McIntyre live – My first (and only?) live comedy experience

On Monday night, Mr C and I rocked up to Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena to watch Michael McIntyre do his thing. It’s been on my Life List for a while to watch a comedian live, because it turns out I have never done that before. I don’t remember why it was Mr McIntyre that received the privilege of being my first comedian (there may have been alcohol involved when purchasing the tickets), but he seemed like a pretty safe bet.

Like a fool, I was a bit surprised at how big the NIA is, perhaps the word ‘arena’ didn’t actually sink in to my brain until we actually got inside. I’ve been past it in Birmingham’s city centre many times but never really clocked the size of it before. When we were wandering around the peripheral, peeking through the doors to the main area, it was like looking through the door to the TARDIS – lots of bright colours crammed into a space you wouldn’t quite think was big enough.

It was big enough, though. For lots and lots of people, and one tiny stage. They cram you in, lots of people too close together, with uncomfortable seats. But we perched and waited for McIntyre to appear.

He bounced onto the stage after a video introduction that boomed far too loud, people around us were putting their fingers in their ears! The energetic McIntyre began his routine with a bit of audience interaction, and a bit of local ribbing. It was good, the expected Michael McIntyre fare, but I found it weird because I couldn’t see him. There was no point looking at the tiny suit running around, when such a lot of comedy comes from the face. The only place to look was at the screens, so it only took about ten minutes before I was starting to think “I really could just be watching this at home.”

Once that thought was in my head, it became really very clear how uncomfortable the seats were. I’m not exactly a giant, and my knees were digging into the metal bar in front of the seat. Even when twisted slightly to the right to be able to view the screens better, it was leaving a bit of a dent in my kneecap. Mr C is more of a giant than I am, and thankfully we had ourselves an aisle seat. Even with that, it was bad backs and cramp all round.

One of the arguments for going to live events is the atmosphere that you just don’t get when you’re watching something at home. For somewhere like Glastonbury, or for sporting events, I can absolutely understand that. For this live comedy outing, I didn’t feel there was any atmosphere to be missed. The only thing that was specific to the location was Michael attempting a rather worrying Birmingham accent.

We left at the interval (a break halfway through that was stretched to half an hour, sandwiched between two 50 minute halves. What are you meant to do for half an hour?) and came home with the intent of snapping up the gig when it’s available on iTunes (or watching when it is inevitably on the BBC at Christmas).

I was disappointed but not in the gig – McIntyre was funny as ever – more in the concept and the venue. I hadn’t anticipated that live comedy would have the same kind of problems that going to the cinema does, and from what I can tell there are no benefits of being somewhere live. I asked Mr C if seeing a comedian in a smaller venue would make a difference and he came to the conclusion that it doesn’t really make any more atmosphere, it’s just that you are likely to have more comfortable seats. I will probably try and see a comedian in less of an arena and more of a theatre, but I’m not convinced this is a live event I’m going to get hooked on.

We may be getting old, but there was a lingering stiffness for 24 hours post-gig, and we only sat through half of it. I dread to think of how we would be holding up if we’d been there for the whole thing.

16 thoughts on “McIntyre live – My first (and only?) live comedy experience

  1. cannot shake the feeling that the whole thing was nothing more than a massive revenue generating exercise for everyone involved.

    1) doors opened pointlessly early (gotta have time to buy that merchandise)
    2) no support act (stuff paying anyone else)
    3) warm up was his own DVD (available from all good retail outlets don’t ya know)
    4) 30 minute ‘break’ in the middle of (plenty of time to eat and drink)

    the comedian and venue had to be colluding to rip off the consumer in as many ways as technically possible. what the hell was he doing for 30 minutes, having a sleep? totally killed the atmosphere.

    for the money spent on one ‘real life’ event, you could buy all the recordings of all the comedians in iTunes, no-one would cough all over you and no-one would talk through the jokes.

    really can’t believe that venue has a licence to house actual human beings, you couldn’t legally keep animals in that way. got a space torture rack, i need straightening out.

  2. Wow, that’s a huge place to have a comedian. I can’t see how that would work at all because you’re right in that you need to see the comedian’s face. A smaller venue is definitely better because you do get a great atmosphere in a smaller place, but I’m afraid the seats don’t always get a lot comfier (obviously it varies tremendously). The biggest I’ve been to for comedy are the Hammersmith Apollo in London and the BIC in Bournemouth, I thought both were pretty big but they’ve got nothing on that photo of the NIA! I liked the Apollo although I was a bit closer to the front that time.

    We’re lucky to have a theatre in town which attracts comedians doing warm-up gigs and that’s a great size, only a few hundred people on two levels, that gets a good atmosphere. This post tells me never go to the NIA for anything of any sort so I’ll remember that much!

    I recommend trying again somewhere else. Just don’t sit in the first two rows, if given the choice, or they’ll have you doing audience interaction!

