Iím a 50-something, female comedian with barely 100 gigs to my credit Ė two at the Comedy Storeís King Gong in London.
Can something that lasts only 1 minute 24 seconds be called a gig? That was my first time. I went back Ė 1 minute 4 seconds Ė and when bookings open again, Iíll book another spot.
Why do I want to put myself through it? Because I love it. I love being in a proper club with a proper audience, a decent compere and a load of sweating, angst-ridden male comedians. Because with one or two exceptions they will all be men. And thatís another reason I go back Ė to stand up and be counted.
I donít feel the fear as much as the men seem to, maybe because Iím not genetically primed to fight. I am testing my mettle, the struggle is with myself, if anyone. And whatever excuses people give after theyíre gonged off, the crowd is always right and the ones who make it through always are the best.
I enjoy the whole night Ė not just stepping out on stage myself Ė but watching all the acts and seeing what works. Itís a masterclass in comedy, even if few involved are masters themselves.
And the crowd are not animals. They sit up and listen when someone is worth it. The gong show for me is the best litmus test there is for how Iím developing Ė not how my material is developing, but how Iím developing, as someone who can hold a crowdís attention.
Ironically the line at which I was last gonged out was, ĎWomen my age tend to be invisible.í The crowd wasnít interested enough in me to wait for the punchline (ĎDoesnít bother me, I like shoplifting.í) I was invisible. Not because of my age or gender, but because I hadnít projected my personality enough to catch their interest.
So thatís why I keep going back, to practise that projection, fired from something within which is me at my best, me not caring. And the more I go back, the less I will care because it will be more mundane, something I regularly do, not the be-all and end-all, just a practice run. And the less I care, the better Iíll be and then maybe one night, theyíll want to listen.
Running parallel with my King Gong attempts are my forays into MCing. I felt more fear before my first night MCing than I did at the first King Gong, but I did it. And that alone was enough to make me better the next time and the next time. Now I barely think about it. Itís just something I know can do, like touch-typing. The onus of entertaining the crowd rests with the comics, so I can afford to take it easy Ė simply chivvying everything along.
One day maybe Iíll be able to talk about King Gong in the same terms, but I doubt it. I donít think it would ever be less than daunting. And if I did ever make the five minutes, that would be it. I wouldnít go back. Iíd go in search of fresh litmus paper.