Tuesday, 13 November 2018

THE OPINIONATER: SHOW 23


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. 




THE OPINIONATER: SHOW 20


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.  

THE OPINIONATER: SHOW 22


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… 

THE OPINIONATER: SHOW 19


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.

THE OPINIONATER: SHOW 18


SHOW 18 - 20 TH AUGUST

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.


Speculation
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. 

THE OPINIONATER: SHOW 17


SHOW 17: 19TH AUGUST


The couple in the front row look at me like they want me to die in a ditch. He is slightly more benevolent looking. He looks like he only wants me to die of natural causes in a ditch, whereas she looks like she wants me to be actively murdered in a ditch. I realise I have to get him on side first. I mis-identify a laugh in the third row as the laugh of a friend of mine. No such friend at the gig exists. Somebody has stolen her laugh. I perhaps play to that friend of mine too much trying to build the laughs from her. Accidentally cultivating a genuine member of the audience by mistake. It is all a bit hit and miss in the early stages of the show. I get the, loose them, get the, back. Empathy doesn’t build. I think my timings is all over the place. ‘Life is a waste’ is a particular slog. I think I will permanently loose them at ‘Where is Hitler’. It is ridiculous. Who doesn’t like Hitler anecdotes?


At around the 10 minute mark I am sweating profusely. The room is full and perhaps particularly humid but the sweat is lashing off my forehead. Perhaps I am working too hard but sweating is not a good look. At around 15 minutes I accidentally inhale a seed. I should explain I ate a Pret a Manger muesli thing before the show. It contained seeds. One was lodged in a molar without my knowledge. I take a large intake of breath and the seed flies into my throat and sticks there. I think it is a pumpkin seed but it maybe a sunflower one. For the next 10 minutes it wreaks havoc with my timing. I have this niggling tickle and it presents itself at the wrong moment when I am saying key words. I drink loads of water at this point to try and shift the seed. It does shift the seed but into a worse position in my throat. Now I have developed a cough that presents itself at inopportune moments. Occasionally I will attempt a strategic cough between jokes to try to cough on my terms and leave an interruption free minute ahead for routines.  This doesn’t really work. The cough keeps breaking for cover.  I drink more water. It still doesn’t shift it. The good news is that the sweating situation has stabilised. I have quaffed so much water that it has cooled me down. By ‘Gaytown’ lines are being sabotaged to the cough. It has now become a hacking cough. Actuality during ‘Hitler left wing/right wing’ the cough almost makes me pace it better but by the end of it my voice is starting to go. I stop and tell them what has happened. It helps break the ice. It turns out the woman in the second row is a doctor, I miss diagnose her for a man, more hilarity. The interaction builds goodwill and lets me reset a bit. I genuinely go blank at this moment for the first time this run. I keep wanting to go into ‘millennials’ but I know this isn’t the right bit, so I keep stalling, blaming the cough to buy me more thinking time. This also builds jeopardy. By now the cough has genuinely gone. Now that it’s become a feature. I now have to fake the cough until I remember that is ‘Better than you’ I can now play the German doctor in the routine off against the real doctor in the audience. 

I worked on the end of Animals prior to the show and it is now really going in a direction I want. I end on it. 


My favourite show of the run, not the best, but more of an event than any previous one. More of a sense of bespoke show for them (the audience) and starting to make the end into something. The second best bucket collection of the fringe. And also several walks outs but also walk ins so I am really starting to filter these fuckers (my audience). 

The die in a ditch couple still look at me like they want me to die in a ditch. They put in £1.50 in between them. They still want me to die in a ditch. 

I think I might fake a medical emergency in the future to help build rapport.

Lessons:

  1. I need to play with this show more. So when I get traction on a section just keep pushing it to see how far I can go. 
  2. Pretend the audience are your friend even when they aren’t. 

THE OPINIONATER: SHOW 16


SHOW 16: 18TH AUGUST

Before Show
The sheer incompetence of Edinburgh baristas continues to impress me. Last week I was served by a man who admitted that he had little-to-no training, apologised in advance saying that the coffee would “probably be shit” and deliberately undercharged me by way of prior in-built compensation. He now stands as a beacon to the halcyon days of customer service. We will never see his like again. By week three the quality of service has now gone off a cliff edge. The woman serving me today is so slow it has become performance art. I hang about, kind of intrigued to see if she will ever actually serve me. There is something hypnotic in her slowness. My potential coffee recedes further off into the distance. She is confused by how much change I am owed (25 pence) and how this will be composed (one twenty pence piece and one five pence piece). She hands over the coffee but looks traumatised. I finally get a coffee 20 minutes before the show but as I have to set up the room I don’t have much time to imbibe any coffee until about five minutes to go. 

When I open the house there is an audience stampede like the opening of the January sales. The rush physically forces me back into the room. I would like to think that this signifies a craze to get hold of genuine Stephen Carlin at discounted prices but I suspected the Saturday madness has led to a breakdown in queue discipline. A couple bring in a toddler in a pushchair. I explain it is probably not suitable for their kid. They insist on staying even as I tell them I am worried I will bend their child’s mind. They look worried but stay out of defiance. 

During Show
A double edged sword of a gig. A very full room but necessarily the ideal audience. The room is fuller than it ever has been. People are standing. It no doubt exceeds fire regulations. There is little natural energy in the room. The audience look normal enough but they don’t feel normal. They are not particularly responsive off the top. It is hot. They may be boozed up. They may not be comedy regulars. It may be me. I perhaps should have done crowd work at the start. But this would be against my self imposed rule and I refrain from doing so. I hope they will pick as I go on but they feel sluggish today. 

I start sweating at around ten minute mark, I think it is the heat and not pressure. 
I really feel the caffeine kick in at about the 15 minutes mark. I suddenly feel sharper, more focused, taller, more purposeful, the delivery sounds sharper but perhaps the caffeine has done something to my ears? 

I chop and change orders today to try to get momentum going but it doesn’t make much difference. 

There are moments when I pull the delivery back and it gets a little traction but I am also worried that taking it down too much will cause it to dwindle. There are times when I wait for them and they come but by God they are so slow, they are like the girl serving me coffee, I could wait all day for them. What is the answer?

I can’t really pick it up today. They are with me to the end, except the people who walk out at the back and then start chatting in the adjoining room.

I should have ended on Animals today. I do a truncated form of Vegetarians after it but why I do this we do not know. 

After Show
I am control today but don’t enjoy it much. I think I lean in too much today, go after them too much, over perform, try to inject too much energy. I should have sat back more, took longer, lowered my energy, let them come to me. It may not have worked but at least I could have experimented on them. From now on I think I am going to  use difficult audiences for guinea pigs. If they are not going to enjoy it I may as well get useful data out of them that I can use on better future audiences.