Today I accidentally ended up doing a gig I have been deliberately avoiding.
The Penicuik gig/s have become notorious for all the wrong reasons since starting up over the past three months, and led to much debate on the Scottish Comedy Forum. The promoter, Davy Mitchell, posts on there as Greg Davysson [sic] and signs all his posts “greg/davy” leading to confusion as to what his name actually is. He seems to deliberately obscure the facts when advertising his gigs, to the extent people have had to ask explicitly where his gigs are, who’s on the bill, the format of the night – pretty much everything that should be made clear from the get go. When he replies, it is in a manner so curt as to be stand-offish. He also seems to deal primarily via the medium of the PM – the Private Message – leading to accusations of cloak-and-dagger conspirations. None of which has gone in his favour. Meanwhile, his gigs have had the knock-on effect of closing down another highly-regarded gig in Penicuik and generated their own repercussions.
I don’t want to condemn or condone his actions, I’m too new to the circuit for that, and having finally met the man they call Gravy (Gr-eg D-avy) it seems clear that his heart is in the right place. Unfortunately, he does give the impression of a man so focussed on his own vision that he refuses to take on board any of the free advice previously offered by many, many professionals in the industry. You can read these posts and decide for yourself what to make of the whole debate: Advert for this gig with responses, Ged Hanley’s announcement of the closure of his own gig, the poor first impression Davy made (all six pages), Keir McAllister’s advice to open spots with partial reference to this gig. There are others too, just find a free afternoon and do a search for Penicuik – to give him his due, he has received some praise for his previous gigs, and for his intentions and efforts.
For my part, I’d decided to wait and see how the whole controversy panned out without getting involved. But on Saturday night, comedian and magician Chris Dinwoodie posted on facebook that he was looking for a comedian to make up a foursome travelling from Cambuslang to Edinburgh for a gig on the Sunday. I replied, and didn’t find out until I got to his at 2pm on Sunday that we were doing the Penicuik gig. Coming with us were Geoff Gawler and fellow newcomer Allan Park.
An enjoyable and upbeat road trip saw us pass The Cuiken Inn (“They can’t even spell chicken,” I quipped), as we discussed the fact that there was potentially going to be children in the audience and punters eating, given what we could remember of the online discussions and the fact this was an afternoon gig in a hotel. We arrived just after half three, to find the venue opposite a Chinese takeaway called PeniWok. On the open hotel door was a handwritten sign on a sheet of A4 advertising “Sit Down Stand Up Comedy, £3 entry,” which bode as well as you’d expect. Furthermore, we were barely over the threshold when we were greeted at the door by Davy, whose opening line to Chris was: “This could be a disaster.” It turned out that, after the success of the previous two gigs, there had been no publicity, no promotion, and not even any tickets printed for this gig. It also became quickly apparent that the line-up consisted of the four of us, plus Tweedy Duffer, a character act from Berwick-Upon-Tweed. I’ve met him once before, at a Glasgow gig that got pulled due to an abject lack of punters. Davy would be compering, despite Chris’s offer to do so. As a magician, he has experience of warming up strangers in a small crowd, and getting them to warm to him. Whereas Davy’s main talent seems to stem from the fact he personally knows the audience in Penicuik.
After a forty-five minute delay, during which I’d been volunteered in my absence to open, we finally kicked off with an audience of around twenty. Pretty much all of them already drunk or getting there, despite it only being 4.45pm. Davy got up, and announced that the comedy would begin after everyone had nipped to the bar/toilet/for a cigarette. He then almost seamlessly segued into the shortest opening of a show I’ve yet encountered, where he more-or-less said “We’ll just get started, first up is a man all the way from Glasgow…” and that was my cue to go on.
My opening joke about Jesus got almost absolute silence, just one shocked gasp. I then drew attention to the Chinese takeaway – “Peeny Wok” – and said I’d never eat the shrimp from there, wouldn’t touch anything small, pink and wrinkled that they might dish up. More silence. I added in a joke I just wrote that morning, based on a news story about Lent that was on the BBC site and tying it to a fact Malky had pointed out on Tuesday night. “National No Smoking Day is on the same day as Ash Wednesday this year. I’m going to kill two birds with one stone, and stub my cigarette out on a catholic’s forehead.” Finally I got a laugh, and launched into the same set I’ve used all week. It was a bit hit and miss, though I did get some laughs, and ad-libbed considerably. There was a fish tank in the corner of the room, behind the ‘stage’ area, and I kept threatening to molest them (it was a bit funnier than it reads, honest). Then some drunk guy walked across the ‘stage’ (floor level, and denoted by a PA either side of the mic) to the toilet and I kidded on I was going to follow him in instead. When he sat down again he slurred an apology and offered me a sambuca as he held it aloft, which I declined since I was in mid-flow and not about to make my first drink of the afternoon a sambuca…
I began introducing my “fish” bit, and someone suggested shagging a piranha. That and the swordfish bit are lines I’ve used and dropped, so I just did both before going into the routine as it is now. When I got to the punchline I got a laugh and no groan, which rendered the follow-up line redundant, though one girl who found it funny did loudly exclaim “That’s terrible!” and got a bigger laugh than I’d managed myself.
