Bringers of misery | Zak Splijt on the nights giving new comics false hope

Bringers of misery

Zak Splijt on the nights giving new comics false hope

A topic debated with almost tedious frequency by comedians and promoters alike on the London open mike circuit is that of 'bringer' gigs. Those comedy shows where the performers themselves each have to supply an audience member.

The argument usually made in favour is that it guarantees a real audience, which they otherwise would struggle to gather on a weekday night running a gig featuring comedians no one has heard of. And it is true to say those are generally the best attended shows on the open mike circuit.

The argument against is usually that it is not the comedians' job to supply the audience, that it is the promoter's job to promote the gig (hence the name). Comedians who are less able to bring friends to gigs regularly – such as those that live outside London – also feel that it leaves them at a disadvantage.

However, while there is some validity in both sides of the argument, the larger effects on the open mike comedy circuit, and indirectly the higher echelons of live comedy, are often missed.

Firstly, the damage inflicted upon gigs that do not operate such a policy has become increasingly visible. In the days when 'bringer' gigs were but a twinkle in an enterprising promoter's eye, open mike comedians would commonly post a gig list on MySpace and let their friends chose which to attend. This naturally led to a fair spread of comedians' friends in the audiences of the circuit's shows, and a few more audience members at those that naturally drew a good crowd due to other factors, such as location or good promotion. As open mike gigs, on the whole, do not draw a large crowd, this smattering of bonus attendees has always been useful.

But now those habits have changed. Open mike comedians, instead of posting their gig lists on Facebook, post requests for a 'plus one' to this or that bring-a-friend show, not informing their friends of the ones to which they are not obliged to bring an audience member. Thus comedians' friends are now a rare sight at non-bringer gigs, to the point where, at those shows that struggle to generate an audience naturally, the crowd being performed to is commonly just the other comedians.

Thus it may be argued that this faction of promoters are - unconsciously, of course – taking potential audience members from rival gigs to benefit their own, and creating a great imbalance on the circuit.

The second issue, a consequence of the above, is that these 'bringer' gigs are now so widespread is that there is a feeling, particularly among the newer comedians, that you have to do them to progress as they are the cream of the open-mike circuit. These heavily populated shows are viewed by some as the 'proper' gigs, while the smaller non-bringer gigs with less in the way of audience are simply there to fill the calendar, and the five minutes of silence with which your set may be met is an unfortunate inevitability.

This way of thinking is flawed in the extreme. The open mike circuit is the one place that newer comedians are able to develop their material and stagecraft. A room chock-full of comedians' friends who have been indoctrinated by the MC with a 'these are all new acts so give them all your love' spiel, can lead to a misleading view of how you and your material are doing. Your five minutes of mediocre twaddle may get five minutes of belly laughs there, but in the big bad world you may just find you die on your rump.

The ever increasing number of underpopulated shows that I have begrudged in this very article can thus be used to a comedian's advantage. The best comedians who have progressed past the open mike circuit are the ones that have relished the smaller gigs, and learned to succeed at them. A joke that gets a big laugh from a room of a hundred people that are chortling at everything is one thing. If you can get laughs from an audience of eight comedians, two stragglers and maybe even a dog leaping up at a balloon, you may just have struck gold. ui

Zak Splijt tweets at @zaksplijt.

Published: 12 Jan 2015

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