I am currently attempting another book. I have written quite a few thousand words, here are the words from this morning.
You, a middle-aged and flabby man with lipstick badly daubed on your face and foundation smeared precariously on your brow and cheeks, are standing on top of two chairs in the middle of an audience, screaming, “are you from telly! Say you are from telly!”, at a scared and paying stranger, why?
The answer, “well, it is the Edinburgh fringe festival”, is surely not enough.
Twenty minutes before this, you were sitting breathlessly, daubing on the make up and attempting to eat a raw vegetarian sausage. You had run from you previous show, some hills away, where you read thoughtfully from the works of scientist and mused on cosmology, before introducing someone singing a song a out snowflakes as they played a theremin. Life should be variety, after all.
Five minutes before show time, and you sit slumped, picking sausage scraps from your English teeth, wondering with your double act partner if either of you will be able to muster the energy for your very loud, very stupid, very improvised show. It is 2pm, and the sort of thing that should really be done under the cover of night.
The sluggishness is shrugged off as you launch into an opening number, filled with rabid chutzpah.
“A you’re adorable, B you’re adorable, C you’re adorable, D you’re adorable, E you’re adorable…” , you get the idea, and so to zed. The audience are correctly perplexed and intrigued. You receive their applause, then launch into, “1 you’re adorable, 2 you’re adorable, 3 you’re adorable…”, those years of vaguely reading Antonin Artuad’s work on the Theatre of Cruelty are now being misused with zeal.
And so, not long after, you are balancing on those chair tops, an act of balance impossible to you without such maddening levels of adrenaline, and you’re screaming to the point of tasting the blood of your throat.
“Look, just say you’re from telly!”
The scared man’s eyes look up imploringly. “I’m from telly?”
“are you really?!”
“Then why did you lie to me. Arghh. What’s the point of even doing the show if none of you bastards are from telly”.
The whole show was deeply stupid (and very well-reviewed, I should add. “Two funny cunts” The Scotsman – real review).
Oddly, of all the shows I have done, Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire, was one of the ones I questioned the least. It’s utter pointlessness made it a joy for us to perform. Despite the pretence of neediness and desperate hankering for a TV career, we actually wanted nothing out of the show beyond an all singing, all screaming absurdity. (like all comedians, I am wary of mentioning my peers, for fear you’ll go off and see or read them instead of me, but Michael Legge is the middle aged idiot I do Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire with. Should we ever do it again, do not come along presuming you’ll have the joy of seeing my failing torso. Sometimes I remain fully clothed)
Nevertheless, the question remains, what in our minds, what natured or nurtured childhood neuronal diversions left and I with the need to do this sort of thing. And we do need to do it. For some people, comedy may just be a career choice, but for others, it is a calling, more than that, it is a grasping. A wretched jester’s claw grabs you and insists you have no other choice, it is showing off of death, or sometimes dying while showing off.
Sometimes, when being interviewed by a local newspaper in the hope of enhancing poor sales in Alnwick or St Austell, you’re asked, “what would you have done if you hadn’t gone into comedy?”
I think I used to pretend I’d have been a teacher. The truth is, there is no alternative reality I can imagine. Even during doldrum days, when things are going far from your plans and even further from your dreams, I cannot say, “Oh, if only I’d been a geologist or a milliner”. There is nothing else I wanted to do. From the moment I first saw Rik Mayall on TV, maybe even before then, I knew I had to do this.
But what if I had failed, then what would I have done?
Then, I presume I would be a failed stand up who had been forced into some non-specific alternative career, or more likely, I would have just kept trying and trying until I could get somewhere at least.
“Fail, Fail again, Fail Better.” I still am.
In moments of umbrage, and they can be many, you can still regret being molded in this inescapable shape.
In the last few years, I began to find stand up tours were hinting at a creeping insanity slithering up behind me. The grey edges were moving towards the centre. The mind can be canny with bleakness. I may have weeks on tour where, with the exception of the time in the spotlight, everything dragged murkily, but everyone time that fog lifts, it’s as if it was never there and never had been. It is a handy trick to help us all keep going.
Eventually, I decided it might be for the best to stop stand up. This was not due to falling out of love with stand up. I had started to toy with the idea after a gig with a poor turnout and a blood sugar low. For a moment, mid flow, I stopped and sat down and looked at the few. They were a lovely few, but so few. I was confronted by my preposterousness. This was made worse by the auditorium being adorned with images of comedy greats. I should have channeled those bits of their biographies that dwelt on their career lows and public rejections, but why be so mean-spirited to the dead, and so all i saw before me was their success and excellence. I breathed in. The homunculus in motley that I keep in my mind declared, “showtime!”, and I continued, fearing that I may have overstepped the mark into “poignant”. Roadworks and Escher like traffic diversions hindered my lift to the station. My support act was in a car with a madman. repeatedly punching his upper leg whilst slavering non-sequiturs of self-pity and self-loathing. Rushing to the barriers over a footbridge, my rucksack unzipping of its own accord, pencils, roll on deodorant and life scraps bouncing onto the tarmac, the train pulls away as I can reach and touch its metal. I buy another ticket for £121. My mathematical homunculus unhelpfully tots up my losses for last night’s gig. The fury pounds for long enough that I don’t notice the pain in my upper leg until we reach London some hours later. The bruise is vivid for days.
After this, I continued touring the UK, and went to Australia and America too. i was aware that the sanest I felt was when I was being profesionally ridiculous on stage. I found a day that I would declare was the end of stand up, and at least 73% of me believed it might even be true.
TO BE CONTINUED
You can hear the Book Shambles podcast with Josie Long and me HERE. Guests include Chris Hadfield, Mark Gatiss, AL Kennedy, Sara Pascoe and Stewart Lee.
The stupid music podcast I do with Michael Legge is HERE