I just had the best gig of my life and you missed it, you fool. It didn’t even get filmed.
After the debacle on Saturday, it was agreed that my set tonight would be filmed instead. Unfortunately, illness on the part of my recordist put paid to that, and I’m starting to think maybe I need to become self-sufficient – if I had my own camera, I could just ask someone (anyone) to aim it and hit ‘record’. I do actually have a digital camera somewhere but have something of a love-hate affair with technology. Essentially, I love it until it malfunctions and then I despise it. So I’ve never investigated to see if it will take video, and have barely even taken any photos with it. I’d look into the filming part, but given that I only get online via my phone I know how stressful it will be trying to upload anything to youtube. I refer you back to my previous statement about technology.
Tonight was, as the punning title sugggests, an evening of hand-picked comics, all of us reasonably new to the scene and none of us with a show of our own to promote (as was the premise of the review/showcase gigs last week). As such, there was only one act I hadn’t seen before, but I’ll come to that presently. Chris Henry compered as ever, and Les Sinclair opened. He had some good lines, and I hope he enjoys his gig at The Flying Duck this Saturday. Rod Hunter went up second. The first time I saw him, at the Bier Halle, he did a bit that inspired me to write something that I’ve never yet used. I always forget about it until I see him doing that part of his act, and at the moment it won’t really sit with anything I’m doing anyway.
We played to a near-capacity crowd tonight, and Malky reckons by the end of the night we had an audience of 90. It was certainly shoulder-to-shoulder for much of the evening. When Chris introduced me, I had enough time to get onstage, remove the mic, and place the stand behind me before the applause died down enough for me to consider beginning. That, as it turned out, was a pretty good omen. I only changed my set last night – shuffling bits about, removing weaker jokes, and adding in (and adding to) the whole Gladiator Plumbing stuff – and so the back of my hand looked like a tattoo, I’d written that much on it. I ran through the Gladiator stuff a couple of times during the day, because the rest of it I know, it’s just the order that’s changed. Even so, I was nervous going on tonight – not as nervous as the two days before my Stand gig, but still more nervous than I’ve been in a while. Essentially, I was worried I’d forget the newer stuff.
“Jesus welcomes you with open arms” got a laugh at the pause, before I even did the punchline, and the “cunt” stuff got a good laugh on every use of the word – a while since it’s had that high a hit rate. The Gladiator stuff is necessarily slow to start, as I have to give background to it, but every single line got a great response and I even added in a line I wasn’t sure about and a new bit I only came up with yesterday. All of it will be staying in the set.
I messed up my “Brazilian” line a wee bit, by pre-empting the pointing at myself, and so it was the Mid Life Crisis line that got the biggest laugh of those four jokes. I ad-libbed something along the lines of being glad it got such a big laugh, the fact that I might die early, and that got a good reaction. I referred back to my hand to see what (now) comes next, and figured I’d draw attention to the fact – think I mentioned it looking like a tattoo and referenced the film Memento, then used the line Jamie Dalgleish “gave” me at our last gig: “I know my set like the back of my hand.” Adding further explanation, I deadpanned “I just changed my set last night, so I can’t remember what I left in. You can tell the jokes I left in, because I’ve told them. The ones I took out are the ones you won’t hear.” Something along those lines anyway, and it got a decent response, though I wish I could remember it verbatim. Further benefits of recording yourself, as previously advised by Chris Conroy.
When I got to the bit about “you know that way when you’re shagging a lassie…” a girl in front of me made some kind of half-disgusted noise, and so I immediately turned to my left and addressed the larger part of the room, repeating the line but shielding my mouth as if to draw them in conspirationally. That worked well, considering it was a spur of the moment thing, and I then finished with the “Fish” bit – it seems silly to change my final joke, since that’s still far and away the best reaction I get and makes for a natural place to end. I got a groan rather than a laugh tonight, adding in my extra lines afterwards but with more of a pause this time – it really paid off too. I find it kind of funny that the best joke I have in my repertoire, in terms of audience reaction, is one I wrote when I was seventeen, twelve years ago. At some point, when I make the time or run out of ideas, I will trawl through all my old writings and mine them for every idea and gag I’ve ever written. Whether it is egotistical to say this or not, often I will read something I wrote years ago and find a line, idea or exchange between characters that makes me laugh out loud, something I have no recollection of ever writing. That is, perhaps, why it seems inevitable that after decades (literally) of writing poetry, stories, lyrics, pantomimes, attempted plays, screenplays, a novel, sketches and jokes, I eventually thought to try my hand at stand-up comedy. I have heard all my life how my Grandpa (a man I never met) always laughed at his own jokes. He was handy as a carpenter and very often sat with one foot on top of the other, and so it is weird to realise that I have picked up all these traits genetically. I digress, though, and my point was merely that as I laugh at my own jokes maybe other people will laugh at them too. Either that or bang me up in the looney bin…
And so it was that I played the greatest gig of my ‘career’ to date, six months after I first sought Malky out and asked him for stage time, feeding off the audience and riding the laughter like a wave (yes, I know this sounds incredibly wanky, and write it with my tongue half in my cheek). Chris Henry says it’s the most personable he’s ever seen me come across, Nix – a friend and semi-permanent audience member – said she felt really proud to have seen me come so far, seeing my very first set evolve into what it is now. Malky and others commended me for the pacing of my set, and for my delivery. I was aware of kind of rocking back and forth on one foot a lot, but I stood right at the front of the stage, making a point of looking around the audience and making occasional eye contact, trying to involve everyone in the room in the way that Obie does so well, and keeping my head up between jokes (rather than looking at the floor) and smiling. I can’t say I had a good gig for this reason or that reason, but overall, as a cumulative effect, tonight was the perfect merging of material, delivery, and audience. If I can replicate that again I’ll be a very happy man.
