Categories
Compering Performing Stand up

Audiences, authenticity and attention to detail

Having run lots of events I know how hard it is to pull a successful ‘do’ together. Booking performers, managing ticket sales, bringing in catering and often sweeping up afterwards. It’s a stressful business.

Today, I’m fortunate that all I have to worry about is performing but experience has taught me a successful event doesn’t happen by accident. Last night was one of those moments – Gossip Girl Gang IWD2020 delivered in spades. But what made it so special?

An attentive audience

With the event having sold out, organiser Rachel Bradley had to reconfigure the space to fit everyone comfortably. And because she’s worked so hard to create a community, and had clearly communicated the quality of the speakers, everyone was invested in making the most of the evening. From ‘solopreneurs’ to people who work for multinational companies, they all wanted the opportunity to learn from some phenomenal female founders.

As host and stand up for the evening, it gave me an audience to die for. The ladies were open, eager and – thanks to fizz on arrival – well up for joining in and having a laugh.

Authentic stories

What was so striking about the panel was their willingness to share extremely personal aspects of their career journeys. Getting beyond “Yay, go you!” into the real-life challenges that inspired them to set up their own organisations, and the difficulties that they’ve encountered along the way, made for a more interesting, relatable conversation. It is very easy to look at leaders at the top of their game and only see the success – yes, Scamp & Dude is stocked in Liberty and Selfridges but I challenge you to read Jo’s story without welling up.

Joy from Tech Pixies spoke movingly about the impact of the death of her father and being unemployable as a pregnant woman living in a country where she didn’t speak the language. Did she hide herself away for her own personal pity-party? No. She decided to set up a community to help others who found themselves in the same position. And then she created an organisation to help young people at risk of unemployment. And then she founded Tech Pixies, a business that helps women carve out new careers for themselves via free social media training. Awesome.

And as for Sarah…. Well, she founded Smart Works Reading after volunteering for Smart Works London. She loved the work but found the commute a challenge. Where many of us would have looked for something else, Sarah instead created a branch of the charity closer to home that has so far helped 1500+ women back into the workplace. And earned her an MBE in the process.

So what did I do? Well my role was to warm people up and keep the conversation flowing. I brought people into my world of hand gestures and village life and demonstrated that you can combine tough conversations with having a laugh. Here is my “You are all village people now!” face:

It’s all about the detail

From the branded goodie bags to the carefully selected panel to getting local suppliers to provide the refreshments, Rachel had everything covered. And then I opened the gift bag she’d given me and found it contained a bottle of fizz that was not only from a local business but branded especially for her event – now that’s attention to detail!

All photos in this post (apart from the Prosecco shot – sounds a bit rude that!) are (c) Jon Bradley Photography

On Insta? Follow all the people in this post! BTW – this is not sponsored, I’m just nice like that – call it my ‘value add’.

Need an event compere, stand up or panel host who is as professional as they are funny? Then you need look no further. Let’s talk – email me at toni@tonikent.co.uk

Categories
Compering Giving back Honesty Performing Stand up

Man Up? Time to talk about Mental Health

“Man up, sit down
Chin up, pipe down
Socks up, don’t cry
Drink up, just lie
Grow some balls he said,
Grow some balls..”

Powerful lyrics by IDLES on the topic of toxic masculinity. They make me think about the impact that language like this has and it’s why I’m supporting Emma-Jane Taylor by compering her event on male mental health in aid of Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

men's mental health talk info

Featuring a panel of mental health advocates and experts (and a bit of stand up from me) it’s open to men and women. You are welcome to bring your teenagers too!

So, if you’re interested in exploring how to encourage open conversations about male mental health, come along to the Hotel du Vin & Bistro in Henley on Thursday 23rd April at 6pm.

Tickets are available in return for a donation – click here to book yours.


Want to find out where I’m performing next? Click here.

Got an event with purpose coming up and need a compere? Book me by emailing toni@tonikent.co.uk

Categories
Stand up

How the WI has Stayed Relevant for 100 Years

I love the WI. Having performed for dozens of groups and with bookings stretching out to 2021 (know this if you know nothing else, they are organised) it has been my absolute pleasure to meet hundreds of women who are hell-bent on supporting not only their fellow members, but fellow human beings too.

