The game is afoot.
I am standing on the stage at Old Rope new material night, looking down at my notes, barely able to read my own typing. The low ebb, but long term adrenalin that says, “you have to put together a show in a future as foreseeable as jagged rocks in front of a sea captain’s face” is moving through my body.
With my last tour show now decomposing in a bottom drawer, I know that I cannot return to those lines, gags and “wry observations on quantum mechanics” for the next time I journey around the UK and beyond. I gave up on observational jokes on quantum mechanics and instead relied on a series of diagrams that predicted the probability of laughter.
Never wishing to take the easy route of just putting together two hours of funny things, I have chained myself to a theme again. This times it is the human brain and the human mind, what does the brain know that the mind doesn’t, what does mind think it knows that it doesn’t, and why drilling skull holes used to the nearest thing to paracetamol. I presume there will be numerous tangents too, and sudden stops when I realise I don’t really understand the idea I am attempting to explain.
My excitement at putting together a show, they are never really scripted, has increased with the restrictions I place upon myself. I always found the hardest stories to write in English class were the ones where you were told as a treat you could write about anything. Not having read Joyce, Behan or William James, that chance to write a juvenile Finnegan’s Wake with this offered freedom wasn’t taken up, and I think they were frequently the dullest tales (probably ripped off from something I’d read in one of those grubby, inky reprints of Uncanny Tales I used to buy every Friday after school).
The limitations of parameters makes my mind work more, I have a wall to bang my head against. Not just a wall that is graffitied with “write something funny”, but is instead scrawled with “come on, what’s so amusing about the Medulla Oblongata?” I know I will not always succeed, I might have to make do with something about the basal ganglia.
These next two weeks could be the most exciting. The deadline is still far enough way to dick around without mortal fear, and I can look at typed list of ideas of 217 ideas I want to explore and make funny and, with the bravado of a man who knows he has a few weeks before having to go over the top into the bullets, fool myself that each one will be deftly turned into a joyful and elucidating examination of neuroscience and philosophy.
“how did we learn so much while wiping away such of a torrent of tears of laughter”, the bulging audience of Kings Lynn will breathlessly burble.
Then, when it is 4 weeks to go, I will realise that each one of my notes is still just that, a footnote to a sentence written by someone else. I have written “alexia sine agraphia – the sufferer can no longer read, but they can write”, 64 times on different pieces of paper, while getting no closer to an idea that raises it above an abbreviated sentence from a textbook. It has not even become an idea, it is still something that I hope can become at least enough of an idea that I can stand on stage and experiment with it. I am not Andy Kaufman, I can’t just get away with reciting William James’s The Principles of Psychology and calling it a situationist prank. Then again, I don’t think he got away with it either. His verbatim reading of The Great Gatsby is a more fondly recalled anecdote of anti-entertainment than a pinnacle of the possibilities of showbiz.
One week before the tour begins, I will consider telling my agent to pull it all.
I’ll stop there.
I sit now, surrounded by books, each one creased, spine broken and terrorised by pencil marks. (Oh how the cheery and elaborate filthmonger Mike Wilmot laughs whenever he looks into my satchel and says, “hmmm, how many books today?”)
I know that in those books, somewhere in my mind (whatever that is, I am finding out a lot about that at the moment) and in my experiences, there is a show. The question is, “can I find it in time?”
Bloody hell, I wouldn’t do another job than this.
Lucky really, because I don’t think there would be anything I’d be able to do.
This show goes on tour to Norwich, Bristol, Salford, Nottingham, Sheffield and plenty more, and I’m off to many places with Josie Long and Grace Petrie too (Lancaster, Leeds, Hull, York, Leamington Spa), all details HERE
DVDs of Happiness through Science (w/ Prof Brian Cox commentary) HERE