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Tuesday, August 3

Do These Rituals Work?

A lot of comedians have a special ritual that they do before the gig. I could construct some sort of a hybrid ritual from comedians I know if you like. For example, it might involve doing 20 minutes of specialised vocal and physical warm-up (not necessarily a ritual, as it can help with performing, though it can form part of a ritual if the reason for doing it turns out to be more psychological than muscle based), sipping a can of Red Bull, washing your hands thoroughly, applying lip salve while looking at yourself in the mirror and doing smiley faces, and being sure to have a certain something in your pocket as a backup plan, or for luck.

I'm not sure I really have a ritual. I do a mini vocal warm-up, where I try out the low and high registers of my voice, just to make sure they're working and have broken in a bit. I only do that if I'm worried about it. I have to make sure I have a plectrum in my pocket, but that doesn't really make for a ritual; it's practical. I have the pseudo-ritual of the sound-check to worry about, and this usually focuses my mind. Setting up the guitar isn't complex, but it's a process that's as soothing as ironing can be (unless you hate ironing, in which case this is a bad example). If I'm feeling in the mood, I might hop around a bit, and I certainly pace the floor a bit, whether I like it or not.

There may be some anti-rituals, though. There are things you should not do. You shouldn't touch an act who didn't go down well, in case you get "shit gig lurghi". You shouldn't allow yourself to hate the audience in any way - this won't end well. You shouldn't be seen too much by the audience before going on. These things are meant to protect you from bad things happening, possibly.

Last night's gig was a bit of a surprise, to be honest. I think I discovered what's behind some of the rituals, and I broke a couple of the no-no's into the bargain. For example, I shook the hand of an act who didn't do so well, because I felt he deserved respect for holding his own against the odds. I also shook the hand of the act before me, who'd left the stage, while doing rather well, on the basis that his time had been called, to which the audience moaned. If an act that the audience like is pulled off and they're not happy about it, then following them can be hard. Doing a handshake with him might well have been a talisman against them not liking me, and a prophylactic against "shit gig lurghi" taking root, maybe even a way of transferring "good gig genie" onto me. But it wasn't. I shook his hand and told him he had done a good job (he had) and I said something lame like "Fuck yeah!" because it put me in the right frame of mind.

This is the secret to a good gig, more than anything else, being in the right frame of mind. Some of these rituals are nothing more than a "superstitious pigeon" route to finding the right frame of mind for doing the gig. When I'm funny I'm spontaneous, fast-talking, quick-witted, assertive, hyper-aware of what's going on around me, positive, cheerful, larger than life, loud, and a great big fat YES. That's where I had to get last night, and I did it by focusing on why the gig had been going mental, and why that was actually rather amusing (it sort of is... in a "oh dear, I'm going to be battered" sort of a way), and then making the most of the fact that it's only a game and the only way to play is to jump in at the deep end.

Here's the secret to the success I had last night, where I had it. I went off script. I did it deliberately, a lot. I also delivered different words to those on the virtual page in my head. I re-crafted my stand-up persona so that it had more alpha male in it too... I'm not normally a big sweary guy on stage; my Fringe show can be done without a single expletive. However, sometimes you can slip swearing into conversation to make out that you're the big man. This is done by using swearing as punctuation, not as the substantive of what you're saying. I'd also read the audience, and their laughter button began with a C. Well, kids, today's gig is brought to you by the letter C and the french number "un" and the letter t. Say no more.


The audience in that room needed something big that was happening right in front of them. There was no use hiding behind the script, and no use in asking them to do the work. This is not incredibly atypical of that particular audience, but it was the most extreme case of it that I've seen there. Did I enjoy blasting out my set in that way? Hell yeah! Why not become a bombastic caricature of yourself from time to time. It works for Brian Blessed... in fairness, he's stuck that way.

Note to self: write a hilarious song about wanting to have sex with Brian Blessed... it can only be funny.

So what happened at the gig? Well, the audience were in attendance at a free comedy event, that's usually well attended, but by people who don't expect to give much, and can just treat the space as a cafe. Indeed, everyone seemed to be eating something very similar in appearance to a Findus crispy pancake (well, in shape). People could just as easily chat as listen to the comedy, so you had to reach out and impress them. It was actually as simple as that. If you were uncertain in any way, it didn't work. If you expected them to help, it didn't work.

So some acts did their schtick and the audience didn't care, and some acts used their schtick as a stick to stick it to the stuck up sticklers in the crowd. That, to me, was the dividing line. If it were a different sort of gig, it wouldn't be necessary to have to adapt. In the case of one particular act, who did rather well, I think he was born to play an audience that wants a powerhouse performance, and I've only ever seen him give his all. He made me laugh. I'm not going to say his name. Screw him for being so good, I'm not his publicist; he can put his own name around.

I enjoyed myself thoroughly at the gig, and I can only put it down to my "Fuck yeah!" attitude. I gave myself permission to be as big and silly as I like to be, and I got some laughs. Job done.

Or maybe I got my ritual right. Maybe the correct ritual for getting a gig to go well involves stressing over CD production techniques, rebuilding your spare room into a more practical (and it's bloody great now) office space, and falling off a ladder causing small but rather painful minor abrasions. That was Sunday's job. The ladder was only about 7 foot off the ground, and I wasn't so high up it... but when it went, I was left clinging onto the ledge I was climbing up to. When I let go (almost instantly) I thought two things - "I'm going to fall" and "It's only about 2 feet from my feet to the floor". It still hurt. Oweeeh.

I've strayed from the point, which is this: performing stand-up comedy to an audience who have been total bastards all night is a lot more fun than falling off a ladder.

Fuck yeah!


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