Saturday, 23 March 2019


Sometimes I really hate the Scots. There is a Scotsman and he is really drunk plus and/or possibly on coke. He has stopped using consonants and his heckles consists of merely vowels. Nobody can tell what he is on about. I could probably decode his noises if I wanted to, for I too am a Scottish. It is not really words just ambient Scottish sound. It is as though he occasionally wakes from his slumbers and chucks in something else before going back to sleep. 
He is not really a major problem. More like a grumbling appendix. He rumbles away during the other acts but I am aware he could become a flash point. 

When I take to the stage he very quickly pipes up when he finds that I am Scottish. I immediately tell him I wish to distance myself from him. That I want nothing to do with him. We have nothing in common. That we have no affinity whatsoever despite being born on the same piece of rock. I do it with wit and charm so it is a good icebreaker. I wish I can remember how I did it because it was really good. Funny but also setting out the ground rules, ingratiating myself with the rest of the audience, isolating the trouble maker and done with a light touch. I wish I could recreate that on stage again and also in real life where I could go about telling people who needed to be told to fuck off but in a charming fashion. Like a master politician or a socialite or something. 

Anyway however I fluked it the audience are on my side. So I already have more leeway. Then I do the gay town routine and the whole gig is flowing. it is in the ideal spot where they trust you and the audience are so elastic you can stretch them all over the place and you can get the next laugh with such economy of delivery, just little nudges and you don’t really need to over sell or push the delivery. It is probably as good as it gets for this size of crowd. It is also unfortunately as good as it gets. 

But I take a wrong decision about material. I do a routine about coming down from Scotland to London and having a chip of my shoulder. And although the routine is about me and I am the joke in it all, the Scotsman gets riled up by it and starts causing problems. He thinks its about him. And it really IS about him. He thinks I am having a go at him. And I really AM having a go at him. Why choose that routine? My subconscious has decided to take him to task  that is why. Fair play to my subconscious and fair play to him - the headcase -  amidst all the alcohol and cocaine and regret and hatred in his addled mind  -  he is the only one in the room, including me, that has cut through the sub text and can see that I really am saying  ‘Fuck You’ to him. His over sensitivity to social slights are working perfectly. 

So anyway he reacts to it and not in a good way. He thinks some gauntlet has been thrown down. And it has by the way. He starts becoming a problem. I find myself later thinking I shouldn’t have chosen that routine. But armed with fore knowledge would I really have acted any differently? I doubt it. I would probably have delighted in ramming the whole thing down his throat anyway. Who knows? He may have exploded on something else? Maybe nothing is ever my fault? That is also a possibility. 

There  are more exchanges with him. I always get the better of him. That is not a boast by  the way. It is my job and also he is really out of it and I am not. I should be getting the better of him. But every interruption damages the rhythm and exposes the artificiality of material. He is too far gone to know that I have beaten him anyway so he will always be back for more. Like the time the Zulus beat the British in some battle even although the Zulus didn’t have guns and The British did have guns and all because the Zulus were on hallucigenics and that stopped them from stopping when they got shot. Like that. 

There are other miscalculations. For example I am looking at the wrong person. I think the heckler is somebody else and I am directing my barb comments at the wrong person entirely. That in itself becomes “a bit”. By “a bit” I mean an improvised comedy routine around an occurrence during that gig. A happening or an event if you will. In the parlance “a bit” is a good funny bit. 

Anyway it is not the gig I would have envisaged but it is all cooking anyway. But suddenly he stands up and this changes the whole dynamic. And it is quite a small audience so the tension at potential conflict is always going to be quite large. I am sure he wants the toilet and not to hit me in the face but he looks so dazed. He is not sure where the toilet is or where backwards or forwards is. He rocks back and forth on his heel trying to focus, a thousand yard stare. I think the audience think his is limbering up for a right hook. But they don’t understand Scottish psycho body language. He is merely marshalling his resources for a toilet visit. All this is largely post gig conjecture of course. At the time I don’t really know what is going on. At the time I don’t initially realise he is standing at all. All I know is that the heckle put downs are no longer working and that they are no longer laughing at me and there is tension in the air. I think it is my fault. Have I gone too aggressive? Has my tone changed? I try to correct my tone but to no avail. And it could have been my fault maybe it wasn’t because he stood up. Who knows? 

