This was the first of two gigs in The Shack, and my first weekend booking too. Given that I would be playing to a paying audience on a Friday and Saturday night, I thought it would be smart to do tried and tested material, practised and tightened, in order to make the best impression on audience, promoter, and fellow acts. These two gigs can, at best, be described as a learning experience.
Having spent the week in training at a call centre, my time was given over to that. It’s a fucking joke. The Work Programme, in effect a privately run Jobcentre to which the unemployed are ultimately referred, put people into their own call centre to answer their calls as “training” and for “experience.” I quickly discovered that my five weeks “training” is in fact a week’s training followed by four weeks of what can only be described as work, and all of it unpaid. I raised the issue that it should be paid at minimum wage, and after making my case to the instructor on Monday morning I was surprised to find that he agreed with me – who knew the Work Programme actually employed a human? I’m only doing this course because they suggested I should and, although the sinister implications of not doing it went unspoken, it was advocated in much the same way that the Nazis suggested to the Jews that they might like to take a short excursion by rail. The ethos is also essentially the same – Work Sets You Free, or – in German – Arbeit Macht Frei.
So, that has tied my week up, sitting in a classroom having some basic notes strung out for three days instead of one, and then listening in on calls in the actual call centre – not calls from companies we will be dealing with, and in truth the most pointless exercise I have particpated in for quite some time. Still, at least on their paper where I am reduced to a number I can be kept track of. And, on the plus side, they haven’t branded our NI Numbers into our forearms yet, or made us wear striped pyjamas. Yet.
I’d arranged to leave early on Friday, to make the multi-bus trip from Easterhouse back to Anniesland, from Anniesland to the city centre, and then on to Edinburgh. With tedious predictability, the broo managed to fuck up my claim by not processing a payment (due to the shift from JSA to Training Allowance), and so I had to make half a dozen phonecalls in the morning to arrange to go and pick up a cheque, cash it in the Post Office, and bank it. Seriously, man, this is life on the fucking dole: perpetual hoop-jumping. I have genuinely no idea how people can live with this as a lifestyle choice, it is demeaning, demoralising, and thoroughly depressing. I want to work, but I want work that is worth my while – I’ve been stung badly before, when two week’s paid work (and hard graft) ended up costing me £200 to do. Something has to change, I’m far from the only one being fucked by the system. I firmly believe that no man is truly incompetent until he works for the government.
The upshot of all this is that, by the time I got on the bus for Edinburgh carrying a bag full of my dog-eared notes, past routines, and so on, I didn’t read them and rehearse as intended, I just sort of fell deeply asleep. By the time I got to the gig I was still in that just-woken stupor, trying to function enough to go over my routine in my head. Pauline Goldsmith opened, I didn’t recognise her but some of her material caused me to remember I saw her at the first Bier Halle gig I went to. As there was only her, a break, and then me, I missed most of her set in order to prepare my own. There was an audience of twelve, four of whom left in the break, and another few came in. If memory serves, there was only one Scot in the whole crowd – four or six English folk, a couple of Italians, and others. Following compere Ray Bradshaw’s lead/advice, none of us used the mic as the audience were so close and it was such an intimate gig. He reckoned the mic would make us appear intimidating, and I think I effortlessly carry that off quite well as it is.
I opened with my Jesus line and my current “appearance” joke, which has a limited lifespan on account of the fact my hair is growing and skinhead jokes will only be relevant for another couple of weeks at most. It references the holocaust in a fairly tasteless way, so that went down as well as you might expect. Fuck it, at least I haven’t felt the need to resort to that proliferous and hack opening that permeates comedy at all levels, the “You’re probably thinking [some celebrity] has lost the battle with/had a kid with/mated with [a drug or consumable/another celebrity/an inanimate object]”. Blasphemy and the Holocaust – welcome!
My stuff about how I used to dress went kind of okay, though I got the impression that the Jobcentre references went over their heads. If you can afford to take a holiday in Edinburgh at the weekend you’re probably not used to scraping your existence together on a week-to-week basis, and everything else that comes with that. When I spoke of Buxton, and the culture shock that came with being a Glaswegian down there, I got mostly silence. A couple of notable exceptions – one being when I reference Greggs (it’s hack too, I hate it. I wish there was another generic proprietor of baked goods for the tracksuited masses. If you’re thinking you’d like to do comedy and think you have a brilliant routine about Greggs, just don’t bother. At this point, they should be paying royalties for how often their brand is mentioned at stand-up gigs.) Anyway, having achieved mostly silence for the majority of that set, I finished with my “Gladiators” bit. It was strange doing it without a mic (which I rely on for what passes as my John Anderson “impression”), but at least I told it correctly and in the right order (see previous blog). It went kind of alright, but that’s the best I can say. Kind of alright.
I recorded my set on my phone, unsure how it would come out but intending to time it anyway, and if I can get it onto my laptop, convert it to mp3 and upload it, I will link to it here. Ray took me aside after my set and suggested that “lines about ‘raining blows down on cunts’ heads’ are probably best suited to a Glasgow audience.” He has a point, and I need to work on my material to give it a more universal appeal. I’ve had better gigs.
John McGoldrick followed me, doing his tale of being accompanied by an idiot when going to see Frankie Boyle, which also references Greggs. See, there’s already plenty out there without me adding to it. I seriously need to try and change my point of reference in that joke. Stu and Garry headlined. I have heard of their legendary improv skills, but this was the first time I got to see them live (although I saw Garry compere Red Raw once) – very funny, and they got the whole audience, now numbering about twenty, involved.
The Shack is a new venue, not yet two months old, and a very nice set-up for a comedy gig (with clubbing afterwards). I can’t say if the audience size was representative, and given that it is predominantly cold and dark in the evenings and with Christmas on the horizon, hopefully numbers will swell in the new year. It runs on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday every week and is £6 entry. If you’re in Edinburgh for the weekend and fancy a laugh, it’s worth the trip. Those that came enjoyed it.
My next gig is here again tomorrow.