I think I was onstage for about thirty seconds at the Public Bar last year when I decided that I was into this room. At this point the room had been running for roughly a couple of weeks and already Steele Saunders had developed a culture that some rooms take years to cultivate. There was something a little old school about it with the grungy atmosphere and sticky carpets. These were the types of rooms I first performed in way back in the 90s when I first began making the trip from Adelaide to Melbourne. In a way it felt like coming home. I knew that I would want to get into as many gigs as possible early in 2014 and Steele was one of the first people I contacted. An opportunity to stretch the legs for 15-20 mins so early in the year was going to be important in getting back on track. After feeling slightly off my game on Monday night at Spleen it became even more important. Whenever I've had a gig that I haven't been happy with I am champing at the bit to get back onstage as quickly as possible so I can fix any problems I identified in the previous show.
There were some interesting lessons learned from this gig. First up here is how packed the room was:
I was headlining the sold out show (sold out because it is run well, nothing to do with this idiot being on last) and this was my set list:
I Stopped A Fight
Pro Choice/Anti Idiot
Imagine I Might Be A Bad Dad
Destroying Right On Guy
Paul and Basic Instinct
For those of you who have been following the set lists "Pro Choice/Anti Idiot" is a routine made up of the "Hypothetical Babies/Masturbating Fetus/Mozart and Mrs Hitler" with extra material added for good measure. This is all coming together as one complete piece and it seems like extra work to breaking down the pieces that make up the greater whole. On Monday night at Spleen I performed a fair bit of this material and one of the mistakes I made was having the Pro Choice material so early in my set. While I feel very strongly about this topic what I have to remember is that there are trigger words that scare people. Abortion, rapist and Hitler are all the type of words that; regardless of the context; makes people feel uneasy. Some people don't want these topics discussed onstage and would prefer their material to be about normal, every day activities. Others might agree with all of the topics you bring up but feel bad about laughing at them in the context of a comedy show. Then there are others who just flat out disagree. Of course we shouldn't leave out the people who understand the topic, agree with the topic and also find it funny. I am certain there were would be further iterations of people in the audience if we felt like breaking it down but as you can see; even at a cursory glance; that is four types of people you are attempting to mould into one.
When putting this material together I wanted to make certain that the Pro Choice material was somewhere in the middle. Give the audience time to get onside and then finish with a routine that might be a little more palatable if they're easily shocked. It is also important to remember the power of words and once you've asked an audience to jump on board with a heavy topic you should reward them by giving them a routine that lets them breathe a little. There is one joke in particular in the Pro Choice routine that I knew was potentially divisive and since I hadn't performed it before this seemed like the best time to pull it out. To say it went exactly how I envisaged it would be slightly exaggerating but I wasn't too far off. I watched some people laugh heartily. I watched some squirm and fold their arms. Some people stared at me blankly. Another man toward the front slapped his knee with enjoyment. This will be the joke that (if it survives and makes it into the new show) will be the make or break gag. While others will laud me others will condemn. It is exhilarating and terrifying to know you have such a joke in your back pocket.
While I had an excellent 2013 I have wondered if maybe I was being a little safe with my routines and topic choices. As I grow older I have an urge to speak my mind more. I want to share ideas that might be confronting. I don't want to shock for the sake of being shocking. Leave that to the younger comics finding their way. I am interested in language and the power of words. I also want to discuss important ideas that are wrapped in jokes. I think it is relatively easy for me to write an hour of dick jokes and tripping and farting material. To make something you care about and believe is important is a test of the skill I'd like to believe I have. This is the next step in my evolution as a comedian and if I hope to improve I have to roll the dice here.
(Just as an aside I love my Tripping and Farting routine but lets be honest, it has little depth. It is a farting routine. It has a place and a time. I will continue to perform it for a little while at least but there is no extra level to it. It is what it is. Funny and little more.)
Overall I was much happier with my performance and routines. There is still quite some work to go but there were definitely some steps forward taken. I also found some extra parts that helped round out the routines. I'm hoping this will help them to take shape over the next couple of weeks so when I place them in the context of the show they'll be muscular and ready to take on the rigours of the festival season. I know some of these topics are confronting. I could feel it after the gig when talking to friends who appeared to be a little uncertain. I too felt a little on edge from discussing these topics that I believe in so honestly onstage but that is going to be a part of the process.
My next gig is tonight at Five Boroughs but since I am hosting I don't think it will be the right place to trial the "Pro Choice/Anti Idiot" routine. I'll save it for my next headline opportunity or possibly even for when I am in Hobart and Launceston next Thursday and Friday. Tonight might be a better opportunity to work some other routines back into shape that can be used throughout the first quarter of the year regardless of whether they fit into the new stand up show.
This was a night that I learned a lot and that makes me feel like I am on the right track.
9th of January, 2014