep by 3:30am.
Beep Beep Beep. Oh look. It's 8:30am. Time to get up and get sorted to leave for Newquay.I got all my stuff sorted, and this time I had enough fuel to get to the show this time, plus 7 hours to get there. A hot day and the surfers paradise could prove a long journey. It didn't let me down. I took 3 diverts in total, and it did indeed take me 7.5 hours, especially thanks to me not checking the entrance I had to go to, and getting stuck for 40 minutes in Newquay town traffic! Aaaghhh!.
The show was delayed/dragged out, and much to his credit, the act before me was doing his best to 'pad'. Sadly this involved him getting audience members to pelt him with rubbish and beer cans, shout at him, and getting random members of the audience up for throwing/kissing shenanigans. Whilst this was great fun, it did set me up for a relatively average gig, as I don't have any beer can throwing or madcap craziness in my set. The 500 strong crowd were lovely, and laughed and stayed with me, but I couldn't help feel that maybe my energy had slightly gone after my mega driving and recent trip back from Egypt, and following the hyper-active / interactive previous act, I just couldn't keep up. I wish I'd stormed it, but hey...sometimes your head just can't find its way. Sad but true.
I returned home by 10:30pm that night and collapsed. Exhausted from the 20 hours of driving in 35 hours of living.
The next 3 days involved heavy promoting of my two clubs, with newspaper and radio and leaflet distribtution, poster and banner erection (yes I said it), and a lot of event admin and then Thursday came....time to leave home again for Yorkshire and Merseyside!
The journey to Barnsley was relatively smooth. 250 miles took 5.5 hours. I've done it in 3.5 before, but hey...who needs more than 9 minutes to get freshened up and changed at the sister-in-laws (she lives in Barnsley) before you need to leave for the gig eh?
I arrived to find that the gig, regularly recommened by comedians, was indeed a lovely looking place:
Disappointingly Jools (the booker) wasn't about to see my set, and surprisingly I was opening the show, but it was a cracker. Loved the gig, and coming off I wondered why...oh yes...this was the first proper circuit club gig I'd done for a fortnight!! No wonder I had enjoyed it so much! Shame the promoter wasn't there but a guy in the toilets who said he knew Jools said he would put in a good word, so who am I to think differently - I thanked him...with words, you dirty minded individual!
Some of the best chips I've tasted from a Chinese in Yorkshire and then home (well, the sister-in-law's) for a relatively early night. Asleep by 1am.
The next day I had to phone in to do the radio show, which went fine. Actually a little better than usual, and I decided to leave early to beat the Friday traffic to get to Liverpool. Lucky I did because the hour journey took nearly 3! I found some amazingly cheap parking (hopefully not so unsuspecting outsiders like me stop there to get our car nicked), and for the first time in my life I went to the cinema on my own to watch a film that neither the wife or boys would want to watch!
I returned to my car and moved it even closer to the venue, changed in the back seat in front of some al fresco diners at the nearby hotel (you're welcome ladies), and wandered up to the venue - another corker:
I'd heard good things, but this was a lovely room, well MC'd and with some really caring organisers in the shape of the Blair Brothers. The people of the north were very receptive, I had a few applause breaks, and a lovely amount of feedback, so hopefully I'll be back to both venues later in the year for the weekend.
So here I was, just over 10,000 miles of travelling, and a lot of man hours, in just over 10 days.
I can honestly say I've felt every hour, and loved almost every part of it (crazy hill-top single-track road, aside!), but more importantly, I've gigged to such a wide variety of people that I feel I've learnt a hell of a lot, I've experienced some amazing comics and members of the public, and I've also put food on my family's table!
Maybe Edinburgh might feature for a week or so in next year's show dates, but this year I am very, very happy I didn't go. Played two of the best clubs in the north, headlined two festivals and performed two shows in Egypt.
Where next? I think this blog proves that there simply is no way of telling....
in-cred-i-ble /inˈkredəbəl/ Adjective Impossible to believe: "an incredible tale of triumph". Difficult to believe; extraordinary
Sometimes I walk into a room and think 'wow, this gig looks wonderful, and it isn't' and sometimes I think 'this looks awful, and it isn't'. Sometimes I have the worst journey to a gig, but it's all worth it, and sometimes I have the best gig in the world, and the smoothest of journeys and it all just falls into place.
Last night's gig was none of these...and all of these....oh, apart from the good stuff.
Don't think for a minute that I'm a diva. I've had a few terrible gigs that are purely down to me not bringing the funbus to town, and I've had some horrific gigs that quite simply shouldn't be called gigs (the corporate where I was jostling for space amongst the dining tables, with my cordless mic, between the waitresses serving the starters shouting out the orders, and the strippers in their pvc bikinis was pretty high on that list, but that's probably for another time.), but last night wins a prize for being purely incredible.
It all started when the promoter kept texting me the address in mispelt random words. The town wasn't spelt anywhere near correctly which made it hard to find on Google maps, and when I kept replying saying "so shall I put this in the diary?" the answer always came back 'I haven't had confirmation yet from the venue'. Once it was finally confirmed, I agreed to do this for a low fee as it was a Wednesday and he said he ran about 20 other gigs. (I know. I should have learnt by now...but I'm ever the optimist!).
The morning of the gig, my phone got cut off. I keep forgetting to set up the Direct Debit, so I phoned and paid for it, but typically this time, the phone refused to reconnect to the network once the bill was settled, even though it usually takes an hour. So I headed off on the 3 hour journey with a knackered phone, and having to pick up another act, Sarah Iles, on the way. Quite tricky to negotiate logistics without communicative abilities. How did they manage in the 80s eh?
So obviously, with no ability to communicate with Sarah, the M25 decided to become a car park, and I took the inner route through the outskirts of London to Beckenham. Gridlock, so that I arrived half hour late for Sarah who was standing on the corner of her road like a homely call girl (I mean that in a nice way!). She wasn't even propositioned once - what's the world coming to??
The journey the rest of the way was relatively seamless, and we pulled into the car park to be greeted with stares from the smokers outside what we soon realised was a converted bar. Converted into a curry house. The smokers were really unimpressed by my circling of the car park, looking for a space that had handily NOT been saved for me, after my 4 hour journey. Luckily, outside the curry house, obviously, was a Kebab van, not more than 20 feet from their door, and next to it, was a Mondeo shaped space. Coincidentally, I now drive a Mondeo. (I know...namedropper.)
I left the car, quite honestly thinking I may not ever see it in that condition again, and walked to the venue (20 feet), and the other acts were outside. This is almost always NEVER a good sign. If the acts are outside a venue it either means that a) there isn't a green room and the venue is heaving or b) the acts cannot even stand to be inside, because the gig looks in every single way, as Sarah put it, 'a cluster fuck'.
Personally as the comedy night didn't have a title, apart from 'Comedy Night', I think "Cluster Fuck Comedy" would be pretty cracker-lacking as a title. I'll memo the guys and see what they think.
After the acts told me to 'go and have a look inside', I wandered in, and did the usual 15 second assesment of the room that every act does. The room was a restaurant. In the middle was a big U-shaped bar. There were 3 clear sections to the restaurant, all coming off from this U shaped bar. Every section was bustling with parties and bubbling screaming tables of mates.
You don't need to be a comedian to know that this doesn't sound ideal, but hey, I like a challenge, so let's see where they're setting up the comedy. The promoter didn't know, and I walked over to hear one suggestion - by the toilets and coffee machine, and one act had already had enough after hearing/seeing this suggestion. He let out his thoughts, dropped a few home truths, and left.
I walked out to get some fresh air, and I caught the promoter talking to a group of the audience who were seated in a section that wouldnt see the comedian if they stood by the speakers. "You''ll hear the comedy where ever you sit" he replied. Awesome. Luckily comedy isn't a visual medium.
Before the MC or first act came on, members of the audience were asking where the comedy was going to be. One even said "oh!? There's not even a stage??". When the audience are quetioning the set-up to the promoter, you have to worry. Not having a stage though wasn't a surprise in a low level restaurant like this. Not having a spot, or cordened off area for the acts was quite weird though. It was going to be a free-for-all for the comedians. Pick where you stood. We were going to be like 'rush-goalies' that I used to play in the playground at school, except the opposition would be waiters and customers, and the football could easily be my head if it went wrong.
