diary of a comic

Public diary of comedian Simon Caine.
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For the past week or two I’ve been browsing Spotify like a mad man to find the perfect pre and post Edinburgh show songs for my Fringe show..

As an avid fan of wrestling during my teens I feel I know the power of the songs you use. Before they’d even entered the room the mood was set and the vibe in the room was apparent. 

Last year my split show had songs that were upbeat and “pop” in genre for the express reason that it got people in the mood for an admittedly unconnected set of jokes from two completely different styled comedians.
This year I am doing a work-in-progress hour. My jokes have been reviewed as “longer than they need to be” and “more detailed than most”. My background fact checks on some bits are purposely done as a way of trying to ensure things I am saying haven’t been covered before.

An example of this is a dropped joke (for now) about how the Miss Universe competition is always won by someone from Earth (a hack joke) but my reasoning was because we’re all obsessed by our looks and cool aliens are more interested in investing time and effort into exploring the other galaxies (as far as I am aware, I am the only person to cover it in that way).
Anyway, back to music. 

I wanted a set of tracks from cover bands. This way people would recognize the songs but not enough that it would be familiar to them. By doing this they’re on the back foot before the show begins but in a way that they still feel comfortable in the room. 
My opening to the show involves a lighting and music change. The mood in the room changes and the show begins with me off stage. The key to getting this to work was having a genre change in the last track before the beginning.

At the end of the show I have a playlist of songs covered by the band Pickin On.
Take the track below. Hit play while you read the rest of this post…

A longstanding favourite band of mine due to their ability to make an old classic sound new with their style of singing and use of installments. 
I feel most shows would benefit from thinking about what songs they pick at the start and end of the show - there’s a reason someone on TV gets paid to pick which songs are using when they bring on a comedian and why every Gong Show at the Comedy Store has the same track by U2 blaring after they announce the show will begin in 2 minutes.

I work in marketing by day and know that music is a great thing in advertising as it sets a feeling or emotion around a product, brand or event.
The average person will be sat in a chair for between 2 and 10 minutes before you’re on stage. Maybe even longer. Why not use that time to get them in the mood? Especially if you’re doing a solo show with no MC to warm them up.

Basically what I am saying is the show begins before you set foot on stage. And you should never forget that.

It’s going well. Annoyingly well. So well I am worried about the next gig I die at. 

Just over a week ago my 2nd grandfather in 6 months died from cancer, shortly after this I had a frank, frustrated conversation with my girlfriend about the direction I was taking with my performance in comedy. 2 days after that I found myself in a Theatre in Twickenham about to go on stage and 10 minutes of jokes I’d done about 40 times.
I didn’t practice or go over my lines before I went on. I just wrote 5 words on my right hand and walked on stage. I didn’t look at my hand once. I think this has become a habit I’ll find hard to break. 
I went on, improvised my first 2/3 jokes and they worked. Then picked a joke from my head and went with it. I remember not analyzing how it was going while on stage. I remember feeling amazing when I came off, as if it was the first gig again (maybe not the first, maybe the 10th gig again).
It felt like I turned a corner. I was playing the room, not doing an act. 
It was really nice to do. And I’ve continued with it for the proceeding 3 gigs since. 
I hope to keep it up. I treat every gig like it’s the one that’ll get me some sort of management or TV show (I would hate a TV show right now).
It doesn’t matter if there’s 3 people in the room or 3,000. The point is they came for jokes and to be entertained. So that’s what I give them.
I am enjoying gigging more and feel a sense of fearlessness about trying new material. I still worry about it not working but I need to do it.
In addition to this I feel my Edinburgh “show” coming together nicely. It’s taking a shape and a format I am happy with, even if it is a work-in-progress show, I want it to be good.
Love the feeling of improvement and that something positive is coming out of 6 bad months of stuff. It’s a relive and a lovely feeling. I’ll keep trying and working as hard as I can. Hopefully that’ll lead to some bigger, better and brighter things in the future. It can’t hurt, right?

Things I’ve done to put off writing my Edinburgh show…

Cleaned my flat.

Alphabetised my CD collection.

Took out the bin.

Went on a jog.

Checked Facebook.

Rang my mum.

