Standing in front of a crowd of strangers and waiting for them to decide whether you’re dead funny or just another hack isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But for Target’s head of programming Ian Moffitt, the rush he gets from doing stand-up well is worth the risk of hearing crickets.
The stand-up bug bit Moffitt after he scored direct hits with a couple of wedding speeches in 2001 (one of which was for his own nuptials). As part of a New Year’s resolution in 2002, he went down to a new acts night at a comedy club in London to check out the scene, and two weeks later had booked his first gig.
Moffitt has done his share of pounding the pavement during his 150-show career, including driving all over the country in an effort to ingratiate himself with promoters. ‘The London comedy scene is just ridiculous. There are so many clubs, and the average attendance on new acts night is probably 12 or 13 people,’ he says, adding that small crowds are tough because there’s no atmosphere, and it’s hard to find the rhythm in your narrative.
Other things that can affect a gig include lighting, room layout – and even ceiling height. Then there’s that one guy who won’t shut up. The worst heckler Moffitt ever encountered was a large and very loud Scot who wasn’t so much interested in criticizing the performance as he was in shouting out his random and slurred thoughts about English oppressors. ‘My wife was sitting behind him in the audience and was actually pretty close to glassing him at that point,’ laughs Moffitt, who eventually brought out a guitar from backstage and started singing American Pie in hopes that a sing-along would help diffuse the situation while the guy was dragged out of the club.
But the best times are when off-the-cuff bits work and Moffitt really gets to interact with his audience. Most of his material is observational stuff, but he does have a rather unique style he calls jukebox comedy, which he picked up at a gig in Guildford. The space was really awful, and Moffitt knew a standard narrative bit wouldn’t work well. So instead, he numbered all his jokes and had each audience member pick one. ‘It means that about 70% of the gig is talking to the audience. I’ve realized that they appreciate that more,’ he says. ‘And if the gig goes badly, it’s their fault for picking bad jokes.’
When he’s not fielding calls from club owners, Moffitt is busy locking down additional presales for stop-motion preschool series Fifi and the Flowertots, and building relationships with producers. He says his comedy background gives him great insight into the creative process, which helps him develop projects at Target.