Two Hundred & Four

The Gig: Krater Comedy, Komedia, Brighton

The Date: March 18th 2011

The Line Up: Myself MCing for Mike Wozniak, Josh Howie & The Raymond & Mr Timpkins Revue

I’m a hypocrite on a great many levels and I’m surprisingly comfortable with that fact. I’ll rant to anyone who’ll listen about a number of topics before shrugging my shoulders and doing the exact opposite. Not for the important things in life. Well, I hope not. I don’t believe in killing and I hope that would be the case even if I was offered Piers Morgan, a hammer and an absolutely watertight alibi. My hypocrisy is generally of the low-level sort, the moral bankruptcy equivalent of background radiation. The sort where breaking my own loose moral code will get me ribbed rather than ostracised by my nearest and dearest.

One example is the case of business communication via the medium of Facebook. I don’t particularly like being asked for work via the popular social networking site as a rule, especially as I only book one and a half gigs. Messages aren’t so bad but it irks me slightly when I find people posting random gig requests on notes, statuses or even photos. My general inclination when I see this is to move the offending act down the queue in my head a few spaces. Ask for gigs via Facebook chat and I’ll take an imaginary thick, black marker pen and push it squarely through the middle of the name in question. I’d then probably have an imaginary sniff of it afterwards because some habits are ingrained beyond the boundaries of the physical world.

The hypocrisy arises because I would happily can all of the above and respond with a simpering yes if an awesome act got in touch. I actually sent Alex Boardman a message on Facebook to book him for my Keighley gig. He accepted but not before he’d rightfully taken the piss for breaking my own commandment about doing business via Facebook. In a similar vein, I didn’t exactly respond with righteous indignation when Stephen Grant popped up on Facebook chat and asked if I was free to compere Komedia in Bath the following Friday. Far, far from it. I snapped his virtual hand off and the deal was made. As I said, I’m more than comfortable with my hypocrisy.

Komedia is one of a number of gigs in the country that have a certain, special aura about them. A weekend club that boasts top line ups of acts and a fine reputation from the perspective of both comics and audience alike. It was also one of the act on my list of clubs that I’d been eager to break into for a long time. A club that enchanced your reputation as a comedian purely by being present on your resume. Every high-end weekend club that you crack makes it a little bit easier to get your foot in the door at the others. If he’s playing Komedia then he must be doing something right. I had a few weekend clubs on the email I sent out looking for work but this would be a more than welcome addition.

On top of that it was a well-paid gig at a nice club in a seaside town filling a night I’d have spent lamenting my lack of work. I got in touch with Laura and asked if she fancied a day out in Brighton…

We crawled along the M25 in the pissing rain. Brilliant. So much for a day at the seaside. I was looking forward to seeing Brighton again, not having set foot there since my twenty-hour adventure there after playing the Quadrant. I hadn’t realised quite how much time had elapsed since I found myself eavesdropping the post-shift conversation of lap dancers in Buddies at four in the morning. My previous trip to Brighton was on April the 13th. Where does the time go?

The weather had eased off a little by the time we reached our destination and the rain had abated. We parked up on the seafront and went for a wander on the beach by the remains of the old pier. Laura found a stream running down the beach and her engineering brain took over. Within minutes she was rerouting it with a carefully arranged dam of rocks and pebbles. I had designs on standing romantically on the shore with my beloved and watching the waves come in. These designs were thwarted by a coastal breeze that threatened to turn us a fetching shade of blue after less than half an hour. We decided to romantically flee indoors and have a coffee instead before heading for Komedia.

On the walk down from the car we walked past a boutique with a dress in the window that caught Laura’s eye. The sign said that it was a one-off clearance piece so I suggested that we go in for a closer look. It was a bridal shop and as soon as walked in we received the full attention of the woman behind the counter. I couldn’t help telling Laura that we might need to let the ink dry on her divorce before we started shopping here. We enquired about the dress in the window, assuming it would be a nice and simple question as befitting an impromptu browse.  Nope. Nothing of the sort. In order to find out the dress size and price this unfortunate woman was forced to remove the dummy from the shop window to have a better look. At this point I think we all knew the outcome. Two browsers, idly curious and a dress that’s far beyond their budget. Nevertheless we were committed at this point and had to see it to conclusion. Laura and I waited awkwardly for the inevitable.

“One hundred and forty pounds? Erm. Thank you anyway.”

As the shop woman wrestled the manikin back together for the window she managed to hurt her hand, further compounding the extremely middle-class guilt that Laura was racked with. We beat a hasty retreat. On the way out we noticed that the shop closed at five. It was five twenty. Yep, all that and we’d kept the poor sales assistant from closing up on a Friday too. Still, nice dress. Should have taken a photo and found a twenty quid facsimile in Primark.

