That was the plan.
As I hit the M3 and masses of traffic, two things became very clear. Firstly, I wasn't quite going to be on time, and secondly, my need for the toilet was greater than my ability to wait until I reached my final destination, or even one of my official motorway service station stops.
After about 20 minutes in a 4 mile traffic jam, I was back in business. I went to KFC near Bracknell. This seemed to be at loggerheads with my own major plan of the day. I've decided to get back on the wagon. I'm going to eat healthily and try to lose weight. So, a trip to KFC, with the alluring smell of frying and spices, is not really the best approach to weightloss. However, I wasn't going to start my diet and immediately go to KFC. That would be taking the piss. It was taking the piss in a different way which brought me to the house of the frying buckets. I threw money enough for a coffee at a staff member and headed for the upstairs toilet while he was converting my money into a hot drink.
Equipped with an empty bladder and a capuccino, I returned to my car and got back on the road.
After a fairly uneventful journey, accompanied by the radio, a gig recording of me part doing well and part dying at a gig without my guitar, prompting me to do the rewrites in my head that I'd planned to do after that gig, I arrived in Kidderminster. I then proceeded to have trouble with the one-way system and the poor parking arrangements. For some reason there were about 4 spaces directly outside the venue which were 15 minute waiting period only with no return within 2 hours. These spaces didn't have a time boundary on their restriction (e.g. rules only apply between 9 and 7 or something). So I had to drive around a bit.
Then, with nothing but a watch, a notebook and a pen, I headed to the venue.
I had anticipating a little backroom in a little pub with maybe an audience of 15. Floundering through a few blethered bits of stand-up would be inauspicious, but not that much of a problem. The point, in my head, was to use this unpaid spot, for my own purposes - to sharpen up something I'm not so good at.
Then I saw the room. Oh my god. It was lovely. A proper music venue with a proper stage, nice lighting rig, jammed full of tables. There were plenty of people gathering. There was a buzz in the room of good humour. The owner of the venue was up for it. The nice looked like it could be a cracker. I felt like I was standing at the world snooker final, equipped with a straw, rather than a cue... and, to flog this metaphor further, I felt like I had a laser-guided power cue in my car, in the shape of my guitar.
I changed my approach. I asked for a bit more time from the promoter. I went to get my guitar. We sound checked it and it was sweet. I then planned to stick in a few of the newer bits into my set, assuming there was time and it was going well enough.
Why not push myself? Well, I think I just wanted to have a good gig. I wanted to have an audience laughing heartily. I wanted to see if I could do more of the sort of performance I'd done while jet-lagged at my gig in Shrewsbury. Somehow, the necessity to rise above the challenges of tiredness and no lead for my guitar (at that particular gig) had made me really perform my way through the set. It had been great. I want to really perform and interact with the audience at gigs, and maybe I felt like this gig in Kidderminster was the right place to polish that skill.
I sort of wanted an easier time, but maybe it was also a question of choosing the right performance for the gig.
However, for every thing that appears to make a gig easier, there's something to make it tougher, or at least potentially tougher. I made a sort of mistake. The running order originally had me on first - I'd volunteered when everyone went quiet on the "who wants to go first?" question. The running order also had another act on at the end. When this was shown to someone else, they were curious "Why aren't you on last, Ashley? Why is he?". I recalled that this particular act wasn't especially a closing act and that I'd seen them bomb last time they performed... not that I'd done much better at that gig.
I'm not sure if it was a case of me saying "come on, if you need a headliner, then it should be me" or a case of me saying "I'm not sure that this act will flourish in this particular spot", but I diplomatically suggested to the promoter that the running order be revised. I was promoted to last. The act in question was moved to another place in the show and the opening act job went to a fine bunch of men, with bananas.
I've now made my role harder. There are 8 acts and an MC on this bill and I'm on last - after the audience have seen a lot of comedy. I also watched, and laughed, as the act who was due to close, went on and stormed the gig. They loved his furry backside to bits. So, now I have to go on last to a tired audience and not bomb, or I'll look like some evil prima donna figure.
The act before me is someone I love and adore. The room didn't get him. Perhaps he was running a bit too quickly, I think he looked visibly nervous. Perhaps the room were too quick to take him at face value, rather than as a character act. I don't know. He's always made me laugh, but I watched him have to work hard to break even with this particular gig. In this situation it either bodes really well or really badly. If the act before you struggles, then maybe the room has gone beyond being amusable and tamable as an audience, OR maybe it means that their departure will leave the room with lower expectations - easier to grab than if they're still lusting after the last act's schtick. Perhaps the fact that the act before him had done so well was the reason he had it tougher. I don't know. It doesn't really matter.
Anyway, I went on. I was there to do a fat 10, I'd agreed that it could be upped to 15, the promoter said "or maybe a little more if it's going well", I asked, while on stage, if I was okay for time, which is code for "can I do a bit more". The audience were cheering me to continue at that stage. I came off at 25 minutes with them calling for more - though I'd cheekily put the idea in their head, as is my cheating method for telling them to maybe encore me.
I didn't do an encore, which is probably for the best.
I did two newer jokes. One written in the car and one which I'd written in the car before a different gig and had only tried out a couple of times.
The set worked. My change of plan was the right thing to do. I didn't end up looking like an egomaniac, trying to overpromote himself.
I'm pleased to say that, as I was returning to my car, some of the audience members stopped me and said they'd enjoyed both my stuff and that of the guy who was "relegated" by my interference. So, he came out looking as good as he may have done if our roles were reversed. I hope so. I don't think I was really playing prima donna. Maybe I was being a bit selfish... or maybe I was just being genuinely confident that I could use my guitar to follow anything that had gone before with less risk than any other act might have.
I had a good gig. I was "being funny". That's what I set out to do, even if I used different tools to achieve it than first planned.