Tuesday, 2 January 2018

GSOH: Just Twenty Seventeen, Part Three Of Four

More paid work had come along for me, due to the Trisha Timpson character. 'She' was booked to play alongside two other comedians at an LGBT festival tent in Cambridge on a Saturday evening in July.

Trisha was also down for doing a spot at a charity event in Milton Keynes that afternoon, so this meant remaining 'en femme' as I drove from gig to gig.

The charity do was a tough one, with it being a mix of music and comedy - lots of live bands, separated by a few minutes of stand-up. This kind of thing rarely works out, there's quite a 'gear change' from live music to comedy (and vice versa). My fears were confirmed as the bulk of the audience didn't pay attention to the comedians. There was a pocket of people near the front who were laughing, but, as you'd expect, people wanted to chat, smoke and drink in between the bands.

These events have a better chance of working out if you keep the music to one section, and comedy to another. I must stress it wasn't the booker's fault, who didn't want it to be music-comedy-music-com. I just think some organisers look at the big light entertainment specials on television and reckon "ah, they've had Girls Aloud followed by Peter Kay, we can do that on our scale".

What works in a television studio, where the seated audience is familiar with the acts, does not work in a pub. Still, did my bit for charidee, and then jumped in my car to head over to Cambridge.

Festival fun
The LGBT event was helmed by a very tall drag queen, and is aimed at everyone. It attracts families and drinkers, as well as the local LGBT community. There was to be a lot of cabaret, but unlike the earlier event, there was a clear section of stand-up comedy, with myself being one of three comedians.

There was certainly a lot of colourful and kooky entertainment going on. Four women delivered 'pop power ballad yoga', a tongue-in-cheek aerobics performance that gave license to dance to 80s anthems in the skimpiest and tightest of outfits. Headline act the Fleurettes were a mix of drag, dance and physical comedy. There were more down-to-earth things, like a transgender choir.

I was really pleased to be on the bill and looking forward to being on a massive stage in front of over 200 people - my biggest audience yet. However, there was a slight twinge of guilt, in that I'm neither L, G, B, or T. (Well, maybe a lower case T.) Getting a backstage wristband at a festival is something I've dreamed of, but there was this nagging thought that, as a straight cis-gendered male, I felt like I'd gatecrashed the gig. Of course, I was there to be my character, and I was already in drag.

When it came to my turn, I took to the stage, and then, at some point in the set, a very drunken heckler hurled a very homophobic slur at me. While this is never acceptable, no matter what the sexuality of the target, my brain acted with relief on two points. I now felt properly part of the LGBT line-up of comedians, the insult was like an endorsement to me.

The second point was that I now had an absolute corker to unleash in order to deal with this situation. Borrowing a put-down I'd seen used by friend Louis Barfe, I sweetly smiled at the heckler - which beautifully fits Trisha's character and just dropped this verbal bomb...

"Aw bless. He looks like he has to pay his hand to have a wank."

That scored the biggest laugh of my set. His girlfriend, already embarrassed at his drunken stupor, was mortified, and I was very pleased that he was getting frogmarched out of the tent by a security guard. By the time I ended my set, I could see at the very end of the tent that he was having a talking to from the boys in blue.

Jon Pearson at The Black Prince
I've previously said that, while out as Trisha, 99.9% of the public don't care (or even notice) that I'm dragged up from head to toe. I might get some double-takes, but verbal abuse is incredibly rare. The next time I was dolled up, it occurred, but not at the venue.

I was making my way from a car park to a comedy competition in Hereford, and some bloke with his mates in a nearby pub beer garden had wanted to prove his observational skills.

"That's a man dressed up as a woman!" yelled the inebriated supersleuth, as his mates giggled. "It's actually a man!" He was pulling faces of mock-disgust, the kind you do in the playground when you're seven years old and That Friendless Kid Who Has The Fleas touches you.

The gig itself went okay. When I arrived, I was told that local celebrity Wincey Willis (former TVam weathergirl) was usually a judge but was giving it a miss this year.

The competition took place in a dark windowless basement, with very strong stage lighting. As soon as you stepped on stage, you could barely make out the audience, it had the feel of a police interrogation. I had been used to this from previous performances in theatres and in a BBC television studio, but this was really tough to see in. That's not to say I had a bad time, I went full steam ahead and got really strong laughter.

