Friday 16 March 2018

Glasgow Previews - a tale of two audiences

A Sock with Lobey Dosser and Rank Bajin, outside Dram in Glasgow

The two previews in a row the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre have just done in Glasgow (of our new show Superheroes), playing at our regular venue Dram! as part of Glasgow Comedy Festival, have been quite the education. 

Following on from the first two previews in Leicester in February, I'd done an extensive bit of rewriting, removing all the Christmas material, and introducing lots of brand new all-Superhero stuff. Now I had a Wednesday night and a Thursday night show in which to test out whether what I'd written was funny and worked, with a whole day inbetween to make improvements.

The first night, Wednesday, was a joy. It's a small venue, so the 30 punters we had made as much noise as a sellout, and responded beautifully to most of the show. It was clear that some pieces needed work, so I spent Thursday trimming the chaff, writing new gags, changing the order, and essentially sharpening up our act.

Highlights from Night 1. The good night.

Then came the second night, with the same size of crowd, a much better script (I thought) and a response from the audience that bordered on the funereal. Right from the start they were hard to get a laugh out of, and there was an element I could hear (and, of course, I can't see them) who seemed downright hostile. At the end I had loads of people coming up to me telling me how much they'd enjoyed the show, and a couple of people explaining that there was one table - a group booking of ten, so effectively a third of the audience - who were distracted and on their phones all the time (someone referred to them as Hooray Henries) and they seemed to have spread a bad vibe around the room stopping everyone else from enjoying themselves. Who knows? I recorded both nights but haven't brought myself to watch the second night yet. I certainly came away with the resolve to make the show so solid and funny from the start that it would win over even the most reluctant audience.

(I am guilty, I think, of becoming complacent, and over-used to audiences with a high percentage of Sock fans. Though our magic usually works on any audience, I am wrong to take for granted their being on our side from the start. When I can "feel" that there are people not "getting" the Socks, not buying into their word play and their silliness - and, if what I've been told is correct, not even paying attention to the show, which would make everything they do pretty nonsensical and inevitably not funny - then it bounces back on me. When a crowd is "going" with it, every laugh they give provokes more from us, until you can surf the wave of laughter, your only worry being too long a gap between them. This was the experience on night one. On night two, I was more surfing the silences. And when a gag is met with silence, you convince yourself it's not funny, despite the evidence of the previous audiences who'd reacted like it was the most hilarious thing they'd ever heard. It's a funny old business).

Here's what we gave them and how they reacted. This is the running order for Night Two. Between Wednesday and Thursday we'd lost the Nursery Rhymes routine.

Opening lines - Ken Dodd and Steven Hawking gags. Mild response night 1, silence night 2.
Batman, Robin & Flash gags - Night 1: a hit. Night 2: a couple of groans.
I'm A Sock - Night 1: Perfection, got all audience on side. Night 2: Winning some over

Cosmopolitan routine - Night 1: Very good, built to great laughs (would have put it on Youtube, but want to keep it in the show, very strong opener). Night 2: They were not finding this funny.
Ang Lee & Bob Kane - new gags for Night 2. Some laughs.

Motion Capture - Night 1: Good, best reception yet, Night 2 (with good new prop) some response
Peter Parker Song - 1: OK. 2: Thought I could hear some people leaving during it.

Faraday, Boron, Sagan gags - 1: Excellent, 2: OK
Brother scene 1 - Night 1: Fantastic, lots of adlibs, audience loved it. Night 2: Some laughs from the people who were trying hard to enjoy the show. I could feel one side of the room were liking it.
Your Racist Brother song - 1: Great, 2: OK, some laughs, even from the tough element

New Batman lines for Night 2 - some laughs
Batman and Joker - 1: Hilarious, 2: some good laughs

Steed & Peel - 1: Good but slight drop from laugh level. 2: No laugh level to drop from.
Brex Men - 1: OK but needs better punchlines, 2: About the same (booing for the politicians)
X Men Scottish - 1: Good laughs, but last line flopped, 2: Some laughs, last line got a groan

Avengers Reel - 1: Lots of good laughs esp Hulk verse, 2: Not quite so good but not bad
Wonder Woman - 1: Flop (but by night 2 standards pretty good), 2: Awful

Fantastic Four - 1: Good laughs, nice applause at end. 2: Surprising laughs, but silence at end.
Brother scene 2 - 1: He came on to pantomime boos, which was great, and Sock On The Right was getting "aah"s. Great laughs. 2: Some laughs, but table to the left audibly restless

Schrodinger gag - Night 1: Whatever. Night 2: A new Sock fan, sat in the front row, started at about this point in the show to start SAYING THE PUNCHLINES JUST BEFORE I DID! How that was supposed to help anyone I don't know. He went on to do it a few times. The Socks tried to get some banter out of this, but frankly it was doing more harm than good, and by now I'd acknowledged the odd mood of the room, which is often a bad thing to do cos, unless you're turning it around, that can just make it worse.

DeGrasse Tyson gag - Night 1: Genius. Night 2: Ignored. I think the audience were waiting for guy in the front row to work out the punchline and say it first

Superman - Night 1: An absolute joy. Getting laughs for the Jor El Kal El schtick, which wasn't working in Leicester, this piece just built and built, until we got to the Glasses routine, by which time we were surfing comedy waves of laughter.  Night 2: A struggle, but I was getting there, and keeping them, until the buggers started groaning at the farmyard bit, then I won them back with the Glasses but it was so disappointing to have lost them when it felt like they could be coming back.

