I’ve got a backlog of blogs to write, three to be precise, and so you may find these recollections mercifully concise for a change. We’ll find out together.
When I made my short film, one of the first people I sent the link to was Jo Caulfield, via the medium of Twitter. She has a section of her blog – linked to in the appropriate section above – in which guest writers list Things They Have Learned As Comedians. Everything I have learned, or certainly the main hack topics/things that irk me, were written tightly into a short film script satirising the genre. Jo loved it enough to say so, kindly retweeting the link with added praise, and she invited me to perform the character at her next monthly Comedy Collective show. I leapt at the chance, not least because it entailed performing at the illustrious Stand venue in Edinburgh, and they haven’t yet booked me otherwise.
There were issues to iron out (spoiler alert) – I couldn’t very well hang myself at the end of the piece, and I would need to engineer the Brokeback Mountain and heckler jokes by planting stooges – but these could be dealt with in due course, and I had a month in which to work out the details. My first port of call was my good friend Marion, one of the cleverest and funniest people I know, and I sought her advice on an appropriate ending. Her immediate, unhesitant response was to suggest ending the set with a suicide caused by a peanut allergy. This ties back in to the conversation we had before my first ever gig, which led to one of the first jokes I did on stage, and so with that heritage and its inherent simplicity, the issue was resolved. I knew I asked her for a reason, and credit where it’s due.
With a month available in which to rewrite and hone the script, I didn’t. Time was eaten by my newly acquired social life, drinking, partying, and dancing with the Industrial Fuckers I met only a few months ago but who have become friends, and as well as various club nights in Edinburgh and Glasgow we also went on a weekend trip to Preston to see the band SAM. Fun times, but hardly conducive to writing this particular script. I left it to the last possible moment, rehearsing on the day of the gig and with only a slight inkling of how to work the peanut death in at the end. It required a slight juggling of paragraphs, to account for the fact there was no staged encore, and I asked my friend John to wear a checked shirt I provided, since there was nobody in the audience already wearing one. I had thought about asking someone to heckle me, giving them a copy of the script to follow, but decided to omit it completely instead for ease.
The bill was impressive – Jojo Sutherland, Vlad McTavish, Keir McAllister, and others – and so I knew my friends would find them funny, having warned them in advance that my set was deliberately unfunny and that that is the joke. I’d toyed with delivering the set in a bid to get laughs, but figured it would be more of a challenge to deliver it deadpan, aim for no laughter, and let that be the gag. The night was being recorded in its entirety for BBC Radio Scotland too, and was reasonably busy. I was on in the second half, and so I was able to sit with my friends during the first half before donning my ‘costume’ – a jacket, shirt, and glasses.
Someone had the good sense to suggest that the compere introduce me as a character act, because everyone else was having such good gigs it would have taken a while to cotton on that mine was a deliberate attempt at satire. In truth, the audience was so receptive to the preceding acts that I was a little saddened that I couldn’t go out with my bankable material and have a great gig myself – instead, I risked silence and alienation. I had prepared an edit of the intro track from the film for my appearance, on the recommendation of Chris Grady, and repeated some of the ‘psyching myself up’ stuff that begins the film.
The set itself went kind of okay – some of the stuff got laughs, some of it got a solitary laugh, some of it got complete silence, and the mention of an infamously-missing child got disapproving noises – despite the fact I include her name to have a go at those who perpetually refer to her in their sets, and not to have a go at her/her parents myself.
With such a strong line-up of pro comics, I had worried that I may come across as an arrogant open spot having a go at successful comedians. When I expressed that fear backstage I was told that I am an arrogant open spot having a go at successful comedians, but it was without animosity and with genuine interest in and respect for what I’d achieved with the video. Some had seen it, some hadn’t, but all of them complimented me afterwards on the set that I did – a huge relief, and also just good to know that they liked it.
Jo’s husband/manager was extremely complimentary, inviting me back any time I want to try and develop the character, and telling me that if I can make it work as comedy for lay people as well as a satire for those familiar with the targets it hits, then I will be doing something that nobody else in the UK is doing. That’s a major headfuck, to think that I may have something genuinely unique on my hands – even if it doesn’t come off, at least somebody has seen potential in me and in my work, and that is incredibly gratifying, humbling, and terrifying. I couldn’t immediately think of any way forward with it, since it was only ever written as a short film and that has been done, but then I woke up the next day with a clear idea of a way to adapt some of the stuff and make it work (hopefully) – so I will definitely endeavour to go back there and try it again, but with changes.
My set was recorded, with everything else, for the radio broadcast, and I have requested a copy of my set for reference. Whether that happens or not, I live in hope. It would be useful to have, to hear exactly what hit and what missed, so that I can use that as my basis for making changes.
Meanwhile, Chris told me days previously that if I could rip the film audio then he would put it out in the Roughcuts podcast that the Comedy Unit is currently producing. I sent them (and him, as it turns out) some sketches about four years ago, when I first determined to be a comedy writer. All were rejected, cutting dead that year’s resolution, and so again it is a great compliment that my work has now been specifically requested for inclusion in some of their output. Subject to being edited down, and making the final cut, it is nevertheless a great privilege to have been asked.
So, having thought my work on this character ended when the film went online, I now see openings to develop it and try and make it work as a stage persona. It’s a matter of putting the work in now, and I fully intend to. Until then, it’s back to the usual material…