So far this tour hasn’t involved many nights in hotels (although there’s a six day run coming up from next Thursday), but today I woke up in a cold Holiday Inn in Droitwich, having made some progress on the long drive from Bath to Lancaster. It is weirdly quite convenient to have this little oasis of gigs at this point, because I have to do my Relativity rewrites and I had a whole morning in my room to crack on with show 2 (and managed to fill in the final blank bit on the rest of the drive). Bizarrely last week’s back and forth to seemingly more local gigs was more tiring and I was pleased with the progress both literal and with my work.
I am massively enjoying kicking the Relativity football around. Now I have established the characters some more and seen the actors playing them at work, it’s a lot of fun to set up situations and pairings to elicit more comedy. The lovely thing about radio is that you can be writing and changing a script 2 days before you actually record it. If the actors had to learn their lines and the crew had to find locations and work out schedules and equipment with that kind of lead in I would be strung up from a lamp post by the beginning of the week.
After the gig in Lancaster we did another two and a bit hour drive to Barton-upon-Humber, but that means I have the whole day in a hotel tomorrow to finish off my work (hopefully), before we do the gig and then do the drive back to London. It’s certainly not an easy job for Bex, my tour manager, but she’s arranged it cleverly to accommodate this stupidly busy schedule.
It had been a while since I played the Lancaster Grand. I can tell you he exact date due to both Warming Up
and the fact that the corridor outside the dressing rooms has pictures of the acts who’ve played there and the date they played. I was there on the 6th February 2012. I liked the fact that my picture was underneath the Chuckle Brothers (like the family’s being reunited) just as I enjoyed seeing Barry Cryer’s face, smiling out from his poster for “Still Alive”. And thank the Lord that he is.
Unusually I had a bigger audience then than I did tonight (about 160 people came this time), but that’s partly due to the fact that Stewart Lee is playing the same theatre on Wednesday. Whenever we overlap I take a noticeable hit in my numbers. Even if we’re not on on the same day (as we have been a couple of times), it’s too much to expect people to come out and see comedians twice in a week, especially when Lee charges so much: £23? Who do you think you are? Rockefeller - (though to be fair to him, which I hate to be, he still charges a lot less than most of the TV comedians). Stewart could, if he wished, cause me possibly fatal damage by waiting until I had published my tour schedule and then booking himself into bigger theatres nearby on the same day. I shouldn’t give him the idea. He’s a man who sees Moby Dick as a manual of how to live your life, not a warning of the self-defeating nature of seeking revenge (even when there is nothing real to avenge).
I have accepted that our relative popularity is wildly different and more or less overcome the feelings of bitterness and inadequacy that come with that. Ultimately I am pleased for his success (he is a beacon of light to the rest of us in the profession that it is possible to stick to your guns and get exactly what you want and not sell out to the man), but also I don’t want it to detract from the fact that I am a smaller, but equally hard won success as well. Most comics would kill for 160 ticket sales, even if the theatre has another 250 seats.Most of them aren’t constantly silently and out loudedly compared to the most artificially successful comedian in the country though. But as I pointed out when a cheeky heckler started to proclaiming that Stewart was amazing and had done a lot better in terms of sales, Mrs Browns Boys sells more tickets than Stewart and Stewart sells more tickets than me, so perhaps popularity is not an indication of actual talent! We had some fun banter and I think a few years ago the interjection might have wrong-footed me, or made me angry, but I got the level of the response just right.
Later the battery in my mic would go, just as I was doing the genealogy of Jesus backwards (which is the hardest of all the memory bits). I couldn’t stop, and thought I might have hit the mute button, so I carried on shouting out the names, unamplified, whilst pushing buttons on the mic and trying to work out what was happening. It added another level of skill to the piece and I remarked that next time I would try to solve the Rubik’s Cube as I was doing it. The audience applauded me for getting through this whilst distracted, without missing a beat. “Can Stewart Lee do that?” I shouted at the heckler. It was the right mixture of defeat and victory to be funny.
The second half in particular fizzled along and of course I met the heckler afterwards and he was clearly a big fan of us both. Comedy needs something to push against. Even as things seem to be going better for me I think I will always have this albatross around my neck (not to mix allusions to classic literature involving sea creatures). It suits me this way. Also I think if it had happened the other way round Stewart would have murdered me. With a harpoon. Or at least tried to. His Trump-like ego would not have reacted well, nor his Clarkson-like fury. Like Chaplin with Hitler, the great comedians have much in common with those they oppose. It's why they can spot the flaws and eviscerate their targets.
See what fun it is to wind him up. It’d just be bullying if he hadn’t already won.