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A series of articles giving an insight to why I decided to try stand-up and looking back at early performances.

Originally published: Jan  10th 2012 @

http://stagewon.co.uk/news/view/feature-my-journey-into-stand-up-part-two-jan2012/

 

 

“BEEP,BEEP. BEEP,BEEP”. That fateful morning had finally arrived.

October 20th 2010, or 20/10/2010. An aptly monumental date for an equally memorable occasion; my long-awaited debut. “This day will go down in history as the start of it all.” I relentlessly kept reassuring myself to the point where even sub-consciously this was believed to be gospel.

First off was the little matter of reality. I had a full day of lectures to look forward to.

Uni dragged. Each lecture felt like another obstacle between my destiny and me. Time seemingly stood still and I couldn’t even release the tension by confiding in colleagues as they were none the wiser as to what awaited me that evening. The thought of having a friend in the audience was absolutely petrifying and so I sat and stewed on my thoughts on my own whilst trapped in a real life Dali painting.

Finally, the hour hand slithered towards four o’clock and the day was done. I bolted out without a word to anyone and sat on the bus running through my set for the hundredth time that day. Back home, there was time for a calming cuppa and then it was off upstairs to ready my game-face.

Or so I thought.

Edging up the stairs, a frightening smell penetrated my nostrils. It was that distinct smell that will never be misdiagnosed. Fire!

Throwing the bedroom door open I anticipated the worst. Thankfully, although for the sake of this story it brings somewhat of an anti-climatic end, it wasn’t too bad. The charger for my internet modem had caught alight due to being set at the wrong voltage and a small flame was burning. The ‘blaze’ was extinguished with ease; had it been a few minutes more, the fire may spread to the other electrical appliances which could have spelt catastrophe. Then again, had that been the case I may have been left with an anecdote suitable for Heat magazine…swings and roundabouts.

As it was the fire was put out, but there was still one problem left to conquer; my room which was now engulfed by a thick layer of smog. It took a good half-hour to clear the air and ensure any potential hazards were nullified. The alarm clock that had started the day now told the devastating news, it was 5:45PM. With the gig being in London and me being in Essex, there was no chance of making it on time. Along with the modem, my dreams had gone up in smoke.

Worst of all, I could no longer get hold of the promoter as I had no internet. My first performance would not only be a ‘no-show’, but it I’d not even advised them of the situation. A blackball against my name before I’d even stepped on stage. Brilliant.

So 20/10/2010 wasn’t quite the spectacular first foray on my route to stardom I’d wished for. Fortunately the promoter was very understanding and allowed me to transfer over to a spot in four weeks time. This was the first example of a lesson I’d learn again and again throughout future months; people connected to the comedy world are by and large some of the nicest guys and girls you’ll ever come across.

Fast-forward four weeks to November 17th. Usually the only significance of this date is the birthday of my close mate Luke, but this year England were playing France at Wembley and we’d already planned to go. Nonetheless, I wasn’t going to let this second chance slip for anything and I sold the ticket in favor of performing. My heart had spoken.

By mid-afternoon the five minutes of material had become a broken record looping indefinitely in my mind. Yet, at about six o’clock, just an hour before arriving at the venue, another valuable lesson was learned. I’d found an opportunity to insert a new joke.

A set, even as modest as my five minutes, is never finished. It can always be improved. For months I’d heard famous comedians on documentaries saying that every comic is rubbish for their first fifty, or even one hundred, gigs but had always passed this off as a cliché. However, clichés only exist because they fundamentally carry truth and, to use another tired saying, practice makes perfect.

Any comic will tell you that the best way to continually see improvements is to up your stage time. Every single aspect gets better with practice as the performer becomes acclimatised to the art of stand-up; from gaining confidence in your material, to being better equipped with holding the mic or working the room.

Back to the narrative.

I arrived at Dirty Dick’s and, after waiting outside for five minutes, entered. The wait was partly due to shyness and fear, but additionally this now customary procedure to allow a few minutes to relax and calm the storm before it inevitably bursts into action moments prior to stepping on stage. Once inside, I found an empty corner and sat silently in anticipation. Insides shaking like a leaf, there was no backing out now.

Even now, prior to performing I rarely speak to anybody that I’ve not met previously. It is my worst habit as a comedian and probably comes across as rudeness. In truth it is simply that if the gig goes badly, the fact these people know me makes it that little bit more humiliating. However, as previously mentioned, comics are in general an extremely supportive group as they’re either in the same boat as you or were at some stage before they upgraded to a bigger vessel. My New Year’s resolution is to socialise more before taking to the stage.

