Friday, 19 January 2018

GSOH: New Year Delight

Much of the western world likes to celebrate a four-figure digit of their calendar changing. It's supposed to inspire you to reboot your life, give things a fresh start.

Unfortunately, when Pope Gregory XIII instigated our calendar system, I don't think he took into account that the end/start takes place at possibly the bleakest and coldest time of the 365.25 days on offer. I'm usually nesting under a thick duvet nursing a cold, which is how I saw in 2017, and 2018.

You can make great plans for the 'new you' when 1st January hits, I always do, yet I'm often sidetracked by unexpected opportunities and pressures. I'm still freelancing where I was just before Christmas, but not complacent about it lasting much longer, plus there's been more evening work offered to me as of last week.

Anyway, let's concentrate on comedy, which is what these GSOH blogs are about. On the first Wednesday of the year, comedian/promoter Colin Hayward announced there was a spot going at the monthly Coffee Aroma comedy night in Lincoln the next day, which I grabbed. I'd got over my cold and all that stood between me and resuming as Trisha Timpson was a long shave. Oh, and a 100-mile drive.

The only time I've gigged in Lincoln before this, was also for Colin, at his Tap & Spile night. The line-up had the amazing musical comedian Friz Frizzle, who I saw in Leicester a while back. It was also one comedian down, so after doing my Trisha act, I scrubbed my war paint off, threw on a t-shirt and jeans and then did an old straight ten spot. It's nice to double up as yourself.

The organist Friz Frizzle entertains

The return to Lincoln, and the resumption of lipstick application, was a great decision. I had an phenomenal time back behind the mic. It's a well-lit room, so I could see the audience very clearly, and this time noted that it was the women who were laughing the hardest. Specifically, the rather rude bits I do (from a female perspective) generated a lot of laughter and quite a few heads being thrown back.

One superb thing to see when you're out and about, is a new comedian smashing it. 'The Angry Scotsman' Jim Tweedle certainly did that in the middle spot, with an astonishing stage presence. I assumed he was fairly experienced, but was really surprised to learn he'd just done his third gig.

When a newbie does it that well, my assumption is that they've had experience with speaking in front of large crowds. Teachers tend to make good comedians. My suspicions were affirmed. Jim's a cracking comic.
Jock and roll
As for headliner Stephen 'Friz' Frizzle, well, he just went out and smashed it. I'll come out and say it, musical comedy isn't a favourite of mine, the likes of Instant Sunshine being a baffling turn-off whenever I came across them on telly or radio, and when the Two Ronnies did an innuendo-filled number, I'd mentally tune out.

That's not to say I hate the genre. After all, the first time I performed comedy on television, it was in a musical sketch. There are some good musical acts on the midlands circuit, like Hannah Silvester and the shuddering mirthquake that is Rob Kemp's The Elvis Dead.

Frizzy Rascal, as Stephen doesn't like to be known, has a spectacular repertoire of pop song covers with new lyrics, covering a startling array of topics. From Claire's Accessories to cannibalism, the affable keyboard warrior weaves together a tapestry of laugh-inducing musical mockery. Book him for your comedy nights.

Happy New Beer
I'd conclude this blog entry on that positive note, but my ego has to go down a few notches. Firstly, I did my make-up in the dark, assuming my smartphone's torch feature would be the only light in there. Colin surprised me by turning a switch on.

It was a nice start to the year, having my first gig be a paid one. Although when I got to my car, the windscreen had the unwelcome adornment of a parking ticket, wiping out what I earned that night. Grrr.

Trying to sum up this experience with a pun on Linkin Park is just a tedious exercise, so I'll allude to the second gig - right at the other side of the country - being covered in my next blog entry and just end this overly long sentence here, concluding this post with no viable payoff.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

GSOH: Just Twenty Seventeen, Part Four Of Four

I mentioned in the last entry how a couple of punters came to a gig because they heard me on a local community radio station, and I was just a mere support act.

What I haven't mentioned was that a few times in 2017, I appeared on national radio, talking about comedy and old computer games. I put in about three calls to The Late Night Alternative, hosted by former comedian Iain Lee, and got on each time.

Nobody came to my gigs out of this, but I remember after the first call that I got a few tweets and texts from friends who happened to be listening.

One of the country's most critically-acclaimed comedians, with Stewart Lee
I had an excellent birthday present from Samantha, who took me to see Stewart Lee at Northampton's Derngate theatre. He is my favourite comedian, he does comedy about comedy and shoves in shedloads of self-depreciation. That's right up my street.

There are a few idiots who take his on-stage persona to be the real thing. It's definitely an exaggeration, he's quite warm when being interviewed, as my writer chum and childhood friend Ryan Lambie told me.

Post-gig, I wanted to meet Stewart, having not seen him live for 22 years. I almost thought about showing him my viral tweet that mocked him and Richard Herring the previous month.

I clam up when meeting heroes, I don't want to come across all fan-boy-like, and I suspect that just adds to it more. Nevertheless, managed to snap up some DVDs and have him sign and pose with some Chuckle Pit flyers. He wished me luck with the night, which seemed like he thought I was going to do comedy for the first time. Well, it's not as if someone of my comedic stature would be on his radar.

The flyering campaigns had worked magnificently for Chuckle Pit, to the point where not everyone could get a seat. We had people standing at the bar because it was so packed.

Chuckle Pit, scoring more than a packed house
It was more than just flyering that worked out for us. A couple of niche social networks had also brought in the punters, and so had the cheap-but-very-effective 'table topper' idea.

At this point in my life, I was looking to get a new day job, but the freelancing work I was getting (and at time of writing, still am), was proving to be very good for my bank balance. I didn't want to go out gigging in case the freelance work came to an end and belts needed to be tightened (as it eventually will), so I turned down gig offers in October, stuck with Chuckle Pit and Laugh Yer Head Off. I didn't even go to other people's comedy nights, petrified at running out of dosh.

I'd been covering every gig I've done in an online note-keeper and decided to represent these jaunts visually with a map of Great Britain, colouring in each county based on what I've done there.


  • Yellow if I had performed comedy there.
  • Green if I'm going to perform comedy there.
  • Orange if I've performed and promoted comedy there.

The map currently stands like this...
The Pete Prodge Comedy Map™
It's been a motivator for doing far-flung gigs, reaching new audiences and getting to see acts you'd not see on the usual circuit. Or you could say it's a crazy idea fuelled by Asperger's Syndrome. What I do know is that I'm happier doing than going off to watch away football matches in the rain. The annoying thing was my predicament meant my plan to turn more of this country yellow, would have to be put on hold.

Comedy is something that doesn't really leave you. I'd missed doing Beerhouse Comedy, which as my monthly open spot showcase, was a nice 'nursery slope' where I could see new comedians and experienced folk trying new stuff.

Freelancing near Milton Keynes meant I could pop over to JAM Comedy's open spot night again in November. I had no intention to do a spot and certainly hadn't the gear to be Trisha Timpson, but it's so informal I ended up doing a quick straight spot as myself.

Martin Huburn asked me to do his Barge And Barrel night as Trisha again, so after nearly three months away from applying lipstick and waiting for eyeliner to dry, I was heading up the M6.

In that fallow period my legs returned to a natural hairy state, it took about two hours to shave them to a feminine state. Yeah, I always cover them up with thick black tights and I'm hardly convincing as a woman, but it's all about making an effort. My legs are the most feminine thing about me, so may as well capitalise on that while the rest of me looks like a half-arsed Brian Molko tribute act.