Now I've had done some challenging gigs as I said at the beginning, and for me these days, I love a challenge, and it's not a challenge if the room is a bloody nightmare layout but the people are friendly. These people were friendly luckily, so I thought 'big deal. Let's crack on!'.
This is what greeted me as I walked in.
The promoter kept asking us what we thought, and immediately walking off - it didnt suggested he wanted to hear the answer. It transpired that there was also a couple of musicians and a magician on later in the night, and our first thoughts were that no customers were aware that any of this was going on, as everyone was enjoying their curry and looking at the guy setting up the speakers like he was interrupting. The MC asked for a running order, and the promoter said "sort it out between you!". This wasn't an open mic night: it should be thought through and structured, but between us we worked on the best format.
After a lot of fussing, and the second act leaving to go and get his props (who we feared would also never return), he returned just in time to follow Obonjo who did the best he could with the room, and opening the show. The MC didn't do too badly but because of the shape of the room, and where the speakers were put (by the toilets), only a third of the room could hear you at any one time. Add in the three parties that were in (anniversary, birthday, and divorce party) and it only took a moment of you concentrating on one part of the restaurant for another part of the room to start up their own little show and chit-chat, and their attention was gone.
At this point, after the second act, it was clear that the room was unplayable - I know! I thought there was a chance until this point - what a dreamer eh!?. The promoter was hiding, and the singers were looking more and more nervous. You couldnt ever hold the attention of the whole room, as it was more like 3 rooms connected in the middle by a bar. If you tried to spin all the plates by walking around, then you risked losing the plate you'd just started spinning. (bear in mind these plates had curry on, and that they needed really frantic spinning, and that we had handcuffs on, and that there aren't any actual plates, but sections of the room, and you'll see what I mean. You don't? Oh. Sorry).
Anyway. Sarah Iles walked up to the mic and did some lovely new material that got some tables giggling, but it was virtually pointless, but as per the other acts, she did the best and minimum you could get away with, before retreating. It felt a bit like we were in the trenches, and when it was our spot, we were popping our head up to do some shooting, then diving back down to return to the back of the restaurant. The trench wasn't big enough, and neither were our guns.
It was my turn to go over the top..
I didn't really have a game plan apart from making sure I was as fractured and random as possible to keep the attention of as many as I could.
When the gig is almost uncontrollable I find my set often moulds to that and by making my own style more random and spontaneous and unravelled, people sit up a bit more and listen.
This time it did work a bit, and I walked quite quickly between the sections to try and keep those plates spinning. Typically, the party tables did drift in and out, but I would guess I walked at least 10 kilometers (probably 200 foot at best!) in my 15 minutes of effort to keep the sections involved. Between me and the audience we did work out though that one section couldnt hear the speakers at all, and the reason they switched off when I walked to another section was because they could only hear me when I spoke to them first hand, and not through the speakers/microphone at all. Crazy.
The surprise audience member was a 2 year old with his family (who doesn't bring a 2 year old to a curry comedy night at 9pm these days eh?), and the chaps who decided that to get the best effect, it was best to stand next to me and listen to my stuff. Always nice to have someone there standing with you to get through these tough gigs I find.
Naturally as you'd expect in a restaurant, the tables were set up perfectly for eating and socialising with your friends, rather than facing any particular direction for comedy, and predictably, very few adjusted their seats to watch the comedy all night.
I really pushed to be more interactive, and this got people talking to me, but I couldn't help but feel I was interupting their evening out. Mostly because I was.
Amazingly, people were expecting comedy, and none that I were aware of, complained at the end, and a few people thanked me afterwards, as I got a fair few laughs, but obviously a few were lost when the wireless mic started cutting out, and a few moments lost impact when people walked past me to get to the toilet, or when waiters pushed the food trolley past me. I bet McIntyre doesn't have this trouble! Although on the upside, I did get a mid-gig popodum that I managed to snaffle from the food trolley. Every cloud....
The show finished at 10pm and we asked if food was still on offer, and we were pointed to a table. A few minutes later we were moved to another table - I don't think it was anything we'd done. A waiter came to take our order, but when we asked for main courses, he had to go and get the 'main course waiter'. I think it was a job-share, but I still can't be sure.
To cut a long story a little shorter than really long, the food eventually arrived and it was ok, but Obonjo bit something horrific and his tooth fell out. We were having a wail of a time making the best of the evening and chatting about the circuit until Obonjo selfishly found something in his Shish Kebab that hurt him so much, and cracked his tooth, and amazingly after complaining, the restaurant thought we were all joking.
A few photographs later and arguments, and Obonjo packed his tooth away, and left with a gap in his teeth and half a Shish Kebab all alone on a plate. Poor guy!
At the end of our food, we noticed the promoter had been keeping a low profile.
I wandered around to find him at the back of the restaurant, and asked for the money. He said he'd track the venue manager down, and come back to us. He disappeared again.
Half hour later I went back to find him and he was having a heated debate with the restaurant managed about the money and ticket sales. We all stood very close by for what felt like 3 hours, and eventually the money arrived. The exact money was handed over. He even wandered off to get change to pay me exactly what we agreed, when I felt like asking for twice the money, but hey, a deal's a deal eh?
We retreated to my Mondeo that had all it's wheels on, and no Kebab van hitched to the back of it, amazingly, and we made the crazy journey home. Crazy because we couldn't believe what we had just witnessed. A toddler, a 3-part restaurant room. A tooth loss. An argument.
I dropped Sarah home, and luckily the usual diversions and road blocks were in place on my way home to ensure that the 2 hour journey home became closer to 3 hours.
I've had some gigs where silly things have happened. Heckles. Crazy audience members. Daft decisions of the layout. Mental promoters. Fights. You name it. But this was so bizarre in so many ways, that a long cathartic blog seemed the only way to release the experience.
I'm sure you stopped reading a fair few paragraphs ago, about 20% into it, much like the audience last night, but hey, I'm happier now.
The silly thing is, we all had such a laugh doing our best in the situation and making light of it, that I think we all had a great night (apart from Obonjo and his tooth ofcourse!), and I think that's the message here. No matter what nightmare you're faced with, find the ligher side. It's not always easy, and I know life throws some simply awful things at people from time to time that even humour can't solve, but if there's a chance it can, try it. It's easy to get very serious and angry, but for me it's much easier to get very silly and laugh whenever possible.
It's no good trying to diminish the important stuff, and not taking the serious things seriously, but sometimes when things are ridiculous, laughter is the best and only medicine. That's why i didn't walk out at the beginning like the other act, or complain to the promoter.
Life's short. It's a cliche, but it really, really is. So if I can smile, I will. If I can laugh or make others laugh, in the face of adversity, then I will.
It's a lovely feeling to laugh and make others laugh, and I'm cherishing every moment.
Comedy, Crete & Cougars
People are always amazed when I tell them I'm a comedian. It's actually one of my favourite things about being a comedian, apart from the actual half hour on stage of course!
Sat ready for take off to do my shows in Crete last month, two lovely cougars sat next to me, from Australia. I won't bore you with the details about why they were from Australia, taking off from Gatwick to go to Crete because I was, but needless to say, we got chatting. To cut a long story short, they asked what I did and when I told them, I felt very proud. They were gobsmacked. Probably because the previous 10 minutes of chatting had provided them with no amusement whatsoever, but hey, it was my day off.
Being a comedian is the best job in the world for me. I love people knowing what I do. I don't ram it down people's throats, but if they ask I tell them, because I'm sure (apart from most people's huge fear of talking on their own to huge groups of people), most people would love to spend their days thinking of funny things, reading the news and watching telly, and then spending their evenings in comedy clubs chatting to audience members who want to congratulate you, or chat to you about your job and your life. It's a very frenetic life, but I love it.
The tough days in Egypt before the shows
In the last month alone I've done my first solo hour show at Brighton Festival to a packed room, two shows in Egypt, a show in Crete, hosted a big show at Spinnaker Tower, appeared 7 times on radio, hosted an awards dinner, written for two other comedians, been to two castings in London, recorded some voiceovers for radio, written 4 articles for the newspapers, as well as starting writing my first book, and on top of that travelled about 6000 miles around this fair isle performing from Plymouth to Birmingham. All whilst trying to keep the house and children in order you understand, now that Mrs A has gone and got herself a job - how selfish :)
A crowd of 300 people laughing at what you're doing on stage is the most amazing feeling in the world. More and more these days as I write better things, and deliver my material in more natural ways, I am stood on stage waiting for the laughter to die down. Now THAT is an even better feeling. I soak it up. I maybe take a second drink of my beer, laugh with them, watch them. It's something I never thought would happen. Getting a laugh is a terrific instant feeling of satisfaction when you get a joke right, but having to actually wait for them to stop. An awesome feeling.