Since its inception in the UK 105 years ago, its members have campaigned against FGM, for equal pay – back in 1943 – and resolutions under consideration this year include whether to place pressure on the government to legislate for female crash test dummies (women are significantly more likely to die in a car accident) and how to protect our non-renewable helium resources which are at risk thanks to our reliance on it in the medical industry (see – it’s not just used by ravers).

It’s all about singing Jerusalem isn’t it?

No. I’ve only ‘known’ the WI for a few years but in that time I’ve performed for a wide range of groups and while some do sing Jerusalem, there are probably more that don’t. And whether they do or not, they will all join in with a song about your dog humping your leg if you ask them to.

I’ve performed for groups that meet in the day and those that meet in the evening. There are those who drink wine and those who prefer tea and cake. But, until last night, I hadn’t met a group who class themselves as ‘New Wave’. I knew they existed, because I’ve been on Twitter and found groups in London and Manchester like ‘Shoreditch Sisters’ and the ‘Social Lites’ but until, this year, I hadn’t been invited to speak at one. So I thought I’d go and find some by hopping on the WI website and searching for interesting group names that were near to me. Which led to a booking from Thame Belles who most definitely fit the New Wave bill.

What makes them New Wave – and what’s it got to do with being relevant?

1. They ‘get’ social as a means to attract and engage members.

Thame Belles are on Insta. And they’ve got more followers than I have. I need to tap up their social media person 🙂

2. They know good design is important to make you stand out

Getting people off their sofas and out into the real world – especially when you want to attract a demographic that is typically juggling career + family life + wanting a social life – takes skill and persuasion. They’ve created some very cool flyers that are on-brand with their banner and list out the year’s speakers. For once in my life I got top billing 😀

3. They know the power of a free sample

The reverse of the flyer had the offer of a free meeting – nice work!

4. They don’t compromise on the core WI values

Being New Wave doesn’t mean having to rip up the rule book. At the heart of the WI is fellowship, truth, tolerance and justice. Its campaigns and mandates focus on serious stuff: climate change, mental health, ending violence against women. To call them “Jam & Jerusalem” does them a disservice that undermines their value as a campaigning organisation that is practical, ambitious and doesn’t shy away from difficult issues.

In meeting Thame Belles I not only got a warm reception, an excellent night out and the opportunity to perform a poem about intimate grooming under the watchful gaze of a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II, I also got to witness how an organisation that has been very much part of the British landscape for more than 100 years will continue to be relevant long into the future.

Behold – Thame Belles WI!

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The set I performed for Thame Belles was ‘I Need a Wife’ – an hour of comedy and poetry that takes in some of life’s really big issues like how ashamed I am of my glass recycling bin and why I have totally had it with thongs. If you’d like to book me for your group or organisation – get in touch at toni@tonikent.co.uk

Categories
Performing Stand up

Chortle!

I have been trying for some time to figure out where I might be able to pitch content that talked about my experiences as a stand up performer. I can’t believe it took me so long to consider Chortle. Having thought that they only focused on reviews, I had that preconception completely challenged when they published a report about the care home performance.

So I put fingers to keyboard and dropped the news desk at Chortle a line and ta-da! Last week they agreed to run my piece about performing at Sue Ryder. It feels like a fitting tribute to Bel and Paula.

Read the full article

Snip of the Chortle news article
Categories
Giving back Performing Stand up

Stand Up for Sue Ryder

It was my absolute privilege to perform stand up at the Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent day hospice in Newbury yesterday.

The decision to do so was inspired by the care that the hospice services in Berkshire showed my brother-in-law’s wife, Paula (pictured left with her daughter, Alice), and my beautiful friend, Bel (pictured right with one of her trademark mischief-making faces), throughout their illnesses.

Witnessing first hand how the Sue Ryder team focus on making you feel like a person, not a patient, is a testament to how important these services are. We joked about living in the bubble that is rural West Berkshire, the challenge of disguising the contents of your recycling ‘bin of shame‘ and the terror of men in extremely tight Lycra.