Joey Cannon from Liverpool won the gig. I had one audience member approach me to say that their partner - a lecturer in theatre study - was really impressed with my mannerisms and delivery. Apparently, I really am like a pub barmaid, although anyone who has witnessed me making a hash of pint-pouring knows I don't belong behind a pump.

This reminded me I probably had to walk past the intoxicated Sherlock back to the car (where all my male clothes were).

Right on cue, he unleashed his howls of derision but his friends weren't bothered and a few of them had properly distanced themselves from him. I think it's safe to say some chuckleheads, who sneer at gays, lesbians, and folk who don't fit the 'norms' of gender, very likely have their own closeted issues. Like those American politicians who vote down every gay rights proposal and then get caught in a public toilet with a rent boy.

Anyway, July enabled me to finally get hold of professional comic Jon Pearson for Laugh Yer Head Off. We knew he was perfect for the venue, but being in such demand - deservedly so, it took a while for him to be available. Unsurprisingly, he smashed it.

We'd cross paths again as Donna Scott had booked a preview spot at Northampton's Black Prince for Jon's Edinburgh show Feet First. Pat Draper and I were support acts.

Diss respect
Already glammed up as Trisha in the bar, I was recognised by a couple, primarily by my voice. I had done a radio interview as myself on local community station NLive, plugging my comedy nights and mentioned I'd be doing the Trisha Timpson act as support for Jon.
When not on stage, I don't talk in Trisha's voice, I use my own. I don't act like her until it's time to do the set. Going to the front bar and ordering a pint was what caused this couple to suddenly realise who I was.

I've been in a comedy sketch live on BBC Two to a million viewers during one Saturday morning in the Noughties, but never been recognised off it. I have had a stranger approach me because they've seen my comedy on YouTube and people in town knowing who I was through some social media stuff that went viral. I didn't expect anyone to pick up on that radio interview, but they'd come along for it. It's not like I was the star.

Anyway, that was a cracking gig indeed, for all concerned. I'd soon be back doing paid work on a festival stage again thanks to DissFest. Everyone was really up for this and the line-up was really stunning, ending with Doug Segal. I had a lot of positive feedback from my peers for my act.

That weekend Trisha continued gigging, with a set at Cradley Heath's BushFest - proudly billed as the smallest comedy festival in the world. I didn't set the place on fire here, going on very early because of a commitment to an evening gig in Liverpool. Character acts don't fare well at the start of an event. (When organising a line-up, I stick anything leftfield or character based towards middle/end.)

I pelted up the M6 to Liverpool to the Hot Water Comedy Club, still with the make-up and clothes on. I hadn't been to this gig since the middle of 2016, when it was based in the conference room of a Holiday Inn. The owners of this night are tremendously good at promotion, and have invested in a new venue of their own, a few blocks away.

While 2017 may be noted in comedy circles as the year the ailing-yet-famous Jongleurs went out of business, I'd rather attention be lavished on the promoters who are doing everything right, and that's Hot Water. They are the benchmark for what comedy promoters should aspire to. Oh, Trisha had a good gig by the way.

Did another spell at the Caroline Of Brunswick in Brighton during the week, then did a Wiltshire debut at Andrew White's new comedy night in Salisbury.

Life's a beach
I rounded the month off with two charity gigs in the afternoon at Gorleston-on-Sea, a festival comedy tent run by Kahn Johnson, East Anglia's very own 'Sleazy Vegan'. There were two runs, both with virtually the same line-up, to an audience of people who were at the seafront as part of the town's annual festival.

I have a thing about British seasides, I tend to visit them a lot, probably because it's a vast contrast to life in the midlands. Gorleston is a satellite town of Great Yarmouth, which I'm very familiar with. Anyway, we got to do this gig on a cliff top, literally facing the sea. There were some children present during the first run, so I toned down Trisha's gags a bit, but the second run was an adult audience. I delivered the full fat set.

After changing back to male mode in the car - never a comfortable chore, I got to spend the evening over at Great Yarmouth. There's something about having chips by the seaside that I really enjoy.

By the way, I should mention Chuckle Pit is going from strength to strength. The flyering had paid off, all the nights were nearly hitting capacity at this point. Unfortunately, my monthly open spot night in Market Harborough - Beerhouse Comedy - hadn't done too well in recent months, so a mutual decision was taken to rest it for a while.