Touching Cloth was probably the best choice for a first gig, a decision made exclusively through luck. Firstly, it’s a great room to play with and boasts an incredibly supportive audience that is also strong in numbers. Secondly, there is a stage; it is only a small platform but it nonetheless offers a sense of authority to the performer which is a great comfort in those early gigs. Thirdly, you don’t know the running order and so there is no “I’m on in three acts time” circling your brain. The only choice is to try and enjoy the night and pray that when your time comes, you’ll make the most of it.

The opening act was Bobby Freeman who not only calmed my nerves with an enjoyable set, but also installed an atmosphere of positivity amongst the audience. Two more acts were on and then as the MC called out the fourth name, my heart sank.

“It’s Liam Newman.”

I stumbled up to the stage. A fair few comedians, when describing the night they popped their stand-up cherry, will mention that their legs felt numb. This can sometimes be a little hard to believe…that is until you’ve experienced it. Somehow I waddled up to stage and took the mic. My time in the spotlight had arrived.

“Start with your second favorite joke and finish with the best”. Where I read this escapes my mind but it is something that stuck with me. Out of my entire five minute set, the first and final ten seconds felt the most comfortable in my mind; if the opening gags didn’t go well, it would probably signal an awful five minutes to come. This is by no means the case for everyone, but on a personal level for a performer with low self esteem it certainly rings true. Quite often the reception received at the start of my act will establish a tone in which the rest will follow.

Thankfully, I got laughs early on and this spurred me on throughout the subsequent five minutes. It doesn’t sound a long time and when it goes well it isn’t, but when it’s bad it feels like the entire world is against you and you simply want to die. That’s exactly what happens, right up on the stage with the lights shining on you for everyone to see. The ultimate nightmare.

Had that first gig not gone well then in all likeliness those people would have been the only ones to ever see this boy from Essex perform. Apart from the obvious sense of jubilation there were two extremely pleasing points; 1) the gag written that night was received positively and 2) it was filmed.

The latter didn’t only please me for sentimental values, but it also provided a piece to study in preparation for forthcoming gigs. This would become priceless because that night I felt like the performance had gone perfectly. It hadn’t. However, it had gone far better than I could have possibly imagined.

When you compare the video to the one I’ll upload next week (now there’s an incentive to come back!) the difference is evident and it is clear to see how I’d grown in confidence. Nonetheless, in my own head at least, that debut was perfection. Oh and by the way, when you hear the word ‘sock’ that’s the gag conceived just an hour earlier.

I came off the stage feeling like God. A dream had been accomplished and nobody could ever take that away from me.

I was now a comedian.

 

“BEEP,BEEP. BEEP,BEEP”. That fateful morning had finally arrived.

October 20th 2010, or 20/10/2010. An aptly monumental date for an equally memorable occasion; my long-awaited debut. “This day will go down in history as the start of it all.” I relentlessly kept reassuring myself to the point where even sub-consciously this was believed to be gospel.

First off was the little matter of reality. I had a full day of lectures to look forward to.

Uni dragged. Each lecture felt like another obstacle between my destiny and me. Time seemingly stood still and I couldn’t even release the tension by confiding in colleagues as they were none the wiser as to what awaited me that evening. The thought of having a friend in the audience was absolutely petrifying and so I sat and stewed on my thoughts on my own whilst trapped in a real life Dali painting.

Finally, the hour hand slithered towards four o’clock and the day was done. I bolted out without a word to anyone and sat on the bus running through my set for the hundredth time that day. Back home, there was time for a calming cuppa and then it was off upstairs to ready my game-face.

Or so I thought.

Edging up the stairs, a frightening smell penetrated my nostrils. It was that distinct smell that will never be misdiagnosed. Fire!

Throwing the bedroom door open I anticipated the worst. Thankfully, although for the sake of this story it brings somewhat of an anti-climatic end, it wasn’t too bad. The charger for my internet modem had caught alight due to being set at the wrong voltage and a small flame was burning. The ‘blaze’ was extinguished with ease; had it been a few minutes more, the fire may spread to the other electrical appliances which could have spelt catastrophe. Then again, had that been the case I may have been left with an anecdote suitable for Heat magazine…swings and roundabouts.

As it was the fire was put out, but there was still one problem left to conquer; my room which was now engulfed by a thick layer of smog. It took a good half-hour to clear the air and ensure any potential hazards were nullified. The alarm clock that had started the day now told the devastating news, it was 5:45PM. With the gig being in London and me being in Essex, there was no chance of making it on time. Along with the modem, my dreams had gone up in smoke.

Worst of all, I could no longer get hold of the promoter as I had no internet. My first performance would not only be a ‘no-show’, but it I’d not even advised them of the situation. A blackball against my name before I’d even stepped on stage. Brilliant.

