2014 Gig One: Spleen

Are the holidays over already? I'm not quite certain I've had any time off.  Unfortunately there is so much to do that to take extra time off at this point would be irresponsible.  There is also the tiny fact that working comedians don't earn money when they're not performing.  No sick leave.  No holiday pay.  So it is time to get back to gigging so this idiot can still afford the internet to post this blog on.

I also have different goals at the beginning of this year as compared to last year.  In 2013 my main aim was to write as much new material as possible that I could mix and match whenever I felt like.  Since I wasn't writing a solo show for the first time in the new millennium I could just work on the craft in relation to club gigs.  I found the first six months of 2013 to be energising and believe my stand up (including my approach to my craft) improved at an acceptable rate.

Halfway through 2013 and I found the material I was performing about Afghanistan was working a treat in the clubs but I found that it wasn't as fulfilling as other routines. It took me a while to work out why this was so.  I was basically leaving out the aspects of the story that I thought were more interesting.  This was because those aspects weren't necessarily conducive to a club environment.  I placed the Afghanistan material aside and left it for roughly six months and only re-introduced it into my set in some of the final gigs of the year.  I've now been working on my new solo show "Johnny Loves Mary Forever 1994" for a couple of months now and the shape is beginning to take form.  (You can purchase tickets for the Adelaide run here. Melbourne will be on sale soon I believe.)

This means that my approach to the beginning of 2014 is going to have to be different.  I am now working towards opening night of the Adelaide Fringe (my run begins the 3rd of March) and so will have to work on my routines in ways that don't contradict the final piece.  What that means is when I take a routine out of the show and use it in a club situation, I have to make certain that when it is placed back in the confines of the show it is thematically not altering why it was originally there.  Every time you perform a piece it should improve.  Jazz musicians have told me they enjoy stand up because we have similar approaches to the way a piece should work.  You have the notes you have to hit but on any given night you might a new way into the work.  I'll be attempting to make the routines stronger without making them unwieldy for the original piece they're meant to be a part of.

This might mean that there is less change up of material between gigs.  Yet at the same time I also plan on working on other routines so I can leave my new show to be the show and the other routines can still work for me in the clubs.  That will be further down the track though and for now it is about spending this week getting back into the swing of performing.  It is amazing how only a couple of weeks off (I performed on New Year's Eve but that was crowd work etc and not a stand up gig) and your material can feel slightly foreign.  One of my plans this year is to give myself more time during the day to concentrate on the upcoming gig.  I nearly ran myself into the ground last year attempting to do too much in a day so I want to dial it down a notch and have more time to relax and prepare so I'm not tired before I hit the stage.

Remind me that I wrote this during the Fringe and MICF!  Of course that is exactly the time you should be working your arse off but even then I should say no to more requests and yes to more time for me.

In 2013 I started off at the Felix Bar but this year I'm back at Spleen.  It is one of my favourite venues to perform in but with the rise in popularity of the gig I have shied away from heading down there too often.  For some of the up and coming comedians this is a big gig and since I perform more I don't like to take up other people's potential stage time.  Still I was pumped to be back amongst the established acts and the newer comics who are aiming for the top.

 

These were my set lists:

 

Set List One

New Year's Eve Resolutions

It's Good To Have Arseholes Hate You

Invite To Parties

Country Gigs vs Inner City Living

Hypothetical Babies

Masturbating Fetus

Mozart and Mrs Hitler

Tripping and Farting

 

Set List Two

I Stopped A Fight

 

This felt like a sluggish beginning to the year.  Normally gigs at Spleen fly but there was a lack of focus throughout the whole night.  For starters the venue was already a third full at 7.45pm when I arrived.  That is a good 45 minutes before the show begins and considering how packed it ended up it appeared to be an uncomfortable room from a punter's point of view.  This is what it looked like when I arrived:

 

As you can see it is well on the way to being full.

 

There were also warning bells when promoter Karl Chandler walked out to introduce me as the host.  Karl is very good at getting the crowd pumped before you walk onstage as the host.  Every gig I've performed for Karl is made so much easier by the heavy lifting he performs before the host even hits the stage.  Last night he asked the audience who was up for some comedy and when you have a packed room with only five people clapping it is usually a bad sign.

Throughout my opening there were people moving about whether attempting to slip into vacant seats or trying to move to better a vantage point.  There was also quite a bit of chatter right in the middle of the room.  If you have ever been to Spleen before this is the perfect dead spot because it is too far away to be able to deal with properly from the stage but also just close enough that you can hear the talk.

While this was happening I didn't feel like I was on top of my game either.  When I walked out onstage there were an older couple sitting up the front with a tiny dog. When I talked to these people and had them show the dog to the audience there was a cheer but the more I talked to these people the more I felt a melancholy wash over me that made me think anymore talk might only end up with jokes at their expense.  I hate the types of comedians who take advantage of people in the audience.  I'm not saying it is an incorrect way to approach a gig but it is one that I choose not to take.  I crunched gears as I extradited myself from their conversation.  We only swapped maybe three sentences each but it was enough for me to know this was not somewhere I was comfortable playing.  Yet if it had been a little later in the year I would have been match fit and I might have really enjoyed talking to the couple without being cruel but I didn't quite have my comedy legs last night.

My opening was a little all over the place as I swapped back and forth from the game plan I had intended to find a spot that the audience would enjoy.  The opening wasn't bad but it was definitely far from my finest moment and I'd say possibly my weakest opening at Spleen in all the years I've performed there.  I was frustrated but listened to every act that was on attempting to unravel the mystery of the audience.  While they weren't a bad audience and while onstage you could see a lot of people having a fun time, it never felt like I grabbed them by the scruff.  As a host you know when you're nailing it because between the acts you can drop an off handed remark that builds off the back of the last act that was on and the audience well bellow with laughter.  There was no such luck last night with most if not all comments receiving a polite nod at best.

With the second half looming I decided to up the ante in performance.  If I wasn't quite match fit I could at least lift my energy and stick to my initial game plan.  My opening suffered from me chopping and changing and that is why if you look at the set list it runs the gamut of material about people being anti abortion to a farting routine.  What the fuck is going on there?  Talk about a schizophrenic start to the night.  This is the other thing that happens when you have some time off from performing.  When you're on song you can chop and change your material with ease but when you've had time off you suddenly can't quite remember all the pieces that would help you in this situation.  That was why it was important for me to stick to the game plan for the second half.

It was a remarkably better opening and a much better performance from me.  Yet it still felt like it only hit at 75%.  By the end of the night I had to admit that I am a little rusty and I need to get a lot of stage time as soon as possible.  I don't like being off my game and while I can rationalise it today there is still a bitter after taste that lingers.  In a small way though I was glad to have a tougher start to the year because it is has reminded me just how much work I have ahead of me.  While there were circumstances that lead to the gig being tougher than normal the fact of the matter is that I wasn't good enough on the night.  My excuses are my own and it is important to recognise that.  How can you learn if you don't take responsibility?  The holidays are over.  I'm back at square one. Time to look ahead and work out how I can get myself to where I want to be.

 

Do you recognise who is missing from the Spleen comedian of the year wall of fame?  I'll give you a hint.  It is Xavier Michelides.

 

 

Justin Hamilton

7th of January, 2014

Fitzroy North