As a rule, stand up isn’t as glamourous as some of Joe Public out there would believe. For starters, stand up involves a lot of travelling, and there is nothing particularly glamorous about being at a service station in the early hours of the morning hoping to goodness you’re not too late to grab the last sandwich going at W.H. Smith’s, the only shop that is usually open at whatever godforsaken hour you’ve arrived.
And then there are, of course, the gigs that went wrong. Every comic has their own horror story (stories). And even when you think you’ve got the horror story to beat all horror stories, you will invariably meet a comic who can top yours with consummate ease.
I once had to perform at a venue where people had been steadily drinking for four hours and where some of the audience (I use the term loosely) were playing beer ping ball at the back of the room, a game not noted for being played in silence. Even better (not) the stage area was considerably lower than all of the rest of the room, a trend in stage design which fortunately has never caught on. Even better (not) in a radical move from most lighting plots, almost all of the stage was in darkness while the audience were incredibly well-lit. Even more discouraging was the fact that I was following a band who no one was listening to, and who, at least, had the advantage of two electric guitars, a set of drums and a singer to drown out the “ambient” sound.
Even better (not) before bringing me on stage, the host gave a heartfelt and moving exegesis on the charitable nature of the evening which brought that part of the audience who were actually listening to tears. Did the gig go well? Seriously, what do you think?
But there are also the gigs which make you grateful you don’t have a ‘proper’ job. Up till now my favourite was a 4 day jolly in Cyprus where besides having to perform for 20 minutes in the evening, I spent the rest of my time reading by the pool, occasionally stopping for the odd swim or ice cream.
But there is no doubt that supporting The Naked Magicians for their first ever run in the West End has to be the jammiest stand up job I’ve ever had.
Firstly, the show itself is brilliant. It’s well-written, well-constructed and well-performed; the guys – Christopher Wayne and Mike Tyler – are extremely likable and funny (both on and off stage); the show is inherently naughty but nice; the magic is amazing and you get to see two extremely fit guys naked. I mean, what’s not to like?
This proved to be a godsend as I saw the show a lot of times and I mean a lot, because, unsurprisingly, so many more of my friends desperately wanted to see my act when I just happened to be supporting two naked magicians.
And then there is the fact that you are actually performing in a dedicated performance space so the seating is facing the right way. Even better (yes really) said space comes equipped with those little things such as lighting (that works), a mic (that works) and a lighting and sound operator who know what they are doing. Believe me, a combination of these factors, let alone all of them combined are not as ubiquitous on the comedy circuit as you might think.
I’m sure I’m not the only comic who has walked into a room and started hauling furniture around; unsure as to why exactly the promoter seems to have configured the room to make it as unplayable as possible. I remember once confiding to a stage manager that the room would be so much better if the tables were nearer the stage and nearer to each other. “Oh, yes,” he merely replied, “we’ve had a lot of comics tell us that.”
Then there were the audiences at The Naked Magicians. In a word: lovely. Given the nature of the show they mainly comprised women and gay men who were all out for a good time. And for a London-based comic, having a central London gig, up to 8 times a week, performing to a couple of hundred odd people nightly in a well-equipped space for the best part of a month, well, it’s the closest I’ve come to a regular job as a stand up.
Obviously being a support act can be a thankless task. After all, no one has come specifically to see you (and I suspect that included some/most/all of my friends), and often people don’t realise or understand why you are there. Fortunately for me, I never felt this to be the case here. Firstly, the producers had thankfully advertised the presence of a comedian in their publicity so at least the audience were aware of my existence, even if they still had no real idea who the hell I was as I walked on stage.
Secondly, as a support act you are there, of course, to support the show and you tailor your material accordingly. Given the nature of the audience and the nature of my act and stage persona, luckily it was a perfect fit.
Moreover, all those years when I first started out being the opening act following comperes who couldn’t compere and then moving on to compere many a gig myself finally paid off. Because no matter how well crafted a joke, often what non-comics are really impressed by is crowd work: that seemingly innate ability to riff with the crowd. But as with impro, you only get that good and that comfortable on stage once you’ve put the hours in.
Of course, all good things have to come to an end. And sadly, my run in London’s West End is no more. I do have great memories of a fun magic show, working with a great set of guys and trying not to be upstaged by a blow up doll. (Said doll is now in my front room – don’t ask). And if The Naked Magicians do happen to come your way (no pun intended), I suggest you go along for the ride!
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