I woke up at 4.30am today. No good reason, everyone was sleeping soundly and I could really have done with a couple more hours, but brain alert and so I played games on my phone til the others starting stirring.
Luckily I didn't feel too tired once the day got going. I allowed myself to take it a little easy after I'd dropped the kids off at school and then did some work on the new stand up show ahead of the try out at the Bill Murray tonight. I had some good thoughts on how best to tell the stories, some parts of which require precise and exquisite language to convey the emotions of the events. I am not too bad at creating those, but find them increasingly difficult to learn.
When it comes to talking about the experience I had flying a kite with my daughter the day after discovering I was definitely going to have my ball removed I want to say something along the lines of "We both knew in our hearts that this unexpected triumph had come from us working together. We were out there for forty-five minutes, oblivious to the biting cold, bonding our souls. Discovering that the world doesn’t have feelings for you and will buffet you and attack you, but you can turn its unruly anger against itself and if only temporarily control your destiny." It's not very funny (which is probably why it's harder to remember) and it's still not quite there, but in a 90 minute show that you've only done a dozen times, hitting something like that precisely, or even closely, is very difficult. I have got beyond the stage where it feels ok to read stuff out (and that has limited use anyway - especially if you're trying to get something to work or stick in your head). It sometimes work to know roughly where you're going and see what comes out - occasionally you get the perfect sentence in the white hot light of the spotlight, but more often you just blab on and don't get the razor sharp precision that you require.
I have worked very hard on the section of the show where I get the phone call from the doctor informing me that there's something very wrong going on. It's not surprising that that is tricky, because it's one of the most intense emotional experiences of my life and so much went through my head in the (probably only) 90 seconds before my wife came out to ask how the call had gone. I know if I get this right it will be the most affecting part of the show as it's rawly emotionally open but also has some great jokes in it, so if I get it spot on it will provoke laughter and tears at the same time, which is something I enjoy achieving as a performer. I still haven't got all the parts in the right order yet (on stage at least - the version I wrote today was very close to what I want to achieve), but it's getting nearer each time.
Every performance is pushing the thing forwards - the second half and the stuff with the puppet (who refuses to rehearse so I can only work on on stage) is still a way away, but I think I have enough gigs in March and then especially April to get this all working well by May. As always the show will continue to evolve as long as I am doing it.
The audience was a bit smaller than the other Bill Murray previews I've done, but they were a fine crowd to work with and seemed to like it. For comedy fans it's interesting to see a show like this in its early stages (and hopefully to read the occasional blog), but I hope they will all return to see the more polished version.
Tomorrow I am trying 20 minutes of this material in front of an audience on people who work in the insurance industry as part of a corporate, who only know that they're getting a stand up set. It will be interesting to see how that goes.
On the way into London and on the way home, I listened to Lemn Sissay's "My Name is Why" which is a brilliant though heartbreaking book about growing up in the care system. It certainly shows the power of emotional honesty, though Lemn is not going for laughs (though there are a few amongst the bleakness). At one point he talks about his teenage life and asks the reader to consider what they were doing when they were 17. But there's no need, for me at least, as I was comparing my life to his throughout the book. He was born about six weeks before I was, so we're almost exactly contemporary and we were created in the same way by a sperm meeting an egg, with no choice about where that happened or who the parents were. I was lucky enough to pop out into a family of people who loved me in spite of me being a high-spirited, smart and cheeky little knobend but Lemn was not so fortunate (even though I feel he was probably a very similar personality) and eventually ended up with a foster family, the parents of which would eventually betray him in a way that was cold and cruel and which no 10 year old could ever bounce back from. And then moved into a care system that was mostly cruel and uncaring and casually and uncasually racist. I thought of myself at the same age - basically the age of my daughter now - and how I would have ended up if anything similar had happened to me. Lemn went off the rails a little bit, but by no means as much as you'd expect and though there were a couple of people in the system who showed compassion or anger at the way he was being treated, he had to process all of this on his own. And the way children were treated by many of the people who were supposed to be caring for them is very hard to countenance.
It's a harrowing but important story. You can get the book here.
and Lemn will be a guest on an upcoming book club podcast. Empathy is a so important and yet in such short supply. This book really puts you in the shoes of a totally innocent boy placed in the most horrible of circumstances in a story that you'd imagine came from Dickensian times rather than the 1980s. Lemn tells the story so beautifully and honestly. Can't wait to meet him.
Barring illness or theatres flooding or other unexpected events, I finally have a full roster of guests for the RHLSTP tour. Tom Wrigglesworth will join me in Sheffield (already sold out) and that my friends is your fucking lot. Amazingly most of the remaining 9 gigs are either sold out or down to the last few tickets and whilst I hoped for a 66% attendance for the tour (shoot high), with the unexpected explosion of ticket sales in Hull I think we should get to over 70%, which given the size of some of the venues and the lack of interest in Tunbridge Wells and Bedford, is remarkable. Still a chance to buy tickets for Dublin, Warwick Arts Centre and Hull (though last few there). Come along if you can
. Likely the last live gigs til the autumn (though might try and do a few Edinburgh ones at the Bill Murray in July)
It's been quite a ride and I am just over a month away from finishing. Hooray!
And talking of Hull - the retro RHLSTP comes from the last time I was there in 2019 with the wonderful Lucy Beaumont,
one of the funniest people I've ever met.