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Saturday, March 19

I'm glad I took my shower the night before. I am slow to get up in the morning and I don't think I would have made it out of bed and through the shower and to the car in time. However, we managed it... there wasn't actually a traffic warden hanging around, but perhaps the spirit of fairness reigned in us. We were obviously frightened of parking tickets, but also wanted to play fair with the rules. If it's only free until 8am, then we shouldn't be flouting the regulations and parking later, just because some traffic warden was too lazy to come and get us.

Anyway, this spirit of following the rules, was a bit dearer to my colleague than it was to me. We left the hotel (which was provided for two nights) with our bags and we didn't check out. We also didn't return the little plastic key cards. There was a reason for it: I wasn't certain that we would definitely be leaving that night. In addition, I'd been asked by the person who organised our room to keep hold of the keys and to ensure that the room was available for two nights in case he wanted to make use of the second night to give it to another weary performer. Fair enoughski. So we skipped the hotel without paying and without checking out. The fact that there was no fee didn't seem to alleviate the degree of guilt in my colleague. He was worried about the cards... they're disposable. There really was no reason to worry.

Anyway, having absconded from the hotel, we returned to the scene of the crime of the previous night. I reckoned it made a lot of sense to park near the venue, since we'd need to do a rapid get-out after our evening show, and fetching cars didn't seem to match with that necessity. While the show following us on Friday had been a stand-up show and we had been able to store our stuff in the adjacent room, tonight's following show was a band - they had tons of their own equipment, and we had to get everything packed into cars and transported to the North West, ready for our show in Altrincham the following day... it was going to require more and more of the energy thing that was already feeling quite short in supply at the START of the day.

We found somewhere to park for the day for £4 and went off in search of breakfast. A plan was forming. As a precaution, I'd packed some of our Edinburgh flyers that had been surplus to requirements and had made their way back to Newcastle with me. There had been maybe 2500 further flyers that we didn't use, which I was charged (yes, charged) for the disposal of by the venue. However, in this case, I reckoned we needed only a couple of hundred flyers to advertise the show in Glasgow. The plan was to go and get some address labels, write on them with details of the different venue, and hand them out on a busy shopping street in sight of the big comedy festival banners. It seemed like a good plan.

As an aside, we were looking at a low audience level for the Saturday, but had had a lot of help in filling the room on the previous night. Everyone had pitched in to come along. I don't think there were any strangers in the room. Among the pitcher inners were a comedian colleague and his wife (they'd come in for free in Edinburgh and paid in this time). In addition, this particular chappie had used some spare flyers he had from the Edinburgh run of the show and customised them for the Glasgow show (he did this out of the goodness of his own heart) and had put some around the place - I saw one... it was a great feeling to see someone else doing work to make the show happen more smoothly for us. At a later meeting with this guy, he complimented us on the performance, which I think was a solid performance (another friend of mine, present, had suggested it was a more emphatic, nay aggressive, delivery on my part - and she could be said to be a good judge, having seen the show in Edinburgh about 4 times). Then, after commenting on the fact that the show had bits he'd forgotten, he started on about the amusement during the "pre-show lesbian show". Apparently he'd notice a couple of girls "copping off". I stopped him before he went too much further. Remember: everyone in that room (unless I'm very much mistaken) was a friend of mine, or a friend of the show. So, yes, I did know the girls in question and it would have been awkward to discuss their relationship in terms of it being "hot girl on girl action".

Also present on the Friday night was the person who had arranged the lighting manual for us. He initially contacted me because he was using the lighting and wanted to know a bit about it, but ultimately he put the effort in and got the technical data and offered me the vital manual. Then he came and (for free, of course) sat on the front row of the show and laughed along. There had been a lot of good will in the room on Friday night. The friend of mine who was techying was part of that good will. We'd started well in Glasgow.

In stark contrast, things weren't looking all that good for the Saturday night. What help we could rely on had all be focused on the first night. Which was for the best. One good night is worth more than twice the value of two half-good ones. All I knew about the Saturday night was that a couple of friends might be coming and that we needed to promote the show. There was a big Julian Clary comedy gig for which a lot of tickets were being given away, and Kylie Minogue was playing the Arena, thus dominating a lot of the evening's market for entertainment. I think I would have preferred to go and see Kylie than come and see my show that night... but the show must go on.