Bar made
I arrived in Tipton and did a pretty good set, shaking off the 'rust' and recalling the routines wasn't a problem. There's still life in the old girl, although 2018 will have me approaching comedy from a different direction. I'm not packing away the skirt and wig forever of course.

Also in November, I tackled something else that was well overdue. As some know, the year started off with really nasty things being said about me, publicly, by another comedian. I'm not going to waste time outlining this. Hence why I concluded the matter, it's done.

I don't regret a word I said, but the negativity went on way too long and I should have just ignored it much much earlier. Like, in January. If you find yourself in this situation, Jay Islaam's Online Marketing For Comedians blog post covers exactly what you should be doing in its bonus tip.

Comedy is a rare industry - being positive really does help, and you find competitors helping each other. I'm no stranger to this, giving out access to my three local MeetUp group subscriptions to other promoters. You find the most-loved comedians work together, hand out free advice and help support fledgling nights. I've refined how my nights work after visiting comedians have pointed me in the best direction, and I'm keen to spread this over to others.

If we all put on the best live comedy nights we can, it improves the public's perception of this entertainment. You have to remember there are still people thinking "comedians in a pub, free entry, can't be any good then", so you have to be up for convincing them that you have a great event for them to see.

Gong show
Having been off the circuit (save for my own gigs) for quite a while, it was nice to enjoy The Midlands Comedy Awards before Christmas. Founded and run by comedian Jay Islaam - who by his sheer conviction to ethics refuses to have himself nominated - the annual night is more than just a get-together for comedians and promoters. To be frank, it's an absolute roasting.

The 2016 affair, held in Nottingham's Canal House, was pretty brutal, lots of in-jokes about the scene. Plus, in some pre-arranged spots, comedians got to 'steal' each others' material. People outside the comedy industry wouldn't have got this, but hey, this wasn't a night for them. It was lovely to see Paul Palmer's take on Roger Swift's act and then see Roger Swift do Jay Islaam's Bam Bam Sheikh routine.

Rather naively I never went to the 2015 ceremony where my night Beerhouse Comedy was up for an award because I had already committed to doing a Club Smashing spot at The Cookie in Leicester. I had a hunch we'd not win, and was sadly proven right.

Anyway, this is about 2017 and a lot of the shortlist was absolutely dominated by Rob Kemp's Elvis Dead show, and rightfully so. The Midlands Comedy Awards took place in Leicester, a city where the Elvis Dead had established itself with a standing ovation.

The one from the ParaPod podcast who isn't Ian Boldsworth
Much of the 'Joke Thieves' concept was retained from the previous year. We had compere Barry Dodds really roasting a lot of the circuit over 2017's happenings. Much of it well deserved, but, in my view, it crossed the line a couple of times.

Double act Jack Kirwan and Andrew McBurney delivered a very acerbic set, again touching on what had been going on the midlands comedy scene over the past 12 months. No shortage of material there. All in all, a fantastic night out and I always laugh loudest at this more than anything else in the year. It was no shock to see Rob Kemp do so well.

Trisha would have one last outing of 2017, over in Birmingham, at the request of Laura Monmoth. I was to be a support act, along with Harvey Hawkins and Stu Woodings. This was to be the final showing of Laura's LGBTQZX show - something I had always meant to see in full, as it was the combination of comedy and retrogaming. Those are two subjects close to my heart.

Alas, the compere for this gig had pulled out just days before, leaving Laura to ask me to MC it. Now, as I've outlined in this blog, previous turns at MCing as Trisha had not done well. I still said yes, because I could at least build on improvisational skills if the prepared stuff failed.

Laura Monmoth's block party
This was a weird gig in that the LGBTQZX show had already been at the venue (The Gunmaker's Arms) a few times before and that there didn't seem to be that many people around to see it. Ah well, I've played to single-figure audiences before and managed to have a good night. Then something strange happened, in that we suddenly had a crowd in minutes before we started.

When you guest MC, you throw bits of your set in here and there as well as chatting with the audience. Trisha Timpson really landed with the crowd, I got strong laughs for the first bit of the act and even stronger laughs by simply having conversations with the first few rows and sheer ad-libbing off that.

Quite a surprise to learn how the character of a dim-witted barmaid would work under improvisation. I'm pleased with how this went, proving there's more scope to Trisha than the standard ten-minute act I do. Maybe one day I will finalise that hour-long show for her, her colleague and her boyfriend (the intention is for me to play all parts).

LGBTQZX is a fantastic show, accessible not just to ZX-Spectrum-obsessed nerds like me, it can work for those who have zero interest in a Kempston joystick.

Talking of retrogaming, a few comedians had noted my interest in 80s and 90s computer/console/arcade games and recommended me for a specially themed night at Lemon Rocket Comedy in January. That was really nice of them, but truth be told, I don't have much in the way of material, save for about a minute's worth of jokes. I naturally put Laura Monmoth forward for the role and I certainly wasn't the only one to have done so. (It's a goer - Fri 12th Jan in Cheltenham, I'm there as a punter.)

Sal Drummond at Chuckle Pit
One of the people behind Lemon Rocket Comedy is comedian Sal Drummond. She was part of the line-up for the final Chuckle Pit of the year and had wanted me to do Lemon Rocket so I could at least colour in Gloucestershire yellow on my comedy map.

I have to be honest, December is not a nice time for live comedy and I don't relish the prospect of running a night so close to Christmas. Pubs end up full of the once-a-year drinkers, there's a lot more noise than usual. I'm sure it's very good for venues' turnover of course, hence why it's a bit of tough situation when it comes to taking on those gigs. Make no mistake, doing stand-up around Christmas is about ten times harder than it normally is.

A hand-picked line-up of experienced comedians was used for Chuckle Pit's 22nd December date. It was a difficult one to do, battling against conversations going on from the newbies, but we just about got through it. We had a decent turnout again, so, I've been very pleased with how this night has performed throughout 2017.

That should have been it for my year in comedy, but shortly after doing Chuckle Pit, I was asked over by a local micropub to consider a new monthly comedy night.

I had to really think about it, as 1) It's a very tiny space, a literal micropub. 2) Is it just far away enough from Chuckle Pit's venue? The couple who run it wouldn't appreciate me setting up competition for them.

Well, I had decided to make the micropub's small size into a selling point rather than an apology. I've themed the comedy night's brand around the compact space, there's no point trying to hide it. It can work in its favour. It's going to be open spot only, so it's not like it's taking on Chuckle Pit, and at the edge of town with a menu targeted at real ale drinkers, it's not really in the same market.

It is what it is, a small pub doing free entry open spot comedy for an hour. Not that different to how I started with Beerhouse Comedy. The comedians have been booked for Thu 25th January, we'll see how it goes. I'll start to publicise this night over the coming weekend.

If that's not enough, there's another pub in my county that's open to doing comedy and I really need to go off and sort that out, it may well be another paid night to run.

For 2018, there is the rather annoying concern of paying the bills. The past few months have seen me earn a really tidy sum from freelancing. The pessimist in me points out it's a finite number, money has that habit of running out. Do I continue in complete self-employment or do I get another day job? That's the dilemma I'm grappling with.

I am at a point, having seen my creativity pay off very well in the day job as well as comedy, that I should properly build on those skills. A chunk of the money I've earnt is going to be invested so I can take on bigger challenges and be generally more attractive to businesses. Anyway, that's my own thing to take on, I'm just musing out loud.

Trisha at the Young Gifted And Terrified Cabaret Cult, July 2017

2017 taught me...