Dead Ringer song - good both nights. It's almost as if we know how to do this if you'll give us the chance.

Harley & Ivy's Cookery & Gardening - good both nights, though struggling a bit the second night

Brother scene 3 -Night 1: Okay, but overlong and lacking laughs. Night 2: Script tightened well, but hard to tell because of the nature of the night

What I've Learned speech - new for Night 2, and actually went well. Because it's more dramatic than comic, it grabbed them, then got laughs for its punchlines. Very promising.

All By Myself - Night 1: Good but messy, Night 2: Better, and good response

Finale Avengers - Night 1: Lots of laughs, but messy. Night 2: Better performance, good laughs, but chummie in the front row leapt in from the start, doing the "Irn Bru" punchline just before me, then guessing the next punchline wrong, neither of which was helping. Whole piece tailed off with rewritten end. So we need a better climax, otherwise it's a good last bit.

To prove it's not my imagination, here are clips to compare and contrast. The same gags and how differently they went down on nights one and two. No, you're obsessing about it!

At which point we told them, both nights, it was the end of the show. On Night 1 they interrupted their applause to sigh good-naturedly, and we rewarded them with Smell Like Xmas. On Night 2 the end fizzled, and when we said we'd reward them with a song, some bright spark on "that table" responded with "Oh god no".

We got good laughs by attacking him, and the song went well. But god that was a hard show, and no matter how many people come up to you at the end and say how much they enjoyed it, I defy any comic to come away from a show where the audience didn't laugh as much as you think they should, feeling good about it all.

Interesting to compare this year's Glasgow Previews experience with our 2015 Brighton Previews experience, as documented here, where Minging Detectives had two distinctly different receptions too. 

Roll on Bath Comedy Festival the week after next, when they'll be getting the whole shebang - with even more improvements than we just did - and we'll be able to hear how an audience is supposed to sound again (fingers crossed).

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre are Superheroes at The Gilded Balloon at the Edinburgh Fringe from August 1st to 26th

Mar 29 - Bath Comedy Festival
May 26 3.45pm & May 27 5pm Komedia Brighton
June 16 - Zion, Bristol
July 11 - Neath
July 19 - Bedford Fringe
July 29 - Derby Bar One
 - with more preview dates to be announced


A member of the 'Horray Henries' said...

Hey there, I thought I would start off by saying that this table of 10, who had bought paid for over a third of your takings that night, were distracted away from your act as we found it so painfully awful to watch. I was actually really excited to come and see your show, due to reviews I had seen and to show my colleagues, from outside of Scotland, some top class Scottish banter. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I also believe that we weren't the only members of the audience to sit there thinking 'Why have I choose to spend my Thursday night here? Watching this...' The idea of your show reminded me of the sock puppets in Chewin' The Fat many years ago, which I loved for its silliness but again I was bitterly disappointed. We tried to enjoy it, we stuck through it and gave you laughs when funny. I admit this is all a matter of opinion and you are entitled to it as it is your blog, however we do have the right as paying audience members, to enjoy ourselves how we wish. If others were more interested in telling you about us than the might need to try find a few better gags to keep them entertained. Cheers, A member of the Horray Henries

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (and Kev F the comic artist) said...

Thanks for the feedback, and I'm really sorry you didn't enjoy the Socks. As I said, I couldn't see you guys and could only go by what I could hear and what I was told after the show. The "Hooray Henries" wasn't my choice of phrase, honest.

I was really appreciative of the block booking, just a shame that it wasn't your type of thing.

Kev F

Andy said...

I was present on the first night with 3 other friends and we all liked it, few of us have seen u several times at the Fringe and also last year at the Dram. I'm glad I was on the first night by the sounds of things, i really liked your long lost brother sketches and would like to see him again. Agree some of it was a bit messy but hey we are here just for some fun comedy and was only £9 so people either make it a night or not, it goes both ways, dont be too hard on yourself with the second night's experience. Keep up the good work.

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (and Kev F the comic artist) said...

Thanks Andy. It's only cod Thursday was so extreme a reaction that I've banged on about it. It's the first time we've had an audience like that in years. Certainly not for a preview show since the Minging Detectives year.

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (and Kev F the comic artist) said...

That's meant to say "cos Thursday" not cod Thursday.

Rumblestrip said...

I don't know how performers get the chutzpah to perform at all. Ace material and as you say,, constant laughter on night one, tumbleweed on night two - and you starting to talk over the important double-take pauses as you rush to fill the vacuum.
The Fantastic Four appeal gives me a great feeling about the new material and I'm looking forward to rolling in an aisle. (Sorry, my private life is my own affair. I am also looking forward to seeing your live show.)

shuggyboy said...

Just read your blog and would like to say I absolutely loved the show on the second night and as you know tried to add my usual shuggy heckles which you dealt with brilliantly as usual.

I’ve seen you a lot at Dram and always brilliant

And as for that post from the Hooray Henrys, I was a paying member of the audience too and you ruined my enjoyment. If you didn’t like it you could have left. You wouldn’ have got away with that behaviour in The Pavilion or The Kings so why did you act like fannies at Dram.

Keep up the good work Kev and don’t let this put you off playing Dram, Socks is genuinely one of my highlights of the year

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (and Kev F the comic artist) said...

Cheers Shuggy - Kev F & the Socks

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