What most people don't realise though is that you are, without a doubt, completely alone. Even with the biggest laughs and applause.
I drive 200 miles to do a show, wait in the back room of the theatre, arts centre, club, or even at the back of the function room, and you are on your own. Even on stage you are on your own. For those five or ten minutes when you walk out to into the club after your performance, it can feel very hectic (presuming the show's gone well), when people all want to talk to you (but obviously if it goes badly then you definitely feel alone!!) and then you walk out into the dead of night to your car, and drive the 200 miles home, alone.
Comedians pass in the night, and familiar faces meet up at random shows here and there. Acquaintances and sometimes friends. Factor in their time on stage though and your time on stage, and even when you do a show together you generally only have time for a half hour catch up.
It's a strange life, albeit a blessed one. Every day something crazy is happening. I now write a few articles for local papers and magazines, as well as my weekly radio spot. I regularly supply comedians for clubs and private functions, and run two big comedy clubs myself, as well as the 15-20 shows I perform at myself every month. Life is definitely busy. The busiest.
In the morning I get up with the boys usually by 7am, even if I've got in at 2am from a show, and get them ready, fed and their packed lunches sorted for school. We then walk the 1.5 miles to school and I get back and rediscover the house, from the brief moment the boys have had that morning to cover every surface in Cocopops, toys, and strewn pyjama remnants, and I then start generally keeping on top of the house, with the usual dishwasher, washing machine, and hoovering tasks. In amongst this I am writing, booking, and responding to comedy demands, and promoting myself and my clubs through blogs, newsletters, emails, phone calls and texts. Then it's off to the school once more, and the boys light up my day, once again, converting the house's previous 6 hours of emptiness and quiet to that of a playzone in 20 seconds flat. I make their tea, and then get ready to go out to the show just as Mrs A returns from work, usually.
It's crazy but great. I get a good balance of time with the boys and the wife, as she usually has two days off a week as well as weekends for us to spend time together, and the boys and I have the school runs and brief time either side to play football, and watch the all important Simpsons and Phineas & Ferb.
But, you HAVE to enjoy your own company in this business. I think that's why a lot of comedians are absolutely mental. Famous or otherwise. 80% of your life, maybe more, is spent completely alone - even though my life outside comedy is full-on with family, a large portion of it in the daytime is on my own.
Even when you're on stage. Even when you're in a service station at 3 in the morning. No work colleagues. No friends. No real regular companions. Not that you get with the 9 to 5 job, anyway. It's a solitary life, but the intense euphoria of making so many people laugh, as long as you gig regularly enough and successfully enough, keeps you going. Show me a comedian who lives on his own, and hasn't gigged for a week, and I'll show you a very miserable soul.
That's why I am so blessed and lucky to have this job AND have a family as amazing as I do.
My life is ridiculously busy most of the time, even when I'm completely alone, but it all helps because the comedy is going so well....but when it doesn't, and I have a rough, tough night, I get home in the early hours of the morning and find my wonderful family sleeping soundly, and I know that it doesn't really matter, because I'm home with Team Alderson... and everyone has a bad day at the office, sometimes.
Just my office has a stage, a spotlight, a microphone and 200 people listening.
I've made it Mum!
I'm currently sat in a Premier Inn in Newton Abbott. I've made it Mum!
I decided that seeing as I am currently gigging for a number of nights in the South West, a good 4 hours hours from home, that I would take the leap and grab a few nights in a hotel to avoid all the driving.
Premier Inn guarantee a good night's sleep, which is lucky, because the funfair in the next car park doesn't. I could hear the thud of music so I went down to reception, as because I was on the other side of the hotel, I couldn't actually see the funfair from my room, so presumed it was some knob'ed next door playing loud music and shouting 'scream if you wanna go faster!'.
She said she would take me to 'their quietest room', presuming I was a trouble maker I guess, and as she opened the hotel room door, the window curtains were open and the room was filled with the neon glow of the funfair, and a perfect framed view of their ferris wheel. It was a classic moment, and we both laughed. I say 'we', I mean that I laughed enough for both of us...so I've kept to my own room.
Some sneaky twat also decided that although this is obviously a non-smoking hotel, having a crafty fag in the bathroom is fine, and clearly couldn't be bothered to walk for 30 seconds to get outside and smoke.
Thank god my only addiction is chocolate. The day they ban KitKat chunkies from hotels is the day I'll start eating them in the shower I guess!!
Anyway, I've been thinking whilst I've been sat in my room, watching Pretty Woman, and trying to eat a Pot Noodle with a teaspoon, how crazy my life has become. I used to have a normal career, probably like you reading this, and now I drive to a show, and make people laugh, and drive home to bed. So much relies on being on form and not having an off day.
When I was in a standard 'career' for want of a better explanation of this job, if I had an off day, like anyone, I would hide behind the monitor, spend longer amounts of time in the loo, hang out chatting by the vending machine more and take an extra 10 minutes for lunch to drag out the time NOT spent at work. You can hide an off day at work very easily in a normal job.
Even in the sales environments I regularly worked in, if you had an off day, or week, or even month, your track record meant you could cruise through a tough few days. I'm not talking about being rubbish, I'm just talking about being 'off'. You know those days where you can't quite put your finger on it but you feel unconnected, and not 'with it', is the best way to describe it.
I've read most comedians biographies in recent years, and almost all of them have touched on this subject. The time in the wings of a stage where you just don't feel pumped. A little empty and 'floaty' - disconnected. Obviously in an office, its the day you think Steve is being an arse, or that Julie must be having her time of the month, or that Clive is 'keeping himself to himself' today. Its the times when you wish you COULD fix how you feel, because you can't think of anything making you feel that way. Not depressed or miserable, just a little vague.
Being a stand up comic means that no matter what your mood, you can't show it on stage. I've had to perform when my wife's been 150 miles away in hospital, and when I've just had a call saying one of my young sons has really hurt himself. Last week, literally the minute before I went on stage, I thought I had lost my phone. To anyone that would be quite distracting, but to me it not only has all my numbers on, but all my promoter and comedian contacts and emails, and all my jokes and ideas. Just as the MC for the night was warming up the applause and laughter and starting to introduce me, I suddenly realised I'd left it in the toilet, rushed in there, and found it, and rushed out to get on stage in time. These are every day things that happen in life, but when you add the fact that you have to go out and stand in front of (often) 100s of people and make them laugh, it really can make you realise how focussed you have to be to get your job done.
You switch your brain, and the minute you enter that spotlight the game is on. You are the person the audience want you to be. Whether its a student audience, an older eclectic mix, or army squaddies I'm not James Alderson father of 2 boys and wonderful understanding wife, who has just driven 3 hours and is worried he might have lost his car keys, I'm whoever the guy is that they can most relate to, to get them laughing: and that for most part is because for those next 30 minutes, the promoter and the comedians are deciding if you are good.
It's like the time you had hit all your targets and been voted employee of the month, and then they ask you to do an acceptance speech and you cock it up and then they think 'actually you know what? I think we made the wrong decision, please give us back the bonus/trophy/badge'.
Like in any industry, though, you earn some respect, and some foundation within the comedy scene of being a good/average/great/awful act, and there is a general opinion underlying the circuit of what act is which description. But the horrible cliche - you are only as good as.... - is still true. Never more so in an industry where your whole day culminates in 20-30 minutes in the spotlight.
Throw in this bizarre feeling of disconnection that you can't put your finger on, the minute you are meant to be pumped and on fire to get the comedy club whooping, and you can find yourself in trouble. As I said, I've read all the major acts have experienced this, and let's be honest, if the right chemicals arent popping at the right time, much like when you love a person but just can't get the 'urge' to get busy with them, then it's all going to fall flat and the night will quickly fizzle out.