Komedia’s in a really interesting part of town, on a street packed with funky little shops and more boutiques. Laura, moderately ashamed at being so suddenly and stereotypically girly, was excited by the shoe shops and took a bit of time to check out the wide range of cool, quirky and slightly kinky footwear on display. I was rather more excited by the sweet shop that boasted confectionary from all over the world. Most intriguing of all was a Peanut Butter Twix, presumably from the United States considering their propensity to put peanut butter on everything. It’s a dangerous place to have a nut allergy. I’m surprised that John Cooper didn’t need a hazmat suit for his trips there with ComedySportz. I was going to buy one until I saw that it would cost more than a quid. I was intrigued but not thatintrigued. Normal Twix and a jar of Sun-Pat when I get home maybe. Laura was feeling a bit off-colour and couldn’t bring herself to stand in the place for more than a few moments. I could hardly blame her, it smelt like the inside of a diabetic’s kidney.

Our plan to spend loads of time on the beach had been thwarted by the sudden burst of frigid weather. Tired, cold and a little fed up we decided to head for Komedia even though it was rather early. The show was due to start at eight and we found ourselves sat in the green room of the Krater room nearly two hours beforehand. Komedia is an awe inspiring place, a rabbit warren packed with rooms and corridors. The Krater room, home to the comedy club, is a big cellar space with a low ceiling. It’s pretty much ideal and was already sold out for the night. Dave, the sound guy, was accurately named as he turned out to be a really sound guy too. He joked about my eagerness and told me to make myself at home. I thought about getting some work done but the wireless signal was a bit too weak in the basement and I wasn’t really in the mood.

In hindsight we should have gone somewhere else and had a coffee. Instead we stayed there and had one for the sake of simplicity. An hour and a half in the green room is a long time to think about an upcoming gig. I’d mentioned that I was playing Komedia on the usual places and received several messages from people telling me what an awesome gig it was. It was one of the best gigs in the country. Everybody loves Komedia. It’s a fantastic gig, so much fun. You’ll love it. You’ll absolutely love it. You’re perfect for it, go down a storm there. This played over and over in my head for the hour or so that I sat in the green room stewing. Consequently I was almost a nervous wreck by the time the other acts arrived.

Of the comics on the bill I’d only ever seen Josh Howie before. Mike Wozniak and The Raymond & Mister Timpkins Revue were entirely new to me. The R&MTR (For brevity’s sake…) was an act I regularly saw advertised for Just The Tonic when I live in Nottingham and went as a punter. I never got around to seeing them at the time and was eager to catch their act at long last. The previous Tuesday night I’d been the grizzled veteran amongst the acts in Fence. Tonight, in stark contrast, I was definitely the office junior. Having never met the other acts I didn’t know how they’d react to this unknown quantity in their midst, suddenly responsible for the entire night’s flow.

I needn’t have worried. TR&MTR arrived, known as Andy and Tony respectively. Hopefully I’m not breaking comedy kayfabe by mentioning their real names. They were both really friendly and pleasant to both myself and Laura. The last part may sound obvious but there’s a surprising number of acts and promoters on the circuit that absolutely blank partners, girlfriends or wives. On one especially telling moment Jayne Edwards, an act I shared the trip to a gig with, was blanked by the promoter because he assumed she was my girlfriend. Offensive. Then again, I’ve also got caught up in the usual pre-gig conversation and forgotten to introduce Laura. Oops. I make a point of introducing her to everyone now. Then she gets to play the handshake/hug/kiss on greeting and farewell social awkwardness game all by herself.

Mike arrived not long after carrying his conveyance, a fold up bicycle, under one arm. A cunning way to save taxi fare from the train station indeed. The atmosphere was jovial and went some way to alleviating some of the mounting tension I felt. We were well looked after too, with the show manager keen to provide food or drink as needed. There was even a backstage rider with little pots of jelly beans, chocolate raisins and chocolate mini eggs. I felt truly spoilt and hope I never take this kind of treatment for granted. If you ever hear me exclaim “You call these jelly beans? SHIT BEANS MORE LIKE!” then give me a stern talking to. I chatted to Andy and Tony, picking their brains about Komedia and that put me at ease too.

The room was absolutely packed by the time the show started. Several hundred people crammed into the Krater and place was buzzing. I went out for a bit to get a feel for the place and bumped into a dozen strong stag party with hilarious nicknames on their matching tee-shirts. Brighton. Friday night. Stag parties and hen parties were hardly a surprise. Tonight could well be the night that the lessons of my frequent Big Night Out gigs in Leeds would come in very handy indeed.

