A series of articles giving an insight to why I decided to try stand-up and looking back at early performances.
Originally published: Feb 1st 2012 @
“Hallelujah!”. I’d reached heaven.
Not for a single second had I anticipated reaching the five minute buzzer. Actually, that can’t be true or else I wouldn’t have entered. However, I certainly wasn’t over confident as was made evident in the final twenty seconds where my material had run its course and I simply survived on intuition and luck – the comment regarding time was one of desperation but paid off and is the moment I treasure most.
Six of us in total had made it through. At this point the audience cheer for the best two acts and although winning must be a phenomenal experience, I was secretly pleased not to have been selected for the joke off as an additional minute of material was beyond my capabilities.
I hadn’t prepared for that outcome, another testimony to my lack of confidence and perhaps ambition.
Nonetheless, I came away that night shaking with excitement and spent the train journey back to Essex calling anyone and everyone. In front of a paying audience of 400 I’d thrived, despite a few wobbly moments. For the six days leading up to my next performance I walked on air but this time I was equipped with the knowledge that, as well as this gig had gone, there were no guarantees future ones would follow.
Fortunately, the next gig also went particularly well in much more humble surroundings. It was the first time that I’d rated a gig as ‘good’ in front of an audience of less than 50 people. This came as a source of comfort when four days later I bombed in front of a dozen spectators.
Naturally, my ultimate dream is to play rooms like The Comedy Store night after night but in order to do that you must earn your stripes and, up to this point, small audiences had been my Achilles heal. With ambitions to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival overcoming the intimidating intimacy of a small room is number one on the Liam Newman ‘to-do’ list.
Over the next few weeks I continued to try the smaller venues, mainly because they are the only ones I’m able to get a spot at, with mixed results. The pattern of ‘good-average-bad’ became a rhythmic cycle for the next two months and, although it couldn’t really be called success, I was continually proving, to myself at least, that there was some promising aspects to my act even if it was far from fine tuned.
Every act has bad gigs, that’s life. I suppose that as your act and confidence levels improve these become separated by larger lengths of time and this barometer of success pays homage to the sentiment of practice making perfect. Yes, this is a point previously mentioned in prior blogs but that in itself only further proves the statement to be true.
Amongst the gigs I entered a couple of competitions towards the back end of the year. The first was the Leicester Sq Theatre New Act Of The Year competition. Guess where that’s held?
With over 300 entries, it was always going to be tough but somewhere in the back of my mind – the same deluded part that insists this is the right career path in spite of a shy personality that would be more suited to skulking in the shadows of some busy London office – I thought that maybe that title could be mine.
At the first heat, I did OK. It certainly wasn’t my best performance but it was equally distanced from the worst. I’d have given myself a six. On the night it wasn’t enough to get through and there were no arguments from this direction. So it came as a wonderful surprise when I was awarded a wild card into the quarter finals. The judges obviously saw something in me that wasn’t quite shining that night. When the quarter final rolled around, that star quality was even further faded as I looked on in awe at a host of simply fantastic acts as one after the other they continued to show why breaking away from the crowd is so difficult. There really are some talented folk out on the circuit.
Feelings of admiration and intimidation were of equal measures and in truth it hindered my own performance. Again, I wasn’t terrible but likewise hadn’t showcased any full potential. Perhaps more worrying was the shortened duration; I’d finished well over thirty seconds too soon. Eliminated. Rightfully.
However, that night had been far from wasted. A new joke received the biggest laugh and I also met two or three really top acts all of whom have gone on to become valuable acquaintances. Additionally, I’d now be able to say “I’ve performed at the same venue on the same night as Stewart Lee”, although he was obviously on the main stage, headlining a show, rather than sharing the basement with fifteen other acts aspiring to one day mimic his success.
Another lesson learned that night was that comedy can be sourced from anything you like. The best act in my opinion was a guy that came on dressed in a full cricket outfit and then gave what was essentially a mock after dinner speech about his glory days. He stormed it, I’ve never heard an audience of that size make such a noise. I don’t know if it would be classed as satire or what, either way it was hilarious. On the face of it, the jokes weren’t funny but the character turned them into comedy gold. To me, it felt like a stage version of Darren Brent. Perhaps that is why I howled so loudly.
The other competition was held by Laughing Horse. Again, on a personal note, it was a very average night. I hadn’t performed quite as well as I had hoped but the main thing was that the laughs were still coming. In my own head I’d ranked myself seventh out of thirteen. Average. Not good enough.
Not a memorable performance from me but there was one from another act. Sammy / Samantha Hannah , some Scottish lass that I’d place in her mid twenties. She killed it. For five minutes she owned the room like a professional and the audience took an instant shine to her. They were repaid with comedy genius. She is an act that I mentioned last week and it would come as a great shock if I don’t see her headlining nights at some point in the future.
Another significant point to take away from the Laughing Horse event was that it brought an end to my first year as a stand up comedian. I’d only done twenty odd gigs and over that time felt like I’d made a fair amount of progress. On the other side of the coin, for a year’s worth of work, that progress wasn’t great. This was solely down to stage time, or rather a lack thereof. Number two on the ‘to-do’ list: move to London in 2012.
I’d experienced the odd five minutes of brilliance, two slow and painful five minute deaths and pretty much everything in between. I was loving every second of it. Oh, and in the meantime I also experienced my first ten minute spot too.
Even more nerve-racking was the location. Southend-On-Sea, or as it’s more commonly known by me…home.