Seventeen days since the original deadline my script is now 20 pages long (it needs to be around about 60), but I feel I am making progress with it. It's been hard to give it the time it requires what with everything that's been going on and with writing sometimes you have to wait for the muse to strike, but sitting staring at a computer isn't always the way to go. This afternoon I went out to post a letter and suitably distracted, but with the project jumping around in my subconscious, my mind came up with several ideas in the space of about two minutes which I think should guide me to the end of the script. We will see. The only problem is that I might have too much. But if I can have a good and productive day tomorrow then the end might at least be in sight. In all honesty I could do without having to write and perform an AIOTM on Sunday and Monday, but at least when that's done, it's done (and if you want to be at this historic gig then a few standing tickets have been released. Be quick. They won't be there for long. It should be an emotional and cumpkinical night.
Tonight I was MCing at one of the always enjoyable comedy nights at the Bush Hall. I hadn't had a second to think about what I was going to talk about and as I stood waiting to be introduced my mind was an absolute blank. And yet I felt no fear. Years ago when I had just started stand up again I looked at more experienced comedians freewheeling and envied them and wondered if I would ever be able to get up on stage without a script and still find the funny. And here I am now, at least willing to take the leap into the abyss. There's the safety net of having a few jokes in the bank that can be brought out in emergencies and also a brain full of stories and half thought out routines that might spring to mind - the trick I have learned, I suppose, is to treat a gig like a Collings and Herrin podcast, without the irritant of having Andrew Collings there to ruin it.
The audience at this gig are always terrific, comedy literate and up for experimentation and spoiled by fantastic bills (tonight they got Isy Suttie, Andy Zaltzman and a rare stand up set from Dr Buckles himself, Adam Buxton). I laid down a few opening gags from my set for safety and then cut away the safety net and went in for the chat.
I think the trick is to empty your brain entirely and go with whatever pops in. It should be terrifying, but it's actually exhilarating. Sometimes you will fail, but the more you do it, the more you find a way out of the holes that you dig for yourself. And like a tightrope walk, without the possibility of horrendous failure it would not be exciting to anyone.
The chat jumped around from an Adam Buxton lookalike on the front row who worked for Nintendo, producing TV shows (I told him he was clearly deluded as Nintendo make video games not TV) to his girlfriend who produced the Royal Wedding coverage for the BBC (pretty impressive - but I asked her if it was her idea to zoom right in on Pippa Middleton's arse) and their friend who worked for BBC Persia, which gave me great scope to criticise the BBC for having stations dedicated to countries that haven't existed for half a century. Somehow this led on to the BBC TV Centre and me wondering what would happen to the Blue Peter pets buried in the garden there. I envisaged Shep's skull in a skip, with Petra's ulna sticking out of the detritus. I had not expected to utter the phrase "Petra's ulna" tonight, or in my lifetime, but there is was. It was almost good enough to be a catchphrase and I repeated it several times, and pondered on whether dogs actually have ulnas. An authoritative sounding woman said that they did, but when quizzed further just said that she assumed they must. It was stupid fun but it was making people laugh and between us we were weaving this out of thoughts leaping from my empty head.
Sometimes it doesn't come as crisply and quickly but tonight I was on a roll. One of my favourite bits of audience interaction came later when I talked to another couple in the front row. The woman was called "Buffy" which she claimed was short for Elizabeth. I was able to attack her quite strongly for her poshness and the ridiculousness of her name and yet somehow in the spirit of the night this was all lovely fun. I had got the tone exactly right - this doesn't always happen. I asked her what she did and she said she worked for charities and I wondered aloud if I would now look like a dick for mocking her and acknowledged the risk of asking what they were, for fear that they were things that joking wasn't appropriate for. One of the charities was a think tank about the environment, which I rubbished as a not proper charity as we'd all been expecting her to be helping disabled children or dogs with no ulnas or the ethical disposal of dog bones. In the right spirit some members of the audience even booed this blameless woman. It was lots of fun. But the second charity was a lot more worthy - it was set up to deworm orphans in Haiti. I acknowledged that that was a better cause, but my brain was still looking for comedy and I took a leap into dangerous territory and said, "Only orphans? So if a child in Haiti comes to you and says "I've got worms, but one of my parents is still alive," do you say, "Get out of here! We only deworm orphans here. Come back when both your parents are dead." You make me sick!" The thought had come to me so quickly and so fully formed and it was an audacious way to go, but the audience and Buffy herself took it in the right spirit and it got one of those massive woomphing laughs that as a comedian you're dreaming of getting. And I was on a roll, "And what if an orphan comes to you and says, "My parents are both dead, but I don't have worms, can you help me?" Do you say, "No, get out of here, we only help orphans who have worms!" You're an awful human being."
You wouldn't think that orphans with worms in Haiti would be a subject that would have 300 people laughing til they hurt, but of course everyone was laughing at my stupid way of thinking of things and the inappropriateness of chastising a wonderful person for the wrong reason. Later in the show I asked, "So a child comes to you and says, "I'm an orphan and I've got worms, but I live in the slums of Cuba," do you say, "Get out of here we only help Haitian orphans with worms here. Go back to your slums." And beyond perhaps conjecturing about whether some elderly Haitians who were technically orphans might take advantage of the charity I had pretty much explored the idea thoroughly and created a neat piece of comedy that will never be heard anywhere again, unless I happen upon someone else from this charity. It might work with another similar cause, but as noble and wonderful and important as this work is, I think the deworming aspect of it somehow adds to the conceit.
All the acts were amazing, (you can see Isy and Andy - as well as Pappy's and a big TV star who I can't name at the Lyric Hammersmith on the 26th June), but I particularly enjoyed Adam Buxton as I had not seen him live before, even though I am a massive fan of his radio stuff (I discussed the mixed emotions I felt at him stealing my radio show off of me which was sad, but how excited I had been at the return of Adam and Joe in spite of this). He had me crying with laughter reading out some of the responses to his youtube clips and adeptly combined live comedy with stuff from the internet. His final piece ended with a comment for a video he'd done that bore no relation to what was in the clip and simply said "Death to Israel". He zoomed in on that comment so it was huge on the screen and then left the stage. I came on, still laughing at his stuff, but commenting on the fact that this it would be bad for me if someone took a photo at this exact moment. It would be easy to take that out of context. I held up my fist to show how bad it could look. Of course someone did take a photo, Rob Roberts posted this within minutes on twitter. William Tennant also on Twitter commented that it was lucky that I didn't have my Hitler moustache still.
What a fun night and how little it I could have predicted as I stood in the corridor backstage wondering what the fuck was about to happen. Petra's ulna and the deworming of Haitian orphans and death to Israel. None of these things would have made us laugh in that second, but somehow they soon would. Comedy is more magic than magic.