Last Sunday my seven fellow students and I each performed our five-minute stand-up routine in front of a paying audience (£6 per ticket, all 50 tickets sold) at Amused Moose’s hired venue in the basement of the Karma Sanctum Soho Hotel. This followed our completion of Amused Moose’s five-week Beginners’ Stand-Up Course with Markus Birdman (£378) earlier that day.
For most of us it was our first time performing stand-up on stage, and what a thrill it was. As usual on these beginners’ nights, the audience, many of whom were friends and family of the students, were very supportive. As expected, Markus, who has performed all over the world, previously stood on stage with Jerry Seinfeld, and was one of Time Out’s Top Ten Comedians a few years ago, did a sterling job compering. I’ve been (as an audience member) to quite a few of these beginners’ nights, and this one was by far the best one. Some of my fellow students really ruled the stage that night and got a lot more than the four to six laughs per minute most comedians are aiming for. Well done.
All photos, including feature photo (c) the fabulous Jess & Will from I Will Video.
This was my fourth stand-up course (all attended this year, and all in London), following:
Each course was unique and very different from the respective other courses. Per hour I most definitely learned more during Jay’s course than at any other course, mainly because it was the first stand-up course I’d ever done and because the course is much shorter than Markus’s. While I had watched Markus on stage for years and always found him very funny, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Jay as a comedian. However, Jay is extremely focused on teaching and an absolute star at it. All exercises are very practical and you can immediately gauge how they’ll be useful. He won’t let anyone get away with doing the exercises half-heartedly.
Chris Head’s course worked wonders in giving me confidence to do my first open mic gig six weeks ago. It was by far the most structured course, including some very smart and rather unexpected exercises that opened up completely new avenues to me. It was great for networking, because several of the other students had been doing the open mic circuit for years and were happy to share their insights. While I’d be hesitant to take a cooking course from a guy who doesn’t cook, one can immediately see how with Chris, the fact that he’s not a stand-up comedian but a stand-up comedy teacher and comedy director, works very much in his favour.
Harry Denford’s rough, loud, cockney geezer humour (not at all his real personality, just his stage persona) was without any doubt the furthest away from my sense of humour. It started with the homework the students had been asked to complete before the start of the three-hour taster session: I simply didn’t get the joke I was supposed to work on. I did not think it was funny. However, on the day things panned out just fine: because of wide-spread public transport issues, I was the only student that showed up. One-on-one is always much more productive than group sessions, in my view (even though I do see advantages in group sessions and how you can learn directly from the other students and, indirectly, from watching them). As soon as I found out Harry owns a share in a fighter jet I became a huge fan. How cool is flying fighter jets for a hobby.
Markus’ course was worth every penny. Five weeks for every Sunday from 12:30pm to 5:30pm with often just 20 to 30mins lunch break and no other breaks, combined with plenty of homework, was a very intense learning experience. The problem with just doing one weekend or even just one day or a few hours, is that a lot of the stuff goes out of your head as quickly as it had entered. I think everyone in my group felt that we all made enormous progress over the five-week period. In some cases the difference between the first day of the course and the final performance was mind-blowing. (I was pretty mediocre at the beginning and kept true to my style throughout haha..)
We were a real good mix of people, in my view: one professional rapper/MC, one freelance videographer, one sound engineer, several office-workers, including two bankers; one guy who had done 15 open mic gigs recently and one who had done a few gigs as a university student a quarter of a century ago.
While it didn’t always make life easy for someone like me, who is really into offensive comedy (the darker the better, think Anthony Jeselnik and the likes), I did think it added to the experience, that the group included so many different styles of humour: observational one-liners, grumpy middle-aged man ranting, surreal elements, props, socio-politically charged routines, and the lot.
Most sessions included a few exercises, some to warm up at the beginning, then a few at the end, often to set the ground for the homework. Four fifths of the sessions were about each of us presenting a two- to three-minute routine (normally part of the previous week’s homework) to the group, and the group then providing feedback.
The feedback was usually very, very positive, with any criticism minimised and sugar-coated. In a way, I think that contributed to everyone, including me, having a very positive experience and gaining confidence, feeling good about our achievements. On the other hand I feel like I would have learned more if people would have criticised me more openly.
One day I presented a (completely made-up) routine where the narrator gets attacked by knife-carrying ten-year old children, forcing him to beat up the children, in order to defend himself.
I had read an article about precisely this type of crime: hard-core gangsters using prepubescent children to commit murders for them. The children are unlikely to get caught, and even if so, then very easily replaced with other children. I thought my routine was pretty funny. I did not specifically mention knives, because I wanted to keep the horror to a minimum and thought that the fact the children were armed was obvious from the context, including me mentioning angry gangsters several times.
Anyway, for ten minutes my colleagues and Markus were commending me on the routine until I asked “you did get the fact that the kids were armed with knives and planning to kill me, right?”. Turns out, no, no one had gotten that point. Everyone just thought I had done a two-minute routine about kicking children’s heads in for no reason, but didn’t care to mention to me, that this was not funny. Very funny in hindsight.
Generally speaking, I would have preferred if there were more exercises, especially more varied exercises, and more structure. I’m also someone who functions best when taking a little break every now and then.
Other than that, I felt that I profited greatly from the fact that Markus is such an experienced, internationally successful comedian, who knows the trade inside out. He always shared all his insights openly, even where they might not make him look great, such as sharing lessons learned from own mistakes or talking about stage fright. It worked well for me, that I happen to like Markus’ sense of humour. Where the teacher is a full-time comedian (as opposed to some of the teachers I had), I’d imagine it can sometimes be difficult for students who have a completely different sense of humour. I doubt that Markus would be great teaching the average plumber from Romford how to create a routine on women, stag dos, and bar brawls. For me it worked just fine. 5 out of 5 in my book. I’m already thinking about booking myself into a follow-up course.
Looking for more fun experiences? Check out our posts about riding a 1980s Jag through the Cotswolds, witnessing an intergalactic battle at the famous Robot Restaurant in Tokyo, or about our seal safari in Norfolk. For London restaurant reviews, feel welcome to eyeball our articles about Galvin at the Athenaeum, Ametsa with Arzak Instruction, and the Ninth.