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A Dozen Must See Free Edinburgh Fringe 2013 Shows

Essay and opinionPosted by Bobby Carroll Wed, July 31, 2013 10:32:08

A Dozen Must See Free Edinburgh Fringe Shows of 2013

“Free comedy! Free comedy! Free Comedy!” Look at the hundred of little hands handing out their leaflets. It must be August in Edinburgh. In a sea of free some of it has to be shit. But there are also some true gems out there which will be objectively and subjectively much much better than pre-spending £12.50 on some Hollistered foetus who want to host Big Brother’s Babbling Gob on Channel 5 while dabbling with a stand up tour on the side and has bought the A0 poster spaces to prove it. The Free Fringe / Festival / flotilla has attracted some genuine talent this year, some of whom are coming off of successful runs with the big bad paid four over previous summers. The Free movement is poaching some quality this 2013, some legitimising quality. Here are my 12 must free hour shows that you can just rock up to, laugh at and rightly pop some deserved money in the bucket after...

Stuart Black: No Moral Compass

Mr Black has the soul of a poet, the sinewy muscles of a circuit regular and those ever elusive funny bones. Expect an hour of insightful, heartfelt comedy with club worthy laugh out loud moments.

Nathaniel Metcalfe: Enthusiast

Ask any established young comic whose debut they are most excited about this year and it will be Nat Met’s. A unique voice in comedy he’s been building this hour of long form fun up for years around London and the end result is a masterpiece from the comic’s comic’s comic.

Michael Fabbri – Buffering

Michael Fabbri writes elegant routines that pile on hit after hit. Buffering suggests a whole new hour of potential classics to match his previous tales of youtube comments gone mental, job centre employment and epileptic cats.

Ian Cognito: The Trouble With Comedy

Banned from as many comedy clubs as probably still exist Cogs is the genuine original wildman of comedy. He’s going to bully and scare you into pissing yourself with laughter. There’ll be queues around the block for this so be a clever chap and don’t miss out.

Paul F Taylor – The Greatest Show Ever

Paul F Taylor is the only goof silly, kooky and crafted enough to accidentally jive the Three Weeks critics with this baiting title. Expect to have loads of loopy fun from this year’s New of Act of the Year champ.

Jessica Fostekew – Moving

The best themed show of this year’s Fringe. Unlike many just about every routine sticks to topic and is gag heavy enough to stand alone in any comedy club away from the more relaxed Fringe and theatre circuit. Nothing seems crowbarred in off topic, no unfunny bumf is included to fill time. In fact all of Fostekew’s ideas and strands live next to and on top of each other in perfect harmony.

Lewis Schaffer: Free Until Famous – 20th Year

Part of Schaffer’s charm is his cocktail of conflicting flavours; the Brooklyn Jew trapped in South London, cocky overconfidence and bitter bile, drawn out gags and razor sharp insight, the skilled showman and his ability to get distracted by the audience seven or eight times before a punchline. And at his very popular free shows this is a delirious, heady concoction of interaction, offense and charm.

Sean McLoughlin: Backbone

A personal favourite of mine Sean McLoughlin speaks of his miserable life with the bitterness and jadedness of a pensioner. The fact he’s only just about an adult adds a frisson of energy and ironic optimism to what otherwise could be quite bleak proceedings. A skilled comedy writer and performer coming of age in his debut hour.

Paul Duncan McGarrity –Awkward Hawk

Expect fun, confidence and a stool. I’ll undersell this as PDMc shan’t. One of the best new stand-up performer’s in the trade.

Phil Kay: Verbal Diary

Only an absolute idiot would miss Phil Kay on his home turf of the Edinburgh Fringe but with chance of getting to experience him for nada zip diddly... well... I can’t think of an insult fitting enough if you did not at least try.

Hilarity Bites Comedy Club Showcase

I’ve tried to avoid mixed bills but this is a genuinely great sampler from a comedy outfit who book the best circuit acts in the country over the other 11 months a year.

