I get invited by a friends’ dad to take part in the Dayelsford Words in Winter festival. It’s a small festival covering all forms of written and spoken word. There is no registration fee, they organize the venue and they even offer to put me up for the night in a motel. I go up, the show is in a pub, it’s packed. The show I take up is called The Clean as you go Philosophy – a miss mash of all of my material to date, with a few site specific gags, to show that I get the lay of the land.
I have decided to let the audience decide the order of the show. I do this be getting audience members to pull one liners written on scraps of paper out of a bowl . The order that they are taken out of the hat is the order that the show will be performed. Instead of a biscuit reading, as in the prawn show, I offer up a chip reading.
After the audience has taken 2 or 3 pieces of paper out of the bowl, I get the feeling that I’m on a ship that is just out of kilter, and though I am meant to be the captain steering it , the show almost capsizes. I feel sea- sick looking out in to the packed pub in Dayeslford at 2 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon on a cold winters day.
Before the show had begun, I was milling around the bar. I had chatted to this couple and their kids who are over on holiday from Echuca .The guy says he is sure he has seen me on the telly. I tell him that I’ve not been on telly, but he really wants to place me there, so I let it go. I can tell it makes him feel better the thought that I have been on telly.
Audience members take the bits of paper out of the hat. It seems to take for ever. While this is happening I can not casually ad lib with quick wit and reparté, because all of my material is associated with the word on the scraps of paper being pulled out of the bowl.
I look out, there is a sea of confused faces in front of me, all of them waiting for me to be funny. This is the biggest audience I have stood up in front of. The guy and his family from the Echuca without so much as a backwards glance, exit the pub. I can see him shaking his head, he is probably saying, ‘clearly I got the wrong person, no one that bad could get on telly.’
The idea that the audience would choose the order of the show by pulling lines out of a bowl, ran like a dream on my walks with the dog, but there in the pub it was just a joke with a cavernous empty space where the laughter,really should have been.
The whole thing is a shemozzle. By the time all the bits of paper have been pinned to the board, the audience have lost interest and are chatting amongst themselves. There are a few kids at the front who remain interested, I do the chip reading on them, they smile. I had put loads of work in to the show. I had even done a rekky up there one weekend to case the joint and find the funny.
But that winters day I was lost, dry mouthed, panicky and inept. A few times I speak into the mic with a semblance of confidence and get a murmer oflaughter, but because I’d lost so much ground in the beginning, all I could do was throw the odd line out there like a life raft for my self. But I was drowning, I wrapped the show up with a couple of jokes that I knew would work just to get off the stage.
I should have triedall this out in a comedy room before hand, but the tension between wanting to do comedy everyday and my sense of obligation as mother and wife was draining. I had only given myself permission to do or see comedy once a week. More fool me.
The sensation of comedy gone wrong for me is is this:
It is wanting to be rid of my own skin. It is a feeling of deep embarrassment. It is excruciating. It is a feeling of having failed not just publicly, but deeply and privately. The comedy, the jokes the wanting to make people laugh is so separate from this sensation, it is perverse.
Having to face an audience afterwards is mortifying. The looks from my friends and family range from pity, to scorn, to discomfort. Eyes are down cast.
The sensation is awkward, worse than if I have just farted in a long line at the post office and behind me in the principle of my child’s primary school is standing there sniffing awkwardly . It is is worse than being blind drunk and being asked the next day, hey you were pretty pissed last night remember she you took off all your clothes off?
Comedy gone wrong is this: Stone cold sober, (I never drink pre gig) I tried to do something I thought I was good at, but actually I don’t have the skills to pull that shit off, shame on me for even trying.
The comments range from : ‘you’re brave,’ ‘I couldn’t do that’ ‘The venue was tricky.’ I want to say gawd that was really crap, let’s just get a beer and pretend it never happened. But I am so deeply embarrassed that I can only nod and grimace in response. It is raw, it is numbing and though I have to cut my teeth somewhereon the comedy circuit, it’s justa shame that it’s go to be in full view of others.
There in lies the complexity of it, the conundrum. I’ve got to try material out to see if it is funny , or just something that I think is funny, but have not yet been able to craft into a joke. It’s just a shame that people have to listen and watch and be part of the process, to be be the bit of litmus paper.
The sensation of comedy gone wrong makes me want to crawl out of my own skin and into a deep hole. Once I’m in the hole, I want to play and replay each word, each reaction, each pause over in my head, pick it like a sore, pour vinegar in to it and wince at just how bad it is. I finish the gig in the pub to biggest audience I have had to date and I get out of there fast. The festival has kindly put me up in a motel room over night. I so don’t want to go out to dinner though, or walk down the main street of the town, the thought of having to justify bad comedy is just too much to bear.
Is the last gig I ever do going to be that bad? Is that my comedy legacy, a crowded room in a bar in Winter in Dayesford, sailing off course to comedy perdition?
It can’t be, I have no choice, I have to keep going: back to the rooms and back to spiral bound note pad to write some more material which may or may not be funny. The only way I will ever know it’s funny though is if I get out there, hold the microphone, speak and hope for laughter.