What I find most frustrating though is that the crowd often don't notice. I'd almost like it more when these 1/20 occurrences happen they came over and said 'you didnt quite seem on the ball tonight - funny, but just not in the zone', but instead they say 'nice one - you're funny!', and I think 'yeah thanks - thats lucky!'. I don't want to be funny. I want to be bloody hilarious, but the crowd leave thinking James Alderson (or Lee Mack, Peter Kay, Sean Lock...whoever it hits) was OK. I've been to see some big comics, and even gigged with some relatively big comics and thought...'yeah. I've seen him better..' and that could be for various factors, but to me it's highly likely he was having an 'off' day.
It's easy to convince yourself you've lost your mojo of course.
I've had an amazing year so far, and even in the last week I've been booked for 17 different shows throughout the UK, so I really feel buzzing, but amongst all of that, last night I remember standing to the side of the stage, and as I got introduced I felt like I was walking into a birthday party, and I was holding the cake. That somehow the centre of attention wasn't me, it was something else infront of me. Now I never get nervous, never. Anxious sometimes in big gigs because I want to make sure I do my best, and impress and give everyone a good night, but never nervous. This occasion last night (which has probably happened 5 times before), I did my set, and got laughs and some ripples of applause in places, but I came off and felt lack lustre. Don't get me wrong, the crowd and room, and various other elements weren't ideal, and once again no one would know that I was having an off day. I just felt I was disconnected, and it became apparent to me during my set. Which is the worse part.
For a comedian, having a relatively bad gig is something that can haunt you if you let it. Which I don't (apart from talking about it through a 500 word blog article!) - we've all felt times when we've lost our Mojo...and that it might not come back.
You have a bad gig (or one that isn't up to scratch, I should say, and certainly not up to your own standards!) and you can easily convince yourself that it's all over. I've had a brilliant run of awesome gigs this year, and as I typed this earlier today I thought I'm sure this is a glitch, because I could identify that being away from the family and stuck in a Premier Inn in Newton Abbott can mess with one's mind and surely that was having a negative effect on my psyche - that or the fag smells wafting out from behind the shower curtain.
Then I accidentally deleted the blog I was writing about the gig and my 'mojo' and now I am back from the next night's gig where I could have floated on the stage all night, and wished I could have been allowed another 15 minutes (on top of my opening 25 minutes) as I was having a blast. Similar room, similar demographic to the previous night, just the way I was feeling had moved on.
It certainly is strange. It's something we all experience: off days. Luckily mine come along very sparingly and it's not something you can always identify until it's too late, but yesterday reminded me that in comedy you really do have to hide so many emotions, whether they are at the front of your conscious mind or really deep routed, that you can't even put your finger on. You have to hide whatever emotion you feel so that 100s of others can feel one emotion - happiness.
I absolute love my new career, and touch wood (or wood veneer desk, with some questionable staining) I am having a blast.
I can't even imagine where the next 12 months are going to take me, these last few months have been moving so fast, but rest assured...19 out of 20 appearances, I am buzzing to get on the stage. The other 1 out of 20 I'll probably be hiding it so well you'll just think I'm funny, rather than bloody hilarious!..and one thing's for sure...my mojo is staying.
Now...I'm off to get some shut eye with these new Premier Inn Cozzzy pillows. They don't feel that great, but who am I to argue with their marketing gurus ??
Almost 2 years ago to the day, I decided to give stand-up comedy a go
Almost 2 years ago to the day, I decided to give stand-up comedy a go. It was my new year’s resolution: to go for it, and give it 100% or not bother.
12 months later (a year ago) I was at a point where I had started getting my first headline spots and was getting very regular paid work: I had progressed from open spots at the very beginning of 2011 onto nearly making a living from it. I was really pleased with how my first year had gone. Looking back across my 2011 review though, I wanted more, and wanted to move into bigger clubs, and make a career out of it.
My tax return from April proves to me that comedy is now my career, and whilst I won’t be getting a mortgage from it, or retiring any time soon, I am now a fully-fledged pro. I’ve gigged as a properly paid act an average of 3 times a week, but usually more, taking into account a few weeks off here and there, and the break at each end of the year for Xmas/New Year etc.
Aside from making a career from it, I’ve also achieved my other two main goals for 2012, and that is getting signed by an agent (both for acting and live gigs), and appearing on TV. The agent has helped me reach into some clubs I wouldn’t have got into so quickly, as well as appear in two TV adverts in featured roles, for Vauxhall and Daily Star, as well as my first major role in the new TV series, “ Public Eye” which will be on Channel 4 very soon in 2013.
I’ve also done a load of gigs that I wouldn’t dream would have been offered to me, namely a small tour of resorts in Mallorca through Laughing Horse in the Summer, which as a result meant I didn’t go to Edinburgh to do my show this year (hot sun and beaches instead of rain and castles was a tricky choice!), performing my first major gig infront of the military (without an MC and as the only comic I hasten to add!), and performing my first solo hour show at Nottingham Comedy Festival.
The old cliché of meeting some great people along the way still prevails and it’s also been great to see some good friends make such brilliant progress as well. It gives everyone faith that the hard work in the industry can pay off ‘quicker than the average’. I see so many comics who’ve been on the circuit for years and look so tired,…happy, but generally a bit wrecked, because doing comedy is such hard graft, but when I see some comedy friends making such massive steps towards fame and success in a few short years, it is so refreshing to see!
Personally, I know my first year was real fast-track stuff that couldn’t be repeated! As a close friend said to me a few days ago, my second year couldn’t possibly have kept up that pace, and I knew it wouldn’t, but I still made all the big steps above, plus did various big gigs for The Glee Club and The Comedy Club, Jongleurs and Highlight, and with new dates booked in, or imminent, so it’s all heading in the best direction!
Earlier this year, someone in the industry commented that I wasn’t a headliner, not properly. I was very annoyed, because I certainly felt I was, being the face on the posters, and the words “Headliner: James Alderson” kind of confirmed that for me. However during this year I realised what they meant. In the higher echelons of the comedy world, where only pro acts frequent (and for that matter, famous faces), I wasn’t a headliner. I was headlining clubs where the MC was paid, and the rest of the act got expenses, and sometimes a bit of pocket money, but not on fully fledged big line-up clubs. Now though, I’ve moved from headlining small clubs and gigs, to opening big clubs with the big boys. I feel like my professional career as a comic has been endorsed by big clubs and promoters booking me to open shows for faces from the telly. Sometimes it’s just me and that famous face for the whole night, doing half hour or more each, with an MC. That feels so great. To be entrusted like that. In 2012 I also got into a few finals of comedy competitions, and also won Comedy Café’s new act night in London, which was my first ever win. It was also the year I decided never to do any more competitions. You’ve got to end it some time…
On a few occasions, I’ve been booked by pro clubs to do a middle spot, and when the opener or headliner hasn’t turned up, they’ve entrusted me to fill in! That felt amazing and a real compliment. One example was The Glee Club, and they asked me to step up and open the 500 seater club, and one was for Joe Bromehead, who asked me to close the intimate Bingley gig (intimate as in small, not naked). Both went really well, and in both cases the promoters had seen my clips and heard I was a solid act, so were happy to move me up the ranks on the night, which really gave me faith that people are getting to hear about me in a good way. I am on a dozen promoters ‘go-to’ list of choice for opener or closer when they get new clubs underway, or one-off special comedy nights, but to be on a similar list for the UK’s bigger clubs and chains would be a nice logical step!
As in any industry I guess, you wonder what the rumours are about you, but especially being a comedian or promoter, it matters a bit more in my eyes, as it’s such a solitary existence. It shouldn’t distract you from what you are doing, but it’s important to know what those more level-headed figures in the industry are saying about you. In comedy, you simply HAVE to talk to people about the industry, clubs and acts, or you get to know nothing. So, probably more than any other industry, what the word on the street is (I’m down with the kids!), WILL make a big difference to whether you get booked. I’ve received numerous clips from acts for the clubs I ran in 2012, and the first thing I did each time was watch the clip, and if I like the clip I then text/call friends in the industry. If the general consensus was negative, I didn’t book them. It seems shallow, but you can’t risk putting an act on a stage that could turn your audience off, and they don’t come back to your club; you lose money and reputation.
