That was pretty close

So… about my performance the other day…

It had a little bit of everything.

A freak-out, a crowd on their own mission, an intervention and, somehow, a decent showing.

So I arrived at St Mary’s Hall semi-ready and buzzing on nervous energy. I wasn’t sure how long my set was meant to be so my mind was still bouncing jokes around from the “reserve tank”. There were a few organisers putting final touches to the venue when I walked in. Candles lined the stairways leading up to the hall. Two girls practiced their song on the small stage at the front of the hall.

Fabio de Dominicis & Tyson Ngubeni at St Mary's Hall Ball

The hall itself was cleared out. There were a few chairs littered across it, presumably for people to take a seat whenever they felt like it. Towards the back, long tables saddled finger snacks as well as buckets of interestingly-coloured punch (bright greens and reds).

As the start time loomed, small groups of smartly-dressed couples started trickling in, each of them seeming to have an effect that piled the nervous energy inside me.

The evening’s proceedings began just after 7pm. The plan was for the MC to kick the evening off and then introduce the first couple of  (musical) acts. I was set to perform last. No pressure, then.

Then, one of the worst scenarios started to unravel.

The crowd had naturally gravitated towards the food tables and were having warm casual chats at the back of the hall. The MC had a hard time getting people’s attention and it became clear that most people were just going to carry on with their own conversations.

The MC tried to get people to move forward and pay attention, to moderate success.

This was the first panic-inducing moment. I wasn’t due on stage at that point, but it was clear that this was a non-invested crowd. I was about to die here. Comedy NEVER works if you do not have the audience invested.

“The fear is they’re not gonna pay attention. If they pay attention but they don’t laugh, it’s still a show” – Chris Rock

As the musical acts went through their sets amidst the offish audience, all I could forsee was my set falling horribly flat. The crowd just wasn’t playing along.

Cue: Panic button

I was freaking out at that point. I was on the verge of pulling out. The set-up was just not conducive for what I wanted to do.

In an inspired dash of innovation, the MC started a serenade and called me to the stage, sparking curiosity. By the time she finished most of the crowd had shuffled towards the stage.

You have no idea how relieved I was at this point. I started the set, diving straight into a “why-I’m-so-dark” piece and sparked a decent amount of laughter. The more people laughed, the more engaged the back of the hall was. The set gradually built towards an interesting conclusion, which was twice staggered by a faulty microphone. Pity, because that was my closing joke. It still managed to fly, though.

Tyson: Wierd post after the performance

Overall, a really close shave.

Next up: I’ve been invited to MC the Kimberly West Hall Environmental Fashion show, Jan Smuts Hall Ball, The Hindu Students Society Cultural show and NatCaf (our new improv comedy collective) finally debuts in the coming weeks.

I’ll keep you in the loop.

Stay tuned…

-Tyson

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