Fo some reason, my girlfriend, who hasn't seen me perform in about 10 months, decided to come with me. We hoped to get some time together to get lunch and relax between the 2pm show and the 6pm show which was to follow it. I am always glad to invite her to gigs, but realise that it's not always a good thing for her to see me clowning about on stage, or for her to be stuck in a back-stage area, outside of the show... or on her own watching a show with me in it. We gave it a try anyway.
2pm is very early for a comedy gig, and this one was bound to be tricky. The odds were stacked unfavourably when I agreed to do it. However, my already low expectations turned out to be way too high.
As we got towards Southampton, the rain started to pour. It was so heavy that some cars just gave up, pulled over and put their hazard lights on. My wipers weren't fast enough to clear it. However, I won't let a bit of water stand in my way, so I kept going, my shorts and shirt feeling cooler than they had when I put them on in a hot Reading a couple of hours previously.
We got to the parking area and an unhelpful youth disinterestedly indicated where I could park. Then he pointed vaguely at the area where we might find the tents with organisers of this event in.
I found the organiser's tent and my booking agent, who had gotten me the gig, and had himself booked the other acts, was waiting. I was the first of the three acts to arrive for the afternoon show. The plan was for me to MC and bring the other acts on. We had an hour between us. So I'd expect to do 20 minutes with their acts becoming 20 minute interludes in my ramblings. Not bad.
We knew that the show couldn't be offensive, but it didn't have to be "family friendly" - there would, apparently, be warning signs.
Warning sign number one, folks, is when you're back stage with 20 minutes to go before the show and there are no acts other than yourself.
Warning sign number minus one, though, is when you see a standing-only tent, with a few families in it, sheltering from the rain. Yep. It was going to be family friendly, whether I liked it or not.
Going on alone
MCs don't like to go on stage without any acts present - you can't introduce someone who isn't there. As it came time to start the show, it became clear that one act wasn't coming at all, and another was heavily delayed. My girlfriend and I racked our brains for any material I could use to bring laughter to the crowd. I wrote a note at the start of the list of pieces to do which read "Be a street performer" - I'd have to work the crowd. We reckoned that the other act might turn up halfway through the show, but if he didn't then I had up to an hour to fill - maybe nearer 40 minutes, as we started a bit late and would have to finish dead on time - a little sooner than would have given us the full hour anyway.
So, I took to the stage, uncertain of what would happen, how to clean up my material, or whether the crowd would reward my efforts by leaving. I could take stony faces, but a walk-out would be fairly destructive. Of course the rain was on my side in this instance. Provided I was cheerful and inoffensive, people wouldn't have too much reason to walk out.
The Ashley Frieze Show
I did about 40 minutes for these people. Overall, I cleaned up my material enough to get away with it, and I dropped a few favourites. I managed to change the word "bastard" to "idiot" in one song, but forgot about the "shit" which followed... D'oh!
In one song, the line "They found her vagina on the roof of a morris minor" was changed to "I'm sorry, this bit is unsuitable for children".
People didn't walk out and I felt relaxed and happy up there, even when the laughs didn't quite come as reliably as I might have liked. The time passed quickly enough.
The Harshest Review
A young girl stopped me as I was picking up my guitar - she said "You were funnily bad". I said that that sounded ok. After all, it meant I was funny, perhaps embodying a spirit of being the underdog, suffering at the expense of the joke. Then she corrected herself. She said, "No, you were badly funny. You were bad. At being funny."
Everyone's a critic.
I had a good time.
Cutting my losses
Rather than stay for the 6pm show, which I was also down to do, I decided to go home. They had less time than originally planned, and the act who didn't make it to the 2pm show was going to stay for the later show and do that instead. So, I left them to it.
It turned out that the later show had loads of people in it and was a lot more rip-roaring, though one of the acts died... and there really wasn't enough time for two acts, let alone three. I think I made the right decision leaving. We got to go to the cinema instead. Result!