  • Never be lazy about comedy night promotion
  • Keep going for the weird gigs
  • Playing an idiot is really awesome
  • Dealing with actual idiots only leads to misery, just move on
  • Stick to the Cowgate/Royal Mile part of Edinburgh during the Fringe
  • Don't leave it to the end of a year to write about your antics in comedy, you end up with very long posts that not everyone will read to the end and just cut down on this sentence, it's way too long you doofus
Right, here I am on the precipice of an uncertain future. Let's see if I come out of this shining in twelve months time. I try to start a new year with fresh plans for comedy, but usually, I end up taking a different (yet still fresh) route.

GSOH: Just Twenty Seventeen, Part Three Of Four

More paid work had come along for me, due to the Trisha Timpson character. 'She' was booked to play alongside two other comedians at an LGBT festival tent in Cambridge on a Saturday evening in July.

Trisha was also down for doing a spot at a charity event in Milton Keynes that afternoon, so this meant remaining 'en femme' as I drove from gig to gig.

The charity do was a tough one, with it being a mix of music and comedy - lots of live bands, separated by a few minutes of stand-up. This kind of thing rarely works out, there's quite a 'gear change' from live music to comedy (and vice versa). My fears were confirmed as the bulk of the audience didn't pay attention to the comedians. There was a pocket of people near the front who were laughing, but, as you'd expect, people wanted to chat, smoke and drink in between the bands.

These events have a better chance of working out if you keep the music to one section, and comedy to another. I must stress it wasn't the booker's fault, who didn't want it to be music-comedy-music-com. I just think some organisers look at the big light entertainment specials on television and reckon "ah, they've had Girls Aloud followed by Peter Kay, we can do that on our scale".

What works in a television studio, where the seated audience is familiar with the acts, does not work in a pub. Still, did my bit for charidee, and then jumped in my car to head over to Cambridge.

Festival fun
The LGBT event was helmed by a very tall drag queen, and is aimed at everyone. It attracts families and drinkers, as well as the local LGBT community. There was to be a lot of cabaret, but unlike the earlier event, there was a clear section of stand-up comedy, with myself being one of three comedians.

There was certainly a lot of colourful and kooky entertainment going on. Four women delivered 'pop power ballad yoga', a tongue-in-cheek aerobics performance that gave license to dance to 80s anthems in the skimpiest and tightest of outfits. Headline act the Fleurettes were a mix of drag, dance and physical comedy. There were more down-to-earth things, like a transgender choir.

I was really pleased to be on the bill and looking forward to being on a massive stage in front of over 200 people - my biggest audience yet. However, there was a slight twinge of guilt, in that I'm neither L, G, B, or T. (Well, maybe a lower case T.) Getting a backstage wristband at a festival is something I've dreamed of, but there was this nagging thought that, as a straight cis-gendered male, I felt like I'd gatecrashed the gig. Of course, I was there to be my character, and I was already in drag.

When it came to my turn, I took to the stage, and then, at some point in the set, a very drunken heckler hurled a very homophobic slur at me. While this is never acceptable, no matter what the sexuality of the target, my brain acted with relief on two points. I now felt properly part of the LGBT line-up of comedians, the insult was like an endorsement to me.

The second point was that I now had an absolute corker to unleash in order to deal with this situation. Borrowing a put-down I'd seen used by friend Louis Barfe, I sweetly smiled at the heckler - which beautifully fits Trisha's character and just dropped this verbal bomb...

"Aw bless. He looks like he has to pay his hand to have a wank."

That scored the biggest laugh of my set. His girlfriend, already embarrassed at his drunken stupor, was mortified, and I was very pleased that he was getting frogmarched out of the tent by a security guard. By the time I ended my set, I could see at the very end of the tent that he was having a talking to from the boys in blue.

Jon Pearson at The Black Prince
I've previously said that, while out as Trisha, 99.9% of the public don't care (or even notice) that I'm dragged up from head to toe. I might get some double-takes, but verbal abuse is incredibly rare. The next time I was dolled up, it occurred, but not at the venue.

I was making my way from a car park to a comedy competition in Hereford, and some bloke with his mates in a nearby pub beer garden had wanted to prove his observational skills.

"That's a man dressed up as a woman!" yelled the inebriated supersleuth, as his mates giggled. "It's actually a man!" He was pulling faces of mock-disgust, the kind you do in the playground when you're seven years old and That Friendless Kid Who Has The Fleas touches you.

The gig itself went okay. When I arrived, I was told that local celebrity Wincey Willis (former TVam weathergirl) was usually a judge but was giving it a miss this year.

The competition took place in a dark windowless basement, with very strong stage lighting. As soon as you stepped on stage, you could barely make out the audience, it had the feel of a police interrogation. I had been used to this from previous performances in theatres and in a BBC television studio, but this was really tough to see in. That's not to say I had a bad time, I went full steam ahead and got really strong laughter.

Joey Cannon from Liverpool won the gig. I had one audience member approach me to say that their partner - a lecturer in theatre study - was really impressed with my mannerisms and delivery. Apparently, I really am like a pub barmaid, although anyone who has witnessed me making a hash of pint-pouring knows I don't belong behind a pump.

This reminded me I probably had to walk past the intoxicated Sherlock back to the car (where all my male clothes were).

Right on cue, he unleashed his howls of derision but his friends weren't bothered and a few of them had properly distanced themselves from him. I think it's safe to say some chuckleheads, who sneer at gays, lesbians, and folk who don't fit the 'norms' of gender, very likely have their own closeted issues. Like those American politicians who vote down every gay rights proposal and then get caught in a public toilet with a rent boy.

Anyway, July enabled me to finally get hold of professional comic Jon Pearson for Laugh Yer Head Off. We knew he was perfect for the venue, but being in such demand - deservedly so, it took a while for him to be available. Unsurprisingly, he smashed it.

We'd cross paths again as Donna Scott had booked a preview spot at Northampton's Black Prince for Jon's Edinburgh show Feet First. Pat Draper and I were support acts.

Diss respect
Already glammed up as Trisha in the bar, I was recognised by a couple, primarily by my voice. I had done a radio interview as myself on local community station NLive, plugging my comedy nights and mentioned I'd be doing the Trisha Timpson act as support for Jon.
When not on stage, I don't talk in Trisha's voice, I use my own. I don't act like her until it's time to do the set. Going to the front bar and ordering a pint was what caused this couple to suddenly realise who I was.

I've been in a comedy sketch live on BBC Two to a million viewers during one Saturday morning in the Noughties, but never been recognised off it. I have had a stranger approach me because they've seen my comedy on YouTube and people in town knowing who I was through some social media stuff that went viral. I didn't expect anyone to pick up on that radio interview, but they'd come along for it. It's not like I was the star.

Anyway, that was a cracking gig indeed, for all concerned. I'd soon be back doing paid work on a festival stage again thanks to DissFest. Everyone was really up for this and the line-up was really stunning, ending with Doug Segal. I had a lot of positive feedback from my peers for my act.

That weekend Trisha continued gigging, with a set at Cradley Heath's BushFest - proudly billed as the smallest comedy festival in the world. I didn't set the place on fire here, going on very early because of a commitment to an evening gig in Liverpool. Character acts don't fare well at the start of an event. (When organising a line-up, I stick anything leftfield or character based towards middle/end.)

