The Ludicrous, Mumbling Figure Hurried as Things Fell

This is self indulgent.
self-pitying.
There are far more people facing far worse things than bruised egos and fear of failure, so don’t read on if that will irk you. There are far more important things than this – the many forgotten and in dire poverty, the uncared for old, the cruelly treated young, famine, an opposition party that has forgotten how to oppose, and easily cured diseases that kill. The list goes on. But I am a performer, so selfishly, childishly, and stupidly, it is all about me and my pathetic needs and frustrations.

This was hammered out on a bench on Newcastle station. Fast typing, no grammar, logic, or spelling checks. Just a thought typed.

This has been written as a valve, just to calm me down. It is something overheard… but in the age of social media, I attempt to force it onto a possible audience

I work pretty hard by the stand up standard. Not necessarily very successfully, but I take a lot on, I try to experiment, and I try to make new things. I don’t always “fail better”, sometimes I fail worse.

As I ran over the bridge at Newcastle to get the train that I had been misdirected to, only to see it move away as I ran back over the bridge, listening to the sound of things falling out of my rucksack, talking to myself desperately, and wondering what sort of pathetic spectacle I was making to passers-by, I knew I was close to the end of my tether. In the car with Grace, trapped in ridiculous diversions that turned a 20 minute journey into an hour, with me cursing and punching my leg repeatedly as I knew the rail company would gleefully charge me a fortune for a ticket as I would have missed my designated train, I saw a bellowing glimpse of my crumbling.

The salt and vinegar for the wound was the very low turnout in Alnwick, I had gone from making nothing on the gig, to losing £150 to spend two days traveling to then “show off” in a near empty auditorium, a figure caught between Archie Rice and Willy Loman.

Lying awake in budget hotels, looking at the ceiling and listening to the loud mechanism of the dawn.

The idealistic 20 something human I once was looks rather silly now.

The imagined success, a ludicrous dream.

Just 6 days ago, I was storming TEDx Salford.

A mere 5 days ago was a lovely recording of The Infinite Monkey Cage.

But 5 days is a long time in ego management.

Thought I reference how niche I can be on stage sometimes, it seems I am nichier, entertaining to a dwindling number of people when no longer in larger conurbations.
A Merrick like specimen to be peered at and, sometimes, laughed with, playing the market towns and borderlands.

Spreading myself thinly across radio dcoumentaries, horror anthologies and shows about sanity that seem to be pushing me further away from it, I seek as many platforms as possible to fail on, then check twitter to ensure someone hasn’t liked it.

I don’t take failure well. You would think by now that I would have got used to it.
At the beginning of the year, I was involved in the start of three new monthly club nights, in Northampton, Brighton and London, all have stumbled, most are buried. I was excited by the new Art night, but I am one of the few it seems. A magnificent seven tickets have been sold for the latest night with Alexei Sayle, Joanna Neary, Sara Pascoe, Neil Edmond, Charlotte Young, and many more. (Alexei isn’t on this listing, but he is on. I am really confused as to why no one is buying tickets for this. £7 too much?)

I may stop trying. I will lower my expectations yet again.
Fail, fail again, fail.

(I often love comedy too, this is just written during a mental lull, here is happy me https://robinince.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/i-love-stand-up-comedy-even-when-i-hate-it-the-disease-of-comedy/ )

I continue to stumble and mumble across the UK, from Goole to Bridgwater, Henley to Manchester, Newcastle to Belfast, come see the cracks widen http://www.robinince.com

next tour show is in Bristol – http://www.thecomedybox.co.uk/site/index.asp

and doing a talk in Worthing http://worthing.skepticsinthepub.org/Event.aspx/2264/Anniversary-Celebration

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24 Responses to The Ludicrous, Mumbling Figure Hurried as Things Fell

  1. 5affy says:

    The performer can not always be the promotor of events as well and so many things affect weather people turn up – money, weather, things on TV, exam time and so on. I have been at the same basic event organised by the same people in the same place and seen people turned away at the door for over crowding and there being 5 people in the venue.

