This is not what I wanted to write, but it is the only thing I could.
Whenever I get a new show up and running, my creative mind then goes blank on nearly all other stand up ideas. I haven’t enjoyed the first few dates of a new show as much as this before. The first audience in Bristol were so generous that I managed to put self-doubt far enough to the back of my mind that I could steam on with chutzpah. I wish I could write stand up, but I can only mull it over and then develop it through the embarrassment of having people stare at me. Each new tour has had a quicker turnaround than the last, and because of that I have believed each one will be the official 90 minutes it is in the theatre programmes. I am attempting not to go beyond two hours in this new show, for the sake of the technicians, Front of House staff and those who may be less enamoured by overrunning while sat on wooden pews. The last two weeks of preparing a show now follow roughly the same pattern of panic, desire to retreat or surrender, and staring at my face in the dressing room mirror ten minutes before showtime with a gaping mouth of horror. The last ten days are very frenetic, playing as money clubs and events as possible in the hope of getting the ideas I want to share up to scratch. This extreme bout of creativity then leaves me oddly spent. Now the tour is up and running, I want to turn around as much new material as possible on a daily basis, but find myself uninspired. I know I have about three hours of possibilities by night with the tour show, but the new ideas for other occasions seems stuck somewhere behind my conscious mind. I can’t pressure it out, and by attempting to, some of the ideas shatter and turn to dust before being observed by me.
Though some may find the end of a tour the most exhausting, I find myself far more wobbly and yawnish in the first few weeks. I am still waiting to be found out. There are usually a few dates where the chasm between your comedic intentions and the reality of the show are discovered. For now, I continue to congratulate the generosity of the audience for the results, I wait for the more pinch-faced to stare me out and insist, “this is not a show”. During a tour, there are a few delightful weeks where all is in place, and a confidence of familiarity warms me. Then, after a few weeks of that, I have to sabotage the show and make savage changes on a whim to ensure I don’t start to appear complacent.
I have mainly be writing about Charlie Chaplin today, delighting in his ballet of slapstick invention, but I have surrounded myself by books on themes i want to explore in the next show, even though the new one has barely begun. I have a club gig at Amersham Arms in New Cross and it already feels like cheating to do too many bits from my three week old show. I don’t like the idea of ever doing a set that is exactly the same, though I know I have. Lenny Bruce, so often called a jazz comedian, said that three new or improvised minutes in a 60 minute set was a good average.
It is an oddity, or perhaps quite understandable, that once the desperation for material decreases, the mind seems less creative. I enjoy the first few weeks, because the manic intensity of attempting to ensure the audience has been entertained leads to unexpected leaps of logic and forward rolls of absurdism. What was improvised in weeks one and two soon becomes part of the show. Punchlines that were elusive when staring at the sky, fly into the mind in gaps between laughter when eyes dart over the audience.
Perhaps this is why, once you have found the first set of material for the stand up circuit, acts find it harder to find more. this can be from complacency or lack of necessity. Then you realise that you are still mouthing routines made by a mind that is barely your own one decade on. My reason for doing too many gigs comes from my fear of complacency. I was adept at complacency in my 20s, I don’t want to go there again.
I am off to Birmingham, Bromsgrove, Salford, Chorley, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Glasgow, London, Northampton and many more. Details HERE
Mark Steel is joining Michael Legge and I at the Comedy Cafe on 1st April HERE