My memory of this gig is hazy, but my memory of this week is hazy. People say that alcohol has an adverse effect on the mind, but if that was true then…wait. Oh, right. In a significant change to the norm, I was drinking in clubs last Friday, and on Sunday, and on Tuesday, and on Thursday. The latter probably had the biggest part to play in affecting my chances of having a coherent gig – within five minutes of meeting my friend in the pub, she was topping up every sip of vodka I took from my glass with rum from hers. So the night started with me drinking two spirits from the same glass, and then it gets steadily vaguer from there. It ended with neat whisky and some foul-tasting thing called Unicum (not, as would suggest itself from the name, unicorn ejaculate), via numerous shots. It was a good night, or – as it became – morning. I slept/passed out for four hours, and was awake and up at 11am, still drunk, knowing I had a gig to prepare for.
I went and bought the first food I’d eaten in 24 hours, then tried to focus on assimilating all my various sets and bits. Normally this process isn’t hindered by the room’s inability to remain still, or by the brightness of the laptop screen, so it took a little longer than anticipated. I also had an appointment to keep in the late afternoon, despite the fact my body was convinced I would have a much better time if I would just let it lie on the couch for a couple of days. Somehow, I managed to leave the flat, made my appointment (where they confirmed that this diet is improving my health, hurrah), and then found myself in the vicinity of the Olympic Torch route. I hung around Gibson Street, using my phone to find what time it was expected to pass by. With no better plan, I perched on a wall for half an hour and waited to be thoroughly unmoved by the appearance of somebody brandishing some fire on a stick. I’m glad I saw it, because it’s something I doubt I’ll ever see again, and there were lots of families out and people happy and smiling, so I can’t begrudge them that. If you know your history, though, the Olympic Flame was first championed by the ruling right-wing party in that country as part of their huge propaganda movement that was disguising the bigoted evils and atrocities they were committing. Some things never change.
I walked down to The Griffin, arriving about forty minutes early. Having fucked my throat by doing shots all night, I sat drinking water and slowly transferred all the routines and material I’d emailed myself onto paper, in the form of short notes. There was a lot to remember, at a point when my brain was condemning what I’d done to it and firmly refusing to cooperate. Thankfully, much of the opening bit was lifted directly from when I compered The Halt last month, and I’d had that surprise gig at Vespbar two days previously, so some of my new stuff was reasonably well retained. As some of the newer acts were conversing, opener Iain Pollock turned to me and asked if I get nervous before I go on. I drew attention to the fact he was asking me this as I was pacing up and down…
I had three main sheets of paper jotted on – opening intro, second half intro, and a list of various ‘bits’ I could drop in at any point between acts. The opening intro has a handful of new jokes in it, part of the device I came up with to get people to cheer if anyone covers a dead joke by saying “that was new material.” The bulk of it, though, is just an introduction to the format of the night, what they can expect, some exercises in getting them cheering (and laughing), and an attempt to draw them in. I’m still not comfortable talking to folk directly and asking them questions, but after I’d done the first bit Geoff Gawler said I was the only one that could really do that, and so I made an effort to do it a few times after that just to make a start.
My introduction was, at best, shambolic. Well, it did the job – they laughed, I ad-libbed a fair bit of nonsense, some was funny, some really wasn’t. I dropped in my usual bit about hecklers I’ve seen recently, someone to my left shouted out, and so he got dubbed the evening’s Mental Heckler. I got a bit too carried away, asking them to admonish any comedian commenting on a toilet visit by punching them in the throat. My pal Rebecca has forever said I’m funniest when I’m angry though, and, aye, they laughed. Even though I meant it. Same with Greggs – if the comedian mentions that brand, please die a little inside. And then punch them in the throat. There was an issue with the mic stand, which refused to remain stable for any length of time, so after a brief fumble with that I got the first act on.
I didn’t time any of the acts – I figured there was enough leeway to give them a minute or two extra, as I could always curtail my own stage time. I also used their time to prepare for my next in-between bit, judging whether there was material that would tie in to theirs (which I then recited in my head) or whether it would be better to just get the next act straight on. Most of them were strong enough to just press right on, and a couple of lulls were largely caused by me faffing with the mic stand, which I eventually gave up on and discarded. It felt like I did quite a lot of material, and I have been genuinely surprised to realise just how much I now have – probably enough to do a good (funny) twenty minutes, if I had the wherewithal to seek out such spots. Think I’d rather make the leap to regular tens first though.
Keira McLean was on second, and had such a good gig that I asked the promoter quietly how many gigs she had done, knowing it wasn’t many. In a passing on of the compliment that was paid to me once, when I got back on stage after her I asked her directly. Five gigs. The audience were quite happy to applaud even more for that, and that made it really easy to bring Sandy Woods on. He’s got a lot of material based on Eurovision, X-Factor, and other similar shows, so I threw my ‘Glasgow Music’ bit in after him, tying it very broadly to a couple of members of the audience in an attempt to engage with them in the way a good compere should. Fight that fear. Leona Irvine closed the first half, a slight and softly-spoken girl with some unexpectedly dark jokes.
