First Gig Worst Gig

Five Years of First Gig, Worst Gig - Part 1

Is it really five years since we started persuading unsuspecting comedians to delve into the furthest, darkest, funniest corners of their careers, plus also dishing on the biggest tools in the business? Time flies when... well obviously it doesn't right now, but you get the gist.

This slot was cooked up during the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe - so many great comics, such great stories to tell - and we finally started it the following February. That first edition featured the excellent Lolly Adefope, who has gone on to star in Ghosts, Mission Impossible, This Time With Alan Partridge and lots more besides. Did we play a tiny part? Nope. Maybe a couple of extra gig tickets.

Ironically we're celebrating a live-memory milestone here while no traditional gigs are allowed, and it can feel a bit callous nowadays, asking comics to think about shows - so over the next few months it'll be us doing the delving backwards, kicking off with the first and worst of 2016-2017. Crikey, we'd forgotten about that Adam Kay one. And as for the Susan Calman...

First Gig?

Elis James. Copyright: Idil Sukan

Elis James - The Mochyn Du pub in Cardiff, January 2005. The mic was set up in one corner of the pub, and the fact most people just wanted a quiet pint in silence didn't seem to bother the promoter or other comics. I did about five minutes, got a couple of laughs, couldn't sleep at all that night because of the adrenaline, and went to work the next morning with a huge smile on my face.

Shappi Khorsandi - At the Camden Head pub on 14th December 1996. I was on with Stephen Merchant who went off and wrote The Office soon after that. He must've got the idea watching my first open spot. Still waiting for my flowers.

Stephen Bailey - The Roundtable, Leicester Square in 2011. It was a showcase after completing one of those comedy courses. Don't judge me. I took my housemate Marie with me for moral support and she brought along a new beau. The thing is, Marie had had a few new beaus that month and my first routine was comparing her vagina to a Sunday Roast.

Eleanor Tiernan - What do I remember? Being very nervous. Realising what a terrible idea it was to choose the first round of a competition as your first gig. Realising what a terrible idea it was to wear a business suit in a hot sweaty room. Realising what a terrible idea it was to invite all of my friends. None of them have come back since.

Ahir Shah - It was in the basement of a folk dance club. I was fifteen years old. This sounds like the beginning of a very different story.

Worst Gig

Shazia Mirza. Copyright: Martin Twomey

Shazia Mirza - I was performing in the Middle East and mentioned sex (lack of it) and when I got off stage there were police there waiting to arrest me. They said that they had been informed of my "immoral content". I explained to them it was my lack of "immoral material" that I was joking about and they said "Well as long as it's not true, that is OK". I was really scared that I was going to go to jail. They had handcuffs ready and showed no mercy.

Mark Watson - Maidstone, 2004. I couldn't make myself heard over the chatter, and gradually people started to shout 'OFF! OFF!' I say 'people' - they had some human qualities but by no means a full set. I was very new and didn't have the tools to control a crowd like that. There was a guy with a red shirt giving me particular abuse and all I could think of to say was 'SHUT UP, YOU RED-SHIRTED C*NT!' It didn't entirely turn things round.

Susie Youssef - At the Melbourne Comedy Fest in 2014 a woman threatened to kill me for making her boyfriend laugh.

Iain Stirling - I did a corporate gig for the army once. It turned out they were having their Christmas early as the troops were going to be away for actual Christmas. For the record, I have no issue with the troops; my issue is with the dude that booked ME for the gig, especially after telling the troops that he had actually booked Al Murray. Basically the gig ended seven minutes into my set with a large ginger man on top of me, while 300 squaddies screamed "F##k the boy".

Ed Gamble - I did nine days on a cruise ship. There exist multiple alternate universes where I took the coward's way out and ricocheted off a propeller like that man in Titanic.

The Weirdest Show, Ever?

Angela Barnes

Angela Barnes - The time it turned out an ex-boyfriend was in the room on his stag do. It was someone I went out with years ago who had no idea I was now a comic. I panicked when I initially realised, but then I remembered how much dirt I had on him...

Suzi Ruffell - I once did a gig in the front room of a shop, in South London, in front of about 12 people. The girl before me read a poem then got her vagina out. It was quite odd.

Adam Kay - There's quite the shortlist. Either a private party that turned out to be just a couple who really wanted to see me perform (and possibly fuck me? Murder me and wear my skin?) or a variety gig in a members' club where the act before me got up on stage, cut herself with a dagger, bled into a champagne flute and drank it, to the strains of opera music.

