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.