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Tuesday, May 15

Unaccustomed To Company - Gig Accompaniment

Just a quick burst of statistics first. Here are my monthly averages of gigs for the last few years:

2005 - 8 or 9
2006 - 4
2007 - so far - 8

I'm excluding Edinburgh gigs from this. In fact, in 2005, I had a 14 gig month. That's tough. This year, I had a month where my rate of performing was, pro-rata, about 20 gigs, but half the month was idle, so it was still under the 10 mark in total.

The point I'm demonstrating is that I appear to be gigging at a much higher rate this year than last. As a result, I'm growing as a performer again, and I'm wearing myself down a bit with the effort. A lot, in fact. Stand-up comedy, especially with a day-job, but even without one, involves a lot of late night driving and stressing about getting to gigs on time. Usually, I've only myself to coordinate and this makes things easier. In fact, that's a weird part of comedy. It seems like it's such a social pursuit, with rip-roaring nights out, but the comedian truly understands the meaning of loneliness. It can be lonely up there on stage, but more so, the travel to and from the gig, can be very isolating.

If you tour, with public transport, maybe you won't have a meaningful interaction with anyone over the course of the day as you step between conveyances in one giant comedic conveyor belt that crushes your soul and makes you wonder if it's worth all the effort. Traveling alone, maybe staying in a city where you either don't know people, or don't have long enough available to use to spend time with your friends, can be very boring. Comedians end up going to the cinema to kill time.

What I'm saying is that it's better to have company for gigs. There are, I think, three sorts of company for a gig.
  1. Other comedians
  2. Friends
  3. Partner
I would have to say that the partner thing is a novelty (for the other person) that soon wears off. The friend thing is nice, but you can't take the same friend to see you too many times, that gets old a lot quicker. Other comedians is fine, provided you need to travel together. Choosing to do weird routes just to pick up others is no end in itself.

Given that I'm single and found that my (now ex-)girlfriend was increasingly less involved in my gigging life (which was fine - I think I'd done with trying to impress her), I can't really say I've recently had, or am likely to have the partner option of gig companion. In fact, in some ways, that's the worst, since you want your partner to be supportive, particularly after a gig - if you've done well you want to celebrate; if you've done badly you want sympathy. It's too precious. In fact, though, the worst sort of comedian's partner is the sort who is basically a fan of anything and everything. That's terrible. If I wanted someone to lick my arse, I'd pay like any normal pervert. I personally want a partner who will be simultaneously supportive and unimpressed. It's too much to ask. I think I'll die alone. But anyway...

In the last couple of evenings, though, I've had the other two sorts of occupant in my car. My gig-drive has never been so social. Really. It's been a blast.

Sunday - Eastbourne
I drove to Basingstoke to pick up a friend on Sunday afternoon. Running early, I dropped into a coffee shop with a book and sat chuckling over some pages and some caffeinated drinky. Very nice. Chucklesome.

I then picked up the friend in question and we headed to Eastbourne. The sat nav did a good job of getting us directly to the venue, despite my best efforts to ignore it. Idiot.

We got Sunday dinner at a very sparsely populated cafe/restaurant, which was nice, and then went to the venue.

I was doing an open spot for the promoter. The idea of doing an open is to demonstrate one's wares and secure further paid work. For some bizarre reason, though, I already had the booking from the same promoter for the following night. Now, if I were depending on stand-up for an income and sliding into poverty from it (it's not stand-up that's draining my resources so much at the moment, so let's forget blaming that for my slidage), I would have said something like "if you're already prepared to book me for paid work, why do the open?". Except I'm not and I didn't and I didn't mind. A gig is what I have to do to be a comedian. I'm a comedian for the time I'm on stage - outside of that I'm just a bit stupid and badly behaved. Plus, I do believe in proving oneself and paying one's dues.

I asked how long a spot the promoter wanted and he said, essentially, whatever I wanted. I decided to do a 10-15 for him, thinking that's what he wanted me to want to do. In fact, when I went up there, I got a bit carried away and did a 20. Sometimes, it just needs doing.

