The other night I did a gig in a provincial town that will remain nameless and so hopefully blameless.
Three comics in a car, Ian Hawkins, Andy Storey and myself, leaving Clapham Junction to head through the heavy London traffic, trying to keep road rage to a minimum despite the number of numpties on the roads (I’d be arrogant not to include myself in that number, but, being me, I’m quite happy to have a go at all the others). Banter was the usual, where we’ve gigged recently, discussions about comedy and attitudes, the odd bit of circuit juicy gossip (either we are out of the loop or there is currently very little gossip with much succulent, fruity, sugar water to whet our appetites. Or possibly our tastes are now so numbed that we are bored by anything less than a real life “Aristocrats” situation).
We got to the town in good time but didn’t know what the venue was, so served ourselves a Waitrose supper. Mine was tomatoes on the vine (I eat them like apples and attempt not to cover my front with them, sometimes successfully) and crisps. You can’t get much more balanced than that.
Then we headed to a student bar and played joke writing games with news articles. I find it remarkable that three of us were able to come up with so many joke ideas in such a short time by playing around with the ideas, and yet, sitting down to write, sometimes feels like drawing water from a stone. Although, the sitting down part might be a part of the problem. But it really is true how much easier it is to write when having fun with friends, and we had nice lines after every phrase (and both those boys are fine joke writers).
The message then came through with the location for the gig. Which was lucky, because we were a long way to have come for a Waitrose supper. We made our way to the venue, and I confess, upon walking in, we were somewhat less than inspired. We were pointed in the direction of the room, and it was at the back of a small, trendy bar, in an even smaller room that was not even really separated from the main bar. This would be an “interesting” gig.
We’ve all been there, turn up to a gig and find it is shit – poorly set up, poorly lit, poorly advertised, poorly whatever. These gigs are great to do to let you know what to avoid (and I do advise any new comic out there to set up their own night, at the very least it will give you an appreciation of what is needed to run a decent night). However, we put on a brave face, the promoter had yet to arrive, so we went for a walk. It would be fine. Possibly.
When we returned to the bar, you will be surprised to read that we were surprised ourselves, and very pleasantly so. The promoter had taken the back room and made it into an intimate snug, with proper mic, a stage, a backdrop, proper seating. To be honest, I cannot fault the promoter for doing his best to set up a decent gig. It was clear that there would still be sound bleed, but really not that much. And best of all, the gig was only going to be an hour long, so we’d get back to London in decent time.
However, while the room was set up ok, there was still one tiny problem, of the sort that, had it not been so tiny, would not have been a problem. Audience. When the gig started, there were a total of 5, and even in a small room like that, this was just too small. Not only that, four of them were sitting right at the back of the room and half of them were not even facing the stage. When Ian went on, one then started to text on her phone. Joy oh joy.
Ian handled it as a pro, pointing her out in a gentle but firm way without losing the audience (as the word audience is an uncountable noun, maybe 5 cannot be described as audience, more like distracted passengers of a battered Ford Mondeo, driving through the post apocalyptic emptiness of a yesteryear circus and gawping at the freakshow put on specifically for them…). Then it was Andy’s turn.
Unfortunately, four of our Mondeo crew were not really there for the comedy, they just happened to be in the room when it started, so when Andy had finished, and just as it was my turn to go on stage, they left. Then there was one. Long haired Nigel. A nice guy, but come on, I can’t perform to one can I?
But the show must go on, and the promoter made it clear that what was wanted was for me to deliver my 15 minutes to Nigel. At this stage, the rest of the bar had started to liven up. Throughout the show, they had had music playing, and now it had started to attract chatting groups. So, not only was I performing to one, but there was the added distraction for him and me. Great.
I therefore opted for starting strong, chatting to our boy there, and then swiftly moving to the structure of a poem (the Fantasy – https://cajuput.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/the-fantasy/ ). However the Fantasy is an erotic poem, that I aim at the ladies in the audience, and part of the humour is the audience’s reaction to the girls’ reactions and the guys’ reactions. I’ve delivered it live well over a hundred times and, by its nature, every time is different. Well, this was very different yet again. It went down well, but I really did wonder what I was doing up there. And I wasn’t even the headline act.
That reason, though, was pressed into my hand by the promoter as I left the stage. Yes, this was a paid gig. So, for all its faults (and, despite the cash, had we known beforehand we’d not have done it), they got a lot right. To my mind, the blame lies with the venue. They’d paid good money for us to go there, they’d got a promoter who did a good job of running the night, but hadn’t attracted in an audience to capitalise on us. No flyerers by the door, no notices on the windows. What a waste.
But hey, those type of gigs do make the good ones so much better, even just for contrast!