The accidental promoter

Paul Savage on his first year of running gigs

It recently occurred to me that I have been putting on comedy nights for a whole year. This is the longest job I’ve ever had (a tendency towards sarcasm, a dislike of being micromanaged, and an inability to get to work on time leading to various career moves), but slightly scary was the thought I never wanted to do it.

I had only performed about ten gigs when I found myself thrust into it. I’d reread Frank Skinner’s excellent autobiography, and it suggested compering as a way to improve. The next gig I did, the promoter didn’t seem to be having much fun with it, so I asked if I could MC the next one. Like a gent, he said I could.

  When I rang him up the week before that next good to see who else was on, and he told me he didn’t know, and didn’t care. Those weren’t the exact words he used, but the message was the same.

He had been part of duo, and there had been acrimonious split, so it was down to me find some acts, fast, or I would be premiering an hour-long work-in-progress show in the same pub where I’d performed my best seven minutes three weeks earlier. Make that my entire seven minutes.

I had maybe five comics’ email addresses. Four could do it. On the day, I rang around to make sure. One was ill, and wanted to come but was being talked out of driving a hundred miles with a temperature of 100 for a tenner. Wuss. Luckily, an act I’d met two days before stepped in, as he happened to live close to the venue.

Everything seemed to go right at that first gig. Unscripted banter with the audience went somewhere, somewhere funny. All the acts: Pete Smith, Anonymous the Poet and Paul Jennings, did well. The only hiccup of the night was when the cordless mike we were using started dipping in and out, Norman-Collier-style, during Matt Turner’s headlining set. It probably would have been awful if it had happened to me, but he wandered round the room, commentating on this, looking for the best spot, eventually wandering out of the venue and continuing his brilliantly filthy sweary set from the high street of a busy market town on a rowdy Saturday night.

He got a standing ovation, and afterwards people gave us fags, bought us drinks, and Pete and I tried to work out how astronauts clean the inside of their suits whilst in orbit. As we left the pub, we got a massive round of applause. This is the only time it’s ever happened to me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it never happened again.

They aren’t all successes. I remember a friend ringing me at 2am once, stuck in a coach station in London and drunk. I ended up talking her ear off about what had been wrong with the night’s show (ie everything) so much that she decided that chatting to raving derelicts was preferable, and hung up on me.

Other ‘non-successes’ include being detained at my day job for three hours, so I had to do the show in my work uniform, a gig attended by only one genuine punter, and the time I compered with the a temperature of 102 and could barely stand.

Still, the successes outweigh the failures. So what it if I make hardly any money off them? I’ve got the memories of Tom Roche bringing a pillow on stage, into which he did primal scream therapy every time a new joke failed; of improvising a mike stand for Ashley Frieze with gaffer tape, a banister and a broom handle; of Lou Chawner getting an entire pub to sing the Dambusters theme at an old bloke who fought his way through the crowd to tell him he was shit; and of letting a chap sing a rugby song while Matt Turner, Pete Smith and I went outside the pub and made faces, gestures and X-rated mimes through the window behind him. And he wondered why the crowd were laughing in the wrong places.

 Here’s to the next year’s Speakeasy gigs. May they be as memorable…

Published: 19 Nov 2008

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