Yesterday was one of those days that started off reasonably unassuming and rapidly ascended into the stratosphere of awesome.
It began as normal, with my upstairs neighbour clattering about in her kitchen (above my bedroom), running the washing machine as she does every day at some unholy hour. She either sets it to the Rattle-So-Loudly-It-Can-Be-Heard-In-Space setting, or is instead attempting to drill all the way to the earth’s core using an underpowered masonry drill. Either way, the noise is loud, grating, and intermittent enough to banish any hope of sleep for two straight hours, by which time it feels too late to sleep again. So I got up and necked a can of wideawake juice, a kid-on and cheaper alternative to the crimson bovine brand.
I messaged Richard from Uberbyte about my imminent short film release, for the soundtrack of which he has graciously allowed the use of his track “Soma“, and happened to mention an idea that has been in the pipeline for ages. Three weeks ago, I woke up with one line in my head and wrote it out as a short sketch script, the first work I’ve done on it in months, but writing him the short-form of the idea suddenly unleashed a wave of creativity – ideas left, right, and centre for things we can do, people and places we can get involved, one-liners, visual jokes, possible cameo roles. I scribbled and scribbled, jotting notes as fast as I could, full of enthusiasm. I was genuinely disappointed that I had to stop to go out and gig, preferring to capitalise on my sudden burst of inspiration, but settled with just making my notes as full as I could before having to run out the door.
The gig had started when I arrived, and co-promoter Debbie Overell was on the door. She warned me that it was packed, and I couldn’t decide if that was sarcasm or not. Walking in, the first thing to hit me was the heat, followed by the realisation that “packed” was an understatement – the place was standing room only, and I had to resort to standing against the wall by the door. I don’t really like that as a place to be, because people look at the size of me and presume I’m a bouncer. Or SIA-accredited Door Steward, as I believe they now are…
Paul McDaniel was in mid-flow, one of two acts I was especially looking forward to seeing, and his self-deprecating abstract philosophy and absurd poetry was going over well. He was followed by newcomer Mark Jennings, who was on at the Halt recently, and whose material has potential. He was unfortunately pre-empted on his final punchline by a vocal audience member. The third act was Sandy Woods, but with so many new acts on the bill, and with two of them electing to wear similar t-shirts with similar haircuts, I find it hard to remember who did what. Fourth act was Iain Pollock, another newbie and very funny filth-monger, who shares a name with someone I went to school with. He had brought a crowd with him, and had a great gig. The fifth act will go unnamed, for freezing and forgetting what he wanted to say the moment he got on stage, and then ending with a series of jokes that have been doing the rounds online and by text for years. It was only his second gig though, and so he remains anonymous in the hope he improves.
The absence of ill Struan Logan meant I was brought forward to open the second section, and I used the break to remove the empty chairs from directly in front of the stage, since it had made the previous performers look like they were penned in. I have a habit of standing as far forward as I can, and didn’t want to look like I was behind a fence. Chris Stephen, compering, had settled most of the audience down before bringing me on, but there was still some audible chatter in the room. I began with my current opener, and was immediately interrupted by a girl sitting to my left, who asked her pal “Did he just say ‘good evening whatever?'”
“I said good evening wherever,” I corrected, adding that “Comedy works best when you pay attention.”
This promptly shut everyone in the room up, to my surprise, and is definitely a line I’m keeping.
A new one-liner (which is old, but I’ve only just decided to use it) followed, then ad-libbed embellishments to retellings of most of the jokes from my recent sets. I held their attention, and got sufficient laughter, although I think I fucked up my final punchline. That could just be unfamiliarity because I haven’t ended on that story recently, or it could be because I preceded it with a brief mention of Buxton that I could feel lost them. It was a weak end to a set that I felt went well.
Sandy Boutell followed me, his deadpan and measured delivery tightly honed. He got a couple of applause breaks, and was the other act I was looking forward to seeing tonight. Gary Somers came next, again blurred in my mind owing to the high percentage of new acts, and Jamie Rolland closed the half with his trademark hat- and mask-based impressions.
The final section was a gameshow, in keeping with the other gigs the promoters run, and I was asked to participate in a version of Play Your Cards Right. There were three rounds, and by the end of the first most of the audience had lost interest. This wasn’t helped by the host (again unnamed, in the hope of improvement) – too loud, very enthusiastic, but with little self-awareness, and who involuntarily mimicked the era of the 70s gameshow he was hosting by quickly objectifying every pretty/stunning/beautiful female on stage with him (two assistants, two contestants) and addressing one of them as “darling.” It felt like he was one step away from awarding prizes based on bra size. His apparent inability to say very much that was funny didn’t endear him to many, and the best that can be said is that he was extremely enthusiastic.