Browsed Buzzfeed.

Returned all my old library books.

Volunteered at a homeless shelter.

Recovered my YouTube password.

Purchased a camera on eBay.

Wrote a blog post.

Everyone has their own “pre-show ritual”. As a performer, anything you do before getting on stage is technically a “pre-show ritual”, but for me it’s changed a lot since I started.

My first gig was at the end of the Amused Moose course in Covent Garden. I knew nobody in the audience and yet (party due to still having stage freight) I spent the 20 minutes before going outside the back of the venue with another “graduate” going through mine lines while holding my head in-between my legs as why I was doing it.

Since then, my pre-show prep has changed to everything from writing words on the back of my hand (basically me being superstitious if I know the set, or just as an aid if I am trying something new), to listening to some music (less so now) to just watching the audience while the act ahead of me is on (almost every gig).

The big thing I do at the moment however is question my motivation to get out of bed and do the gig. Depending on what I am doing and where I am doing it I might overthink the gig to the point where I believe it’ll go badly and really have to push myself until I get out the door.

When I get to the gig is another story. I’ll either pre-judge everyone on their way in on how much they’ll enjoy the jokes OR just get into the mood to perform and wonder why I was putting myself off earlier.

It’s a weird cycle. Regardless of how I do I leave the stage feeling better than any other time during the day. YES, I prefer to do well but even in gigs where crowd control is the name of the game I have fun and make it something I enjoyed.

I am not sure why I am trying to put myself off. Maybe it’s out of habit and I am an idiot, or maybe it’s my body trying to tell me something. Like I am not doing gigs worth the time. Or I need to push myself to do better material. Or I prefer my bed to everything. It’s one of the three. Only time will say which.

You listen back to a set you thought went well, and you died.

You realise you’re talking to an act you’ve met before.

You watch a comedian do a joke you’ve seen someone famous do years ago.

Your parents ask why you’re not on TV.

You say something funny in the moment and someone says “write that down, it should go in your set”.

Someone offers to give you a “hilarious” joke.

Someone in your office asks you to tell a joke.

Your friends think you’re telling a joke and you’re actually just asking them a question.

Your boring friend says “I bet you’re going to talk about me in your set”.

Your friend insists you come to their office / club / house / factory because you’ll get “loads” of material.

You know you died on stage and everyone around you is making excuses like “the audience didn’t get it”.

Your parents ask what your back up plan is if comedy doesn’t work out.

You realise nobody will read this because everyone else is out on a Saturday night.

I am often saddened by the amount of laughter certain jokes get. Sometimes the laughter-to-time-it-took-to-write ratio is annoyingly frustrating. But is it always the jokes fault?

I had a gig a few weeks back to a handful of largely disinterested audience members. For some reason they’d decided to stay in the room even though the gig was clearly dying on its arse. Even the break didn’t put them off coming back – usually people will use this time as an excuse to slide out the back door. But no, they carried on through for better or worse. They barely laughed at anyone or anything the whole night… I did an old joke, which got hardly anything and a new joke, which did even less well.

I was disappointed and frustrated but how big of a laugh could I really have expected to get? Even if the joke was the funniest thing those five people have ever heard what’s the loudest noise five people can make (without becoming sarcastic)?

The answer is a low drone or a fairly audible chuckle.

I feel sometimes I set my sights far too high for material before I am even in the room. Then when I arrive, I am frustrated with not getting a standing ovation.

Don’t get me wrong, my ego is fairly grounded and fixed into place. I know I am not the funniest person who ever lived, hell, I wouldn’t even make it into the top 10. So why do I aim so high?

I guess I want to be better. Which is admirable as a target, but is pre-judging and prediction a group of strangers’ reactions to a joke before you’ve even got to the venue a good tactic? Nope.

But what other options do you have?

You can just turn up and try it free from the worry of how it’ll go down. That’s all well and good, but that’s harder said than done.

As a performer who writes my own stuff, I have a special (adjective is synonym) almost parental relationship with my jokes. I don’t want to see them do badly and I don’t want them to go wrong or have my mistakes cause them any issues. I just want what I believe is best for them. But like every good father, what I believe is best for the joke, isn’t always best. And I can only help them so far until one day I have to get on stage and tell the joke and see what the world (or in this case 5 people) think of it.