I pelted up the M6 to Liverpool to the Hot Water Comedy Club, still with the make-up and clothes on. I hadn't been to this gig since the middle of 2016, when it was based in the conference room of a Holiday Inn. The owners of this night are tremendously good at promotion, and have invested in a new venue of their own, a few blocks away.

While 2017 may be noted in comedy circles as the year the ailing-yet-famous Jongleurs went out of business, I'd rather attention be lavished on the promoters who are doing everything right, and that's Hot Water. They are the benchmark for what comedy promoters should aspire to. Oh, Trisha had a good gig by the way.

Did another spell at the Caroline Of Brunswick in Brighton during the week, then did a Wiltshire debut at Andrew White's new comedy night in Salisbury.

Life's a beach
I rounded the month off with two charity gigs in the afternoon at Gorleston-on-Sea, a festival comedy tent run by Kahn Johnson, East Anglia's very own 'Sleazy Vegan'. There were two runs, both with virtually the same line-up, to an audience of people who were at the seafront as part of the town's annual festival.

I have a thing about British seasides, I tend to visit them a lot, probably because it's a vast contrast to life in the midlands. Gorleston is a satellite town of Great Yarmouth, which I'm very familiar with. Anyway, we got to do this gig on a cliff top, literally facing the sea. There were some children present during the first run, so I toned down Trisha's gags a bit, but the second run was an adult audience. I delivered the full fat set.

After changing back to male mode in the car - never a comfortable chore, I got to spend the evening over at Great Yarmouth. There's something about having chips by the seaside that I really enjoy.

By the way, I should mention Chuckle Pit is going from strength to strength. The flyering had paid off, all the nights were nearly hitting capacity at this point. Unfortunately, my monthly open spot night in Market Harborough - Beerhouse Comedy - hadn't done too well in recent months, so a mutual decision was taken to rest it for a while.


It's true that I'd concentrated a lot more on Chuckle Pit, bringing that bang up to standard and exceeding expectations. Previous Beerhouse Comedy nights had so-so audience numbers. I wasn't flyering them and I don't think a poster had been printed since 2016, it really was all riding off social media and the expectation people would just go there every third Thursday. It's still on hiatus and I expect it to return in 2018 when I have the resources to relaunch it in a similar way to how I breathed life back into Chuckle Pit.

Trisha had an astounding gig at Stourport-on-Severn, where a packed audience latched onto the character immediately and there was the atmosphere were the set-ups were causing giggles. Naturally, I like these gigs. I got to throw in some ad-libs and really draw out the laughter. Stupidly, this tremendous set was never caught on my camcorder.

Sadly, July was the month I received some awful news that was to impact my future income. I had already booked accommodation in Blackpool and Edinburgh for a big holiday up north, where we'd spend another few days in Lancashire's cheap-and-cheerful seaside resort before heading north of the border to the Fringe for about half a week.

I could have just not gone to keep the belt tightened, but it had been paid for, so we had our holiday. I had already wound down the gigging, turning down offers to concentrate on ensuring I have a decent financial future. I am not a professional circuit comedian, it's a hobby that got a bit out of control and I make a reasonable amount out of it. Not enough to give up a day job of course. Work comes first.

Trisha did a couple of agreed appearances in Milton Keynes and Cradley Heath. Then we headed over to Blackpool, took on the Pleasure Beach and navigated through the acres of tat to go off to Ryan Gleason's Comedy Station. We were there strictly as punters, but we soon realised one of our friends of the circuit would be there. Ben Briggs - a truly stunning comedian rooted in dark humour - was doing a spot.

Doing what the Romans couldn't
We'd soon be bumping into people we knew on the comedy scene a lot more frequently when we hit Edinburgh, which is no unusual thing.

We aimed to see about eight to ten shows a day. Marauding through tourists along those side streets between Cowgate and Royal Mile was very hectic and stressful, but we got to see nearly every show we wanted to, and quite a few we'd never planned.

I bumped into Will Preston, handing out flyers outside Harriet Dyer's show. Didn't have time to have a full conversation, but did remark that every time I met him, it was in a different country - England, Wales and now Scotland. My optimism at navigating through Edinburgh to get to Aaron Twitchen's gig was ill-founded, so we took a taxi over to Mark Row's show - A1 : The Long Road To Edinburgh - a gig about being a newbie comedian finally ending up in the Fringe. Mark had gigged for our nights, plus I'd been on a few line-ups with him.

To go through all the shows we saw would extend this blog entry to the astonishing lengths of yesterday's prose. It's a personal blog, so I'll go through what I did. Scored a couple of early afternoon gigs at Whistlebinkies for Alastair Sadler's Streetbeat Comedy showcase.

My last visit to the Edinburgh Fringe was in 2015 for just two ten-minute spots on showcase events on one night. I don't have a festival length show written yet, my plan is to do an hour of Trisha Timpson (well, 20 mins of her, then 20 minutes of another character in her life, then finish with another). One day I'll get to write that, but we were in Edinburgh to primarily watch comedy rather than be on stage.

However, your peers soon get wind of you being in the Scottish capital, thanks to the social media age we live in, and you get offers sent to you constantly. One out-of-the-blue offer from comedian Alex Leam was to do improv at his hour-long night, Improv Provocateur. I'd never done improvisation before, always wanted to but never really saw an opportunity, until now.

Second comedy accolade of 2017
Well, the above photo shows you how well that went. The night is very closely modelled on Whose Line Is It Anyway, but Legally Different enough to be its own thing. Four comedians on stage and reacting to just about anything thrown at them in a series of games.

Our Edinburgh nights would conclude in a 17-mile journey across the Forth Bridge into Dunfermline where we were staying, thanks to airbnb. One night my sat nav ran out of battery, causing a wrong turning and ending up within spitting distance of the Grampian Television region.

Anyway, on return to home, I concentrated on running my own comedy nights and making a plan to go freelance with the nine-to-five work. Stressful times indeed, although things are slowly working out in my favour.

I had ordered several thousand flyers for Chuckle Pit's remaining nights of the year, and blitzed even more of Wellingborough than ever before. That worked out well.

Safe to say the last quarter of the year did not see me anywhere near as busy on the gigging front. More of that in the final blog entry on 2017, probably tomorrow.

Monday, 1 January 2018

GSOH: Just Twenty Seventeen, Part Two Of Four

I don't gig that much in comparison to other comedians. The ones who aim for a professional career like to be behind a mic at least four times a week. I've been happy with two or three spots a month and then just running my two monthly nights, but April was a very hectic month, the busiest I've ever been.

A brand new open spot night had been put on by JAM Comedy in Milton Keynes, which was just a few miles away from my workplace at the time. Work colleagues warned me the area it was in, wasn't all that savoury, to put it mildly. They knew I'd be dragging up to do my character act and were a bit concerned.

Trisha Timpson in Milton Keynes
I had put my name down a while back and one thing I keep in mind is to never rescind a gig. I don't like it when acts cancel on my comedy nights, so I do try to commit to doing spots I said I'd do. (There have been a few exceptional times where I had a solid excuse to cancel.)

The venue in question, is a pub, in what's been described to me as the second-roughest estate in MK. I'm not based in the town so I don't know that for sure, but there did seem to be a 'flat roof pub' atmosphere (albeit the roof is actually pitched).

Something I've learnt about drag is that 99.99% of the public really don't give a shit about you doing it. By which I mean, I've rarely received the abuse/threats that I expected for dolling myself up as female. In this pub, the three regulars who stuck around for the comedy barely batted an eyelid.

