Monday, March 23, 2009

Outside The Bubble

What a ridiculous and lovely weekend. On Saturday morning I travelled up to Northumbria for a wedding of two beautiful friends.

I wouldn't have missed it for the world but selfishly I think it was really good for me too. After a week of living in the publicity bubble as we built up to Friday night's first episode of Genius it was the perfect way of reminding me that there are always more important things out there.

Because I had commitments in London on Friday the only way of making the journey was to fly up to Newcastle and then hire a car. If you're a regular reader you might know that I gave up car ownership a few years ago. The last time I drove in the UK was when I got to drive one of those tiny electric cars for an item on the Grand Designs Live thing I did last May.

The flight was, um, unpleasant. Really the only thing that made the weekend less than perfect. Newcastle United were hosting Arsenal that day so inevitably the plane was full and had a blokes-away-day tone to it. At one point, when a conspicuously pretty young girl returned to her seat from a trip to the loo she was given a round of applause by fifty blokes. Charming. I'm sure the knowledge that every woman who made the walk to and from the back of the plane was being judged on their appearance made everyone feel really relaxed about the rest of the flight. Especially as some of the blokes sitting near me then had a loud conversation about the relative merits of the stewardesses who - they decided - weren't as pretty as they'd hoped.

I really hate being in crowds of men when this sort of thing happens. I know they think they're just having a laugh and to many I probably just sound like a killjoy but not one of them would behave like that if they weren't bolstered by the power of the mob (and booze). We landed at 9.30am and they were loudly boasting about being four pints in already.

There's obviously no way of doing anything about it so the best you can do is meet people's eyes and try to tacitly express that you're not a part of it. In order to assert to myself how uninvolved I was I put my headphones in and listened to the campest music I could. Thanks Boogaloo Stu.

At the airport I joined the queue for the hire car company and suddenly had a heart stopping moment. I was sixth or seventh in line and I watched as everyone else in front of me took out their driver's licences. They all had the paper part of their licence as well as the card. I felt the blood drain away. The e-mail that confirmed the booking for the hire car had explicitly stated that I needed to bring both parts of my licence. I'd made a note of it. I'd even checked that the paper part was kept in the drawer I thought it was at the time. But at midnight, when I was packing my bag I'd forgotten that detail and had neglected to fetch and pack it. Oops. (Or as they say in Denmark: ups.)

I spent ten minutes in the queue certain I was about to be told that while I'd already paid for the car I couldn't actually take it. Certain I would meet a there's-nothing-I-can-do refusal. Sure I was about to take a very expensive cab instead. When it was my turn I told him straight away that I didn't have the paper licence and he just shrugged and said, "No problem, I'll just have to call the DVLA and check your endorsements." Such a relief.

Then he tried to persuade me to pay for an upgrade. I'd arranged to hire a small hatchback. I was being offered a Mercedes sports car. I turned it down to begin with. I'd arranged to pay extra for a sat-nav. The Mercedes came with an inbuilt sat-nav so he explained that they'd take off the fee for the sat-nav as an add on if I took it. By the time he'd finished explaining the benefits it was going to cost me something ridiculous like an extra £8 to take the sports car. So I did. The photograph up top shows you the car I was driving and the hotel I was staying in. Ridiculous. Very out of character for me. But lovely. Very, very lovely.

I don't want to write about personal things - especially other people's personal things - so I'll only say that the wedding itself was fabulous and a glorious time was had by all. By the time I'd returned to London late on Sunday afternoon I was feeling pretty wiped out.

Digression: I went for a wee in the gents at Newcastle airport. Above every urinal there was an advert. It was for a bookmakers that was located within the airport by security. They were doing a special Mothers' Day offer. A free £3 matched bet. What? Is that as misplaced an advert as it seems to me to be? Perfect for any bloke who's forgotten Mothers' Day, but taken their gambling addicted Mum to the airport for the day. What!

Digression over: ... feeling pretty wiped out. Not at all in the mood to do a gig. But a gig is what I had to do because I'd agreed to do a spot in Ali McGregor's Late Nite Variety Nite night. Elated by the weekend's football results I decided to laugh in the face of exhaustion and cycle into town. I'm glad I did. I know Ali but had never seen her perform before and didn't really know what to expect from the evening. It was camp and silly and very, very funny cabaret. Ali and all her guests were amazing. There were singers, accordionists and burlesque acts (how odd that having followed a burlesque act for the first time so recently I got to do it again so soon) and by the time the interval came I was feeling like some stand-up would be a wholly inappropriate interruption to the flow of the evening.

It made me change the way I approached the gig. Stand-up is by and large an illusory artform. Most comics are pretending to be more in the moment than they appear. Things are normally more written than a lot of the audience appreciates. Even most of the comedians who appear to be making it all up as they go along are largely doing no such thing. (Although I saw Phil Kay last week and I'm pretty sure he was for real and he was absolutely ace.) But every now and then, you are. And when you're on stage and saying things you've never said - or thought - before and it's working you feel incredibly alive. It's when the thing you normally sort of pretend to be doing has come to life.

