the turning point…

“Have an absolutely phenomenal week,” wished Andy Zaltzman at the end of last week’s Bugle. “It could be the big one…this could be the turning point. So, don’t fuck it up.”

And for once, I didn’t.

I don’t want to get too hubristic at this stage, but…it just might have been the big one.

On Tuesday, I arranged with the very brilliant new Deputy Head at the school I work in that my timetable from September will involve me starting each day’s teaching at 11am. So I can keep up my commitment to stand-up, while still getting enough sleep to function properly. I’ll take a massive pay cut but I won’t be tired all the time.

This, on it’s own, would have made for a pretty important week.

But then there was Wednesday, when on the advice of Loz and Joel Dommett (see previous blog), I went ballistic at Scurvy Wednesdays and came offstage feeling like I might have just stumbled across something…

But then I did it twice more: on Thursday at Downstairs At The Kings Head and on Friday at the Bath House Comedy Club.

And both times it went really surprisingly well – particularly at Downstairs, when the self-loathing bit was really helped by a really drunk man in the front row who, at the psychologically lowest point in the act, asked me if I got my clothes from a charity shop. I just repeated the question back to him, walked slowly over to the other side of the stage, sunk to my knees and buried my head in my hands and the audience laughed out loud without me having to say anything. It was great.

After I’d been on at the Bath House, Tony – who I was sure would hate the new act – told me it seemed to be going well. And last night when I stopped in at Joel Dommett‘s birthday in Islington, Joel told me that he had heard I had been good at Downstairs, which means my act must have been good enough to be talked about. And then I felt fleetingly good.

Only fleetingly good, of course, because now is when the real work has to begin. I’ve actually GOT an act to work on now, which means a real responsibility to work on it and get it really good. And of course, I will have a lot of terrible gigs where I will scream and shout and self-flagillate myself at a silent room. And that will really hurt.

But at the moment, I’m just pleased to finally know what it is I want to do – it’s a stand-up act that’s really more like a short play, a story about a frustrated and angry stand-up who hates his stupid jokes; in which the audience goes, almost without noticing, from laughing at the silly frivolous puns to being scared for the sanity of the poor guy on stage but being unable to prevent themselves from still laughing…

Incidentally, it’s particularly nice that it was Zaltzman who so presciently wished that this week should be phenomenal, because I am finally in a position to say he’s one of ‘my influences’ – and this new act certainly does have influences.

I’d never known who my influences are when I’ve been asked before. Because I didn’t actually have an act. Now I can watch my act back on video and go, ah – there’s a bit of Zaltzman (in the addiction to stupid puns), perhaps a bit of Nick Helm and Robert White (in the volume, and the principle that shouting a stupid joke makes it funnier); a lot of Stewart Lee (the repetition and the sense of theatre) and even more of Ian Cognito and Dave Gorman (in the anger and fear and loss of control and the self-loathing)…

I know where I’m coming from now, and what I’m trying to do; I’m learning how to do what I always wanted to do, which is to make a serious piece of theatre happen in a comedy club and get away with it because it’s ABOUT comedy and it’s funny; to use Brecht properly, like all stand-ups should, to tell a story while never letting the audience forget the exact conditions under which the performance is happening – and the fourth wall, which stand-up already destroys, is completely demolished when the conditions for it’s destruction (ie the necessity of a constant stream of laughs) are suspended and transcended by something even more HUMAN. It’s something that I’ve only ever seen done in the very, very best, most artistic stand-up shows (Lee’s 90’s Comedian; Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure) – and I want to do it.

Anyway. I’m a very long way from there. So, self-congratulatory theorising over. Now the work begins. I’ve got to get this thing consistent, and then expand it from a 7-minute idea to a 20-minute set.

Bloody hell, this is going to take an awful lot of work…

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