Anyway he goes to the toilet and the tension abates and I do the rest of  the gig and it is good but it is bad because it could have been so much better judged by the start of the gig standards. They were in that elastic state where I could have taken them anywhere and know they will only go some places. So the end is good but it is not good. 

Tuesday, 19 March 2019


Don’t fall out with the audience before the show even starts: if you want my advice, thanks for asking. Over the years I have worked really hard on not judging audiences in advance. 
I just try to think of them as a huge sea of neutrality. Not that it is always easy. It can be very difficult to withhold judgement from a group of people you have never met. Sometimes I have witnessed an audience being malicious to a previous act. Other times I recognise a familiar pattern of behaviour and, like a benign god or parent, I know where their behaviour is headed before they do. Sometimes my “gut instinct” tells me in advance that there is something up with them - this is the same gut instinct that led police to beating confessions out of innocent suspects in the 1970s.  
But whatever the reason, no good can come of falling out with the audience in advance. 

Tonight I am in a small village outside Nuneaton. It has one shop and I wish to buy some food from it for my pre show diner. The shop keeper refuses my transaction because I haven’t reached the £5  minimum for a card transaction. I explain the law has changed and that there is now no legal minimum so he can damn well serve me. He refuses. I quote the law back to him. I don’t know much about  the law but I do know that legally speaking I am as entitled as anyone to bandy it about. I don’t know for sure that the law has changed but the general consensus among people who I know in London is that it has. And also places in London would frankly let you debit card 2 pence and not even blink. So he better get with the project. 

The stand off continues. One great advantage of doing stand up comedy is that you loose any sense of embarrassment whatsoever. You are prepared to push things to the absolute brink of social awkwardness and still not care. 

Another customer enters the shop - of course he gets involved because this isn’t London and people don’t mind their own business. This local, of course, backs up the shop keeper, Insisting the law hasn’t changed. But who would know better? Me a man who lives in London where laws are actually made and has occasionally lunched in the Houses of Parliament or a man in a shop?

This customer assures me that he knows what he is talking about because, and I quote “I am a business man”. This argument has been obviously designed to massively get my goat. Trust me I am a shark, let me look after your swimming pool.

He then makes a good point that the shopkeeper isn’t obliged to serve me and can decline my business. This is an excellent point and I don’t have a counter argument to it. And so I am forced to borrow cash off a fellow comedian to complete the transaction. I am not happy about this and everyone knows it. 

Later on at the gig the customer in the shop “the business man” is seated in the front row of the audience. Small world. Well it is when you live in a small world. 
He is surprised to see me.
Half an hour ago I was just a man in  shop arguing about his inalienable rights and now I am a comedian. It is not often that audiences get to witness the off stage me ratcheting up tension in an everyday situation with a shop keeper. So I think this guy feels privileged to have seen the on and off stage Stephen Carlin. 

So there is now a little conspiracy between the two of us because we both know but I never ever mention it. Perhaps I should do? There is a lot of comedy potential to this situation.  But I decide to keep it secret because there is something very satisfying about this conspiracy of silence going on with one guy in the front row. It gives the whole performance an edge and he enjoys it all the more. If only I could just recreate that little individual conspiracy with each audience member individually it would really heighten the whole thing. Perhaps I need to have runs in with all of the audience individually prior to any show but this would be very time consuming. 

Anyway I think the upshot of today is that there were no negative consequences to my actions and therefore I have not learned anything. I have neither evolved as an artist nor as a human being. In the future I have resolved to have more run ins with my shopkeepers or carry cash on me at all times. It is importantly to harness everything you have towards your stage act. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018


SHOW 23 -25TH AUGUST 2018

If my show is an aeroplane and I am the pilot then I can still fly the damn thing but I must admit not necessarily as smoothly as a week ago. I may spill your drinks and give you a rough landing, we may have to turn on the seatbelt sign, but as long as the weather is fair then I will get you there in one piece. I say as long as the weather is fair, and if the weather is stormy then… who knows? Fortunately today the weather is fair so we will never know what would happen if it was stormy, perhaps it would bring out the best in me? 