Stuart Laws

Stuart Laws is involved in over 5 shows this year. I’d recommend his hour “Stuart Laws absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead (1hr show)” for the rare chance to see Stuart doing a shorter set. Weird, wonderful, prolific, Stuart is the Takashi Miike of live comedy.

Should a comedian be able to play any room?

Essay and opinionPosted by Bobby Carroll Wed, May 01, 2013 14:25:04
On Sunday 28th of April the Professional Football Association booked Reg D Hunter to perform a comedy set at its annual awards ceremony . Reg D Hunter, a comedian who has appeared on prime time comedy shows like Have I Get News For You, Live at the Apollo and 8 Out of 10 Cats, would seem on first glance a solid booking; high profile, able to perform a TV safe set. And for the PFA after constant racist controversies dogging the sport booking a black comedian might seem like a gesture towards inclusivity even at their overpriced, exclusive jolly. Clearly not a lot of research went into booking Reg, an act whose material often focuses on race and saying the "unsayable", whose tour Trophy Nigga, saw many venues refusing to post the name of the show and the London Underground banning the promo posters.

Following a typically frank and no holds barred set from Reg, the PFA have publicly complained and demanded a refund. They asked him to keep things clean, avoid racial slurs and even race as an issue. Reg may have to return the fee (though the publicity among the football community and broadsheet papers will no doubt punt him to even bigger venues for his next tour so no great loss) but if he does it sets a bad precedent and highlights a common misunderstanding about what comics do onstage.

I hate booking acts for corporates. You know the set up will not be great for comedy. You know most of the audience have not signed onto watching comedy but are having it forced onto them. The acts, and their agents, want a lot more for the gig knowing their act is less likely to be in a good situation to do what they love doing, making people laugh. With the increased price tag (£500-£40k) the client who knows very little about the dynamics of comedy feel they can make demands on the comedian; can the act talk to this person but not be too rude, can the act do the raffle before their set (Sure -let's put the person whose job it is to entertain everyone in the position of disappointing 95% of the audience before they've had a chance to say anything funny), can they avoid doing any jokes about this, this and this.

The minute you start taking subject matter, jokes and words out of a comedian's repertoire you take the funny out. Comedians in the main have a set, 20-45 minutes of prepared script that they do that is their best and most up to date stuff. They spend months writing, editing it, trying it at new material nights before a new bit beds into their main 20 with a specific place in their set list and a specific wording and timing that works with most rooms. Swearing can be integral to some jokes or even a part of the rhythm of how the comedian confidently says or times the joke. To remove a routine, joke or even a word from an act's 20 is make the comedian second guess themselves on and off stage, have to be prepared to jump ahead in their well practiced flow and force them away from doing their best. To simply ask Reg D Hunter not to say 'Nigger' in his set is like asking Mickey Flanagan not to say the word 'Out' onstage or Wil Hodgson not to refer to Chippenham. Sure they can do it... but you are effectively removing an integral part of what they do, like asking Eric Clapton to play Layla with a string missing. Also with such an amount of money a sense of entitlement comes in play, as demonstrated in Inception. Ask someone not to think of the word Elephant and instantly elephants will appear in their brain. Ask a proven funny person not to talk about something then pay them more than the annual salary of someone on minimum wage to talk for half an hour and a certain amount of ego kicks in with that taboo at the forefront of their mind. I reckon Reg did not walk onstage thinking "I'm going to do exactly the opposite of what's been asked of me as a fuck you." I guess he thought "These people have paid several grand to watch, trust and enjoy Reg D Hunter so I'm not going to mix and cut that successful and intelligent experience with baby powder and brick dust."

