The Rhythm Factory, in theory, gets a lot of foot traffic. It’s on Whitechapel Road, about a five minute walk from Aldgate East station.
As well as being kind of a nice bar, all insane-asylum white and espresso-machine chrome, most of the week it hosts live music, DJ sets, art installations, etc. – basically, it’s any given bar in London. So of course there’s a comedy night. Every Tuesday an open mic comedy night.
Tonight’s is an event from Comedy Bin, a loose-ish organisation which hosts events like this one throughout London, offering stage time to new acts. To get a spot, a comic only to email ahead of time; in the comedy world, there isn’t really such a thing as an “open mic” any more. You can’t just show up; you need to think ahead.
Geoff introduces himself as the M.C. for the evening and hands me a flyer. 'If you don’t like it,' it says, in big capital letters, 'fuck off.'
It doesn’t have a green room, so the Rhythm Factory itself is packed with the comedians for the night. There are at least twenty, about a quarter first-timers. One woman, two non-white men, pretty much everyone in their mid-twenties or early thirties. At least for the performers in their early days, the comedy circuit is a numbers game: audience numbers, total stage time accrued, gags-per-minute, acts-per-show, approximate number of performances to date. It’s not unusual to play to an audience made up of the other acts.
The biggest obstacle for the new comedian isn’t hecklers or apathetic audiences: it’s oversaturation. At one time, Comedy Bin had seven shows a week under its name, and that’s not even to mention more localised events like Angel Comedy, putting on a show at the Camden Head seven nights a week. At any one of these nights you’re likely to come up against nineteen other acts all vying for the same stage time – five minutes, generally, to varying degrees of success.
Three acts in at the Rhythm Factory, a pair of audience members finally arrive: two people on a date, neither of whom expected this. The crowd parts to seat them at a table directly in front of the staging area. A waiter brings them a bottle of white wine, and they disappear during the interval.