The show started and Dave cued up the intro music. I walked out to a rabid reaction and launched into my usual start of gig spiele as compere. They were a challenge at the start. Within moments of starting I was heckled from three different parts of the room almost immediately. The real challenge here was that with the lights in my face I couldn’t see a fucking thing. My instinct was to immediately pick one of the hecklers, the loudest and most witless one, and shoot him down. Unfotunately I couldn’t actually see where he was, all I had was a voice that retreated back into the darkness as soon as I went looking for the arsehole it fell out of. I chatted to a few people, got some material out, bantered with a couple at the front and things were rolling along.

As my eyes grew accustomed to the lighting I realised that the source of the heckling was somewhere in a large stag party to my left. There was a snipey heckler in their number, intent on being part of the show. He would shout something out when my attention was elsewhere, either on another punter or in material. Whenever I looked back I was greeted by a half dozen shadowy punters pointing at each other like an inverted, much cuntier version of the iconic scene from Spartacus. What the fuck was going on? This is Komedia. It’s a nice gig, everyone’s been telling me what a nice gig it is. What the fuck is going on? Oh shit, I’m not in charge of the room. I’m bombing as MC in a nice room. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I’m fucked. I’ve fucked it. My chance to crack Komedia and I’ve fucked it. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

I looked at the group for a moment, took a deep breath and told them to shut the fuck up because nobody put their money down to listen to them make cunts of themselves. The rest of the audience, already sick of their bullshit cheered heartily and I hoped they got the message. By this point I’d done my job and it was time to bring on Mike to open the show. I got everyone cheering, brought him on and went backstage.

I was distraught, convinced that I’d managed to put a dampener on the entire show with my compering at the top of the night. Komedia, as discussed, was a lovely gig and under my watch it appeared to have become something of a bearpit. Laura had elected to stay in the green room rather than find a perch in the Krater to watch the show from. I collapsed into a chair next to her, put my head in my hands and told her that I’d probably already blown my chances. An opportunity to step up, prove that I’m capable of playing with the big boys and I’d thrown it away in the space of ten minutes. I couldn’t even look at her. I’d failed and, just to cap it all off, my work for the night was far from over. Laura told me I was being silly and that it hadn’t gone badly at all but the words weren’t getting through. Almost inconsolable, I was genuinely close to tears.

Then Andy of TR&MTR walked into the green room. In the presence of someone other than my girlfriend I snapped back to reality and put on my best poker face. Eyes and teeth Brooker, eyes and teeth. I steeled myself for the non-committal nod of recognition that an act gets after they’ve managed to both suck and blow at a gig. Instead he complimented me on the work I did at the start, saying I did a great job out there and doing so with complete sincerity. This genuine praise from someone that had nothing to gain by blowing smoke into my colon did me a huge favour. It widened my perspective. My bubble of perception on the stage had shrunk smaller and smaller as I’d worked harder with the rowdy audience. I’d walked on expecting a fun gig, a walk in the park. After spending the best part of two hours winding myself up at the venue beforehand the fact that it was moderately testing instead of a breeze sent me into a massive, subjective tailspin. Weekend gig full of stags and hens in “Slightly rowdy and needing to be put in their place by compere” shocker. In other news, woods are full of bear shit.

In short I was much too hard on myself, ridiculously so in fact. Critical to the point that I was completely oblivious to any laughter, cheers or applause that I generated during my time on stage. Had I watched someone else have the exact same start to the evening I wouldn’t have given them anywhere near that much grief. On my first night I wanted it to be perfect and instead it was just good therefore it felt like a disaster. I thought about what I’d tell anyone asking for advice on compering. Don’t worry about being the star of the show. Remember that it’s just a room and those are just people. I relaxed considerably after this.

The rest of the show went absolutely fine. In the middle section I was again heckled anonymously by the stag party. One of them rather wittily called me a ginger cunt. My response, while hardly clever, was quick. I told him I’d dye my hair but it’s his mum’s favourite colour. Unlikely to find itself carved on a pillar in comedy’s hall of fame but it did the job. The huge cheer and applause confirmed that everyone else was on my side. I had an idea. I told the audience to sum up what they thought of him on the count of three. I counted one, two, three.

“Wanker!” yelled the audience in unison.

I’d not prompted them, I’d not cued them and yet almost everyone picked the same term of contempt. Nothing quite as humbling as finding out that a room full of people have individually decided that you’re a wanker and then called you on collectively. Security noticed that they weren’t playing nice and backed me up. Compere, audienc and security working together as one? Simple but effective. No more hassle after that.

