This gig was shambolic in organisation and delivery, entirely on my part, and yet I very much enjoyed it.
Originally booked to play the August date at a week’s notice, it was rescheduled as the cast were mostly still in Edinburgh at the time. With an extra four or five weeks available to prepare, I used my time less wisely and instead drank on and off for thirty days (or more like forty) in celebration/denial of my thirtieth birthday.
I’d been asked to do ten minutes, “the more experimental the better”, and began cobbling together various half-baked ideas that suddenly slotted together quickly and almost seamlessly. I would combine my “Prisoner” character act with some anti-comedy “jokes” that came from the traditional “man walks into a bar” set-up, add in a joke a friend had given me five years ago when I was writing AudioTwat lyrics, come onstage in handcuffs and relate the true anecdote of when I used to wear four pairs on my belt in addition to a wallet chain, and then finish by introducing my old cellmate – a sock puppet who hates me. “Putting the mental into experimental” and “It’s experimental – the ultimate get-out clause” became my catchphrases as I began collating material, writing it down in dribs and drabs and running it past a few select friends at the risk of them having heard it all before they got there.
Between the birthday drinking and socialising, and with inherent laziness, I slowly assembled a routine of sorts, while also working out my Uberbyte setlist (Gig 50) and crafting the sock puppet. Lines were written down and added in as they came to me, I imported existing routines into the work-in-progress set and added verbal links, chose my intro music and method of opening my set, and related some of the lines I’d come up with for the sock puppet to my friends ad nauseum. The puppet itself came from, if memory serves, one evening drinking with my friend Hannah. In a silly mood, I started repeating and answering her in an affected gruff but husky voice. That, it was decided, would be the voice of my puppet. I realised, with little real rehearsal, that I’d never be able to sustain that voice for the whole set and proclaimed that this would make the act even funnier, as I would be forced to admit (via the puppet verbally abusing me) my own shortcomings.
With dozens of ideas, many of which still remain on scraps of paper dotted around my flat, I was looking forward to doing something new and completely different from my normal style – and with “it’s experimental” as my excuse should it go awry. Complacency and laziness meant I didn’t quite get round to scripting the conversation between myself and the puppet, and I decided earlier this week(end) that I would just do it as a semi-improvisational piece. I knew that, at a key moment, the puppet would decide to “walk around nude”, and at that point I would remove it and chat to my hand – bare but for two eyes drawn on the back of it. I would put a pair of tights over the sock and have him be a bank robber. It would be ridiculous to watch, and end with the puppet, who hates me, naked and beating me up. This, I enthusiastically described to my friends, would see me end my set by punching myself in the face, falling to the ground, and then raising my right hand as it declared itself the victor. There were other ideas too, which I forgot to fit in (as they’re written on scraps of paper and dotted round my flat), and which were equally silly.
I realised that giving myself a “prison tattoo” across my knuckles for the old AudioTwat joke would mean that – when I removed the sock – the “nude” puppet would have the word “LOVE” written across his nose. This led me to create an in-joke whereby I used the disparaging conversation between me and the puppet to address the rumours that are apparently (and probably) circulating about my friend Sarah and me. On that count, the people who matter know the facts, and everyone else can (and undoubtedly will) believe what they like. It was amusing to concoct this succinct, witty and pointed exchange, and the various friends who saw me enact it enjoyed it and expressed delight at the prospect of seeing it performed on stage. Latterly, however, I’ve been having my doubts about including it. I enjoy winding people up in good humour, but this had the potential to upset various members of the Click or their audience, and I realised I wanted to do neither. My friend Jamesie, upon hearing this after the show, said it was the first time in eight years of knowing me that he’s discovered I have a line I won’t cross in the name of humour…
The plan was to hone and tighten then learn the material over the weekend, except I ended up at McGovern’s house party on Friday, at a theatre matinee on the Saturday, barely slept that night, did the Uberbyte gig yesterday and then proceeded to drink until 8am this morning – before sleeping for three hours and then getting up to write out my set. I love how decadent my life sounds at this point, but this recent spell of drinking and socialising is far from the norm. I think the highlight of the night was laughing uncontrollably, properly convulsing with laughter to the point I could barely breathe and my stomach muscles ached, while watching the following videos online. And then setting ourselves off again minutes later. For about an hour, and I don’t exaggerate. Watch these, but not in a library. Alcohol consumption may help.
The upshot of this is, on the day of the gig I was in no fit state to do very much at all. The three hours sleep meant I woke still drunk, and slowly descended, exhausted, into a hangover. Not particularly conducive to making people laugh, and certainly not with untried material that isn’t even finished being written. This was, naturally, the gig that people had been coming out of their way to see – not as many as had said they would come, but still a decent number, representing three different social groups (at one time, it was going to be five or six), and including Jamesie the self-proclaimed “Jordan Mills Comedy Virgin.” The audience was reasonable in size, maybe thirty or so, and the first half was a combination of stand-up, sketches, and a guest spot from SCOTY finalist Pearse James. He did some new stuff, keeping with the theme of “experimental”, and closed the section.
