The other week I was at a strange gig in Essex where ten acts were competing for attention with about seven fruit machines and five TV screens showing sexy sexy music videos. The audience were actually all right, although a significant lineup of Orangina coloured young ladies with £20 hair extensions meant we had to stick with the basics.
A funny thing happened to me in the middle of that gig. I stopped caring about what the audience thought, and almost wanted…to baffle them. To silence them in a bout of anti-comedic confusion. So I brought my newly purchased “Tangle Teezer” on stage (a plastic hairbrush with no handle that women like to purchase for about 580% of its wholesale value).
At first, I still had them. One of the Oranginas shrieked in recognition and pulled out HER Tangle Teezer. We shared some silly exchanges: I noted that hers was black, she got very offended and said it was NOT, it was PURPLE, innit!? I pointed out that her defensiveness suggested a bit of Essex racism. Ha ha, the audience laughed, and the Tangle Teezer bit should have ended there. But then my strange urge took over.
Instead of burying the hairbrush back into my pocket I started to brush my hair. For no reason. I just stared out at the audience silently and ran the brush through my hair. It only lasted a little while but it was profoundly silent and I could see the audience sink into a wave of confusion.
I couldn’t stand it for very long so I tucked the thing away and continued on with no explanation. I joked with another act that it was my Andy Kaufman tribute. But I couldn’t help but wonder if I had discovered something: that sometimes it’s more powerful to hold an audience and NOT give them what they want. I suppose that’s different from dying, where you are working your balls off for the laugh and getting nothing. But even that uncomfortable, soul destroying scenario gives me a weird sense of satisfaction. The same way that when you trip and fall on your face in public and no one laughs your adrenaline spikes. If I’m honest that sort of thing used to make me cringe; now I say to myself “Wow, it’s their loss they didn’t get the beauty of THAT moment.”
Maybe the performing, the insanity of getting up behind a mic, has finally made me lose my marbles. Or maybe I’m on to something: I’ve conquered the fear of death. At least in comedy.
This isn’t about comedy competitions, tt’s about comic competition. And how the world of social networking and long car journeys with other acts can either help you or drive you to paranoia and panic on the comedy circuit.
When it comes to my material and what I do onstage, I don’t worry about the competition. Not because I think I’m the best at what I do, but because I think I know my voice and what I offer the audience. I’m confident in my “product” and I get on with doing the best I can with it.
However, put me in a car with three comics who have all gigged at venues which I’ve never managed to get into, or I daresay, have never heard of, and the worst of my demons start growling. Just this past two weeks, I’ve been booked for three weekends at the Glee clubs, did my second open spot at the Comedy Store and got glowing feedback from the owner, got booked at Highlights for the first time, got booked for a run in a five star hotel in Malta, had a request to do a big corporate gig, and in the meantime enjoyed some very good gigs all over the UK. But what does my brain focus on? The fact that I’ve never even gotten in TOUCH with a handful of other clubs which other comics threw out in conversation.
Then there’s Facebook, which I’m unabashedly addicted to and use for both promotion and indulgent banter. And Twitter, which I’ve more recently come to use for both as well. They did a study awhile back which established a positive link between social networking usage and negative comparisons/competition with others. Ironically, this was shared like mad on Facebook.
But I can’t blame the technology, really; it’s simply harnassing that natural but destructive tendency we all have to compare and contrast, and keep up with the Joneses. In this case, however, the Joneses are an army of other comics who are all bashing away at the impossible dream of Reaching the Next Level in Comedy. So rather than celebrating the successes, it’s easy to panic over the holes on your CV.
And I’m expected to remember everybody’s NAMES. Me, the girl who can go to a party and have to ask THREE TIMES what someone’s name is. It’s not personal, it’s not me being rude, it’s my scattered brain taking in all the visuals of a person and thinking about their tone of voice and wondering whether they’ve always dressed like an 80s dorkster… and SHIT I’ve forgotten they have this name thing I need to hold onto in there.
Most comics can rattle off with ease the names and details of hundreds of other comics…both well known and obscure. I can name the ones I like, grew up watching, have seen enough of on TV and comedy sites to remember, and have worked enough with enough to remember not just their face but their name, which is likely to be Mark, Paul, or Dan. This puts me at a seeming disadvantage in the face of acts who seem to have memorized the entire repertoire of Chortle reviews and act titles.
