Gig Number Four: Death Star Canteen

Death Star Canteen can be found at Caz Reitop's Dirty Secrets, 80 Smith St, Collingwood. "Death Star Canteen" is run by Dean Eizenberg and Travis Nash and is a good room for new comedians to find the stage time they crave.  I find the room to be an interesting one to perform in.  I've frequented the room many times over many years, well before it was named "Death Star Canteen".  At first glance the room appears to be perfect:  small, dark, low ceilings and a suggestion of intimacy.  Yet I have experienced gigs; whether performing or just watching; that have struggled mightily.



The issue I have with the room is difficult to overcome.  Some of the seating arrangement isn't comfortable as some punters sitting with their backs against the wall have to endure watching the show with their head on a 180 degree angle.  Other punters just have look on their face that suggests a fear that they're sitting too close to the comedian.  Up the back of the room you can hide in the dark and when you place people where they believe they can't be seen this often lends itself to distraction eg checking your phone or a quip that turns into a conversation.

I have to stress that Dean and Trav work very hard to make this room work and this isn't a comment on their work ethic.  It is a statement on the feel of the room, something that was there way before the lads took over.

This is also an open mic night so you often end up with a wildly fluctuating show where new comedians attempt to find their voice or established acts trialling new material.  Sometimes you can end up with two new acts in a row who aren't very good and two established acts stinking up the joint with their new material.  Too many perceived failures in a row and you lose the audience's trust.

Now add to this that it can be quite cold in the venue but it is really warm onstage with the lights extremely close to the performers.  It is a bizarre to look at girls wearing cardigans in the audience while you're onstage going through an early menopause.  It can make you feel mildly self-conscious.

Last night I was hosting.  Hosting is very particular skill.  A good host is almost unnoticed.  It is common to have an eager punter tell you after a gig that you should try stand up because you were as good as the people you were introducing.  This is like telling a 20/20 cricketer he should try playing cricket.  When I was younger this used to annoy me because it played into my insecurities about my place in the comedy world.  Now I take it for what it is:  people being nice without the knowledge of your job.  There is no need to be an arsehole to someone who is giving you a compliment even if the compliment appears to make little sense.

When hosting I open with a little house keeping.  You have to remember that audiences have been talking, checking their phones, daydreaming or planning their lives before you come on stage.  You don't want to hit them with some jokes before they have had time to get used to the fact the show has begun, that you're talking to them through a microphone and they now have to concentrate.  I'll explain how the night is going to run which allows everyone time to get their bearings before easing into my first routine.  I usually open with a longer set to get everything settled before rolling the acts out one after the other.

I will only do material off the back of an act for a couple of reasons.  If someone has struggled you try to reset the room so the next comedian can succeed.  This is often referred to as "giving up material".  Your jokes won't work as well as before because the room is cold again but it will hopefully warm them back up.  If a comedian has gone really well you might do a little chat just to let the energy settle so the next comedian doesn't hit the stage while everyone is still basking in the afterglow of the previous act.  The only other reason I'll do a small bit is if someone tells a joke that reminds me of a very quick story.  Then I'll share that in the hope of adding some continuity to the night.  Hosting is a juggling act and can easily go wrong.  Hosts often can save a night or run a night into the ground.  It isn't rocket science but it requires a lot of concentration as it is necessary to keep an eye on the mood of the audience and attempt to decipher what they need next.

My plan for the opening was to play with a bit of new material and then launch into some jokes that had become a part of my headline spot from the end of last year.  The headline material was really sharp in the two months I performed it at the end of 2012 but I hadn't used any of it in the last 7 weeks.  Since it was still new it was important to get back into it soon as possible as I'd like to use it for at least the next 6 months.  I had to perform it this night to rediscover the rhythm of the gags.  I recently heard a quote (I think it was from Hank Azaria via Wil Anderson) that our desire to kill for 80 often stifles our ability to nail a crowd of a 1,000.  My job was to entertain the audience, keep the night flowing and improve as a comedian.

The new at the beginning of the night was okay.  Funnily enough I left out a joke that was the inspiration for the whole opening.  This happens sometimes.  Nobody of course noticed but was playing in my head while I had already moved on to the headline material.  Luckily I was much more across this gear then I had hoped for.

This is the setlist for the opening bracket:

Arseholes Are Funny!

"You're An Ugly Hooker!"

Insects Have It Tough

Twitter and Felix

"That Won't Get Him A Job."

No Need To Share All Your Opinions

Qantas Rant.

I thought the opening was solid, I set up the night and found my rhythm early.  I'm not certain about the "Ugly Hooker" story because even though it is 100% true I think I'm leaving out some important aspect to help sell it to the audience.  I will continue to work on this to hopefully get it right.  It might be the context is incorrect or I'm leaving out one important piece of information.  We'll see.



For the start of the second half I decided I needed some material that was short, sharp and shiny.  The audience was ready to go and just needed a quick warm up.  I walked onstage with a few ideas in my head and was totally surprised when I launched into a story that is 11 years old and hasn't been performed in a long time.  Anyway setlist two consisted of one story:

The Acid Story

People who have been following me for a while might remember this.  I found that the story still has a good shape and a nice amount of jokes.  I ad-libbed new ideas around it and fleshed out some other aspects to make it a tight opening to the second half.

All in all a good opportunity to get back into hosting and also run some material back into form.  It was a solid night of comedy and all the acts did an excellent job of kicking Death Star Canteen into 2013 on a positive note.  I still feel like I'm in pre-season training but the material and confidence is beginning to take shape.

Justin Hamilton

17th of January, 2013

Fitzroy North