Below is my final contribution to a correspondence between me and a friend of mine who is also a comedian. It’s about a third party who didn’t book me for a gig; much of my working life functions at this sort of pitch although this particular example comes from about a month ago:
God, she’s a pain in the arse. I’ve never liked her and wouldn’t trust her farther than I could chuck her (which obviously wouldn’t be far) but I’m also very cross with myself. She’d written to me saying you’d recommended me for the gig – for which I should have thanked you before (sorry). Stupidly, I wrote back saying that I’d love to do it (it was a whole £70, for crying out loud. I’d left the electric blanket on all night the night before which although leading to a great night’s sleep had caused me concern as to the extra burden placed on my electricity bill. I’m not Onassis, for crying out loud, seventy quid would have been amazing) but idiotically pointed out that when she’d last seen me (at that awful ****** gig in the ******) I’d died on my arse. Anyway, no reply came and still no reply came. I chased a couple of times over the intervening weeks but for some reason thought it would go ahead. Anyway, two days before I wrote to confirm the gig and immediately got a reply going "oh no … what a mess … emails in junk folder … got other act now … terrible not to have you on board" etc etc. At first I was furious that she hadn’t checked her junk folder but then of course as the day wore on it occurred to me that my numerous emails had finally forced her to acknowledge them and she’d had to invent this story as to why she hadn’t got back to me, when of course the reality was she’d received my original message slagging myself off, recalled my implosion at the *** show and obviously had decided that she didn’t want to book me, which I can’t really blame her for. But nevertheless I want her to take her share of my annoyance with myself. And when all is said and done she remains a huge fat pain in the arse. XXX
One Saturday night, a television producer type came up to me after I’d done my set at Downstairs At The King’s Head in Crouch End. He’s not known for flinging about compliments and so when he said, “I really enjoyed that middle-aged loser shtick of yours, very funny,” there was a moment of nervousness as I wondered if there wasn’t going to be a sting in the tail. Instead, nothing. Rather, he then introduced me to his new girlfriend and went away. I shall always remain grateful to him for this very nice comment for two reasons. One, it is almost an iron rule that should someone in any position to change your career from being the type of comedian who gets excited about cash-in-hand payments and thoughtful promoters who put a jug of tap water in the green room to the type of act who feels confident about his ability to pay that month’s mortgage or rent won’t be in the room on the night you have a good gig. Instead, producers and critics are inclined to show up on drab nights at best or even more likely when you’re having a ball ache of a time. And two, I still remain the beneficiary of a warm, fuzzy glow when I think that this middle-aged loser shtick thing of mine is so convincing that someone witnessing it could be persuaded that it’s an act, a pretend thing.
As someone without an ounce of imagination, when I call myself a writer I should be more specific and say I am a non-fiction one. In an interview, my cousin who is an award-winning children’s writer described much of his enjoyment of primary school stemming from the hours he spent there making-up stories and drawing pictures. That sort of thing was beyond me then and is certainly as alien to me now as being an active participant in an extreme sport. Therefore I’m compelled to use what life affords me: and indeed there is inspiration all over should only you be bothered to look. For example, on the W7 bus from Finsbury Park taking me to the unlikely gig described above the man who put his feet on the seat opposite him is the subject of the first chapter of my new book Twelve Habits Of Highly Hateful People which I really promise to finish (and start) in 2014. Truly, the only time I’m capable of any act of invention and imagination is when I’m speaking to a representative of my mortgage company.
At a gig I did a couple of weeks back a chap who’d been in the audience asked me if I really was gay?
“Yes,” I said, “why would you think I might not be?”
“I just wondered if it was an act,” he explained.
Using my hand to physically clamp my lower jaw back in place after it had dropped somewhere in the direction of my belly button, I obviously lost precious moments and just as I was about to interrogate him about this astonishing thought process of his he was gone and I spotted him chatting to his friends no doubt about the token woman on the bill and his theory that she was probably a bloke in drag “doing an act.”
The sad truth is I’m a middle-aged, losery gay and that if you like is my shtick, although it’s really not one I have to work at all hard at. I am a man for whom new year’s resolutions in 2011 were two-fold. To ensure I’d done my flies up before I left the house and once outside to try not to talk to myself in the street. I had the same two aspirations for 2012 and once we got to this year I decided I shouldn’t aim so high and so didn’t bother setting any at all. If I have become the sort of person children eye warily in the street and people don’t want to sit next to on buses at least I haven’t yet turned into the sort of turd in human form who puts their feet where other passengers might want to sit.
So, here I am on the cusp of of December’s free-fall into tinsel-festooned oblivion when the days start melting into each other, and I’m looking ahead and wondering if 2014 should be the year for Making Stuff Up. My current mode of work is mainly to think a lot about people on public transport and simply note down what they do. Quite often as with the feet thing it makes me angry but it also brings me considerable satisfaction. From the sorrowful looking man on the number 63 who was reading A Brief History Of Curating by one Hans Ulrich Obrist which didn’t look nearly brief enough to me and was, I wondered, a contributing factor to his unhappy demeanour to the woman on a train talking on the phone to someone and offering up the intriguing advice, “take two Weetabix and see how you feel in a bit.” But this isn’t even observation, it’s simply recording, and I wonder were I to set a new year’s resolution whether inventing stuff be the direction in which I should aim.
Someone who I knew for a fact was celebrating her 47th birthday by consuming the contents of a wine box and tucking into an Asda chicken bhuna with her octogenarian mother and Gay Best Friend in a flat on the A3 in Wandsworth declared on Facebook that she was "missing London" because she was running her "pop up shop in Copenhagen … it’s so special."
I’ve never visited Denmark so I’m certainly not someone who could insist that commanding views of rush-hour grid-locked traffic in south-west London can’t easily be confused with a charming byway in that country’s capital city. Especially when under the influence of the perfect balance of herbs and spices to be found in a Asda chicken bhuna (added to which she was probably was four sheets to the wind) but this does seem to take the opportunity for making stuff up a little too far and by putting it up as her status on Facebook the implication was that it was actually real. But maybe as a television producer might say it was her shtick and anyway it was more interesting than the truth. She went onto explain that she felt sad to be so far away from London on her birthday but that the pop-up shop was going great guns so she shouldn’t complain. A friend of hers (they’d probably met when her gaff was visiting New York’s Fifth Avenue, the Hindu Kush or one of the rings of Saturn) commented admiringly that she was "so positive – your glass is always half-full." Well, in my experience of her that is often the problem. Her glass is usually far more than half-full and the Asda wine box sitting on its little stool by the side of her chair is nearly always empty. But at least she doesn’t have an issue with making stuff up and for that I feel I could take a leaf out of her book.