I shot myself in the foot, but tomorrow I’ll declare it as stigmata.
Before you continue, I should make it clear that this not a “woe is me” post. I am having a lovely time touring, this is not about bruised ego and confidence, it’s just an analysis of how things can go wrong in certain situations. I do like to overthink things. While you are reading this, I’ll be watching From the Sea to the Land Beyond AGAIN.
I have just performed a gig to some of the largest amount of silence for some time, I would not be surprised if the estate of John Cage sue me for plagiarism.
In Norwich yesterday, I had one of my favourite tour gigs of the last 200 or so, tonight I left the smell of a corpse lingering in a bemused room.
I have realised that a species divide has occurred, the comedy circuit and I can no longer copulate and have babies.
After a lovely run of tour shows, from Bristol to Norwich, I had rejected the idea of a night off and agreed to go to Caterham to do a fundraiser night (I am not a great martyr, there was also a wage). I had cursed myself for saying yes as I would rather have stayed at home and taken charge of reading chapter 37 of The Magic Faraway Tree to my son.
I had an inkling things may go awry on the journey there. I have got used to do screaming and leaping about on stage in my own little world of confused thoughts, sub particle meanderings, and occasional sociopathic or self loathing declarations.
(as it is Saturday, I interrupt this post to give you the latest on my train journey. Some men are shouting at each other on Platform 3 of Purley station. One woman is trying to help by hollering, “I’ll suck you off!”. The men’s heads are like puce Jack O Lanterns)
Back to the post.
Alistair Barrie did a fine job of MCing and Nathan Caton stormed it, then I walked on in my DNA/tree of life/ACCCCCGGGTTTTAACCT T shirt. I don’t think I explained myself well, then went into a Brian Blessed station, surely a safe start?
A few, “isn’t my child funny” routines, a mention of Beckett, a bit of Poe, some Alan Turing, and, after some women cheered when I mentioned my departure, some angry references to Schopenhauer and Beowulf. I also did some of the more normal stuff on sexism, homophobia and men who fear breastfeeding. Pockets of laughter, pockets also containing lint, old boiled sweet wrappers and memories of a flaked tissue to muffle the sound.
I still do shorter sets, normally at benefit gigs, the occasional left field club and touring Utter Shambles, but my circuit armour has decayed and my technique, whatever it was, is depleted. I don’t really know how to start a short set, or where to end, or what to put in the middle. Though I don’t consider what I do taxing or smart, it has shifted further and further away from what is expected in a normal comedy club. There are those who can stride both, I am not one of them. I am the amateur in the cardigan. I also have an ability to enter certain room with the noose already burning my neck, ready for the drop, while looking at the execution voyeurs with joyless eyes.
It was not their fault, it was more mine, but I felt like Mogwai accidentally booked as a wedding band. I wanted to try and please them, but I never knew the chords to Mustang Sally. (or Derek Bailey attempting Dancing Queen for those who want a proper niche reference)
If I had another one tomorrow, tonight’s slap around the chops would have revived the neural pathways that would enable me to do such a gig and both on my own territory and with what might appear to be shared ground. It has revived something, but too late to save this evening. It is at times like these that I realise why comics treasure their dead cert 20.
I am not entirely sure what I am anymore, though most of my adult life would see me defined as “stand up comic”, what an audience draws in their mind when they hear those words may mean they would be disappointed or confused by what they saw.
I like what I do, and I enjoy what I do more than any other time in my adult life, but it confuses me to think my definition has changed, both of my own volition and because the culture has changed too. If I had total recall of the first night I saw at the Comedy Store in 1985, what would I see? and what would survive?
The truth is, I was lost. I wish I had died more flamboyantly. I know I could have xplained myself better. As so often, now it is all over, I know just what I could have done to make it all work (it may not have achieved that, but in my skull cinema rerun, it works perfectly).
Unlike most arts, comedy is one lump, “it’s either funny or it ain’t”, but there is more than one genre. More than any other art though, if you don’t find something funny that others adore, then you are mirthless, and vice versa. I also realise that, with most of the gigs I do, I have some context before I open my mouth. “It is the weirdy, hyperkinetic, idiot lecture man”, but many possible audiences have no idea who I am or what I do. I lacked a preface and introductory note.
But tonight, I was bad cover version of myself. I was me doing me badly to a crowd that probably wouldn’t even singalong to the good me.
22 years, and still not a professional, and I think that is just how it may stay. I mean, it’s my job, but I don’t think I’m a pro. Slick will elude me.
But I am happy, even if tonight, some of them were not.
“If we didn’t sometimes do stupid things, nothing intelligent would get done” – sometimes those philosophers can bring solace.
AUDIENCE FOOTNOTE: The perspective from stage can be different to those looking at. I felt the set was a resounding failure, others watching disagreed. Whatever, it was still far from my finest moment.
DRUNK ON TRAIN FOOTNOTE: so the final journey was slowed by a drunk woman, immaculately coiffured, excessively inebriated, with a partner who looked like a life model for Jack Spratt. She teetered like thunder to the toilet, pressed the alarm in boozy error. Adored Jack for getting her the Whopper she’d asked for. Was furious with Jack for getting her a Whopper she hadn’t asked for, and so it went on and on. She sounds like an inebriated con woman attempting to disguise herself as a duchess and dressed by Sisters of Mercy.
BELFAST FOOTNOTE: another night, an entirely different experience, had a lovely gig at Belfast’s Stand Up for Choice, phew, it hasn’t turned into a run of disappointment.
Back to chaos next week – Belfast tomorrow, then Huddersfield, Sutton Coldfield, Darren Hayman’s Occupation gig, Cambridge, Birmingham and so many more HERE