Yes, that metaphor has broken down. But you get my point. Sometimes you have to accept that the joke did the best it did for the room, audience, time and place. And if it didn’t you’re the one to blame for not rehearsing enough or writing the joke well enough. Each gig has its limitations: the lighting might be off, the audience might be small, the microphone might not work well etc. but if you bring your half of the deal (the best jokes you have and a positive attitude towards the gig and performing them). You’ll get the level of laughter you earned.

If I paid to see a comedian live and they did the same material I’d already seen on TV I would feel ripped off.

That’s the long and the short of my feelings on this subject, however my reasoning is slightly more detailed.

TV has always been a way to reach the “mass market” of people. Advertisers have used it since day 1 to peddle their products into the faces of unsuspecting viewers in the middle of programs they were otherwise enjoying. Now stand up is so big production houses (and to a certain degree management agencies) have created TV shows which are little more than adverts for performers who are on tour or (to a lesser extent) have something else to sell.

If you’re on a TV show telling jokes you have to know a larger audience than the one in the room will be watching you. Not everyone in the country will see it, clearly, but a large enough portion that will mean you’ve burned that material.

When I pay to see a comedian live it’s different to any other medium. With bands, I pay to hear the things I’ve listened to on Spotify and YouTube. With musicals I am paying to watch the story and songs. With comedians I am paying to hear your ideas, thoughts and punch lines.

By doing the same material on stage as you did on TV all you’re telling me is that you don’t have any more ideas. Sure, I might laugh at the jokes 2nd time round, but I’ll never come see you live again. Why would I? I can watch your material for free on TV or the iPlayer. There are plenty of other acts I can pay to watch live and get exclusive, new and more interesting things from.

I know someone is going to be reading this and thinking: “well, you’re just saying this because you’re not on TV. How would you feel about having to burn your jokes after doing them on TV?” And to answer those people, I’d be fine with it.

Honestly, I burn more material in a year than I probably should. My main theory in comedy is the only way to get better at it is to keep trying and experimenting. If you want to do the same hour for 10 years, go ahead. But that’s not the level of creativity I want from this varied and exciting medium.

If you only have a 5 or 10 minute set of jokes don’t do it on TV.

You’re not ready for it. You’ve either not been going long enough to learn how to write a joke or you’ve not got the on going skill to take ideas and generate new jokes to replace the current ones.

By limiting how many times you do material before you throw it out you make it a scarce commodity and in a world of abundance of content, you’re adding value to what you do.

Look at it this way… there’s X number of people in the UK at the moment trying to make it as a professional stand up comedian. If you continually do the same jokes, people will get bored and go see someone else who is knew and exciting. But if you say you’ll do your show for a year (maybe two) you limit the number of times people can watch it live (forget DVDs / downloads for now) and push audiences to come see you live who otherwise might not have bothered.

You’ve taken your content and added value to it. If I knew I could go and watch Jimmy Carr’s first tour any time I’d probably keep putting it off until a friend pushes me into going to see him. Because he throws everything out at the end of the year, I know it’s all going to be new and interesting, so not only do I get value for money and the social status of saying I saw that tour which hundreds of other people who wanted to go didn’t get tickets for but I also get a fun, unique experience that I know will never be replicated in a years time – yes, each show is different anyway, but it’s extra special when something is “limited edition”.

Your live shows are limited and the most valuable thing you have long term. You can do a couple a night if you want, but you’ll still be limited by how long you live and how long people want to hear what you have to say. By having nothing new to say you’re the equivalent of a parent who tries to tell you the same story from their 20s for 40 years, ie boring (after hearing it once, maybe twice).

In short, I hope comedians stop performing the jokes they’ve done on TV and realise that TV is a platform for getting your name out into the larger zeitgeist, which helps build your audience. It’s lazy and in my opinion we should know better.