Funny thing is, none of this translates to any resentment or bitterness towards others for me. It all goes inwards and makes me either 1. panic and worry I’m behind on my game or 2. work harder to keep rising. I’m trying to keep it at number 2 as much as I can. And also remember that in the end, comparison, competition, and panic do absolutely fuck all to help any of us get better at our craft, or rise up in the ranks. Being kind to other acts, sharing tips as much as you ask for them, and just working hard seems to be a much more sound approach. And we’re supposed to have fun along the way, right?
Most comics also don’t flaunt their CV, but rather share information generously and as a matter of conversation. We’re self-centred by nature and we wanna talk shop ALL the time. But there’s always that occasional little troll who does the eyebrow raising “oh, you’ve never played JIMBO’S BIG FAT TITTERS NIGHT in OXBLARGE? Wow. how long you been going again?” and then you have to decide if you’re gonna let the demons prevail.
Maybe I should take a break from Facebook. Maybe I need to just put up more filters when I sense people are trying to communicate in a competitive rather than supportive and curious way. I’m pretty good at reading intention… .I just need to make sure I keep those little pesky demons at bay so I keep mine intact.
Wow, you made it to the end of this? Shit, please don’t compare it to other blogs, I’m just doing the best I can here…
Ah, the nuances of comedy performance. Writing. Timing. Rapport. Even stage height. Oh, and a seemingly uncontrollable body function which has let me down every time I step in front of a mic: sweating like a monkey.
I say monkey because as it happens pigs have non-functioning sweat glands. And “primate” better describes how I feel when the super sexy affliction strikes. Also if I’m being honest I hate monkeys, and I hate sweating, so there. A new expression coined in bitterness.
I can see it in my head. Me, strolling confidently up to the mic, ready to slay my audience. A well dressed young(ish) woman, full of energy! Of promise! BOOM! But what’s this? Big circles forming. Dark and deviant alien sweat crop circles spreading out under my arms like damp clockwork. Bastards! At first you think “I’ll just hold my arms taut to my body. Sure, I’ll look paraplegic and/or like Michael Flatly from the waist up, but… “ And then the realisation dawns. Resistance: futile. The sweat is stealing the show like an American production company.
Here’s the thing. Whether I’m nervous, calm, or simply trying to enjoy fig rolls, I’m a sweater. I can coin that term too, because you call sweaters “jumpers” here. And believe me I’m no jumper, I’d get way too sweaty if I jumped. My dad was also a sweater so I guess I’ve inherited that along with his fondness for sarcasm. Sweaty, sarcastic balls of fun, that’s us. I love it! As a kid I remember him spraying at least a full can of family size Mitchum on his torso every morning. “So effective you could skip a day” my ASS, Mitchum. Ew, don’t get me started about ass sweat.
I’m certain that most people haven’t even noticed this at my gigs, and this is because I carefully select my wardrobe based on three factors: 1. Absorption rate 2. Opaqueness and 3. Stripeyness and or/Polkadottiness. I’m armed with a closet full of thick cotton patterned dresses. I pretend they’re part of my “persona.”
Why so much concern, you might ask? After all, we’ve seen Robin Williams excrete buckets of human saltwater on stage, and he’s got hair all over his arms which makes it look all porno. Lee Evans is a profuse sweater, for he is a crazy jumper. And Dom DeLuise, may he rest in peace, looked like he had walked through a carwash every time I saw him as a kid. I thought maybe that’s how overweight people had to shower. Sorry, cheap fat joke, made because I feel self-conscious about my own sad little problem.
Now let’s make way for the gender blah blah! Because c’mon, women aren’t received with much forgiveness when they showcase their body’s natural temperature regulation system. And that’s all mine is doing – regulating temperature. And dealing with some fight or flight shit I don’t feel like getting into. Which sadly, from all accounts, I seem to be fucking awesome at. I bet I maintain a steadier temp than HOARDS of overheated, dry pitted bitches out there. Meah. There’s a deodorant in the states called Secret, and the old tagline was “women sweat, too.” Problem was, the portrayal of a sweaty woman was a model jogging with misty perspiration on her décolletage. If only real sweat was seen as sexy, the way hard nipples were in the 90s.
Alas, it will never happen. Just look at the flak Christina Aguilera took for her recent performance at Etta James’ funeral. A drop of sweat rolled down her leg, and damn, if all the photographers in the world weren’t there to capture it. Granted, it was orange, which raises some valid grooming questions, but still. She’s at a funeral, let the lady perspire a little while she belts out a song. Humpfh.