Following four other stand-ups changes the way you approach a gig. The audience has got used to a stand-up rhythm and you feel like you have to bang it out in order to hold their attention. But following a Lady Elvis, an accordionist, a camp singer of torch songs, an omnichordist (don't ask) and a Star Trek themed burlesque made me abandon any plans and just feel my way through a set.

Don't get me wrong, most of what I said on stage was material I'd done before - although none of it was the stuff I'd thought about doing in advance. But maybe 20% of it was completely new. By which I mean, not-even-from-my-new-things-I-haven't-tried-yet page of my notebook. Things I'd never even thought about before, let alone written down or said out loud. About half of that new stuff will never work again because it was about the night and the situation and the moment and the shared consciousness in the room... but maybe the other half can be turned into something.

Of course it will never be as exciting for me as it was last night when I was saying - and hearing - it for the first time. And maybe that's the more important gain. I've been out of stand-up for a long time and while I think gigs are generally going well it is something you never stop learning about. Comedy clubs create their own atmosphere and expectations, as do cabaret nights like last night. But it's useful to do them all because you learn something about yourself by working in such different environments.

22 comments:

James said...

What I'm wondering is if you spent a lot of time at the wedding feeling the need you to explain the accompanying sports car, to prevent people thinking... "Oh look at Big Time Charlie over there, he's got himself a BBC TV series and now suddenly his understated living has gone out of the window."

Aunty Helpful Dictator said...

I agree with James. I'm picturing you explaining to the other guest at your table "you see the satnav is integrated, so it was a saving really" ;)

Leanne said...

Firstly - hello James - I'm sure friends wouldn't have such opinions! But yeah, I get what you mean. Maybe Dave should've had a sticker in the window saying "My Other Car Is A Bike"

Hello Dave, reading this has reminded me of a train journey I took recently from Newcastle to Manchester. The train was packed and I was sat amongst a drunken bloke-mob of footy fans, and their whistling and chatting up made me feel very uncomfortable. However, amongst them was one sober feller, not part of the group and obviously trying very hard to let me know that. He spent the whole journey making eye contact, rolling his eyes and inconspicuously shaking his head in a "what're they like, eh?!" gesture. This made me feel more uncomfortable than the bloke-mob.
It was funny - what made this middle aged bloke in a pinstriped suit imagine that other passengers thought he was part of a group of fifteen lads in footy tops? Maybe he was subconsciously enjoying the blokeiness of it all but felt guilty for doing so!

That pic looks like it's taken at Otterburn Hall? Dave, have you SEEN the lovely Northumberland coast? Seahouses is worth a visit alone for it's fish and chips.

EmlynB said...

Lord, I hate "laddish" men. I agree with Leanne that the best course of action is just to not draw attention to yourself. As long as you don't shout "WHEEEEY!" at every opportunity and sing 'Que Sera Sera' in an affected macho way (presumably to draw attention away from the fact that the first line is "When I was just a little girl" and the whole song is written from a female perspective), it should be obvious that you're not one of the crowd.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be pedantic, but there's no place called Northumbria. There's the North East, Northumberland, Durham, Tyneside, etc - but nowhere on the map entitled Northumbria. Even the tourist folk don't use it as a marketing name now.

Ben Nuttall said...

Dave - I absolutely loved Genius! Can't wait to see it this week! I'm still trying to think of a Genius idea to send in...

It's nice when you can get a huge upgrade for a tiny bit extra. Nice car!

Oh God - I hate groups of drunk football men being blokey together, particularly on public transport when they fill the bus/train/tram/plane out and everyone's cramped and has no option but to sit/stand in the mass of blathering drunken idiots bellowing offensive chants and moronically wooping at women.

I had a similar experience on a train from Liverpool to Manchester (my journey unfortunately coincided with a football match). They were chanting a song which somehow involved the "English IRA" (?) and the German bombers...

taitle said...

Drop a few beers down your throat, watch a live football game and you will be singing with the rest of 'em.

Great to let off a bit of steam.

Drunk trains are hilarious. Trouble is people perceive us as more threatening than we actually are.

Emma said...

I'm not a material sort, but that car and that hotel would make me smile. Very fancy pants.

I 'stepped out' with a lad once. He was a complete dog. He got smashed on New Year's Eve and I spent the evening appologising to other girls he was slagging off or perving at. Including one police woman. He was pretty to look at mind... but the lack of awareness, self control, or manners was really unattractive and a bit scary.

David said...

All those old halls in Northumbria (the word doesn't lose it's meaning even if it's no longer to be found on a contemporary map) are fabulous - great for weddings - hope you enjoyed it and your recent stay in Newcastle.

David said...

Oh, and thanks for the heads up about Ali Ali McGregor - thought she was in Oz; hopefully she'll take a show up to the Spiegeltent in August.

Kel D said...

They need to teach good guys like you "bystander training" where they show you tips and tricks for telling loutish men how inappropriate their actions are.