The night progressed with Allan Park doing his second gig of the evening after an appearance at Pivo Pivo, and he too expressed beforehand that he felt nervous about this gig. As it transpired, he did fine. Joe Hullait did material I’ve always liked, although he seems to have changed the wording of one of his punchlines and now just kind of throws it away, and I meant to speak to him about that, as I think it worked better the way it was before. For whatever my opinion might be worth. Jamie Dalgleish is a lot more relaxed and confident onstage now than he was when I first saw him, and it’s good to see that so many of us seem to be noticeably improving after just six months.
The second section finished with John McGovern doing his second ever spot. He’s a good guy, whom I met on the set of Revision, the short film project that my cousin’s boyfriend Matthew Cowan is making, and which Malky agreed to participate in – hence how John sort of fell into this world. It’s all coming together quite well, the film crew/cast are now often to be found in the audience at The Halt, while John and I are both gigging semi-regularly for Malky. Most of my friends are involved in creative endeavours of some sort, and so it’d be brilliant if this ground-level mixing of film-makers, writers and comedians was to generate new material, collaborations, and new projects for us all.
Chris Grady opened the third section doing his second-ever spot too, the first time I’ve seen him. Great lines, and I chatted to him beforehand as we have conversed slightly on Twitter. He actually has a part to play in all of this, though I only told him as much tonight – two or three years ago I submitted some sketches to the Comedy Unit, which (by lack of reply) were rejected. I then re-submitted them for another of their shows and, if memory serves, it was Chris who responded to me in his capacity as Script Editor. I used that experience, mildly disguised, in the novelisation of my “Uberstardom” screenplay, and I have very distinct memories of sitting on the grass in Bellahouston Park two summers ago, with my notepad and pen, trying to write my very first stand-up comedy routine. I have never used the material thus generated, since it seems foolish to risk burning my bridges before I’ve even built them. Having now met Chris in person though, and related this, here is what I remember of that initial routine:
I sent some sketches to the Comedy Unit, and they sent them right back.
I said I wanted to be a comedy writer, and they said I’d succeeded – my handwriting’s hilarious.
So I resubmitted the same material for another of their shows and they told me it was already under consideration – they were considering whether to bin it, or whether to bin it and then set fire to the building.
They told me there was no need to submit the same material twice, and in my case even once was more than enough.
All lines that I like, and did vaguely disguise and use in the unpublished “Uberstardom”, but not ones I really want to use myself for the reasons I’ve explained. I’d also hate to come across as bitter, since I’m actually entirely pragmatic about the whole experience – I suspect that they are inundated with unsolicited material and even have to turn down stuff that makes the grade, I got a few decent lines from the outcome, and it pushed me to write the first draft of my screenplay instead, which in turn later became a 70,000-word novel. I might never sell any of those things, but fuck it, at least I can say I did it.
The night ended with sets from Pearse James (doing his “Book Festival” stuff, which I love, and some new stuff, as well as ad-libbing to save a couple of bits), Tony Hilton (whose gig didn’t go as well as I’ve seen him, but better than he himself seemed to think) before ending with John Aldiss, whose cover of “Paparazzi” with the lyrics changed is so memorable I caught myself singing it in my head in the supermarket last week.
All in all a great night, playing to a packed and appreciative room, and as Allan Park posted on my facebook earlier: “Feels proud to be part of ‘the best newbies’. We must be doing something right.”
Tonight, it felt totally right. 🙂
Of course, it would be negligent to rest on my laurels – I have gigs tomorrow (Wednesday 30th) at the Victoria Bar, and on Sunday (3rd April) at the Bier Halle. The new plan is to film Sunday’s gig, third time lucky and all that… I’m going to take the rest of tonight to bask in this glory, and then it’s back to trying to make each gig work on it’s own merits. There are also Gong Shows next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the general rule is if you’re not good you won’t last. Time to get practising.
For now, though, I’ll leave you with the words of Ozzy Osbourne: “Thank you, goodnight, I love you all.” 🙂