Howard Stern once said the best part of any project is the announcement, the declaration. ‘This is what we are going to do, isn’t it great? Aren’t we great?!’ Nobody is more motivated and enthusiastic than they are at that particular point. Blue skies all round! But then, the mood changes and the clouds gather as you realise you then have to go and do it, whatever it is. You now have to go make that thing you just slapped yourself on the back about and that is one giant, almighty buzzkill. Cue a permanent slump of the shoulders, a collection of sighs that last a whole minute and a bunch of brows so furrowed you could till them and grow spuds.
As an actor, I couldn’t agree more. I love getting an email to say I have an audition. I then despise having to go and do them. I’m sure there are many, deep-seated psychological reasons why I feel this way… probably all to do with my mother. I’m sure her telling everyone she was pregnant must have been a way more enjoyable day than the one spent firing me out into existence. Either way, I have hardly helped this foible by agreeing to do five different shows on five different nights at VAULT Festival. I mean I say ‘agree’…no-one asked me to do this. It was all my idea. Quelle Twat…
Two nights of new material followed by three nights of old shows from back in the day. Five lots of props, costumes, tech and rehearsals, all for one night each. And please don’t even mention the lines… Surely there is a bloody good ‘why’ to justify all of this ‘what’? Well, yes, I think. I’m taking three shows up to the Fringe this year and wanted to get myself back in the mode of serious multi-tasking. But alongside that, the three old shows have very strong sentimental reasons for me and mark three very big career milestones.
‘Plat du Nuit’ (2003) was the first show I ever took to the Edinburgh Fringe and the whole experience was a complete an utter nightmare from the second we arrived. Poor decisions, poor advice, preposterous behaviours from people we had hired and then that traditional Fringe staple of just plain old bad luck. The whole experience left me shaken and lost to the point where I was unable to even contemplate writing or performing again for another year and a half. But without even realising, what the experience ultimately gave me proved far more valuable than what it momentarily took. I got a crash course in everything bad about this industry and that in turn instilled in me a steel core about how I would want to go ahead from that point on. The type of work I would want to make, the type of people I would want around to help make it and most importantly, the mindset to not give up on anything, including myself, if for one reason or another, things didn’t quite work out at any given point. Jim (who I share the stage with) and I have never performed this show since and so still have no idea if the show deserved the pounding it received all those years ago. We don’t think so, but I guess we’ll soon find out… Please. Be gentle.
‘Victor’ (2007) was the first solo show I took up and is proving the hardest to get back together. It’s a very simple one-hander, but my onstage style has changed a lot since this show. This one still bears the hallmarks of my theatrical background and as such demands a greater level of discipline. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still funny… I think… and the situation happening within still preposterous… it’s just a lot more dense, verbally.
To put it into some kind of context, my latest solo hour ‘Inane Chicanery’ is 13pgs long, in a Courier New font, sized 12 and features six characters with many pages just reading ‘GRAB AN AUDIENCE MEMBER’. ‘Victor’ is 20 pages long on the same sized font and has just one character in one setting talking non-stop. It’s Edinburgh story was interesting too. I was on at lunchtime in a Hut, did 27 shows, rarely to more than 5 people each day. Some laughed, some stared, some slept, some walked out, but I loved every minute.
We also had no reviews come out for the entire run right up until the last day, when three or four good ones arrived, which gave me all the currency I needed to bank myself a better slot in a better room the following year. I mean I broke my leg onstage in that show causing all manner of career devastation but still… Always think long-term, my friends. Nothing is decided good or bad from any one festival or show. Five stars or one stars always ends up with the same situation come September. You sit facing a blank screen with a flashing cursor asking you ‘Well, what next?’
‘Bring me the Head of Adam Riches’ (2011) is the show that won the Edinburgh Comedy Award and it was a riot from start to finish. I didn’t realise I had such a strong show whilst I was previewing in London and indeed the hour I teched on the Tuesday night before the Fringe opened had many significant differences from the one I decided to perform on the Wednesday. But once we started, it never really stopped. The changes I made really paid off… all to do with just a gut feeling rather than any real sense of informed judgement… and even though I didn’t think I was doing anything particularly different than I had in previous shows, it was clear that I had unknowingly got a little smarter at doing it and the audiences a little more receptive. It’s an exhausting hour for all involved, but all the better for it.
As for the two nights of new stuff? Well Thursday is a mixed bill of three of my favourite comedy people. Dan Cook I think is a wonderful talent. I fell in love with him a little bit when I first saw him perform in his old sketch group Delete the Banjax. He took a chance on me when he agreed to be part of my gigantic cast in the riskiest live show I have ever undertaken (‘Coach Coach’) and so I owe him a lot. But that’s between me, his people and Equity… Stevie Martin is another tremendous sketch performer from the superb and much-missed Massive Dad, who also stood toe-to-toe with me in ‘Coach Coach’. She is embarking on a real odyssey of her own this year with a solo show that from all the bits I have seen thus far, looks terrific fun. And John Kearns is a struggling newcomer that I have discovered on the circuit that I figured I would throw a bone. He also just so happens to be the best of us. By a country mile.
On Thursday 1st March, Dan and Stevie will also be joined by Ben Target, the first name on any of my team sheets since 2014, in helping me read excerpts from my next three live shows. ‘Coach Coach 2’, ‘The Lone Dueller’ and ‘The Guy Who…’ The seeds of three future VAULT excavations perhaps… NO. NEVER AGAIN.