Harriet Kemsley - I did a gig in my hotel room for the Leicester Comedy Festival. There was a slightly creepy vibe as everyone sat on my bed.

Sarah Kendall - A daytime gig in Edinburgh where the spot before me was a dance troupe from Poland doing a physical movement piece about a concentration camp. It was moving and beautiful and poignant. When they finished the MC walked out and said, "What a devastating piece about a horrific chapter in human history. Well I think we all need a laugh now..." You can imagine how the rest went.

James Acaster - I did a gig in the woods where a man wanked on stage at the end of the gig and a woman dressed as a dog beat him up while he was wanking.

Lolly Adefope - I once did a gig where I wasn't the only woman, OR the only black person. I was all like, "Whaaaaaa? Get me outta here!"

The most memorable review, heckle or post-gig reaction?

James Acaster

James Acaster - A woman once put her hand up and offered to read a poem because my comedy was going so badly. So I let her. The poem was mainly about her not letting people push her around anymore.

Danielle Ward - Loads of comics and actors came to see mine and Martin White's first musical Psister Psycho in Edinburgh, 2007. One night, an unconventional yet hypnotically beautiful-looking man enjoyed the show so much he stayed right until the very end, while we played the exit music, giving us a one-man standing ovation. That man was Benedict Cumberbatch.

John Robins - When I did my first TV stand-up set someone tweeted that I was "less funny than AIDS, cancer, and spinal bifida combined". I pointed out the misspelling of Spina Bifida.

Pierre Novellie - Last year I did a routine about how I didn't want Brexit to make airports more difficult. One middle-aged woman, a Brexiteer who had come on her own and been abusive to staff on the way in, caused such a disruption that she had to be removed. She refused to leave, even after a majority of the audience had voted for her to leave, and failed to see the irony.

Athena Kugblenu - Ages ago I did this random gig in a small town and the audience were so quiet. When I addressed it a woman said, "we thought there would be jokes." I couldn't argue with that. At least they had come with the right expectations.

Tom Allen - "Can I have a selfie? My mum LOVES you!!!"

Who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?

Taskmaster. Alex Horne. Copyright: Avalon Television

Alex Horne - After a preview in Brighton a man in a suit bought me a drink and told me he wanted to discuss my show. I was very happy to. It's always nice to have your ego stroked while drinking free beer and I was pretty sure he was going to give me my own TV show/movie/lots of money. When we were sat comfortably he then spent 20 minutes explaining why that was the worst attempt at comedy he had ever seen and that I should not do comedy anymore and that I shouldn't call myself a comedian ever again. We didn't swap contact details.

Abi Roberts - I once applied for a gig only to be told, "we don't do your sort of comedy". Sweet Jesus. What an ocean-going prick.

Fin Taylor - I think every comic is an absolute cesspit on social media. Whether they're trying to appear virtuous on Twitter or fucking whining about some gig on Facebook or fucking crowd-sourcing their fucking jokes by prefacing it with HIVE MIND, good grief you'd think every comic was a total bell from the internet alone. But in real life everyone's sound.

Fern Brady - There's a handful of old men still running clubs who think women and ethnic minorities are a genre of comedy and it makes me happy to think that statistically I will live to see their deaths.

Stephen Bailey - Everyone! LOLZ.

How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?

Susan Calman

Susan Calman - The only thing that could make my life better would be Strictly. I really want to be on Strictly. Not as a joke, I'm deadly serious. Or Doctor Who. [Susan said this in 2016, in 2017 she was on Strictly]

Rhys James - Here I sit, tracksuit bottomed, 4:30pm on a Friday afternoon, four days before my show, typing answers to an interview you let me do as a favour, pistachio shells in my bellybutton and Coogan on TV. It's ideal. I haven't worn a tie for six years.

Jenny Éclair - I could do with a nice sit-down afternoon telly show - a quiz of some sort. The knees have had it.

It's your last-ever gig - tell us the line-up, the location...

Sara Pascoe

Sara Pascoe - I would be dressed as a mermaid; let's do it at the Dome in Brighton. The line-up would be my heroes, Roisin Conaty, Katherine Ryan, Kerry Godliman, Zoe Lyons and Bridget Christie and the rider would be strong black coffee and when the show finishes I will swim out to sea to painfully die alone. Lovely.

Part 2 of the highlights

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