I got home from Dram/The Stand in the early hours of the morning, then looked out my spare saltire and wrote “F-CK THE TORIES” across its centre in black ink. I had decided that merely clicking “like” on facebook pages is no longer enough, and that I should join my first protest march in my adult life. I previously protested against the closure of my primary school, but as I was in p3 or p4 at the time my knowledge of the politics was non-existent.
Twenty-something years later, sick of the constant cuts being made by a Governement that nobody in my country voted in, I realised that the time has come to do something more than simply write FUCK THE TORIES across the back of my shirt. After five hours sleep or so, I found myself in the centre of Glasgow with a few friends and acquaintances and approximately 2500 or 3000 others, marching against what has become known colloquially as the “Bedroom Tax.”
Not only did it give me a sense of civic pride, to be amongst so many of my passionately-caring countrymen, I think it is my – and our – civic duty to protest and stand against those whose actions affect us all (or at least have the capacity to do so – you yourself are one unfortunate accident away from requiring disability liviing allowance, one further downturn away from unemployment) – especially as Scotland did not vote for the governing party in anything like the numbers that justify them ruling over us. Fuck the Tories.
Above: John McGovern and me in George Square, listening to speakers introduced by Janey Godley.
I was asked ten days ago if I would put together a comedy bill for my aunt’s friend’s snooker hall. I knew that I would only do it on my own terms – this would not be an open-spot free-for-all, a gig for inexperienced umm-ers and ah-ers to stumble through brutally underworked sets. I would need a budget, I would book pro or semi-pro acts, and I would ensure a tight running time. There would be a small number of decent comedians on (and me), enough to be funny but not enough to drag the arse out it and make it a long night. If it went well, I figured, then maybe they will run it a second time. It needed to go well. If it runs again, satisfactorily and with some regularity, then I may look at opening it up to one or two open spots a night.
Having negotiated a budget, I had to decide how to split it. I sought advice from a couple of very different local promoters, both successful in their own ways. One told me that on a Saturday night, on a bank holiday (Easter) weekend, during the Comedy Festival, I should tell them thanks but no thanks. His alternate suggestion was to give two-thirds of it to a good compere and the other third to a decent closer (and he told me to refer to them as a closer and not a headliner.)
The other promoter told me that at the gig he runs, which is nearer in level to the gig I would be putting on, he splits the money equally between compere and closer. I sounded out the compere and closer that I had in mind – being my gig, running to my design, I would be hand-picking the acts – and agreed a fee with each. This left me enough to pay all three ten-spots something too, which I had hoped to do from the start. From my long experiences in theatre, film, and other low/no budget industries, I am sick of being asked to work for nothing and I very much dislike asking that of others. Even in comedy, where it is expected that anyone doing less than 15/20 minutes will do it without fee and without complaint, I wanted to make sure that I remunerated people for their time.
This doesn’t make particularly good business sense, paying people who don’t expect to be paid, and if the gig runs again I will probably juggle the budget and see how else I can work it. However, as a first gig, I took it for the experience first and foremost, as it is something very different to my usual roles.
Having sent out a very detailed missive to all the acts, who were thankfully and surprisingly free that evening, I had confirmed attendance earlier in the week. It was on the Saturday morning that I got the text I didn’t want to get – one of the tens was ill, and asking if I could possibly find someone to take his place.
I had tried to balance the line-up by having a decent and friendly compere, a funny musical/character act, a female comedian (personally, funny is funny regardless of gender, but it would be ignorant to pretend that the stereotypes don’t exist), and a ten-spot who has a markedly different style to mine. The pressure was on to find an act who was consistently funny, with an assured delivery, able to address what may be a tough crowd (and certainly not an everyday comedy crowd), and available later that same day. I tried a dozen names, as did the ill act, but everyone was booked, unwell , or otherwise busy. Eventually, it was suggested that I get my other ten to do twenty – and thankfully, he agreed.
The other reason that I hadn’t wanted to book open spots – apart from a desire not to subject an audience to a succession of people dying in front of them, only for the gig to go badly and never be run again – was that I feared precisely this: pull-outs. That was why I wanted to pay my acts too, to deter them from cancelling. It nearly worked, and had I not found a replacement (in the eventual form of an extended set from the other ten) I know that this act would have come along as booked and despite not being well.
It was a small crowd, in the enclosed bar at the back of the snooker hall, partly because their 2am licence means that people usually come along later than the 9pm start time. Nevertheless, they seemed to enjoy it, and this was confirmed by the owner/manager in a positive text the following day. I had Obie compering, then twenty from Dogshit Johnson and, due to a later start, I did ten to close the first half. The second half saw Obie do a bit, followed by Anna Devitt. She won the “Best New Scottish Comedian” award at the Scottish Variety Awards earlier this week, and had a done a run of her own shows in the days previous. One of them was reviewed, with her being referred to as a successor to Frankie Boyle.
I was, as a I had expected to be, the weak link. I think I lost them from the very start, my opening line of “good evening wherever” seeming less satirical and more disdainful. In a post-gig conversation, Obie told me I just kind of went through my set without performing it. He may be right. Frankly, having had no proper sleep for weeks now, having spent the day walking about town, while trying desperately to think of and contact replacement acts who may be available, and then getting to the gig on a magical mystery replacement bus service (being first directed to the wrong bus by a Scotrail Fuckwit who couldn’t differentiate between Neilston and Newton on the departure board), there is a very good chance that I did just go through the motions with my set.
After heading to the 13th Note for a post-gig drink, a good-natured ribbing saw Obie accept a £20 bet from Dogshit that he will do a full hour of new material at his Edinburgh show this year. Discussing it in the next pub, after Dogshit and Anna had left, Obie mentioned that he was going to see if he could find someone to co-write it with him. I immediately volunteered. It just seemed too serendipitous that, after professional writer Steven Dick told me last night that the key to writing for people is to write for people, less than 24 hours later an opportunity presented itself for me to do just that. Besides which, I like the concept that Obie has come up with and think it holds a lot of potential.
I also find it a lot easier to write when someone else has provided a basic idea or storyline. It took me a full year to realise the script for my short film Jerry Generic, whereas I can write a pantomime in about a fortnight.
Thinking about our conversation on the walk home, I wrote three new bits in my head – and stopped at a bus stop at one point to jot down as much of it as I could. I knew if I waited until I got home and onto the laptop then some of it would be lost. One is a tie-in to the anti-rape rape joke that opens the short film, for when I develop that as an act for the stage. Another is an introduction that addresses an inherent part of my character which prevents me from talking about myself in any real depth. The third, I forget now but I wrote it down somewhere as I knew I would forget.
I also learned from a friend that the Scottish Government had discussed Derek Mackay MSP’s retweet of something I wrote on Twitter. There will definitely be a follow-up to that blog, once I have caught up on writing this one and had time to research some of the points I want to make. A quick look online for photos of the day’s march found one, not of my self-censored and publication-friendly flag, but of the shirt I have been regularly wearing since the general election. Photo below.
Tonight was also the minus-three-degrees-centigrade transition into Summer Time. Once I got home and had written all I wanted to, I headed to bed – tomorrow I am hosting a gig at The Tall Ship, for which I have done zero preparation.
Above: One of at least four photos taken of my shirt, and three people had the courtesy to ask my permission first. They got my best side.