    Add in new and old promoters sometimes just don’t leaving themselves with an empty venue. We think you are great and I really enjoyed the events I’ve managed to get to. I regular meet people who think you are amazing – of course I work at festivals and events and stuff so it is the goers I tend to talk to in the first place.

    A show with you and Sara Pascoe will be AMAZING BALLS and though it’s hard you need to remember the rooms of chortling people who then spoke of your gigs for MONTHS on end.

    Niche is always hard but you do it well 🙂

    Hoping the venting itself has helped.

    Sarah Snell-Pym

  2. darrenstephenssanm says:

    If all you have is success, how can you measure the wonderful feeling of TED or IMC?

    The likes of Alnwick (or Scarborough, where I once came a couple of years ago with a few other hardy souls, in shitty weather, and enjoyed you very much) only serve to remind, however painfully, of how good the good stuff really is.

  3. Ingie says:

    Dear Robin,

    I don’t address you that way as a formality, but because of several factors:

    For many years now, through the virtue of your radio shows, I’ve enjoyed your “work”. I don’t quote that sarcastically, but metaphorically. That is to say, what I’ve enjoyed is your engagement of thought, your lateral ideas, your ability to cast things into humorous relief. I’ve enjoyed, in more true terms, _you_. Perhaps this relates to how I think of myself, as in: perhaps the enjoyment I take from you doing your thing is a reflection on how you tend to cover the same twists and turns that my own mind takes when exploring similar subjects. Yes, perhaps therefore my enjoyment is linked to a feeling of self-justification. I don’t know, or care. I simply know that whether it is when you’re speaking solo or in banter with _He Who Must Not Be Named_ , I cannot but raise a smile, a laugh, a sense of heartfelt recognition.

    That’s not meant to sound creepy in the slightest, it’s just me: a slightly crazed, mildly aspergic, amateur scientist, musician, and geek, being honest about why I think your stuff is good stuff.

    Then there’s the twitter stream. This isn’t independent from the above point, it adds to it. It also adds a sense of “this celebrity is a person” (had I been able to use italics there I may have, for comedic effect, but I’m not telling which nouns). Of course, what I mean by that is that twitter can “bring the person home”. It’s enjoyable, like sitting on a train or in a pub sharing a pint with someone you’d otherwise not get to chat to is enjoyable. With that enjoyment comes a sense of a shared place -albeit virtual- a sense of a shared existence, and often shared pains.

    So, as it was the other night as I “shared” (in that defined sense) your anguish at your insomnia, your worries about gigs past and gigs yet to come, your frustration building on frustration. As your twitter stream shed those fears, I recognised them in myself. Now, I’m no celebrity in any sense. My music is as unsuccessful as I ever need it to be (I have no desire to take my hobby and make it into a job – unless someone else can do all the bits that aren’t creative for me). However, on the odd occasion when I play gigs, I can’t bear the possibility of them failing. Which is why I don’t play gigs. QED.

    But it’s not a fear of failing in the “number of people” sense, it’s a worry that I’ll fail to deliver the music in the way I feel I need to deliver it. The way it sounds at home when I write and produce it. I want perfection or damnation.

    Sure, if it were to be my source of income, then I’d be looking at some bottom-line, to see if I’m going to feed myself, and I don’t deny that as being vital in that circumstance. Yet, one has to take two things independently. Separation of “church” and “state” as it were. One one hand, do the art for art’s sake, and on the other hand, do the art for money’s sake, but don’t cross the streams in the head.

    However, that aside (and I don’t say that to trivialise, but that it is moot) I find in my own performances that the deepest, the most vital (in the vita sense of the root word) thing to focus on with regard to an audience’s enjoyment, is not the number of people, but the depth – the connection.

