No One Died This Week, Except Me, a little

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

That’s not totally true, just no one I knew personally. I certainly admired the work of Jan Hooks, a great improvisational comic actress, and that of Paul Revere, leader of one of the most underrated 60’s bands, both of whom have passed on in the last couple weeks. But I’d never met either of them, so I can’t tell any stories other than seeing Paul Revere & The Raiders in 1976 in Tahoe, and remembering how funny, and most likely coked up, Mr. Revere was.

No, this week’s death was only a minor meeting with the comedy grim reaper in a town called Gosport on the southern coast this past Friday. The fact that it was on Friday and not in London already casts an ominous cloud over things. It was further amplified by being south of London with the gig projected to start at 8, meaning that from the North, it’s necessary that anyone driving must navigate the maelstrom that is Friday rush hour on the London “bypass” known as M25. Since everyone else is “bypassing” London, on certain parts of that motorway, you can sometimes go all of three miles in a mere hour’s time! This time around, M25 sort of behaved itself, and I was able to cover my potentially harrowing 20 mile stretch in just over half an hour.

“Not so fast” (literally!) said the A3, my next road of choice, and which I’d have to stay on for 45 miles. There’s a stretch right before the university town of Guildford where all traffic stops to rest for no explainable reason, and it really did take 30 minutes to go three miles. I had to borrow from my swearing allotment for next month during that half hour, even though I really don’t have such a thing. By the time I’d passed Guildford, it was nearly 7:00, I was still about 40 miles from my destination, and I had now been on the road for three hours!

I’m also one of these stubborn folks that refuse to join whatever decade we’re in until the next one has started so, no, I don’t have any navigation system other than printing out a street map of the area where the venue is. The technology in Sat-Navs has improved greatly over the past couple years, so I may have to break down and join this decade after all. A good reason for doing so can be encapsulated by what I experienced once I actually got to Gosport, at about 7:40. On a street map, there may sometimes be a warning that certain streets may be one-way going the opposite of where you want to go. But what they don’t warn you is there may be only one sign identifying the street you need to turn on to, and it may be halfway up the side of a building and about half the size of a license plate, or it might be down near the ground and in such a spot that it’s dangerous to look too long for it, especially as there’s usually some wanker driving in your back seat who is totally unsympathetic to your dilemma. I do believe, and I said so onstage that night, that when U2 were writing their song “Where The Streets Have No Name,” they must have been in Gosport.

I did manage to get to the venue shortly before 8, only to find out they weren’t planning on starting until 9 (but of course!), but I was starving, and their food was cheap and palatable, plus they were willing to buy me a pint. Other than the hospitality I got from the club’s manager, everything else looked totally wrong about this gig. The “stage” area was occupied by a dinner party of about 12 who had finished dinner but were still having dessert and more drinks. They had been told they needed to move, but took their ever loving time doing it. The other act showed up about 8:15, and the booker, who was also the compere, showed up just after nine.

The show didn’t start until 9:40 for a variety of reasons, the compere’s late arrival being only a minor one. There seemed to be confusion about setting up the room for the comedy show, and the three of us were trying to set chairs so they faced the stage, but the manager gave us a roadblock on that one, claiming that her patrons, most of whom she knew by name, would not want to sit where there’s no table for drinks. She definitely knew her club, but it did prompt the question which I never asked out loud, “Why would anyone want to try comedy in THIS room?”

The reason was that for the only other comedy show they’d done there, last New Years Eve it turned out, there was 300 people. Our crowd Friday was about 280 short of that. And they all knew each other, so the shouts across the bar were on the level of “Hey, Tom, how are ya? Haven’t seen you in at least a week!” There was no announcement of any kind, no real effort to tell the people what was going on, as the only acknowledgement the venue made that such a show was happening was on a small blackboard, where it said “Thursday: Quiz Night! Friday: Comedy! Saturday: Football!! (with all the details of what matches would be airing) There was no cover, so anyone with a pulse was allowed in.

I was up first, but only after the compere struggled to get focus. Oddly, I was actually feeling in my first few minutes that this was going to be OK. They truly did calm down and did a fair impression of a focused crowd. That notion was dashed by my first big laugh, which then resulted in people breaking up into discussion groups about why that bit was funny. And since I had the guitar, anytime I was singing and playing meant “OK, now we can talk louder.” Also not helping was the pub manager, who had the best of intentions and truly did enjoy the whole show, but felt a need to be den mother, though her manner of doing so meant yelling to the loudest talkers by name, a la “Hey, Steve, shut the fuck up!” More often than not, “Steve” would only shut up for maybe a minute, but the frequency with which she was admonishing her friends turned out to be just as much a disruption as their chitter chatter.

I do have to say the people that stuck with me through that chaos really enjoyed what I did and told me so later, including Steve. The headliner fared a little better at some moments, a little worse at others, though he was not helped by the sound system cutting out completely, forcing him to yell out his last few bits. To no surprise, in the brief conversation I had with the manager after the show, she proclaimed she wouldn’t be doing this again. I gave her a thumbs up. She did her best to make us enjoy our time, but we were chomping at the bit to get paid and get out of there. I stayed out of courtesy to the headliner, who rode back with me since he also lived in North London. The ride that took four hours coming down took less than two going back. Of course!

Did I learn anything from this? Probably that I won’t do a gig like this again … until the next time I do one.

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