If you like the idea of stand up as part of diversion therapy, please consider sharing this post or, even better, make a donation to the Sue Ryder team. I’d like to thank Alison, Lucy, Rachel, Chrissie and the rest of the team for the incredible service they provide, and for trusting me with their audience 🙂

Thanks Alison & Lucy!
Categories
Giving back poetry Stand up Storytelling

Comedy and Palliative Care

“What we’re going to do”, said Bel, “is put the FUN in fundraising!” Corny, yet memorable words from a friend who coupled living with an incurable form of cancer with raising money for the charities that were caring for her. It is something I have never forgotten and her legacy lives on not just in the smile of her son and her husband’s stories, but also in the way her attitude to life impacted everyone who met her.

She prompted people not to shy away from what is most painful and to face difficult circumstances head on. She encouraged me to make the leap from corporate life (and to sing a Rod Stewart number in public, but that’s another story). She also made me think differently about fundraising; as I have no business going near a mountain or a triathlon, I instead put on comedy & curry nights and an indie disco which led to fantastic results without the need for Lycra or medical attention.

And so, it is in that spirit that I am going to perform a stand-up & poetry set for staff and patients at the Sue Ryder Day Hospice in Newbury’s Rosemary Unit on October 15th. Part of the Duchess of Kent Hospice family, it offers people living with cancer the opportunity to remain in their home for longer by providing specialist services on an outpatient basis. This extends to a wide variety of complementary therapies, as well as emotional and practical support. If you live in or around the #Newbury, #Reading or #Wokingham area, chances are someone you know has benefitted from the services of the Sue Ryder team.

But where’s the fundraising in all this? Well, that’s where you can help. Typically, the cost of a ticket to a comedy show is in the region of £15 (I’m talking Jongleurs here, not Jimmy Carr 😉) so if you support the idea of taking a comedy performance to a place of palliative care, why not make a donation of around that size to the fantastic Sue Ryder team. Like Bel said, let’s put a little ‘fun’ into fundraising – simply head to https://www.sueryder.org/donate, decide how much you want to donate and select ‘Duchess of Kent Hospice’.

Donation page for Duchess of Kent
Categories
poetry Stand up

What your recycling bin is actually called

One of the things I get great pleasure out of when performing is to ask the audience how their recycling gets done. You may not be surprised to know that in Henley, the recycling bins have lids so that you can discretely hide your alcohol intake or cover up the fact that you have not washed your coleslaw packets. Some areas let you chuck it all in one big wheelie, others make you meticulously sort things into a whole variety of boxes and bags.

The West Berkshire Way

In West Berkshire (where I live) there is the following system:

  • A plastic box for glass
  • A plastic box for paper / cardboard
  • A bag to put your plastic and cans in (but only certain plastic, and if it’s not the right plastic, someone may post on the village Facebook page that they “couldn’t help but notice…..” which could be viewed as petty but makes a change from the usual tirades about dog poo)
  • A green bin with the sole purpose of making people apoplectic with rage that they have to pay to put their garden waste in it.

A Judging Opportunity

Collection dates and time vary too – with some areas enjoying a weekly pick up of their waste and others having to wait for a fortnight. In my village, the collection is fortnightly and crucially it takes place after the school run. Which provides an excellent opportunity for the nosey among us to have a good old look. I’d love to pretend I’ve never done this, but that would be a lie. And it is reciprocated too – one friend asked me if I’d started drinking wine ‘from a box’ because she didn’t see enough empties in my bin.

At Christmas, it almost becomes a competition. People seek out additional receptacles to showcase their wild abandon and some even go in for a “Look what I got from Santa” – placing enormous boxes next to the bins telling everyone that they got a 55inch TV, a bread maker or an abdominal cruncher – and signalling to burglars that their house is ripe for the picking.

What to do…

Some people don’t like the whole ‘putting your empties on display’ culture of roadside recycling and prefer to take their empties to a bottle bank. Some people drink their Fosters in the morning and deposit the cans in an alleyway next to the local shop. Some people put bottles on the bottom and jars on the top. Me? Well I put a picture on LinkedIn of mine for all the world to see – and I wrote a poem about it too. You can read it below and watch me perform it for the wonderful ladies of Charlton WI in Wantage.

https://youtu.be/zx7vm9dof1I
Categories
Performing Stand up

Comedy in the Care Home

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.

