The Day After

“Send in the clowns. They’re already…here.”

Stephen Sondheim

Ahhh. Good morning. Good afternoon, technically. I slept late. I slept the sleep of the tired. Of the buzzing, of the full of fried chicken, of the relieved, of the weight-lifted.

We’re back, as I imagine we’re going to be for most of the next 2 weeks, on the busy sunny street of Ewell Road, Surbiton KT6. Half a lovely latte at the elbow once again, my now trad cheese and tommy-toe toastie (tommy-toe! Tommy-toe! Don’t say it again! Copywrite Fry n Laurie) mid munch at the table. I have the last 3 fags left of my final packet at my side).

I caved. Yes I know. I’m not proud. But in all honesty, it was simply too much to jump in feet first to a highly stressed pub environment, with the crowds and lights and clatter and the people and the pressure and the nerves to decide this was also the night to start coping without a tiny white mouth-crutch. So I caved and got a pack and that way had 1 less thing to think about. Forgive me lungs, cough, throat and bank balance. We start afresh again. “It matters not how often we fall, but how often we get back up again.” Or something. I want to say The West Wing, but it’s bound to be something more profound. (More profound than The West Wing? Ha! I know).

So today I have this to type up, about which I am keen. I also have a date with a treadmill and a rowing machine, as I promised myself I would – every day I could – during my 2 week hols. (Can’t believe I;m only on day 2 of my holiday. Mental. Considering since I left work on Friday I have done LOADS of writing; been to the gym twice; eaten out at FIVE GUYS with Claire; seen the new Bond Movie “No Time To Die” [spoilers. He apparently does have time to die];  edited a 10min comedy video; created a five min show; learned the show and delivered the show. This is the most productive I have ever been. Feels oddly satisfying). After the gym, I need to return home, write the quiz, format the quiz, create a Spotify Playlist, go back into Kingston to the office, print the quiz, get BACK to The Grey Horse (my new home it appears) and deliver the quiz for an 8pm start. And it’ll still only be fuckin’ Tuesday.

I s’pose this is a bit like how people must live who have a job they love. With energy and purpose and enthusiasm. Rather than a tired drudging compliance. Is it too late to get that life? We’ll see. Infact, this 2 week holiday is, I suppose, a bit of an experiment into that.

Here’s a joke from last night’s closing act (I’m paraphrasing) that rang true with everyone.

“When you’re in your 20s, anything is possible. By the time you’re in your 30s, you’re thinking “wait I can turn this around, it’s not too late. In your 40s, that’s it. This is your life.” Same idea as the City Slickers bit from earlier blogs I suppose. I’m clearly at that stage of life.

So. Where to begin. Well you left me, phone in head, taking a long long long stroll north towards Kingston, hanging a left towards the river Thames and then a long walk south along the river, playing my newly minted “YouTube” clip over and over in my ear. I would pause it every few lines as I walked, and then try repeating the jokes outloud to myself. Trying trying TRYING to keep to the script, and not suddenly throw in 3 extra sentences of unnecessary exposition. I used visual clues to help me lead from the end of one joke to another. This is my way. What image does the end of one joke conjour up that I can twist surreally into an image to launch the next. This is an old Bob Monkhouse “memory palace” idea. Derren Brown talks about it too. What it means is all I have to learn are the links. My act opening, for example, I remember like this:

Right foot on glass (Right, lets get this clear)…Gove sounds like Grove which is a place (good evening Kingston) Villages are where couples retire to (I’m divorced)…Couples have things in common (we had a lot in common)…Better than mine was (a land mine blowing up a school)…Education…Greggs (Greg Davies hosting a TV quiz)…we met at a quiz night… and so on.

So on I trudged through Surbiton, towards Claygate and Esher, muttering and pausing and repeating. Recalling the links, trying to solidify “phrases” rather than ideas to keep my timing tight. Until I began to feel it was coming quickly and naturally. Using Erich’s advice, as I went over and over, I pictured the stage, the lights, the front row, the feeling of the microphone, the pacing and gestures, to get a vivid idea of what the act would look and feel like.

