As people are now coming to this blog post because of a link by The Guardian’s Brian Logan I will explain that we never wanted critics coming to our Shambles shows as we wanted to experiment with new stuff without newspaper scrutiny. Also, as you will see from the words below, I presumed he was in anyway.
I am my own worst critic. I know this because I am so persistent, whereas the other critics might write some honest words of derision once, maybe twice, I just won’t let it go. Each day, there’s a new review, and each one seems to get closer into seeing the true faults in my body of work. Other critics didn’t notice that mispronunciation, that speedily covered trip of the tongue or idea that went on too long and then failed to find a punchline, but I’m a right bastard, I’ll see it and bang on about it in the print of my mind.
So why was I bothered that there was a critic in our show last night? I never like to know when there is a critic in. I don’t understand those performers who have to know if there is one in attendance. What are they going to do? Put a bit of effort in because the eyes and ears of a few hundred people isn’t enough to spur them out of their lethargy? Will they drop that routine about The Guardian or The Times in the hope that replacing their venom with some unctuous toadying might capture that extra star?
I hear terrible stories of performers, especially during the Edinburgh Fringe, psyching themselves up upon hearing that reviewer from the big newspaper read by the TV people who are in charge of making you a star is in the front row, only to reach the stage and implode into an asthmatic sweat drop, grasping for that joke that says Saturday Night Prime Time, but can only find the one that says, “to be avoided due to constant weeping in shadows as false memories of possibilities dashed swim before his eyes”.
It is the performer’s default position to be plagued by “why tonight of all nights, why not last night’s gig when I was adored and astounding”. My last memory of that was during the Happiness Through Science tour. My night in Lancaster had been a giddy joy, leaping from ideas, improvising around ideas of Newton and seahorses, but the Telegraph came that next night in Banbury, when the show was a show but not the show it could be and sometimes was. I didn’t know the reviewer was in until later on getting a message where he kindly offered me a lift due to the parlous state of Sunday trains. I didn’t search for the review, but my dad has me on Google alert, so can always tell me the news I attempt to avoid. Three stars, could have been better, should have been happier, the reviewer was right.
I avoid reviews, not just mine, pretty much anyone’s and anything’s reviews. There are good critics, critics you read and think, they love this artform and they want it to be the best it can be, as good as that feeling they got when they first saw Citizen Kane or Time Bandits, or heard Hatful of Hollow or Forever Changes. There are some who enjoy the barbarism allowable while being paid by the word, and some seem to be filling time until something better comes along. So why did I fear the presence of the critic last night?
Once it might have been that these are words that exist in print, not just sentences that will soon be lost in the hubbub of the bar, but everyone is a published critic nowadays because the internet elevates our pronouncements by giving them a frequently non-required longevity. Why should we be so bothered by what others think?
Once, when working on a TV show that few were proud of, and the difficulty of getting the best writers’ room gags on air had led to an abattoir sense of humour, I recall a cruel prank. Don’t worry, it wasn’t one of those pranks that led to the death of a young man and so puts us all at risk when holidaying near a lonely lake. One of our co-writers was appearing on a TV stand up show that happened to be reviewed by a newspapers. We knew he would be late in, so hastily wrote another review, found the correct font, photocopied the newspaper page until it blended perfectly, then snuck it between the other photocopied news pages. Once he arrived, we talked blandly of the writing tasks ahead and mentioned that he must be glad of his TV stand up debut and not to pay any attention to what the Mail had said, then three paces back and the explosion. Fortunately our nasty butcher laughs soon made it clear that it was the prank of the artistically unfulfilled, but not before he said, “how could they write that, what if my sister saw it?”
Sadly, our pranks were more creative than anything we managed to argue onto air.
Is the horror of the reviewer that the newspaper page that it may considered worthier than any unknown internet forum, and it is the disappointment of our family and loved ones that haunts us most. Will the critic make us feel that we should be ashamed, that we have disappointed our mum and dad.
In the end, I know it doesn’t matter, what matters is whether the people you play to enjoyed it and that you did what you wanted to do without sense of restricting yourself due to fear or uncertainty. Why should I be worried? Mind you, I did once publicly call the reviewer “a lying piece of shit” but I am sure that is all fury under the heavily graffitied bridge by now, and if not, it’ll be my alibi for any harsh words.
Trust me, as my own worst critic, I nevertheless recommend you come and see me at Sheffield, Havant, Manchester or Newtown, or join critical darlings Grace Petrie, Josie Long and I at Oxford, Nottingham, Southport or Bath. Information of all such things HERE
My three star (Daily Mail) DVD Happiness Through Science (incl 4 star Brian Cox commentary) is HERE
FOOTNOTE: I was much better tonight without the critic, no honestly, errrr, okay, bye now