I confess, I’m only half-heartedly playing the female card because actually, that drip was totally gross to me. And apparently to Christina, who rubbed her legs together like a cricket to get rid of it. Besides even if I won the battle of the sexes on the skin drip front, I don’t know if it would make me feel any less like Norm from Cheers when the pit rings start to appear.
At the root of this, I don’t want to be seen as weak on stage. Nervous. Incompetent. Because although sometimes I might be nervous, the rest of the time it’s just part of the adrenaline rush. The surge of energy and performance and urgency that comes with comedy. The part I LOVE, the part I’m addicted to. I’m an addict, and my sweat rings are my track marks.Yeah, that helps.
I’ve always sorta known I would do a show in which I discuss my former profession. But now that the clock is ticking down to Edinburgh 2012 I’m both excited and terrified to put myself on my own “comedy couch.”
The show is called “Reverse Psycomedy” (see what I did there? buhaha. ha. heh) and it’s about how an American psychotherapist found herself doing stand up comedy in the UK, despite years of telling herself she could never do it. Normally reverse psychology only works on fairly gullible patients and kids, but I guess I share a lot of features with both.
I rarely ever mention my old career on stage because there’s been something so personal about it. That might sound weird to anyone who’s seen me talk in detail about masturbation and school shootings, but mentioning my old life has seemed almost the greatest taboo.
People who know what I used to do often say “oh wow, you must have soooo much material.” To which I always wanna reply “yeah, confidentiality aside, that case I had with the guy whose mother beat him up was HILARIOUS.” Not that I haven’t heard some funny things over the years…but the real funny comes from the strange role I was in, and the realisations about human nature which have dawned on me over years of very personal, intimate connections with others in their darkest and most vulnerable moments. And sometimes, in my own.
There are lots of sayings about how crazy psychotherapists are, and the idea of the “wounded healer.” It’s true, spending your days focused on other people’s heads while they sit in THE CHAIR (it was never a couch, just THE CHAIR, not to be confused with the ELECTRIC CHAIR though both equally feared) is a good distraction from your own shit. Comedy, on the other hand, will force you to face your shit head on, and share it with your audience. Both require a weird mind at any rate.
The funniest comedy to me is always the most true, the most personal. So I guess I decided that 2012 was as good a year as any to dig a little deeper into this past job of mine and, hopefully, in doing so, fully launch myself into the new one. I don’t want to bring back the side of me who wore that clinical hat…I actually want to put her down for good. But she deserves a proper burial.
Edinburgh is an amazing prospect for this mission, and yet the most daunting. I have had earfuls of conflicting advice over the past year since I went full time with stand up: don’t do your first solo show for a few years. Don’t do it at a paid venue. Don’t have any expectations of anything coming from it.
Well, in the spirit of Reverse Psycomedy, I’ve ignored all the advice. I’m doing it now because I can’t wait any longer, I’m doing it in an expensive fuck off venue, and I’m hoping it changes everything despite all the odds.
See you there in August 2012, venue and times to be confirmed.
Casting brief for an “oops, I’m overweight” campaign. I’ll bet Kimberley Nixon is just beaming at the shout out below:
The most important quality that our main cast need to have is that they look like real people. By this I mean that they look relatively normal, just like a member of our audience. If they’re too big the viewers will switch off and think, “that’s not me”. This ad should be a bit of a wake up call. Our cast just need to look like they’ve let themselves go a bit recently, that they’ve a bit of a belly and maybe a big backside in jeans.
Performance wise our main cast need to be naturally empathetic. The audience needs to like and relate to them. They must have warm, naturally expressive faces. They are essentially reacting to their own reflections (this is when we’ll hear their inner most thoughts) so their performances need to feel subtle and nuanced. They will catch their own reflections unawares; these moments need to feel spontaneous and real.
It would be easy to make this character come across as a “big girl” out on a night out with her friends. This would be obvious and wrong. She should be attractive and relatively normal looking. The actress Kimberley Nixon who plays Josie in the TV show ‘Fresh Meat’ has the qualities they’re looking for. She’s fun and likeable and not someone you would imagine that normally worries about her weight.
Should be slightly overweight. Needs to have a measurement around her tummy (not waist) of about 32 inches or a body mass index (bmi) of 26-27.5. (everyone coming into the casting will be measured and weighed). I know this is all very specific but it is a requirement of the job and central to the idea of the campaign.
They are trying to connect with people who are not obese but just overweight as much bigger target market but who are also at risk from health complications even at the lower end.”
Behold the clearly overweight yet thank goodness, likable, Kimberley. Where’s your JUNK IN THE TRUNK! pin, Kimberley? Go, big girls!