I spent the break chatting with my friends Kirsty and Kerry, neither of whom I’ve seen in ages (maybe not even this year to date), and I’m glad they surprised me by coming along. I glanced over my second half intro, which is my old ‘mid-life crisis’ jokes from my very first sets, a completely new bit (which I didn’t have time to do in the end), and I decided that I’d ask a couple of folk about their jobs before doing my bit that I think I refer to on here as my “handcuffs/broo” bit about a job I had. As back-up, I have three anecdotes about glassings that I’ve never told on stage, and I thought I could throw those in if required. It didn’t come to that.
Having spoken to an Academic Bookseller (I asked for clarification: he’s a bookseller to academics), we then found out that the guy to my left, the previously-dubbed Mental Heckler, is a naval man. I liked the image of him heckling battleships in wartime, but this reminded me of an anecdote I was told by a marine. This marine is a mutual friend of John McGovern’s and mine, and so in various previous discussions I have told McGovern he needs to tell it on stage. I’m not sure if he has, I think he might have once, but it fitted perfectly and I was knackered, still a bit drunk, and lazy, so I told it. I gave him credit for it, admitted before telling it that it wasn’t mine, and he knows I owe him a pint for borrowing it. That was an unforeseen start to the second half, but it came together well and I would say that I feel a bit more confident in talking to specific people. Small steps.
Chris Stephen, one of the co-promoters, opened the second half, cursing me for not allowing him to mention “a bakery that sells steak bakes and rhymes with Megs.” I seem to recall the mic stand had been moved, or had spun out of position to encroach on the corridor, because by the time I sorted it I’d lost momentum and did some more material. Most of my stuff can now be tied together into self-contained bits that have half a dozen or so laughter beats in them, which can be really useful for quickly building up laughs before moving on. Frazer Letham was on next, an act I’ve seen once or twice before, and that was the bit I considered the Home Stretch – from him, straight into Will Setchell’s introduction, and then Geoff. All of them strong enough to get good applause and let me just keep everything moving, without having to think. Sweet.
The second half concluded with a version of Mock The Week’s regular game “Scenes We’d Like To See”, and although I’d been briefed on the four topics and the presentation (on a screen at the back of the stage area), it was entirely unrehearsed. I called the acts back to the stage, and they managed to instinctively form themselves into two teams of four. I warned the audience that this could go either way – best end to a show ever, or jesus, what were they thinking?! Fortunately, it was the former.
I took a step back, with the mic stand resurrected by Geoff and now appearing to cooperate. The scenes were introduced on the screen, so I didn’t need a mic at this point, and each game came to a natural end – nobody forcing their ‘humour’ on and on, dragging the arse out it. It was Chris Stephen who got the final laugh of the night, and applause, for his suggestion that an unlikely thing to see backstage at the jubilee celebrations would be (*mimes snorting a line of coke*). With that the obvious end, I stepped through the ranks of the team in front of me, grabbed the mic, requested appplause for them, and for the bar staff, thanked everyone for coming, plugged the next gig (7th July, Flying Duck), and bade them goodnight. Job done.
Completely drained, but very happy with how it went – despite being a bit ropey at first. There were about forty folk in, a good-size audience for the room, and considering there were other music, comedy, and Olympic gigs on that night. I spoke to the navy guy and he’d had a good night, saying he’d definitely come along again, and on his way out the academic bookseller shook my hand. It was also a pleasant surprise to suddenly recognise my former guitar tutor standing in front of me waiting to say hello, and I think that’s what I like best about gigging with Iain – he is still in touch with people I used to know about or over a decade ago, brings them to gigs, and we get to catch up. That’s twice in two gigs that has happened.
The game show element worked extremely well this time, because it was a short, fast-paced, and funny add-on to the second half. It could easily have gone on longer, had there been more than four topics listed, but the old adage remains true: leave them wanting more.
I finally got home after having a couple of social drinks (despite having sworn off alcohol forever a mere eleven hours previously), and was inspired to create. So I sat up drafting and crafting a short and very specific piece of writing until I more or less fell asleep with the pen in my hand. Productive end to a good night. On which note, goodnight.
My next gig is a week on Tuesday, at The Stand in Edinburgh. First ever time performing there, at the request of Jo Caulfield, who has asked me to do my Jerry Generic character act. I still need to give serious thought to how best to approach that, but as there is an industrial club night I’ve started going to on that night in that city, I’m hoping some Sexy Industrial Fuckers will come along and support me before we go and dance lots. The rest of you are welcome too, I think it’s an 8.30pm start and five quid entry.