It has taken me a long time to get round to documenting this gig, as a combination of factors have finally drained me of any enthusiasm I once had. Not just for comedy either.
I was pleasantly surprised to be offered a spot in the SCOTY semi-final, going through on one of the “wild cards” allocated to comedians who didn’t progress from their heat but who entertained the promoter. I accepted immediately, channelling what little energy my day job hadn’t deprived me of into extending and rehearsing the set I had performed at my previous gig. I took the material I considered best, or liked most, and structured it into something that had a flow to it. Then I ran through it several times.
The pub basement has a small stage against the middle third of one wall, with fifty or so seats set out in front of it. To the right, as you look at the audience, there is an area of empty floor in front of the bar, and then – directly to the right – two booths masked by a large square pillar. The left hand side of the stage is a dancefloor, completely empty. The room felt too large for the size of audience it held, with some people sitting in the booths – behind the physical obstacles holding the building up – and with a wide, dead space to the left.
With so many turns on the bill, and after a late start, the competition was presented in two sections. With eleven acts to get through, this meant a relentless hour in the first half, and an equally gruelling fifty minutes in the second. Half of the acts weren’t particularly funny, and I include myself in that statement. Susie McCabe and Sarah Short both had good gigs, evidenced by the audience vote at the end, and I seem to remember John Walker and Allan Park doing well too. Kalonde Kasengele has been better at The Halt, but still managed to take second place. I found a new admiration for Teddy who, reacting to the lacklustre response of the audience, abandoned all of his material and just tore right into them. None of his headlining material got laughs, but they loved it when he called them cunts, accused one of being a potential rapist, and told them that he had no way of gauging how long he had done since the average laugh rate was zero.
The average rate wasn’t much higher than zero. I spent most of my set being stared at, people sitting near the front with their arms folded and bored expressions on their faces. If people are joining in, interrupting your flow, it can still be quite good fun – as you’ll find out if you play in Balloch – but when they look like they would rather be anywhere else, or even dead, that’s a tough crowd. I think it is fair to say that most of us struggled, and the night felt endured rather than enjoyed.
My abiding memory is that the people in the booths – half hidden by the architecture – liked my set best. I ended up largely playing to eight people and a pillar, the main thrust of the room eyeing me with bored disinterest. When they laughed hardest at my Glasgow Music bit, which fully illustrated the split, I ad-libbed something about this side being the music fans, and these guys were the ones who watched Top Of The Pops as presented by Jimmy Savile. For the record, that is and has been my one and only Savile joke, an impromptu response to the situation at hand. I’m sure everyone else with a Twitter account has already mined every last joke they can get from him.
Someone else on the bill – surprisingly, only one person – had already mentioned Savile, then asked “too soon?” My own thought is, too fucking late. He’s been dead a year. What does it matter to him what anybody thinks of him now?
I jokingly wrote later that, for Halloween, “I’m going out dressed as a zombie Jimmy Savile. What’s the worst that can happen?” That was posted for my own amusement though, the funny part (in my mind) being the casual advance dismissal of potential consequences.
I was grateful for the gig, for the chance to appear in a semi-final (a label I can now put on any publicity, and almost certainly won’t), but it was hard-going and – especially as I strived to use my best material and put in the effort to rehearse it well – utterly demoralising. Added to all the other demoralisation recently, and I feel exhausted. My spirit feels thoroughly broken. It’s not uncommon either – this recent article about Dave Brown of The Mighty Boosh covers it well.
I don’t have any gigs lined up – none offered to me and I haven’t applied for any. I haven’t written anything usable in months and months, save the occasional one-liner on facebook. I have continued to condense my life into a series of pithy one-liners and observations, but most of it is too personal to use any time in the next decade. Sometimes I think that if I was nakedly honest about everything, then I might be hilarious. Too private to do that though, and even my misguided loyalties are too strong to betray. Instead, I have ideas for a short film that I want to write. It has been mooted for well over a year now, though, so don’t expect to see it any time soon. I also wanted to get somewhere with the screenplay I wrote (and severely rewrote) three years ago, but I read recently that Peter Serafinowicz has something similar planned. He also has the money and the contacts and the experience to get it made, so that’s that fucked. I would quite like to try and develop a basic character or two into something that works on stage, though, and I might try experimenting with that for now.
I’m not saying that I am abandoning stand-up, just that I am not pursuing it with anything like the vigour I once did. As I write that, I am reminded of something a friend said to me once, the second time I met her and as we were working on a short film together. I wrote it down at the time for posterity, because I liked it a lot, and because I think it was extremely perceptive for someone I barely knew. She said: “It’s a good thing you can laugh at your own jokes, because otherwise there would be a lot of awkward silences.”
That’s how it often feels.
As previously on this blog, when I have nothing of my own to promote, I’m going to leave you with a link to other comedy made or presented by some of my friends. Please watch the pilot for Scot Squad on Thursday 29th November on BBC 2, it was created by Joe Hullait (who appeared in my short film Jerry Generic) and stars James Kirk, Darren Connell, and Chris Forbes. It also has Jack Docherty from Absolutely.
Other than that, please do keep supporting local live comedy – without an audience, there is no point.