My name’s Adrian. Or it was when I was born. But since 2011, I’ve gone by the stage-moniker ‘Aid Thompsin’, which was spawned from a desire to remain off-the-grid from my employers, should they ever find out I was attempting something as ridiculous as comedy. I guess the logic was that if I was going to talk about my actual life, taking the piss out of my then-job, ridiculing the situations I’d found myself in – it would probably be best if “Adrian Thompson Comedy” returned no results on Google.
So you can imagine my delight when after four years of hard work my name(s) still return depressingly few results on the world’s largest search engine.
That said, I had fun. And that’s the key thing. That you can look back and say it was awesome. I was an ‘Open Miker’ in a city, at a time, when open mic comedy was at its electrifying best. Every night of the week there was a show to be found. From Comedy Virgins to TNT to We Are Funny Project to Funny Feckers… You could get more stage-time in London than anywhere else in the world, I was told. And I took that and ran with it. For every godless, boring-as-piss-holes wine-bar there was, with pin-stripe traders quaffing their pinot and vomiting ‘City’ into the city – there was a gloriously grungey basement/loft with a blank sheet of paper, begging acts to sign up. And it was all-engulfing.
A lot of people get into comedy because their friends stopped going out. They were the single ones, they still went to the pub every week, maybe saw a sandwich-board out front and decided to give it a bash. ‘Social club comedians”, I thought of them as. They sort of accidentally fell into it and now they meet up every week to 10 days, tell a funny story and go back to whatever the fuck it is they do when they’re not being introduced as “Chuckly Joe & His HILARIOUS Ukulele!”.
But for me it was more than that. I made friends along the way, absolutely. But the focus was always there. ‘Professional comedian’ – that was the end goal. But alas, it wasn’t to be. I don’t mean that in a “I joined a band, we recorded a demo and nothing really ever came of it” way. I mean I slogged the shit out of it. I bled the passion, I crafted my sets, I put in the work and actually even got to a point where, had I not been such an entitled £35k-a-year media prick, I could’ve probably quit my job and done comedy full-time – had I been willing to live on boil-in-a-bag rice and my housemate’s bath-water, of course. I imagined friends bumping into me in the street:
“Hey Aid, i heard you quit your job and you’re a professional comedian now! Congratulations man!?”
“Yeah, thanks, my life is improving!”
The camera would pan out to reveal me smoking a rollie, waiting for the YMCA to open.
I was determined to get at least near my existing salary through event sponsorships, ticket revenue, merchandise and the like – before I would consider ending my ‘Linkedin-Life’. And that meant leading a bizarre double one. A contrasting tapestry of feeling wired then exhausted, of high-creativity and office minutiae, becoming totally relaxed in front of forty, staring strangers, yet a nervous wreck when sat in silence with two colleagues.
With its rep for being lonely and badly-paid, I saw it as fertile ground for diverse businesses. Circles, plural, of friends to be made from all ages, backgrounds, professions, races; A ‘punk rock’ landscape, where you could build up a guerrilla events company, guest on local radio, you could write articles for The Guardian, tweet vids of yourself to strangers looking for new comedy recommendations; In my mind it was literally as simple as “this is something you can’t fake”. I mused that as long as people are telling you that you’re funny, and you put in the work, build out your profile – slowly success will follow.
I would be tubing it to NW5, then east to Hackney; the following night I’d be at Dirty Dicks in EC2 trying some new ideas. The weekend would bring the odd 15 minute set. Yes, I heard heckles of “Don’t give up your day-job, mate!”. No, it didn’t bother me. The joke was on them. I didn’t have to give up my day-job. Stand-up got me fired from about three of them.
By proxy of course. You can’t fire someone for being hilarious. However much the BBC and Russell Brand may disagree with me. But you can put them on a Performance Improvement Plan for being exhausted, making mistakes and, well, generally being more interested in running out the door 20 minutes early than making sure things are done correctly and on-time.
For context, while I was first pursuing comedy, gigging every night, working every day – four hours sleep, coming into work hungover and incapable of constructing any worthwhile sentences – in the thick of all that I made a mistake at an investment bank that cost them twenty fucking thousand pounds. I did that. Twenty grand. So when aspiring comedians ask me if they’re likely to earn money doing it, I ask them what sort of Lewis Carroll fantasy are they living in. You’re going to lose entire employment contracts. You’re going to lose so much money – other people are going to have to make really difficult budgeting decisions because of it.
When I moved to a different role, and as comedy swallowed me whole, I became obsessed with jokes, punchlines, build-ups, turns of phrase, clever metaphors – my next manager called me in for a review, offering the following feedback:
“I just get the feeling that when someone asks you a question, you would rather reply with the thing that amuses you, personally, the most – rather than the thing that’s actually going to be of any help to anybody.”
In my years as an Open Miker, I had plenty of ups and downs, I loved the laughs and would romanticise the ‘dying’ on-stage, the late nights and early mornings – I adored all of it. The good and the bad. The peaks and the troughs. The being-torn-from-left-to-right. The excitement of scribbling down something at 16:30 and knowing it works by half-eight, only to try it again the next night and have it stink out the room.
I’d leave sold-out rooms in Shoreditch feeling like a fucking rock star then get booed off at The Comedy Store’s King Gong three days later. I headlined at Dirty Dicks and had drinks bought for me, hands shaking mine, strangers telling me I was hilarious – then the following night I’d die on my arse trying to earn smirks from three tired-looking comedians. My material was praised by industry promoters but my crowd-work was atrocious. I booked, sold-out and filmed a one-hour show at Leicester Square Theatre. And came last in the first round of a competition the same fucking week. The highs were a high, the lows were just that. A momentary low, a blip, a day where things didn’t go to plan – one that 24 hours later no one would even give a shit about. None of it mattered. Yet all of it was everything.
I edited “Open Mic” as a sort of lasting, douchey love-letter to standup. For me, it captures the insanity of the circuit. The bipolar shifts in your mood. The crunch point of wanting, needing to be a successful… something… a thing that you think you’re half decent at – versus the sunset of your youth, moving out of London, trying to start a family, being an adult. Ultimately it’s about the hard work it takes to end up being another nobody.
It’s now January 2016. I’m happy with how things have relaxed. It might not be over forever. I’m sure I’ll head back and try some ideas out at some point. But for me? As an ‘Open Miker’? As “Aid Thompsin – Stand-up” – dragging my DCs on the stage, grunge-esque posters advertising The Panda Riot gigs, shaking Harry U Eldrich’s hand as we swap places on the Dirty Dicks stage, slurping a London Stout as I try to read the smeared notes on my hand? That period is over now. Harry quit, Funny Feckers is no more, I wear shoes into work and my girlfriend is pregnant with our first kid.
To quote someone that was quoted on something that I can’t remember: I don’t feel sad that it’s over. I feel happy that it happened.
Or maybe “Don’t think of it as over… think of it as complete.”
Okay that second one was me, just now, I said that. Go me.
Anyway my point is this: it was fun, I made a film about it and now we’re having a baby. Where’s my fucking medal.
Plus they turned Dirty Dicks into a wine bar, Christ…
Open Mic is free to watch and available on YouTube.