Alex Farrow MCing the Gracewell care home gig
Always a winner when your MC wears a sparkly jacket

Preparation panic

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 find out more about my work – check out my stand up page and YouTube channel.

To see where I’m performing next – click here.


1st September – Update! You can now read what Ian made of the gig here and the official carehome.co.uk review, including feedback from the audience, here.

Categories
poetry Stand up Uncategorized

Showing the Love for Local Radio

Thanks to BBC Radio Berkshire I had the very exciting experience that was performing on stage at the After Dark Club in Reading (previously graced by the likes of Supergrass and Manic Street Preachers and leapt off by me in a bout of drunken excitement decades before). The event was the War of the Words competition – part of the Reading Fringe Festival and open to poets, rappers, spoken word artists and comedians.

The brief? Three minutes to impress the assembled crowd and judges on the topic of ‘My Environment’.

The prize? A GOLDEN MICROPHONE THAT ACTUALLY WORKED!

The judges. Smiley, not scary!

Three minute life stories

I used my three minutes to take the audience on a whistle-stop tour of my life from sitting at the breakfast table with a copy of The Sun open at Page 3, to the death of my father which prompted some pretty off-the-rails behaviour and the eventual settling into what is essentially a rural bubble. This I topped off with a shortened performance of Middle Class Gangsta. If you want to watch the full performance, it’s below!

Others used their three minutes to talk of life in a hostel, the threat to our environment, marginalised communities and how Wokingham really isn’t “going to the dogs” when compared with life in Syria.

TK and Bill Buckley

My destiny wasn’t to win (that was for the excellent Sarah Smith) but what I have received the benefit of is a concerted effort by BBC Radio Berks to support local performers. Some of us have been invited to perform by phone-in and in the studio which gave me the pleasure of reciting some poems for Bill Buckley’s listeners. Serendipitously the studio is less than a mile from the Microsoft building where I used to work – it was good to return to Thames Valley Park for creative rather than commercial reasons.

Bank Holiday Special

But that’s not all – oh no! There’s been plenty of support on social media and today I learned that on Bank Holiday Monday, BBC Radio Berks will be broadcasting a special on the event including extracts from all of the performances – something that will be a real boost for everyone who participated. One of the big challenges that performers face is capturing their work – having BBC-quality audio and production is a big deal when what you’re used to is mobile phone captures.

Turn on, tune in

So thank you to the entire BBC Radio Berkshire team – and everyone at the Reading Fringe Festival who made the event happen – I love what they’re doing for local performers. If you want to listen in to the special, it will be broadcast on Monday 25th August at 9am and available here shortly afterwards: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07jz9l4

Want to find out more about my upcoming performances? Click here.

Categories
Compering Stand up Storytelling

A Question of Courage

“Love the ultra-local stand up – that takes a double serving of courage!”

That quote was my coach’s response after hearing that I’d performed stand up at a beer festival in a local village. And that the material featured said village (as well as my own – I like to be even handed with these things). It was a risk, but one I was willing to take because, well, sometimes we need to take a look at our reflection and have some fun with it.

I also covered cervical screening, grief, childbirth, intimate waxing, drugs, social mobility and the sense that ‘making it’ can leave you feeling like you don’t belong. Sometimes the weightiest topics benefit from the lightest of touch. And sometimes what is terrifying to one person will leave another feeling like they’ve had the chance to truly be themselves.

Performing stand up offers the opportunity to tell my story, connect with others and represent what many people are afraid to share or reveal. We build lives and personas, (rightly) modify our behaviour as we raise our children and for some of us (certainly me) we can find ourselves wondering where that part of us that leapt around in a moshpit went to. We become afraid to say what we think in the workplace, at home, in front of new friends. It helps when a comedian tells it like it really is.

Courage? Yes, I think so. But on the part of the venue – they knew what I was going to talk about – I’d like to thank them for having the courage to book me 🙂

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As a writer, I bring humour and humility to what business leaders want to say.

As a compere and stand up, I tell it like it really is.

Want to know more about what I do? Have a look at my LinkedIn profile.