Many things are inevitable. Some just take a long time. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I said yes. It couldn’t have gone better…
Being swaddled in the vestments of a bloody artist may have gotten me as far as a pensioner existence, but it hasn’t yet blessed me with a cult following. Yesterday evening, I may just have found a short-cut.
Of course, I broke all the rules. The traditional laboured pace of stand-up comedy: peppering not necessarily innocent observation and measured pithy quip with gaps of subtle breathing designed to ease the extraction of a well-known dairy product, didn’t quite fit my subtextual morass. Rather, this would be skin of your arse survival, baby. It helped to be on.
An administrative glitch had meant that any reconnoitring of the town’s comedy culture would have to be done in situ; I begged myself a spot in the second set. The preceding parade of keen contributors kept so surprisingly clear of underpants and farting that for some awful seconds I contemplated doing a runner. Mercifully, the infectious spirit of amateurism intervened – presenting myself to the compere in the interval, I also begged off joining in the rudimentary participatory theatre games inserted in the program as an amuse bouche: “I didn’t wish to expose my persona.” Some things remain sacred.
My agent self hadn’t gotten off his arse to forward my bio – my intro featured but one as yet unjustified superlative, and no hint, had I lost count – that it was my turn. Eight steps from the stage, there was no reason to suppress immediate muttering; if the mouth was going to save me, it couldn’t really be subject to decorum. I was handed my first ever contact with a dreaded microphone beastie – even if I had prepared a witty line of reasoning with which to dissect its presence in my left fist, I swear that was the last I saw of it. Although, now that you mention it, this morning’s stiff neck may stem from an internalised cramp.
Going out empty-handed is the basic plot of every actors’ nightmare: the dream traces the show’s flavours and premise, and then, presto it is opening night. Nothing is where it should be, least of all your head. For some reason your fellow actors are not always thrilled by your otherwise healthy impulses. You are doomed. On the other hand, going out empty-handed for a clown turn may have its blessings – it enforces minimalism, you get quickly immersed in your vulnerability. Somehow the nakedness feels contagious – the room fathoms the absence of conniving rehearsal hijinks, your breathlessness becomes their breathlessness…
At an early point the fever set in. Moments vanished in time. None of the measured composure of the chronically suave, this was the frenzied rant of the dispossessed. Unleashed among his passions, and not protected by the faintest glimmer of a dramaturgy, the performer felt more performed than performing. Any soothing rehearsed character progression were rudely sacrificed for, at best, scattered snippets of life’s universal themes. Reference points were established, ignored, trounced upon and almost coincidently retrieved in the nick of time.
Maybe I started with psychic confession – who knows? After no more than 45 seconds, I was prematurely declaring that this was going brilliantly. Forced by the responsive splash of laughter to justify this perhaps rash observation, I inadvertently exposed a trade secret: the comic monologue that you witness is ‘iceberg material’. Our meeting actually began long ago, popping up in unclaimed moments for up to several weeks – in the shower perhaps – the fantasies of meeting your very own, wonderful audience people… If there was a theme it had little to do with the ponderings of my innards, and much to do with the forces rampant in the room. Asked afterwards if I had prepared any of the material, I had to admit that some elements were vaguely recycled from once long ago when I amused myself on the collapsable lecture circuit with something once deemed theatre. But then, bound by artistic considerations of good taste, and enduring the heavy responsibility of providing a wonderful evening, I would take standard protective measures; a text had been harvested, culled and winnowed. Now, in the identical generic costume, but without the props or transition management schemes, I was freed. No longer the host, I could launch a guerilla attack on the more predictable rites of the peripheral stand-up industry. Given the flimsy frame of ‘fill eight minutes’, it would be a mad scramble to the top of the only available pinnacle in the house. Survival was not an issue.