I’m sitting in a green room in the basement of a theatre somewhere in England. I say “somewhere in England” partly because I know this is the kind of sexy mystery you’ve come to expect from me, but mostly because I’m not, without checking my diary, 100% totally sure where I am. In the corner of the room there is a large foam Minion outfit, a broken clothes rail, and behind me, a fridge with, I shit you not, nothing in it but a single high heeled shoe.
I am on tour.
I had a good Edinburgh fringe this year. It was only a month or so back, but seems so long ago that z-grade celebs should be doing pieces to camera about it on channel 5. I took the train up there feeling slightly scared, unsure of what I had to show, and uneasy about the competitive nature of a festival that, however much you try to avoid that side of it, bludgeons you with it from the get go. I set myself a couple of clear goals: Do work I was proud of, and don’t go too mental. I came back fairly sure I’d done some of the best work of my 30 year career (critics agreed!), with every single show selling out, and – excepting the occasional little blip here and there – I didn’t go too mental. It was exhausting but probably the most successful fringe I’ve ever done. I had a grin on my face like a boxer who’d got a black eye but won the fight. And black eyes are part of the game, anyway.
For the next couple of months, I’m bouncing around the country doing that same show in a variety of venues that range from small odd-shaped rooms in arts centres, to big-ass red velvet seat jobs. And I’m back to be being scared and exhausted again, but still mostly smiling. Because – yes, touring is hard work (I mean, it ain’t nursing, but stick with me) – I don’t drive, so the hours before you see me on stage are spent lugging flight cases full of dumbass props around the famously slick, pleasant and efficient British public transport system. I do this while worrying, as I have been for weeks before the date of each show, about how many people might come to see me. Maybe none will. I’m not famous, after all. This variety schmuck hasn’t been on any panel shows, or live at any Apollos. Any reputation I have has been earned by grinding. By leaving sweat on stages. Walking on to the polite applause of people who have no idea who you might be, and, ideally, leaving to the cheers of people who, now, damn well know who you are. That’s the job of someone like me, and that’s the challenge I relish.
And the nice part is, even though as I sit here, one hour from showtime, banging away on my laptop - achey back from the suitcases, hungry but without the time to get food, unable to find a coffee place that’s still open (BOOOOO!), and stressed about ticket sales - I’m still looking forward to what’ll happen 60 minutes from now. Because like I said, I’m not famous. Most people who spend their hard earned money on a ticket to my show have never seen me before in their lives. They’re taking a chance that I’ll entertain them. So who am I to half-ass that obligation? Times are tough. To have anyone at all spend their hard-earned on a ticket, come out, and sit in an audience to see me is a damn privilege – and the idea that anyone would do that is literally, actually, genuinely and exactly what the teenage me fantasized about. So now its real? Buckle the fuck up, because I’m motivated.
And that beautiful little magic spell of the background music fading out, the house lights dimming, and the spotlights revealing a stage full of props? That doesn’t just work on the audience. We feel it too. You know that, right? However tiring, or shitty, or anxious my day has been – at the end of it, I get to slip into into the protective bubble of a show. Where things are simple and fun and beautiful. That place I made where all that matters is to perform and be watched. The audience leave their worries in the lobby and I leave my stresses in the wings, and we spend an hour or so just..playing.
So, yes, I’d obviously love you to come and see my show. I’m doing dates over the next few weeks in London, Birmingham, Darlington, Camberley, Nottingham, Cumbria and Chelmsford. It’s a funny show about how I spent the last year of my life learning any trick suggested to me by strangers on the internet, and why I did it. Hopefully I’ll see you there.