75 gigs... and nine lessons leaned

Norman Cho shares the tips he wsh he'd known when he started comedy

What I wished I knew when I started doing comedy.

So far I have done 75 gigs in just under two years. Some would consider me a lightweight because of that. While others, newer than me, look at me with some awe. The truth is, it’s neither here nor there. When I started out on the circuit, I was completely clueless. My set consisted of somewhat less than five minutes of dodgy material.

On my 11th gig, I won the Funhouse Comedy Club’s gong show in Derby. This gave me a vastly inflated sense of my ability and an utter conviction that saying, cock, arse, twat, and trying to shock the audience constituted ‘comedy’. It took several dozen gigs and dying repeatedly for the penny to drop that I got lucky once. It eventually occurred to me that either I seriously worked at my material or I would be better off doing something else - like macrame.

Lesson one is to stop blaming the audience. The deal is simple, you can say what you want but it has to be funny. If they’re not laughing, then it’s not comedy.

Second lesson is to gig as often as possible. Everyone will tell you that. But this needs to be qualified. I have a day job and am a parent. These things matter. Gigging is hard work and the hours are long. You should gig as often as you can but you also need to be realistic. You need to factor in time for preparation, writing material, as well as for rest and recovery. For me two gigs a week constitutes ‘gig as often as possible’.

Third lesson is to respect the gig. You cannot just turn up and except to storm it. It does happen but don’t count on it. On the rare occasions that I’ve done ten-minute open spots with pro comics, all of them had their routines, which they went through before performing.

Fourth lesson was never run before you can walk. I did a storming open tenminutes on my 33rd gig. The promoter offered me the chance to open with fifteen mins and offered to pay travel. I accepted. Big mistake. I was not ready and died horribly. It’s taken nine months to persuade him to give me another shot. And I’m back to doing six minutes.

Fifth lesson was never be afraid to accept a gig. I died twice horribly at the Theatre Royal. But after that, nothing frightened me. I did ten minutes at Cradley Heath. As a soft southerner, I admit I was absolutely bricking it, and got some flowing reviews on the West Midlands Comedy Forum.

I certainly thought I was on my way. But here was where I learned lesson six - consistency matters. My material was too edgy and tended to split the audience. For every gig I stormed, I was dying in two or three - or getting lukewarm reactions at best. I had about ten minutes of material. After junking virtually all the edgy material, I ended up with a solid five that I am confident that I can go virtually anywhere with and do well. Last gig I did, a promoter gave me his card and asked for my number. Consistency matters. You never know who’s watching.

Seventh lesson is never to walk out of a gig you promised to do except in the most exceptional of circumstances. I did an open spot at the Nottingham Beer Festival. One comic got there, took one look at the crowd and walked out. Word gets around. I would be surprised if the promoters ever offered him another gig.

Eight lesson is to never to confuse therapy with comedy. Therapy is about you. Comedy is about the audience. You may not be able to tell the difference but the audience certainly can.

Lesson nine is that this game is too hard to do for anything other than the love of it. Right now I have a solid five that I can build on. So far, I have earned exactly £20. Crack whores make more in an hour. On a good night it’s better than sex. On a great night, I feel like I’ve shagged the entire audience. On bad nights, you want to shoot yourself. But it is never boring.

The circuit is full of mad men and visionaries and sometimes, it’s impossible to tell them apart. I will probably never make the Hammersmith Apollo ever or win the Laughing Horse New Act of the Year competition but damn, I love this game.

Published: 22 Feb 2010

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