The Gig: The Comedy Cellar, The Verve, Leeds.
The Date: July 28th 2010
The Line Up: Patrick Devine MCing for Myself, Dave MacAndrew, Alfie Moore, Eddie French and Phil Ellis.
It had been nine days since my last gig and I was starting to go a little bit crazy. The previous week had looked to be a quiet one for some time. Just the one paid gig on the Thursday to help keep the cobwebs off and the wolf from the door. It wasn’t until the Thursday morning that I realised I’d not been told where the gig was or what time I needed to be there. My suddenly frantic attempt to contact the promoter received the reply that no comedian wants to hear, especially at the eleventh hour.
“It’s been cancelled. Did you not get the message I sent last week?”
Argh! No, no I didn’t. If I had I might have had a chance to replace the gulf that has suddenly opened amidst the numerous other gulfs in this horribly quiet week in July. Thanks to this my ongoing totaliser for cancelled gigs this summer was edging closer and closer to four digit territory. I try to be philosophical about these things when they happen, no sense in being rude to people over honest mistakes. All the same, it’s a challenge to maintain a calm zen-like interior when my inner viking wants to shake people until their teeth rattle and they forget the names of their family.
There’s often an element of conflict between the principles of the amateur promoter and the professional comic. Plenty of people run nice gigs that are a joy to play and pay well because they love being part of a good comedy night. Because of this their motivation is not to make money for themselves, rather to run as good a night as they possibly can. When your primary motivation is love for what you do and excitement at the prospect of seeing a night unfold you can sometimes forget that this is how some people make their living. It’s therefore annoying and disappointing for a passion driven promoter or comedian to lose a gig at the last minute but can be easily shrugged off with a “Never mind, we had a go eh?” and a brew. Now that I rely on the money I make from gigging as my sole income I find myself less able to wax philosophical with the following month’s rent looming.
A last minute cancellation costs me money in the immediate sense. Let’s say I’ve dropped £150 for a Friday night gig. It can also cost me money in a far reaching sense. If I’ve turned down other work to honour my commitment then there’s a good chance that I’ve lost the chance to progress with another promoter. More often than not a comic’s breakthrough happens because someone, somewhere is in a hole and needs an act or MC desperately. Having to turn down these chances to honour another booking is frustrating but neccesary. Having to turn them down for a gig that then falls through at the last minute pushes me into decidedly homicidal thinking. If, for instance, I’d had to pass on my opportunity to MC City Hall in Sheffield for Last Laugh that could have moved me right down the pecking order and cost me thousands in the long run.
Not that this happened last week. I just feel I need to vent about the impact that a cancelled gig can have on a jobbing comic. Sometimes things happen at the last minute, things that can’t be helped. That’s just the way of the world. Nonetheless, if you’re pulling a gig on someone that relies on said gig as part of their livelihood then the more you can do to remove that last minute panic, the better. Definitely make sure you know they’ve got the message. Saves the outside chance of some poor schmuck turning up at an empty venue two hundred miles from home for no money.
Rant over… That said, I do appreciate that it’s not just promoters that pull gigs at the last minute. That’s a train of thought for another day though.
The second buggest impact of losing the gig on the Thursday night was the size of the hole this now punched in my diary. All of a sudden I was looking at the longest stretch of time without a gig I’d encountered since before the beginning of 2010. I’m unlikely to forget how to gig in such a relatively short period of time but there is a lot to be said for staying match fit. That first gig back always feels a little bit more of an effort, like you’re shaking the rust off. You can still hit all your marks but it doesn’t feel like it flows. Without wanting to sound too wanky, it shouldn’t feel like an effort. I should be diving into the warm comedy pool with barely a ripple, not hacking my way through four inches of ice to dip my foot into liquid hypothermia.
With all this in mind I felt myself slightly worried by the state of my diary. Obviously I’m rather fond of having a roof over my head but that wasn’t neccesarily my biggest fear. In this instance I looked forward in my diary to the beginning of August. My first week in August is wonderfully busy, five well paid gigs in four days with one freebie that promises to be a lot of fun. The challenge arising is that I have two rather important gigs, a double-up for Silky in Yorkshire where I will be opening one gig and closing another opposite Noel James. My first headline gig and a lot of faith placed in me, faith I intend to justify. I was, however, aware that I didn’t actually have a single gig where I was performing a set of stand up comedy for the three weeks. Plenty of MCing work so I wouldn’t be unfamilar with the whiff of the stage by any means but I like to keep myself nice and fluid with my material rather than my ability to chat shite.
