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Saturday 15th October 2011

I was up at 8 and managed to get a good enough version of the script to email off at 12.30pm, which just about gave my long-suffering team time to format it and print it up and work up the last minute sound effects. There were still some gaps to bridge and once we'd read it out I knew we'd find some stuff to cut, but it turned out this was not the script that wouldn't end up being ready. Though I have to do the whole thing two more times in the next fortnight, so there's time for that day to come.
Once I had done my stuff I went for a cycle just to clear my head and get some exercise done, zooming down to Hammersmith and then across to Chiswick and then home again. The script I had just written was partly about how we all could become disabled at any moment and as I dodged poor drivers and van men opening doors without looking I did consider the irony of getting into an accident just at this point. But luckily today was not the day that I joined the ranks of the disabled (which most of us will sooner or later if we're not there already). Not that anyone seeing me cycling would think I was particularly able at it. Barely competent would just about cover it.
After the first read through of the script I wasn't convinced that it was quite funny enough, but this is always how a new script feels. It's a big leap for a comedian to go on stage and try out completely new and untested material, even if it's not being recorded for national broadcast, so putting myself through this on a weekly basis (both with the radio stuff and the podcast shows) is stupid or daring. We had a wheelchair in the studio as that was the subject of the show and one of the sketches revolved around it (even though you at home will not be able to see it, it is still important that it was there). I had a go in it. I found it more fun than I should have done really and was surprised that I picked up the movement and the steering with relative ease. I was pretty sure that the novelty would wear off if I had to be in a wheelchair all the time, but it was fun to go for a spin. I decided to come on in the wheelchair at the start of the show and it was fun to see the uncertainty on the faces of the audience. But I was able to get up and claim it was a miracle and I think they were relieved to discover that I hadn't incapacitated myself.
I am enjoying this series (the performance bits at least) as I am giving myself permission to be serious as well as do sillier bits and some of the opening 10 minutes played to the kind of silence that should make a comedian nervous, but people were listening and engaged. And I had the ace up my sleeve of the brilliant Francesca Martinez who came on for a chat and delivered about 15 minutes of killer gags, only a tiny percentage of which there will be time for in the broadcast show. But after that the whole thing seemed to fly by, getting laughs and applause and rousing emotions in places. And the disabled people who were in the crowd who I spoke to afterwards seemed pleased that the show was funny, but also had a message that they approved of. I think I somehow pulled this one off. Though the recording lasted for nearly an hour, so who knows what will make it into the final cut? Not me. I will be too busy writing the next one to get involved in the edit.
My night wasn't over though as I was doing a late night stand up slot at the Soho Theatre. There's a really lovely new studio theatre in the basement there. It used to be a terrific Indian restaurant and I was a bit sad to see that had gone, but it made doing my comedy set less embarrassing I suppose. It was a smallish crowd and they seemed quite relaxed and happy. Midnight was approaching and I am sure many of them had enjoyed their Saturday night, so I thought there could be some heckling, but actually everyone seemed lovely. There was a sullen man with a punky blonde hairstyle in the front row, who I pointed at during my "pity fuck" routine, asking him if there was any other kind of fuck than a pity fuck. Usually the person responds or laughed, but he just looked a bit annoyed and nowhere near laughing. I nearly commented on it. But I left it. Every time I glanced at him he seemed unamused. And then a few minutes later a phone started ringing in the audience. It wasn't loud enough for me to really pick up on to begin with and it was an unusual ringtone leaving me uncertain as to whether it was a phone call, or just some kind of technical buzz. But then the blonde man realised it was his phone and picked it up. Usually someone would be embarrassed at this point and switch off the phone that he'd left on in a theatre, but this guy actually answered it and started a conversation. I had to stop and comment on this, but the man just ignored me, choosing to stand up and move very slowly to the back of the room, still talking, as if that would trick me into thinking he wasn't there. I told him this was only going to acceptable behaviour if someone had died, but he seemed oblivious to everything. I suspect he wasn't just influenced by drink at this stage. Eventually he felt badgered enough by me continuing to address him that he went into the toilet. And I proceeded to interrogate his friend. Who was called Tyson and didn't seem to know too much about the rude man (who it turned out was called Matthew), which made things even more mysterious.
I was actually delighted to be able to leave my set behind and the rest of the set turned into a piece of devised theatre, where I questioned Tyson who was Australian and who I suspected had a boring name but had decided to pretend that was his name when he came to the country and then Matthew, who finally returned but continued to refuse to engage with me (quite a neat heckling trick- to say nothing). I wanted to know more about him, but he wouldn't answer my questions and told me to get on with telling jokes and I said, "You'd rather have jokes than this - you're getting a whole routine built up around you. People would pay good money for this, Richard Herring, from the 1990s, making up jokes just about them." It was lots of fun to play around, though the reaction was confusing and weird. At one point he pretended to be on the phone again, very quietly saying "This guy isn't funny at all" but so quietly that most of the audience wouldn't hear. I applauded this post-modern and avant garde heckling. My favourite bit was noticing that he had sunglasses on top of his head and tinted glasses tucked into his vest, like he had come prepared to all eye based eventualities. "You might think he's a dick for having sunglasses on his head at midnight, but if a meteorite hits this room now, you'll all be blinded by the light and he'll be fine. He's prepared for all eye-based eventualities. He's got a monocle in his top pocket."
I bantered with some American girls on the front row too, one of whom said she had come to the UK because her room mate had come here - which led me to wondering what room mate meant in the US. Was it a mate who you always had to be in the same room as.
Ah, it was fun. And strange and unpredictable and nothing like it will ever happen again and only the 40 people in that room will ever really have any notion of what occurred. After a tough week it was so lovely to do two such different and yet enjoyable performances.
I am a lucky man.

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