Sunday, January 31, 2010
"The audience took a while to warm to Giacinto Palmieri, perhaps trying to work out if his very thick Italian accent meant he was a character act. But he established his authenticity, winning them round with some nicely quirky material about idioms, offering a unique view of the oddities of the English language. His nerves were his downfall, making him appear slightly uncomfortable on this grand stage, but he had some beautiful lines, including refreshingly biting observations on Italian politics. Palmieri’s brilliant closing line regarding Silvio Berlusconi is proof that there is lots more to come from this engaging comic."
Here I am, drinking coffee after coffee trying to overcome the hangover not only of the after-show drinks, but of a truly inebriating night. Yesterday I felt restless all day and and I went to the Empire as early as it was allowed, in time for the 6pm sound check. Not that I had anything to check, I din't even try the microphone. But apparently everybody else was feeling the same, when I arrived, in fact, most acts were already there. So we all spent more than two hours moving relentlessly between the stage, the green room, the dressing room, the water cooler and, above all, the toilets. At the end even those two very long hours managed to pass and the show began. My position in the line-up was fifth in the first half, an almost ideal position, not too "cold audience" and not too "tired audience" either. Performers were asked to wait in the green room until called backstage, so for me the first three acts were just an almost incomprehensible voice coming form a cracking speaker. Amazing how being part of an event means the opposite of having a privileged perspective about it. Even when I went on stage I couldn't see the audience almost at all. I finally realized how packed and beautiful the theatre was when after the interval I joined a friend of mine to watch some acts from the upper circle. It was a breathtaking view and I was happy of not having seen it before my performance. Which, by the way, went very well, I felt concentrated but not tense, did my set without any hiccups and got some big laughs, which I milked in quite a "professional" way with long, reassured pauses. Everything felt a bit detached and remote, though, such a contrast from the terrifying experience of the Comedy Store! So, after seeing two or three acts from the gallery, and enjoying the sight of the audience members pointing at me as an instant and (very) local celebrity, I went back to the Green Room, waiting for the moment when the acts were called back to the stage for the results. And when we did the organizers announced that exceptionally a fourth place would be awarded. Now, I must confess a moment of hubris here: I thought for a moment that a fourth place could be in my reach. At end it wasn't me, it was one of the acts I couldn't manage to see (Andrew Ryan), while the first three (Abandoman, Inel Tomlison and Frisky & Mannish) were truly fantastic acts who normally play two or three leagues above me. I know, if I think that not even a truly original and amazingly well crafted act like Jo Selby's character Tatiana managed to get a placement I realize that it was indeed a moment of madness. But if I wasn't a bit mad I wouldn't be doing this. At the end I had a fantastic night, in an amazing theatre and in front of a wonderful audience, in which I managed to do a performance that did myself justice and demonstrated, I immodestly think, that I deserved to be there. Surely a night I will remember for a long time.
Monday, January 25, 2010
No point trying to sleep, I still have to come down, this stuff should count as a class A drug! So let me update the blog instead. Where to start from? I arrived at the Comedy Store pretty early, I didn't know if it was already open to the public so I told the bouncer at the door: "I'm going to perform tonight". And he went all sarcastic: "Really? You are going to perform? Good luck, mate!". Great, heckled by the bouncer, such a start! The next step doesn't help you to relax either, the corridor in fact is full of all the pictures and the signatures of the greats who have performed there, people like Robin Williams. And when you enter the room you can't help noticing that the walls are plastered with newspaper cuttings, so many of them that the expression "press coverage" seems to assume an almost literal meaning. Are you trying to impress me, Comedy Store? Well, you did. I register and I'm told that I'm 10th in the line-up. I ask if I'm after the break and they tell me that they should manage to fit ten and more acts in the first half. I soon realize the implication: they don't expect many comedians to last long! In fact the show starts and the first couple of acts last around fifty second. Then Stephen Grey comes out and he does brilliantly, surviving the entire five minutes. Good, I think, it can be done. My turn comes and I start really well, the first routine goes brilliantly, with those "long laughs" that you can milk for what seem to last ages, a mixed bless at a competition where you only have five minutes but a total bless at a gong show where you have to buy time. Then the first heckles start and I fire the comeback I had prepared for the occasion. I'm not sure if I should tell this, given that I might "spontaneously" come out with it again in the future, maybe already on Saturday. But nobody really believes that heckle comebacks are really improvised, besides they are the "open source" of the comedy world, in the sense that they are the only jokes that are freely shared among comedians. So here is my contribution to the community. I shouted back at the hecklers: "I have no idea of what you said, we speak English in this country"! Thinking of it, I still can't believe that I had the guts to say that! But it paid off really well, I got a really big laugh and an applause. Then I moved to the idioms routine, the second joke has a long set-up so part of the audience became impatient and started booing. I became more and more confrontational, with jokes about me having "stolen" their job or about the opportunity of starting a fight with an Italian, every time going down a bit along the slippery slope of cheap stereotypes. Part of the audience were still with me, but the booing part were booing more and more loudly and it was more and more difficult to get the jokes across. When it became impossible for me to get heard the gong went off to liberate me from my misery. I had been on stage four minutes, maybe more, and I had one of the most amazing roller-coaster experiences of my life. For more than half of my set all went really well and I felt really close to the five minutes finishing line. I'm not sure what went wrong afterwards, not the being confrontational bit, that was more of a desperate effect than of a cause and the quite confrontational heckle comeback worked beautifully anyway. I'll think about it. In any case during the interval somebody came to me and said that he was the promoter of the Chuckle Club and that I was the only act of the first half he liked (sorry, others). So he asked my number to book me for a spot! I have just been to check their website and they have some of my comedy heroes on the bill, people like Milton Jones and Robin Ince. To whoever booed me tonight: what about THIS as a comeback?
