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Monday, November 20

Weekends Are Funny Things

I've had a strange state of mind over the last few weeks and the weekend is an opportunity to either purge yourself of a state of mind, or suffer from it. Work stress has definitely been mounting, though why it's stressful is difficult to explain. As a result, last week was a very moody week for me. On Saturday morning, it felt like that mood wasn't going to be broken. I woke earlier than I would have like to, and had varying degrees of irritability which I managed to largely supress, but not entirely hide. I can't say why I was irritable. But I was.

However, some shopping occurred and successfully too. We even managed to take time to sit down with smoothies. I like a smoothie and this didn't make me feel irritable at all. Mine had muesli in. That rocks! It also sticks in the teeth, but you can't break and egg without making an omelette.

Think Bike
Following the shopping trip I went to collect my bike from the repair shop. They have most definitely done some sort of servicing, since there's a red residue on various joints where things move and I can only assume that this residue is intended to make those things move better. The tyres go a bit limp under my weight, but that's probably a product of my weight being tyre-limp-making, rather than the tyres not being able to hold pressure. They had replaced both sets of brake-pads, which on a car would be expensive, and on a bike costs a few quid. Bikes are ace in that regard.

It was only as I got the bike back to the house that I realised that the repair shop had severed the cable leading from the handlebars to the wheel to make my cycle computer work. I looks like it's just been wantonly cut for no reason. Was I being punished for waiting a week to collect my bike? Did something fall on it and snap it by accident and they were too ashamed to admit it? The remains of the cable have been cable-tied to the handlebars, so they were clearly aware of this snappage. It feels a bit unfair, given that I'd paid them to service the bike, not knacker my cycle computer. I ought to do something about that. Current options are to either fix the break in the cable - a simple job with soldering iron and sticky tape, or to go and give them a stern talking to on the subject of cycle-maintenance.

Once I had the bike on the road, I went for a 45 minute ride around the Reading area. I don't know Reading all that well, but I cycled where I knew and discovered the presence of hills. It didn't feel like a huge effort, so maybe I wasn't doing it properly, or maybe I'm fitter than I expect myself to be. Two days later I'm still not suffering any muscular pain, so I shall have to try harder on my next bike ride. No pain, no gain... though arguably, I can gain weight without that hurting, so maybe that aphorism is another phallacy. Also, it really hurt when I got bit by that guinea pig, and I gained nothing, so it's not looking good for this so-called "truism".

Happy Returns
Saturday night was a night out to celebrate my girlfriend's brother's birthday. I was the designated driver and managed to convey us to Bath and back without anyone criticising my driving. I'll take that as an endorsement of my capability behind the wheel.

Sunday Funday
Sunday was a day of rest. Much sleeping. It was definitely afternoon when I was out of bed and dressed. The day sauntered on by and then I was off to my gig in Southampton. I was closing the show and had decided to do two things to perk me up and knock me out of the lack-of-confidence trough I've been in. The solution was to do things I've never done before. These were:
  1. The song I've never had the nerve to finish and perform
  2. A set-up improvised song
In some way each of these worked, though I'd already done almost a set's worth of material by the time I started doing them. I had to do that to be sure I could trust the audience, though I equally could have gotten away with it sooner... confidence is not something you can just assume, though. I had to make myself certain that I'd get away with things. The audience were on my side when I started the new song.

The New Song
I'm a bit shy when it comes to new material. Often the stuff I've the most confidence in will die on its arse. Some of the most throwaway stuff becomes a perennial favourite, and some of the stuff which I rehearse and rehearse and never dare show to an audience turns out to be a hidden gem. The thing is that I really can't tell if something is funny until I try it. Often I have an idea of where something is funny, but I'm not sure how to package it.

In this case, I'd written a song a few weeks ago on the subject of one's choice of bed-fellow (and I mean that in the most base of senses). It was inspired by something I knew about a friend of mine's behaviour and had a set-up gag which I remain proud of. The song itself had a definite progression, some cynical truths and then a last verse which I wasn't sure about. I'd written a tune for it, but for some reason I'd written it in the key of F, which is hard to play on the guitar and hard for me to sing. It just wanted to be in that key. As a result of being in that key, there are some neat variations I can make to accompaniment to make it sound quite jazzy... so it really wants to be in that key, despite requiring me to sing in a high register and play quite poorly.