But the amount of errors that are staring to creep in are building up at an alarming rate and that is only the ones I am aware of, God know what I am now failing to notice. There are moments today that I make mistakes that would be unacceptable in general conversation let alone a performance. Saying words  in sentences the wrong way around rendering them technically bull shit. There is no smoothness at all, and at this stage of exhaustion I wonder of it is even something to strive for. Whether I should forget about that level of technical elan and stick to the basics. The audience are certainly up for it but the whole show shudders all over the place, at points getting big laughs when I accidentally do it right, slamming on the brakes when I screw something up, timing and performance I suspect now a shadow of their former self. It has a very jerky quality but I certainly act as if I know what I am doing. Perhaps I am finally entering my fat Elvis stage? Memory muscle kicking in but now essentially bereft of grace and skill, waiting to die on a bathroom floor. I wonder how far I could push it, how much I could run myself into the ground if I did this for another month? What would he show be like?

What do people notice anyway? Do they notice any of this? I have met me before so I know what I am capable of doing but what about other people? If they haven’t seen me before they may be unwittingly impressed, if they have never actually seen stand up they will probably think I am doing a good job, but as for people who have seen me what are they thinking? It is possible that I have been reduced to a Stephen Carlin tribute act now doing a homage to the Stephen Carlin of a week ago. “You should have seen him back in the day kid, about six days ago to be precise, he could choke on a raisin and still deliver a show.” 

I cannot be annoyed with myself I did my best, it is just that for the Stephen Carlin of last week his best would have been a lot better. I think the Stephen Carlin of a week ago could have made that the best show of the run.
So as I stand at the back and say good bye to all my audience like demented cabin crew at the end of a flight. “Goodbye, goodbye, thanks for coming. Goodbye, thank you…” I hope they didn’t notice the bumpy landing. 


SHOW 20 - 22ND AUGUST 2018

I don’t know if I trust my body  to do what I want it to do anymore. My mouth, my face, my legs. And I don’t know if I trust my sense organs, hearing, sight, to a lesser extent smell, to report accurate findings. So I am just doing the most excellent performance I can do in my head now -a genuinely barnstormer of a show, full of excellent rhythm, voice variations and command of the room - and praying it comes out like that in reality. But I am absolutely sane at this stage. That is the important thing. Last night I watched Tom Stade - an absolute masterclass in working a room. I do wonder if I should import some of these techniques especially when it is a small and reticent crowd. It is a small crowd for the third day in a row. They fill up from the back. There are not exactly full of beans. I choose to perform it as though they were really into it. The performance has a polished quality to it but I do wonder if I should bring in various characters from the audience? Set the groundwork for Millennials right at the end? Start playing them off against each other, making them protagonists in the narrative. Part of me thinks this is cheating. In some ways why give a small crowd a different show? They should get the same. “Hey guys this is an arena in my head. Imagine if this were full and also massive as fuck with loads of seats. Imagine that then ten people.” So that is one approach. The one I opt for. You are essentially getting the Stephen Carlin arena treatment there. Close up and not personal. Then there is what I could do but I don’t do. The “let’s admit this is small. And I’ll bespoke the fuck out of this.” To pander or not to pander? that is the question. I find it difficult to pick out individual members of the audience visually or even see if seats are full. The stage lighting has been adjusted and now blinds me. The only row I can see is the back row - so beware back row shrinking violets. And who asked for the lighting to be adjusted in the first place day two of fringe? That’s correct yours sincerely Stephen J Carlin. The point is, unless I actually step off the stage, I  will never actually be able to actually identify the individuals actually. So there is my excuse. I get into some dispute with an audience member about what constitutes Millennials, Generation Y, Generation Y plus, Generation Z. I think getting embroiled in an argument with a person in a small audience is the opposite of working a room. Anti-working a room. De building rapport. Anyway after the show he will approach me and confess he was wrong and I was right. He will also show me the internet evidence on his phone to prove I was right. See he has genuine Stephen Carlin crowd written all over him. A heckler who withdraws his heckle post show and provides footnotes to his own stupidity. 

So the point is I don’t work the room and I don’t know if that is the right decision. I just don’t know that it is the wrong one either. I can tell nothing from today. 

In other news I bought a stupid regimental army hat today. You have to keep mixing it up and surprise yourself.  


