Have you got to be alienated as a stand up, or merely be an alien?
Not in the David Bowie/Thomas Newton, beautiful, being makes a million, becomes an alcoholic, is investigated by the secret service, and eventually has his illusory skin and genitals removed, before recording an ignored album, though some of those things may happen.
Stand up creates a less glacial, more worried, alien being.
One, you have to scrutinise culture and civilisation as if it is not quite your own. If you are too comfortable in the world you are in, if you walk through it without prodding and questioning it, your shows may under-run.
Secondly, you must regularly arrive in places you do not know – part Klaatu, part Willy Loman. Your skin is a little thinner than a casual visitor, as you know that some of the people in this district will be judging you later on. The vague shadow of fear that your evening performance casts over your sensibilities makes the shapes and buttresses of the town a little less welcoming.
(warning – following passages may contain exaggerated paranoid melodrama)
You overhear conversations in accents that are not from “where you come from”, and the alternative pronunciations and stresses seem to have an element of threat.
Everywhere feels colder.
Local eyes jab the back of your neck, even though in all likelihood, no one is paying you the remotest amount of attention.
You have already made the reasons in your head as to why the people from here won’t like you, the you who is someone from there, not here.
Isn’t your kind of town exactly the kind of town they loathe.
Isn’t your kind of face the kind of face that the visitors had who came to close their factories?
Isn’t your voice the voice they mock when doing pub impersonations of the people they would like to attach weights to the ankles of and drop them in their bike rust heavy canal?
Your accent is too refined, too gutteral.
Your references betray arrogant intellectualism or simplistic pop culturalism.
None of them have thoughts or lives like you and they do not want to hear “what it is like when…” and they will not know when “you when that thing happens…”.
And then you’ll be a long way from home, in a town where the only people who know you, know they don’t like the cut of your jib, and the wallpaper in your B&B is damp and loose, and the breakfast is pale yellow.
What? me paranoid?
I was thinking about this as I was leaving Belfast today.
I died on my arse the first time I played Belfast. The next day, as I looked for a cinema to hide in, it seemed everyone I asked directions of, had seen my shame. I had maintained my dignity by dying on my arse for the full allotted time. Apparently, on other nights, the audience were robbed of the full 30 minutes of booing as the acts left the stage early.
I was less awful on the next visit, but far from memorable…or interesting.
I was still alien.
Now, it is one of my favourite destinations.
I have found the right audience and the right bookshops.
Or maybe I have found the right way to perform to the audience.
There is a passion and an honesty, and a desire to talk after the gigs about all manner of ideas, both scientific and personal. I have had some of the most enlightening and intriguing conversations. Today, even at a sober lunchtime gig, I chatted to someone about what is death and consciousness, and received a short Lutheran funded film starring Jack Hawkins that I was told I would find weird and fascinating (and I bet I do).
I also like Belfast as they talk fast and so do I.
I used to fear Newcastle and Liverpool too.
What has changed, age and experience I suppose, and I now have more of an audience who may have an inkling of the nonsense I’ll declaim.
But I also think it comes from being more honest. When I was a worse and younger comedian, I walked on and second guessed what the audience might want from the alien.
Was it that patronising that they could see through as they hurled the first bottle?
Thank you, Belfast. My fascination with you grows.
That is what stand up touring, as relentless has given me, I’ve learnt to stop worrying and love being an alien (well, not always, but it is developing).
And Didcot, Swindon, Salford, Edinburgh, Bath and on http://www.robinince.com