I've not blogged here for a couple of weeks. Did you miss me? ...what do you mean you've forgotten that this column even existed? Damn your face, and all it stands for!
Actually, that's nasty of me. I apologise profusely and unreservedly. You've got a lovely face, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, least of all David Milliband. It would be a terrible shame to cast your face asunder from the rest of your thoroughly scrumptious frame. Perhaps we could just put a light curse on one of your ears, so it goes a bit red at inopportune moments. My ears go red when I'm sleepy. Per'aps if I cursed you with red-ear, we could be brothers in pain. We'd form a strong bond, sharing in an horrid experience that aged us beyond our years. Maybe we'd learn from it, we'd grow as people, we could even learn to love again like we did in the olden days before they got rid of Betamax. We could go skiing somewhere cold to cool our ears down, we'd wear ear-muffs to hide our terrible afflictions and we wouldn't look out of place because everyone would be at it, strutting around covering their ears with wool, or hens, or books, or dandruff, or even hats made out of other people's ears that dropped off from frost-bite. They'd just use whatever was to hand to keep their ears warm. But maybe we wouldn't need ear-muffs at all. Maybe we'd be like human radiators, and they'd treat us like royalty. We'd be kings among men! Come on, let's go now! Let's go and start a new life together, you and I, away from judging eyes and malicious hands. I'll meet you at St Pancreas station at dawn. It's like St Pancras, only the buffet cart is a bit more enzymy.
But enough of my yacking! Observe, this fact: last Tuesday, I gigged at the Comedy Rocket, in Waterloo. It's run by a chap called Andrew Wallace, a man who in my opinion has complete dominion over the dark, twisted one-liner. I dare say that I've seen him perform at least twenty times now, and he never, ever fails to make me laugh out loud. If you live near Lambeth North tube station, I can't recommend his club enough. No, really, I literally can't. I tried once, but I couldn't do it. I ran out of words, and air. An ambulance was called, some meerkats got run over by mistake, it was a right old pickle. Never try explaining how good the Comedy Rocket is, it'll only lead to disaster.
I compered there a fortnight previously, and it's a joy to play. The room is absolutely to die for, with rich scarlet walls and dark smokey curtains, a bit like The Red Room from Twin Peaks. It feels almost like it should be a brothel, or a gambling den. In my opinion, it's one of the few rooms in England which should be granted an exception to the smoking ban. I personally don't smoke, and I absolutely detest the smell of the stuff; as a non-smoking performer, it's a joy to no longer stink of cigarettes on the journey home, though I'll happily confess that it was sometimes useful to hide the stench of failure. But I digress - somehow, the room feels as if it exists purely for sinister underworld criminals to play poker and smoke cigars. Or at least it would, if it weren't for the disco-ball hanging from the ceiling.
I had an hour to fill before the gig, so I strolled down to the London Eye, and sat on the grass, going over some of my lines. I'll confess, July has been slow on the comedy front for me. I think I've only done about five gigs. This was mostly intentional on my part; I wanted to keep it free so I could see lots of Edinburgh previews. However, July is also a notoriously difficult time to get gigs, as most normal clubs open their doors to the Edinburgh previews, and most of the people that run their own gigs concentrate on previewing their own shows, instead of running normal comedy nights. Which leaves many hundreds of open mic comics kicking their heels as they suddenly find themselves with nothing to do. I've never looked at the statistics, but I would bet real-life money that street-crime rockets in the latter half of July, as comedians across London start mugging tourists in Leicester Square or Camden Lock, just to get some sort of audience.
This lack of performing has led to me forgetting almost everything I've ever written. I truly have the worst memory in history, and if I don't gig regularly, I forget things, and I lose the momentum. It was still an okay gig; I stumbled my way through, and I got laughs, though I didn't feel like I deserved them. As it happens, I've recently started to record every gig I do, so I can take notes, remember ad-libs, correct mistakes and generally torture myself with the sheer embarrassment of it all. I've only recorded myself twice, but I'm amazed, watching myself after eight months of doing stand-up, just how utterly amateurish I look. Jaw-droppingly, unbelievably amateurish.
I never realised just how many strange things I do on stage. For a start, my voice wobbles about as if it were only yesterday that my balls dropped. Whichever arm isn't holding the mic is permanently stretched out, with my hand cupped as if I'm parting sage-like wisdom onto the audience. I talk far too quickly, which is probably why I stumble so much, as I'm talking faster than my brain can think (which, as my closest friends will confirm, is a remarkably slow speed). It also explains how I can write five pages of material, and seem to get through it in four minutes.
My timing is way out; there are times when I feel like I've left a big pause for dramatic effect, but in reality I've done no such thing. There are times when I feel like I'm moving all around the stage, but in actual fact I'm mostly stood in the same place with what appear to be nothing more than half-hearted hand gestures. And do I really sound like that? Good heavens!
Having said that, the one thing that people consistently say to me after gigs, whether they were good or bad, is that I have a very amiable stage presence. I've never really understood where they're coming from, but perhaps it's precisely because of all those things that people choose to give me a chance, and go along with me, and not heckle me maliciously, as they might do to someone who looks really slick, like comedy grease. My friend David Whitney said to me, in a correspondence the following day, that when he watched back his own performance of the same night, all he could see is the mistakes. I cannot take this as any consolation, because that night, he was faultless. He absolutely stormed his headlining spot, shooting down anyone that dared to heckle with a masterful combination of aggression and sharp wit, but at all times keeping the audience firmly on his side, uniting them all together to boo and hiss at anyone who dared to heckle. He is, therefore, an idiot. I, on the other hand, am correct, and justified in seeing my faults.
I wish I had filmed myself a long time ago. I'm sure it would have saved me months of learning things the hard way. If I were to be entirely honest, watching myself perform has knocked my confidence a bit, and I've spent a vast portion of the past week, as PG Wodehouse so delightfully quips in A Gentleman of Leisure, "moping about the place like a stupid twat". But that's okay. It's a small price to pay to see what the audience sees, to be able to work out how to keep the friendliness, add more energy, and banish the waffle. As I so often seem to conclude a Londonist blog: I've learned a lot from doing it. If I can act on the lessons and make changes, I reckon that, by the end of 2009, there's a chance that I might have some sort of clue about what I'm doing.
In conclusion: me = best. That's maths!
STEALTH COMEDY RECOMMENDATION: MY HOUSE, 7AM, MOST DAYS: Come to my bedroom in Vauxhall, where I live, on pretty much any day of the week, and watch a confused squirrel try to work out how it can get through my window, presumably to see if there are any nuts in my wardrobe. PROTIP: there aren't.