SHOW 22 -24TH AUGUST 2018

I once witnessed an ambulance lying on its side after a traffic accident crash. It had landed on the pavement amidst a load of signs and lampposts and phoneboxes but had miraculously manage to avoid hitting any of them. It looked an impossible feat. I kept replaying the crash in my head but I could never make the ambulance NOT hit the various paraphernalia on the way in. Its position seemed to defy the laws of physics. How the hell had it crashed like that and not smashed everything up?  It was a minor miracle you may say. Today I achieve a similar minor miracle in my show. I managed to crash a whole routine entirely in the midst of a great show. And how I do it, I don’t quite know. The audience are on board from the start. They are supportive, I am getting rolling laughs, everything is landing, I am relaxed, I am really milking the funny bits, I start finding better ways to perform the routines, I am using my face more, I am in the zone, I have found my rhythm, I am getting rounds of applause from bits that never get rounds of applause, basically I am having the gig of the run. Even earlier in the gig, when the audience stare in silence as I reference the film Momento with Guy Pearce and it is clear that none of them have heard of it, even then I make it into something. A sort of defiance against the odds of how-will-I-land-this-routine-when-nobody-gets-the-reference-but-I-try-through-sheer-arraogance-anyway and I do land it. Even the blemishes become something and add to the show and I have that secondary brain back today, the one that is strategising and working ahead and re-ordering and cutting and adding and laying the ground work for the future routines, that guy is back. It is is true that the ground work for Millennials isn’t actually going that well, the identifying different generations early on and threading them through the narrative, that isn’t going that well. I don’t mean it is going badly, it just isn’t going well in the sense of building anything. But honestly I am on such a high from the current routine going well, I don’t really notice any future problems. I don’t even have that good gig anxiety. The one where the gig is going so well from the start that you feel you can only screw it up from here on in and you spend the rest of the next hour tiptoeing across a highly polished floor carrying a priceless vase dreading the moment you will drop it. It is not one of those priceless vase gigs. There is still a certain messiness to the performance today and a certain tussle with the audience that gives it enough leeway. A certain robustness I would say that will never sink it. So I do not worry. I never worry in this whole gig. Then at around 45 minutes they just stop laughing and it is stark. It is at the start of “Beautiful Girl” and even the bits that get laughs in bad gigs don’t get laughs. It is the single worse reception of that routine in the run. And I don’t know what I do wrong. Maybe I mumbled a key part of the set up, perhaps I get the tone wrong, maybe I screw up the transition from the previous routine, possibly my energy is flagging? So I start running through my checklist and make sure articulation is OK, pace is good, voice is varied, nothing works. Whatever it was I was doing that was working before I am not doing it now. It is though somebody has suddenly flicked a switch and I am talking a foreign language. So that whole routine doesn’t land and that is about four minutes and I kind of guess that is it now for the gig. Because that is the second last routine. What has gone wrong? I honestly don’t know. But I get them back with the last routine “Millennials” I get them back, I have to work for it and build it up but I get them back. So the end is fine but it would have ended better without the cataclysm at “Beautiful Girl” inevitably some of the momentum goes out the gig and suddenly I look mortal. I don’t know how I managed to bomb one routine so utterly in the midst of a good gig, but I did. And it lay wrecked amongst the rest of the show which was largely un-effected. 

that rely on…

don’t have that for some reason…

Through a perfect gig carrying a pristine vase across a highly polished floor. I am across of sectors today or as across them as you can be at this stage in the run… 


SHOW 19 - 21ST AUGUST 2018

Mmm. Not my favourite show today in fact my least favourite. Not the worst show but my least favourite - I use different measurements. I am feeling genuinely tired for the first time today. I have not slept well. I try to perk myself up with Starbucks coffee but I have a genuine weariness. The audience is small, they sit in all the extremities of the room. They have no energy. They sit at the back. They bring nothing. They have no chat. I can do without this shit at this stage in proceedings. I take my time to get to the microphone but they continue to applaud all the way to mic. The applause is sustained while lacking enthusiasm. Yesterday was like this but yesterday I had something, yesterday felt different. I can build nothing with this lot. I cannot corral them into anything. I cannot make them an audience. There is no momentum. They reset every time. So even when they like something the energy doesn’t carry. My set is just a load of bits “and here is a bit, and here is another bit and why don’t you try this bit on for size?” and why not just take them as bits instead of stringing them together in your head and fashioning a narrative. Where I can build a relationship and you can trust me to stretch it and go further. Let’s not do that. Where I can build tension and release it when you thought it was going one way and it resolves another way and that release gives laughter. Let’s not do any of that. Why don’t you pore over every clause like a lawyer. Break ever clause down piece by piece and examine it for acceptability. Let’s not suspend disbelief while we’re at it.

