Who's killing comedy? Comedians...
David Jesudason on badly-run open-mic nights
A logical step for a lot of open-mic comedians who are frustrated with a lack of opportunities is to start up their own night, especially in London.
The rationale is that they get experience compering, and more stage time, unconstrained by five minute slots. A seemingly great idea. One that surely should be praised in these entrepreneurially stricken times.
But the two most important parts of running a night are its promotion against competing attractions, and the booking of acts – which should involve trawling through lots of videos of varying quality to find acts who suit your night or pleading, chasing and harassing someone genuinely funny. Oh and not booking an act as they're not 'your cup of tea'.
But with many of these nights, something has gone wrong.
Recently I performed at a night in far West London that was looking for 'experienced acts' who had done at least 100 gigs. Cue a Henman fist-pump from me after finding a gig that seemingly looked different from the rest. I trekked across town to perform in front of three people who were – alarmingly – sitting at the front behind one table, just like The X Factor, in a pub which was at best indifferent to the comedy despite it being pumped into every room via the PA system.
To complete this comedy dystopia there was a dog running around yapping. The compere/promoter put a brave face on proceedings and in many ways she had done nothing wrong. In fact she had done nothing. No posters, flyers and the bar staff weren't even sure comedy was taking place when I arrived. I was unsure of the gig's whereabouts as it wasn't advertised on the internet nor on Facebook. It wasn't the worst gig I had done by far. It wasn't really a gig though.
There are far worse comedy crimes committed in London – don't get me started on 'pay to play' – and I'm sure on other occasions there was an audience here. But it was just typical of the shoddy way comedy is sometimes cobbled together in the capital. I had hoped that as this gig was far from Zone 1 that the locals would have appreciated it more – that's the last time I dabble in positive thinking.
Now the night has been moved as the unsupportive venue noticed food sales were down. At the new venue the promoter wants to bring in a policy which is hated by all comedians. The 'bring a friend' caveat. In truth it should be hated more by a comedian's friend as nothing screams 'mirthless' as 'obligation'.
One interpretation of these events would be to suggest that there isn't a market for comedy in London but that's simply not true as I know plenty of well-run comedy nights in central and greater London that sell out. I should know, I help promote one. Another would be to blame me for having too high expectations. But if all I expect is a couple of posters, some flyers and a bit of quality of control of acts, then I'm not expecting the world am I? After all we all want comedy to succeed don't we?
- David Jesudason is co-promoter and co-MC at Hungry Miller's Laughbag at the Miller.
Posted: 10 Jul 2012