The supply of comics is so great that any risk, be it lack of reliability, attitude, appearance, overall professionalism, or of course funniness, is just not worth gambling on. As weird as it sounds, if an act is really funny, but really unreliable, I probably wouldn’t book him/her compared to an act that is super reliable and pretty funny. I’d like to think I was really funny and really reliable, but even if I’m the latter, I’m fine with that because I know I’m new to this industry still. I can work on the funny bit, but most of the acts that I know who are really unreliable have done so much damage that they’ll have to work so much harder to combat that problem to get bookings than I will on my funniness! Regardless, I'll be making sure I scrub up as clean as possible in all areas, to ensure I get as little negative reviews and feedback as possible!!!
I’ll be working really hard in the early part of 2013 to build on the groundwork of 2012. I plan to get a number of weekend gigs at The Glee Club, Jongleurs and Highlight, and move into more big clubs that I am yet to work for. I’d love to get to a stage where I am contacted by big clubs about opening for them without doing paid middles first, but I know that might be asking a bit much in my third year. I’ll try for that though! ? I also want to move from my first aired TV show (Public Eye – Channel 4) in January onto something more well-known, with maybe an appearance on a mainstream show. I’m not talking 8 Out Of 10 Cats, as I’m not that drunk on festive fuel, but something more familiar to mainstream folk would be good.
Live gigs, and TV work are obviously high up on my ambitions, but I’d also like to regularly feature on a local commercial or community radio station, even if its just weekly or fortnightly. In 2012 I did numerous interviews on radio, as well as a featured ‘comedian of the week’ on Jack FM, and I’ve also done various voiceovers for adverts and announcements in 2012, so building on these elements is a big desire in the coming year. I’ll be searching out some agents for more voiceover work, that’s for sure, and for those who’ve been following me on Facebook, I’ll be trying to get my children’s stories published as audiobooks on line very soon as well!
I also want to do a few more gigs in 2013 in London. Namely the central London clubs. In the beginning, at the start of last year, I did a few open mic nights in London, and thought “what’s the point??” and sure enough, I’m yet to hear of a real reason for someone to travel into London on a 6 hour round trip to do a 5 minute open spot. However, at this stage, when bigger London clubs offer me a 15 minute middle spot to prove my metal, I’ll do it, even though it’s a short amount of time on stage, because some of the bigger movers and shakers tend to stick to London clubs, and I have to get a balance if I want to get more noticed. I’ve done a few spots recently in well known central London clubs and really enjoyed it. I’m well and truly over the “I don’t think my style will work here”, that a lot of comics worry about early in their careers, and so London will feature more in 2013 for me – if only because I’m not sure the jet-set TV execs frequent village halls and clubs in the sticks too often, much as I love playing them!
I’ve stopped running all my own Banter comedy clubs, because they all became a bit distracting from my main career, and when I started having to turn down nicely paid gigs because of one of my own gigs I was MCing, it didn’t make sense. I started the clubs to get experience in MCing, and in 2012 I guess I’ve MC’d 30 gigs, which really has improved my work on the rooms I do sets in, but I never really made any money. It was fun, but now my only comedy show will be the quarterly “Comedy All Stars” which invites comedians off the telly down to sleepy Horndean, near where I live, to entertain 3-400 people. So far I’ve resisted MCing or doing a set at that club, but hopefully one day in 2013 I can justify putting myself on the bill if I have been on TV enough ?
So….in short, I’ve achieved everything I was hoping for in 2012, and a little bit more I guess – TV, a ‘proper’ career in comedy, good progression through the ranks, big clubs, but I didn’t do my own show in Edinburgh: the choice of a nice pay packet and hot sun was too much. I can’t be sure I won’t go abroad again if the promoters and rumours are anything to go by so far, which could tempt me to go out again in the Summer!
This job sure is a struggle sometimes when I find myself walking out the door, when my children are upset that I'm leaving them before bedtime, and I long to sit and watch a tv show cuddling up to Mrs A by the fire, but after a few short years I feel I've got a bigger chance than most to make a real name for myself in 2013. I love that moment on stage, and I love the freedom it gives me, to control my career, and control my craft, and make people laugh every night. Let's hope I get even more of a foothold over the next 12 months - I hope to see you there!
Thanks to everyone that’s helped me above and beyond in 2012, making me feel either that I am doing a good job as a comic, offering me amazing support, or generally giving me brilliant comradery in an otherwise solitary lifestyle! Thanks guys!.... Larry Dean, Tom Glover, Jonny Awsum, James Redmond, Dan Edge, Jon Grant, Joanna Sturrock, Joe Bromehead, Nathan Caton, Matt Price, Tony Cowards, Luke Honnoraty, Robert Howell, Sarah Iles, Luke McQueen, Sal Monello, Craig Murray, Philip Simon, Paul T Eyres, Joe Wells and Laura Lexx.
If I’ve missed anyone off, it's probably the chocolate's fault, or if you’re a promoter, then I am truly sorry. Please book me….
One place you'll always find me during a show is ...
One place you'll always find me during a show is at the back of the room (apart from when I'm emblazoned on the front of an Arts Centre of course - see above!). Most of the time there is a green room or a side room, or kitchen/toilet that the acts are offered, but since the very beginning I've perched myself at the back, usually standing up (I know, always thinking about exercise!), and taking it all in.
I've always been very keen to watch the audience, listen to the MC, note how the acts before me are going down, and against what material they are using. I've always wanted to see what kind of crowd they are, and whether they are going to be my sort of crowd...
During my short stint in Mallorca though, a penny dropped. The first night was horrific, I won't lie, as 250 pensioners looked at me and the other act aghast at why we weren't running through half hour of knock knock and mother-in-law jokes, but during that set, whilst I was very keen to get the mechanics out the way for that particular show, and get off, I realised what was happening. They just didnt get me. It was a first. Yes, in the early days I found myself talking about the wife, or kids to 200 students, and worried that they wouldn't have the foggiest idea what I was on about, but here it was stranger. People who had been through everything I'm going through, and everything I joke about: aches, pains, weight gain, growing older, marriage, children, and they couldn't connect. Neither could I with them.
I realised that opening your set up to the crowd can do wonders. The second night I went into the crowd, and talked to them (a bit like Freddie Starr - topical), and they loved it (not in that way!). I asked questions, and spoke to the crowd. Yes, my material came through, but because I made the set a little more personal, they felt engaged enough to take time to understand what I was about. They were happier to give me time to perform, and happier to listen, once I showed them I had time for them. They felt it was more of a personal show for them.
Don't get me wrong...I've always tried to make my shows un-mechanical, as though I've never said some of my set before, and obviously any comic will tell you that's half the trick, but I've always worried that some audiences just won't get me, won't want to give me time to tell my story, and won't like me from the off, based on where they're from, their age, or their background.
Luckily that's happened only three times in nearly 250 shows, but once I returned to the UK after that Mallorca tour the penny that had dropped landed nicely into the slot (ooh misses). It suddenly hit me - you've done quite a lot of gigs. You earn a living from it. You watch every crowd, and worry. Get over it.
Now, those of you who've gigged with me, or seen me perform will know I never get nervous. NEVER. But I do get worried. Concerned for how well I'll do my job, and whether the promoter will be pleased. Like any diligent worker. A conscientious postman wont worry about delivering the letters through the doors (and once you've dealt with a few nasty dogs you know how to deal with them - see what I did there?), but he is worried about whether the home owners and his boss think he is any good. And that was my concern. Always has been. Now though, I have clicked into another gear.
I watch the room, read what jokes aren't working (as previous acts perform), watch the MC, and still stand at the back of the room, but I don't worry that certain tables or rooms wont like me. It doesn't help to worry, and it certainly doesn't help trying to second guess a show before you bloody get to the gig! All you can do is appreciate the room, understand if it has limits, and get up on stage and do whatever you can to connect.
My material is universal to almost anyone, and there will always be a room for any act that doesn't quite get you, and as long as I can keep that to 3 out of the next 250, then that's great!
In the last month I've done half hour of my material to a massive range of audiences, including 250 stags and hens in central London, 50 Essex British Legion regulars, 7 people in a wine bar (one of whom I want to tell you was a transvestite), 200 Liverpudlians, 40 University students and 30 middle class country bumpkins in the Cotswolds. The show went fine. They laughed. Mission accomplished.
Now, I am far from being cocky. I know I am not bullet proof (I've gigged in Croydon!), but I have overcome that preemptive worry that a certain crowd won't like me....."oooh, London....they don't like me in London"...or....."students? Erm, they don't really get my humour!". People are quite simple. I certainly am. If you deliver your material that 95% of the time gets big laughs, then all you have to do is make sure you are delivering it in a way they can relate to, so I try to find a way to manipulate my set, and my style and my performance. Not completely, but whilst I read the audience before my spot on stage, I don't look for the negatives, and the words I shouldn't use, or the material I should avoid. I look for the people I can use, and the topics that are working, and work with that and then carve and adapt my set to the room as best I can.
I don't sit and worry about a booking, before I leave, or on the journey, or stood at the back of the room. I've been far too pleasantly surprised too many times, walking off stage, to keep that nonsense up any longer.
I know I'll crash and burn some day, probably tonight now, but what I have stopped doing is second guessing a 'type' of crowd, be it age, region, or class. It's made for a much, much more enjoyable build up to the show. I always love the stage time, but that big worry before hand that sometimes crept in is now gone.
You want to book me for a show? Where is it? What type of crowd? How many people in the crowd? Forget that.....Bring it on....!
As I've been moving up the gigs
As I've been moving up the gigs, doing spots for bigger clubs, and opening and headlining more and more nights, and as I've seen comedy pals do their own, I've felt there's been more and more expectation to do my own show. I nearly committed to do my own show this Summer at Edinburgh, but when the venue offer came through, and some other nicely paid gig offers came through for August, for that and a variety of other reasons it didn't come together, and it definitely was the right decision....wait and think. Don't rush it.
I did however already had a title for my first show though. "One of Your 5-a-Day".
I knew this was the right title for me, because everything I talk about, and everything I write about instinctively is about my outlook on life as a 30-something bloke, and one that has fought with weight, health and fitness hilarity for nearly 10 years as life caught up with me. Marriage, children, and life in general may all be considered overly exposed topics, so most stay clear, especially the younger comics, but when I sat down and thought about it, that was EXACTLY why I wanted to write about it.
I'm not 20, and my life doesn't revolve around getting drunk any more (although I have my moments!), and I'd look daft discussing the latest trends and celebrities (Kate Middleton aside!). Even topical stuff I've written has my own twist on the world, and it almost always goes down well, so there was no point writing something just to please the critics, and comedy world.
I must admit though, sometimes I do wonder if comics write stuff to get comedians and the comedy world liking them more. The 'cool' topics, the alternative or surreal stuff - I sometimes even feel the reaction when I come off stage from a gig because most of the time the crowd love my stuff, and when it's in stark contrast to what's MEANT to be funny these days, I think that some comics can't connect with why my stuff should be funny, or why the audience laughed so much at it.
I do worry sometimes that I please the crowds in the club, but I stick out a bit from the other comics at my level, but then I remind myself that that's exactly what a promoter wants, and what a crowd wants. An act that isn't 'samey'. A lot of my topics are 'old school', that most comics simply don't touch any more, but so many promoters say I'm original and unique, so I guess for all the wrong reasons, I know that my act is different. So I decided to wait and make sure I wrote a set that I felt personally comfortable with, and happy performing, and one that would seamlessly work with material I wanted to take from my club sets. I wanted a show that the audience would see me perform, and believe in it.
My first decision was to go back over my really old material. By old I mean right back to the very beginning! I looked over my very old notes on my phone (check me out, with technology), and I stripped away all the topics and gags that I had written that fitted my topic of "One of Your 5-a-Day". There were pages and pages of notes. Some stuff I had forgotten and some stuff I had even subconsciously dropped from my set without realising!
Some material I felt I could breathe life into without much work, now I was a lot more match-fit, and after a few run-throughs of some of the old jokes and some re-writing, I realised I definitely had a good 5 minutes of stuff to bring back to my act already. Even some of the old topics gave me some great ideas, so I was so pleased to know that simply by going through my old stuff, I already had relevant material to bring into the hour.
Luckily, with my topics of health, fitness, and getting older, my current topical stuff on the Olympics and sport sat well with my introduction, so I knew that would work, as those gags have been going down a storm at the beginning of my set, so I kept those in, as well as 80% of my usual club set, and with the old stuff brought up to the pace, I already had 40 minutes of a show, after a few run-throughs.
One thing I've never been interested in doing, is new material nights. Probably from about 20 gigs in, I stopped doing open mic nights, mostly because I was lucky enough to be getting regular paid gigs from then, or at the very least expenses covered gigs, and I didn't want to risk putting new material out there in front of promoters who were casting their eye over me for future gigs. I never try anything that I'm not sure is strong and 99% likely to get lots of laughs, but as I worked my way into middle and opening spots for clubs in 2011, and I was given more time on stage to perform, I then started throwing the odd bit of new material in, if it was brief and I felt it was gold-plated. Also, though, at the same time, last year I started MCing my own clubs, which I felt a lot more comfortable trying new stuff at, so all-in-all, I had created for myself a lot of new material opportunities as the year had gone on.
This time though, when I had set the date at Nottingham Comedy Festival for my first solo show, I knew I had to set some new material gigs specifically to try new stuff that I had brought back from the dead, new gags I'd written on my topics of health and fitness and getting older, and demonstrating to myself that I could seamlessly thread it all into the existing club material I did every night.
Part of my style is to deliver material that might be considered a little direct about other people, like those who are overweight, or unfit, or talk about my wife as though she is a little bit daft, but the joke is always turned on me as I'm the idiot who is unfit, overweight, and daft. It's without doubt a self-depricating style and one I am very comfortable with. It never gets a negative response, and some of my newer stuff took that line as well as some more direct gags about my own state of fitness, so trying them out was an interesting challenge.
I booked myself 3 new material gigs during September but I was closing each night, so I had around 20 minutes to play with, as well as MCing 4 further shows, and all of these were in front of people who had seen me within the last few months, so I knew I had to rely entirely on new stuff. The pressure was on! That's exactly what I wanted. No chance to bottle it and revert to old sets!
MCing with new material gives you a harsher reality on its effectiveness because often the crowd enjoys the interaction with an MC, and slipping in material (especially untried) is such a risk, as you and they know its something new, because as a regular MC to a professional show, they know what you're bringing to them is new stuff when you've been MCing that show for a year: they are very quick to let you know if it is acceptable or not! On new material nights, all the crowd and all the acts are open, and accepting on new stuff.
My MCing was up and down over the month before my debut, but I knew I would have to crow bar in the new stuff to see how it went down and give it an airing, to get used to saying it correctly if nothing else, so I was expecting a variety of responses. Luckily the new material gigs I tried stuff out on went really really well, even without falling back on new stuff. I was very strict on myself, I didnt touch a drop of old material for these tests, so I didnt get a false reading on my efforts. I was so happy with the latter sets on the new material gigs and people were so positive that I really felt pretty solid.
I even did a gig 3 days before my debut show that was the hardest I've ever headlined at, in the noisiest pub ever, with 30 people desperately trying to hear what was being said. Little did I know what a preparation that would be! I threw quite a bit of the new material into this show, and it went well even then! I couldn't quite believe it. Even comics were telling me that really liked my new stuff, and seeing as I dearly love my tried and tested stuff, that made me buzz, because I really wasn't sure about mating my new stuff with the old stuff, because I didn't want to bring the average down! Seemingly that didn't come across.
I ran through my whole show in my head a few times, and went back to the early days by running through it in the mirror and filming it in the front room, and I had it in one show!
The show itself was a bit of a surprise, because the manager of the Nottingham Comedy Festival actually came to set up with her assistants to make sure it was all ok (she was on her way to set up Tiffany Stevenson's show so it was just luck rather than misplaced priorities that she was there!), and initially I was shocked because the owner of the venue had decided (thanks for asking) that my show was going to be in his main bar, and not upstairs in the seperate function room! There was a stage the width of the bar that looked down the long venue with the bar to the left, and the tables down the right. Everyone was told the comedy would start, and some people left, but most people that were sat down looked ready to listen. Sadly those at the bar couldnt have cared less.
Problem one was that the assistant who had been left to look after me during the show was a larger lady, and she had brought her friends to see me. I kept most of the bar interested for around 50% of my show, but sometimes those stood at the bar drifted in and out of conversation and drinking, as the bar was fully lit, and the spotlights on me weren't great, so to be honest they were more lit than I was, which is never good.
