Even after 22 years comedy can still have surprises in store. I had finally made the big time and was playing a stadium gig. Take that Peter Kay. I knew if I grafted hard enough people would finally appreciate my comedy. Admittedly it wasn't one of the really famous stadia, this was the ground of Coventry City, the Ricoh Stadium. And I wasn't playing the actual main arena itself, but a room in the casino. And I had been moved from the room I had originally been booked to play to a smaller one because we hadn't sold enough tickets. But screw you, it still counts.
We were led through the casino itself to get to the room we were going to play, past the grey-faced men gambling their lives away and when we got there I was a bit confused. There were four or five rows of chair facing a long semi-circular bar (the drinks kind). I presumed that we'd be performing in the tiny space in front of where the drinks were served, which seemed a bit odd, but stuff like this sometimes happens when gigs get moved around - you have to make do. I hoped at least that the bar would be shut during the performance.
But then the staff at the venue pointed out the stage to me. It was up behind and above the bar itself. This wasn't a makeshift thing, there was a proper stage with lights and curtains, but it was seven or eight feet from where the chairs were and behind this large bar. I had never seen anything like it and it immediately made me think we had been booked as exotic dancers to entertain the lairy businessmen when they were too pissed or broke to gamble.
Ideally for a comedian you want to be as close to the audience as possible, so you can interact and maybe chat a little, or at least catch people's eyes or address points to individuals. Occasionally in big theatres there will be an orchestra pit (which this set up most reminded me of) which can create a chasm between you and the crowd and there was that time in Scarborough last year where the audience were behind a lake
, but I have never seen a bar between the act and the audience before and it was not going to be ideal. I have worked behind a few bars in the past, but you know, not right behind them, like some kind of incidental puppet show for the real business of drinking.
I also had to contend with the worry that the heckler from the recent Warwick Arts Centre gig
would be coming tonight to have the fight that he had promised me. Perhaps, once sober, he would have realised that I didn't know where to find him and come to find me. I suppose the bar might serve as a protective moat (we could even fill it with booze and then he'd have to swim across and become too inebriated to fight me again).
Also, of course, we had to contend with the fact that the casino itself was only a thin wall away and the noise of gamblers and machines and occasional ringing bells permeated into the venue. Any AIOTM fan would surely take secret delight in my entire gig playing to the distant sound track of roulette wheels spinning.
In spite of all the possible weirdness and distractions tonight's audience were good and supportive and better than the couple of hundred who had been in the purpose built theatre last night. With my other commitments I have still not had any time to sit down and work on the show (I made a little progress on the TV script today, but the eight hour excursion to Coventry wasn't going to allow me too much writing time), but my next night off from gigging is my birthday (12th July) and then there's another two solid weeks of previews so I think I should have time to knock this already promising show into shape. With the previews for my early shows like Christ on a Bike and Hercules I remember feeling embarrassed about how poor many of the previews were, but although this is far from being the final show, I have felt like I am still entertaining the people who have taken the brave step to see work in progress at such an early stage. I think that's probably because I am a lot better at what I am doing. But with those early shows I usually only did about 10 previews in total and then used the first week of Edinburgh as the time to knock off the rough edges. This relentless nightly gigging for two months should mean that when I get to the Fringe the show is already in excellent shape. That's the theory anyway.
In other news I very much enjoyed watching this surgeon bollocking cameramen and by association the PM and deputy PM - look at their stupid chastened faces. And also don't forget the last Lyric Hammersmith show of the season is on on the 26th June with a brilliant line-up including Pappys, Isy Suttie (Dobbie from Peep Show), Andy Zaltzman and a secret TV star trying out new material who we're not allowed to name (hopefully I can say who he is on the night). The last As It Occurs To Me is sold out though.