The lesson learnt for the PFA is when you book Reg D Hunter you get a big plate of Reg D Hunter, not the a la carte Reg D Hunter menu or the lukewarm all you can eat Reg D Hunter buffet. If you book a comedian and they do their set there is very little a promoter, venue or client should be able to say other than we got what we asked for. You can't bring something back to the kitchen if it turns out Reg D Hunter you ordered contains peppers and chilies. They are part of the dish and it has been prepared over years to perfection. If Tim Vine or Harry Hill walked onstage and did 30 minutes about racism, full of derogatory words you'd have every right to feel ripped off. But that did not happen. This is a classic case of non-comedy types booking an act with the idea that all comedians do the same material and should be able to play any room.

Comedians are very much all distinct separate entities and while we still do subtly share subject matters, heckle putdowns and certain joke structures or performance tricks the focus on modern comedy is for acts with self generated material and distinct voices. "Voice" in this case is not just an accent or an affectation. A comedian truly finds themselves onstage when their persona, delivery style and material intersects together into something recognisably individual. It takes many years for an act to find their voice but when it does it improves their art and careers incalculably. When you have a fixed idea of how you uniquely will broach a subject or deliver a joke it focuses the writing process and makes editing before you even try something onstage easier. When promoters see you confident in your well defined self onstage they trust you more to pay you but also to know what they are paying for. The act who completely changes their style and material every year is a far less safer bet than the act who is happy in what they are improving and developing from an already working format. Having a voice informs your choices when onstage; if you are heckled, if the power cuts out mid joke, if a routine is not working... all you have to do is stay true to your voice and the audience will feel they are in safe hands and in such disasters your choices slim down to the ones that honour your onstage persona which make decisions faster and more sure footed. All creative, business and marketing options go through the easy filter of "Does this fit in with who I am onstage?" before any hard choices have to be made. When you find you voice after years of trial and error it just makes comedy... easier. Sadly you can't buy your voice or magically have one, it takes a lot of gigs and wrong turns to find and recognise the right one for you.

Yet when you find your voice you do lose something too. You've set a stall of what you are as an act and occasionally you'll be booked for audiences who don't want to buy anything from that stall. Comedy is a numbers game where the more unique your voice the more people might be turned off by it as it is out of their comfort zone of what 'funny' is; you can't do 20 minutes of puns to people only willing to groan, a prop comic cannot do their set to blind people, a confessional comic who has gone through rehab and has a terminal STD will not have the same points of reference as a group of six formers. There needs to be enough people in the room capable and willing to try to enjoy what you do and a voice can limit that. If an audience sees nothing but bad musical acts they aren't going to rise to their feet clapping when someone walks onstage with a ukulele, if the Canadian comic called everyone cunts then pulled his trousers down and took a shit onstage last time, then next month if your opening line is "So Hi... I'm from Toronto and I suffer from IBS" expect to put some hard work in before your first around the room laugh.

If act and crowd are not gelling a good act will try and mix things up, keep things chatty, avoid certain bits of material but when a good act is thrown into a situation where their set and the audience are unlikely to connect at all that is not their fault, nor the audiences, it is the bookers'. The booker should know what works and what doesn't for their rooms and arrange line ups with imagination but both the customers and act in mind. You might be the best rape and paedo gag comic on the open mic circuit, and a lovely person who needs to pay the rent to boot, but I'm sorry I'm not wasting West Norbiton Golf Club's investment and my relationship with them just because your ego feels you can play any room and if people walk out that's their fault. The odds are you are not going to work in that room of white hair and starched blazers so why are we wasting each other's time.

This is not me giving new acts carte blanche to die at my gigs they do not like the look of. The act who walks on with the preconception that this is not "my audience" and therefore throws the gig away is of just little use to a booker as an unfunny one. If you are sitting there second guessing what a room might like, you are damaging your own confidence in what you knows works for you. At least give them the first few minutes of what you do with the same professionalism and enthusiasm you would your ideal audience. Your material is the reason you've come to the gig, trust it enough and give it the best chance to do what it does. I appreciate when an act after struggling through at least a few minutes of their best stuff tries to change things up and moves off script to win a room over. But I prefer it when an act is confident enough in their material that, while it might not be the ideal marriage of set and demographic, is keen to stick to their guns and find a way of doing what they do that the audience might have to broaden their horizons to get value from.