Also, as you can imagine, the large lady and her friends (who were sat at the front I hasten to add!), were not overly impressed at my digs at large people. Early on in my set, I start with a dig at a fat lady driving a car with "powered by fairy dust" stickers before I turn the material on myself and make myself look even more stupid for being overweight. 99/100 people give me the time to get to this part, as lets be honest I'm no stick, but this particular night this group at the front were too embarrassed about the topic to raise their heads. It was very difficult to begin with, but after we clambered past the topics they felt uncomfortable with and they realised what I was on about, they quickly got on board.
Loads of material went down really well, and there were even some applause breaks and cheers. Some jokes that always go down well died a death, which you get used to in such strange gigs, and another line which is a little throw away line that I've said a handful of times to a smattering of giggles, nearly got a bloody standing ovation!
Overall I was pleased. I did 50 minutes of material (not 60 - some of the material simply wasn't worth dragging out into a noisy bar), and people came up and shook my hand and congratulated me afterwards. I know that in the right venue, with a few more gigs of trial and error, I'll have a really good show.
I've introduced some props to my set, some real variety to the theme, some old stuff, some topical, and morphed it with some of my existing set, and I feel so happy to have an hour of material that stood up to the battering of a bar in Nottingham on a Sunday night, when most people were leathered on the streets at 7pm, doing rainbow yawns at the pavement!
I'm planning to do a few shows at a number of festivals over the next 6 months, and hopefully they'll be in at least function rooms, rather than rowdy bars, but either way, I've proved to myself I can throw my show out there to the toughest of crowds and get half a decent response.
I'm sure that some of the material will disappear, and get replaced, but for now I feel happy that I have a show that at the very least gets a consistently positive response and that I feel gels perfectly with what I've been trying to achieve on stage since I first started. A believable message and a believable personae - from little ol' me!
When I heard that over 100 comics had been considered by ...
When I heard that over 100 comics had been considered by Thomson's Showteam for a tour, and after seeing my clips on Youtube were considering me, I was pretty gobsmacked. Not only was the Mallorca tour slap bang in the middle of August, exactly the time I was meant to be in Edinburgh before I cancelled it, but the pay was pretty good, and I was craving some med' heat, not being away for a few years.
To cut a long story short, Laughing Horse had put my name forward and I got booked!
I flew out on my own, meeting at Palma with Luke McQueen: we were doing half hour each across 4 top 'Gold' hotels around the island and not only was a 30 minute clean set required avoiding all swearing and anything to do with sex/race/age, we also weren't allowed to talk about Thomson, the hotels, the staff, or the resort as a whole during our stage time.
I'd been through my set, and worked through material I thought would work, as we were told it was an older crowd. First though I had to grasp driving on the wrong side of the road on the wrong side of the car. This was a weird experience, much like patting your head and rubbing your tummy, except with a 600 Euro insurance excess! Getting used to all the car being on the right hand side of me meant I nearly crashed in the car park pulling out of the parking space, nearly wiping someone off their feet!
The first night involved driving for 20 minutes to the next port along and realising with a little bit of worry that Goggle Maps didnt work. Not only that, but no shops seemed to sell maps, and the only map we had was a free tourist map with only about 6 roads on it !! Luke chuckled every time I walked to the wrong side of the car to get in - I never really got used to it!
The realisation of what we had taken on hit us within a few minutes of arriving at the hotel and seeing the venue's entertainment area. A massive expanse by the beach and pool, spread across around 1000 square yards with very spaced out seating, all in pairs (as everyone was out there in couples not groups).
The stage was good, the lighting was good, and sound was good, but for a comedy venue it was very unusual. I don't know what I was expecting, but it was outside, open air, and so spaced out that it felt very exposed, which most comics will tell you doesnt make people feel like laughing. The warm up act was a young girl singing ballads (very nicely) with a synthesizer chap in his 60s accompanying her, and slowly as we sat at the back of the terrace drinking, we watched more and more couples walking slowly to their seats - they were all in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Even a few mobility skooters turned up - how did they get them onto the luggage conveyor?
Luke & I had already chatted and decided I'd go on first, as I felt comfortable trying to MC this age group, but I kept having flashbacks to my chat with the manager of Showteam who told me on the phone that she was experimenting with the new comedy format to appeal to the younger crowd they get out there in August!! Wow. How old can they get outside of August, I thought, as I bounded onto the stage, trying to whip up a frenzy.
Needless to say, the first show was a baptism of fire, and aside from sweating more than any man should (Lee Evans I am not!), it was a real struggle. Luke and I both got laughs, but you could tell the audience were a little bemused. Many of them returned every Summer, and even the entertainment managers said that comics often got little response. The word "tumbleweed" was used for the last load of comics they'd had so far over the 2012 season. You can imagine the usual "Jimmy Tarbuck" esque comics that the audience would have liked, and then me and Luke turning up. Me with my QUILF and Luke with his surreal cow suit (and yes I did do QUILF! I love that joke!).
See my blog diary after the first show here
I'll warn you now that these few short clips aren't meant to be funny....which is lucky. Just infomative :)
The shows got better, and the second show was my favourite. A younger crowd, even having a few people in their 40s and 50s in the audience, but when I asked who had been married the longest, people were still cheering at '60 years married' !!!!!?!!! The stage was better, actually backing onto the sea - and again the sound and lighting was terrific - I interacted and went into the crowd, and had a good few bits of banter which got some great laughs, but still the age meant they weren't ever going to ask for an encore. The crowd still stretched back 200 yards, but because the resort buildings enclosed us on all sides, it felt a little more cosy. A strange choice of words following the fact that the 300 people covered 200 yards I know, but hey....
Here's the 3 minute diary clip of me half way through the tour
You'll have noticed by now that I was a little shell shocked on this tour - don't get me wrong, I've done tonnes of shows were either all or a lot of the crowd were mature, but with all the other factors, it was a hugely unusual experience: the days were wonderful without a day though, usually mid 30s in heat, and just spending time on the beach, icecreams, swimming in the sea or pool, beer, and relaxing.
The shows were so late, normally 10 oclock or later, which was strange considering how old the audience were, and they certainly were sleepy during the entertainment - before we went on I mean !!!! I could tell the entertainment managers were nervous, as we were watched like hawks, I guess they were waiting for us to swear and do stories about shagging and tits. Looking at the posters of the usual comics they have, you can understand them being nervous about these 'young' comics turning up. One such poster of their usual comic said "....as he tells stories about his 50 years in music and comedy!". Amazing.
I think overall, if the crowds had half under 45 and half over 45 it would have been fine, but the crowds were so old (and we were hand picked after seeing our material) that we were really confused a lot of the time about why we were there - even during our stage time, I think - haha! We might as well have got up there and sworn and told our dirtiest stories to be honest, as they really found these guys in their 20s and 30s quite hard to relate to, but we brought everything to the stage and threw everything we had at it - we got the hang of it, and eventually found some good laughs from the crowds, and as I say in one of my clips - every comic should do it. You really have to work them, and find some commonality, and appeal to their own old skool humour, all the time adapting your own material to ways they will understand and relate to - including of course, talking to them with a respectful demeanor that doesnt talk down to them, that doesnt make these Thomson Gold holiday makers feel like this whipper snapper on stage is being disrespectful - and of course, not swearing or being too rude or critical about the resort/staff/Thomson!
I got the hang of the driving - only nearly crashing badly once on a roundabout, and by the time we had to come home, I had it sussed! Just in time to be a little confused when I jumped back in the car in the UK.
Here's my short overview of the trip, whilst we were waiting at the airport..!
The hilarous thing was that whilst this final clip was being recorded, the plane staff were searching the plane about to remove our bags as we were late boarding. Mallorca airport has a brilliant policy of not announcing over the tannoy if people are missing from flights, and we were held up for two hours at passport control, so with 10 minutes til final boarding, and no people walking through the gate, I presumed the gate was yet to open as so many were delayed with passports.
We sat chatting, and casually Luke said "I wonder if the gate is open and we're just sat here, about to miss our plane?" I wandered over to the gate desk, and the stewardess slammed the phone down and exclaimed that we were holding up the whole plane! We ran for our bags and went down into the waiting coach where everyone gave us evil eyes (as much as British people can!). Luckily though this meant that all of us would be getting onto the plane together so the 200 people already sat on the plane wouldn't know who the two late people were. We got on, and the pilot announced that they had two people missing and so they would be missing their flight slot, and Luke and I started tutting and complaining along with everyone else - a lucky escape !
