I just can’t seem to kick stand up. It was probably in my third year of stand up that I first started thinking I really should give it up. Stand up, like most showing off based careers, is an illness. The fortunate thing about this sickness of the ego is that it can make you money for a short working day and industrial accidents are rare. The most likely industrial accident is to be hit by a propelled glass or someone nearly punching you at a late night show. Even that can lead you to a career enhancing clip on youtube. The problem is knowing when to stop. Some people can gain satisfaction by performing the same 20 minutes material night after night, year after year, in the tradition of old music hall comedians, as long as they’ve got drinks vouchers and a cheque at the end of the night they are fine. If you can live like that, it seems a pretty good career. Unfortunately, hope and jealousy can creep in and that’s when everything gets destabilised and the only comedians you’ll hear complimented are the ones in the room. The moment these comedians are not in the room things would be very different. As in physics, the act of observation changes what is being observed, once out of the room, you are as funny as a dead cat.
I’ve been lucky, though to an extent, I have made my luck. Most nights when I’m performing I am performing with people I like unless it is a solo show, then I just avoid mirrors so I don’t get too loose-lipped and tell me what I really think of me.
I love stand up, especially when I’m thinking about doing it as long as it is at least 5 hours before doing it. Nowadays I enjoy doing the Edinburgh fringe festival, though that’s helped by the fact that I do so many shows a day that my paranoia has to play catch up in September. I am lucky to have had opportunities to work with people I admire, just the As who have worked with Illustrator Oscar Zarate include Alan Moore and Alexei Sayle, I don’t know what would happen if we moved on to the Bs who worked with Raymond Briggs (Hmm, I could stretch this – I did meet David Bowie on a stairwell once and he sang the theme to When the Wind Blows. Melinda Gebbie also worked on When the Wind Blows, but her Bs are wrongly placed). I’ve also earned exactly the right amount of money to live the perfect life – to be able to buy a few books, go to the pub and then get a taxi home. Mind you, I never take the taxi as that can spent on more books and the reinforced foundations required to stop my house sinking. This is required as it will annoy my neighbours if I drag them with me, one of the disadvantages of living in a terraced house.
But it is time to realize that, taking into account my ability and the niche value of what I do, I really shouldn’t tour anymore. Despite four years of hard work (that’s hard work as in “entertainment” hard work, which is not like hospital worker or OAP home hard work) since I was last there, I am still no more of a draw in Kirkcaldy.
A couple of years ago, shortly after we performed as backing singers for Robyn Hitchcock, Stewart Lee told me I should be a curator. And it was then that I realized I am a better curator than a comedian. I remained in denial of course, but really I know it’s true. I’m not a bad comedian (if you like that sort of thing) and I can have my moments. I reckon my Now Show newspapers rant was pretty goodand I can shout about things with aplomb, but it’s really not for everyone and even then, the vast majority of everyone. People sometimes send messages saying “hey, why not come to our town, we all like you around here”. I then point out that the all is all the people at the table they are sitting around, the rest of the people in North Allerton couldn’t give a damn. I decided I wouldn’t do another big tour after my last one, but I thought I could handle sporadic dates around the place. The gut punch I felt on the train to Kirkcaldy when I was told the sales were 36 was as vanity destroying as ever. Why would the people of Kirkcaldy want to come to see me, some bloke who talks about science on Radio 4 and pops up on 6msuic on a Tuesday?
There are many things I like doing – Utter Shambles podcasts, Infinite Monkey Cage, documentaries where I drink with members of the clergy, putting together shows that mix particle physicists with trombone jazz – and I will keep doing those things. But I think it’s time to take a break from being a stand up and just be someone who puts odd stuff on hopefully in places where enough people like that sort of thing. I’ve got my dignity to think about (I know, I know, way too late for that – and that’s not even if you count my appearances on Strictly Come Dancing – It Takes 2)
FOOTNOTE: plus I’d really rather be talking to my son about spiders and monkeys than going to cold, dark towns filled with suspense.
and now that Malcolm Middleton you’ve been waiting for – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wurEBzyeBZg