If you’re dying on your arse, don’t drag the arse out it. That’s what I learned tonight.
When I forgot most of my set.
The bit about My Own Name. That’s a fairly special fail right there. I had a total mental block, which I retrospectively attributed to a number of different things. But I’ll get to that in due course.
I signed up for this competition ages ago, when I’d done one (or maybe no) gigs, banking on getting more between then and now – which I did – and using them to hone my act – which I at least tried to do. The competition was to be held in Edinburgh, a city I have no great love for, but on the plus side a very good friend was back there from Canada, and so it meant catching up with her as well as doing my first show in the city. A show I was doing purely for stage time.
Having arranged to meet her, it immediately began snowing, which could’ve been construed as a bad omen. When I got the bus into town, it broke down just before getting there, again something that didn’t bode well. On the plus side, the trains were running and I managed to get on one, meeting my friend at Waverley. As we traipsed up slippery hills towards the venue, and having exchanged hellos and how-are-yous, I explained about my conversation of the night previous: how I was disillusioned with part of my set and planned to drop it after tonight; how I’d planned to rehearse on the train and instead fell asleep; how, with the weather and the darkness and being in a place I’ve no love for, I felt thoroughly unmotivated right then to perform that night. It was just how I felt right then.
We reached the venue and I had a look round. I expected the competition, like the heat of the SCOTY I saw, to attract fifty or sixty punters, and for the winning act to be decided based on an audience vote (and on who’d brought the most pals). What I didn’t expect, didn’t even occur to me, is that my friend was THE audience member. Nobody brought anyone. Five acts pulled out due to the weather. The audience consisted entirely of nine comedians, three judges, the compere and my friend.
Running order was decided by picking out a folded number, and I managed to draw number two: second on. I’ve never been on earlier than third before now.I tried to find the compere to stress the importance of her introducing me using my full name: she hadn’t arrived yet. Fifteen minutes later, I asked again – still she wasn’t here yet. Finally, when she came in (by which point most people had taken their seats) I had to find her, introduce myself, request the usual introduction, which she noted down, and then I’d barely sat down before we began.
I realised, having run through my act downstairs beforehand, that I’ve speeded it up and dropped bits, and it runs about four minutes, my five minute set. Shit. What to do, what to do? I had two new jokes, both things I’d said conversationally that had got laughs and which I could fit in fine without disrupting the flow of my material. But if I put in new new jokes, they’d seem shoehorned in, or take up too much space at the start when I use my unconnected opening jokes. My closing joke ends a short routine too, so I couldn’t just tag something on the end either. And then I had a brainwave…
Since, previously, I have talked shit based on what comes into my head, I thought I’d improvise a bit about the number selection, and about the trains and weather – which have been largely cancelled and/or unreliable of late. Then I’d segue back into my material. I ran through it in my head a couple of times, trying to construct the on-the-spot stuff in the funniest way. What I should have done, in hindsight, is also run through the link back into my existing set. Instead of trying to wing it when I got up there. And here’s how it went:
“I was worried when we had to pick numbers that I’d get number one, cos we all know number one is pish. And so I got number two…and will try not to be shit.” No response, save one voice saying “good!”
“This is my first ever gig in Edinburgh. I came through on the train, it was a very pleasant journey as the train was…running” – Tumbleweed moment number two. Straight into the ‘timing/peanuts’ gag, and it got a good laugh. And then…nothing. Totally stumped, mind went totally blank and I had NO IDEA what came next. I had to admit as much, throwing in lines like “good thing it’s not a competition…” as I utterly failed to remember my act. I went straight into my mid-set “Why I started comedy” bit, and got the order wrong for the first time, and therefore messed up the natural progression into the jokes that follow it. I used both my new jokes and both got laughs. I admitted I’d written only them on the inside of my wrist, pretending to read from it as I pointed at something at the back of the room (a light, then a painting), saying how nice they were as I blatantly admitted to being flummoxed, and to wishing I’d written the whole act on my wrist. Jesus, I floundered. I had to reintroduce the topic of girlfriends in order to use the jokes that ordinarily follow the ‘comedy’ bit, and then once more tried to remember my opening. And still failed.
I joked that I was waiting for the red light, it must be due soon, and it was immediately flashed. “Is that for real, or are you just helping me out?” I asked. Both. I ad-libbed more, about expecting to see red lights in Edinburgh, but if I’d realised I was in this part of town I’d have spent my fiver entry money more wisely. And so, after that drew pitying titters, it was revealed that that HAD been my red light: not only did I die on my arse, I also over-ran. What a dick. I made a quick exit. And the compere got up and announced that “some people are participants rather than competitors”…which annoyed me. Maybe because it was adding insult to injury. I was now stuck in a tiny room, having died on my arse, with another 7 comics to see before there was any chance of getting downstairs for a drink. That was fucking torture.
She also asked what the big deal was about my middle initials, after I’d sat down, and THAT’S when I remembered my act. Jesus fuck, I forgot the material ABOUT MY OWN FUCKING NAME. How embarrassing. Especially since, it occurred later, at any point I could have asked my pal (in the front row of the block on the right) or Jamie Dalgleish (in the front row of the block on the left, and who has seen me several times) – at ANY POINT I could have just asked them what I do material about, been prompted, joked about my ineptitude, and maybe recovered. Instead of digging my grave. I couldn’t even interact with the audience to buy time – one, there wasn’t time to buy, and two, I’d have spoken to other comics (possibly unwilling to converse), judges (risky ground) or my pal (who’d have then looked like a plant). Good thing it’s a learning experience…as one of the judges said later, I won’t make that mistake again!
Other acts…pfft, who knows?! Chris Conroy I knew by name and rep, and he won, being very funny despite asking me questions (the second time, my mind had wandered back to my own set, so I don’t really know why he asked for my PIN…I just told him 1234). Twonky’s Cottage seemed to cram ten minutes’ material into five, presenting a shambolic set that made little sense. He went through, and since the compere introduced him as a friend and her sister-in-law was a judge, I suspect he went though on what they know he can do rather than on what he did tonight. Jamie did a set I’d seen before, closing the show and getting very few laughs – even though it has gone down well in Glasgow previously. Eleanor Morton, I’d seen her do ten at the Buff Club and I like her, she’s funny. She did some of the same stuff tonight, which my pal enjoyed. Other acts – sorry guys, I have enough difficulty remembering names/faces/material at the best of times, let alone when I’m feeling like a prick trapped in a room where I just died. The guy who did an updated Wuthering Heights was good though, I think he went through to the next heat. By that point I wasn’t really paying attention, sorry 😦
So…How the fuck did I forget my own name bit??
I think it was a combination of things – of not ‘feeling’ it and talking of dropping it; having to track and track and track the compere down to make sure she announced me properly (making such an effort to get my name right I conversely forgot all my material about it); trying to introduce brand new material without fully tying it back to the main set in my head. The more I tried to concentrate, the more elusive it became. Kind of like that Derren Brown bit, where he asks the guy what Tube stop he’s getting off at, then confuses him, asks him again and the guy has no idea. “Thinking about it now, what stop were you getting off at? Thinking about it now…” and the guy has no idea. That’s how I felt, I knew it and I didn’t know it.
But yeah, after six positive gigs, I was due a diabolical one – and this was it. It’s all a learning experience though, right? Right. “Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” – Aldous Huxley.
And here’s that Derren Brown clip:
Onwards and upwards 🙂