Edinburgh show is now written. The listing in live and the show is called “Challenge Accepted”. This is mainly due to the Fringe committee stopping me from listing my show twice (and calling it Déjà vu) but I am happy with it, and suits the theme of things to come in it. If you’re wondering what you’re looking for in the programming you can click this link or look below…

 

Gigging has been up and down to say the least. I did a gig in Rugby last week which I should have not done. My friend is from Rugby and part warned me off it with his laughter at the area and the people who live there. The gig audience was made up of largely drunk and overweight people who had either taken part in the Fawlands war or were married to someone in the room that was. On top of this it was one of their birthdays so everyone was getting much more pissed than usual.

As a result, hardly anyone got through any material and those who did had a hard sell. I did crowd control for 5-7 minutes and hated the time I’d wasted travelling to the gig while everyone else was on stage (because of the audience, not their acts).

It’s frustrating because most of the people on the bill were people I’d gigged with before and weren’t bad at comedy. They just weren’t given a fair shot.

That seems to be the way with comedy at the moment. Those who I think aren’t amazing are doing really well, those who are doing ok to bad are worth so much more. This could be because my taste in comedy is “bad” or not the largest possible audience or because these people haven’t pushed hard enough and are enjoying what they’re doing.

The trip to and from the gig was spent bitching about other comedians and nights we’d performed. In the car I was in I was by far the most “seasoned” act having done this for 3 years and the others were collectively still less than a year old.

I couldn’t help but wonder what other acts said about me and how easy it would be for me to slip off the circuit unnoticed. So many of the people I enjoyed when I started have done this and many of my comedic heroes took time out to ground themselves or do something else which takes balls in itself but is much easier when you’re not known.

I’m torn between pushing upwards and taking a break. I want more and better gigs but at the same time I feel like I am not good enough or that the stuff I do doesn’t massively suit clubs. This might all be in my head, and I know that. But how can you know for sure without being given the chance to try?

How can you be sure your friends and family aren’t just saying you’re good or getting better to save having an awkward conversation or smashing your ego? How can you tell if the gigs you’re doing now are being given to you because that’s how good you are and the last 3 years of your life were a waste of time? You can’t. You just keep going and hope in hindsight you can tell how you got to where you are.

This is a little ranty, I know. But I just wanted to throw some ideas onto the table.

Just listened to a podcast by Tim Ferriss with Ryan Holiday that kicked me up the arse. He’s 26, has written 3 books and done (arguably) much more than me.

I have projects that have been sat in the back of my mind for a while that need to begin. And things that I have started but not yet finished. My book being one of them, Edinburgh being another

I need to stop putting off creating something because it’s not “perfect” first time round. I need to push myself to publish things and give them a second to work or move or manifest themselves. I need to try more and work harder because at the moment life is going far too slowly.

That is all. I’ll be back soon with an update on what I am going to do and how. 

I’ve been waiting for my comedic 2nd wind for a while. I’ve been bother tired and unmotivated for a little while. This is partly due to having no new jokes I am happy with – they work, I just don’t keep everything that does.

Now that Edinburgh is confirmed and I am committed to it I’ve got a burst of creative energy to write this 50-minute masterpiece (warning, end result won’t be a masterpiece).

I’ve been gigging as normal, but slightly less often. When I “hit” I really hit, when I don’t, I really don’t.

It’s an odd one. The times I die it really hurts, almost physically in some cases. When I fly, it’s better than anything I’ve ever felt.

I’ve had some personal stuff happen in the past couple of months between my grandfather dying from cancer and my nans dementia getting rapidly worse.

As a result, I’ve sorted it with Prostate Cancer UK to have a donation tin in Edinburgh so people can give some money to charity, even if they don’t enjoy my jokes. A small, almost insignificant attempt to do something charitable against my sisters recent efforts to run 5k for Race For Life – I’m far too lazy for that.

I’ve also started The Artists Way, which is proving to be interesting and something I am resistant to at the moment. Mainly because I am impatient and want the results five minutes before starting. However I am sticking with it.

Also, I’ve been trying to get back into blogging, as you might have noticed. And I am looking into starting a podcast, if I can work out a way of it not being the same as 100,000 other podcasts. So I am not going to be starting it any time soon.

Now I am off to write some jokes and be funny and shit.

I feel like this post needed something more, but that might be my inner-monologue doubting my blogging ability after such a long time out from it… or it’s shit and needs something. Either way I am going to end it, here.