Often its just a case of finding common ground or making a pact with the room you and they both might have different expectation of what comedy are. Eye contact, a little preamble to put things in context before a routine starts, grace that they might have had life experiences far different from yours. The act who blames the crowd for being small or quiet or wrong is being human onstage but in petulant self serving way. We've all been there but how often has that gambit worked to win the people who do want to enjoy the show in their own way over. If you blame the audience or settle to phone it in you not only are diffusing your good qualities' chance to shine but making it harder for acts similar to you to have a good show in future. At the end of a death the turn who does their best stuff and sticks to time is a lot easier to explain and justify to an audience or venue owner than the act who throws their toys out of the pram onstage or faffs around for the sake of not damaging their own confidence in their material.

Some acts walk onstage and blindly stick to their routine no matter how bad the response is. Like people whose only route through a minefield is a straight line. I'm not advocating that, you need to have a bit of hustle about you onstage a willingness that your monologue is not the most important thing at a comedy night. Once you have a good 20 of material and a working understanding of who you are onstage, and also who you aren't, bad gigs become easier to handle when they happen or accept afterwards. You've got something that usually ring outs but that night that make up of people weren't singing along . The booker would be silly to book you for that type of gig again but they may have other venues and audiences where what you do should work a treat. You do not have to gig for everyone, or play every gig but if you stick doing what you do onstage you give the booker or promoter a fair idea of what you are capable of and where you'll work. If all you do is move out of your set and persona to do hack tricks, berate the audience or visibly compromise into doing safe but unoriginal routines without giving the room a chance then even the most imaginative and conscientious comedy industry person will struggle to see where they can utilise you.

So Reg D Hunter was a poor booking choice for the PFA rather than a bad or unfunny act. Reg D Hunter stuck to his voice and performed what he felt was the funniest material in that situation. He might not get booked for many award ceremonies this Christmas but he'll have a least an arbitrary million more people now with an idea and curiosity of whether the Reg D Hunter live experience is for them or not. The next day Reg tweeted lots of images of attendees at that event happily having their photo taken with him. They had a night to remember. And you can't put a price tag on that.

Why new acts should stage name up.

Essay and opinionPosted by Bobby Carroll Sun, April 28, 2013 02:09:05

A few years back at the Comedy Cafe New Act night two egos clashed with hilarious consequences. That night, when the show was still downstairs in the big main room with several Viking banqueting tables worth of audience in, saw a pro MC with a couple of decades of circuit experience under his belt bringing on eight new acts he had never met before and was likely to never meet most of again. As with all new acts nights, where anyone willing to do an unpaid spot could if they contacted the venue at the right time get themselves on, the quality was variable; some were veteran ‘new’ acts with honed sets hoping to impress the bookers into progressing them onto weekend work, other were very new, one or two were the deluded who never had it to start and would never improve but still kept booking themselves in to die again. Whoever this MC brought on stage, he himself was good enough to keep the audience attentive and laughing even after a shocker or two walked off. He set the night up well and then he did good, solid, effortless MCing inbetween each act.

Until the third act. He brought the third act on to a massive round of applause and a hundred punters still with hope in their hearts they were going to enjoy this newbie but he brought that new act on saying his first name slightly wrong. For arguments and anonymity's sake let say the MC called him "Andrew" instead of "Adam." An easy mistake with eight new names to remember and the pressure of a hundred people to make laugh. When the applause died down, "Adam" leaned into the microphone and stated "It is Adam, you Cunt!"