It's true that I'd concentrated a lot more on Chuckle Pit, bringing that bang up to standard and exceeding expectations. Previous Beerhouse Comedy nights had so-so audience numbers. I wasn't flyering them and I don't think a poster had been printed since 2016, it really was all riding off social media and the expectation people would just go there every third Thursday. It's still on hiatus and I expect it to return in 2018 when I have the resources to relaunch it in a similar way to how I breathed life back into Chuckle Pit.

Trisha had an astounding gig at Stourport-on-Severn, where a packed audience latched onto the character immediately and there was the atmosphere were the set-ups were causing giggles. Naturally, I like these gigs. I got to throw in some ad-libs and really draw out the laughter. Stupidly, this tremendous set was never caught on my camcorder.

Sadly, July was the month I received some awful news that was to impact my future income. I had already booked accommodation in Blackpool and Edinburgh for a big holiday up north, where we'd spend another few days in Lancashire's cheap-and-cheerful seaside resort before heading north of the border to the Fringe for about half a week.

I could have just not gone to keep the belt tightened, but it had been paid for, so we had our holiday. I had already wound down the gigging, turning down offers to concentrate on ensuring I have a decent financial future. I am not a professional circuit comedian, it's a hobby that got a bit out of control and I make a reasonable amount out of it. Not enough to give up a day job of course. Work comes first.

Trisha did a couple of agreed appearances in Milton Keynes and Cradley Heath. Then we headed over to Blackpool, took on the Pleasure Beach and navigated through the acres of tat to go off to Ryan Gleason's Comedy Station. We were there strictly as punters, but we soon realised one of our friends of the circuit would be there. Ben Briggs - a truly stunning comedian rooted in dark humour - was doing a spot.

Doing what the Romans couldn't
We'd soon be bumping into people we knew on the comedy scene a lot more frequently when we hit Edinburgh, which is no unusual thing.

We aimed to see about eight to ten shows a day. Marauding through tourists along those side streets between Cowgate and Royal Mile was very hectic and stressful, but we got to see nearly every show we wanted to, and quite a few we'd never planned.

I bumped into Will Preston, handing out flyers outside Harriet Dyer's show. Didn't have time to have a full conversation, but did remark that every time I met him, it was in a different country - England, Wales and now Scotland. My optimism at navigating through Edinburgh to get to Aaron Twitchen's gig was ill-founded, so we took a taxi over to Mark Row's show - A1 : The Long Road To Edinburgh - a gig about being a newbie comedian finally ending up in the Fringe. Mark had gigged for our nights, plus I'd been on a few line-ups with him.

To go through all the shows we saw would extend this blog entry to the astonishing lengths of yesterday's prose. It's a personal blog, so I'll go through what I did. Scored a couple of early afternoon gigs at Whistlebinkies for Alastair Sadler's Streetbeat Comedy showcase.

My last visit to the Edinburgh Fringe was in 2015 for just two ten-minute spots on showcase events on one night. I don't have a festival length show written yet, my plan is to do an hour of Trisha Timpson (well, 20 mins of her, then 20 minutes of another character in her life, then finish with another). One day I'll get to write that, but we were in Edinburgh to primarily watch comedy rather than be on stage.

However, your peers soon get wind of you being in the Scottish capital, thanks to the social media age we live in, and you get offers sent to you constantly. One out-of-the-blue offer from comedian Alex Leam was to do improv at his hour-long night, Improv Provocateur. I'd never done improvisation before, always wanted to but never really saw an opportunity, until now.

Second comedy accolade of 2017
Well, the above photo shows you how well that went. The night is very closely modelled on Whose Line Is It Anyway, but Legally Different enough to be its own thing. Four comedians on stage and reacting to just about anything thrown at them in a series of games.

Our Edinburgh nights would conclude in a 17-mile journey across the Forth Bridge into Dunfermline where we were staying, thanks to airbnb. One night my sat nav ran out of battery, causing a wrong turning and ending up within spitting distance of the Grampian Television region.

Anyway, on return to home, I concentrated on running my own comedy nights and making a plan to go freelance with the nine-to-five work. Stressful times indeed, although things are slowly working out in my favour.

I had ordered several thousand flyers for Chuckle Pit's remaining nights of the year, and blitzed even more of Wellingborough than ever before. That worked out well.

Safe to say the last quarter of the year did not see me anywhere near as busy on the gigging front. More of that in the final blog entry on 2017, probably tomorrow.

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