    I played a gig once, it was about 2am, in a moist field in the middle of my country – the Isle of Man – in the hills… it had been a long day, hundreds of people there – who had now gone to their respective tents in the main, with some gathered at a communal fire. I’d had technical hitches (this was electronic dance music, played on a van load of live equipment) I’d felt crap with a cold. I’d spent the best part of 2 hours plugging in wires, so that I could play for an hour, and then spend another two hours unplugging everything again. But it sounded good.
    I had been playing for about 10 minutes, so engrossed in the devices I was trying to control that I’d barely looked out across the dance floor outside the marquee, when someone came up to me behind my equipment and shouted “There’s someone dancing!”
    Great! I thought… but with a degree of caution at the turn of phrase.
    “And he’s on fire!” they added.
    What? I looked up, and sure enough, there was a sole drunk person dancing in a circle, aflame. It appeared that he’d been dancing with a cigarette in his mouth and his arm in a sling, but was too drunk to notice that the cigarette had fallen from his mouth into the sling and caught light.
    He was duly extinguished (in the fire sense) by fellow party-goers.

    To this day, that gig sticks in my memory as one of my favourites, not because of my performance I’ve got little memory of that. But because a) one person informed me afterwards “I didn’t dance as I wasn’t drunk enough, but that was better than an Orbital gig I went to last month” (which was nice to hear) but far more importantly. b) A drunk man was so involved with dancing to what I was playing, that he was able to completely ignore that he was on fire.

    Now, maybe he was only enjoying it because he was drunk. Maybe he didn’t understand the nuances of my compositions, maybe he missed the humour in the samples I’d used from Bagpuss.

    But it made the days of composing, the hours of setting up, the hours of taking down, all worth while. That, and that one person said she liked the music more than Orbital.

    I’ve rambled, but I guess the moral, if there is to be one, is that:

    It’s not quantity that matters. It’s the touching of the hearts of those that listen.

    Yep, I know, that’ doesn’t pay the bills, but it pays the heart, and when the heart is paid, then the body is empowered.

    Best of luck for the rest of the tour. I wish I could come to one, however I live in an uncharted backwater of another country and it costs an arm and a leg to go over to the UK so I don’t unless I can kill many birds with the same stone. I hope one day, I can be a metaphorical flaming dancer in the audience.

    Until then, take care and don’t forget to ask Brian to record Carl’s book for a relaxation tape.

    ingie.x

    • robinince says:

      thank you for taking so much time to reply to my post, good points made.
      Robin

    • paxsusan says:

      Hi Ingie, I’m reading your post from South Australia, my knowledge of Twitterdom so scant it’s nothing short of a miracle that I stumbled upon your post.
      Firstly, I love your post, it is profound, loving and funny.
      Second, I’ve never seen or heard either you or Robin but I wish I could teleport through a wormhole & come visit.
      Third, my dad, a 1928 model came from Paddington but he’s not a bear and when he took me ‘home’ to London as a teenager I knew I belonged but I love the sunshine and warmth here & wonder am I an ex-pat? Hubby is from Belfast out of Manchester part of the Irish diaspora and now I’m rambling but thanks for your story of the burning man, it’s a treasure. Susan Smith

  4. Katie Young says:

    Robin,
    Please don’t give up! You’re one of the few people who I hear on the radio or see on the TV who gives me faith in humanity. Honestly, I’m doing a PhD in evolutionary genetics, but the number of people I speak to who don’t even believe in evolution…I often wonder whether my work means anything! Your rant on creationism (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdocQHsPCNM) always cheers me up. There’s no accounting for (other people’s) taste

  5. Andy Brice says:

    I think anyone who tries to do new things fails regularly. I know I have had my share in my professional life (as a software developer). But failure as a performer must be more immediate and bruising than most other forms of failure.

  6. Robin,

    When I brought my daughter, Mirren, to see you in March, (and you wished me a Happy Birthday in your power point), it was one of the first things that we had done together since the death of her brother. To see her laughing and enjoying herself, made me happier than my vocabulary can describe. Knowing, like me, that she was escaping from her grief, even briefly, was such a relief. To have a break, for a couple of hours, to be able to just be in the moment, was something we hadn’t managed until that night. And then to spend time talking with you afterward just made it a personal experience.

    Off the back of seeing you, Mirren was interested in going to the Cheltenham Science Festival, where as you know, we took my son’s ashes and asked various people if they would mind having a photo with him. Although it was me that had the idea, it was talking to you about it, that gave me the courage to actually do it. That weekend was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life, because, as you said they would, every single person was more than happy to have a photo with Jamie.