The MC who was making his way from the stage to hang out at the bar stopped in his tracks. He seethed. You could see the lit fuse, the timer ticking, the wire coming out of the rucksack. He joined the other acts and door staff in the bar area, separate from the stage and crowd. Boom! "Did he just call me a cunt? What his name? Did he just call me a fucking cunt?" The door staff calmed him down. Told him they would deal with it. And deal with it they did. "Adam" spent five minutes struggling on stage, he had just insulted the man who the audience already trusted and liked over a tiny mistake, shown massive ego when no one in that room had any faith yet, just hope, that he was funny. He had lost them before he told a joke. While the room would all forget his name by the next morning, the comedians waiting in the wings would not forget the sight of him being bundled out of the Cafe by the bouncers when he got off. The MC did not stop exploding. Whereas before he was generous to the new acts, all graces were off, he'd been insulted at his show, he now did 10-20 minutes of killer stuff between every act. None of the newbies could follow his skill and material as he had a point to prove to the room who had heard him be called a big C. Whether it was Adam or Andrew that guy clearly thought everyone knowing his exact name was more important than being funny, being rebooked or have the grace to let a pro act off the hook for an understandable slip up.

I tell this story as I was thinking about acts with and without stage names recently and the reasons many might want one. They can be more memorable to MC and audiences alike than a mere Joe Smith. A distinguishing one is great bit of branding, a fine way of distancing your real life and persona from what you do onstage and they can just make MCs’ lives a little easier to avoid anyone being called a cunt. Some people like to use their real name in the hope that one day exactly that will be up in lights. Others see the name they are brought onstage as part of the props and costume of what they do and reject anything as boring as what their parents gifted them with.

Character acts are the most obvious comedians with nom de plumes. Frank Sidebottom, George Ryegold and Marcel Lucont all have very talented real people behind them but are better known by the role they play. Even though I know all these acts’ real names even in social situations and email correspondence my first instinct is to call them by their stage monikers. Al Murray the Pub Landlord and Al Murray are very different personas despite sharing the same name and body. The character started life when comedian Al Murray found himself in an Edinburgh venue with a bar and decided to incorporate the setting into his performance. The facade created in that venue bore more creative fruit than his own stand up set so instead of rechristening his new success he shares the name with his fictional alter ego. The addition of "The Pub Landlord" lets you know what is fiction and also exactly what the act is. But you don’t have to be a character act to make your stage name stand out...

If you look back into the early days of alternative comedy, and many of those acts had or have names that are unsubtle puns or alter egos; Jasper Carrott, Ian Cognito, Brian Damage and Krysstal, Boothby Graffoe, Ray Presto, Eugene Cheese or Robin Banks. Maybe these came from a punkish spirit of burning down what came before and creating a new extreme personality for the stage like Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, Rat Scabies, Poly Styrene or Cheetah Chrome. Many older acts originated from the folk and pub gig circuit so you can see how the idea crossed over. Especially back at a time when many live artists still signed on . Cogs told me once, I assume jokingly, not even his ex-wife knows his real name. Who really is that incognito funny man?

It might not just be to recreate yourself with a more comedy sounding name. Some performers’ are members of Equity where you cannot share the exact same stage name as any existing member. So a change has to happen. Performer union rules like this have seen Jim Jeffries add an extra “E” into his name once he began to crack the US market despite over a decade as an established player on the international circuit. Beetle Juice and Batman star Michael Keaton started his career as a stand up when his real name was Michael Douglas. Obviously when he moved into TV and movies there already was a Michael Douglas starring in stuff and famous for being son of Kirk (born Issur Danielovitch). Confused yet? Well now seems the perfect time to recount the infamous, possibly exaggerated, tale of when Kirk’s other son Eric Anthony Douglas played the London Comedy Store. While bombing he mentioned he was Kirk Douglas’ son only to be heckled with “No I’m Kirk Douglas’ son.” “No, I am.”

