It’s a year since I started the monthly Cackling Bat Comedy night in Faringdon.
Picture a room filled with eager laughter and infectious energy. These are the moments when I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride. Witnessing the genuine delight of my fellow Faringdonians and seeing the performers shine is magic. But it’s not always like that.
I’m a comedian, out and about on the UK comedy circuit about four nights a week. My aim was to bring the best of the talent that I saw on the circuit back to Faringdon. This month I’m bringing Sally-Anne Hayward, who regularly hosts the Comedy Store in London. That gig is a big challenge because it’s such a diverse room: coked up bankers, bewildered tourists, hen parties and couples on dates. I’ve seen her work her magic on all of them at once and I can’t wait to see what she makes of us lot next Thursday.
I go for variation between the three acts in the line-up, so that hopefully on every night each person will like at least two of them. Even a great performer won't be for everyone because it's subjective: it’s not just a matter of talent; it’s also a matter of taste.
And I want to keep it affordable. The tickets are £12.50 so I can't afford Michael McIntyre. But I do get quality acts with headliners from the top of the circuit. Which means I’m on a financial tightrope every month – will I sell enough tickets to be able to pay the acts and still have some money left over? In fact on nearly every occasion, I've made a profit – but I never get complacent because the margins are small.
People often ask whether comedy is innate, and the answer is yes. And no. Mainly no. If you come from a family where there was a strong sense of fun and banter, you’ve got a head start. You probably had to “be funny“ in order to get attention as a youngster. But in truth, comedy is like every other job – it’s down to hard work. The more you learn and practice… the funnier you get. And compering the nights in Faringdon gives me invaluable stage time to try out new material and improve my skills.
The hard thing about running a local comedy night is that when you fail, you fail in front of people you know. Stand-up has the risk of humiliation built into it. But nothing beats the humiliation you feel in front of people who you will see tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that.
It took me three gigs at The Crown to work out that we had the seating arrangement wrong. At the beginning, we had the stage at one end of the room which meant that the people at the back were a long way from the action. A simple twist through 90° to put the stage at the side of the room has made all the difference – everyone is now pretty close to the acts, and the crowd feels as one -they're all experiencing the same thing at the same time.
I made one really big mistake. I booked an act who I hadn’t seen before. She wanted to bring her Edinburgh preview show to Faringdon. She said it would be all rehearsed and ready to perform. She had been on Comedy Central and Radio 4. But as a friend of mine put it: “She went down like a bacon sarnie at a Bar Mitzvah”. There was an awkward silence for most of the time she was on stage, as she read the whole show (which wasn’t my sort of thing anyway) from her phone. Mortifying. Most of the people that came for the first time that night have never returned. I don’t blame them. But I won’t be booking anyone I haven’t seen myself again. Generally audiences are more forgiving and less sensitive than I am, but that one was really bad.
But that one fuck-up aside, I'm bringing something different to the town – feeling like I am injecting some energy. So many people have put my posters up in their windows, brought friends, booked in advance. These people want to make the town special. And because of them, it is. Thank you.
Of course, with any live event things can go wrong. Technical malfunctions and absent performers are always in the back of my mind as I’m smiling away from the front. But it is in the face of these challenges that the superstars emerge. Martin Long isn’t just an extremely good soundman. He cares about our town, and the people within it and is a joy to laugh alongside as things go wrong and then right.
When I did my Edinburgh preview in the Pump House Project as part of the Follyfest, it was really exposing. It was over a month before Edinburgh and I was still refining the script. As you get to know a script, you start to inhabit it rather than to recite it. The material comes alive and becomes funnier because you’re so immersed in it that you act out the stories as if they’re happening right now in front of the audience. But in the early days of a script, half of your brain is used up with trying to remember what comes next, so you’ve got less in the tank for bringing it to life.
There’s a bit of me that wants the people of Faringdon to see my best work. But instead they see it as it takes its first wobbly steps towards stageworthy material (or to the bin). And of course, I’ve been doing comedy four and a half years: I’m a toddler.
But to become a success you need to forget all that. It’s just humiliation. Learn from it, put it to one side and move on to the next gig. My show was nominated for the Amused Moose Award at Edinburgh this year, which is a big achievement.
However hard I work there is probably a ceiling on how far I will get in comedy. It is an ageist industry. In part, it’s a visual art form, so looking like a middle aged woman isn’t an advantage if you want to get on TV. Whatever the liberal minded might like to think, there is still a preference for looking at pretty things and there probably always will be. But that wont stop me trying.
And I don’t sense the same ceiling on what I could achieve in Faringdon. My plan over the next year is to bring bigger stars and even better comics. Watch this space for announcements.
In the meantime, thank you to all of you who come along month after month. We’ve now had twelve Cackling Bat Comedy Club nights and they’ve all been amazing. Unforgettable, shared evenings of laughter that will stay with us all forever. Nights we can look back on together. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to you all.
The comedy night happens on the last Thursday of every month. If you value it, please support it. The next one is on Thursday 28 September, in the Crown Ballroom. Tickets are available here: