Is anyone watching this?

Polyanna McGirr on the open mic circuit

Pay to play... Bringer gigs… Open mics with an audience made up purely of other performers on the bill… Everywhere I look at the moment, the new comedy circuit seems to be taking a serious amount of flak.

As someone who spends their life surrounded by new comedy in both the club and television settings, I always read these articles and orum threads and wonder how they affect up and coming acts. I mean those who are out grafting on the new comedy circuit, polishing their fives, hoping to move onm, to get noticed.

After all the hard work, mixed reactions and night buses home, it’s no wonder so many new acts are left thinking: ‘Is anybody actually watching me?’

Well, after so many downbeat stories I feel compelled to offer a bit of good news to acts out there.

I’m part of the team that runs The Open Mic at Up the Creek Comedy Club as well as the annual One to Watch Competition. Every month we receive hundreds of emails from acts wanting to play the famous Creek stage (you can imagine the man hours it takes to respond). We then assign up to 15 spots to perform every Thursday and spaces tend to get filled months in advance.

These acts will be at very different stages of development. We’ve had everything from seasoned circuit players to those stepping on stage for the very first time, and we’ve watched them all.

We’ve had everything at the Open Mic: from old women rapping, drama students attempting to stand out from the crowd, post bad break-up moaners, even wide-eyed schoolkids desperately wanting to be like Jack Whitehall. We’ve seen those who really shouldn’t be attempting comedy (some kind of therapy might be better), strange folk who have got on stage to literally say nothing (yes really!?) and the whole scale of the really rather bad.

We’ve sat and watched every possible style of comedy, from every possible type of person, in every possible set up – and out of this marvelously eclectic mix had the pleasure of finding some of the most exciting up-and-coming stand-ups on the circuit. It’s an incredible moment when an act takes to the stage, smashes their set and you’re left thinking: ‘Shit, this person is something really special’.

Over the past three years we’ve built relationships with a great range of promising new acts. From those just coming over from the urban circuit to daring alternative acts, all being very different in style and all massively talented. Many of these acts have now moved on from their first five spots on our Friday night line-ups to full sets on our busy weekend bills.

Aside from Up The Creek, I work in television, developing comedy for all the major broadcasters. I am currently making a comedy sketch series with two very talented comedians which I first met at the Open Mic. One was the very last act on the bill, the other managed to blag a spot when another act dropped out. To now see a full crew working on their own series is a truly thrilling experience.

So, to my summary. Open mic nights a difficult to run. They take a lot of time, energy and commitment but discovering those exciting new acts – the stars of tomorrow - make it all worthwhile.

And to those new acts left thinking ‘Is anyone actually watching me!?’ we say - there are many of us who love to work with new acts, no matter how much ‘bad’ and ‘mad’ with have to shuffle through to find the best of them. Some of those night bus journeys home are worth it.

  • Pollyanna McGirr is television producer and part of the team behind The Open Mic at Up the Creek Comedy Club – @utcvarietynight.

Published: 9 Oct 2012

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