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Spalding reporter Jenny Beake rediscovers her love for stand up comedy in South Holland Centre open mic night

When I saw that there was an open mic night at the South Holland Centre in Spalding I thought ‘this is right up my street.’

I have been performing musical comedy since 2011 when I first entered a Funny Women competition and wrote in my diary at the time ‘I want to to get to 50 gigs.’

Funnily enough I don’t remember having that particular ambition but now having performed for ten or more years at various gigs — from three people in the audience to 600 at a Jongleurs night — my comedy journey has been special to me.

From left to right: Jason Curries. Julia Burnett, Craig Fowler, Alan Simmons and Denny, Jason Simmons, Jenny Beake
From left to right: Jason Curries. Julia Burnett, Craig Fowler, Alan Simmons and Denny, Jason Simmons, Jenny Beake

You are only as good as your last gig.

In my case, Friday night’s open mic where I forgot the words to my own song and found myself in a comedy cul-de-sac…

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Luckily what I have learnt from professional comics over the years is that energy and recovery are vital.

Having been made redundant from my job at the Royal Borough Of Greenwich I decided to at last go for it, I was 35.

Jenny Beake ran Pretty Funny Comedy open mic nights to raise funds for charity
Jenny Beake ran Pretty Funny Comedy open mic nights to raise funds for charity

I thought I’d do this comedy lark for a year, so applied for open spots on the London circuit.

My 17th gig was the infamous King Gong show at the London Comedy Store which I won — from that I did a five- minute open spot, then ten- minute spots and it is my favourite club.

It is where I learnt from the likes of Phil Nichol, Jarred Christmas, Paul Thorne, Paul Tonkinson and I loved going back there each time for my ten-minute spot.

I lived about 25 minutes from Charing Cross and would make it a special event in my diary — lots of friends would come along and support me and I would stay in a hotel in Leicester Square as it was the late show and I would miss my train home.

My trusty piano that my late father gave to me has travelled with me around London and the UK — getting stuck in the first class carriage when I hopped on the train after legging up the stairs at Charing Cross to make the last train home.

Comedy gigs have taken me to the Edinburgh Festival, Jongleurs, Up The Creek in Greenwich and I did many competitions, winning comedian of the year in Norwich.

These are small accolades in the big wide world of comedy but to me it has helped make sense of many things in my life.

Jenny Beake at the Comedy Store London
Jenny Beake at the Comedy Store London

It has brought friends together, particularly as I had moved a lot over the years. My dad was a vicar and we moved house quite a bit. But my dad was a major inspiration — he could play the piano in Les Dawson style and was a funny man.

I do hope he is proud (maybe not of the sweary bits).

I have been given good advice.

Jeff Innocent said read the room and that life is not a sprint and Phil Nichol said don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do this — it is up to you.

Of course I have also met less kind people, but I learn from those too.

I learn from the difficult gigs because without those I wouldn’t have been able to recover when I did forget my own song words.

Contrary to popular belief (my ever-so-patient-partner Mark) I did actually rehearse my set for Friday’s gig— albeit in the morning — but in a way I am glad I forgot the words as it meant moving on to do some improv songs with members of the audience and try out some jokes that were Spalding specific.

There has been lucrative times over the years with gigs.

However, the job of a comedian is a night-time deal and when I used to work full- time again and gig a few times a week it can be a tiring and a somewhat solitary way of life.

The big highs and lows can also affect my mental health so it is important to recognise that and prioritise self-care.

I started my own Pretty Funny comedy club nights and with the help of my ever-so -patient partner Mark (who I often see shaking his head on the front row wondering what I am doing on stage) I put on charity nights and hand- picked acts.

These take time and energy and money and, though I liked doing them, once the pandemic hit there was not a lot of call for musical comedy in Norfolk where I live — although my boyfriend’s agricultural business went sky high.

Being called a comedian as my job role has been an important part of my life. It has led me to being broadcast in radio and writing a comedy column.

I was once again made redundant from my theatre job due to Covid and I started writing a column for the Lynn News – I never left and I am now working for the Spalding Guardian and Lincolnshire Free Press, which is a creative job that I enjoy.

I want to thank my work colleagues Andrew, Kerry, Kat and Duncan for surprising me at the South Holland Centre gig as they came along — it meant a lot.

Also my partner Mark, Annie and my childhood bestie Sammy who came all the way from Hull to the show — we haven’t seen each other for 40 years!

You are only as good as your last gig. But the reality of my journey has been a lot of planning, travelling, major adrenalin rushes, meeting great people, developing my musical comedy ‘act’ — as that is what it is. I am not sweary in real life, I promise.

The acts on Friday night did well – I played my part – Zeph Churchill was a great MC and pro comic Keith Farnan was really supportive of everybody there.

Part of working in theatres and venues is meeting other acts, tech rehearsals and being professional. I have always seen it as job and not just a passion.

I am so pleased the South Holland Centre has put on an open mic like this.It gives stage time and can uncover local talent and I was pleased to help in my role at the paper.

It was great to ask my pal Jason Simmons to come and perform. We go way back to 2011 and he is one of the nice guys in comedy.

So, thanks to the techies Scotty and crew who looked after us all, Samantha Bradley and Coun Andrew Woolf for putting on the opportunity for people to showcase whatever their talent might be!

I lost the bug for a while, but I think I may have got it back.

What do you think? Have you ever performed on stage? Tell us what it was like in the comments below...

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