14 January 2012
I am not experienced as a stand-up comedian - but I have been performing improv comedy for about a dozen years, have a solo comedy show under my belt, and am (let's never, ever forget) an award-winning playwright. With all of these theoretically transferable skills, I fancy my chances that stand-up comedy is something I could get good at. Plus I enjoy (and fear and respect) it. So, even though stand-up still scares the hell out of me and I haven't managed to get out on the 'circuit' as often as I'd have liked (and when I have made it out, the results have been decidedly mixed, I made a move which I felt was both bold and admirable. I swallowed my terror, threw caution under the bus and registered for Laughing Horse New Act of the Year competition back in the autumn. The date for the final heat was January, Friday the 13th. That bold move was a long time ago. For months now, I've known the date was looming, but I didn't bother doing much preparation. Because hey, it's easier to sit by idly, passively, and let these things approach. They do it anyway - it requires no effort on your part. Plus it's certainly easier than confronting the lack of polish (and experience) in your stand-up act. Although in my defense, in the intervening months I did come up with a little bit about being married that I thought I'd chuck in to my competitive set. Soon, the date was drawing so near that I had no other choice than to start thinking seriously about what I was going to do. So I did. Unfortunately my preparation didn't stretch as far as actually getting out in front of an audience (according to everybody, just getting out and working your material in front of audiences is absolutely vital). Presumably if you're entered into a competition this also applies. But it just didn't happen. To be fair, I've been busy with pretty steady improv gigs, but still, my last stand-up set was in November. But I managed I put together a five-minute set, including some killer (I hoped) bits on Charles Dickens, weighing pros and cons, and the aforementioned marriage bit. I timed it out, said it aloud, practicing my cadence, playing with the language, pacing the living room. I got a good handle on it, changed some parts to be cleaner. But there was no stage time. The day continued to approach, and I was getting more and more nervous. I wrestled with the decision about whether to cancel, as it was clear I hadn't put the requisite amount of effort and energy into it. At the same time, I figured why the hell not? Five minutes of total embarrassment (worst-case scenario) would be character-building, and five minutes of stand-up in an amateur, but slightly more pressurized than an open mic, environment would make me fitter, faster, and stronger (best-case scenario). On the day I made the incredibly brave decision to not run away like a chicken. Instead, dragging my wife along for much-needed support I showed up at The Goat Tavern behind Regent Street, ready to put my best foot forward, let my light shine, and fire some comedy missiles at some broad targets. It was still 45 minutes until showtime when we arrived, but the tiny room was already packed and heavy with sweat. I surveyed the narrow room, clocked the tiny stage and walked with what I hoped was a confident gait to the back to check in. The booker asked my name, then checked his list - my name wasn't there. He double-checked, still no. Then he pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his breast pocket. It read 'Has not confirmed' in bold. There were four names printed underneath; mine was one. "Sorry," he told me, "there's already 24 comics on the bill, there's no more room." He seemed genuinely apologetic. Before he could change his mind I grabbed my wife and bolted out of there - but not before getting my wife's cover charge refunded. Because there is no situation that I can't haphazardly back into, immediately overcomplicate, procrastinate and dither over for an extended period, and then, at the zero hour, realize that I had (probably not-so-inadvertently) sabotaged it all along. I guess it's a curse, but I've certainly got a flair for it. The good news is this gives me some time to try out some of that material before signing up for the next competition.