Last week, I did something for the first time in so long, I can’t remember when I did it last: I went to a club on a night I wasn’t booked, hoping to get on, not knowing if I would. Sounds almost quaint, doesn’t it? Notwithstanding the fact that someone of my stature should obviously get a spot every time he asks [ahem] it seems far from the norm in the Stockholm scene. This is coming from someone who barely inhabits the open mic clubs these days, so take this with a grain of salt, but my impression is that most comics, even rookies, don’t go to clubs unless they know in advance they’re guaranteed a spot.

That might just be prejudice based on my experience with Power Comedy Club. The concept was simple- show up, get a spot, and as long as anyone (and I mean anyone) was still watching, the show would go on. I think there were two nights in two years we had to end before everyone on the lineup got a chance on stage; three-hour shows were the norm, four-hour and longer shows were not uncommon. And yet, in a world where niche clubs open to promote diversity, only the concerted efforts of myself and my partners kept the nights from being exclusively male, white and straight. One night in particular, I brought a woman from the audience onto the stage just to have one penis-less participant.

And so it was that, on a Thursday with no other plans, I decided to take a chance. I took the hour-long commute to get to the club an hour before showtime and, luckily, managed to get a seven-minute spot. Then I took the hour-long train trip home. Ah, the glamour of showbiz.

A few things motivated this adventure. I mentioned in a previous blog post that my services had been engaged to coach a would-be rookie prior to his debut and, the week earlier, he’d booked that debut on a Thursday at Big Ben Comedy Club. It also happened that I was working at On Air Game Shows the same night, but would finish in time to make it to Big Ben before the show started. Being in the city already, it was easy to run over there, also doing something I rarely do these days- I went to a club when I wasn’t booked and had zero intention of trying to get a spot.

Although I’d made my standup debut by competing against other rookies in Bungy Comedy, Big Ben was where I got my real start twelve years ago. At the time it was open on Thursdays and Sundays only; it would be years before Thursdays became International Nights and more years still for the club to be open three nights, then four, then every night. I vividly remember the first time I went there, just to check it out. It was so packed, I literally had to climb a wall in order to see the stage. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear much. The physical layout of the room has changed over the years, but the sound system stubbornly remains terrible. Part of the charm, I suppose.

Back in those early days, while my grind was at its peak, I practically lived there. Those days are long gone, of course, and it’s a bit of a shame. Being a regular at Big Ben is like being a regular at a gym, but in January- you see a lot of new faces each day that you’ll never see again. One of the authors of the well-intended but ultimately failed Code of Conduct (I should really do a deep dive into that someday) based the rule, “Greet every comic in the club, every time,” on her own experience of walking into a club (I’m guessing Big Ben) and, despite the fact that she was a seasoned veteran, no one said hello to her.

This is someone who I believe began performing before I did, yet I’ve met her maybe four times in twelve years. It’s just comic nature. Unless you’re super social – and, as I’ve said many, many, too many times before, comics are social retards – comics who don’t know you from Adam’s off ox don’t want to talk to you until they’ve seen you do well on stage. I had this exact experience at Big Ben a year or so ago. I showed up for the first time in months, sat with the other comics, next to someone I’d never met, who didn’t even look in my direction. I went on stage, did well, came back, she made eye contact, smiled, said hi and complimented my set. It’s just the way of things and as much as I’d like to say I’m above it, I’m not.

This trip to Big Ben a few weeks ago was no different. Again, it was my first appearance there in several months and I’ve been there maybe eight times in the past few years. I said hello to a few people I kind of know or at least remember meeting before, but otherwise sat anonymously watching the show. No one was like, “Oooh, there’s Ryan Bussell, a 12-year veteran!” because of course they didn’t.

A handful of rookies I’d never seen before went up before my protegee made his debut and, watching them, it reminded me greatly of just how important confidence is to a performance. I got to see a few forms of it in action. There’s zero confidence, which is self-explanatory. There’s false confidence, where someone has much more confidence than the material deserves. There’s role-playing confidence, where a rookie speaks and acts like a professional comic they’ve seen on TV, the rookie thinking that’s how they’re supposed to sound and act as well. Thing is, the audience can see right through someone who is falsely confident or pretending to be so.

My guy went up and was the first with just plain old, natural confidence. Not falsely secure in his material, but confident because he has years of experience in public speaking and at least being funny from time to time. He wasn’t introduced as it being his first time, he didn’t mention it himself, but that confidence had a big impact on the crowd and it went really well for him. For a rookie, I reminded him then and continue to do so. You know how it is with rookie egos.

I once dated a woman who came from a musical family. Her father and sister were amazing musicians, but she didn’t play any instruments herself. I asked her why and she said she loved the theory of playing, but not the practice. I’ve met many rookies over the years with a similar mindset, impatient and wanting to be good right away, and my guy is one of them. After the gig, he told me he’d come up with a strategy for gaming the system, that would potentially guarantee future bookings whenever he wanted, which I won’t reveal here. I responded with, “Well, you could do that, or – hear me out – you could just show up, ask for a spot, and be prepared that they might say no.” He looked at me the same way he did when I said he’d need to go on stage at least fifty times before he’d be any good. Some things just can’t be taught, I guess.

He was booked again the following week and I decided to go, even though I had no other reason to be in the city that day, even though I love being at home very, very, too much. It wasn’t entirely unselfish, though. I never sit down to write new material cold, simply wait for the Muse to do her thing, and a day prior I finally got inspiration.

The past several months I’ve had a lot of random thoughts swirling around my head and suddenly a way to start a set occurred to me. As I thought about it, I realized I had a twenty-minute set without even trying. Shit, this could be a whole damn hour. Only problem is, I have no intention of putting a show together. I’ve been encouraged to do a special and I love the idea, just one problem: no one would show up. At this point, doing a show would just be an exercise in ego stroking, and it’s a bit counterproductive to try to masturbate one’s ego to an empty room. The adage, “What if they threw a war and no one showed up?” comes to mind.

While I live at Maffia Comedy these days, I don’t like testing new material as a host nor for a crowd that pays a not small amount for tickets. Again, a quaint thought, I know. Big Ben, then, is the best spot for me to try out new ideas, but the prospect of a two-hour commute to maybe get a few minutes is rarely attractive. I also fall easily into the trap of looking at the room through nostalgia goggles, thinking more about how I remember the room being (and my memory being overly flattering) than how it is.

But I went last week and I got on and the new stuff went well, so I’m happy with the night. Maybe I’ll try to get there more often. On the other hand, my PS5 isn’t going to play itself.