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Thursday, July 15

The calm before the storm.

Up at the most crazy hour of 4.30am. The previous evening had seen one of those rehearsals - we've over-rehearsed and over-directed some bits. We've gone from slick to stiff. After a good chat to work out how to get the magic back into our on-stage partnership, I retired to my bed with the promise of a wake-up call from my co-star/co-writer/co-habiter (temporary). What a nice man - agreeing to get out of his bed for 5 minutes to kick me out of mine.

On the road a few minutes later, showered and on the outside of coffee and cornflakes, I headed down South to a meeting. I arrived in plenty of time and had a bit of time for quiet reflection and writing down of thoughts. When the meeting concluded, at lunchtime, I'd already done the equivalent of a day's work, and I had at least a four hour drive home - in rush hour. I had two choices - drive home up the middle and east of the the country, or go to Manchester on the western route. I had the same choice back in May and I chose the same option - Manchester.

I never thought the day would come that I would voluntarily head to Manchester in my spare time. Adding 40 miles or so to my return trip (40 miles whose petrol I would have to pay for, unlike the rest of the expenses-paid journey), I headed up the M5 and M6 in search of a good evening's comedy. XS Malarkey. My favourite gig. Watching or performing: it is a guarantee of a good time. What's more, the headliner was one Vladimir McTavish, whom I have seen about 8 million times and who still makes me laugh my head (and other parts of my body) off.

I had a good laugh and a good night at XS. It was one of the tougher moods for that audience - the acts had their work cut out for them. I told the headliner how much I'd enjoyed his set and he treated it with the same sort of polite thanks that I often treat people when they tell me I've done well. What I didn't say to him is that I enjoyed it, but I could see how hard he had to work for it. It was neither the time nor place to do my post-match analysis. Instead, he got the punchline - I enjoyed it. Maybe he assumed I was telling him he'd done well as people always do - regardless of how well the act has really done. I hope he believed me. I enjoyed his material, I enjoyed his performance, but more than that, I loved watching the room and seeing who was laughing and how they were laughing. Most of the jokes I knew a mile off (from having heard his routine before) and my glee was standing, waiting, knowing what was coming, in anticipation of the reaction it would get. Laughter is a wonderful thing to create and experience.

A great pianist can play the most complicated piece and make it sound deceptively easy. A great comedian can stand in front of a crowd that are not easy to make laugh and force them to laugh in every single place they're supposed to. Not only that, but the comedian must keep them laughing - even when their energy levels are dropping. He has to make it seem to the audience that it's entertaining and fun.

I'm not a great comedian. When it's going well, I appear to be very funny. When it's not going so well, I can seem to be desperately desperate and unfunny. I am learning. Watching great comedians is a damned good way to learn. Some of what I saw on Tuesday night wasn't just entertainment, it was artistry.

Oh... and on the way home, I got to pass under my favourite bridge on the M1:

A better picture of this needs taking - this one fails to capture its attractive jaunty angle.

Went to see Little Shop of Horrors, possibly my favourite musical ever, at The People's theatre in Newcastle. It was an amateur production.

Then we had a curry.

A brief rest from the trials ahead. From now on, it's all adventure time. Next Wednesday, we're going on BBC Radio Newcastle to talk about our show - by that time, the Fringe will seem very very imminent and we'll have doubled the number of performances we've done so far to a paying audience (from 2 to 4). My parents and sister will have seen the show... along with a lot of friends and well-wishers... we'll have travelled 600 miles to do the show and spent about 8 hours in the theatre doing something show-related. Not a bad progression for 6 days.


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