Why I love the Gong Show...

Maxine Jones on the Comedy Store's new act challenge

I’m a 50-something, female comedian with barely 100 gigs to my credit – two at the Comedy Store’s 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 – 1 minute 4 seconds – and when bookings open again, I’ll 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 that’s another reason I go back – to stand up and be counted.

I don’t feel the fear as much as the men seem to, maybe because I’m not genetically primed to fight. I am testing my mettle, the struggle is with myself, if anyone. And whatever excuses people give after they’re gonged off, the crowd is always right and the ones who make it through always are the best.

I enjoy the whole night – not just stepping out on stage myself – but watching all the acts and seeing what works. It’s 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 I’m developing – not how my material is developing, but how I’m developing, as someone who can hold a crowd’s attention.

Ironically the line at which I was last gonged out was, ‘Women my age tend to be invisible.’ The crowd wasn’t interested enough in me to wait for the punchline (‘Doesn’t bother me, I like shoplifting.’) I was invisible. Not because of my age or gender, but because I hadn’t projected my personality enough to catch their interest.

So that’s 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 I’ll be and then maybe one night, they’ll 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. It’s 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 – simply chivvying everything along.

One day maybe I’ll be able to talk about King Gong in the same terms, but I doubt it. I don’t think it would ever be less than daunting. And if I did ever make the five minutes, that would be it. I wouldn’t go back. I’d go in search of fresh litmus paper.

Published: 6 Feb 2012

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