I used the break to try and prepare, reading through my entire handwritten routine and jotting down copious notes on the back of my hand, and setting up my intro CD. Matthew was there to film me, and I briefed him on where I was on the bill – closing the second half. When I’d been asked how I wanted billed on the flyer, my carefully-worded response was rewritten for the copy, for whatever reason, and my middle initials were dropped from my name too. I have since updated the “About Me” page to explain why they are important to me, and wrote a routine/rant about how annoying I find it when people inexplicably drop letters from my name – and how I’m on the verge of reciprocating in kind (the two people who did it this week both have the letters R and A in their own names, so it’s easily done. They’re not the first, and they won’t be the last. [The Stand did it the night after this – see Gig 52 blog] I don’t mean to be a cunt about it, but it’s my name and I sign myself that way for a reason). I didn’t know if it was funny or just angry though, as material, but using “it’s experimental” as my defence I decided to go ahead with it.
The second half seemed to fly by, as I stood outside the room and waited nervously, before going “backstage” (behind the backdrop) at the appropriate moment to prepare my intro music. Of course, handcuffed and onstage, I realised I hadn’t told anyone to kill the intro music, and had to wait for someone to fade it for me, before deliberately fumbling the mic and stand with my handcuffs on, then removing them as I did my first joke. This was the set of a shattered, barely functioning comic. I did my first bit – big laughs, far bigger than I’d anticipated, as I related the story of the clothes I used to wear when I briefly worked in civil service. The punchline was something I genuinely said at the time, which Malky laughed at when I told him a few months back, and which got a great reaction tonight. Keeper!
I began the new middle initials bit, with reference to the flyer, and was unexpectedly interrupted by Geoff on the second mic, backstage, saying it was an issue of spacing. We had this conversation last week outside The Halt, during which I accepted these things happen (so often, I’ve now written material about it) and told him I planned to do that material and stuff about the rewritten copy at this gig. I’m not trying to bite the hand that feeds me, but I’d written material that is specific to this gig and figured it seemed the appropriate place to try it out. It’s experimental. Anyway, apart from sidetracking me and allowing me to ramble some nonsense about the voice of God communicating with me, it’s done.
I proceeded to tell a slew of “anti-comedy” jokes about bars, reading most of the keywords off the back of my hand and ad-libbing/rambling throughout. Some hit, some missed, some got that telltale laugh that seems part laugh, part exclamation of a confused “what?!” – it’s staying together as a routine though, I might do it at The Stand tomorrow and see how 200 people like it. That could sway whether it stays or goes. The tattoo joke failed completely, due to the low lighting state and the distance between stage and audience. I made Ed, sitting right down the front, verify what was on my knuckles, but the joke’s on me – I wrote it in pen that takes three days to fade, so for the rest of the week I’ll look like I have a proper prison tattoo.
I introduced the sock puppet, not even attempting the voice I’d planned to do – it was an effort just speaking normally, and I didn’t think my throat would take it. I did some of the planned material, and threw in an unrehearsed but well-received anecdote about an old work colleague who’d done time for armed robbery. It’s on the video, which will be up presently and linked here. When asked by the puppet “Why have I got “LOVE” written across my nose?” I explained that it was part of an in-joke that I’d decided not to pursue, since while I don’t mind being a cunt I don’t want to be a dick. I ended the set by saying that I’d intended to punch myself to the ground, but decided it wasn’t worth it just to get a cheap laugh. I believe the video cut out before I got into that part of the set though.
I really enjoyed the gig. It was, I think, mostly shambolic, and with far too many reliances on the words “it’s experimental” – but each got a laugh. I know my friends laughed, I could hear them, and people seemed to enjoy it. When I left the stage and walked right up to the back of the room to get water at the bar, the guy there shook my hand and his girlfriend patted my arm. I’ll take praise in whatever form, I’m just glad you thought I said something worth listening to. 🙂
With two of my friends working early, and with Sarah and I still brutally tired from last night (stop it, this is how rumours start), we decided to bail early and left before the headline act. Of course, what happened was, my friends left the room immediately, but Sarah got tied up saying bye to people, and by the time we left the show was restarting – so everyone was facing the stage when we both walked out the door (next to it) together. Instead of publicly denouncing the (alleged, but likely) rumours, I think I accidentally helped reinforce them. Haha 😀 Keep speculating, it’s funny. And quite flattering.
Halt tomorrow, at 8.30pm, and then straight down to The Stand to do a second gig. No idea what material to do, but at the time of writing I’ve been up and about for 60 of the past 67 hours and am going to bed now. Goodnight, I’ll leave you with another of those videos that made me genuinely convulse laughing.