I had decided that this gig was to be the one where I tried the song. I forced myself to rewrite the ending to have a relentless bunch of rhymes that push the point and some sort of punchline. I think it needs more, but it'll do for the time being. So, I rehearsed it a few times, but never quite managed to get through it without making a mistake. Usually, the first time I play a song live, I screw it up anyway, so there's only so much I could do. I don't mind looking an arse in a random pub in Southampton, so there wasn't too much to lose.

Actually, I think that the song worked ok. I don't know if it will work again, but I think the audience laughed. I've a recording of them laughing. It's strange, though. The closer I get to the mechanics of a song, the harder it is for me to see anything funny in it. I only write what I think is funny, but there's always a tendency to write for what you think will push the audience's buttons. So maybe some of what I write doesn't make me laugh as much as pleased with myself for using the right button-pushes. Maybe. Maybe I am using my sense of absurdity and amusement at these words in this combination. I don't know.

At the very worst, I think my comedic performance could just turn into a series of incantations which mean nothing to me, but which engender a laughter-response from an audience. Like some truly twisted form of Catholic mass where the guy at the front says "do the hokey cokey" and everyone puts their left leg in. Yet I want the performance to be at its best where I'm trying to stop myself from laughing at the things I'm saying. At a few moments yesterday evening, I had to remind myself of the very simple advice I was given by a comedian this August. I asked him how he made things seem funny even when the audience weren't laughing and he replied that he focuses on why he finds them funny when he's delivering them. It's simple.

Anyway, the new song, for which I haven't got a title (since titling it would spoil the first punchline), was delivered with gusto and I made one mistake, which was in a spoken bit between verses 1 and 2. Such is life. I do think it's funny at the moment. I also feel like I've actually added something to my repertoire too.

The Set-up Improvised Song
I had suggested this to the MC during the week and decided that it was going to be "in for a penny, in for a pound" on this gig. Basically, the improvised song is a low-cost crowd pleaser. It takes very little comedy craftsmanship to make an improvised song funny, because it's the absurdity of the situation that makes it seem magical. It does, however, require the right staging. In this instance, I'd staged the whole thing via the joke competition. My suggested joke competition title was "In one sentence, what would you say to Tony Blair if you met him?". The audience submitted various suggestions. Then, during my act, I brought the MC onto the stage and had him feed me random submissions from the pile as I worked them all into a love song. Simple. All I had to do was sing these suggestions, occasionally rhyming them into a song, occasionally setting a love-song feeder line for the forthcoming disappointment of the audience-provided "quip".

This doesn't sound altogether very funny when described as a technique, but given that the audience provided lines were intended to be funny in themselves, and given that some of them were just random things, it was quite an amusing thing to do. In addition, I used a few musical tricks to make some of these phrases sound funny when sung. It was quite entertaining and people sometimes cheered their own lines when they heard them. I might do it again. It's quite straightforward and a bit of harmless fun. Again, it raised my level of comic performance, because you can't fake the spontaneity involved.

Well, following all that excitement and silliness I had to get back home and get some sleep. That was the plan at least. The car journey was entirely spent listening to the recording and analysing what I thought of myself. I thought that I took a long time to break the crowd, and this was due, largely, to taking a long time to get myself loosened up and performing big without it being a gigantic effort on my part. I'm falling out of practice with the comedy, which is the root cause of most of my anxiety on and off stage, I should imagine.

Anyway, I got home later than I wanted to, got to bed, did some fussing around my girlfriend and her headache, made a fuss of the cat. Tried to sleep, failed, and then did that thing where you see the clock every hour or so and come to believe that you're not sleeping at all. In fact, I must have slept, because time doesn't go by that quickly. However, it wasn't very refreshing sleep, and I had deep trouble getting up this morning.

I arrived at work on time, though, so it wasn't all bad.


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