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Monday, May 1

Writing, Gigging and Shopping

There's been some writing going on this weekend. The last time my blog went out of date, it was due to the last article I was writing Around the World in 80 Websites, which was published in Micro Mart just over a week ago. On the day I submitted, the article, having vowed never to do that sort of thing again, I accepted a commission to do a general review of bad things on the internet, called The World's Worst 100 Websites, which will be a two-part piece, the first part of which is due in to the Micro Mart offices in some 3 weeks' time.

I spent a reasonable amount of yesterday trawling the internet for bad sites. This is both easy and quite difficult. You can find yourself in some weird and totally unpublishable places, if you're not careful.

Writing the last article was really hard work, which makes me wonder why I'm doing it all again. Probably the money, but maybe the sheer hell of it. After all, it's quite good fun thinking of 100 words to say on someone's website. I have some big ideas for what to do to add extra value to the article, but I guess we'll have to see whether I have time to do that. The correct approach is to get the basics done first, and then add to them.

I've done a lot of gigs (333 as of yesterday morning). As such, I know how to recognise the signs of a difficult gig. Arriving in Watford for my 334th gig, all sorts of concerns popped into my head. Firstly, I was concerned that I had no idea how to get into the pub where the gig was. My sat nav knew where it was, and I could even see it and drive up to it, however, I couldn't park near it, or work out how to walk to it from the car. If experience has taught me anything, it's definitely proved that arriving at the venue is the first step to successfully performing there. Without that, there's no chance whatsoever.

Finding a Sainsbury's supermarket that didn't seem too far from the venue and parking there, I wandered into the town centre bit of Watford, with plenty of time before the gig started, and tried to get some cash and a Subway sandwich. The cash was successful, I even found the Subway, which had been clearly marked on the back of its building as I looked for a space, and which was also clearly a Subway from the front of its building. Sadly, Subway isn't open in Watford at around 7pm on a Sunday. Good tip if you ever visit the place, that.

Without the food inside me, and with my guitar and stand in hand, I walked in the direction of the venue. I found a great big dual-carriageway-style A-road between me and my destination. I asked a local how to get across, and with a voice that sounded like it was long-since weary of this exact question, he called out the answer, like a bored heckler calling out the punchline of an ancient joke - "underpass!".

Now my first concern, about the reaching of the venue, was no longer a concern. I was going to arrive. No problem. However, the next worry was that it was very quiet around the pub. Perhaps there would be no punters at all. Getting inside, a new worry replaced my first worry. THere were, in fact, lots of people there, there was even a stage and the remains of a small acoustic band, packing up. However, the crowd hadn't come specifically for the comedy, and the performing space was in fact the main body of the pub. What if they didn't listen?

Had this been a free gig - i.e. one where the punters pay absolutely nothing for the comedy - I would have been well advised to turn around and leave. As it was, the bouncers went around collecting £3 from each punter and turfing out those who were not prepared to pay. You'd think that, if they'd bothered to pay £3 a head, the punters would shut up and enjoy the comedy. You'd think that, wouldn't you?

In honesty, I didn't expect that to be the case. There was too much hubbub, chit-chat and general disruption going on. If I even become a good comedian, I hope that I'd have an agent who would never send me to such gigs. However, on the way to becoming a better comedian than I am now, I knew I had to learn to tackle this exact room.

I was in a simultaneously good and bad position in the running order. I was on last. Headlining, if you will. This was good because there's a certain amount of clout you can command as the headliner. As though perhaps you're the act who they've really come to see and everyone else has just been warm-up. You can also play the "let me finish this and then we can all go home" card, which earlier acts can't. On the down side, the running order contained (including yours truly) some 7 acts AND a compere. This meant that, as last on, I had to witness every act that preceded me and watch the audience get more and more tired.

In fairness to the acts who were on, all of whom were fairly newish acts, the trouble was not so much that they didn't have anything funny to say as much as the audience didn't give a toss either way. Those who cared were more interested in heckling - not even useful heckles, just "You're not funny" and "Get on with it". Those who didn't give a toss were talking and building up a barrier to laughter that is a general rabble.

They say that you should do something every day that scares you. While I'm rarely that bothered by the prospect of performing (in terms of fear, at least - I'm usually a little excited about the enjoyment ahead), yesterday, I got the adrenaline rush. I found my heart beating, my hands sweating and a sense of being about to be pushed off the edge of a cliff.

This is where I tell you the tale of the hard gig that I turned into a good gig, but before I do, and I will, I should perhaps bring my glorious tale crashing down with a sense of proportion. I left the venue sweating, relieved and with the "fee" in my pocket. For the 90 minute drive, three hours standing around waiting to go on, 20 minutes on stage and hour long drive home, I was rewarded with ten English pounds. Ten quid. That's what I'm worth. I'm not complaining, because I agreed to do the gig on pretty much that basis. But let's put this in perspective. I couldn't even expect to make a profit on the petrol for that gig, let alone a living out of doing that sort of thing. Any achievement, I may or may not have had in that room is quite clearly academic, because there are many comedians who go on stage in well-lit, nicely-disciplined, intelligent-audienced venues, who put less effort into their set and come away with a reasonable reward. I should also add, that it is probably the fact that I use most of the skills which won me the audience last night, which prevents me from getting gigs in some of those venues. Weird.

So, reality check aside, I went on the stage hoping to last 10 minutes. The fact that I use a guitar was to my advantage. The fact that I decided to stand my ground and fill the room, also seemed to work. I got the audience laughing. I got them applauding. I did my new song (2nd time out) and it worked. I kept it going. I did my preferred finale followed by my old finale (the George and Zippy bit, which I hadn't done for ages until Kidderminster a couple of weeks ago). I got off the stage. The encore started before I left the stage and I gamely returned to do one more song.

The irony of my xenophobic Eurovision song contest entry was lost on the crowd.

Shopping trips to Tesco are barely worthy of a blog's worth of mention. I will just mention that the size Nazis nearly got me today. Had they been at full strength, they would have remembered to remove the trousers that were in my size from the rack. However, they forgot, but had some presence as all the other sizes were reduced to £9 from £12. My size stayed at the £12 mark. In fairness, I get more material than the smaller people, so I'm prepare to pay £3 more. However, it's still a slap in the face from those evil size-bigots.


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