Friday, 18 June 2010

The first set.

Did my first set in a long time last night. Have to say it went pretty well, although it did feel like I'd rang Rent a Crowd, with at least 75% of the audience being people I had brought along. If I hadn't invited anyone there would have been about 15 people, 9 of them comedians. Because the audience belonged to me the compare made me the headline act, probably afraid that if I went on early people might leave. I also didn't need to travel far like the other acts, being local and all, so I was in no rush to get home.

Being the last act meant there was a long wait. I was already nervous not knowing if any of my material was in any way funny but the build up made it worse. I think now I know what jokes work I would be quite happy to do them again with no nerves. I think a lot of being a stand up is finding confidence in your material and that is something that will only come in time.

I filmed the performance so I could watch back what worked and what didn't. It's interesting because when you're on stage it's hard to remember how the audience are reacting. The most obvious reaction is when there is no reaction, but other than that I found watching back the footage very insightful as I couldn't have told you how much people had laughed and at what.

It's very exciting piecing together the good material. I enjoy being critical of my work, it's satisfying to say 'that one is a keeper, that one is never going to be heard again'. In time I will have a stash of quality material that I will be able to use to create a winning set. Then some time after that I will have twice and much, then I just need to double it again and I have a show!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The path of a comedian.

Do I know the path of your typical stand up? Sadly not, but here's my guess as to how comedians progress in their careers:

Open mic/ new act comedy nights
Listed set nights
Opening slot/ mid slot in line ups
(festival/competition appearances)
MC work/ support act
Headline act
Festival run/named show
Show tour (regional then national)
Television work/ arena tours/ DVD releases/ world domination

I haven't done any research into this, it's just how I imagine the progression of a stand up using my knowledge of existing stand up acts and comedy shows. A lot of those things might happen out of order and I'm sure there are lots of things I've missed out, like corporate gigs for example.

The big question is where in all that do people start paying you? I think it's most likely around the MC/ support act point, but maybe before if people think your good enough to be part of a payed line up. What's the pay like? The general consensus is that you start off on very little, but when you are more established it can be anything from £100- £500 a show. Then the figures go crazy if you make the big time. To me stand up comedy has good job prospects, but like any job you have to work hard and of course be good at it. Only time will tell.

The more successful you get the more time you spend on the road. To make a living I imagine it involves an extensive amount of travelling up and down the country, to the point you spend the hours of a typical working day travelling. In my head stand up offers a way to make a living, with good prospects like any other job. But unlike most jobs you're not selling a product, you're selling yourself, I mean to say you are the product. There is probably a better way to phrase that.

I feel I can make something out of comedy, not just because I think I'm funny but because I am good at all the other things that need to go with it: publicity and marketing, web design, networking, video editing and publishing to name a few. I strongly believe I have what it takes to sell my product, but at the same time I need to keep realistic. It's all very well having these hopes and dreams but I understand at the same time that turning something that can be classed as a hobby (entertaining people) into something that can sustain you and allow you to do it more takes a lot of effort. It's just the same as my fellow fine artists leaving university and saying; 'right, now to make a living off all of this', it isn't going to happen overnight. Actors love to act but they don't all make money straightaway, musicians love to make music but it can take years to make a living off of it once you start. Like these other art forms comedy takes time, effort, a bucket load of enthusiasm and a bath full of belief. Of course this is all informed speculation, lets see what I'm saying in a months time!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The start begins soon.

On Friday I had an amazing evening of culture; student art followed by new stand up comedy. The art was at the Northumbria University Visual Arts Degree Show, the comedy was a new act night at The Grinning Idiot. Starting out in comedy I plan to see as much stand up as I can, and talking of starting out my first set (of 2010 at least) is this Thursday.

After the show finished I met one of the acts at the Metro so we talked on the way home together. It was his first time performing on stage. The reason he did it was because he is wanting to do as many things as he can that scare him silly, to put it nicely. So doing stand up was a tick on his list and by the sounds of things hes going to keep on doing it. For him, he didn't want a big crowd, he had originally thought England were playing that night and so not many people would show up. There was 17 of us as it turned out, many of which I know by name thanks to the MC. There were 3 Graham's in the audience would you believe. He was pleased with the size of the audience, he didn't find it intimidating. I personally seem to thrive off larger groups. In all the plays and sketch shows over the years I have always made sure anybody who was free came to see the show. This Thursday is no different.