    The interval is usually so you can have a loo break or spend money at the bar, and with a place that big the bars would probably have queues so it gives you time to go away and come back… in theory.

  3. My comment definitely goes for live music, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it works for live comedy, but wild horses wouldn’t drag me to arena shows any more because even if you’ve got the loudest, most obsessive fans in the world (hello Manics fans), in an arena, all the atmosphere just gets sucked out by the size of the damn thing, and it sounds like they’re playing in an aircraft hanger.

    I adore theatre-sized auditoriums though.

  4. This post tells me never go to the NIA for anything of any sort so I’ll remember that much!

    if you were watching, say, a live gig it’s fine for standing. that is about it.

    the seats were about an inch from the ground. my legs haven’t been that short since i was five.

  5. I can’t blame you for not warming to the arena experience and all that it entails. I’ve vowed to steer well clear of venues this size, for music or comedy. Too impersonal, too far from the stage, hard to get out and overcharged at every concession.

    A good [recommended] comedy night at a local pub or comedy club will be infinitely more satisfying. I hope to hear of such an evening in the near future. Good comedy is so much better in a smaller venue where the artist can feel the audience’s reactions rather than be blinded by stage lighting and an arena of blurry faces

  6. I definitely will check out a smaller venue at some point. But being close enough to see but not close enough to get picked on sounds quite limiting!

    they’re still chock full of annoying people.

  7. I’m not really a fan of Michael McIntyre, but my impression of him is that he’s a big venue sort of comedian. I’m not really a fan of big venues for the fact you lose the interaction.

    I normally go to the semi-pro comedy night at my local pub – the acts are both good and bad, mostly surprising, and the small packed atmosphere of a pub is much better for comedy.

    It does sound like your experience was a cynical revenue-generating vortex!

  8. That venue is ridiculously big for comedy. I don’t understand how their operating licence allows them to have such cramped seating. Seating like that is not only an issue for sitting but causes problems for escape in the event of a fire etc.

    Comedy can have a great atmosphere. I have seen comedy in a few different kind of venues where the whole crowd got on the same wavelength and it can be incredible so don’t give up just based on one bad experience.

  9. wow, I’ve been to a lot of comedy shows but I really couldn’t imagine one in an arena. I’ve seen comedy in small theatres and bigger theatres and they’ve mostly been great.
    I’d say give a small gig a go before writing it off forever but you’ve sold me against ever going to comedy in an arena!

  10. I’m not surprised you weren’t taken by a big arena comedy gig, they’re very different to small intimate gigs. I’ve been to a handful of each type and without a doubt my favourite gig had been Rhod Gilbert. I saw him before he became alot more well known, so had the privilege seeing him in a small little gig theatre, maybe 200 people or so. It was fantastic, I’ve never laughed so hard than at that gig. The atmosphere was fantastic, and it was a great experience. I’d really recommend seeking out something similar because in my opinion it’s the type of setting comedy is made for. We were a row from the front and didn’t get picked on, and the front row must have only been 25ish seats, so we were close. I think it’s very much dependant on the comedian but usually you can sit in the middle and they wont pick on you.

    One of the best things about a small intimate gig? Sometimes the comedians sit and have a drink with you afterwards – it’s very relaxed and a great night! Oh and the chance of queues after the gig are so small, no annoying hour long queues for the underground! 🙂

  11. Mum and I saw Ken Dodd in the Hall for Cornwall, Truro, a few years ago. I think that The Hall for Cornwall has around 700 seats. It was a fantastic evening with a great atmosphere and you could see all that was happening on the stage.

  12. Sorry I’ve used the wrong word – of course, you really don’t want to interact with a comedian (I have unfortunately had that pleasure and it’s not recommended!). But in a smaller venue you feel you have some sort of connection to what happens on stage, probably because you can see the comedian’s face and body language better. And from what I have seen of Michael McIntyre, that’s a big part of his act 😉

  13. I decided some years ago to NEVER EVER go to an arena comedian ever again for all of the reasons described. I only ever went to one and it was a mistake – and with a comedian I had seen many times before and since. NEVER EVER again. It’s a total rip off and a terrible way to see comedy – no atmospere at all.

    The Hammersmith Apollo is about the biggest that I will go to these days, and even beyond row 3 the comedians can no longer see you but you can really see them very close up.

    The atmosphere in small & medium venues can be truely amazing. I actually started crying at a Tim Vine gig a few years ago I was laughing so hard, this has never happened while watching at home it’s rare when watching at home to really really laugh out loud… But in a gig when the atmosphere is charged can really build. It’s a great feeling.

    But big venues. Bleurgh.

    (As a by the by I have only ever been picked on one time by a comedian and that was the warm up for a recording of an epsiode of QI. A young up and coming comedian by the name of Alan Carr! He hadn’t ever been on TV by then. It was about as hidieous an experience as you can imagine).

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