    It is difficult for me to get across to you how important your part, in our grief process was… is. Things may not have gone well for you lately, but when you’re feeling down, please know that you bring a lot of joy, to the people that see you and that you helped a grieving father and his daughter realise that they can laugh again, that they are allowed to be happy and that they don’t need to be guilty when they do

    So thank you and we’ll see you in Totton next month

    John and Mirren

  7. Robin,

    When I brought my daughter, Mirren, to see you in March, (and you wished me a Happy Birthday in your power point), it was one of the first things that we had done together since the death of her brother. To see her laughing and enjoying herself, made me happier than my vocabulary can describe. Knowing, like me, that she was escaping from her grief, even briefly, was such a relief. To have a break, for a couple of hours, to be able to just be in the moment, was something we hadn’t managed until that night. And then to spend time talking with you afterward just made it a personal experience.

    Off the back of seeing you, Mirren was interested in going to the Cheltenham Science Festival, where as you know, we took my son’s ashes and asked various people if they would mind having a photo with him. Although it was me that had the idea, it was talking to you about it, that gave me the courage to actually do it. That weekend was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life, because, as you said they would, every single person was more than happy to have a photo with Jamie.

    It is difficult for me to get across to you how important your part, in our grief process was… is. Things may not have gone well for you lately, but when you’re feeling down, please know that you bring a lot of joy, to the people that see you and that you helped a grieving father and his daughter realise that they can laugh again, that they are allowed to be happy and that they don’t need to be guilty when they do

    So thank you

    John and Mirren Ottaway

  8. Joyce Beck says:

    I echo Ingie’s sentiments: you bring joy, laughter and enlightenment to many people. You provide an excellent foil to ProfBC’s sometimes fearsome “scienciness”, write wittily, evocatively and sometimes even picturesquely (as ProfBC said: “‘listening to the loud mechanism of the dawn’ is an awesome sentence”, even if it is not actually a sentence), and often demonstrate original ways of thinking about contentious or difficult issues. But over the last few weeks you’ve sounded to me (on Twitter at least) like someone who, as you say, is spreading himself too thinly. I thought, a week or two ago, that you sounded like a man in need of a holiday. Most of us don’t have our less-than-best efforts on public display. I don’t do any kind of performing, but it must be especially hard to do stand-up – no retakes, every empty seat must seem like a criticism, particularly when you’re tired, and frustrated by travel problems. Give yourself a break.

    I might also question your publicity. I live very near Northampton, but I only read anything about your monthly club nights when you said they were going to stop! Where would I have seen anything about it?

  9. Kylie Sturgess says:

    Absolutely with the others – giving yourself a break, not blaming yourself is important. There’s only so much you can control.

  10. draziraphale says:

    I’ve been pointing you out to people for years because of the key role you play in the communication of science; your name comes up often in my circles and you are a role model for “non-scientist”science communication. You have a talent, skill set and infectious enthusiasm that scientists at the top of their game envy (and I would’ve bought a ticket were it not for the fact that I’m in Galway in a different country!). Chin up, there’s a lot of up to chin about!

  11. Paul says:

    I couldn’t get to you at Alnwick due to being away, but a friend who was there said you were excellent.
    I’m sorry that there weren’t more people there.

    • paxsusan says:

      I was in Alnwick Gardens in 2008, now back in Australia 17,000km away wish I could make it to a gig.
      I pronounced it with the ‘W’ but my Aunty & Uncle in Newcastle corrected my Aussie language mistake. I am homesick for a country I was not born in.
      Irrelevant perhaps but I had to splurge also, 🙂

  12. donnerscott says:

    Hi Robin, I had been wondering when I was next going to see your shows at NN. I’ve been there when it was packed and I’ve been there when it was less packed but still standing room only, so I’d say you’d definitely got enough love here to muster good-sized audiences in the future. But if I must come to Kettering to see you, I will try my best.
    – your Northampton doorlady.

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