The important thing is for my Trisha Timpson act to get laughs. Without the torrents of laughter, I'm just a middle-aged man who has had a breakdown and rummaged through New Look as a plea for help.

Thankfully this spot did work out well. More than I expected. Gig co-proprietor Mike Lord was so impressed that he offered me a paid spot at JAM Comedy's pro night in Northampton. The first time I'd be paid for comedy performance outside of running my own nights, and a sign of things to come.

A few days later, I'd be back in the wig in Norwich, then by the end of the week, I'd be doing a last-minute fill-in for NCF Comedy in Oakham. This was a nice gig, MC'd by the superb Stevie Gray and a well-engaged crowd who soon made it clear I made a mistake when my character claimed there was no Wetherspoons in the town. I ad-libbed heavily off that, owning up to the error and gaining a lot more laughs in the process.

Trisha with Lovdev Barpaga at Teknicolour Smoof in Telford
After my spot, I 'de-dragged', putting the jeans back on and going through a couple of make-up removing wipes. The opener, UK Pun champion Lovdev Barpaga, approached me and said how much he enjoyed the Trisha set. He didn't initially realise it was me. I was heavily pleased that this new character was picking up respect from comedians and promoters.

Lovdev and I would meet again the following week at Roger Swift's Teknicolour Smoof gig in Telford, where he was headlining. He had brought with him a promoter of several established pro comedy nights in the West Midlands to see my act. My spot was shunted closer to the headline spot. Quite a bit of pressure.

A lot of adrenaline ran through me for this one, and the audience bought into it for a fair bit, but I didn't quite gel that way I had at recent gigs. What also didn't help matters was trying out a new off-colour gag to end the set on, which just tumbleweeded.

"So how do you think that went?" asked the promoter.

"Great, very pleased with it!" was my immediate and foolish response, more out of nerves than anything else really.

A quick tip for those fresh to the comedy circuit. 'How do you think that went?' in promoter terms in a polite way of pointing out your performance was somewhat lacking in satisfaction. It's also the opportunity to own up to the mistakes you made. I should have done that, but didn't. Not because of ego, but because I'd been somewhat relieved to have got through the experience in such unfamiliar territory.

Unsurprisingly I've not been booked by that promoter and won't expect to be for some time. If at all.

Pete Prodge's Pop Tart Pop Quiz
Have I ever told you that Club Smashing is my favourite thing in modern live comedy? Helmed by shambolic quasi-double act Ian Hall and Bruce Edhouse in Leicester, it's a monthly night of alternative comedy that gleefully delves into the leftfield. It's a breath of fresh air, particularly if you spend time on the circuit enduring the tedium of stand-ups going through the same old Donald Trump jokes and routines on self-service checkouts.

When it comes to surreal comedy, most people do think of Vic And Bob, quite rightfully, but the local circuit can play host to daft prop acts and performers in costume. Usually as a token spot, but there are a few nights in the UK that are purpose-built homes for offbeat humour, and Club Smashing is just that.

I've been Trisha at one of the nights in 2016, I've also donned a superhero outfit and deconstructed several genres of comedy for a one-off 10-minute spot as my Smashing debut.

At some point I came up with the idea to do a pop quiz, with Pop Tarts as prizes. That gets to shoehorn several gags I have on certain musicians and to be happily cheap-and-cheerful. The plan was to do this with my girlfriend Samantha, thereby establishing her comedy debut and for us to be a double act. Alas, she became ill and I had to hastily rewrite the set as a solo piece and then insert even newer ideas.

I threw in some daft cartoon drawings for one round, with a Catchphrase basis. In my youth, I'd wanted to be a cartoonist, although, in retrospect, I'm too much of a 'doodler' to be considered at a professional level.

The headliner, Masai Graham (winner of Funniest Joke Of The Fringe 2016) really enjoyed my cartoon puns and asked me to do some five spots at his showcase during Edinburgh season. (I never did due to the frantic frenzy that happens while you're up there, sadly.)

Auditioning for Olive in the On The Buses reboot
Another crazy gig I'd put my name down for was the Trent Barton Fun Bus, as part of Derby Comedy Festival. It takes place each year on a single-decker bus parked in the city centre during Saturday afternoon.

I had done this the previous year in my Pete Prodge persona. The location and time means that sometimes, your audience may have mums, dads, and kids in tow. That was the case in 2016 and meant I had to heavily censor my gags, replacing F-bombs with much cleaner words and still winning the audience over. A definite turning point for me, where I learned you don't need to rely on swearing to get laughs, and the post-gig experience I had in a nearby Wetherspoons landed me with the inspiration to create Trisha Timpson.

This time, I'd be returning to the act's spiritual birthplace. There were two kids at the very front, but Trisha never actually swears. There are many sex gags in the set, but it will fall on deaf ears if you're a child. It went swimmingly, I was lucky to perform at a time the bus was full and it generated masses of laughter.

Samantha and I had booked a few days holiday in Southend-on-Sea, which began straight after this gig. As soon as the wig was off and the last traces of mascara wiped out, I was driving 200 miles down into Essex.

No comedy was planned for our brief stay, but a chance comment by retrogaming videomaker @Chinnyhill10 on the merit of Southend's pier thanks to its place in the closing titles of Minder, had me dragging up in the morning and setting up video equipment. All to film a parody of that sequence, to be shown on screen at the end of Trisha Timpson's first hour-long festival show. (It wasn't even the good Minder era, but thankfully not the Channel 5 take on it.)

Pier-iod drama
Later in the month I took part in a charity comedy competition in Birmingham, where Roger Swift rightfully stormed it.

Fellow Wellingborough comedian Chris Harris had managed to get his hour-long show at Corby's Cube theatre and had appointed myself and my barmaid alter-ego as support/MC. Character acts aren't the kind of spots that should go on first, so I had the challenge of having to feminise very quickly to turn up as Trisha after Chris's first half.

There have been comedy nights where I've turned up as Trisha, they're an act down, so I go back on as myself. That's easily done by just sticking my regular clothes on top, wiping my make-up off and getting back on the stage. As I've said in yesterday's blog, going from male-to-female is a chore that takes at least half an hour. Yet in Corby, I managed it in the ten-minute break, but only just.

While I had MC'd very well as myself at the start, throwing in the cartoon pieces from the Pop Tart Pop Quiz and getting a good twenty minutes out of tried-and-tested material, Trisha Timpson's MCing of the second half didn't land with the audience that much. Some bits did work, but overall, it was a bit "meh".

I had previously MC'd as Trisha in 2016 at my own comedy night Chuckle Pit, in my hometown, and died an absolute death (save for one joke that did get a laugh). Gimmicks don't really work at that night anyway, as I learnt in its first few months.

Still, grateful for the chance to perform in a theatre again and I got a nice payment out of it too.

Also, my 'comedy empire' expanded with an agreement to do a roughly bi-monthly paid night at a lovely pub in the Northants village of Long Buckby. The Old Kings Head wanted to do a comedy night, tying in a two-course meal for the reasonable ticket price of £20.

This new thing was dubbed Laugh Yer Head Off and I'd proven I could run and host comedy on a higher level than open spot thanks to my experiences with the Kanned Komedy gig earlier in the year and the modest budget I have from Chuckle Pit. In a close-knit community, we were assured of an audience, although as my role is usually the promoter, I did come up with some flyer designs. In the end, they weren't needed, but more on that later

Katie Pritchard entertains at Laugh Yer Head Off
Over that weekend I did a competitive gig down south that left a sour taste in my mouth. There were a lot of great acts doing five-minute spots and I did alright as Trisha, although some of the biggest laughs were attached to some really nasty gags.