All-in-all, touring with Luke was brilliant. He is an amazingly funny (and slightly unhinged) guy, and a great person to have with you. He is such a different act to me, but in a way that makes it even more remarkable as to why we were put together and then put in front of this type of crowd. We laughed a lot during our trip, and had some great little moments on stage and off, and more than anything, we learnt a few new things for our sets, and we learnt that if we ever walk into a gig where the whole crowd have free bus passes, we know exactly what to do....run.....no, seriously, we know how they want to be spoken to, joked with, and what sort of material they will react to.
It was a real shame that this 'experiment' was such a badly judged marry-up for Thomson's Showteam: they clearly don't know their comedy and their August customers that's for sure, but overall the whole tour was a brilliant experience that I was lucky to be involved in, and I got a tan and paid as well! Win win win...
........now for normal comedy clubs, and a ridiculously hectic gig run up til Xmas!
Those regular visitors to my blogs will now three things
Those regular visitors to my blogs will now three things. a) they are long 2) they are often quite positive and exciting iii) I haven't done one for a while.
Now I won't go into detail because the wife is currently cooking a lovely chilli, and I've just opened a lovely bottle of South African Chardonnay (I know, and I'm straight!), but fans on my Facebook page will see the soap opera that is my comedy career unfold every half day, and know its going bloody brilliantly.
In brief, most recently, I've landed onto the paid gig rosta with The Glee Clubs, indisputably the best comedy clubs in the UK. My first paid gig was last night, and as I was relaxing waiting for the MC to examine the audience so I could watch and take note of who to talk to myself, the manager explained that the opener hadn't turned up so he wanted me to open the show to the 400+ people baying for the funnies! I was soaking wet through from the rain (I know...rain...weird huh?!) and 3 minutes from the stage with 3 minutes notice, stood at the back of the club, but to cut a long story short, I opened the biggest comedy in the country, and it went well...hurrah!
Overall, it's easy to give an overview (and for a brief moment - again - I'll put modesty to one side...): every try out I've done or clubs I've done middle spots for has lead to getting moved to regular paid work, every paid job has led to more bookings, and even Banter Comedy Club (my own chain of clubs) has opened a new venue in Waterlooville, and now got bigger budgets to bring bigger, better, more famous acts to Havant and Eastleigh!
One of my ambitions after completing and over achieving 2011's ambitions, was to get onto TV this year. So far not only have I been on two adverts, albeit briefly, but I have just landed a role in a TV show due to be shown on Channel 4 and/or E4 in the Winter. Not only that but if it goes to plan, I'll be one of the main parts in one particular section of the show. Vague I know, but I don't want to spoil the premise, as it's quite exciting. It's not a comedy show, but it is quite reflective of my comedy style and I'm looking forward to the challenge. Rehearsals Wednesday, and filming the actual thing Thursday! They currently produce The Cube with Phillip Schofield, The Peep Show, and all of Derren Brown's shows, so it's the real deal...!
Since my last blog I made the tough decision to pull out of my Edinburgh show with Larry Dean. He is one of my best mates on the circuit, but financially it is so crazy to do the festival, when people are asking me to do paid work instead back home. It's quite short sighted, as Edinburgh can lead to more people and promoters (because not all promoters are people haha) spotting you, for the long term, but with so many people offering me gigs, I decided to stay home this year, and work on other projects as well.
If you've been paying attention, you'll have seen my children's stories, which are going down a storm on YouTube, and I've just completed the latest one, "Malcolm The Ninja Hedgehog", and am working on the illustrations now ready to put on YouTube this week. Banter is always hosted by me, and the growth of that has kept me busy, shortly about to announce our fourth venue. Castings are always on the cards, and I'm busy attending these as and when my agent demands :) Comedy All Stars is a massive show I'm promoting for September with a huuuuge TV line-up of Tiffany Stevenson, Felix Dexter, James Redmond, Jonny Awsum, and Patrick Monahan, all who have appeared on a lot of TV over the last few years, collectively, so that's keeping me busy promoting that, but on top of that Larry Dean & I have at last got around to recording a podcast.
Lots of people are keen to hear this as Larry and my styles are so conflicting in comedy, but we can talk for England (and Scotland). Sometimes Larry and I phone each other before and after gigs, and even if we are travelling back for two hours from some far flung place, the time flies and we talk nonsense and before we know it we are turning into our roads and we're home. We made no effort to prepare for the podcast, and just started talking, so topics range from Wimbledon and guinea pigs to anal inspections and masturbations, so there definitely is something for all the family!!!
We're working on the edit over the next week so there'll be a podcast and YouTube clip of the definitive 45 minutes of podcast available before the end of the month, but prepare yourself with a bottle of wine, and a crate of Stella. It's a load of silly nonsense and gassing, but we had a real giggle.
So, to end, I must apologise for the delay in coming back to you with another blog since the crazy Toddler-heckling a month or so ago, and look forward to looooads of exciting things over the next few weeks, including a new kids tale on YouTube by yours truly, a podcast, and me on the goggle-box! Yay!
One thing that friends and family often ask me ...
One thing that friends and family often ask me since I started in comedy is how comedian's measure success, or when I feel I've reached a certain point and can say 'yes, I've achieved something!'.
The nature of the business means you always feel like you are climbing the ladder, but once in a while you do sometimes notice when you've broken through glass ceilings, but generally a month or so after you've done it.
It slowly sinks in, when firstly after travelling for miles and miles to loads of gigs, and not getting any money, you start getting given expenses for your travel to clubs: then you get offered a bit more money on-top: then you're a named act on the bill, sometimes with bigger stars that you've heard of (!), then you're opening the show, and then onto headlining smaller clubs. Then the next stage is playing bigger clubs and chains, and slowly seeing your name appear on the bill of those big clubs as something other than just an 'open spot'. That's where I am now, but I still sometimes find myself trying to evaluate my achievements, and measure my success, or lack of it.
I write my material when it hits me, as and when an experience or thought takes me, where ever that may be, as all my material is based of my life and experiences, and my own take on it, so I never ever bother burying myself away writing jokes, so I often find myself with spare time in the day, and with this spare time I started looking at my material and my recordings from the last week or two to try to see what I've achieved recently - what was going right, and what was going wrong - and I found myself creating this:
CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE CLIP
It's quite surreal to listen to the reactions in isolation, but now I know what I have produced over the last few gigs. An eclectic mix of giggles, whoops, laughs and applause in arts centres, comedy clubs, function rooms, and pubs. It's a simple answer, but that's as complicated as it gets, I guess, on reflection.
It's what keep me going though. The laughs, and waiting for them to hit when the joke roles out from the speakers. The silence before it hits is magical, and sometimes I would love to hold that moment, the breathe just as the audience's minds hear the punchline, and process it. It's tangible - sometimes palpable, and always addictive.
I hope this gives you an insight into my job, what I 'produce' and how I measure it?
I'm just going to keep on measuring until the laughs get long enough !
Before I start, I wanted to proudly show you my new beermats
Before I start, I wanted to proudly show you my new beermats that are going down a storm at my gigs. So much better than business cards, and I've even been asked to sign a few over the last week or so. Rumour has it that they're on eBay for 50p, so it sounds like they're peaking already - grab 'em whilst you can!
I now gig on average 4 times a week, sometimes 6, sometimes just 2 or 3, but one thing prevails: at almost every gig, something will happen that you have to deal with, and it isn't always just a drunk idiot who thinks shouting 'nice tie' is the funniest thing in the world to shout.
Amongst many other things that I've had to deal with over the last year are dogs trying to get onto the stage, the backdrop falling onto me, a man falling off his chair in the audience, tannoy announcements during my set, a mobile phone ringing (click here if you'd like to see how I dealt with that!), and most recently I arrived at a gig where a toddler was sat in his pram in the back row, with his parents.
Now any comedian will tell you that interruptions and distractions, and obviously hecklers are just part of the job, and you get used to it, but having a young child at a gig is bad, because they will either be old enough to know what you're talking about, old enough to rush the stage, or worse, will just keep shouting out. On this occasion, the little 1 year old lad decided to shout 'yeah!' at various moments during my opening 30 minute set in Westbury last weekend.
It was a great double-act, and we're booked to do an arena tour together in Summer 2013.