Morning and waking
We got some breakfast in a greasy-spoon style cafe, and my colleague continued trying desperately to order some flowers for his grandmother's birthday. All previous attempts had been beseiged by random technical problems. His phone kept dying. Internet terminals kept getting him close and then failing, or just stole his money. It was amazing to discover how frustrated he had been in his attempts to do something so simple and so altruistic. It was almost as though some evil angel had decided to get in the way and prevent him. He'd get close and then, shazam, a thunderbolt into the appropriate equipment. We surprised the angel by using my phone to do the job - at the crucial moment, when the order was nearly underway, a beeping started in the cafe - like the frustrated angel, unprepared for interfering with my phone, wanted to make his anger known. The order was completed.

Breakfast was good and I followed it with a call to a friend of mine, who'd seen the Newcastle show a couple of days previously, and whose birthday it was that day. As I write this, I'm realising how many people I know. Lots. Lots of pals. Okay, some are closer than others, but I've met a shed load of people in the last couple of years and they're all great... at least the ones I've mentioned so far are.

We went for a post breakfast wander and found the ultimate guitar shop. This is a non-selling shop. You go in, you see the amazing range of stuff they've got. You can sit on a sofa and play the guitars on display, or just drool quietly to yourself. If you want it, you'll buy it. The place was designed a bit like a museum and a bit like a furniture shop. Everything looked so bright and clean and wonderful. There were so many guitars and it was a pleasure just looking round. I asked them about a guitar I hadn't seen - they insisted that I play it (they had one, but it had been hiding from me) despite the fact that I assured them that I'd not be buying it. Mmmm, the Fender Telecoustic, I said I wouldn't buy one that day, and I was right (I bought one a few weeks later, but that's a story to be told later). It was a great experience being in the shop. I could imagine taking a bunch of musicians to this shop on a day trip and being thanked for my troubles. Wow!

Anyway, we couldn't hang around. We had publicity to do.

Preparing the publicity
We went to WHSmith and bought a few hundred address labels and some felt tip pens. Then we adjourned to Starbucks where coffee-style drinks were purchased and we set about writing 200 identical labels which said - "Tonight 8pm, 13th Note, King Street". After that lengthy process which was repetive and, therefore, quite good at reducing stress levels (stressed? me? don't be silly), we went back to the car. At the car, the labels were applied to the leaflets I had brought with. Within about 20 minutes we had some modified leaflets. Woof. The sticker has been written on in such a way that allowed us to wrap it round the back of the leaflet, thus covering the venue logo on the well as covering the venue logo on the front. Convenient!

With a handful of flyers, we set off into town.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about flyering. We handed out a few tens of flyers. We had a competition about who could spot the most orange person. I actually ran up the street after one that my colleague had seen - just to see for myself how orange she really was.

We had very little interest. One girl - a flyerer herself - was so interested that she guaranteed that she'd be coming and even told us, on a later meeting, that she'd made her boyfriend change his plans to come along and bring her to the show. Cool. Flyering works. No. She didn't come. Lying bitch!

In Edinburgh people expected to be flyered for shows... whether they liked it or not. There were gangs of people flyering and it felt safe to be doing that sort of thing - it was what the city's culture had become for that one month of the year. In Glasgow this was not the case. It was difficult and we resorted to a coffee shop for relaxation and commiseration after a couple of hours of flyering.

We returned to the venue and I flyered tables there. People were more receptive. In fact, I found a couple of people who had come for the show and looked very keen about it. They were a couple of Japanese girls. I always worried about the "Japenese Gypsy" gag in the show's description... it seemed to lure Japenese people... really on false pretences. These weren't native Japanese girls, though... they were Glaswegians of Japanese descent (or at least I think they were). So, no harm done.

Here we go again
We went downstairs in the venue at around 5 o'clock to set the show up again. While our newly-appointed lighting techie was to return to do the honours again, our sound man of the previous evening (he had done a great job) was not returning. We had someone else. This guy turned up and reset the entire sound desk. I remonstrated with him, since it was all set up exactly as per the previous day's sound check. He took offence and I had a brief moment of realisation. I was being a dick. I was asking someone to do a job my way, rather than telling them what I wanted and letting them do it the optimal way. I immediately explained my stress to the man, acknowledged that I was being a dick and calmed myself down. We did the sound stuff afresh and actually it turned out better than the previous night's sound, so it was a hidden benefit. Then we ran through the cues with the guy and he picked them up. We did a full lighting and sound run through, by this stage fully aware of where the pitfalls are. We'd got to the stage of almost knowing where it was going to go wrong on the first attempt and so we were able to focus our efforts on the stuff which goes wrong, rather than the easy stuff.

