And so another one dies by my hand.
On Saturday night, I killed off my most recent tour show (barring filming it in Cardiff).
The wrap parties after these things are odd. Everyone who had been on stage or toured with it or wrote or directed it hung around together got together, so it was just me. Egotistical, cheapshot me, sat in my Tunbridge Wells hotel room, eating complimentary biscuits, watching the darts and looking at the cowboy boot shaped desk lamp that stood next to the wooden tissue box decorated with antlers (it is Tunbridge Wells’s leading Old West themed hotel).
Ten months ago I was terrified I didn’t have enough for a show, just a stack of notes, a few slides and passionate intentions. The material now seems so old, yet less than a year back, scribbled notes of “banana vs apple – Newton/Eden” and “dodecahedron – forbidden shape cupboard” seemed like insane stabs into darkness, absurd notions that a mouth should be ashamed to attempt to turn into entertainment, or at least, lips trembling in fear of the bottles to be thrown, or worse, the chatter that fills the room due to lack of interest.
In the month running up to my first night in Belfast, I found slots in every club I could and forced myself to speak these stunted uncertainties and homunculus routines to the people sat in front of me. The apple vs banana as fruits of science or charlatan bamboozlers stiffed three times in a row. Technically, the old pro rule I was told was “kill the idea if it fails three times”, but I didn’t, and by the first night, the fear and determination turned the dead words into something ridiculous enough to be funny.
(I did one warm up in Wolverhampton where the banana and apple got so far as being picked up before I became distracted by another idea. Afterwards, many audience members came up to me and demanded to know, “what was the banana apple bit going to be?” I was tempted to allude to it, get close to explaining, then move on every night, like the unsolved Sherlock cheats death mystery. I am not sure it would have inspired such fan fiction apart from my small coterie of obsessive greengrocers)
I was fortunate that my first night was in Belfast. I still had a vague fear of Belfast because my vert first experience of playing there in the early 90s led to an onslaught of projectiles, but this night was one of my favourites of the tour. It was a scattergun, hyperkinetic show. I sweatily tried to keep my mind anchored so at least the long, long, fast sentences could be interpreted. I am not sure how many of the ideas that night survived the run, but first nights can be the most genuine in some ways, and this audience knew I really meant it. The show ended with talk of death and birth, some of it intentionally without laughter. I sat at the front of the stage afterwards and chatted to audience members who shared surprisingly open and honest experiences of death and their thoughts on existence in the universe. They were far more enlightening than me.
Over that first month, the pre-show terror didn’t subside. It was a new thing, changing nightly, overrunning, and some of the ideas that had formed into proper jokes through the process of performing, just as swiftly started to unravel. These shows do not start neatly typed as play scripts, they start as phrases and 4 word ideas. Eureka moments occur when a routine springs out fully formed and perfect, but then decays within days and must be disposed of or stitched again with new flesh.
By the end of the first quarter of the tour, I was excited before going on. It is the first tour show that I really looked forward to performing. Still a vague tremor in the hand 5 minutes before going on, but I wanted to unleash it every night. More often than not I like performing once the show has begun, but for most tours I have hit a morose, stereotypical, flight over fight sensation for the 30 minutes before going on.
At the end of the tour, you want to go back to all those places you played early on, because the jokes are better, the nuances and reincorporation are sharper, it becomes a full grown creature. You want to say, “now I know what i meant it to be, can I have another go”. It was only in the last month or so that I noticed a punchline to end the show on that had been staring me in the face all that time. How can this things be so evasive?
At this point, with the show freshly dead, I have never loved it more. This is partly because within 48 hours I am writing out new phrase and malformed ideas – “where is a thought kept?”, “imp of the perverse – RAF kiss fear”, “the fury, love, ambition, poetry machine” and on and on. 60 numbered notes written today, boxes of postcards and notebooks to leaf through. I must remember that I thought I would never be able to put together my last show in time, and that worked out okay, but this is different, this time I really can’t do it…can I? Maybe the last show was the end of my ideas, perhaps my brain can’t make any other jokes, there was a reason music hall acts stuck with a tight routine of ten minutes for a couple of decades wasn’t there?
Here it goes again. Expect to see me in every comedy backroom over the next two months , I’ll be the one with terror in my eyes (oh yeah, like that’ll mark me out from the average stand up)
My next tour starts off in Bristol, Norwich, Sheffield, Nottingham then all over the place, also doing Shambles tour with Grace Petrie and Josie Long in Whitstable, Hull, Leeds – oh take look, many tour dates HERE
Happiness through Science DVD (with Brian Cox commentary) HERE
here is the Dr Seuss I closed the show with read by John Lithgow
and for those who asked about the 4 and half hour version of the show, I may well come to your town and, in some small pub sideroom, create the Warhol-like, agonising full length version. It’ll be a sort of sadomasochistic art piece maybe.