I am diseased. There is no way out. I was diseased when I was young, probably from the first time I saw Rik Mayall on TV. There was no other option but stand up. After my youthful desire to be a zookeeper vanished in a puff of elephant dung, I always knew I wanted to be a writer and/or performer. It didn’t look promising. I had the minor role of a weasel in the school production of Wind in the Willows, and my acting abilities were hampered by my self-awareness creating a rigidity. I realised I must resort to playing myself, or myself as the lunatic hidden within. I have now spent half my life being a stand up comedian.
During Edinburgh fringe and tours, I can scrutinise the failures and half-cocked shows, so now I am near the end of this run, I dare to be positive.
Whenever people ask what I would have done if I wasn’t a stand up, I may make up something like,”oh, maybe a teacher”, but really, I have no idea what I might have been because I lack the imagination to think beyond being a stand up. I am fortunate. I am one of those people who really knew what they wanted to do. The downside is, if you fail to achieve that, you are screwed. You live the rest of your life as some supervisor or other, knowing that you failed to be what you wanted to be.
I am no household name, but I am able to do shows about what I want to talk about and sell enough tickets to live happily and comfortably. There are moments of intense shame, solitary madness, intense self examination as you lie in a cheap hotel listening to the arguments that leads to hollered sex that leads to argument in the room next door.
And it can promote selfishness and an atrophy of empathy, but these are not the necessity of the disease.
If I balance out the grey moments and the excessive introspection, not only could I not do anything else, I don’t want to do anything else. It is freest artform for there is, the only thing that hampers you is your fear of shame. You can release whatever you know is in your head and some things you had no idea were lurking there. The older I become, the more I think I love stand up. What a relief to reach middle age and not regret my youthful stupidity at going into this world. There were certainly glitches and long periods of time where I thought I should really think about doing something else, those times when you forget why you went into it in the first place. There will be gigs to come, maybe the one I am about to do, where I work off defeated and rue the day I didn’t become a small town solicitor dealing with smalltime divorces (actually, I’ve never rued that day, I am lying now), but that fog will drift away. To keep myself sane-ish, I am taking another act with me for my next tour to curtail the opportunities the voices in my head have to natter. The cliche of the sad clown staring at his decaying face in the multi bulbed mirror will be vanquished by conversations with Grace Petrie.
Are comedians more morose than other people, anyone whose career is introspcetion may have a greater predilection for spying their own potential misery. On the other side, you can turn your misery and worries into material, while others might have all their woes pent up, the comedian can unleash them and have them laughed at.
“ha ha my woes and fears, see how I have made you laughable and preposterous”
It can be a feast of dopamine for the brain.
Last night, my penultimate evening at the Edinburgh festival, I had a wild night of mind frippery and exercise.
First, my solo show on the mind. I talk fast, very fast, but I know roughly what I am doing hopefully, it almost has structure, well, by the standards of my other shows…perhaps.
Then, I went to ACMS, here Michael Legge and I “remixed” our A Your Adorable song with some clowning, screaming and stupidity. I then played the part of Tom O Connor if he was Fall Obsessed and voiced by something akin to Stewart Lee. Michael read out the fallen of Endor.
We walked across town to scream and jump and pretend to the ghost of Lenny Bruce and Daphne and Celeste in our angry show. Each night is more preposterous than the last, some of the audience genuinely think we are ill and on the cusp (or the midst) of a nervous breakdown. Michael made everyone do a version of the Hokey Cokey in a made up language while I stood in the corner like the final scene of The Blair Witch Project. (on the last night we tried to get everyone to sing The Revolutionary Biscuits of Italy in a language of their own making) Then, back to where I had been doing ACMS to do Setlist, a show where you take to the stage to perform your best set, the one you use to headline, the only trick being, you have never seen any of the subject matter before and must create routines out of phrases such as “Platonic Deep Throat Thursday” and “Death Row Third Wheel”.
I ended up talking about how John Wayne Gacy was electrocuted using an electric chair powered by a clown’s tricycle.
Finally, across town again for Cheaper than Therapy. I am late and I see Michael Legge on stage impersonating me. I curse him loudly, then scream about mass media failures while my glasses steam up. Afterwards, Eddie Pepitone and I were going to continue the theme of “comedy as therapy” with an audience podcast led by Christian Talbot. In the interval, we find out that Robin Williams has killed himself. Eddie knew him, and the podcast talks of him before we discuss releasing our demons as jokes and other hoopla.
That was my day, now that is artistic freedom, whether you like it or not.
I am touring forever (must end January) UK tour goes from Goole to Newcastle via Henley and Belfast. Details HERE
My most recent DVD is HERE