Sometimes, you just have to see how the other half lives.
So we went to Jongleurs Reading last night. It's a whole different way of staging comedy, and it's a whole different way of enjoying it. I wouldn't go to Jongleurs expecting a good night on principle. I would, however, go to a Jongleurs if there were acts on the bill whom I wanted to see. In this case, the headliner was an act I really enjoy and have seen a few times before. I have his CD. I'm a bit of a fan.
I was pleased to be there and I was amused as the Jongleurs style show-intro started. It was different to what I'm used to from my own comedy career (though I have played on a Jongleurs stage a couple of times) and yet familiar and fairly obvious.
The compere came out and did a good job of taming the room and getting them focused for the first act. Had I been the compere and used the techniques I used the previous night in a small gig in Fleet, I would have died a horrible death. This particular guy knew how to play this sort of room and did it with great confidence and apparent inner calm. It was a useful thing to see. I need to think about developing myself to that point.
The first act was someone I'd wanted to see for a while. He's a blind comedian, which you'd think would make him a novelty act in some way, but he quickly got the audience over this particular aspect of himself and then went into a set that was rather geeky and linguistic. He was interested in words, and crosswords, and wordplay. You needed intelligence to get his stuff. He was so genuine and warm in his intro, that the audience worked hard to understand his stuff. I say they worked hard, because I'm arrogantly assuming that a certain quantity of them were thick... or alcohol addled. I got where he was coming from and I was thrilled that he was in front of a lowest-common-denominator crowd doing a smarter set than they might more easily be assumed to enjoy.
He did very well.
Second act did well too, though what he had in style he lacked in substance. Indeed, if I could simply have deleted his entire set from the hard disk of life, I think I would have done. Waste of hot air, I'm afraid.
The closing act was good. He got the laughs. He is a funny comedian. However, I've heard most of this material before on his CD. I've heard how he sounds when his heart's in it. I've heard him with excitement in his voice. I've heard him milking the minor punchlines as well as the major ones. I know when a comedian is doing a readthrough of his set and when he's actually "in the moment". He varied. Sometimes he was rocking with the set. Sometimes he was just doing it. The audience laughed regardless.
What I saw was a great comedian, who made me laugh a great deal, actually give a fairly restrained and disinterested performance. This could be for any number of reasons. I think he looked a bit shaken up. He's recently been the victim of on-stage violence. I don't think I'd feel that happy about going up there and doing my schtick if I thought I could rekindle some hatred towards me. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he'd had a bit too much to drink before going on, though he didn't look drunk. Maybe it was a random off-night.
I suppose, this is one of the problems of the seasoned performer. How can you make it fresh and interesting to you every night. You could swap something reliable for something fresh and untested. But what if that new bit doesn't work? Then you have to recover. You have to recover, using the stuff you're bored with, because it has the properties of being some special incantation which makes the laughter.
I wasn't disappointed in the performance last night, but I felt a bit of empathy for the guy in question. It must have been a less-than-enjoyable experience for him doing that gig. However, I have the immortalised recording of him going on stage in a club where they loved him, were clinging onto his every word, and he knew it. That's gotta be good. And if it means that you sometimes have to go through the motions between those gigs, and just reel off a bunch of stuff which made some people laugh last time, then maybe it's not a bad gig, after all.
I suppose, though, if your material has made someone act violently towards you, it may feel like that special incantation isn't as worth repeating as you would have wished.