Blimey these lattes are AMAZING. I don’t know what their secret is. But I can down them in glugging sloshes like cold lemonade. Mmm, and the almond biscotti biscuit isn’t hurting either. Plus they are delivered at EXACTLY the right temperature. No blowing or sipping. But still warming and creamy. Fuck this place is going to be expensive. Maybe quitting coffee? Hahahahaha etc.

I was home by 5pm just as Claire was wrapping up her course. I had time for a short nap (mind tumbling with script) that was cut short as I was too hyped. Shower, shave, iron shirt, dress. I chose the boots, dark jeans, white shirt, copper vintage tie, grey box jacket with velvet trim and silver tie-clip with ruby stud. Oh and for no reason apart from I saw a Bond movie the night before, I ironed a crisp white hanky for the top pocket. Deep breath. I felt good. Reflection told me likewise. I;m not a handsome man by a very long stretch. (My jokes about Michael Gove, the Proclaimers, Mark Kermode etc get far too big a laugh of recognition for me to think otherwise. Not a hunk among them). But I do know how to dress. Quiff was slicked and shiny and glinted like gun metal.

Wanted to get the bus to Kingston so I could play the show four or five more times in my ear for polish. But wasn’t til the bus stop that I realised I was mask-free. And London Transport are still enforcing the no-mask, no-travel rule. So I walked it. Didn’t want to get too sweaty in my clobber so a casual walk. Which actually was a blessing as I was able to recite the show a couple more times.

Got to the pub. Busy. Lots of folk eating and chatting and clinking among the dark wood and Hallowe’en cobweb décor. Couple of people (Marie and Karoliina) from work had come down to support. Which was tremendous. I wasn’t really expecting anyone. And would have been just as happy to be playing to strangers. But it did mean I had company for the hour before it started, which stopped me whipping myself up into a panicky twitch.

Went back to the club. Very dark. Chairs and tables. Erich was there, all mic stands and cables. They had put up banners and posters and such. A much more “pro” atmosphere. He ran through the plan.

HE would host (obviously). Opening act would be Jenan (her of the “how to get gigs” seminar of 2 weeks ago). Phew. An actual “comic” to start. That would warm the place up. Give everyone a chance to settle in and get some booze inside them. Then a break. Then it would be the FOUR new acts back to back as the middle part of the show. He’d put ME on first.

Felt weird and good about this. In an ego moment, I figured he might have put me on first as the most “guaranteed” of the acts. That is to say, the one that would most likely hit the ground running and give the audience a sense of “well thank god these amateurs aren’t going to be utter shit.” Maybe. Also it meant less “hanging around waiting” time. Which is a plus. I could do my bit, for better or worse, and then relax for the rest of the acts and the show. Then there would be a break and our “closer,” who would be none other than Ramesh Ranganathan’s brother Dinesh Ranganathan– also an accomplished stand-up, living in his brother’s “15mins of fame” current favouritism. I have no opinion of Ramesh’s act. Have only seen him being heavy-lidded and grumpy on panel shows. But he is very much the flavour of the week these days, so good for him.

So it was nervously back to the table and the work chums. Marie’s current squeeze Dario had turned up too. Lovely chap. So we sat and I sipped a pint of bitter (Twickenham Naked Ladies, my sup of choice at the Grey Horse) and I tapped my feet and tore up beermats and waited.

Mike turned up with his partner. So we shot the shit for a while, bluffering and booming and shoulder slapping and saying “how are ya?” and generally pounding each other with nervous energy.

7.15pm we headed in. Crowd was filling up. Erich asked my “group of 3” to sit near the front to keep the energy up. People milled in. I chatted with Mike. I spotted Iman up the front with whoever she’d brought (friends/family) and we shared an anxious cringey wave. Sarah was at the back with her guest. So I bounded over and we nervously told each other how well each other was bound to do.

I’d had 1 pint by now. I knew I didn’t want to have too many. Despite what the body might think in its dumb boozy blurry logic, alcohol was not going to make me sharper, tighter, more focused or better able to remember the act. It might loosen up the muscles and give me a giggly get-up-and-go energy. But it wasn’t going to make the show better. So I carried the dregs of Naked Ladies in a smeary empty pint pot about the room.