Josh had an absolute blinder in the middle section, even when he dipped into his bag of considerably darker material. This time, rather than wander off in a miasma of self-indulgent whining I stuck around, listened and started to enjoy myself. I’d not actually gigged with Josh for several years meaning that he hadn’t crossed paths at all in a long, long time. I was therefore genuinely surprised when he struck up a conversation with me about my gig diaries, particularly when he said he was amazed at how brave and honest they were. I’ve never considered them to be especially brave. Honest maybe but brave? The brave part was my willingness to openly admit that I’d had gigs where I’d done less than brilliantly. Josh had a reasonable point. You never read about any bad gigs on the internet. Even awful nights seem to get rave reviews from those involved afterwards.

I was suddenly struck by paranoia. When I started writing the diaries I tried to be completely honest with myself about my performances. They were a writing exercise with the added benefit of forcing me to look at ways to improve as a comedian. As such being anything other than completely honest would have been a waste of time. As mentioned before I only made them public because that way I knew I wouldn’y wuss out after a handful. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that anyone would actually read the fucking things! Martin Mor had cautioned me about criticising myself too openly in case it damaged my reputation. All it would take was a promoter to read a couple of accounts of middling gigs and I could be consigned to purgatory forever. My mind raced back my write up of a recent Saturday at The Frog in Preston, suddenly acutely aware that I didn’t come out of it looking brilliant. Would that cost me work with The Frog? Would it cost me work for other people?

I wasn’t brave. I was a fucking idiot, strolling blithely through the minefield without a care in the world. Still, I’d started and it was a little too close to the end of the game to suddenly change tactics. The devil on my shoulder suggested that I should miraculously discover the winning formula across the last few gigs in March. Every gig would be a 9/10 and a standing ovation. You can fool some of the people some of the time… Nah. I’ll see it through. People will book me or they won’t.  If a few admissions of my failings over the year is enough to put a booker off then they’ll have already made their mind up. I thanked Josh, said I couldn’t wait to be done with them and had a few more jelly beans.

I went back on for the final section, introduced TR&MTR and then got out the way. Laura and I went out so I could see them properly for myself. They picked up where Josh left off and had an absolute stormer. Two larger than life characters interpreting cleverly spliced and edited snatches of songs and music without saying a word. The chaotic nature of their act belied just how slick and perfectly timed it was. It was brilliant, loads of fun and they came close to a standing ovation when they finished. I was exhausted just watching them.

At the end of the night I slipped in a final joke TR&MTR them having managed to ruin the contents of everyone’s iPod across the space of half an hour. It got a good laugh. Tokenistic it may have been at that point but it meant a lot to me. I name checked the acts, thanked everyone, told them to clear off so they could turn it into a club and just like that my job was done. Dave, the sound sound guy, congratulated me on my work. As my first night at Komedia I didn’t know how the night had compared to the norm. All I knew was that everyone said it was a lovely gig. The concensus across acts and staff was that it had been unusually rowdy that night but that everyone had coped just fine with it. I’d completely overreacted. I was paid and paid well straight after the show in cash. It wasn’t handed over to me in a grudging manner.

Laura and I headed out into the night under the light of the super moon, the fullest full moon the world had seen in many years. Aha, that explains a lot. The eight o’clock start meant that we were wrapped up for half past ten. How wonderfully civilised. We drove back down to the seafront and found that the icy wind had stopped. The tide was high but on it’s way back out so we sat and watched it for a while. The moon was huge and bright in the sky and the sound of the waves washing up and down the beach was incredibly relaxing. I felt the evening’s stress wash away and thought back on the night’s events.

I put huge amounts of pressure on myself to do well, especially at “pressure” gigs where there’s more at stake than the night itself. I’m often so eager to impress than I wind myself up like a spring before I even take the mic out of the stand. It’s not just before the gig either. After a disappointing gig it’s hardly unusual for me to have an almost completely sleepless night. I decided that one of my tasks once the diaries were done and dusted would be to look into some relaxation techniques. As a wise woman once said, I need to stop getting in my own way.

I love my job, especially when it pays me to take Laura to the coast and sit on the beach with her in the moonlight. All the little details, the little stresses of the night were forgotten as we sat there. It was absolutely breathtaking. Komedia had, on balance, been an awesome night and I hoped I’d get the chance to play there again. The thought of a weekend spent there in the height of summer was incredibly appealing. It was, as everyone had said, a brilliant club run by brilliant people that knew what they were doing.

Afterwards we went to Buddies for food. There weren’t any lapdancers in.

Gig Score: 7/10

Lesson Learnt: Don’t be too hard on myself. Be as patient as I would be with anyone else, no more and no less. Time for me to try and find a Zen like place to gig from.

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