I realised on the drive back from tonight’s gig that I’d not written a gig report for a while. I think because my gigs have become so infrequent and I’ve been struggling with them (more on this later) I’ve not felt like writing them, and also I’ve just been so tired. Not tonight though, tonight I had 2 packs of Real McCoy’s on the way home, beef flavour as well, there was no dicking around. So with the equivalent of 3 Sunday lunches in my stomach (in crisp form) I write to you, dear reader, now.
So, some background, a few months ago I applied for a load of gigs and was met largely with a wall of silence. Then I got a call from a girl in Manchester asking me if I wanted to do a gig run by the radio station XSManchester. With literally no other gigs in my diary I decided I’d do it as my last gig, certainly in the immediate future, possibly forever.
If you’re a regular reader you’ll know I have a passionate yet brutal voice in my head that tells me that everything I do is shit (or, when it’s feeling more imaginative, a bag of balls). It’s a horrible self doubt that means I tend to see gigs as a collection of my own misjudgements, failures and inperfections rather than what they actually are. I can talk about it but I generally can’t think like that with any honesty. I’ve found gigging, or rather feeling confident enough to get gigs hard, really hard, occasionally I kick myself up the arse and book one or two and that’s been the way for a couple of years, a gig a month to keep me regular (gig fibre).
Interestingly this doesn’t effect me as much when I do solo shows (show here – first 15 are shit, rest is better) – I think it’s because it’s not a shared bill so the insecurity about being the worst doesn’t have a chance, instead I reconcile myself to the fact that they’ve made the mistake of coming to see me and me alone and well, they’ve only let themselves down. Anyway so the gig.
So gamely I turned up and realised very quickly that it wasn’t a normal gig but instead a heat of Manchester Comedian Of The Year judged by the previous year’s winner, a respected promoter and comedian Justin Lee Collins (more later). It was an odd gig. In retrospect I shouldn’t have done it. It was the day before my Nan’s funeral which I was cut up about and while I did okay the drive home was punctuated by tears and a fair whack of self pity. I’d left early as I knew there was a 4 hour drive early the next morning. But I thought nothing of it.
Fast forward to this week and I get a call saying I’ve been selected as a wildcard for the final. So tonight I found myself in the final of Manchester Comedian Of The Year. I was drawn to go on first and, in a room without a compere did 9 minutes and tried my best to punch up the room and, at the bare minimum, get people looking at the right direction at the stage. It was, I think okay in difficult circumstances, probably a gig I’d have been better compering than performing on, but considering I was opening I though, I’ve taken one for the team, sit back and relax knowing you’re out for the count.
It was tricky doing an opening set in a cold room for such a short period of time because I found myself falling onto the least nuanced of my material and trying to compere a bit (very light touch) to draw people in. Frustratingly I rushed and also found myself doing that dickhead thing of self-referencing the challenge (a cardinal no-no). Anyway I finished up and that was that.
It was a really strong lineup and so when it got to the end I drained my cup of tea grabbed my keys and got ready to go. Apart from I came third. It caught me a bit off guard, or rather, threw me a bit. I had mentally calculated that I’d come fifth or sixth at the gig so went up massively apprehensively, a little unsure (part of me wondering if they’d made a terrible error, maybe added something up incorrectly). I think I probably looked like an arrogant twat, nervously going up to say thanks and then fucking off as quick as possible, but my head was reconciled to the fact that I’d taken the bullet and like a lame horse would live out the rest of the gig in relative obscurity before a bolt gun to the head and off to the local abattoir.
I remember hearing a Daniel Kitson bit where he asks a girl to dance and she says yes and he talks about how he is unprepared for this eventuality. Having always done badly at competitions (and never even beaten the gong let alone win a gong show) I was unprepared. It was a bizarre feeling to have your inner monologue subverted by clapping and the promise of a £50 cheque (my career earnings now stand at £87.90).
Two things happened afterwards.
Firstly a woman from the audience in her late 50s (maybe early 60s) came up to me and, without batting an eyelid said “I think you were good enough for fifth at best”. She then informed me that my 70s TV Star song was terrible and would offend people before telling me a joke I should use instead (she’d seen it on facebook) about Jimmy Saville fixing it for someone to go camping with Gary Glitter. She also told me that I was mostly not funny and that I should keep trying.
Secondly I ended up having a conversation with Justin Lee Collins. During my set I’d made a joke at his expense (which I regret retrospectively, but he took with good humour) and so when he came over and was incredibly complimentary of my set (as he had been in the heats) I was really surprised. We should also remember that if anyone tells me they like something I’m doing I tend not to believe them (from the voice in the back of he head). But we got chatting.
So, a bit of history here, JLC started as a standup before turning to TV presenting and doing musical theatre. He was very successful but then in 2011 was convicted of harassment. I know there will be people reading this who at this point will be thinking “oh my god”. We chatted and I was struck by a few things.
Firstly that we live in a society that lets justice be served yet never forgives. I have a personal view that, most of the time, crime is a consequence of circumstance, situation and history. I have a friend with a conviction for drug dealing and he is not a bad person, he made a mistake, but he learnt from it and moved on – he is a person of humility, good humor but also someone who recognises his own error – something that is admirable and I am proud to call him a friend (he also knows lots about the nicknames for drugs – one is called Charlie, it might be the same as Beak but is different to Grass, Green and X – I literally have no idea what any of this means). If we judge people based on their mistakes rather than how they learnt from their mistakes what kind of society are we.
Secondly that online the comments directed at people from the anonymity of an avatar and a fake user name are vitriolic and uncontrolled. Social media has been such a good thing in so many ways but it fuels misinformation, distrust and turns people into people they’re not. I am sure I have tweeted things that are incorrect, taken aim at politicians for things they’ve done wrong (in my perception), but it is not a dialogue I’m having, it’s not a fact finding mission, it’s shouting in the dark. The problem is in a kingdom where outrage fuels interest and fact is flexible and often disputed how do you break that cycle without leaving a dark land of trolls to consume itself.
Finally that people can change. The JLC I met this evening was polite, humble, interested, honest and accepting. The cynic out there will say it might be a front. But if you do believe that then what does that say about humanity? What does it say about our ability to change and move on? What does it say about us, are we cynics or optimists?
I like to think that people can change, learn from their mistakes and grow as people. If I don’t believe that then I also can’t believe that I can change (unless I’m a massive hypocrite), can’t say goodbye to my self-critical voice in my head and grow and become the person I want to be.
I’m conscious that this has got overtly moral and questioning of our/my beliefs/attitudes, so I’ll finish with this, as I walked back to my seat tonight after finding out I was the THIRD BEST COMEDIAN IN MANCHESTER*, feeling slightly better about myself, a man shook my hand and said “lucky there mate”.
*This is a fact**
** Of those who entered***
***Not everyone entered****
****Noone seems to have noticed I am a) not from Manchester and b) don’t live in Manchester.