“I started 18 years ago. It’s definitely easier to get a gig now. Then there were only two spots – the Frog and Bucket and the Buzz Club. But it’s probably harder to make it as a comedian now. Everyone tries it.”
So says Mick Ferry, experienced stand-up and regular Gong Master at the Comedy Store’s ‘King Gong’ nights – a chance for amateurs to try and do five minutes of material and beat the gong.
Ferry has gonged me about four times although once I did do four minutes. I thought I was going to make it, but no. Surprisingly, a distasteful Gregg Wallace joke didn’t go down too well.
But my personal failures aside, is stand up harder to get into than it used to be? Is Manchester a good city for comedy? Over to Mick.
“People think the likes of John Bishop, Michael McIntyre and Micky Flanagan were overnight success stories, I can tell you they worked hard for years before they found their fame. I used to do 10 minutes at the Frog and Bucket years ago to about 100 people and that was worse than any gong show, Doormen were carrying acts out. There were a lot of nutters about at the time. I remember a guy who took his shoe off, asked everyone in the audience to spit in it and then he put it back on.
“The gong is tough, there’s a definite gladiatorial atmosphere. If you’re good enough you’ll survive but it’s probably not the best place to try out new material. The advantage of coming to the Comedy Store is that it’s a professional set-up with at least 200 people in the audience. In other places you can struggle to get 15 people and half of them there will probably be comedians too.”
To regain some dignity, I never did King Gong with any real seriousness. It was just for a laugh. Pity the audience didn’t agree.
“Hesitation is the biggest killer for a stand-up. The audience jump on it. What annoys a slightly older crowd is students or younger comedians moaning about getting old and how things have changed. No, f**k off.”
In terms of stand up, I always turn to the US. Louis CK, Seinfeld, George Carlin. Unfortunately they don’t tour the UK that regularly, but maybe there’s good reason.
“UK audiences aren’t fans of bragging, I remember a US comic coming to the London Comedy Store and he opened his set by talking about how wealthy he was and subsequently he got booed off. You can’t rely on reputation. After the initial fanfare, the audience hunker down and want to know what you’ve got.”
Comedy is big business now. Whether it’s the BBC or Dave, you can find some form of it almost every night. But is it any good?
“Panel shows are easy to make and that’s why they’re popular. Stand-up doesn’t do so well on TV. It has to be a live experience. The BBC keeps things very safe now. I’m not sure a show like League of Gentlemen would even get made these days. It seems too dark for British audiences. When Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights got cancelled I just thought if you’re going to have the balls to commission it, have the balls to stick with it during criticism.”