Less than three and a half years ago I did my first ever gig – my material was delivered straight from the open pages of The Big Compendium of Jokes, which was an unwelcome gift the previous Christmas along with a bag of Satsuma’s and a multi tool spanner thing, (the only tool I would ever need again, the instruction booklet promised I could now throw away all other tools!)
Then a friend pointed out a comedy competition, run by the BBC which was looking for new comedy talent living in Wales. Foolishly I filled the form and clicked ‘send!’ The night before my big televised debut, I reluctantly read the ‘terms and conditions’ (men don’t generally really do instructions!) To my horror it said that all jokes must be your own and original. One or the other would have been fine, but both….!
I turned up in front of an expectant viewing public with a complete gaggle of comedic musings. The judges though, rated me, but their advice, (like the drink I downed before going on stage) was short and clear. They said that I was a ‘born performer’ I had ‘great stage presence’ and had a bright future in the comedy business. However…. now here’s the crunch! I quote ‘Your material is Shit!’
Their advice was direct and useful. ‘Get out there, do your time on stage, work hard, develop your material, work even harder, and learn your craft and then, if you are very lucky, you might make a living in this business!’
Well I guess I have been lucky if you consider that now I am performing in some of the biggest clubs in the UK and earning a living doing what I love the best. However, that ‘luck’ has cost me quite a high price. I am driven by a passion to make my voice heard above the hum and noise of mediocrity, but my passion has come at a cost.
After working up to 10 hours a day as a builder I would climb in my car and drive hundreds of miles to perform gigs in a wide selection of pubs and clubs as I developed my skills. In less than 3 years I did over 600 gigs. The routine, the lifestyle and the passion which drives me has cost me my marriage, my beautiful home and the security which I had spent many years, until that point, meticulously building around me.
My life has completely changed now, I’m living almost full time in London and my week is centred on my performances and the constant need to improve, develop and progress. I have paid a high price for my passion, my hobby. Now as I begin 2010 and look forward to the year ahead I have to ask if the price I paid was worth it. Well if I concentrate on NOW and appreciate that I am living a life that many people could only dream of and that if my career keeps going in the same trajectory, I have a pretty sound future ahead of me, then I’m ok. I have at last found a world in which I fit and belong. If I looked backwards and count the real cost of the journey, perhaps my conclusions would be a little different.
Comedy is the most difficult and demanding thing I have ever done. I leave some gigs and it feels like my whole world has fallen apart and others like I’m Bruce Lee, Clint Eastwood and George Clooney all rolled into one…… invincible and untouchable!
The thing is, when you climb on that stage and feel the buzz of the audience in front of you, when you feed off the collective energy and lift the mood of that big room full of people, there isn’t a greater feeling in the entire world. When you step back down again and you know that you have left them happier, entertained and satisfied, just like you’ve just delivered a mass inoculation against the woes of the world outside, then all the pain, all the mindless motorway monotony and all the personal disruption, suddenly disappears. I’m no saint, I do this for me, not for them. I need this and am driven by a deep rooted hunger to succeed, to prove that I can tame the toughest of all adversaries, not the unending expectations of the restless crowd, but my own lack of completeness.
May people say they respect comedians, they hold them in the highest esteem, and yet they show this respect by laughing at their woes, giggling at their misfortune and roaring at their messed up lives.
Yet every night we get back on stage in full knowledge that whilst the audience is laughing, they don’t have the slightest idea of the time, effort, rejection and personal mishap which goes in to creating every single minute of our performance.
So I ask myself, after the year I have had, would I do it all again to get to where I am now… I guess the answer is a resounding YES. I would have preferred to have not had the stress, the pain and the major disruption to me and especially those around me, however, regrets are only useful to songwriters and melancholic murderers. I prefer to learn from my mishaps, build on my mistakes and press forward in an even greater determination to accomplish what I set out to do.
That multi tool spanner now lies useless at the bottom of a box, the Satsuma’s have gone mouldy and the joke book stabilises a wonky drinks cabinet, but that Christmas was the last one I will ever spend unhappy.
My advice is; Pay the price, follow your dream, wholeheartedly believe in where you are going and who you are. This is the only way you may ever succeed, you may not die wealthy or famous, but I absolutely guarantee you will die happy and a little more complete.