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Friday, November 10

What a Bloody Week

Ennui Related Disaster
This should have been a good week, what with performances and gigs and such to enjoy. Overall, though, it's been bloody awful. To give you an idea of the sort of mood I'm in, at the tail end of this week, I've just received my second email to do with this year's Christmas party. The first email, with a huge distribution list, invited everyone to the Christmas party. The second one, a reply to the first, with a similarly huge email list was from someone RSVPing to say that they couldn't go. As soon as reading this I thought how ridiculous it was that someone should tell everyone that they couldn't attend because they were on holiday - no need to tell everyone, though: what a waste of everyone's time. So I had to jump on that. I replied "Going anywhere nice?" - to everyone... subtly (more subtly than I originally might have intended, but I censored myself) suggesting that the person should have perhaps hit "reply" rather than "reply to all".

The problem with this is that, although it amused me, and appeared to amuse those people around me, it has started a rather unpleasant ball rolling. Some people have replied to my mail asking follow up questions - it's hard to tell whether their intent was as sarcastic as mine. Some people have been sending mails to all asking people to stop sending mails to all. It's been pretty silly for the last few minutes, and all because some wag couldn't keep their mouth shut - or at least their fingers still. I made my comment and ran - job done. To be the first is funny, to keep the "joke" going is plain pointless. It's like someone's started the "I'm Spartacus" scene out there and I feel a bit embarrassed. Truth is that I can be inventively funny in a way that's above average, because I've had practice. The other bit of the truth is that I'm not that far above the average and I don't ALWAYS judge the moment correctly. In fact, I seldom judge the moment correctly. This is why a stand-up stage is the best place to exorcise the comic demons, at least there I'm expected to be acting in an odd way. In the office, it just feels plain wrong. Where in my previous company there were few enough people for this sort of thing to be over in a moment and have limited impact, I've accidentally started an email chain among a few hundred people in different offices. The managers around me, of varying degrees of seniority, seem unphased, but who knows what someone else could have made of it?

I'm not worried.

It seems to have caused a well-needed distraction.

I'm slightly disapproving of myself though.

It's a sign of the ennui that has set in this week and my general levels of tiredness and misery. It could be that I've had an understimulating week, with too little sleep and the onset of some sort of cold - my nose is a bit runny and my throat is tight. Or I could just be going through my male-time-of-the-month (some sort of mood cycle which I'm sure affects me and which I should probably chart numerically, though I can't be bothered). Alternatively, I could be undernourished, having tried to really step on my food consumption this week. I've tried, but I've probably failed. The scales were looking favourable this morning, but I haven't outlawed eating as much as I ought. I have had a few too many salad lunches, though.

It was my first gig after a couple of weeks' "resting" and I was due to close the show in Colchester. The journey was long, but my reasonably relaxed style of driving, coupled with singing along to Jerry Springer The Opera meant that I was able to wear the long tailbacks on the M25 without too much apparent stress. As I was nearing Colchester itself, I put on a recording of one of my more recent performances, where things had gone pretty well, and reminded myself of my current set structure and the timings that I'm using. If I hadn't listened to the gig, I would still have been able to muddle through, but I like to listen to a gig after a longer break in order to retune my mind to my comic persona.

That's the theory.

I arrived at the venue in plenty of time and set up the guitar etc. The sound equipment wasn't set up perfectly, but it seemed to be ok. The room had a number of sight-line issues, but seemed friendly enough. My gig radar was suggesting that it could either way. The other acts turned up and we got ourselves in the mood for doing whatever it is we do on stage.

I seldom get incredibly nervous, but I was getting twinges in my back, which I sometimes get during my first song while performing. I mentioned that to one of the other guys and he suggested that that might be a sympton of pre-gig stress. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Apparently, my lower back gets nervous for me. Doing a gig after a while off can exacerbate things. In addition, worried about my vocal warm up, I'd been singing lustily along to the music, while in the car and had managed to strain my voice, rather than warm it up. In fairness, I think that it was pre-destined to be knackered.

So, I was tense with a tight voice and the gig hadn't started. When it did start, the audience weren't in their seats yet. So, the first act, on after nothing more than an introduction, had to fight with a very busy room to keep focus. He did very well and made me laugh, which was excellent. It turns out that the room is pretty good when full (44) and focused (often, but not often enough). However, there was a competition on between the comedy, in a separate upstairs room, and the bar downstairs, which was audible through some neat holes in the floor near the window, providing both balconies for looking down at the bar-crowd, and neat sound holes for receiving any noise they cared to make. Not good.

The middle act was my favourite act of the night. He delivered his set in an "I can't believe I'm saying this shit" sort of way and then went into "The Postcard Routine".

