It's tough down South

Comic Donny Donkins muses on his move to London

Six months ago I decided that to further my comedy career, I needed to move to the capital. I’ve been a stand-up comedian for almost two years, done close to 304 gigs and won loads of competitions including the prestigious New Act Competition at The Goose and Gander in Chorley. But I felt like I needed to push myself artistically.

So, like Dick Whittington, Oasis and General Pinochet, I moved to London.

And what a long way I’ve come. Both in distance (Chorley is 213.9 miles away from Soho according to AA Route Planner) and career-wise. Talking of which, I’ve also become more career wise.

I’ve got myself what I consider a top agent. I like to see the agency as a boutique stable. Only a few clients, no big names. I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond than a tiny tadpole in the ocean. What I mean by this is, I didn’t want to go with the big boys. Your Avalons, your Off The Kerbs, your Hannah Chamberses etc. I mean, yes, they’ve created some massive stars: most of the comics you see on TV these days are with one of these agencies; yes, they can organise highly lucrative stadium tours (don’t even get me started on those); yes, they might get you a DVD deal; but you can get lost there (like a tadpole in the ocean).

And would they email you a screen grab from the National Rail Enquires website to let you know what time the last train leaves Grantham on a Wednesday? Probably not.

And she got me an audition last week. For an advert for a leading breakfast cereal. I’m waiting to see if I get a call back but it went really well. It was brilliant. They didn’t have a script or any idea of exactly what they wanted. You had to go in with your own gags and ideas.

Bill Hicks said that if you do an advert ‘you're off the artistic roll call, every word you say is suspect, you're a corporate whore and, eh, end of story’ (direct quote) but would he have said that if he was granted the kind of artistic freedom I was last week? Hicks also said that anyone working in advertising or marketing should kill themselves which is a bit harsh, not to mention offensive to suicide victims.

It was really hard when I first moved to London. The open mic circuit is very cliquey. I felt like an outsider. Everyone talking about this gig and that gig. Where they’ve done 10s, accusing me of stealing material. It seems like you can’t you can’t even mention how well you’ve done at a gig without someone firing back: ‘Who books that then?’

I was talking to an open spot who I won’t name (but I know he’ll be reading this because he has Chortle as his home page and refreshes all day long) and he accused me of stealing his joke. I was compering a small pub gig in East London and a table were talking all through the show (it turns out it was their local and they didn’t know there was comedy gig on!) I did some improvisation and said, ‘Where did you learn to whisper? On a motorbike?’

After the gig, this open spot who I won’t name (but his initials are SD) came storming up to me and said I’d stolen his bit and an argument ensued. After chatting to some other acts, it turns out the line wasn’t the same at all. Apparently he says ‘helicopter.’ Comics keep saying that there isn’t much work around, that the circuit ain’t what it used to be, that the bubble’s burst but I think they’re just the shit ones. I had four gigs last week and two of them were paid (one was a door split).

What I have found hard - and what I didn’t expect - is how hard it is to get in at the ‘big’ clubs. I recently did a five at The Store (I actually did over six and a half as it was going so well and I hadn’t taken that into account in my timings) and Don took me into his office and got his diary out.

I thought, ‘Right then, that’s me sorted. I’m in at The Store’ and I was just thinking about whether to pretend I had most weekends full to make myself seem more desirable and busy when he said, ‘Do you really expect me to take out one of these acts to put you in?’ And I said, ‘No, I wasn’t expecting that but that’s fine if you want to. Or you could just book me in for a weekend where you’re not already fully booked.’ He then did an abrupt U-turn, told me I’m nowhere near ready and to wait at least two years before I try to book in another open spot.

Two years! I’ll be on TV in two years. With or without that cereal advert.

Since I’ve moved to London, I’ve had to change a lot of my material (not because of accusations of plagiarism I hasten to add). Doing gigs in and around the Greater Manchester area, and sometimes further into Lancashire, I’d get laughs just by naming different areas or bus routes and sometimes a round of applause for calling an audience member a knobhead. That shit just don’t fly down here (and that’s an expression I would never have used up north!). I suppose it’s because London’s so cosmopolitan. Whatever it is, I know that people are more uptight in London.

Only last week, I got accused of being racist just for doing a Chinese accent. It weren’t even a Chinese person who was offended. It was some Guardian reading repressed ponce who made a snap decision about me. There was a Japanese woman in the front row who didn’t have a problem with it at all. The thing is, the joke was about a Chinese person so if I hadn’t done the accent, wouldn’t that be more patronising and, therefore, racist? (Yes, I think it would so I’m going to keep doing the gag)

I’ve also changed my style. I don’t really do jokes as such. And if I do, I explain them to the audience. Sort of, tell them what I’ve just done. I’m very hard to define as no one’s really doing what I do. I suppose I’m a bit like my hero Stewart Lee but with the physicality of Brian Conley or Barrymore (pre-Lubbock) and the surrealness of the trendy bloke off Buzzcocks.

I tell funny stories that purposely don’t have traditional punchlines. I call them Jories (a cross between jokes and stories). And I do some pretty edgy topical stuff, depending on what’s in the news, which some people find offensive. The truth often hurts. Yes, it’s shocking but it’s satire. I call it Shatire.

So, overall, has the big move to London been successful? Depends on how you define success. Will I keep at it? Definitely. Am I skint? Yes.

What I’ve come to realise is, I’m like Marmalade. Some people like me, some people don’t like me, some people don’t mind me and some haven’t tried me.

PS: I’m doing my Edinburgh show at The Soho Theatre next week so I must be doing something right.

Donny Donkins will be appearing in Barry Castagnola’s Where’s Barry at the Soho Theatre on Monday and Tuesday. Here’s a trailer:

Published: 8 Jan 2013

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