We had coffee, we looked at an ailing computer and welcomed the third member of our travelling party. We were going on a four man tour, but the fourth man (sounds like we were spies... but we weren't) was travelling separately. A taxi ride to a hire car place and then a hire car ride up north was underway. I sat in the front and started out by listening to my recording of the previous evening. I discovered that the microphone only picked up the loudest of noises, which was great. It would act as a censor for the results of a gig. Only very strong performances and reactions would get into its recordings. This recording method may be the most important critic I'll ever work with.
There was a stop for food along the way... a couple of times, in fact. We made the most of the journey and the scenery and talked about comedy. It was laid back and good company. Eventually, we arrived in Thurso. To give you an idea of how far north Thurso is, consider this - I'd never seen the North Sea from the south before. We were on the flat bit at the top of mainland Britain.
We went and checked out the venue. It was a small studio theatre, which was well equipped and had a nice backstage area. One soundcheck later I had two guitars tuned - mine and the promoters. I couldn't help but laugh when I was told not to tune it as it was "in tune with [his] voice" - it turns out that his voice is pretty much in 440Hz pitch, so I got to tune it anyway.
Part of the payment for this gig included hotel accommodation. The hotel was very nice indeed. We comedians took to our rooms and all had the same thought. Time for a poo. Sorry to go on about pooing. It seems that it has a good effect on my comedy, so it seems relevant. How not to be a shit act - write your material while pooing, so you can get the shit out of your system the right way and leave just the good stuff to go on the page. It might work!
We went back to the venue and I did something I rarely do when gigging. I had a couple of beers before going on. I was later to have quite a few more - another benefit of this gig was a couple of boxes of free beer in the dressing room... well, it would be rude not to. I prepared my recording device for the show to come and did the usual pre-gig bantering with the other acts. I say usual... it's always nice to do a bit of one-upmanship (who can be funniest off stage) with your comedic chums... sometimes material can emerge. Indeed, some material did emerge - a little piece about the Bee Gees and the Count from Sesame Street. I seem to recall making the core of this piece and crafting it into a nice thing to play with. It wasn't really what I wanted to do on stage so I said to the other guy that he could use it. He was MCing, so I expected him to use it in the opening section. It's quite important, when material comes out of a comedy discussion, to assign the rights of ownership. I've written punchlines for a few acts and it gives me a sense of pride when I see them used and getting laughs. Conversely, I'd be quite cross if they stole something funny I said in conversation and passed it off as their own, without checking with me first. It's quite important to note this fact. I know a few bits that I do which are similar in their subject or structure to that of other acts; when I find out that we've co-discovered something, I make sure they other act is cool about it, or drop it. The worst experience I had was with a pro act, who was chatting about something in the newspaper in the green room. I made a joke about it and then watched 20 minutes later as he used it. If he'd said "can I have that?" or if I'd said "you can use that" then it would have been fine. Trust is a part of this.
Anyway, as I stood waiting to go on, the MCing was going up and down and I started to feel cheeky. Perhaps it was the beer and a half I'd drunk, perhaps it was just my cheekiness (something which prevailed over the weekend), but I realised that the MC hadn't done this material we'd agreed he could have. So, I went out to the audience, placed my recording device on the floor, picked up my guitar and did my thing. I had a nice jolly woman heckler. I had a hearty man on the front row who was laughing. I made some jokes with them both and then got myself into the Bee Gees material. It worked quite nicely and I had a big grin on my face as I did it. The other acts were able to watch the show from the green room backstage via a video relay.
I closed my set and felt like I'd warmed them through ok. Some bits had gone down better than others, but I'd been relaxed and had imparted by bon homie on them - they were still listening and laughing at the end. I suspect that I had less laughter than I might have hoped for because it can be quite hard to know whether you're allowed to laugh over a song, especially if you're not used to live musical comedy. Of course, if something is really funny, you can't help yourself... but social convention comes with the territory too.
In the interval I was able to enjoy more than just eye contact with the other acts - a sure sign that it wasn't painful to watch. The MC took my stealing back of "our" material in good humour and I agreed that it would be his from then on. Indeed, he used it to good effect later in the tour.
And that's all I really want to say about Thurso. There's not much else to report. I drank more beer, stopped the MC driving us back to the hotel - he'd had two beers, but we didn't need to be driven - it was only a few hundred yards, we found chips and I got to my bed tired and woozy. I spoke to my girlfriend a little and then pretty much had to sleep as I was so blurry.
The tour had begun.