Having witnessed the first round, in which the volunteer contestants were also acts – competing against two comedians – it was painful. “You could win fantastic prizes!” the host shouted, and the guy next to me said “Yeah, like the chance to go home.” When I was on stage for my round, the girl directly in front of me mimed putting a gun to her head and pulling the trigger, and I empathised. It’s little things like that, subtle hints that you’re losing the crowd, that are worth picking up on. A Twilight question led him to “sense some tension in the room”, and it was a pity that he didn’t sense the palpable apathy instead.
The “higher/lower” aspect of the game was maintained, but instead of playing cards there were a series of unquantifiable statements – some of them could be assigned a numerical value (Johnny Vegas’s cholesterol level; the number of horses to have committed suicide in the Grand National), but some of them made little sense (something about Mr Blobby and a vibrator). I eventually sat down on the nearest seat, as did Mark Jennings, and watched as the host chatted away to the two female contestants. It took him a while to realise. When he demanded that I get back up, he asked if the next card would be higher or lower, and I said “yes, definitely. It will definitely be higher or lower” – this had the unexpected effect of making him double up with laughter, and it was good to see that at least one person was enjoying themselves. The highlight of the night, undoubtedly, was the contestant who responded to the card “Your desire to go on facebook right now.”
“Lower,” she said, “Because nothing is greater than my desire to go on facebook right now.”
There was no faulting the logic, and it indicated a problem with basing an inherently numerical game on a subjective statement.
The final card, as read by the host, said “Jersey Shore Are Arseholes”.
“That’s not what it says,” I pointed out. I only take part in these games to have fun and make mischief.
“Jersey Shore And Are Arseholes,” he read.
“That’s not what it says either.”
“Jersey Shore And Arseholes,” he read correctly.
“That makes no sense,” I helpfully advised.
“It’s just a basic conjunction,” added Ross McGlashin.
“Essentially, your grammar is fucked.” The host buckled again, this time at my use of the word “essentially.”
I like the idea of the gameshow format, provided it doesn’t detract from the evening as a whole. This did. I don’t mean any disrespect to the promoters, because they work hard to get and run gigs, and have taken the welcome step of doing something different. They are able to pull in audiences, and persevere with the format and the shows when many other nights and concepts have started up and fallen quickly by the wayside. Like all of us, they are still learning, and as the game changes every time, hopefully they will spot the flaws in this one. To my mind: one round would have been plenty, no assistants, and (if avoiding playing cards) statements with known or commonly-attributable and less subjective values. I’ve asked if I can host the next one, whichever game they choose, and they have kindly agreed, so maybe my perspective will change from the other side. The same host previously adjudicated at the Halt with some success, and I suspect it’s a matter of matching the right game with the right person.
The night took a further unusual turn when, sitting chatting to Ross and others afterwards, the three girls at the table next to us (the gun-mimer; one of the contestants) started dancing while alternately wearing a full-head wolf mask. I asked the guy between us what the story was, and he told me he’d picked it up that day for a theatre show they’re doing. My background being theatre, I expressed interest, while Jamie Rolland joined the girls and shared his wrestling mask, balaclava, and alien head mask with them. It was suitably out of the ordinary that I took some photos, figuring that it might be handy to have proof for the blog. It was only when one of them leaned past me to get the accompanying wolf gloves from her bag that a flicker of recognition hit me.
It turned out that I knew all three of them, from the amateur theatre groups we were involved with in Hamilton in the late 90s: that IS my background in theatre. I hadn’t seen any of them since, and we’re all twelve years older now, but I could still remember some names and immediately recognised others. There was plenty of reminiscing about the productions we’d worked on and the people we all knew, or know. An extremely pleasant end to what had already been a remarkable and enjoyable evening. They are all friends of Iain Pollock, who is not the same person as his namesake from my schooldays, but who did bring a few familiar faces with him. Cool.
My next gig is a week on Tuesday, on the 1st of May, when I will be compering at the Halt. There is a page here with further details. It ought to be a good night, and my idea is to tell stories and my favourite jokes rather than using my own stuff – planning/hoping to just be entertaining, and let the acts be funny. After that, my next gig might well involve hosting a gameshow somewhere. I look forward to it. Meanwhile, I’m off to translate some scribbled notes into a short screenplay.