I'm not a fan of 'punching down' humour. I did start out in stand-up doing hacky shit, like paedophilia and porn gags which didn't make me stand out in a sea of Jimmy-Carr-wannabes. I've thankfully evolved from that dreck. It got the belly laughs back in the day, but it always felt too easy and there was nothing cerebral about it. In the wake of the rise of Ricky 'mongs, ha ha ha' Gervais, and the mean-spirited jibes Frankie Boyle comes out with, some comics feel the need to channel their inner schoolyard bully.

I wasn't impressed with the way the competition gave nods to some of the most spite-fuelled outpourings. Maybe I am - that cultural buzzword of 2017 - a 'snowflake', but what's the point of sneering over a missing toddler or reinforcing misogynistic viewpoints that were last socially acceptable in 1953?

Fortunately, Trisha had a belter of a gig at the launch night of Audiogiggles in Chelmsford. One of those gigs that go so well you've got to really wait for the laughter to die down and then it builds up during each set-up!

The final gig in April was at Rachel Day's awonderfulday comedy in Digbeth. May was a lot more sedate, with Caroline Of Brunswick's Open Mic night in Brighton; Comedy Ladder in Thame; Proper Funny in Leicester and Hungry Hedgehog in Rochester being the only times I put on the lipstick and wig.

The first night of Laugh Yer Head Off took place, and I went mostly with dependable comics I knew. Chris Norton-Walker is the perfect opener, he can immediately establish his charisma in a room full of strangers and just oozes comedy out of every pore. Nigel Lovell is a commendable pun-slinger and to finish, I thought the night could do with earthy everyman Dave Dinsdale.

"Ah, that's a male-only line up!" I hear you cry. Well, no, I had brought in Katie Pritchard alongside Nigel for the middle section. I had never met or seen her before, yet heard good things about her act.

Charidee in the MK, coming sometime, a maybe

When you're a booker and you ask for spots, whether it's open or paid, you are guaranteed to get more men than woman answering, by an utter multitude. The cold fact is, there are more men in comedy than women. That's not to say I'm all thumbs-up about this situation, I actually like to get female representation on my bills.

This is more than just a waving of 'look at how not sexist I am' tokenism, female comedians can offer a fresh perspective that you don't get with the blokey acts. Most importantly of all, they bring in and retain women as punters. To hell with the SJW accusations, having women on your bills is a great commercial move! You have more credibility with couples who are considering a visit to your nights.

This could be an exaggeration, but with male-only line-ups, there's a lot of talk about wanking and boozing. Great for us XY chromosome owners, but it can alienate women. Restricting your event to male performers is such an Absolute Radio thing to do.

"Yeah, but women aren't funny, they just talk about periods and that". That's a genuine quote an audience member said to me after a comedy night I put on and said with the expectation that I'd agree with it. Screw that. That guy obviously hadn't seen much female comedy.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make without wanting to be patronising, is that I've taken a pro-active stance on avoiding male-only line-ups on my nights. I can't say I've always been successful (what with last-minute replacements being needed sometimes), but my outfit has done a lot for representing women.

With about seven or eight male acts out there for every female (judging by my inbox), I have to hold back and reserve spots for women. Yeah, that does feel like sheer tokenism, but in an ideal world, the gender split in comedy would be 50/50.

Samantha and I, with the aid of Chromecast (seriously good for getting almost any app onto any television screen), had 'auditioned' the YouTube videos sent in by female applicants for Laugh Yer Head Off. Katie Pritchard really chimed with my girlfriend. I was a bit worried as it was a pub we didn't know - hell, a village we didn't know, and Katie was (well, is) rather leftfield.

As much as I really enjoy leftfield humour (as evidenced in my love for Club Smashing), I know it doesn't go down that well in smaller towns, so I tend to book more 'straight' stuff for Chuckle Pit.

Grin City's logo what I done

In the end, nothing to worry about. Katie's set was epic, brought the house down. As did the others. A great start a new night. Oh, and it also meant I had to set up a business account and properly establish myself as a sole trader. I was now dealing with 'Artist and Practitioner Agreements' and invoices.

This meant coming up with a 'brand' and the 'imaging' surrounding it. Such duties were part of my day job at the time. If I could conjure up graphics for two of the world's most famous technology brands, the personal stuff should be a cinch, eh?

Punning on Sin City, I came up with Grin City as the 'umbrella' brand for Beerhouse Comedy; Chuckle Pit; Kanned Komedy and Laugh Yer Head Off. I like the idea of the logo I made, although it's a little bit 'off', as graphic designers are keen to say. Ah well, it's not really a publicly-facing brand, it's tucked away in a tiny spot of the posters. The average Joe won't be able to say that Avalon promoted that Richard Herring or Frank Skinner gig, it's not on their radar and never will be.

Tying in with the day job, I had managed to land a second Kanned Komedy night in my then-workplace's home of Wolverton, just outside Milton Keynes. A colleague from the town pointed out that Wolverton's Bar Bar Black Sheep would be the perfect venue for a fund-raising night of laughs. I can't fault them, the venue does a lot of creative events for dementia sufferers, the homeless and many other vulnerable people.

Continuing with the same formula, we raised another three-figure sum for the local foodbank in Milton Keynes. The £5 entry fee combined with the competitive 'vote using money for your favourite comedian' concept worked wonderfully, and I'm pleased to say we got £210 raised for MK Food Bank.

Matt Bragg; Chris Norton-Walker; Donna Scott; Adele Cliff and Chris Harris did excellent turns. Mr Norton-Walker won the audience poll and was given the 'Golden Kan' award (yes, an empty tin can spray painted gold) and then we had the awesomely talented Alex Hylton as the headliner doing a 20 minute spot.

Chris Norton-Walker, a one-man purveyor of "yeah!"
A week later I was gigging in another country. Wales, to be specific.

I have always enjoyed long distance driving. I only passed my driving test about four years ago and the novelty hasn't worn off. I'm in my forties and I love just turning on the ignition knowing I can create a new adventure almost entirely of my volition. Maybe I'll get jaded about motoring in years to come. I'm certainly no petrolhead, I just love being a car owner for practical reasons and I really love a long scenic drive.

Rhyl Comedy Club is a small but outstanding open spot comedy night in north Wales, which advertises heavily on social media. To be frank, the purpose is to attract acts from across the UK to the seaside town of Rhyl, and I've found their marketing to be really compelling. I love that.

Continuing the brutal honesty, Rhyl is a seaside town that has seen better days. I'm not going to just knock it, hell, I think about all the comedians who pop over to Chuckle Pit and end up navigating through the visual disaster that is Wellingborough, my hometown. Well done on enduring that, by the way.

Run by couple Sarah Roberts and Nia Lloyd Williams in the Rhyl Little Theatre, this is a great outpost for comedy. The regulars are the locals and it was a delight to play there as Trisha Timpson. The long drive meant I had to take an afternoon off, but the sight of the mountains and the hills made me feel like I was playing Out Run again.

As you might have gathered, a lot of my motivation for gigging is to visit new places. My brother, a fan of Watford FC, regaled me of tales of his away days up and down the country. While I could hardly be jealous of watching Elton John's favourite team (and I gave it a go, witnessing a goallless draw in Oxford and a few battles in Vicarage Road), I did like the appeal of getting the hell out of Northamptonshire, being able to point at any corner of a UK map and go "yeah, I've been there".

