First Gig Worst Gig

Sam Nicoresti

Sam Nicoresti

Just over two years ago the spacesuit-sporting Sam Nicoresti spent a month doing an enjoyably elaborate show about once getting abducted by aliens, in a tent, late at night - exactly the sort of place where you'd expect to be abducted by aliens again, in fact.

Taking no chances, on September 27-28th he's bringing that show, UFO, to the Soho Theatre, which has a solid roof and sides.

"It's very different from the show I performed in a yurt by a public footpath at the Fringe," he tells us. "For one, there'll be less ambient sounds of drunks tripping and falling against the canvas.

"It's been two years, and everything is different now. The show I was doing back then was about a guy pushed over the edge by conspiracy theories, and whether there was any value to his warped search for meaning. Now everyone has a friend or a second cousin who's become an anti-vaxxer and the public definition of a 'conspiracy theory' has changed, so the show has changed.

"At the same time it's still about the multi-dimensional universe and aliens and it ends the same. There's more soundscapes and batteries involved now."

And it had lots going on already. Nicoresti is also a talented filmmaker and designer - some of our favourite comedy posters were his babies - so his interstellar abduction would definitely leave a void. Or create opportunities for others? Swings and roundabouts.

Anyway, here's his gigstory.

Sam Nicoresti

First gig?

Circa 2005. The paradoxically named Paradise Circus, Birmingham. I used to go to a Sunday youth theatre there called Stage 2, based in this towering brutalist vortex of birdcrap and McDonald's fryer smell. I remember we had a whole lecture once about how discarded needles weren't toys, which totally ruined our under-15s dart tournament.

Anyway, they wanted to put on a cabaret night and I wasn't all that confident at acting so I decided to do a comedy routine with my then-friend Anthony about French chefs who, if I remember rightly, were very stressed.

It went down a storm until the finale, which involved a huge pie fight. I think we got cream over something important you're not supposed to get cream over and it broke the gig. It was to about 200 disappointed parents (and one proud dad). They never did another cabaret, and eventually they demolished the entire complex to make way for a tram.

Favourite show, ever?

Y'know, there's no stand-out. I've done so many weird one-offs and been a part of so many on-paper terrible ideas that came together beautifully on the night. Looking back, I've loved my 20s, but I'm not the kind of person who plays favourites with memories. It's cruel and detrimental to your other memories.

Maybe I've actually had quite a terrible career without a single highlight and I just can't allow myself to see it. After writing that last sentence I stared off into space for a full five minutes and I'm starting to worry. Next question.

Worst gig?

The Farty Fart Sean McTrump Face Show. Man I'm so glad to finally have a platform to set the record straight on this garbage gig. So. In Sheffield, back in the day, my friend Shaun (name misspelt to protect anonymity) had a regular slot at The Riverside, a traditional hipster pub - Phlegm graffiti, something dumb written in neon letters on the side of the beer garden, the sense of beard wax.

I think he had free reign over the upstairs room every week, although often you'd turn up and the pub would be using it to store old kitchen equipment or host an art gallery (never stopped us: we performed from inside a broken fridge once).

Once a month he'd do a big weird gig with all our friends, and on this occasion the audience had been allowed to pick the name by Facebook poll, and hence decide the content. Boaty McBoatface had just hit, Trump was in the primaries, people think 'fart' is funny, so we got saddled with The Farty Fart Sean McTrump Face Show.

We had a writers' room - me, Shaun, Eva and Jeff (names misspelt for legal deniability) - where we suggested rewriting Four Candles to be fart-based: "Far tandles? No! 'andles for farts!". But then Ronnie Corbett died and we ended up with nothing.

It's a hell of a sentence, if nothing else. How did the show work?

I suggested the gig should be in the round, the audience in a seated circle with a huge bottomless chair in the centre and a big mic'd up trumpet positioned rectally beneath. We would then feed Shaun beans and fizzy pop until he farted into the trumpet to huge applause. This being Sheffield we were somehow able to procure a huge farting trumpet and cut-out chair, which no one expected, and that became the one idea we had.