As that last Spartacus inspired story suggests a good distinct stage name removes your performance from a more common name’s pre-existing connotations even if those connotations open as many doors as they close, case dependent. I know a now pro act who when he first started discovered a terrible open spot with only one letter different in his surname. He spent the first few years of his career racing against his unfunny namesake to play for promoters first or risk being tarred with the lesser act’s unfunny credentials. And if you do have a very common first name and surname is it the end of the world to jazz it up a bit? I’ve had three different Stuart Richard apply for spots over the years which makes emailing the one I want to book a minefield. There are countless variations on Dan or Dave plus Green or Grant messaging me at the moment for spots. They blur into one. I can understand why an act would want to keep their name for any potential glory but if your emails struggle to stand out when applying for gigs due to a bland name you are not going to be the first to be offered gigs when a promoter is scanning their books quickly. A few years back there were three Andrew Stanleys gigging regularly until they had a night performing together in competition where the deal struck was the funniest on the night kept their real name. Ask yourself this who is more likely to get booked Michael Joseph Pennington or Johnny Vegas?

Gene Perret, three-time Emmy winner, former head writer for Bob Hope and a writer for a myriad of shows include Carol Burnett, “Three’s Company” and “Welcome Back Kotter” also wrote a few books on successful comedy writing. Check them out as they are full of great advice on joke structure and generating ideas. The paragraph that stuck with me, however, is how he got his first regular joke writing gig. He used to send all his submissions to TV shows on branded stationery with a duck logo emblazoned on top. The producer who hired him said they always noticed the guy who sent the duck submissions wrote good funny jokes so if they ever needed to find last minute material rather than wading through all the submissions all over again they just rifled through until they found his insignia. An unforgettable stage name is your duck logo, an everyday one is like sending in your funny material on plain white paper. You may be good enough but branding wise you’ve lost the edge. Best advice I can give using this example is have a stage name that is unique, even idiosyncratic, but an email address that is as close to that as possible in lettering. Being characteristic but easy to find in the pile will increase your responses and last minute offers from lazy and forgetful bookers like me tenfold.

Comedy experts often advise new acts to tell your strongest joke to start. Or be confident as you walk onstage, looking the part, but actually an audience’s first judgement on you as an unknown quantity is your name. When the MC has to rack their brains to remember what to call you or take out a piece of paper to read it off of you are already on the back foot. The crowd is collectively thinking even the host does not know who this mug is... how can they be funny? If this happens to you a lot your name is either really forgettable or difficult to pronounce. Mispronunciation is a hard one to combat, always try to introduce yourself to the MC giving your full name before the show, don’t assume they’ve remembered it from when you met six months ago or can read it with perfect phonetics. If you have a name that Anglo-Saxon tongues trip over again and again then maybe you need to bite the bullet and make your and their life easier. Shortening a laborious name worked for Louis CK or as his Mum calls him: Louis Szekely.

There is one last reason to add a bit of showbiz sparkle to your comedy handle away from the reality of your birth certificate. You only get one real name in life unless you are a fan of depol or credit card fraud. When you start out you’ll be rubbish... No... You will. Do you really want mates, family members, work colleagues, exes or that school bully recognising your real name on a listing and turning up to watch before you find your feet? And if it takes you a long time to get good, why not mend some burnt bridges with venues and shake off bad reviews by rebranding yourself when your product is finally at a saleable quality? In the music world David Bowie, Katy Perry and Lana Del Ray all released flop debut albums under their given names, only to rechristen themselves when they tried their new more successful directions. Why shouldn't that work for stand ups too once they find their voice after trial and error? You probably have a day job or one day will quit comedy and want one again. Think about the filth and nonsense you say on stage, think about all those deaths and horrible gigs and then think about a potential employer entering your real name into Google and finding a Youtube clip you did not even post of those things. A stage name is easy to drop and kill off. Then no matter where your journey in comedy eventually takes one, you can keep your birth name and get on with your life. No matter who you might have called a cunt from onstage along the way.