Rhyl Communication
Hence why I was pleased to do the Oakham gig. A performance in Rutland got England's smallest country ticked off my personal 'comedy map'. Yes, I have one and I update it county by county. That's what having Asperger's Syndrome does to you.

Anyway, Rhyl, absolutely awesome. Made a quick visit to the beach (notable for being the scene in Red Dwarf where they portray a computer-generated 'paradise') and then back to the venue. Being an actual theatre, I blagged a dressing room to get tarted up.

Fellow Viz fan and contributor Kevin Caswell-Jones was on the bill. Great to see someone you know. When you step well out of your television region, you don't tend to know any other performer.

Also known to me, the compere booked was Rob Mitchell, who had done really well at Chuckle Pit and at the Teknicolour Smoof night I was at. Oh and there was Will Preston, a London-based comic who came over and who I first saw at the competitive gig down south that I wasn't too fond of (er, not because of Will).

My favourite of the night was Will Newall from Dunfermline, who had time during his camping holiday in Wales to book the spot. I cannot say in words how superb this guy's set is. It's a proper laugh-riddled set that's right up my street. One of the best acts I've ever seen on the circuit.

Heading for a drive that could last four hours, I didn't bother reverting to male mode, just threw my clothes into my suitcase and drove out of Wales, meeting the M6 in Cheshire and then heading back home. Stupidly, I left my beautiful blue suede DMs back in the dressing room, which I didn't realise until the morning when I was faced with Trisha's plastic flats. I made do with trainers as a stop gap.

I regained my shoes a week later when Sarah and Nia posted them back to me. I still feel guilt at that.

June also saw Trisha at an open spot gig in Birmingham where long-time friend Martin Fenton and his wife Janine came out to support me. They both ended up doing an impromptu musical spot at the end of the night. Despite not being stand-up comics, the acerbic pen and jazz talent of Martin had crafted a dark song about serial killers. One that I was very fond of and had to join in with. I don't do musical comedy because I can't sing, but managed to pull this one off.

Trisha getting on board at The Ark

The next day I had the paid spot from JAM Comedy over on The Ark in Northampton. A literal boat, sitting in water, in the midlands. I do like being in unusual venues. It's a successful restaurant with a bar. Two big stalwarts of the midlands comedy circuit - Freddie Farrell and Masai Graham - were opening and headlining respectively.

Speaking of which, I did the cover for Freddie's comedy album that 'dropped' (as the young people say) in 2017. I did the photography and graphic design. Literally, it is me on the cover. That's my finger poking through my jeans.

Jeans genie
I can't claim credit for the idea. It's in homage to a proposed album cover The Doors wanted, but it got rejected by their record label. It's Freddie's decision to use the concept and we came up with our 100% legally compliant version of it.

Freddie told me that the sight of my finger in this context, made his mother gasp out loud.

As for the Ark gig, it was superb. I had already found the right set for Trisha at this point, but I then managed to squeeze in a new joke I thought of minutes before, into the 'bar menu' section and it's pretty evergreen, remaining as part of the whole routine ever since.

A rule I've put in place is to only gig in London once a year. Past experiences show it's a fairly soul-destroying place for comedy, with audiences that are usually 97% acts, 3% actual punters. The quality is rarely good, there's a lot of hack material and copied jokes, it's just not what I want to be part of.

Oh, and then there's the 'bringer' culture. I have not and will never do a 'bringer' gig. If you're calling yourself a promoter and you're asking your performers to bring an audience, you really are not a promoter. Clue's in the title.

I'm careful picking out what I find acceptable in the capital. There's a well-known promoter who has regular comedy nights in north London with a few big names here and there, but I hear of very concerning things on sexual harrassment issues. I'm not willing to gig for that man. Reliable friends in the comedy community are appalled.

Anyway, enough of the dark side, Nathan Derienzi Brett appealed on Facebook for leftfield performers to do a show in Camden.

Acomicalypse

The Young Gifted And Terrified Cult Cabaret Show was a one-off showcase of off-beat comedy and burlesque taking place in celebrated pub theatre The Lion & Unicorn. Trisha certainly wasn't the weirdest on the bill.

This was the first comedy circuit event I'd seen in London where the audience outnumbered the performers. With it being paid entry, people were attentive and the hand-picked line-up certainly impressed. The set was like a dystopian game show and Nathan, as booker/MC, resembled a bleak version of the Rocky Horror Show's Rocky.

I remember it being a very very hot day and I wasn't looking forward to spending much of it in close-fitting man-made fibres. I made the most of being bare-legged right until showtime. Still, a cracking gig and we performers got those mirrors with all the lightbulbs around them, like you see in any movie about showbusiness. Or The Muppet Show.

I rounded off the month with a Trisha ten spot at a gig in Willenhall. Rob Kemp (he of Elvis Dead fame) has run a monthly night at the United Kingdom pub for quite a while now and he asked me/Trisha to put in an appearance.

Matt Hollins at Anarchy in Willenhall
That was another cracking gig and here we are at the halfway point of 2017. It feels like it's taken me half a year just to write this blog entry. Well, it was pretty feature-packed. The remaining parts will be a lot quicker to read, I can promise...

Sunday, 31 December 2017

GSOH: Just Twenty Seventeen, Part One Of Four

Over the past twelve months I've told jokes in a miniskirt to two hundred and fifty people; helped raised over £500 for local food banks and ended up winning a certificate at the Edinburgh Fringe for a style of comedy I've never tried before.

That's not to say it's all been rosy. I'm entering New Year with a fairly uncertain future through no fault of my own and I still have yet to construct a festival show. No time to rest, frankly.

The year did kick off in a very astonishing way. Beerhouse Comedy was absolutely packed, in circumstances very similar to its first show, thanks to a certain Dave Hall. Likewise, Chuckle Pit had a very respectable audience number. This is all in stark contrast to the fag end of last year, where one particular night had as few as five people for the most of it.

Beerhouse is utterly rammed
Putting on comedy nights where you've only got a single figure audience is a big kick in the balls. I know it's almost the norm for many open spot nights in central London, but I feel absolutely guilty to the comedians who travel miles to perform, as well as the venue if all I can pull is a crowd that can be counted on the fingers of a leper.

I had mused to my other half on New Years Day that it was about time we threw some of the money we were making, at gaining a serious audience. When you're getting over the excesses of Christmas, it's tough to find the finances at making such a kickstart. This is probably why a lot of resolutions end up broken.

Chris Norton-Walker commands the Chuckle Pit
Thankfully we didn't need to do much for January's Chuckle Pit, where we had a very good audience number and they were the right crowd, well into the performers and I'm pleased to say headliner Chris Norton-Walker properly smashed it. The cries for an encore were heavily repetitive. That was the gig we wanted every month and we knew we couldn't coast it anymore, so plans were put in place to take the club to another level.

Turning to the comedy I perform as spots, I'd been doing my female character act Trisha Timpson very well throughout 2016, bolting on new bits and formulating a pretty damned tight ten minutes.

That's not to say I didn't get tired of it. As much fun as it is to play a character - especially an idiotic one where you have carte blanche to say massively ridiculous things - there are some drawbacks.

Trisha is technically a drag act, albeit there are no glittery dresses, fishnets or high heels. It's not camp, it's not kitsch, I'm not acting sexually promiscuous nor do I mime to Shirley Bassey. Yes, I am a man dressed as a woman and literally every layer of clothing and make-up I have on during this is feminine. It's just fairly subtle compared to the majority of drag.