I am possibly too aggressive today with my audience directed comments for such a small crowd. There is one guy who walks out. He is tall and sinewy and bald like the head waiter in my local Indian restaurant in London. I resolve to never eat there again. Three young people arrive exactly as he leaves about 25 mins into the show. They bring a fresh energy and for about another 15 minutes it seems like we have a quorum, that it has reached tipping point and it will be OK. Then I loose them around ‘Gaytown’ I think they think I’m some reactionary. To be honest I find it difficult to land this, the most practiced of all the routines in the show, today. This is perhaps an indication that all is not well. I know how to do Millennials now to make it sound like an end but there is insufficient build to warrant an end. The tone is all wrong for millennials despite them being all millennials in the audience. They think I’m having a go at them. I AM having a go at them but not in the way they think. 

Interesting listening to the tape it is not difficult to see why it didn’t build to anything. Delivery rushed and flat and lacking rhythm. But I could not hear this at the time. And this is exhaustion creeping in. I genuinely felt like I was performing it well and with energy. Not so. Yesterday I watched Daniel Simonsen. It was a masterclass in audience control. I applied none of it today. Will I never learn? My gig was one of those gigs that make you question your own existence. Afterwards I go to a Turkish barbers. A man shaves my face with an open razor. I think of the scene in Mississippi Burning. He is Gene Hackman and I am southern racist. Perhaps I die here.



I have no objective truth to report today. Unfortunately I did not record this show for posterity and I am therefore forced to rely on my memory.  If I have learned one thing from this fringe it is that I am not a reliable witness to my own shows. The comparison between the recording of a gig and how it went in my head is quite startling. I am capable of inventing laughter that never occurred, eradicating that which did, imagining good delivery, faking antagonism, contriving energy and fabricating tiredness. Never call me as a witness in court. 

So first of all the facts

The Facts
  1. It is the smallest crowd I have had.
  2. They sit in the audience in four distinct camps. 
  3. I end on ‘Millennials’
  4. I finish five minutes early.
  5. I get more in my bucket per capita than any other day of the run.
  6. I swear too much today

As I See It
The audience are small and have spread themselves out to dilute any possible atmosphere. I can see that I have my work cut out. This is going to be one of those days where I will have to bring everything to the table, supply all the energy. I haven’t had one like this, this year and I have to dig into my memory banks (which are of course inaccurate). At the back of my mind, I doubt this is possible to sustain an hour. But the small crowd takes the pressure off in a way and also put it back on in a different kind of way.

The central hub of the audience includes two men (a father and son as I will find out later) the elder of whom (the father) has a weird laugh which sounds like a sigh. I assume during the gig that he doesn’t like the show and that he will inevitably leave at some point. He never leaves. Afterwards he  talks animatedly about how much he enjoyed the show and how I am a “true professional unlike John Cleese” - NB John Cleese has earned way more than me.

I possibly don’t let it breath and push it a bit. I also try to hook everybody in. Some of the bankers don’t land. ‘Life is a waste’, the Monarchy bit of ‘Attenborough’ and bits of ‘Gay town’. I move Animals up front today and I can’t say it benefits it. The BBC stuff gets more agreement than laughter. I am constantly aware of trying to bring the audience in and meld them into a single unit.
I am also planting seeds early on for ‘Millennials’  dividing up the audience into suitable demographics, imposing ages on people to suit the material, apparently playing different bits of material for different members of an audience. Claiming certain people in the audience agree with what I am saying, imposing disagreement on others. I really am playing hard and fast with the reality of situation to make them what I need them to be. I am more in charge of them today. Because I feel I have to be. 

It is not really until ‘Better than you’ (today the penultimate routine) that I can feel the audience come together and starting to tip in my favour. Then I do the best ‘Millennials’ yet. I really get emotionally involved in routine, at times pleading with them, berating them, praising them. I really direct it at individual members of the audience and I feel like a rabble rouser at a union meeting at the docks. The show really crescendos at the end and is the best end to this show that I have performed this run.

I rushed it? Probably as I finished early. Shortest show yet. I had an attitude today that there was no pressure but I would need to work hard. I should perhaps role out that attitude to all my gigs.