A Bad TV Warm Up Experience

STORY TIME: This now broken mug is from The Hospital Club in London’s West End. The venue itself closed in 2020 due to financial problems arising from lockdowns but prior to that was a private members dining club with a television studio hidden underneath it, two floors below ground.

In 2016 I was hired to warm up the audience for the Xtra Factor. I was incredibly inexperienced in the TV Warm Up world at the time (a position that despite having done MANY more of those gigs hasn’t really changed) and on top of that, the gig was a living nightmare.

I arrived at the studio as requested at 6pm and was ushered down the stairs to a basement room filled with visibly stressed out runners and production staff. There are only two types of people in the tv industry; the terrifying bosses who makes decisions and the hard working up and comers who are constantly terrified of being fired.

As I didn’t fit into either of these categories, I didn’t really fit in at all.

So I sat, alone and awaiting instructions. Eventually my part in the show was explained to me. During the live televising of the prerecorded X-Factor show, the audience for the actually live Xtra Factor show would watch the prerecorded X-Factor show but a little earlier and with the ads removed. This would allow them just enough time to know everything the at home audience now knew but not enough time to tweet or vlog to the world what had happened before it was shown on TV.

Not that it would’ve made much difference because the basement studio had all the phone signal of a Himalayan mountain range.

It was my job to introduce this screening and endear myself to the audience so that I could more effectively drum up their enthusiasm in the gaps between them being broadcast live to the nation.

I also had to explain the formalities of the event so that everyone knew what they were doing. I’d only just learned those details myself an hour earlier and little to my knowledge, half the people there had been in the audience so many times they would correct most of the things I was telling them.

The whole experience left me wondering why they didn’t just get a runner to do my job as a comedian/performer was entirely unnecessary for the task required. If the cancellation I got after the second outing was anything to go by, they worked this out for themselves soon enough.

At 9pm the show went LIVE and the tension that had been building all day turned into a fully blown explosion. The presenters Matt Edmonson and Rylan Clarke Neal (the latter being one of the nicest people I ever met in television, turning me into an instant fan) were joined by now Capital Radio presenter Roman Kemp in one of his earlier breaks. Footage was re examined and picked apart with jokes inserted by the presenting trio and commentary from the on screen audience.

Towards the end of the show, a previous seasons (and usually clinically mad) contestant would be dragged out to give a reminder of why they’d been so unintentionally hilarious the first time they’d been on the show and before you knew it, the show was finished.

The one saving grace of LIVE television shows is that they absolutely cannot run over. I’ve been the warm up when a recording of The Voice took almost 6 hours and the audience had to be begged to stay. I’ve seen a day thrown into disarray on Tipping Point (Ben Shephard is lovely too btw) when a former glamour model turned 75% plastic bankruptcy hobbyist (I think we all know who I mean) turned up over an hour late before being ejected in the first round.

All of these shows were hilarious in different ways and gave me some funny stories, but were incredibly frustrating to anyone wishing to get home on time.

The live show is different. The times are set and regardless of preparation are starting and finishing exactly when you expect them too. My favourite of these being ‘Don’t Ask Me, Ask Britain’ where I was lucky enough to meet (and then receive some small praise) from one of my comedy heroes Mr Frank Skinner.

Perhaps I’ll recount some of these stories further in a future post but in this one I’ll finish by saying this… I hated every single second of working on the Xtra Factor. It was as unfriendly and uncomfortable as a stay in a Mexican jail and I’d probably audition for the show myself before agreeing to working behind the scenes.

Yesterday, my dishwasher put an end to the final physical totem I have of that experience. Maybe it’s a sign I should let go too. 🙂


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