I had been booked to do New Stuff at The Comedy Store the Sunday previously but, due to errors, the night had been completely overfilled. As a result of my niceness, and the fact I didn’t have anything new ready, I offered to back out so that everyone else could have plenty of time. Hence my night at The Store became a pleasant evening’s chat and catch up with Tav, Jade, Rob, Rachel and Sam of ComedySportz. I miss these guys and don’t see enough of them. It was also great to catch up with some of their tales from ComedySportz Tournament in Philadelphia this year. I was and am still gutted to have missed out on this trip. As ever it sounded phenomenal. It was equally heartbreaking and wonderful to hear of the stories. I specifically felt gutted at missing the chance to play opposite Philly though it most likely would have been my year on the bench. I also had been told that I could suck one of Rick Steadman’s balls. Just the one mind. No mortal can take a full Steadman teabagging and live to tell the tale. Also hung out and chatted to the other guys, Ben Lawes, Dom Woodward, Wouter Meijs, Daliso Chaponda, Warby… People that are just good fun company. I was also given a pizza to take home. Not a bad evening all in all.
So by this point it was going to have been twelve days between my last gig at Long Eaton and my next gig at The Cricketers’ Arms. I don’t generally consider Keighley to be a proper gig for, simply because it’s so lovely and friendly and feels like a night off. Discounting that night, it means that it would be fourteen days, two whole weeks between gigs as my next gig was Saturday 31st in Blackburn. By this stage I was all but climbing the walls, desperate for my next fix of attention from strangers. I could feel myself getting narky, nearly snapped at my Mum over something daft on the phone and was a little short with Laura too. Not a good state of mind.
Fortunately Patrick Devine offered me the equivalent of comedy methadone when he mentioned that the Comedy Cellar night in Leeds had some spots going supporting my bitter, sworn friend Phil Ellis. I snapped his hand off, the deal was struck and I soon found myself in the luxurious position of being driven to Leeds by Mr Ellis. Ten minutes of new material in my head to roll out before what was likely to be a small yet perfectly formed audience beneath The Verve.
We arrived to find Patrick and Eddie French setting the room up. Eddie happy to state that he was enjoying his new job as a viking. Less based on rape and pillage and more about being an interactive part of the experience at Jorvic Viking Centre in York. How many people can put “viking” on their CV? I may have “ginger viking” on my press quotes thanks to Jules at The Last Laugh but I don’t recall him providing me with a helmet. Yes, I was a little jealous of his official viking status. I’ve even got the look!
The gig looked like it was a non-event for a little while, literally no punters. Fortunately we had a trickle of folk, a couple of other comics arrived to watch and a genuine handful of punters too. Eventually Patrick kicked off the night and, thanks to the cosy nature of the space, it felt like a gig. Pat did a sound job of setting the room up and established a thread of pizza based jokes when it turned out that one of the genuine punters worked at Pizza Express. In fact, all the audience were lively enough to join in without feeling self-conscious.
I was more than happy to open the night. All my talk of working on my material over the last few weeks has turned out to be little more than that. All my talk of finding a new way to develop ideas with a view to strengthening my set has been just that. Talk. Talk is like any commodity, the more you have of it the cheaper it gets. I actually sat before the gig doodling words on a pad trying to convince myself that I could just wing it and world class material would fall out of me like some sort of comedic pinata. It was, of course, bullshit. I was kidding myself. I had no new stuff I’d worked on, nothing I’d developed. All I had was some half formed musings based on the huge cake that Rebecca had been given after her graduation.
I walked on with that and that alone and managed to have a passable gig. I’m pretty much at the point were I can bullshit and bluster my way through a short set without exposing myself too badly. It went okay, I got plenty of laughs and didn’t disgrace myself or the night. That said, I knew I’d failed to make the most of the night and not given the account of myself that I could or should have. If I want to make progress then I need to work and not just talk about it. I came offstage to a good response and, fortunately, had enough from the cake piece that I could probably sculpt something from it.
I then went and lost myself in my two free beers, revelling in the luxury that I didn’t have to drive for once. Because I’m such a lightweight two pints of Staropramen were enough to get me good and loaded. I sent racy texts to Laura which, to me, amount to little more than “Fancy a cuddle?”. Phwoar, hot! I then went and sat to watch the other sets although I wasn’t really paying attention, head was too full of other stuff.
Phil wasn’t really feeling it tonight and said he was going to just do his twenty and go. I bet him a pint that he’d do half an hour. He still owes me that pint. I might let him off but probably not. On the way back to Manchester we chatted about life, the universe and everything. For a bit. Barely scratched the surface really. It’s only an hour from Leeds to Manchester so we were unlikely to get anything solved for the world. It’ll have to take care of its own problems.
The gig was worthwhile for sure. For starters it’s always a pleasure to catch up with a mate like Phil. Second of all it was a chance to stop me from going into full blown comedy withdrawal to the point where I’m stopping strangers in the street to ask what they do for a living. Finally it was yet another gig that shone a bright light on my dubious work ethic. I can blag, yes, but only to a point. I’m long overdue a step up. I miss having a boss. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone set deadlines for you.
Maybe I need to have a quarterly review with my management.
Gig Score: 4/10
Lesson Learnt: WRITE!