So 20/10/2010 wasn’t quite the spectacular first foray on my route to stardom I’d wished for. Fortunately the promoter was very understanding and allowed me to transfer over to a spot in four weeks time. This was the first example of a lesson I’d learn again and again throughout future months; people connected to the comedy world are by and large some of the nicest guys and girls you’ll ever come across.

Fast-forward four weeks to November 17th. Usually the only significance of this date is the birthday of my close mate Luke, but this year England were playing France at Wembley and we’d already planned to go. Nonetheless, I wasn’t going to let this second chance slip for anything and I sold the ticket in favor of performing. My heart had spoken.

By mid-afternoon the five minutes of material had become a broken record looping indefinitely in my mind. Yet, at about six o’clock, just an hour before arriving at the venue, another valuable lesson was learned. I’d found an opportunity to insert a new joke.

A set, even as modest as my five minutes, is never finished. It can always be improved. For months I’d heard famous comedians on documentaries saying that every comic is rubbish for their first fifty, or even one hundred, gigs but had always passed this off as a cliché. However, clichés only exist because they fundamentally carry truth and, to use another tired saying, practice makes perfect.

Any comic will tell you that the best way to continually see improvements is to up your stage time. Every single aspect gets better with practice as the performer becomes acclimatised to the art of stand-up; from gaining confidence in your material, to being better equipped with holding the mic or working the room.

Back to the narrative.

I arrived at Dirty Dick’s and, after waiting outside for five minutes, entered. The wait was partly due to shyness and fear, but additionally this now customary procedure to allow a few minutes to relax and calm the storm before it inevitably bursts into action moments prior to stepping on stage. Once inside, I found an empty corner and sat silently in anticipation. Insides shaking like a leaf, there was no backing out now.

Even now, prior to performing I rarely speak to anybody that I’ve not met previously. It is my worst habit as a comedian and probably comes across as rudeness. In truth it is simply that if the gig goes badly, the fact these people know me makes it that little bit more humiliating. However, as previously mentioned, comics are in general an extremely supportive group as they’re either in the same boat as you or were at some stage before they upgraded to a bigger vessel. My New Year’s resolution is to socialise more before taking to the stage.

Touching Cloth was probably the best choice for a first gig, a decision made exclusively through luck. Firstly, it’s a great room to play with and boasts an incredibly supportive audience that is also strong in numbers. Secondly, there is a stage; it is only a small platform but it nonetheless offers a sense of authority to the performer which is a great comfort in those early gigs. Thirdly, you don’t know the running order and so there is no “I’m on in three acts time” circling your brain. The only choice is to try and enjoy the night and pray that when your time comes, you’ll make the most of it.

The opening act was Bobby Freeman who not only calmed my nerves with an enjoyable set, but also installed an atmosphere of positivity amongst the audience. Two more acts were on and then as the MC called out the fourth name, my heart sank.

“It’s Liam Newman.”

I stumbled up to the stage. A fair few comedians, when describing the night they popped their stand-up cherry, will mention that their legs felt numb. This can sometimes be a little hard to believe…that is until you’ve experienced it. Somehow I waddled up to stage and took the mic. My time in the spotlight had arrived.

“Start with your second favorite joke and finish with the best”. Where I read this escapes my mind but it is something that stuck with me. Out of my entire five minute set, the first and final ten seconds felt the most comfortable in my mind; if the opening gags didn’t go well, it would probably signal an awful five minutes to come. This is by no means the case for everyone, but on a personal level for a performer with low self esteem it certainly rings true. Quite often the reception received at the start of my act will establish a tone in which the rest will follow.

Thankfully, I got laughs early on and this spurred me on throughout the subsequent five minutes. It doesn’t sound a long time and when it goes well it isn’t, but when it’s bad it feels like the entire world is against you and you simply want to die. That’s exactly what happens, right up on the stage with the lights shining on you for everyone to see. The ultimate nightmare.

Had that first gig not gone well then in all likeliness those people would have been the only ones to ever see this boy from Essex perform. Apart from the obvious sense of jubilation there were two extremely pleasing points; 1) the gag written that night was received positively and 2) it was filmed.

The latter didn’t only please me for sentimental values, but it also provided a piece to study in preparation for forthcoming gigs. This would become priceless because that night I felt like the performance had gone perfectly. It hadn’t. However, it had gone far better than I could have possibly imagined.

When you compare the video to the one I’ll upload next week (now there’s an incentive to come back!) the difference is evident and it is clear to see how I’d grown in confidence. Nonetheless, in my own head at least, that debut was perfection. Oh and by the way, when you hear the word ‘sock’ that’s the gag conceived just an hour earlier.

I came off the stage feeling like God. A dream had been accomplished and nobody could ever take that away from me.

I was now a comedian.

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