I like to think Trisha Timpson is like a long-lost character from Viz comic, my biggest comedy influence. The laughs are not from the act being a man in a wig, although I do note that some audience members appear to assume I'm gay and/or transgendered and expect something high camp. It soon becomes clear that Trisha - a barmaid from a prolific high street pub chain - is jaw-droppingly stupid.

Anyway, I gave Trisha an outing over at St Albans's Comedy In The Crown and what do you know? I won the Crown! Alright, I jointly won the Crown. As you can see in the pic, I have tied with an actual XX-chromosome-owning comic, the wonderful Maggie Kawolski.

Joint-winning the crown with Maggie Kawolski
My intention was to wind down the character in 2017. The hassle of transforming into a woman takes at least thirty minutes, so it limits the gigs you can do unless you leave work early or take the day off. There's no glamour in acrobatically contorting yourself into tights in the confines of a toilet cubicle and a bra is mild torture.

However, that night in The Crown was the first time I'd won an accolade in comedy, and the aforementioned Chris Norton-Walker was in the front row, having made the trip especially to see this new character act. He encouraged me to keep at it, and well, I'm glad I stuck with it.

Trisha has earnt me quite a few paid spots. I think it's the best ten I've ever written. I get to tell the kind of gags I couldn't as my real self. I've kept the character away from the misogynistic overtones that can sometimes be evident in drag. To flirt with audience members or portray Trisha as a slag would be an easy shoe-in, but I wanted to rise well above the level of hack.

In Trisha's set, there are lashings of political satire, wordplay, and digs at soulless corporate pubs. The original intention was to make Trisha a very nasty character, really hateable and sneery, on the basis I'm genuinely opposed to the chain she works for. (The inspiration was a post-gig visit to one such pub where I was astonished at the couldn't-give-a-shit attitude of some workers.) 

Of course, being a villain doesn't really work in the confines of a comedy spot. You have to do it very very over-the-top, to pantomime levels, or not at all. You can't win an audience by stating how you hate them at the start of your act.

This is why so many comedy sets - from open spot to arena-filling television-level - begin with the performer taking the piss out of him/herself. We are jesters, not bullies.

Brand awareness, in physical form
I play Trisha like a loveable idiot. There is nothing to hate about her. In a few ways, she's smarter than her clientele. I also smile almost throughout the entire set. It is 180° different to me. A lot of straight stand-up comedy involves putting on your 'too cool for school' persona as you rage against the injustice of society, occasionally frowning or portraying confusion.

To put it on one line, Trisha Timpson is just Stan Laurel in a skirt.

Meanwhile, February saw us put Chuckle Pit and Beerhouse Comedy to decent numbers. No investment was visible, mainly because most of our time was taken up by attending shows at the Leicester Comedy Festival.

Speaking of which, yes, Rob Kemp's The Elvis Dead really is worth seeing. Of course it does not make much sense on paper and initially, I was no fan of the concept as Ian Hall raved about it. Elvis did not appeal to me at all, yet I like the Evil Dead films as humans-acting-as-Itchy-and-Scratchy. Plus Rob Kemp is a very decent and loveable guy, one of the friendliest people you'll meet on the midlands comedy scene and one of the best.

We went to that second showing, over at the Sound House, where just about anyone who is anyone from the scene was there, on word of mouth, and that was a textbook "storming it" gig. We've seen the show a few times since it really is that superb.

Oh, there was a thing through a Twitter conversation where I nearly became the booker and promoter for a regular paid comedy night in Northampton. Someone at a private members' club was definitely keen on the idea and I did have a meeting with him, but ultimately, it never came to fruition. It did get my mind ticking on expanding what I laughingly call my 'comedy empire'.

From the earnings of the first two Chuckle Pits, we thought it time to secure the decent numbers with a flyering campaign across Wellingborough. A thousand A5 flyers I designed ended up on the doormats of local residents.

A handful of promotion
One of my bugbears with some comedy nights is that you can turn up and the acts will outnumber the actual audience members. This is particularly prolific in London, yet I have seen it across the UK. In this blog entry, I've already outlined how a few of my 2016 nights had a tiny smattering of people, so I'm not immune to being complacent and expecting hordes of mirth-seekers to fill the seats.

A few hundred quid was allocated to Chuckle Pit's first serious promotion. A couple of pull-up banners established much more of a 'stage presence' and turned us from being "some comedians in a pub each month if you like that sort of thing" to being "we are the pub's monthly comedy night".

While it stakes out a 'territory' and improves the night, stage furniture alone doesn't bring in the punters. Hence I had to wear out some shoe leather shoving glossy leaflets through letterboxes.

This definitely had a postive effect on numbers. I had sensibly included the next four months worth of Chuckle Pit details, so these were a long-term campaign. Also, we don't have the luxury of a fixed date. We're usually on a Friday in the latter half of a month. The flyer helps act as a reminder.

Kanned Komedy winner Marshal B Anderson
Of course, I don't want to get ahead of myself, blow smoke up my arse and say what a genius promoter I am. Numbers were only gently increased and I think my mistake was to target the main roads going in/out of Wellingborough. A lot of these are middle-class residences and Chuckle Pit's venue is largely focused on the working class.

Looking back with hindsight on those Saturday mornings where I walked past several cars on a long gravel drive to shove in a flyer, it was clear this kind of people were unlikely to drink in Wellingborough, more likely some upmarket places in Northampton, Milton Keynes or Leicester.

However, I did enough of the places that were more my level. Being working class, I've attended the venue for over 20 years and actually enjoy a bit of spit-and-sawdust atmosphere. (Okay, the Horseshoe isn't that, and recent refurbs have made it a bit classier, but it's not a go-to for a skinny latte and cracked pepper over avocado toast.)

Juggling the monthly Horseshoe and Beerhouse comedy nights had been my comedy life but I fancied the challenge of taking stand-up to quirkier venues. I had long been a fan of local business Hart Family Brewers, who had some responsibility for me instigating comedy promotion ages back.

Good deeds
Comedians tend to be a rather left-leaning lot, and 2016 was a pretty dark year with the narrow win for the UK to exit the European Union and of course, a 10-year-old-girl-fancying racist narcissist winning the presidency of a major country.

I had wanted to do my bit for good, aside from having once manned the phones for Comic Relief; doing a charity abseil down a shopping centre and getting Chris Tarrant to pen an anecdote for a brilliant Dr Who charity book, I hadn't done too much of this 'pay it foward'.

Food banks are on the increase and it seemed a pretty worthy cause no matter what part of the political spectrum you reside on. I set up Kanned Komedy as a sporadic comedy night that took place in unusual venues, raising money for the local foodbank.

By rounding up six great local comedians and plonking them in a lively brewery (which has occasionally been the place for music gigs and a biking velodrome) in front of a nearly 60-strong crowd, we raised £368. All of that sum went straight to the Wellingborough Daylight Centre.

A lot of it was down to charging a fiver - I had never charged entry to any comedy night I had put on, so this was new territory for me, and also the idea of getting people to donate money as a 'vote' for their favourite comedian of the night. Chesterfield's Marshal B Anderson won it, plus we had plenty of food donations on the night.

This enabled me to make the undeniably modest boast that I could organise a piss-up in a brewery. I had also to buy a stand-up microphone for about £100 of my own money, as the venue didn't have their own. Which means I have stepped closer to being able to set up a comedy gig where I like.

This hasn't been a bad quarter for throwing myself into comedy even further. Part Two will be looking at how I tackled April, May and June. My 'empire' would expand again...