It doesn't bode well that I've titled this with an awful pun. However, I've got this feeling today. I'm down. I know I'm down, so it's just one of those things. I shouldn't be down, but I'm tired and that's not helping. There's a gulf between me and the happy. I think last night was a real cause and also mirror of this gulf.
I sort of know why last night's gig wasn't the "carried on the shoulders of the audience and declared their new king" sort of a gig. I am not sure if I appeared in the venue in the wrong mood and it went wrong from there, or whether I was affected by the audience and it sent me into the doldrums I'm now in. What I do know is that there was a gap between what I was trying to do and the way it was being received. I also didn't feel quite in the present tense in the gig... like I was dribbling out an impression of my show, but with some vital element missing.
It's not that life is going particularly wrong. If anything, things are getting sorted out reasonably well. I've done a few little jobs that have been annoying me. I've also made some good progress with some audio projects that I'm working on, which is good. I've been feeling moderately creative, though not as intensely creative as i can be. It may be that I'm just tired. This is what happens when you're getting older and fatter. Sometimes the flesh just isn't willing.
There have been highlights in the last week. Wednesday night was great - we went to watch Greg Davies do what he considered to be an early preview of a show which he pre-qualified as a work-in-progress. It was an hour-long burst of high-octane joy which put my own long-laboured-over-efforts into some sort of comparative context that I won't dwell on. Still, there's always something one can aspire to achieving.
The feeling which is weighing on my shoulders, though, is what happens when one of your favourite gigs doesn't do what you're hoping it will do. This happens, and it's not to be gotten out of perspective. I drove home last night with choices. I could try to put my mind on other stuff. I could dwell on the failings of the performance and feel insecure. I could write a raft of excuses to protect me from the disappointment (by the way, it wasn't that bad, just not that good either). Alternatively, and I chose this route, I could listen back to some stuff I've done that I rather like.
Was this narcissistic? Well, isn't every act of a comedian in some way narcissistic? Perhaps. However, I have an excuse. I'd forgotten the words to one of my songs... and it's one that I've done a lot. A particular line had just left my head. I'm sure that I could have performed that song unconsciously, but the line wasn't in my conscious memory... given that this song is a bit filthy, it's an indication that I've rather cleaned up my act in the last year - I think I tired of using filth as a substitute for wit so much. So, I needed to listen to some of my old recordings in order to recall this line.
While I was at it, I may as well listen to and sing along with the songs from The Musical!. I don't listen to this much, and I also don't have an electronic copy of the CD we made of the show at the moment (I need to climb into the loft to get one to rip), so I made do with some live recordings made at one show we did towards the end of the run. When you strip away some of the over-broad acting, and shouting, and when you ignore some of the button-pushy lines and filler, there are some nice moments in that show, and it was joyful to relive them on the long road home last night.
Not only were the lines enjoyable, there was the structure - I'd probably have spotted it in someone else's work, but it was interesting to review it in my own work. The Musical! was about two guys trapped in a musical of their own devising. I'm not sure that the love song was meant to be the climax of the show's hilarity, but it needed to be funny. In script terms it was basically a role reversal joke. I started off trying to cajole Chris into playing along with the love song. He undermined it with every line he sang. Then, in the middle 8 (well, middle 16), I presented a more tender appeal for him to get into it. He started to try, got swept away with it, the harmonies kicked in, the lighting went pink, the mirror ball went on, and the audience were immersed in a surreal tender moment. In the final section, the lovestruck Chris delivered a delightfully homoerotic verse and the repeated "chorus" of the song "I'm beginning to see you in a different light" changed its meaning and emphasised what had just happened.
To sit in your car, 6 years later, laughing at some harmonies that you thought up in the bath... well, it's one of the pleasures of creating something that can be recorded and enjoyed.
I went on to look at a radio project that I recorded with Hannah. This still has loads of tightly scripted gags in it, and represented a rather more dry humour than I am known for. I think that we tried some of that in our collaboration last year - The Seven Deadly Jokes - and I think that I've progressed that further in my solo show this year.
The problem I have with this year's show - The Seven Deadly Sings - is that it will work with a thinking audience who are immersed in the show. It's very ideas based, and rather dies if I try to over perform it. It contains sarcasm and observational comedy which aren't what I do in my stand-up (which is basically a bunch of silly bits of merriment about genitals and grammar - the 2 g's), and so it doesn't quite come out the same way as the stand-up I'm more familiar with and known for. This could be good. I firmly believe it will find its niche in the arts festival that is Edinburgh. I firmly believe that it, and the album I'll be making of its highlights (and some other things in the same space), are something I should hope to be proud of in 6 years' time. I feel like there's still something missing. I think I know what it is, and maybe I shouldn't miss it.
I rather like clever lyrics. I like internal rhymes and tricks in the words. In The Musical! the love song has the line "Our love will be deluxe and fill me with delight" - it's a play on sounds, a nod to Cole Porter, and an interesting thing to sing. In the Amy Winehouse toast song, there's a line "My life's a mess, I'm at the stage, where I have hit the bottle and hit the front page", which is a neat metaphor switch. In general, I like messing with wordplay in songs. It's a comedy song trick. The Seven Deadly Sings is missing quirky rhymes and turns of phrase... or maybe it isn't. On the subject of Yom Kippur - "Everyone's in Synagogue/Sombre hungry faces/Eating nothing till the sun goes down/It's like Ramadan on a one day basis". Maybe I'm just too close to my own show to see what I've created.
Excuse the brain dump. I'm dwelling on a lot of uncertainty right now. To have a show which can either raise the roof, or struggle to get more than a giggle is a confusing entity. If I made value judgements on the audience demographic when it has worked and when it hasn't.... well, I'd be in a dark place. Could Robin Ince make his humour work in a pissed up nightclub gig? I bet he could, though he wouldn't try.
As usual, a lot of my self esteem hangs on the end of my perceived comedic capability - this is the dark side of using stand-up as the escapism and joy mongering part of your life. When it works, it works big. When it doesn't work, you feel a bit of a dick.
Again, though, I got laughs last night and I feel like there's some integrity in what I'm doing, which I must have somehow consciously taken on board, since my brain erased some euphemisms about arseholes, which is what I had to mine my iPod last night to rediscover. It may be worth forgetting, but I rather like having a memory. Mind you, if I am going to start forgetting my songs, maybe it's a good thing that I'm working on my comedy album right now.
If the album goes well, and I hope it will. I'll do a follow up in September and October (at a less pressured pace) of my stand-up classics. I'd like to have a couple of CDs to sell at gigs, and I'd like to immortalise my better material so I can proliferate it better. Hopefully I'll be doing a track or so a week, rather than being under pressure to do several each week.
Still, ambition is one thing and delivery is another.
I overcommit. There's another problem. I've agreed to make some music for someone else's show. It's only 3 minutes, but that'll be 3 hours or so's work. However, it may be something we can all be proud of, and it may also be the only thing I can record tomorrow when there are planes flying overhead, as I won't be able to use microphones, and I'm pretty sure I need microphones for all the other stuff I've got to do.
Tonight should be good, though. I've got a paid gig in London which should be a nice audience who will get anything I choose to perform at them. London seems so far away these days, but it's not. So I'll drive there optimistically.
Jerry's Final Thought
What's the take home message of this blether?
- Record stuff
- Be optimistic
- Find the audience for your stuff
- Challenge yourself to excel
- Take failure on the chin
- Never give up
- Don't steal from Tesco (not really relevant, but good advice)
- Sing songs about wheelbarrows...