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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Dispatches from the frontline of mid-level showbusiness

Had a mainly delightful bunch of gigs this week, and thanks to a new camera bag, actually managed to shoot some stuff while I was hanging around in various venues waiting to do them.

I say mainly delightful, because one of them was marred by a very loud and completely hammered table of women. Nothing new there. Par for the course. All part of the job. Their drunken catterwalling affected all the acts on the bill negatively, and I figured pretty early on that I'd get the brunt of it, as I was the most talky act - no music to act as a buffer between me and the sauced up trouts means I'm the easiest target.

And it was unpleasant. On rare occasions heckling can be fun, if it's done with no malice, but some wit, but if you've just been drinking all day with your friends, and are under the impression that your purchase of a ticket means you now own the night for everyone, then it's just dull.

I think I handled it averagely. When one table is spoiling the show for everyone else, all the other tables kinda look to you - as the person on stage being shouted at - to solve the problem, and short of having them thrown out, or taking the time to individually put them to sleep with rear naked choke holds, there's little to be done. Funny put downs won't work because they're not listening. It's just a case of steaming through it and skulling a beer in the dressing room afterwards, which is what I did.

I'm lucky that this doesn't happen very often. Honestly, I can't remember the last time it did. I'm in the very fortunate position that I tend to only play clubs that I like, and therefore those are usually clubs that like me, so everyone has fun. Like I said, I really can't remember the last time I had a bad night at a club, but I remember the first time like it was yesterday.

Bearcat club, Twickenham. Last 80's. I was down for an open spot. I was playing with a geeky, nervous onstage character at the time - the joke being I'd be juggling fire and stuff, but be all nerdy. I walked on stage and the first couple of rows of rugby twats in the audience didn't get that it was a character, and thought I was actually as nervous as I was acting (When in fact, I was only slightly less nervous..). They started chanting "Scared", which initially confused me, but the confusion vanished when they started storming the stage, grabbing my props, returning to their places in the audience and throwing my own props at me. Hard.

Sounds funny now, and indeed it is, but my central memory of it is sitting on Twickenham station in tears convinced that I had made the most monumental mistake in convincing myself that I could ever make a living out of being on stage.

Such strength does this sense memory hold, that even now, 25 years later, when I have a moderately dodgy gig, I'm snapped back to that night like Sam Beckett. Unpleasant, but as a couple of smart people have said to me recently, the sensitivity that makes bad nights hurt is the same stuff that lets me write and perform well, so you take the cons with the pros.

Also this week I got a call from an ITV show who expressed an interest in having me in their Christmas day special. Those of you who have seen "Three Balls and a Good Suit" will know my feelings on shiny floored light entertainment slaughterhouses, and although this wasn't a talent show, it was still resolutely mainstream. Presented by Bradley Walsh, no less, who even gets a namecheck in "3 Balls.."

They seemed keen to have me, and although I've done enough TV to have no excitement about it whatsoever, it would mean a few more twitter and facebook friends who might be interested in my real work, so I thought what the hell. The production company said they were very excited that I'd like to be involved and that someone from the contracts dept. would be in touch that day to sort out the details. They also gave me two dates in the coming week to keep free, one for a rehearsal and one for the taping.

Over the next week nobody called, and when I called them to try to talk contracts, they seemed suprised that it would be an issue. Slowly it dawned on me that they expected me to be so excited about the spectacular opportunity they were granting me, that my fee wouldn't be important. Not so. On one occasion, the researcher that I spoke to explained that she hadn't called me because she is currently in studio and unable to make phone calls. She told me this on the phone from the studio, where I had called her.

I increasingly got the feeling that they were souring on me, so it was no suprise when I finally was told that I wasn't needed. "I guess you didn't get the email I sent you..". Hmm.

Throughout the whole thing I felt hugely, incredibly, spectacularly ambivalent. ITV 1 is not a place I harbour any excitment about going back to, but a gig is a gig. I won't cry over it though - I once got dumped from both "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "The Late Show with David Letterman" in the same week. Bradley Walsh needs to go some to compete with that pedigree.

Tickets for "Mat Ricardo: Three Balls and as Good Suit" at the Voodoo rooms, Edinburgh festival are now available here.

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