We had the technical side of the show ready again in record time.

There wasn't much we could do except get some food. We didn't want to hang around the venue, so we went to a nearby fish and chip shop. We ate a meal and made jaunty conversation. But we were really worried. Things weren't looking good. For a start, my right foot was hurting, the inside of the shoe I used in my "costume" having deteriorated enough to cut into my heel every time I stood on it - the dance routine was painful to do. But, more importantly, we weren't looking forward to playing to a tiny audience. It looked likely that the audience would be tiny. But how tiny would it really be? This was our nightmare.

Playing a tiny audience
What's a tiny audience? Well. A very large audience is in the many hundreds. A large is over a hundred. A medium audience is 50+. A small audience is around 30. A quite-small audience is around 15 or lower. A tiny audience is under 10. That's my system for defining audience sizes in a comedy show. As a stand-up you can play all different sized audiences by varying the size and timing of your performance and, in cases where they're of an unusual size, speaking directly to the people in your crowd to acknowledge how things are going. In comedy, the comfort to laugh comes from security that everyone around you is laughing. The larger the audience, the higher the probability that someone around you is laughing, thus the more comfortable you are and the room warms itself up. In smaller audiences, you have to work hard on the front row (or wherever responds) and hope the rest of the room follows.

The Musical! is about two guys trapped in the prison of a show. As a show it's a sort of prison in its own right. You can't really stop being in character and talk to the audience. That's not how it works. This means that if the show isn't working, there's not a huge amount you can do to bring it back... not without compromising the show. Little ad-libs here and there are possible and can help, but the show will only work if the audience suspend disbelief, and we had discovered that debunking the premise of the show didn't get us closer to the audience, so stepping out of character to get to the audience would have exploded our chances of making it work. Why all the analysis on how to make the show work? Well, we'd never had much luck with small audiences. In Edinburgh (admittedly in a room which could seat 150), our smallest audience had been a total disaster. We had 25 as our smallest audience on Friday 13th August. Some shows at the Fringe would kill for an audience that big... we had grown to a size where that was a small audience for us and one we couldn't charm. All our other audiences (bar the Altrincham preview) had been bigger and we didn't feel confident in a tiny audience.

So, facing the prospect of a really tiny audience in Glasgow was a nightmare. Facing the reality was going to be a living nightmare. We still didn't know how many people were going to turn up. As we stood outside the room, me in my hurty shoes, we had no idea how long it would take to get everyone into the room. We send our friendly techie in to count the heads. Four. For fuck's sake... four... well that was the chance of profits gone! More importantly, how the hell do you play the show to four people in a cellar in Glasgow. Oh my god! My colleague was sweating it and I was worried too... but I plot when I'm worried, rather than just curl up and die. The show must go on. We'd make it work. We could do it. It's a good show that people like. Let's do it!

I sent our technical friend in to explain to the audience that there were a tiny audience and that Kylie had stolen the rest of the people who might have come. The reason for sending him in to do this was two-fold. Firstly, it sort of broke the ice with the paying punters who must have been wondering what on earth they'd bought into - was it an exclusive club? or was it the most unpopular show in the world. Secondly, they were told that we were going to go on with the show for them, but that they were asked to move to the front row. Essentially, we'd play to a full front row and so they'd be packed in close and it would give the room some atmosphere. They were reluctant to do this, thinking that they might get picked on, but they were told that it was not that sort of show. As an extra security blanket, a drinks table was placed in front of this miniature front-row-only audience and they relaxed into place. In some ways, this was one of the things which gave us an early in-road into the audience. They had to do something more than turn up to "buy in" to the show.

Winning over a tiny audience
There was no further delaying it. We had to go out there and do our shit. We had an audience who were ready. There was a sound-guy who hadn't seen the show at the back of the room. There was our lighting guy who has a nice laugh, and there was a random member of venue staff around the place. Four paying audience sat in a 4-person wide front row (the rows were that wide anyway) and 3 others. That's seven. I've done gigs to fewer than seven. It's doable.