The gig went well. The middle two acts were both new acts and both brought something interesting and well-crafted into the mix. I'm seeing a lot of good new acts at the moment, which is nice. It reminds me of why I like comedy... it also reminds me that I can't afford to be complacent - there's always going to be some young hopeful ready to take my place if I don't keep pushing my way into the comedy throng.

We stayed until the end of the gig, I chatted to a girl called Shemane - never heard that name before - whom I'd done on of my routines at during the show. She didn't seem scared of me. I was worried about it being too scary and intimidating during the show and had backed off from the front row, while doing it, to make it seem less real. I'm worried about upsetting audience members. Not that I'm sensitive, it's just that upsetting people isn't what I set out to do. Ever.

Then the long drive back. Eastbourne isn't so very far away from anything. It's not so amazingly near either. I managed to get to my bed before 2, and I was even up in time for a shower the following morning, which was nice.

The in-car company was very nice, especially since it was demanded that I should play the Phantom of the Opera on the journey back. That I can do. And did. And it was good.

Monday - Taunton
Here's a secret of comedy. Sometimes the bill of a comedy night is composed out of the convenience of who can be fit into a single vehicle making the journey to the venue. This car-share plan is definitely good for the environment. It's not necessarily what you'd imagine would be the principal criterion for assembling a bill. Surely, you'd think, they would take some comedians whose style was complementary, and maybe consider experience as well. You wouldn't think that it's just "we need a driver, someone cheap and a couple of people who happen to be free that night to go along".

It's not quite that bad. But it sort of could be, if it were not for the goodwill of all involved to make these car-loads of comedians into a living breathing comedy night. As it happens, I've never done one of these since I've lived down south. I've generally eschewed the whole "you've got to drive to London before you even set off for the gig" thing. It seems like a lot of effort. But there was this gig offer hanging in the air and it seemed to involve a nice fee for me, some petrol money on top, and a night out in Taunton. Not that I particularly imagined that I MUST go to Taunton, but I find it hard to have reasons NOT to do gigs. In the end, it seemed like the sort of offer which I could only see as a good thing.

So, the stress began. You see, I find it more stressful getting to the gig than actually performing the material. Sure, about 10 minutes before I'm due to go on, I might pace the floor a bit, trying to arrange my thoughts into a sensible shape in my head. Sure, I might worry a bit about sound checks before the gig, but generally, I'm quite unworried about the gigging. The getting there, however, is always the biggest risk. What if I break down, hit traffic, hit another car, don't find the venue, arrive too late? etc etc etc. With the entire bill's worth of acts in the car, this risk gets bigger. I won't say it gets bigger exponentially. That's not true. I'm not sure that 4 comedians in a car is 4 times the risk. Maybe it's 12 times the risk. I'm not sure of the exact correlations here.

Anyway, the extra complexity of this arrangement was how last minute it had been put together. I knew the name of the MC and another act. I knew that a particular act who had been enlisted wasn't coming. I knew the MC was due to bring a friend. Everyone had been emailed my number, but nobody had called. I'd prompted them for their numbers. I had the MC's number, but it wasn't a valid mobile. Basically, at about 2pm yesterday, I didn't know whether anybody would turn up at Richmond tube station - my chosen meeting point, being about on the apex of where I could reasonably get to in London before having to change direction towards the actual gig, which might have been better reached had I taken a less London-centred route (though London wasn't a huge detour).

I had texted the act whom I'd heard was on the bill. The MC was apparently bringing act 4. Let's say I was act 2, so it's act 3 we're missing. Mr Act 3 replied to my text saying he wasn't coming. Who was the replacement? We had only 3 of our 4 people. What do we do? I tried ringing the promoter, no answer.

I'm due to leave the office at 4, I'd finally got the MC's phone number - he emailed me a corrected version, but there's no act 3 and I feel like we have an incomplete bill. I was closing the show and had planned to do something bigger than normal, but there was a hole.

I decided to take it upon myself to call a friend in to help. She'd have to jump on a train to meet us en-route to the venue. So, despite the fact that I work in Farnborough and live in Reading and was driving to London to get to a gig in Taunton, I had to suggest to someone in Southampton that they might get a train to Bristol to be picked up via a minor (in the grand scheme of things) detour. This was getting complicated. In the absence of guidance from the promoter, myself and the MC decided that this was a plan, and I rang the comedian in question up and basically said something akin to "run Forrest run".

