Maff Brown: interview
After some sparkling stand-up shows in New York, footballer turned comedian Maff Brown tells Time Out his goals for this year
Maff Brown started in stand-up after he was sacked as manager of the Woodlands Wellington football team in Singapore. His career in football before then had included spells as right back and central midfielder for Brentford and Hamilton Academical. ‘I was very good when I was younger,’ he says. ‘A broken ankle put a stop to that when I was 20. After that, I never really got back to where I was.’ So he went on to coach at the Centre of Excellence at Brentford, the Bolton Wanderers Academy, the Everton Academy, and then for Gerard Houllier at Liverpool.
‘The job title was Technical Analyst for the first team. It involved using a scientific coaching approach to determine if the game plan had worked effectively.’
It was while he was on a holiday in Singapore that Brown was offered the coaching job there. The sacking still rankles slightly. ‘In my second season we’d won two and lost two of the first four games. But the two we lost were heavy defeats: 5-1 and 4-1, and they were shown on TV. The board got embarrassed. They wanted me to make a public apology. I refused. You lose games in football. That’s life. They paid me off, so I had enough money to survive for a year. I’d always been passionate about stand-up. So I took the Amused Moose course run by the excellent Logan Murray, then began performing in November 2005.’
The day after he finished the course, Brown also set up a weekly club called Outside the Box at the Fighting Cocks pub in Kingston. Like many new comedians, he saw it as a way of securing time on stage. ‘I knew that I’d be good at compering and, when you’re inexperienced, people won’t give you a spot as MC.’ He’d also been appalled at the standard of some small clubs. ‘Real ropey ones, set up by someone who hasn’t got a clue about what makes a good room: the lights, the PA system, how the audience are set up, even the music that’s played beforehand. It’s not just a mic and a room full of people. There’s a science to it. I’ve worked hard to get it right at Outside the Box.’
Last year it won the Chortle Award for best small club in London. ‘I think that came from the passion I put into it. We did really well when I started to put 15-minute highlights on the Chortle website each week. That forced me to write a lot of new material each time. It’s given me over 90 minutes of proven material to use when I go to other places.’
Brown already gets regular work as a stand-up from major outfits such as Avalon and Mirth Control. He’s played a few bigger venues like the Comedy Store and Komedia in Brighton. He’s just got back from his first New York gigs. Setting them up was difficult. ‘Cold calling was a complete waste of time. They were unbelievably rude and cold over the phone.’ So he got a couple of American comics he knew to intervene on his behalf. Then he followed up by sending emails with his showreels. He ended up with open spots at three different clubs.
The first was at the Village Lantern in Greenwich Village: ‘A friendly club with an audience of about 40. I’d say about 20 of them were comics, so it was similar to what you can find in small places back home! The standard was variable and I felt comfortable and at ease.’ Then came the Broadway Comedy Club with its three rooms. On the first night Brown was in the smallest one: ‘Again, it was mostly open spots who didn’t know what they were doing. I was only supposed to do five minutes, but the MC told me to stay on. I did over 15 minutes in the end.’ On the strength of that, Brown got invited to go back the next day to play the next room up. It was too good an offer to resist: ‘I cancelled the open spot I had for that night somewhere in Brooklyn.’
The middle room at the Broadway Comedy Club holds around 80 people. The compere gave Brown the kind of intro that the infamous Malcolm Hardee made his trademark over here. ‘The next guy is English, so the chances are he’s going to be shit and you won’t be able to understand him.’ Brown did 25 minutes. He says he got a standing ovation.
The management asked him to play the main room the following night. An audience of 200. He went on immediately after a well known American stand-up.
‘I was told to keep it tight and just do seven. It went well, though not as well as the night before.’
Just four nights but Brown reckons the experience was invaluable. He wants to build on it – he believes in setting himself targets. ‘This year it’s establishing myself in bigger clubs. And to have a bloody good Edinburgh!’
Maff Brown hosts Outside the Box every Monday.
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