Saturday 21st January 2012
I don't get too many unpredictable shows on tour these days. People have paid to see me and they usually want to sit and listen and hopefully laugh. It's not like a club gig where people have just come to see comedy or occasionally just get pissed and chat with their mates.
It's a great privilege to be in a position where I can explore more complicated and interesting comedic conceits, not at the mercy of the attention span of the drunkest person in the room. But it doesn't always work out as planned.
I was in Stafford tonight and the gig had been sold out for a few weeks. It was a small room, only 110 capacity, but I was still encouraged to have shifted the tickets so quickly. As always with my tours I have to be able to adapt to different venue sizes on a daily basis. The room was small and there was no stage, but I was hopeful that this intimate space might be a lot of fun to play.
I'd got to the venue very early - I'd been kicked out of my hotel at 11 and then mooched round Cheltenham for a bit, annoyed to find that my website was blocked by Caffe Nero's free wifi (meaning I couldn't update my blog) with the usual excuse that it contained "mature" content. As if, Ian Nero, you gaylord.
On the way to car I passed Starbucks just as someone was opening the door to leave. It was someone I knew. My friend Ange, who'd been one of my housemates in my second year at University. I hadn't seen her for over 20 years, but she hadn't changed a bit - apart from having a lunking teenage son standing beside her. I didn't even know she lived in this part of the world now so it was very surprising to see her and yet rather lovely too. We chatted away and it only felt like yesterday that I'd last seen her. Funny the way life throws these things up.
It was a short drive to Stafford and so I had a fair amount of time sitting in my dressing room trying to work (but mainly playing Monopoly on my phone). The dressing room lights were operated by a sensor in order to stop the absent minded leaving the lights on and wasting electricity. As long as you were moving near enough to the sensor the lights stayed on, but if not they would go off after about four minutes. Which would be fine, except the sensor was right by the door and there was a wall between it and most of the dressing room. So every few minutes I was plunged into darkness and had to move to the door. Which was all well and good, until I was on the toilet, when it was an unwanted complication. I wasn't in any position to get up and I didn't really just want to sit there in the dark, but there was no other option.
I think it would have only taken about 24 hours in this room to drive me completely insane, but I only had to last a few hours and the time was broken up by a local man who had come to sketch me (he had asked to do this, this is not a part of my rider). It reminded me of being sketched by my Grandad back in the 1970s, though I am not quite as fidgety these days. I am immensely impressed by anyone who is able to capture an image in a few lines of pencil or paint. It's not a skill that had proved to be hereditary.
Finally after being plunged in and out of darkness on a few more occasions it was time for the show. Perhaps I had been distracted by the lighting issues, but when I got on stage I said, "Hello and welcome to Christ on a Bike..." This is something I sometimes do as a mild joke (for myself) when testing the mic (I also do the genealogy of Christ), but it was not the best start for the actual show. I laughed it off and corrected myself saying the real name of the show and that it came from the song by Howard Jones. A large proportion of the audience cheered loudly. Which was an odd thing to happen simultaneously. I joked that maybe they had come here in the mistaken belief that they were coming to a Howard Jones concert (a similar thing occasionally happened when we toured Richard, Not Judy, when some fans of the real celebrity couple would turn up). I hadn't seriously thought that anyone could make that mistake, but several voices seemed to shout back , "Yes" in a slightly aggrieved way. Which threw me a bit. It would be a problem if 20 people in this audience of about 100 (several people had bought tickets but not shown up) were hoping for music and a bald man miming whilst covered in chains. Had my jokey worries about Daniel O'Donnell fans actually been prescient, but about the wrong singer?
I pushed onwards, but there was an odd atmosphere in the room. There was the low rumble of chatting, at the kind of volume that would annoy the people around the people making the noise, but which wasn't really loud enough for me to break off from my own soliloquy. I suspected that there was a group of people in who'd all had a bit to drink. This was pretty much confirmed when within ten minutes of the start a man got up to leave. The door was just to the left of where I was standing so this was quite hard to ignore. He was either a real Howard Jones fan or the man with the smallest bladder in the world. Ten minutes is very early for a call of nature.
He came back a few minutes later, but someone else immediately got up to go as well. I wondered aloud if I had accidentally chanced across some kind of Stafford dogging club, where people pretended to be going to the theatre but were just fucking in the bogs. But this was just the beginning. The group of chatters enjoyed some of the ruder jokes, but were a bit non-plussed by the stories. It was obvious that they had booked to see comedy (or Howard Jones) and not to see me. They had also obviously been drinking heavily.
The next man out went as I was trying to set up a running joke. I commentated on his departure and he leaned back through the door to throw in a mumbled comment. I said, "It's the ambition of every comedian to be heckled by a man going to the toilet. Leaning back through the door as he does so. Ideally, he will actually be urinating as he chucks in the heckle, but you can't have everything."
The chatting and the coming and going was slightly wrecking the show for the people who did actually want to see me, but I couldn't be sure how many people that was. A young lady was the next to stumble towards the door and she was so drunk that she couldn't actually operate a simple handle - that's when you know you've probably had enough to drink, when you are bamboozled by a door.
Another woman was chatting loudly. I told her that Howard Jones was waiting to come on in the second half to do his songs, but that everyone had to believe that that was going to happen and keep quiet or Howard Jones would die. She didn't stop talking. She was too drunk to realise it was her doing the talking.
It was all quite funny and I managed to use what I was being given, but it was annoying to be reduced to crowd control. And with all the weird stuff that was going on today I wondered if it was possible I was the victim of a Noel Edmond's Gotcha. I mean they don't do them any more and I am not a big enough name to be hit, but those facts just make it all the more unexpected.
As I got to the interval I said, "This is usually where I'd tell you to go to the toilet, but you all seem to have done that already. So probably best leave it for now and wait until five minutes into the second half." The non-drunk people in the audience did find it funny, but they were weary of it.
The lady from the theatre came to apologise during the interval, as I was once again having to bob around to keep the light on. It was clear that this was a party of about 30 people who'd booked together - so my early sell-out was not quite so impressive. I couldn't blame them too much, but other audience members were threatening to leave if the problem was not sorted and most of the party decide to retire to the bar for the second half - which was much more enjoyable (though my favourite part was when one young man returned to the venue to get the coat that he had left on his seat).
It had been a tougher gig than I had expected, but luckily I think the people who were sober enough to remember it will have enjoyed it.
It all made me doubly glad that I was heading home. By the time I was back in Shepherd's Bush it all felt like it might have been a dream. Especially the 2 and a half hour drive.
All the dates for the Talking Cock tour can be found here
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