Now I'm driving to London, wondering about traffic for me, tubes for the two London boys and the train journey for Southampton girl. No gig stress at all then!

I arrived in Richmond in plenty of time and ended up sitting in the car for about 40 minutes, needing a wee, and waiting for my two gig colleagues to arrive.

I could tell from first words on the phone with the MC that I liked him. It turned out I really liked his mate too. This was the friend who was to go on to do his 3rd ever gig that night and totally storm the room. They were both naturally funny and inventive people. We jammed, comedically, in the car on the way to the gig and made each other laugh. It didn't even feel like a "who's got the biggest willy" contest, which was nice. We were just sharing jokes. Lovely.

Stopping in Bristol it was time for some serious weeing. Weeing was done. Then we continued, with our act 3 in tow, to the venue, arriving 2 minutes before my guesstimated arrival time of 8.30pm. Conversations included discussion of the futuristic adventures of "Buck Lazerquest" with his arch nemesis "Darth Racist", along with in depth discussions of "birds you might shove up your arse". I know. You had to be there. Thing is, we were.

At the venue, the sound guy was reluctant to plug my guitar into his desk as he'd have to run a wire across a room. I didn't push the point. I just brought my new practice amp in from the car and made that work.

Then the gig was underway. The material we'd workshopped in the car, for the most part, probably didn't work. How many audiences are going to understand that you can't shove a swan up your arse? It's illegal. Only the queen can shove a swan up her arse... Oh dear. Still, it wasn't me delivering that material, so it wasn't my problem.

All the acts did well over the course of the night.

I took to the stage with a rowdier crowd and had 40 minutes with them. That's a long set by my standards. I essentially crowbarred in about 15 minutes of spoken stand-up surrounded by music and a fair bit of banter to keep them the right side of under control. I did a lot of ad-libbing, some of it was crap, some was hack and there may have been a couple of lines in there that I might consider using one day again. I borrowed my favourite mobile phone answering heckle put down. So I think I owe GD a pint. It's pretty much public domain anyway, so I guess I can't feel too guilty. You basically answer someone's phone and pretend you've found it at the scene of a road accident. The audience fell for it hook line and sinker. I'd cancelled the call on the way from picking the phone up from the guy. I'm not a total bastard. The audience were loving it, so I was enjoying it too.

Note to self: invent something funny on the spot, don't just borrow.

Note to self: there was something about how all shepherds are trying to do Rolf Harris impressions... weird.

I had a lot of fun. I was concerned about running out of energy and voice. 40 minutes is not twice the effort of a 20 minute set, but I managed to keep it funny until the end and people were very complimentary of me, so I guess it wasn't too bad.

Then the late night drive back. We spent a lot of the journey looking for toilets, heading to Wimbledon in London - a good 50 minutes from my bed. Still, I suddenly stopped the car, after I'd spent a certain amount of the journey giggling almost uncontrollably at the silliness around me as the comedians kept jamming - and I told the lads to get out. We were in Wimbledon. The night could have gone on longer and I would much have preferred to forget about the following day and just go get beers and giggle myself into oblivion with these chaps, but real life is not like that.

Then I headed back to my house, with the lady I'm referring to as Act 3 in tow. We got in, I gave the "the grand tour ending in the bedroom", but then stopped her entering the room until I'd emptied my bin, tidied up a bit, changed the bed, gathered my things (for spending the night in my sleeping bag in the other 1st floor bedroom) and finally unveiled the room as the "guest facilities".

I got a shower, got into my jim-jams, and then got into my sleeping bag. At some point around 4ish, the floor finally stopped being obdurate and moulded into the shape of my body. Next thing I knew the alarm was going off and I didn't feel as tired as I'd imagined I'd be.

A drive to work was taken via the railway station where my house-guest was able to get her train back to her real life. It had been an amazing night out and I had a very good time. Given that I left the office at 4pm and got to sleep at around 4am, I think we can say that it's definitely a double-life I'm leading at the moment. Half man, half imbecilic wannabee comedian.

It's fun when you've company.

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