I’ve done some difficult gigs in my time – one in a pub with three punters, one in a boiling hot hall with terrible acoustics and one where choosing to take the stage from a place in the audience set completely the wrong tone. (Top Tip: stride from anywhere except the middle of the audience to the stage like you belong there, not like you’re just ‘having a go’).
Having a difficult gig is a great test to find out whether you want to continue doing stand up and a great example of why comedians put themselves through the wringer time and again. We just can’t help it. Our desire to perform, to be liked, to raise a laugh goes way beyond most people’s comfort zones.
So when Sam Michael asked if I would join him in performing a set at Gracewell of Newbury care home, I absolutely jumped at the chance! With MC Alex Farrow hot off a great run at the Edinburgh Fringe and accompanied by fellow comedians Ed Pownall, Ian Macdonald and Conor McReynolds it was a chance to perform for an entirely new audience in a fairly unusual setting.
Q: How do you prepare for a care home crowd?
A: With the same level of difficulty for any crowd but with perhaps a little more consideration and thought. Whether you can be heard or not is important regardless of audience, as is whether your material will be understood – Alex did a maths joke about Tan lines that completely went over my head.
I decided to go with what I know and deliver a typical set that covers marriage and kids. However, because there was the possibility that some audience members would have dementia, my plan B was to use a song. It’s one I’ve written about dog ownership and is sung to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it”. My thinking being that if all else failed we could have a singalong.
Belly laughs, a heckle and a stage invasion
I can’t speak for the other acts but my view was that the performance overall was a success. One of the gentlemen had a filthy laugh, one produced a fantastic heckle and during my set there was a ‘stage invasion’ as one lady asked to be led out. We also had audience participation in the form of Audrey in the front row who took part in a magic trick and (by my reckoning at least) had managed to gain access to the bar before it officially opened as she seemed to have half a pint of lager on the go. And yes, I did use the song.
Performing at Gracewell care home was a real learning experience on a number of levels – from seeing the other acts to flexing my performing style on the fly. Best of all was the fact that everyone involved was completely up for taking their set to an audience that might not strike you as classic Comedy Club but are no less entitled to have access to comedy. They were a tough crowd but they were a great crowd too.
To see where I’m performing next – click here.