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Yes, these warm-up gigs are going really well. Actually, they are not jut a warm up, you need to take every gig as it was the most important gig in your life, especially if it goes well. Monday I did one for an agency that runs loads of gigs all over the country and towards which I was feeling a bit frustrated, since they only offer me open spots and not many of them either. It was a free gig so at first I struggled to get the attention of the casual and chatty audience, which seems to be a constant for me at this type of gig, I guess mine is not the stage persona that commands immediate attention from everybody. But fortunately I managed to recognise and address this particular elephant in the room. I interrupted a particularly chatty girl, who turned to be the same who had heckled a previous comedian by asking "Where is Quebec?". Yes, it was that kind of audience. So I said: "Ah, you are the Quebec girl", to which she weirdly replied: "How do you know?". So I replied back: "It's part of my job noticing what happens and making clever callbacks", which gained me a big laugh. After that episode I had the undivided attention of the audience. Lesson of the day: if you want attention from somebody you should first demonstrate attention towards them, maybe by showing that you noticed their lack of attention. I wonder if I can apply the same lesson to other fields of my life, but I'm digressing. At the end of the set the pub owner was enthusiastic, it was the third time I had played that club so he told me he had seen dramatic improvements and he added: "I'll tell the people who count", meaning of course the agency that sent me. Let's see. The next gig will be the gong show at the Comedy Show. I know it's probably going a massacre and I'm expecting the worst, but at least I have never been in a better fighting form.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Time flies like an arrow or and, as my Philosophy of Language professor used to say to highlight the Chomskyan notion that when you hear a sentence you are actively imposing a grammatical structure onto it, fruit flies like a banana. I'm still not sure to have completely digested my last Curry in a Hurry and it's already decision time, or at least ideas gathering time, for the Edinburgh Fringe 2010. January, in fact, is the month when the "venues" open their application process. So here are some ideas I gathered so far:
- Last year it took a week to get the reviews and the word-of-mouth, so doing two weeks meant that I had to kill the show in its prime. Despite the bigger investment in time and money I will seriously consider doing the entire three weeks run.
- Again in the logic of stepping up my game, I'll aim at writing a "full length" show, which normally means from 50 minutes to one hour.
- Given the ambition of the project I need to get there step by step. To this purpose I booked previews at the Brighton Fringe in May and a preview to those previews in Birmingham at the end of April. They will probably be 40 minutes shows, leaving room for expansion in the following months.
- I hope to write a show that will be at least 70% new, but there are routines from the last year's show that I'm not ready to let go yet. I will probably let go the phone call (I have always been very ambivalent towards it) and maybe all the part about the citizenship.
- The writing of new material is proceeding slowly but steadily. Most of it tends to be about the Italian language v. the English language, so I think that language will become more and more the real focus point.
- I'm conscious that I will probably change idea on every one of the previous points.
So, in a sense the adventure has already started... how exciting!
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
I confess: I didn't keep the promise of updating this blog. In my defence I can say that it wasn't just laziness. It's more that the Fringe is such an intense drama, offering a classical narrative of a quest, difficulties and (in the best case scenario) the overcoming of these difficulties. All packed in two or three weeks. For a non-professional comedian, on the other hand. life after the Fringe is a more patchy business. I didn't want this blog to become a list of "I did that gig, it went well", "I did that other gig, it went so and so". Orson Wells once said that cinema should be life with the boring bits left out. So should be blogging.
So, why am I back writing this? Probably because I have the feeling that things are getting interesting again. The first gigs after the Fringe weren't easy at all. Before the festival I knew what my strongest 5-10 minutes were. After doing 20 performances of 30 minutes, however, I wasn't sure any more. I started picking up a different selection at each gig, some of which worked while some worked less, and in most cases the links were quite weak. Besides that, I kept doing bits that worked well in front of a festival audience but not in front of a club audience. As a result, I probably missed some important opportunities.
I probably found my confidence back when I had the chance to do bring my Edinburgh show to the Nottingham Comedy Festival. It went very well despite the small audience and I got a real kick out of it. Besides, some basic adaptation mechanisms started to kick in during my club performances and I resumed some "easier" bits, adding some new "idiom" jokes that seem to work very well. The pick of this process was doing a very successful gig at the Hackney Empire New Act of Year audition, which gained me the qualification to the final. It's something I'm very happy and excited about.
The same week that will end with the Hackney Empire final will also start with the Comedy Store gong show, so I will break twice and in rapid succession my personal record for the biggest audience I will have performed for. A period of almost Fringe-like intensity is going to start. Something with a story that is worth telling.