First Gig Worst Gig

Laura Lexx

Laura Lexx. Copyright: Karla Gowlett

2020 may seem about a hundred years away, but - newsflash - it's not. See that corner? It's just round it. Still, if the very prospect chills your bones, there is a fair bit of 2020 stuff to look forward to. Tours! Laura Lexx, for example, has enjoyed an upwardly mobile couple of years since her admirably honest 2018 show Trying won excellent reviews. She now embarks on her first tour, from February onwards, with the follow-up, Knee Jerk.

The Brighton-based comic was probably best known as one of the UK's best comperes before winning acclaim for the Fringe hours: this is a chance to expand her live work a bit further.

"This tour is pretty much a glorious summing up of three years of writing for Fringe shows, and I get to show off the best bits," says Lexx. "I can't wait. I get two halves to play with an audience and get to know them, let them get to know me. It's going to be more intimate, more intense and more in detail than anything I've ever been able to do before. I really, really can't wait."

Let's crack straight on, then, with the early days.

First gig?

It must have been winter 2008, I reckon. I knew I was going to be doing the comedy specialism in my final year at Uni of Kent, and so I decided to get some practice in. It was terrifying! I cannot remember a single bit of material I used; I think it was largely improvised, but I knew I got at least one laugh and that was enough to carry on.

What's the single favourite gig of your career?

Oh... it has to be Live At The Apollo. Nothing has touched that for feeling, finally like I deserved a good thing that was happening to me. I loved every second of that show.

Live At The Apollo. Laura Lexx. Copyright: Open Mike Productions

Worst gig?

So! It was awful! Was it even a gig?! I was booked to play a gig at a racecourse; this isn't unusual and I thought I'd be turning up to a conference room on a racecourse somewhere and performing to an audience. BUT NO!

I turned up and there was a little tent in a thoroughfare by some food tents... no seating, no signs, no nothing, just this little awning with a microphone on it. The other comics and I all asked "What time does the show start?" And we were told "Oh, no, there's no fixed show - just between each race one of you will do 15 minutes to people passing by." Oh. My heart fell plonk out of my butt and onto the ground.

People were so drunk, no one knew what was happening, these people were raucously enjoying their race day and then suddenly I was standing on a plinth trying to tell jokes into a crowd. Jokes can't catch people's attention by suddenly, unexpectedly making someone laugh - you have to hear the beginning AND the end or it's all nonsense.

Laura Lexx. Copyright: Karla Gowlett

At one point I heard a man lean over to one of the stewards and say "I just feel really sorry for her because no one is laughing." And I said to him, "It's alright babe - I really don't mind." And he said, "But you must feel AWFUL, don't you? No one AT ALL is laughing?"

I then chatted to him for the rest of my time and drove away as quickly as I could once my time was up. It was terrible.

Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?

I think... Zoe Lyons. I've always had so much time for any advice she gave me about the circuit and about having a life alongside a career. I've also always adored everything she does on stage.

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

I would have to give that mantel to the man who put me in a headlock after a show once because he had not been a fan of what I did. That was quite disagreeable.

Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?

No, everything I've ever written has been gold.

You're a famously good compere too - any useful tips for new MCs?

Listen to all the advice people will want to give you and then ignore as much of it as you feel like.

I particularly enjoy ignoring: 'the MC is there to make the gig good for the acts' (no, everyone on the stage is there to make the gig good for the audience), 'the MC shouldn't try to be funnier than the acts' (what if they can't help it?) and criticism of 'it's just getting them to cheer isn't it?' (sometimes, if you need to subtly encourage the audience to behave en masse, the most efficient way to do that is to offer ways of making them react as one).

Laura Lexx. Copyright: Karla Gowlett

Are there particular reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions that stick in the mind?

Yeah, sadly I really take criticism deep into my heart and the praise sort of feels like I got it by accident. Sometimes that works out really well though, I remember reading reviews of my debut Edinburgh show Lovely and having the gag rate criticised, so when I came back the next year with Tyrannosaurus Lexx I had RAMMED that show full of jokes and I had a brilliant year. Sometimes criticism is correct but it's how you react to it that makes the difference.

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

A real mixture of pride and frustration if I'm honest, is that ok to say? I have got to this point where I feel capable of doing anything and I'm loving it, but it makes waiting for the next big thing to come along even harder to do. Patience is a virtue and all that.

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