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Saturday, September 22

Oh My God I Can't Believe It

Well, here we are again. More words. Yesterday there wasn't much I could bring myself to say. I'll put yesterday into words now. I went to work in the morning. I was still working over lunchtime, so took a late lunch - about 4pm. I was still in the office at night. I left the work and couldn't bring myself to lift a finger at home. I bought some food and walked over to a friend's house where I proceeded to pick her up and take her walking. We walked. We got a coffee at a nice cafe, which belongs in Edinburgh, not Reading. Then I walked her home and walked myself home.

That was yesterday.

Today was an early morning wake up in order to be at the office early enough to pick up one of my team to take him to an event that was out of the office. Rather than describe the event properly, I'll simply call it the "Conference of the overwrought metaphor" and leave it at that. It was predictable really and I amused myself in part by thinking of deeply unrepeatable jokes and in other parts by thinking of things which upset me and getting upset by them.

A bit like the mental equivalent of picking at scabs, then.

After the conference sessions was lunch, but I didn't really fancy being the big guy in the scramble for the buffet. Point 1. And then point 2 was that, actually I'm not the big guy I'm used to being and I didn't want to lose my "not being the big guy" edge by eating the actual food, which, although it looked pleasant enough, looked remarkably like it had all, at some stage or other, been through a deep fat fryer. This was not my bag. I headed back to the office.

I did an afternoon in the office, which involved some discussion and some preparation of a meeting I'm having on Monday. The meeting on Tuesday has also been prepared, but it will involve a workshop setting up which I haven't prepared. Ah, the pleasure of meetings.

Anyway. I got a call offering me a gig in Birmingham tonight. I agreed to take it. My work ended at a suitable time to get home, get changed and get to the gig.

The drive to the gig was arduous. There were many reasons for this. A few of those reasons were down to my current emotional instability, which, in turn, is a product of various aftershocks of my trip to Edinburgh this year. Post Fringe blues will get you in the end, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Add that to a year of massive upheaval and emotional flailing, and you're going to get a lot of emoting and not very much chance of containing it. So, mood all over the place. There's also work stress. That doesn't help. Then there was the traffic. The best bit is worth its own paragraph.

I was driving a car which, last night when I fuelled it, had done only 230 miles in its entire life. Somewhere around mile 300 tonight, something bounced along the motorway towards me and smashed into the bumper. It sounded damagey. It didn't smash into the windscreen and kill me, which was nice. It might have been something soft, though at 70 miles an hour, it would probably have been hard, regardless of its normal feel. However, the car has been damaged. Flipping marvellous. 3 days into me having a car to call my own and the bugger's damaged. What a wonderful thing to have happened!

The combination of all of these factors left me driving the last few miles of my journey in a near catatonic state of speechlessness and low-energy. I hadn't managed to eat anything proper over the course of the day, having had a coffee first thing, not taken any food or drink during the metaphoric conference, and then having partaken of a little fruit and a "go ahead" baked something or other bar from the cafe at work when I got back. I was on system shutdown.

Bizarrely, I had, during my rush between office and motorway, managed to write a new bit of material, type it up and print it out, ready to try at the gig. When I was booked, it seemed I was going to get 10 minutes with the audience. Driving 120 miles against a bunch of traffic to do 10 minutes with an audience shouldn't be worth it. As a comedian, though, it's what I have to do. If I'm not performing, I'm not a comedian.

Quick rundown now of the gigs I've done recently:

6th - Great
8th - Not good at all
11th - Deeply poor
16th - Rather awkward
21st - tonight... I needed to get something out of this gig. Otherwise, I'd be at over 2 weeks of poor gigs.

Arriving in a miserable mood, not feeling much at all, was a potential recipe for a bad gig. Checking the car to find it really was damaged was also bad. However, never underestimate the power of an audience to give laughter. The gig started well and I was on after the joke competition. The promoter/MC was happy for me to do as long as I wanted, so I aimed for a 20 minute set, with the idea of going 5 minutes either way, depending on audience reaction.

I opened with a comment about something in the room. This was, bizarrely, quite a risk - using a freshly made up joke which might bomb - and also quite a good move. From the get-go, I was off script, even though I knew pretty much what I was going to do. I had some aims, but I was also playing it by ear. I got some immediate reaction from the crowd and relaxed into the gig. I told the crowd snippets of my worries and why they were making me feel more cheerful - this had the desired effect of making them seem happier too. It was a gig I was doing for myself, and I brought the audience along with me, at least to the extent that I needed them to come along with me.

They gave me applause mid-song. They gave me laughter I hadn't heard in a while. They gave a lot. I gave as strong a performance as I could, and I made it fresh. I did it for US.

This may sound wanky to you and if so, then you don't get it. I was low, but the gig was picking me up, and I was giving it right back. So, doctor comedy stepped in and made things seem happier.

Now the sad part. I was singing my last song. I was holding the long note that I hold in a song which I love to sing and which I know my comedy and some non-comedy friends really like (this is it). As I was holding the note, I knew that I had been pasting a cheery old face on the gig and that, at some stage later on, the post-gig come down would happen, and all of this joy would be revealed to be temporary. I knew that my real mood was still quite low. As I held the note, my heart was actually singing "Smile". I'll put the lyrics for that below. I'm not being figurative here. I actually could hear the song inside me as I was singing another, completely different song to the audience. I almost felt like I might lose the note I was singing, as I've done before when I've been heckled with something funny during one of those long-note moments, and break down. Rather than break down with a giggle as has happened before, I pondered whether I was about to break down in tears...

I pondered it, but my performer side is more resilient than that, and I finished my set with gusto. I am also more resilient than to break down crying. I haven't cried since 2004 and the reason I cried then was pretty crap. I tried poking the crying instinct in the car tonight and nothing happened. I am a rock. Wrong song. It was "Smile". Anyway, there was a moment, on stage tonight, when the fact that I was just painting a jaunty face on my inner despair became apparent to me. The song "Smile" really summed it up. I'm not sure if I was singing it on the way into the gig (I think I might have done) but I certainly sang it a little on the way out of the gig.


Lyrics: John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons
Music: Charlie Chaplin

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying

Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

It's a beautiful lyric and has always said a lot to me. Tonight it was the song I should have sung. Luckily, a good audience and the gusto to use my comedic skills without reservation turned what might have been a lonely night in into a better night out.

I'm sorry to be all doom and gloom at the moment. I know that all this turmoil is no good to read and it's no good for the friends around me, on whom I'm leaning rather heavily right now. In some ways, the leaning on friends can make matters worse as my mood can become dependent on the availability to me of a given friend at a given time. This is not a good situation to be in. I can't change how I feel at the moment, but I can change how I act upon those feelings.

I'm going to have to do more of the smiling and the jauntiness and just ride this blip out.

My new material worked, by the way... might have been a one off. Still, there was a moment when it got the laugh and I was genuinely pleased.


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