RU-Funny Debriefing

Posted on 17 May 2009

The RU-Funny event was amazing. I turned up an hour early, so that the organisers could run all the comedians through the housekeeping. Twenty people turned up to compete. At five minutes each plus Mark Trenwith’s incomparable compering we had a long night ahead of us.

I had to quickly write a new routine Friday a week ago when I discovered the place had limited multimedia capacity. That’s when I dragged out Mbulu for an encore performance. He is after all the coolest soft toy on the planet. However, juggling him and a microphone filled me with dread. Fortunately, the venue did have radio mics! Unfortunately, they were homemade and involved a coat hanger around the back of my head that eventually started to dig into my skin…ouch.

We pulled numbers out of a hat for our performance order. I pulled the number six. That’s the same number Patrick McGoohan’s character had in the 60s TV show The Prisoner. So when the organiser asked, “Your number?” I responded with a line from the show, “I am not a number, I am a free man.” Now I thought this was going to be a private joke. But it turned out we had a Welsh comedian who grew up near where that show was filmed, and he cracked up. Ah, nice way to start the evening.

As number six (I’m still not a number) I was in the first group of comedians and it was nice being put in the hottest set from where all the winners came. It meant the audience were in a good mood when they came to me.

You are all probably wondering: did Katherine Phelps win? No I did not win the audience favourite award nor the judges award. But with creative things like this, just because you didn’t win doesn’t mean that you lost. Though I’ve
written plenty of published humorous books, stories, articles, screenplays, etc, I’m pretty wet behind the ears when it comes to stand-up. When Mark invited me to participate I thought, “Great! More experience.”

So, for me the real question is what did I learn? What worked? What didn’t work?

Mbulu worked before we even stepped out onto the stage.  The idea of poetry didn’t work as well for a suburban audience (this wasn’t a city venue). But might still work at other venues at which I’ve performed. My first couple of poems had people interested: they were attentive, unlike during a couple of acts that died. However, I didn’t get a lot of laughs. My last poem Ninjas Ninjas Ninjas got huge laughs.

If I was serious about winning, I probably shouldn’t have used entirely new and untested material. But I didn’t want to play it safe, I wanted to know what worked. This audience was great, because they were informed we were largely
beginners and therefore sympathetic, and they were discouraged from heckling. Also, it was largely made up of supporters for the various comedians.

When I went out to the foyer during intermission for a bottle of water, I had a number of people approach me for a chat. This was a very good sign. If I had failed miserably, people would have avoided me. Also, people obviously felt I was approachable and likeable. ACE! BIG WIN! Those are keys to an enduring career. I also had the word “original” tossed at me several times. I love “original”; it just needs to be connected with “accessible” and “funny”.

I’m not certain whether I want to work this routine further or move onto something else. It might be fun to work up a few more sure-fire poems. I have resorted to Mbulu a) because he’s cool (did I already say that?) and b) because
I would dearly love to have a comic partner. Backstage I was, as ever, riffing off the other comedians and laughing until it hurt. I would love to bring that to the stage. I’d love to do a modern George Burns & Gracie Allen act.

I also keep feeling that I haven’t really found my audience yet. I need a Lano & Woodley crowd and standup venues get more of an Otis Lee Crenshaw crowd. I’m more on the family end of things, and families tend to go to full shows. So, I’m already working on a show for next year’s Adelaide Fringe. Stay tuned.

Mbulu and Katherine before the show

Mbulu and Katherine before the show

Peace and kindness,


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