The first time I did stand up there was an audience of over 100, a great size for an audience. I should mention that next Thursday will be my 4th official time of doing stand up, the first being at an art/music/culture night, the second at an improv comedy night and the third at a memorial celebration in a church hall. So I guess this will be the first time people will have come and expected to see a stand up comedian. All of my material is untested, no one has heard it yet so it might seem odd that I'm inviting people I know rather than test it on unknowns. I think I'm eager to get feedback, actually get told what works and what doesn't.

In the grand scheme there are going to be few times I will be performing in front of people I know. I need to get myself performing in front of crowds like Friday night. A small crowd of complete strangers. Small crowds are fascinating. They might be finding it hilarious but showing no signs of audible laughter, which must be hard for a stand up. I'm yet to experience that. I'm yet to experience a lot. How will I deal with my first heckle? No idea. No ones laughing? How does that feel? I aspire for the big crowds, I think anyone would once they get going, but I don't want to neglect the small crowds, I feel they have a lot to offer. A group of 17 people is a great size to try out new material, especially if half of them are named Graham, they laugh at anything.

I look forward to performing in front of anyone, be the group 100 strong or 10. I say bring on 1000! It's such an exciting time, I can't wait to get started!

Friday, 11 June 2010

The meaning of life, almost.

I have made this blog as a place for me to collect thoughts and just write in general. It’s all going to be comedy related but beyond that broad umbrella I can’t say what it’s going to include. Something exciting or at the very least interesting I hope.

I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Graham Oakes, I am 22 years old, just finished a degree in Fine Art and have decided now is a good time to get into stand up comedy. Art, theatre and comedy have always been a massive part of my life so going into stand-up doesn’t feel like too great a break from the norm, the only people who have been surprised at my ambition have been people with no knowledge of my comedy history (which I will get into another time).

I think the word ambition is a good place to start. I asked myself the age old question ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ Over the course of my degree I have seen myself doing lots of things but the one thing that sticks at the front is entertaining people. I see myself making people laugh. Over the past 4 years I have seen myself as an artist, web designer and I guess an overall creative designer, with interests growing in video and other forms of digital media. 6 months ago that really was the only path that seemed logical, a way to use my degree and utilise my expansive number of skills at the same time. And I think all of that is what I see myself doing, but as part of something greater. After completing a fine art degree I know there are a number of people contemplating becoming artists of the freelance variety; i.e. they plan to make money from their art.

One of the most important things I have learnt over the past years is that art can almost be anything at all so long as it makes you feel. If something makes you feel an emotion or conjures up a memory then it is art. Theatre is art. Music is art. Comedy is art. It is the reason why some people see a piece of contemporary art and declare ‘that is not art’ because to them it isn’t, it doesn’t do what art is supposed to do. But to someone else it is art, because they feel something from it.

As an artistic person, I suppose the question you need to ask yourself is ‘what do you want people to feel?’ I think the question can be rephrased a lot more self-centred than that; ‘what gives you the greatest satisfaction?’ My art has always had a ‘wow’ factor usually through people being amazed at a certain technical skill, whether it be a photo realistic representation of something or the digital prowess to create an interactive art piece. I get a lot of satisfaction out of art, but does it give me the greatest? Maybe it’s the instant satisfaction that comedy provides; maybe it’s the obvious reaction that comedy provides. I don’t think you can get much better than making people laugh. Yes, it’s both those things. Comedy is a nice simple form of art, the emotion it provokes is instant and obvious and it provides an engagement with the audience that most art lacks. I’m all for leaving something in an exhibition to let people look at it, think its interesting and for them to mull over what it all means for days on end, but in 5 years time I see myself on stage making the grand total of visitors to said exhibition all react simultaneously and instantaneously the way I get the greatest satisfaction from.

Well, it would seem this post has managed to cover the justification for comedy as an art form, the meaning of art and quite possibly the very meaning of life itself. When I said interesting, I was thinking more along the lines of what I planned to do tomorrow, but no matter.

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