At this stage I should point out that some jokes are funny to comedians only. This is because either the joke is about how difficult it is to be a comedian, or because the joke is based on the art of comedy, combined with the unsayable. In this case, we'd found a rack of free postcards and one of them was a picture of some Jews in Auschwitz. The immediate question arose - "who would send this as a postcard and why?". Now, there's no reason to demean the plight of Jews in the Holocaust and there was nothing amusing about the otherwise moving image on the postcard. However, there was something absurd about the very existence of this image on a postcard, so we started firing jokes at each other - we three comedy types - on the theme of "Things that would be written on a postcard sent from a concentration camp". This was funny to us. Make up some of your own. Thing is, it would take a lot of trust between the audience and performer for it to be funny to share such observations with the crowd. It can be done, but there's a tightrope and it's scary to see someone get on it.

So, when the middle act, who makes a perfectly reasonable joke based on the play on words of "concentration" and "camp", decided to bring out the postcard, the result was absolutely hilarious. To three people in the room. Me, the first act, and another comedian who was in the audience, watching the show. As the middle act hit the wall of silence that bringing up the Holocaust commands, he worked hard to demonstrate that he wasn't about to cross the bad taste barrier and that he just found the existence of the card to be absurd. He struggled to ask the question, "Who would want a card with a picture of... some... (sotto voce) jews?". Nothing he said was offensive, but his struggle to get through the moment was brain-crushingly-hilarious. We were bent double with giggles.

This act did very well, and redeemed himself when someone on the front row said they were Jewish, and he gave them the postcard. He got the applause he deserved for that moment of gaining mastery of the situation.

When it came to be my turn, I delivered something. To be honest, I had a flat part and a few moments where the overall hubbub got the better of me. A couple of humourless heckles wrong footed me and, though I managed to keep going and even did ok in the "go on, say what you like, I'll have an answer for it" competition that I somehow started, I lost a lot of momentum and in a few places I was tongue-tied (not because I didn't know what to say, but more because I couldn't get it said). On top of this, my voice was straining, I couldn't hear myself in the PA and the guitar didn't sound too good either. My playing was out of whack, the guitar was going out of tune, the noise from downstairs was a bother, some of the crowd were getting restless and I was running out of energy. On a few occasions, my heckle handling got a lot more apparently aggressive than I would have liked and, with an audience of Squaddies (largely Squaddies) that was not a situation I wanted to stir up. I kept it reasonably good natured and used the old "you're going to gang up on me and stab me outside" routine, which I'm not a fan of. It suggests that I'm placing myself as the non-threatening weakling in the situation and basically defuses any apparent aggression... moreover, I found myself apologising for how bad I was sounding and how difficult the gig was getting.

On the one hand I was breaching my rule that if you tell an audience that they're hard or that you're doing badly, then it will come true. On the other hand, I was, through reverse psychology, challenging them to like me. I could tell, however, that the set was falling to pieces and that I should pretty much get it over with. I was contracted for 30 minutes and at about 30 minutes into the proceedings, I finished my last song and left the stage. A lot of stuff had worked.

The compere asked me if I'd be prepared to do an encore (he asked this as I passed him returning off stage). I foolhardily said yes. This was foolhardy because I was knackered and because it wasn't really necessary to do more. I'd felt like it was time to go, and so I'd left. Why do more?

The compere then basically told the crowd that they should ask me back on and I was duly summoned. This was stupid. However...

In the 5 or so minutes I did at the tail end of the show, I had a grim determination to end on a bigger high than I'd previously achieved. I did a couple of songs that I "never do", I say never because I actually did both at the gig I did two weeks previously, but I never do these songs normally. One of the songs was the one which got a lot of people complaining that I was stealing Duncan Oakley's act a while ago. Duncan didn't agree with those people, but it was still more trouble than it was worth. After completing my encore. I left the stage to larger applause than before with the words "I've been Duncan Oakley, goodnight". It amused me.

I hit a huge post-gig hollowness. I've felt this before. It's the result of using all my good feelings and all my energy on a crowd and it's a very unpleasant feeling. I hadn't eaten an evening meal yet, so my energy levels were low anyway (having eaten not a great deal for the rest of the day either). Though I was paid enough to cover the petrol, and though the gig had been a success (for all except the most critical i.e. me), I was on a real downer as I drove home.

I was perked up a bit by the I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue recordings, though I felt quite moved when I listened to the one broadcast after Willie Rushton's death - the last he'd ever recorded.

This Morning
Knackered, down in the mouth, feeling a bit ill, I was shoved out of bed early enough to be in the car a good 30 minutes before I normally get there. Since I was setting off a half hour earlier and usually arrive within 5 minutes of "the nick of time", I would have expected to have arrived about 25-30 minutes before the aformentioned nick. It's amazing how a broken down vehicle in your exact exit of the M3 can destroy your morning's commute. This breakdown caused at least a 4 mile tailback to where I join the M3 and totally wrecked any chance of my using my normal exit. I ended up at work 15 minutes late... having set off early. That's not fair!

It's clearly silly season on the roads again. There was a massive 4 hour traffic jam on the M1 last night (thankfully I wasn't in it). This involved the authorities having to cut the central reservation in order to allow cars to turn around at midnight (some of whom had been stranded since 8pm). There was also a huge accident on the Dartford tunnel a few days ago. It's pandemonium on the roads.

I'm still driving in a more relaxed style. I can't be dealing with the stress.

Though people in the wrong lane still depress me.


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