This evening, I went to a stand-up comedy gig at a venue about 10 minutes walk from my house. To be honest, until today, I didn't even know that this place was a comedy venue.... but apparently this is their first gig. It always used to be the social club for the employees of one of Nottingham's most famous companies, and although they sold it off a while ago, it still seems to be full of elderly guys drinking mild and playing snooker. Nothing wrong with that, of course.... but not a natural crowd for some alternative comedy, you would think.
As the first gig in a new venue, tonight's show was completely free. The car park was full when I arrived, but it turned out that I was the first person to arrive for the gig, even though doors were at 6pm, and I walked in at about 19:50 with the show due to start at 20:00. The room slowly filled up, although it never got more than half full, and was probably the strangest crowd I have ever seen, with the youngest people in the room by far the performers and their friends, and everyone else a pensioner taking advantage of the offer of 10p off a pint of mild in the Lounge only.
I expect the performers feared the worst, and the compere certainly tried his best to get everyone warmed up, but with little response. It's not that people weren't interested, but that they were only laughing politely, and that there weren't enough people in the room to gather a critical mass of laughter to really light the place up.
The first comedian was a confident performer, but the response he got was pretty muted, and although I thought he was okay, I think he was glad to get off the stage. Next up was a girl whose set consisted of a series of quickfire one liners and gags in the style of Jimmy Carr or Tim Vine. I thought she was amusing enough, but I personally prefer a set where the comic tells you a story, and where they can refer back to things they said earlier and build up a bit of a rhythm. When you rely on one-liners like this, the pacing is much jerkier. She got a better reaction from the crowd, but I think that was mainly because the volume of gags was much higher, and if you didn't like one, then another would soon be along. Not groundbreaking, but entertaining enough.
After a short break, and the arrival of a few more pensioners allowed out for a pint after their tea, we continued with the real reason I was there: LB's second ever stand-up gig. I missed the first one, but when he tweeted about this one, I knew I had to be there. I don't know how he was feeling, and he seemed calm enough, but I was nervous. It almost doesn't matter what the audience's reaction to your set is, because having the balls to stand up there in the first place is something that I don't think I will ever have, and I take my hat off to anyone and everyone who does. As it happens, LB is good at this: his delivery is confident, and because his material was about things that everyone knows something about - The Grand National, The Royal Wedding, the Olympics - there was something for the audience to latch on to. I'm sure he would have much preferred a crowd that whooped and hollered - who wouldn't? - but although they weren't incredibly vociferous, I thought that they were more than politely amused and that in his short-ish set, he built up quite a lot of momentum and goodwill. Really good. Not just better than I was expecting, but really promising, I thought. Calm, confident and in control. Also, funny.
Quite how good LB had been was immediately brought home by the next act on, who started their set with a joke about "yawn rape". Now, bearing in mind that I was probably a good 20 years younger than the average age of the crowd, and I didn't know what that was, I'm not sure he was on a particularly firm footing to then move onto a gag about "bum rape". It went downhill from there. He did a nice thing a couple of times where he paused, fractionally longer than was comfortable, before remarking that "there's usually a bigger laugh there". Unfortunately, by the second time he did it, I realised that he wasn't joking, and he ended his set early, storming off and calling us all wankers, which seemed a bit much. It makes you realise though that this is an extremely difficult thing to do: standing up in front of a room full of strangers and making them like you and laugh at your jokes. LB did it, this guy did not.
Best heckle of the night was when one of the acts following LB mentioned that he came from Ripley in Derbyshire, and one of the old gents immediately shouted out "Cock Inn". After a fractional pause as he took this in, the comic was then able to confirm that in fact there was a pub called the Cock Inn in Ripley, and that this was probably the best, and most specific heckle he's ever received.
An entertaining night in front of a potentially very awkward crowd. LB did himself proud. Respect is due.