What is a gong show?
Explaining an arcane and cruel practice of the British open mic comedy scene
It seems like some English-speaking countries that aren’t the UK don’t have the concept of a comedy ‘gong show’, so in case you’re confused, here’s a definition:
A gong show is an open mic comedy night where the audience can vote off acts they don’t like.
Acts attempt to complete a 5 minute set without being so boring or controversial that they get voted off.
A few of the audience are given cards or some other prop that they can hold up. Usually three or four of the audience are given the means to vote.
When three audience members have voted against an act, a gong is sounded (or something else dramatic happens, like there’s a music sting and the stage lights go out) and the current act has to stop performing. So if you enter a gong show you might well end up getting much less stage time than a normal five minute open mic set. At some shows you have to leave the stage immediately if you get the gong - at Ding Dong Gong Vauxhall, you have to stay on stage because there is a panel who will give you feedback and insults. Accepting defeat in good grace and bantering good-naturedly with the panel gives you another chance to be funny.
Some gong shows have a grace period at the beginning of your set where the audience is not allowed to vote. At The Blackout (Up The Creek Greenwich), you have two minutes’ grace. At Ding Dong Gong you have a minute. If the show doesn’t have a grace period you could get gonged off if the audience don’t like the look of you or you fumble picking up the mic.
If you complete a five minute set without getting gonged off, you have ‘beaten the gong’ and may win a prize, or a spot at a better gig.
Gong show FAQs
Will I get a light at four minutes?
No. The purpose of the light at a normal gig is to tell you that your 5 minutes is nearly up so you should finish your last joke and avoid overrunning. At a gong show, the whole point is to get through the 5 minutes - as soon as you do, there will be a music sting. You don’t need to worry about running the light. Just keep going.
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