If a woman does it then they call her names but if a guy with a beer calls them on their behaviour, peer pressure wins!

On my edge sun said...

I think I have to join Dave in this one. I love my football and as a kid hated those blokes who made you feel embarrassed for your gender.

I'm a Leeds fan but the worst case I came across was when I was on a train heading home after watching Fulham beat Huddersfield for which they won promotion. That train was a nightmare, fair enough they were celebrating but it was packed to the point you were stood up but couldn’t move and it wasn’t just sound finding its way into our ears but chemically enhanced saliva due to the close proximity. Sadly though on the terraces it’s the same guys who add a lot to the atmosphere. I'm no psychologist but maybe they feel that they have to prove their masculinity to each other after a few beverages so that it’s not as awkward that they’re so good at also shouting at men with six-packs in shorts that kiss and hug each other as a form of celebration?

It’s probably now not the best time to suggest this but I’m still trying to fathom Star Trek themed burlesque, was the boldly going where no man has gone before part expected from the audience or provided by the act?

EmlynB said...

"If a woman does it then they call her names but if a guy with a beer calls them on their behaviour, peer pressure wins!"

You'd think that would be the case but it isn't.

Dave Gorman said...

@James: I didn't have to spend any time explaining it. Friends were staying in the same hotel and they knew how out of character it was for me to be driving that thing. But I didn't take it to the wedding so wasn't parking up in front of strangers who might draw that kind of conclusion.

@taitle: I enjoy the atmosphere at a football game and I understand the fun of being in a large group of like minded people. But if people on a train (or wherever) think you're threatening... well then you are. If you're aware that your behaviour - while fun for you is intimidating for others - well then you're wilfully intimidating others. And that's unpleasant. If it had just been singing that would be one thing. When it comes to loudly passing judgement on the attractiveness of the women who are sharing the same space as you then it's hugely unpleasant and intimidating.

@Kel D: Believe me, one man with a beer doesn't equal peer pressure.

taitle said...

@Gormon There is a line between a group being simply ecstatic and also then threatening.I think you are right that it also comes done to reaction,.

But to be fair, 12 men in an enclosed place cheering would always upset some people. Especially if it is after a football game, but what do you expect. Usually they leave people well alone. I never was part of a group who shouted at an ordinary stranger though, I think that is really off.

I agree with you, the people you encountered were very out of order.

On a Derby County game, I was sitting a few seats above this hench bald guy who got in a big strop that his team were losing, he pointed at a fan on the opposite end, gestered to the outside of the stadium and punched his fist. After the game a police officer got hold of him and shouted him down. I thought that was a good call.

@Emilynb: We sing "Steve Gerrard Gerrard, he can pass forty yards hes big and hes f**ing hard stave gerrard gerrard." ^^

Dave Gorman said...

taitle said: "But to be fair, 12 men in an enclosed place cheering would always upset some people."

Me: Which is surely reason enough to not do it.

Emma said...

Would it be genius to have a football supporter/stag night only train carridge, where groups of drunk men (or women), can be stored during the journey?

Because people who are having 'fun', who think that the people around them aren't having fun, are no fun.

So put them in together and they can have their fun, and those people who just want to get from a to b and read the paper without being heckled or hear potty-mouthing, can do just that.

I would be much happier using public transport at night if I knew the idiots were safely tucked away.

Leanne said...

Emma - Would that a form of institutionalisation?!

Virgin Trains do 'quiet' coaches. By travelling in these coaches in the past I've found that the concept doesn't work. People ignore the notices and generally make lots of noise whilst in them.

Anonymous said...

I don't like people talking into their phones on the bus, or people with their iPods turned up too loud, so I would want to kill those football fans on the aeroplane...

As for incongruous pairings, as in Mothers Day and gambling, I'm still undecided about the big Easter display (including happy bunny rabbit) in the window of the undertakers on Lower Clapton Road (near the ponds).

Murray, E5

taitle said...

Dave Gormon: Which is surely reason enough to not do it.

Me: People always would!

Anyway I think quiet carriages are a good idea, but don't these special carriages cost more?

rileysaplank said...

About half of that new stuff will never work again because it was about the night and the situation and the moment and the shared consciousness in the room...

For me when a stand-up does that it makes the evening more special and turns in to a 'gig' type feeling because you know the comedian/comedienne is reacting to and with the crowd. Also, I think it takes a lot of confidence on the stand-ups part because they truly don't know if it'll work or whether they'll die on their proverbial arse.

Emma said...

@Leanne: Institutionalisation? Maybe. I'm happy to segregate in my utopia.

So rather than quiet coaches you have noisy coaches, and the loud people can go there. And everyone else who is decent and respectful of other people and thier environment get to sit in any of the other carriages. Which will be much more lovely. There will be a noise-level judge, like a ticket inspector, who will allocate people to carriages.

And everyone will respect the decision of the noise-level judge, without giving them any back-chat or hassel or a sarcastic withering look, because people are nice.

This is in my utopia, obviously,