We went out there and did the opening scene. The audience gamely giggled at the gooning around and then applauded. Good work so far. Plus, we had an ace up our sleeves. The script actually mentions Kylie minogue - about 30 seconds into scene 2. We'd discussed ad-libbing something about her being in Glasgow. As was often the case with ad-libs, my colleague would deliver something off script and I'd step in with a punchline and deliver the laugh. Here's the way the script should have gone:

C Greatest hits musicals are rubbish and they just don't work. Except perhaps...
Both Moulin Rouge
A which worked because it was almost...
C but not quite...
Both entirely incomprehensible.
C Yeah, and it had a touch of Kylie in it.
A A touch of Kylie... that's all you need... mmm Kylie
C Yeah, but we're not going to re-write Moulin Rouge, and we're not going to get Kylie in our show.

You see the idea. This last bit changed thus:

C ... not going to get Kylie in our show - she's playing Glasgow tonight.
A Yeah. I bet that's having a big effect on ticket sales for the other shows playing tonight.

It wasn't a massive change to the script. I think the audience must have realised that we had a Kylie bit anyway, but the effect of this line was electric. A massive belly laugh exploded in the room. The audience's attentions and sympathies were bought. I was quite relieved. We still had a whole show to do, but I reckoned that we'd earned enough respect from the audience that they'd come with us on the hour-long journey.

I relaxed. I was right to do so. We played the show pretty much as scripted. There were one or two moments that I played down a bit to account for the fact that it was a smaller audience. I didn't just strip in front of them in the naked bit. I made myself a bit more reluctant to get my kit off... I also flashed them less. It would have been awkward for them. Not for me. I don't give a toss. The dance was modified a little to account for the fact that the shoes were cutting into my feet... this is not important. The audience laughed throughout the show.

Having done a show around 30 times, you learn where all the principal laughter points are. You learn to wait for them. You learn to play them harder and connect them with different audiences. This is why it takes so long to learn stand-up, there's a 6th sense you need to be able to make funny with an audience and to have the confidence to know when to lean on them for a laugh, rather than push on and keep the momentum up (I remember once seeing a guy leaning on his unfunny material and it looked like he was playing a stadium gig in his head, but missing the laughter track). Anyway, with our experience playing, I knew that we'd consistently been hitting the laughs throughout the show. Had we had a sub-ten-person audience earlier in Edinburgh it might have destroyed our confidence or forced us to learn how to play the show quicker. We'll never know. By this penultimate-ever show, we had learned and we fought off our demons and the discomfort of playing to a tiny audience.

It was a good show. I'm glad we were able to do it. I'm proud of us. It was a really hard thing to have achieved.

Post show packup
There was a band coming in and we had to clear our stuff. I got dressed quickly and then we started lugging stuff out of the venue and upstairs. Cars were got and everything was shoved into them. There were three of us working on everything. I guess there was bound to be a risk of leaving stuff behind. I made a few checks and I relied on my colleagues to have managed to grab everything we needed. It wasn't like we'd lost anything before... okay we had, we'd lost the A-costume in Newcastle and we'd lost the wobble boards too. However, we didn't have the time to do everything in a slow and considered manner.

Post show drinkies
We went for a relaxing drink after the show. I spent much of this talking to my lady friend, who was going to be joining us at the Altrincham show the following day. She'd still not decided how she'd be travelling, so I was slightly worried that she'd make it - short notice public transport being absolutely rubbish in this country... though here's a tip. If you want to disappear completely... if you're on the run... just take a National Express coach. You'll be out of sight from the whole community for many hours and you'll turn up god-knows-where.

After a bit of drinking and much thanking of our friend who had been sacked as our host, but then had excelled completely as lighting man, and, principally, great friend to us both, we headed off into the night.

To the North West
It was an uneventful trip to Bolton. I realised that I knew exactly how to get where I was going from previous trips, so I didn't hang around the last service station and wait for my colleague to arrive. Somehow I was ahead of him. I had been leading him (badly) out of Glasgow until he recognised where we were and overtook me. Somehow I then managed to catch him and pass him on the motorway. I ended up outside his parents' empty house at 3 or 4 in the morning (I forget which) and he arrived soon after.

I hit the bed very tired and with still a very busy day ahead. Setting up the show again, in another venue, and worrying about another house and box office success. This was the last time for The Musical! and perhaps I was getting glad. 4 shows in 4 days in three cities... it seemed such a good idea before we started doing it.


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