I arrived at the gig exceedingly early. About 7pm for an official 8.30 start, which really meant sometime after 9. I chatted in my usual extremely chipper way with the promoter as he set up the gig. I helped him with the sound check. I then sound checked my own guitar and got spotlight frenzy, as I found myself on a stage with a guitar and so had to play up. Some punters for the night had arrived and one was keen to play guitar - I lent him mine and he turned out to be a good musician and played some. He was later to play on stage, as the gig was an open mic night, which allows for "floor spots" to play their stuff if they agree it with the promoter.
Anyway, the promoter was setting up a drum kit at the back of the stage and this chappie, after I'd had a lack lustre go on it, decided he wanted a go. With him drumming and me strumming, we formed a small rhythm combo and sang a few songs. He had the habit of getting over excited during the song and doing ridiculous drum fills and rhythms, which made me laugh. It was very silly.
My gig radar was telling me that this was a middle class pub which would fill up easily with nice gig goers. I was wrong. The pub gently waxed in numbers until it was fairly empty, save for the few kids hanging around the pool table. I wasn't entirely sure where the comedy would come from in that environment. I worried a bit.
The night started and I worried some more. The musicians were good, but there's a convention that people can talk over music. As a musical comedian, I've got an issue with this - if they don't listen from the off, then how will they ever notice it's funny. I contemplated how to cope with this. There was also the issue of the fact that the second act on the bill was very good and very upbeat - musically, next to him, I'd look not so good. Ah yes, all the insecurities started bubbling to the surface. A room with kids in, fear of musical inadequacy, people generally either not present or not paying attention. I was starting to worry a little.
But, there are some tricks up my sleeve. I've been doing this a few years and I've been in myriad different environments. I had a few devices I'd used before, and I even ran through some alternative material, which I don't do any more, but which might help me react to a failing gig. I didn't go out that to screw up. It was an open mike night, granted, near to home, so little risk, but I don't set out to fail. There's no job satisfaction in failing, I know that all too well.
So, I bolstered my confidence with planning and then the promoter said to me a couple of useful things. He said not to worry about the presence of the kids - they shouldn't be there, so I should act as if they weren't. I disagree with this in some respects, but for him to say that to me gave me license to do a set that didn't have to be family friendly. Ok, some material came online that I was seriously considering resting. Then he also said that he thought I'd do well. That counts for a lot, despite the fact that he hadn't seen my act... though he had listened to my recordings online, by the sound of something he said later on, after I'd been on stage.
There was a musical act before the comedy which really set me worrying - they were exceedingly laid back. Very good, but not a barnstorming sort of act. Their music encouraged you to relax and let it wash over you - without paying too much attention to it. Great for a Sunday pub lunch, but not a warm up for comedy. Now, this is not fair. I'm not the main act. I'm one of many acts. The point is that I'm trying to see how to hook into a room, so I have to treat everything that goes before as part of the room that I'm about to launch myself into.
How thrilled was I, then, when the other comedian, on before me, who had done 3 gigs by the END of his set, turned out to be the sort of comedian that he did. He was so new that he'd forgotten to write punchlines for much of his opening material, and was so interested in the concept of stand-up that he opened with a synopsis of everything he was doing wrong in his fledgling stand-up career. He was heckled, he was not in control, he was brash and ranting, and the room got odd. I was watching this, contemplating my own set, and felt like I was dying up there with him. Not good.
However, from manure flowers can grow. Sorry if you're reading this, by the way, old chap, I'm just writing it the way I saw it. The guy's set ended better than it started and he had, in some ways, borne the brunt of a disinterested room, turning it into more of an interactive dialogue of a room, one where he received some ribbing, but one where he, eventually, received laughs regarding something filthy and vaguely satiric. Again, if you're reading, sorry... but I'm not a bad judge of comedy and I think "filthy and vaguely satiric" is a quoteable review for you. Good luck.
So, I ditched plan B and went back to plan A. Plan B was to try to engage the room at first with a song not intended to be funny. This is an old Ashley trick to turn a non-comedy environment round. It's the "double de-clutch" maneuvre. Not necessary. I went up there and did my thing. It worked. I even did the joke I wrote in the car. That worked too.
In the end the only tricks I needed to use was the opening where you do nothing - which was foisted upon me by the need to sound check the guitar again before song 1 - and the bit where you take any audience heckling on the chin and say SOMETHING that's on the ball. I even managed to make the whole "there's children in the room thing" perfectly acceptable by acknowledging the presence, making it clear that it wasn't quite right, but would be harmless. I even interacted a little with them, which was more for my own benefit, since their pool playing, directly to the left of me, was quite distracting.
Not a death for me, then. I was asked for my contact details by one of the other acts, for a night he runs. Nice. The promoter was happy. Very nice. I was pleased with my reception, turning the faked smile which hit my face when the comedy "started" (which the promoter took as good cheer and I had to explain was an instinctive mask) into a genuine feeling of goodwill. It was definitely a good move to use the local joke place as a target for a joke, and it was definitely a good move not to do the straight song first. In fact, in song 3, I really started to find myself funny, which helps.
Anyway, I got off stage and the come-down started. Physical exhaustion, a late stage exit (11) and not having eaten all added up to make this a bad come-down.
I stayed for the next act - three excellent musicians whom I really enjoyed and then set off home. My emotions were all over the place. It's just the product of the post-gig euphoria having nowhere to go and being met with exhaustion and caffeine. I listened to Mr Bublé some more and the emotions in his music were getting to me, pretty much at random. I've come to the conclusion that I'm not bi-polar, but random events in life are, at the moment, and I've few defenses against life right now. D'oh!
As I approached Reading I had an inner dialogue on the subject of food. I was hungry. Healthy food is a long way away, so I thought about saying "sod it" and going for a takeaway. I believed that I'd been eating healthier over the last couple of weeks, but my most recent weigh in was about 5 or 6 pounds heavier than my previous one - albeit partly affected by the difference between nude and non-nude weighing. I considered that a takeaway, with its particular brand of comfort eating, might improve my mood and energy levels. Then I considered that it might not affect my obviously failing weight control. Then I considered that my clothes seem to fit well at the moment and I've been feeling thinner in myself - so body image is not about facts - no shit! Then I considered other stuff I can't remember.
Then an annoying maternal voice popped up in my head - "if you want food, there's healthy stuff available 24/7 from Tesco". Damn. I couldn't justify unhealthy eating. I was starving - having had a small lunch from Tesco earlier - but I couldn't bring myself to go to the takeaway and another petulant voice in my head was saying "well, if you're going to be all nanny-state on my ass, then I'll just go without". So I drove home.
Missing a meal is no big deal. I've missed a few recently and it's had no effect on me - nor my weight, apparently. So, I got home, mood coming to a stable mediocre, and packed for the weekend.
I'll eat and drink whatever this weekend. I'm celebrating. I'll have got through another really tough week... oh, and I know that being cheerful and nice to people actually does win them over more than anything else. That's my other stage trick - tell an audience how much fun we're all having... it's hard to resist someone telling you that they like you.
So I guess, I'll like myself a bit, then. I made myself laugh with the new joke. I made the audience laugh with pretty much everything, including the new joke. I had a good gig. I even played some things stronger than ever, perhaps influenced by my recent forays into gigging without guitar... in short, tonight went well, despite the song "Always on my mind" bringing my mood crashing into deck like a wasp with a heart-attack.
Nope, those similies are still tricky beasts.