What’s the epitome of nasty, sadistic, peek through-your-fingers entertainment?

Half-starved elephants forced to pirouette around a circus ring? Gladiators fighting to the death in an Amphitheatre? A drunk best man giving a divorce-inducing wedding speech? All of the above are a stroll in the park compared to the gauntlet of dread that is King Gong at the Comedy Store.

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London is the epicentre of stand-up comedy and on the last Monday of every month the most famous comedy club in the country lets amateurs give it a go. How kind of them. Except it’s not. Because King Gong is the ticking time bomb of stand-up. The basic structure works thus; dozens of comedians from first timers to veteran giggers sign up to try and survive five minutes in front a baying room of 400 odd punters. Three random members of the crowd are given red cards which they hold up if they decide they don’t rate your act. In theory you’re there to wow the audience with your slick shtick and witty repartee. In reality, you can find yourself leaving the stage in 28 seconds just because the card holders don’t like your face. The second possibility is by far the more likely. If you don’t last the course you’ll be forced to walk off the stage (sometimes to a slow hand clap), with the unoriginal but entirely appropriate, ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ ringing in your ears. If however, you last the whole five minutes you can bask in the glory of a feat rarely achieved. That’s not the end of the ordeal however. The survivors are brought back on stage for a perverse version of a beauty contest, the clap-o-meter. If after that ordeal, there’s no clear winner the last two contestants do an unsavoury sounding ‘gag-off’, a joke contest judged by the audience.

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So what happens if against all the odds, you’re crowned that night’s champ? The prize is £50 and a short spot at one of the club’s pro nights. Hardly sounds worth risking a heart attack for you might think. So why do people do it? The odds are stacked against you; even experienced acts who’ve been on the circuit for years aren’t guaranteed to last the full five minutes. You could book a slot months in advance and invite all your mates along only to be sent packing before you’ve got to your first punchline. Traumatic. On the other hand if, in the parlance of the industry, you smash it, the world of comedy could be your oyster. A big agent might have popped by that evening, you could be discovered and become the next big thing. And if that doesn’t happen, there’s the place on the pro night running order – the most coveted open spot on the comedy circuit.

So if you do want to take on the toughest gig on the circuit, how should you approach it? There are lots of theories. One is to prepare down to the finest detail. Others go for the wing it and hope method. You could do it drunk and forget your fear… and your best jokes. Do it totally sober… but have crystal clear nightmares for the rest of your life. Whatever your game plan, remember it’s only comedy. Cruel, cruel, comedy.

If you want to give King Gong a go, email london@thecomedystore.co.uk – you may be in for a long wait but….

There are normally spots available on the night; put your hand up to volunteer if you dare.

To get some prep in, Youtube is a rich source of triumphs and disasters and remember, if you show up and nerves get the better of you, there’s always next month.

The Comedy Store,1a Oxendon Street, London SW1Y 4EE.

Words by Elizabeth Hotson