I have just experienced one of the rarer events in my career, I cut a gig short, very short. Technically, it wasn’t short. I was at a new material night and we are permitted to try anything from one minute to fifteen, but it fell way short of my pre stage intentions. I was at Old Rope, one of my favourite comedy clubs where I have tried out hours and hours of new material, some of which has been incinerated, much of which has made it into my shows. Tonight was a return of the minds behind it all as hosts, Phil Nichol and Tiffany Stevenson. They took on the audience, drawing information and playfully mocking what they unearthed. I had a sense that they audience were not quite the make up of those who usually like to risk the new material, burn outs, breakdown and joie de vivre of such a night, but I took to the stage with no visions of icy silence. I don’t like to start with a “hey, how are you going?”, I just start talking. One group were from Southport and there was a lone knitter in the front row. Rather than attack them for these characteristics, I thought I would celebrate them. I had a delightful time in Southport with the Utter Shambles tour recently, so thought I would tell them of the feistiness of middle age that allowed me to leave my hotel in my pajama trousers to tell a bar to turn the noise down. Then I would praise the knitters of the world, I am a big fan of knitting, and explain how the physical act of knitting creates a spectacle up there with pipe smoking in terms of actions that aid the winning of an argument. The pause for contemplation as you sup on your pipe, then point it into the air as you reply to an argument, makes your rebuttal more potent, as does not replying to a point until you have finished the next knit one and purl one (I do knit, I hope this language is correct). Then I would go onto to talk about what I had intended; why Colin Pillinger is not deserving of British cynicism, Freud’s attitude with his patients and how different early 20th century psychotherapy would have been if he had based some of his complexes on Midsummer Night’s Dream instead of Oedipus Rex, blindsight and gorilla logic, amongst other things.
But we never got that far.
Perhaps the audience members thought I would be deriding knitting and Southport and didn’t want to play anymore.
Within a minute my mind, which I sometimes count as me, said, “no, not tonight” and I looked at the audience and said the same thing, “this isn’t working, let’s leave it”.
I had got my rucksack and coat on (but not in that order), by the time Phil Nichol forced the audience to force me back on stage. I took out my postcard notes and peremptorily explained why each one was not suitable for the night, then left the stage again.
My protestant work ethic reprimanded me, and now the “love me love me” bit of my ego feels I’ve let myself down. I have rarely, even when facing abuse or bottles, cut a gig short.
Once at the Frog and Bucket, many years ago now, I looked at the audience and said, “you know, this used to be one of my favourite gigs, but we don’t get on anymore” and walked off a few minutes from my allotted end. There will be the odd other occasion, but even when exiting would have been better for all concerned, I would be pig-headed enough to stink up the room until the contract was fulfilled.
It is a rarity to feel the sensation of , “no, not tonight” and act on it, it goes against all the codes of honour drawn up by Dan Leno or George Formby or Grace Fields of whoever it might have been that may have etched it on the Batley Variety Club dressing room wall.
There are times when I have stood on stage and thought, “I don’t feel it tonight” whatever “it” maybe, but stuck there and found that the audience were quite happy, even if I believed something had eluded me.
Is it sometimes better to do as Larry David did, walk on, survey the audience and say, “no”?
More often than not, I’ll still be on as the tech guy waves a placard saying “my train leaves at 11” (maybe you were at that gig last week), I will always try to give value for money, and the babysitting industry thank me for the unexpected overtime, but tonight, the performer fled, leaving a man on stage thinking he better leave to (like the final Gibb from that Clive Anderson Bee Gees interview)
Footnote: Just one week ago I did two hours of new material in Leeds, funny how these things go.
Footnote 2: also I don’t feel melancholy about this, I just find that writing things out immediately after such things can be useful and hopefully vaguely telling.
Footnote 3: I was back to overrunning again by the next night, at the delightful Lolitics gig. recommended
I will not be leaving the stage early at the London Christmas gigs w/ John Hegley, Alexei Sayle, Josie Long, Helen Czerski and 100s more http://www.thebloomsbury.com
Or my last tour gigs in Kings Lynn, Dartmouth, Leicester, Evesham or Tunbridge Wells and Christmas gigs with Brian Cox HERE
Happiness Through Science DVD HERE