With no real form to the proceedings, I’d decided to try and do ten minutes, and did the rest using comic poetry. I was only slightly hindered by the complete absence of a mic stand, and rattled through short and silly poems (including one new one that went down well) before doing the darker stuff. I got some mileage from explaining/over-explaining the concept of S&M/Sadomasochism before doing that one, and then ended with the two AudioTwat ones I’ve posted here previously. I mentioned before the final one that it would be just that, and specifically said “so the compere knows to come up and take the mic”, but when I ended he still had to walk up the centre of the narrow room, the full length of six tables, while I stood like a lemon with no stand to put the mic into.
Allan Park went up next, and opened by saying “This is great, I’ve never been to the Outer Hebrides before. Are you all related?” before beginning his act. I laughed louder than anyone at his delivery of those lines, and having only seen him once or twice before I very much enjoyed his set. One joke in particular, about vajazzles, was my outright favourite and I told him as much afterwards. He did well though, and maintained a mostly-constant hit rate.
After he came off, Davy announced that there would be a short break – as is the norm, to allow people to go for “a pint, a piss, or a puff”. Unfortunately, amidst speculation that it might happen, just over half the punters left and went back through into the main bar. Davy said he’d pull the gig if that happened, and sure enough – despite our assurances that we (Geoff, Woody, Will aka Tweedy Duffer) were happy playing to a diminished crowd, still bigger than the Victoria Bar’s has been some nights – he pulled the gig. Will had just whitened his hair as he was up next, and seemed to be okay with the cancellation, but Geoff and Woody both seemed, understandably, a little disappointed. It’s still unclear as to why exactly we didn’t press on, but it was Davy’s decision based on factors maybe we weren’t party to. The remaining audience members were disappointed too, but the decision was accepted.
Woody had been chatting to a group of three girls from the off, so we joined them for a bit and had a laugh – until the staff cleared the room to set the tables at which point we decided to make tracks. The journey home was mostly a dissection of the gig, and Geoff did his set just to do it. He seemed the most frustrated of the three at not being able to go up, which was compounded with the realisation that the Bier Halle gig wasn’t even running that night to go and at least spectate. Allan thanked Geoff and Woody “for coming through to support us”, and Geoff said we’re never going on before him again since we drove the audience away. All in good humour, obviously. Allan tried to get a picture of The Cuikin Inn on the way past, but even though we were stopped right outside it at the lights the sign flared illegibly when he took the photo. Ah well, it’ll be there a while. Which is more than can be said for the gig – I read today on the forum that “The Royal gig is cancelled“, and told Allan “That gig you closed yesterday has been permanently cancelled. I thought you done okay too.” He suggests that we go through to the other Penicuik venue next time, also run by Davy, and he will go on last. I told him he’ll get the review: “Allan closed the show, because he could close any show.” 😀
On the plus side, we all got ten quid each for our efforts, which covered my train fare to and from Cambuslang and my share of the petrol money. That said, we’re all at a level where we don’t expect to be (and usually aren’t) paid anything – apart from the odd compliment – and the argument that has been put forward online is that the money would be better spent on getting a seasoned compere and/or headliner in. Today’s gig, which was going okay considering, had a line-up comprised entirely of five open spots, and with a three quid entry fee. I’ll say again, Davy’s heart definitely seems to be in the right place, and he means well. Unfortunately, based on my sole experience gigging for him, it does seem that he (and the scene as a whole) would benefit from advice freely offered to him on the back of other people’s mistakes and successes. Time will tell if his other gigs continue, or if they too will gradually fall by the wayside. For now, though, you’ll have to keep reading the forum to see how it unfolds.
My next gig, for those interested, will be in Slouch on Bath Street as part of a charity night on the 14th. And after that, I just got confirmed for my first ever ten-minute spot doing comic poetry on the 19th at The Flying Duck on Renfield Street. So that’s quite exciting, to get paid and to get my first ten-minute spot in the space of two days.