Then on the day Shaun turned up, took one look at this weird medieval humiliation set-up and said "I'm not doing that". So the gig started and it was like this festering war of resentment against us for putting it on and the audience for making us do it.
It lasted about 15 minutes before we had to admit there was nothing in it and the gig was over. I'll never forget turning to Eva halfway in and asking her what the plan was. She said "this has nothing to do with me, I'm just here to watch" before blending back into the audience-ring. An awful betrayal.

Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?

My double-act partner and longest consecutive friend Tom Burgess. I started doing comedy regularly because he makes me laugh and we have fun on and off stage. I try to make that my guiding principle. If you feel a part of something and you're inspired by your friends and having a good time, that's everything.

Sam Nicoresti

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

Outside of actual creeps who shouldn't be allowed positions of power over young women? There's a lot of entitlement and two-faced media spin which comes with the arts. People try really hard to affect an image of socially-conscious relatability whilst hiding how much money they spent on PR and how rude they are to venue staff.

Our double-act Sam & Tom did a showcase at the Fringe one year, coming off the back of a show to about five people which is not unusual for a lot of performers, and turning up at this venue where the promoter was full on screaming outside in the street about how "only 25 people" had shown up and how they'd come to Edinburgh to "get famous" not "want to die".

They spent the whole gig mocking the audience for "being Irish" and laughing at people for "having jobs", came on after a brilliant character act and said "I'm sorry, I had no idea she was going to do that", before announcing "and now please welcome... Tom and his friend, I guess."

I will admit, Tom & His Friend is an absolutely brilliant name and we wish we'd thought of it first.

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

I refer you back to The Farty Fart Sean McTrump Face Show. The atmosphere in the room was so negative, I felt like they didn't even remember doing the poll.

How were your lockdowns, creatively and generally?

Yeah, an odd one. It wasn't a time for navel-gazing. I was mostly worried about rent-money and the dread state of the world. I spent a lot of time reading and writing and trying to find work. Creatively it was great to break the cycle of rinse-repeat on making a show, taking it to Edinburgh, binning it.

I tried a bit of streaming and all that but I've found that what I really like to do is build worlds, and have stories that conclude. I sat down in March and thought, "Okay. The UFO tour is cancelled, Soho's cancelled, why don't you make the show into an audio recording and put it out on Bandcamp".

That idea just grew and grew and now it's 18 months later and it's this crazy eight-part multi-voice thing with music and we're still trying to figure out how to get it out there. It's been nice to have the Soho Theatre dates come back and be able to put some of what we've been making into the original show. I've missed live comedy.

Sam Nicoresti

Any reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions stick in the mind?

Actually Si, I've got a bone to pick with you!

You came and reviewed UFO at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019 and I remember after the gig you came up to me and were like "Oh that was great, I'm definitely going to give this a great review!" or words to that effect... and then you gave it three stars and gave me pull quotes like "a thoroughly enjoyable act, rather than just some really annoying dude" and "a tad too much for some"!

What the hell man? I mean, I guess it's all subjective, and I don't know why I'm choosing to bring this up now, but I think there's a power imbalance between live performance and online magazines because those reviews often become the only thing left of a show after it's had its run.

You get to say whatever you felt, and potentially more people will see that than will ever see the show, and the act never gets to respond and say "actually, the audience were super weird that day", or "thank you very much, but this is too many stars".

If there weren't so many fragile egos involved I'd suggest acts should get a right of reply. But then I guess ultimately, outside the industry, who cares? Maybe they should just bring back Fringepig.

Anyway, you also gave me "Nicoresti is an auteur" which is my favourite thing anyone's said about me, so thank you.

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

After that outburst? They'll be queuing up to slaughter me in the broadsheets (they won't, I don't have the budget to get broadsheets in). I'm happy with the effort I'm putting into my work. I try to stay focused on learning new things, becoming a better writer and performer, and then each show builds on the last. All I care about is creating, even though I'm not a constant-output-online-guy.

My dream is to get to a point where I can make things I'm proud of full time, and obviously I'm very excited about bringing what I've been working on to Soho Theatre. UFO is one small step for my career, one giant leap for my craft. (Don't print that, that's awful.)

Share this page