Written half-minded, these blog posts are not proof read by me, allowing you the reader a sense of superiority when you unearth a trove of errors.
Sometimes, usually when very tired and alone in a crowded space, I am spooked but the knowledge of my own existence. Self-consciousness is an intriguing thing. That smidgen of peculiarity when you look down at your own hands and for a moment they are almost alien, part of a machine that your brain is attached to but feels separate from. It is the increased awareness of the peculiarity of your existence. With so much thoughtless matter across the universe, there are a small number of independently moving objects that know they are alive. It is that jarring moment, like when you suddenly think about walking and so stumble. I am looking at my hand now, its fingers wiggling, now hitting letter keys, it is mine. Most of these words I am typing thoughtlessly. Like conversation, I am not furrowing my brow, consciously putting together sentences and, once the editing process is done and complete and I have had a word with myself and agreed with me that they make an acceptable opinion, releasing them via my mouth.
I remember standing on stage in Manchester and laughing aloud at an improvisation of mine. I apologised to the audience for this arrogance, and explained that it took me by surprise as much as it did them. The conscious I had no expectation that I was about to say what I was about to say, so I was the spectator. What kind of homunculus jester lay within? My favourite moments of performance are those moments of unthinking improvisation, disposable creativity that lasts for the moment and is then gone once the laughter has died. All of my shows begin that way; a stack of scribbled notes and the hope that the scrutiny of the audience will drive my brain to create shape, form and punchline.
The thoughtlessness of conversation intrigues me. As the words tumble out, you seem to become an observer. “Why am I saying that? Should I be saying this? Stop! Now carry on”.
Then there are the rehearsed stories. The standing in the room, watching and nodding and knowing that the conversationalist opposite you has struck a topic where you have some reserves of anecdote, it’s not just stand up comics who have routines. You can see the joy on the face of a listener when they know they can pull out the big guns; that story of triumph mixed with mockery. Then there’s a sudden moment of doubt, the smile loses a little of its angle around the edges, have you told this story before? Will they discover your casual wit chat has a script that has built up over years of social occasions? Maybe best not to tell that story of when you confused Delia Smith for Ronnie Wood when drunk in a Norwich theme bar.
Attempting to write a blog post on a daily basis, I am aware that in the haste to hammer it out, have I retrieved an idea that has hovered near my fingertips before. I’m banging on about the media, or the joy of looking out of a window, or my the increasing dialogues of my once inner monologue yet again. An existence of reading and looking out of windows at different bits of British landscape and landfills before being excitable in front of an audience may limit my narratives.
I retreat into busyness, feel guilt if I admit to a holiday. In attempting to create things all the time, I can circumnavigate certain thoughts. I can concentrate on a worry about dying in front of an audience Chippenham rather than actually dying. The nightly short term goals of entertaining a crowd can distract from long term destiny. Showing off can be an effective escape.
As my tours continue, my on and offstage thoughts change. When I started the Importance of Being Interested tour in late February, there is dressing room panic. “Will I remember the jokes? are they even jokes? what if I just dry up?”. Then onstage, everything goes into overdrive, thoughts still direct you, but you haven’t got as much time to listen to them as you are in the act of constantly creating routines. It is immediate. At least half of what made the (at least) two hour show in March and April has gone, yet it is still at least as long if not longer. Each night, a little more is dropped, each night the first half is 25 minutes longer than its official running time. Fortunately, the alarm bell of a contagious cough, that goes around the audience like consumption amongst romantic poets, has rarely occurred.
On the whole, I am getting away with it. In the last few months of touring, I now know what I am saying. the pre-show nerves become slight. I can chat to the audience in the interval and then just start talking at them rather than with them as the lighting state changes. The director/critic/heckler in my head is noisier. Much of the time they are harsh editors. “No, you may not go off on that tangent, you are overrunning already”. My mimes become both more convoluted and more particular, the performance more “Shakespearian ham” and ridiculous. I notice the throbbing in the tips of the fingers of my left hand and wonder if I am on the cusp of a heart attack, while my mouth is still talking about Ray Comfort with cheery facetiousness. My perception of time between laughs is paranoid and exaggerated. Within seconds of a big laugh at why Newton wouldn’t have come up with laws of motion if he’d seen a banana fall, I think, “am I dying? Have I lost them?”
Sometimes I write about these things, such as when I wrote about walking off stage after 60 seconds, and readers fear I am morose or miserable or melancholy, so I should say that I am not. I am ridiculous and I am getting used to the idea. I love what I do, and as I have been doing this sort of thing for half of my life, I remain intrigued by it all. I am more comfortable with this absurdity. I am also fascinated by which posts seem to resonate with people. Though this one has, without any forward planning, ended up being about stand up, I think these mental processes are not some rare condition held only by traveling clowns, but by people in all manner of professions and situations.
We’re all unique. No one is unique.
So yet again, not so much a blog post, as a question, mind you, a very, very long question.
This tour is nearly over (Kings Lynn, Evesham, Dartmouth & Leicester) – new shows next year – Leeds, Hull, Bristol, Salford, Nottingham, off we go again, plus a whole heap of Christmas shows with plenty of guest acts from Brian Cox to Alexei Sayle via Alice Roberts – Find details of all such things HERE
DVDs such as Happiness Through Science can be found HEREwith Brian and I waffling a commentary