Erich opened the show. He is a HUGELY natural performer. Seemed amazing to see him “at work” rather than in “teacher/tutor” mode. This was the first time I’d seen him actually on stage with a crowd. And the guy can MC like the best of them. Huge confidence, a snarky aside, good crowd work, very strong material, actual jokes. So I was able to sit at the back and enjoy the show as a punter. He invites on Ginan and she does her set.

As there’s no point writing this if it isn’t true, I enjoyed her set very much, but was distracted. Knowing I would be the next act up. A set based largely on ethnicity, Muslim Britain, body hair, religion, terrorist panic and her experiences, it got all the laughs it wanted to get. I don’t recall any screams or hysteria. But the crowd warmed to her experiences (despite a little frostiness at the front table) and then a big cheer at the end. Erich came back on, explained it would be a break and then the “4 newbies.” And then the break started.

Out for a fag. Another pint? Oh fuck it why not. The first one hadn’t even touched the sides. This was Neck Oil, which was colder and fizzier than expected. I sipped it. Marie and Dario came out to see me but I politely asked them to leave me be as I sat at a quiet table and ran through my memory palace links again. Yep. Got it. Was never going to be any more prepared than now.

Back into the club. Lots of hubbub in the dark. Food being distributed, energy and crackles at the table. Music loud. I paced the back of the room by the bar. The lights on the empty stage seemed very bright. Erich was milling about, talking to the owner, ensuring food wasn’t delivered during the acts, which caused some fuss in the busy kitchen. Break seemed to drag on. And I was hopping and stamping and getting the energy out. Much pacing. Right lets get this clear…you remember the movie the fly? Over and over. As long as I started strong with this, and the Michael Gove line got a laugh, I’d be fine.

Music fades and Erich bounds on. He does much longer than I expected. 10mins? Material about his dog, material about his boiler. All good stuff. Crowd are eager. Then he introduces me. Crowd claps and I bound forward through the chairs. Confident and eager. Heart thundering. But also, weirdly calm. I know this. It’s like an exam one has not only revised for, but also seen the questions in advance. Nerves, yes. But a calm “let’s just get it done” feeling.

Up onto the stage. A hygenic fist bump with Erich. He steps down. I step up. Face the front, hold mic in stand. “Right, let’s get something clear,” I say. Mic out of stand, heave stand to the back, thump it down, back to the front, lights bright. Just shadows. Relax. “You’ll remember the movie The Fly?” and I sort of lean out, eyes wide, sweeping the whole room. My stage. I’m in charge.

What happens when the movie critic Mark Kermode got into the transporter…” All quiet. Where’s this going? “Not realising that crouched behind him was (beat) Michael Gove.”

CRACK. Huge laugh. Boom. But big. Enough time for me to stand up straight again. Laughter still coming. Step back. Walk the stage. Touch the wooden stool. Face the front again. And we’re away.

The five minutes flew by. I got all the jokes out, in order. No fluffs, no extra padding. I felt steady. Every punchline got a laugh. Some big “inferiority complexes/Tesco bagging area/dogging/chronic obsesity.” I recall at one point I even had to give a “okay, okay, shush” as I didn’t want to over-run but something had got the crowd roaring. Me, obviously. But until I see the video tape back, I won’t know which bit. I forgot to do the Goldblum impression – as I ALWAYS do – and I said thankyou Kingston, instead of the funnier callback “thankyou little lower Richmond village.” But I said my name, mic back in the stand (a bit clumsily), took a stagey little bow, a la 1980s Ben Elton, and left the stage.

Okay, it’s 2.31pm now. I have to get to the gym. And I have forgotten my phone. Which means I can either go back and get it or just plough on. I think, mood that I’m in, I’ll plough on. Walk and think and relive last night in my head. Get some thoughts together. Then back home to shower and write up the quiz. Have lots of nervous happy energy that the treadmill can absorb.

Much more to say about the rest of the night. And all sorts of other things. But we’ll pick that up tomorrow I expect. Love to all x#

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