The Gig: Abbcom, Doncaster Little Theatre, Doncaster
The Date: March 19th 2011
The Line Up: Gareth Urwin MCing for myself, Jonathan Elston & Tony Burgess
From one end of the country to the other… Brighton on Friday followed swiftly by Doncaster on Saturday. My trusty Skoda Fabia was going to be putting a fair few miles on it’s clock over the course of this particular weekend. After a restful night and day in Rugby it came time to set off up the M1 in the direction of Yorkshire. The sky was clear and as a result the super moon hung in the sky to my right for almost the entire journey. Doncaster on a full moon? This could prove to be interesting.
My one and only previous experience of gigging in the sleepy little town of Doncaster was several years prior to this night. I’d been booked to perform at a restaurant, the owner of which had aspirations of becoming Donny’s answer to Jongleurs or The Comedy Store. Upon our arrival it proved to be the answer to something completely different. Specifically it answered the question “What would it look like if you knocked up a comedy venue in a fortnight?”. They’d clearly cut a few corners in order to get the place ready for it’s grand opening. One noticable quirk was that you couldn’t open the door to the gents toilet without splattering anyone already inside against the wall in Looney Tunes fashion. Jongleurs and The Comedy Store were purpose built comedy venues. This was a bistro with a single stage block wedged in the middle of the room. The table and chairs were packed in densely in an attempt to cram in enough punters to make the enterprise worthwhile. In the event of a fire your only real option would be to repent your sins.
The density of the furnishing was matched by the density of our audience for the evening. This was a trial run of sorts and we found ourselves performing in front of the various workers that had helped fit the place as well as their partners. Given the standard of work around us I was tempted to check for horses parked outside. They were being treated to a free meal and comedy show. It didn’t take long to figure out that they’s been drawn by the “free” and “meal” parts rather than that pesky “comedy” thing. The night was a fiasco. An audience that didn’t want to listen in the first place and waiting staff that insisted on serving food while the acts were onstage. It was a lost cause, not least because the whole mess dragged on and on. The headliner lost patience with the whole situation and cleared off without performing. The finishing touch came a week later when my bank returned the cheque I’d been written to pay for the night. Yep, the bastards had cancelled it.
Despite this promising start the venue ceased trading within a couple of months. Rather than being Doncaster’s answer to Jongleurs or The Comedy Store it had become the town’s answer to Enron. Enron, however, was much funnier.
Doncaster had proven to be a scary place that night as well. While we tried our best to polish the monumental turd before us we couldn’t ignore the noise from outside. It was chaos of the highest order. For a modest sized town centre there seemed to be a fairly sizeable police presence on the streets. Riot vans drove by with alarming frequency and a helicopter made a number of sweeps across the course of the night. It was like the opening sequence from Robocop 2 except that the future of law enforcement was unlikely to be there to to escort me to my car afterwards. The good folk of Donny were out and they intended to drink, fight and fuck in equal measure. I was more than happy to be peeling off into the night with my soon-to-be-proven-worthless cheque in my pocket. It felt like the kind of place where eating one’s own young was considered a viable hangover cure.
This would be the very same town I was driving into on a Saturday night as the fullest full moon you could imagine hung in the sky. I have no idea if the supposede connection between off-colour behaviour and the lunar cycle is an old wives tale or something that’s been measured scientifically. All the same I suspected I might be in for an interesting night full of interesting encounters with interesting people. All in the same sense that painting your genitals with bovril and slapping a doberman in the face with them is likely to have an interesting outcome.
Still, we were going to be performing in a theatre. Surely everything would be alright? I parked up opposite the venue and wandered over the road. It wasn’t quite eight in the evening and already the streets were filling with the inebriated. A group of lads barrelled along the pavement making noise that could be approximated to singing, chanting away like pissed-up, shirt clad Gregorian monks that had chosen this particular night to abandon all their vows and any concept of harmony.
The door shut behind me at the theatre and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was like a sanctuary of calm in comparison to the night unfolding outside. A cracking little venue, you couldn’t have really asked for a better space to perform as a stand-up. I was shown to the green room where the AbbCom guys, Gareth Urwin and Simon Gunnell, made me feel more than welcome. There’s something rather reassuring about being offered a Quality Street upon arrival. There’s also something reassuring about being told that there would be an audience to play to. My second gig in Doncaster was already looking much more promising than my first, not that it would have been much of a challenge.
I stood in the wings while Gareth kicked the night off as MC. The assembled comedy audience was lovely, enthused about proceedings and more than happy to join in with banter. One chap in from Rotherham became a regular foil for Gareth much to the amusement of everyone else. I would imagine that Rotherham’s primary purpose is to give the folk of Doncaster a place to look down on. Part of Mr Urwin’s warm up for the night was his mime based interpretation of the day someone discovered that it was possible to obtain milk from a cow. Stood in the wings I couldn’t actually see any of this visual feast unfold but I could hear the bursts of laughter punctuated by amused disgust. I suspect the first ever milking mission was fraught with somewhat unfortunate anatomical misunderstandings.
I was a few minutes into my set when I noticed that the mic was feeding back a bit. Not a huge amount, just enough that it was noticable. Ever the rebel I elected to abandon electronic amplification entirely and perform acapella, relying on my overly loud voice and the fact that I was performing in a tiny theatre. Not exactly a radical departure from my usual MO onstage but it was fun nonetheless. Having my hands free proved to be surprisingly liberating and I found myself moving about the stage much more than I usually would. I’ll definitely put some money aside from my tour fund for a cordless headset mic. Either that or I’ll tuck a straw behind my ear like the girls from Tiger Tiger and shout.
The gig went absolutely fine, plenty of big laughs and a nice rowdy finish. I had a good time and the audience did too. It was certainly a good enough gig to slay the fearsome dragon of Doncaster from my last trip to the place. I headed out shortly after with my fee in one hand and a second purple quality street in the other. Tell me I don’t know how to live. The streets of Donny were populated almost exclusively by the drunk, many of whom seemed intent on taking themselves out of the gene pool by wandering in front of traffic. I nearly offed a few on the way out of the carpark. In typical fashion they seemed somewhat ungrateful that I’d managed to slam the brakes on rather than tow them to the M1 under my chassis. That said, I could probably have blamed my vehicular homicidal tendancies on the moon. I’m very nearly hairy enough.
Gig Score: 6/10
Lesson Learnt: Never hurts to move around a bit. Well, except when I’ve just gotten out of the car after a long drive.