32 Counties, 32 Gigs part 25; Donegal
I took my good lady with me on my trip to the gig I was doing in Donegal over the summer, a gig being ran by Magic George Quinn and Sinead McCullagh in the wilds of the North West. We had accommodation after the gig so it was a bit of a weekend away- do the gig, have a few beers, stay over and tour round the countryside for a while; just a nice bonus on top of what turned out to be a lovely night of comedy. I don’t bring my girlfriend along to many gigs, mainly because one of the first gigs I brought her to when we first started going out (and I was trying to pass myself off as this total fucking rockstar) was without a shadow of a doubt the worst gig I have ever done. I’ve talked about this death before and believe me when I say that it was a spectacular mortification to bring a new girlfriend to- a promise of a nice night out became a Danse Macabre as I died a death by a thousand cuts. After that, I rarely asked her to come along to gigs- I never wanted to risk her seeing me shot down and humiliated; seriously, I died so badly on that night that my mother heard about it the next morning on the List of Bereavements.
So since then it’s only been the occasional gig that she accompanies me to; she’ll always ask me if I’d like her to come along if I’m going on long journeys or the such like, and I’ll always decline. This means we spend most of our weekends apart, where I’ll be off gigging in BallymaFuckOnlyKnows leaving her to her own devices. To her eternal credit, she has never complained at any stage, irregardless of how many times I’ve bailed on dates, festivities or gatherings; not even on the many occasions where I’ve been drafted in at late notice to do a gig and buggered off all pleased with myself, completely oblivious to the fact that I’m walking out on her and the plans that we had made that night that have completely slipped my mind. Such is the life of the partner of any given performer, be they a comedian, actor, singer or whatever; they’ll always be in competition with the showbiz life. But whereas the partner of say, a singer-songwriter can content themselves with the fact that their boyfriend or girlfriend is off at night singing songs written in their honour, telling tales of love and devotion, the partner of a comedian has to be at peace with the fact that their other half is away every other night telling jokes that nine times out of ten, are about how their girlfriend or boyfriend is a horrible nightmare of a person who makes their life a cursed misery.
See, whereas songwriters generally sing about relationships in a positive light, comedians tend to go down the “Take my wife, please” road. Comedy audiences tend to relate better to a comic lamenting the woes of his love life than they might to a guy telling yarns about how wonderful it is to be in a loving relationship. A lot of my relationship-based material consists of me grumbling about how crappy life with my girlfriend is, from day-to-day hardships to elaborate and outlandish accusations… most of which is mined not from my current relationship, but is instead a montage of everything I’ve encountered about the opposite sex from my first clinch outside a ceili house in the Gaeltacht to the present day, and even at that I still wouldn’t have much bad to say about the women that’ve looked my way (although I’d be certain they’d have plenty to rake me over the coals about). So when onstage, what an audience hears is generally a Greatest Hits of every I’ve ever been a party to or have heard of happening to anyone, ever, all of which gets distilled and directed at my current girlfriend (because taking the time to direct it at the relevant partners over the years would take to long and make the routine too messy, and we couldn’t possibly have that, oh no). It doesn’t matter that my girlfriend is the most wonderful, kind person I’ve ever met; onstage she gets described as everything from a terrible cook (which she certainly isn’t) to an anti-Semite with a secret hoard of Nazi gold (which… I have yet to find any concrete proof of). And whereas the majority of audience members understand that what gets said onstage is fantasy, there’ll always be the few thicks who sit there in the crowd tutting and feeling appalled for “that man’s poor girlfriend!”, a situation which gets worse when my girlfriend is actually in the crowd and has to suffer the pitying looks from the portion of the crowd that just don’t fucking get that what I’m talking about onstage is all an act. Shit, if it wasn’t all an act, my set would consist of nothing but go-nowhere anecdotes about how me my girlfriend have pretty much sailed along blissfully happy from the day we met.
Other wonderful aspects of being a comedians girlfriend include the joys of hearing all new material as it gets created; after all, who wouldn’t want the thrill of hearing every half-baked imbecility that crept into someones head, usually interrupting their favourite TV show or a quiet relaxing lie-in? Trust me, if you aren’t a fan of my onstage work and think my material is hacky and tired, then you should see the garbage that DOESN’T make the cut; the material that I’ll always start with by saying “Ok, tell me what you think about this…” to my girlfriend (usually when she’s trying to talk to me about something important), who’ll always have to respond in a way that will walk the fine line between telling me the truth about how bigoted and unfunny the sentence I just came out with really was, and not sending me into a huff for an hour. And this happens ALL the time; I’ll just halt whatever we were talking about to bring her the latest comedy gem that just popped into my head, to fully drive home the fact that I was paying no attention to what she was saying (a nugget of hilarity which was probably an hilarious riff on whatever it was she was just trying to be serious with me about). But hey; this makes me sound like some incessant gag-machine that constantly bombards her with wave after wave of crap new material, which is not the case- sometimes, I’m just flat out ignoring her with my head buried in a computer scouring the internet for news of gigs, looking for bookings or chatting with other comedians about this gig or that gig, occasionally interrupting my silence with exclamations about scandals, fights and shenanigans that went down about shit she doesn’t care about between people she may have met in passing, once at best, maybe never.
I’ll confess that comedy is an addiction of mine, something that I love and need in equal amounts; I get testy obnoxious when I’ve gone without it for a while, and I’m always kidding myself that I could stop at any time and not miss it all that much. There are times when I put it before all else, and it’s in times like these where everybody else in my life gets put in the background, first of all being the closest person to me. My girlfriend doesn’t always get the best of me; Unlike a comedy audience who always get my full undivided attention, she’ll get half-ignored and not listened to. No matter how bad I die on a comedy stage, I’ll always smile and wave at an audience and never get vexed with them; that waits until I get home and my girlfriend asks me how the gig was, and I sulk and pout like a child as I play it over and over in my head, lamenting about this missed bit and what I should have said to some fucking heckler … She has to sit through my long bouts of anxiety and sullen self-pity, up until such a time as my name gets called to go on some stage somewhere and I’m turn on the smiles for a room full of people who I’ve never met. And all she gets in return is the occasional weekend away such as our trip to the gig in Donegal, a small reward for putting up with all the nights she’s been left at home on her own. And yet when I recently asked her to marry me, she said yes without hesitation; something so incredibly humbling that it changed my perspective on pretty much everything in my life, comedy included. I’m not just some lad anymore going out telling jokes to sop my ego. I’m going to be a married man soon, hopefully with a family some day. A choice will have to be made as to what are the most important things in life, and if comedy isn’t pulling it’s weight, it’ll be dropped. It can’t take center stage anymore, unless it’s helping with more than keeping us apart all the time. It’ll need to stop creating bills and start paying some. That’s all down to whether I have the ability to put in the graft needed to make comedy something that can help provide a better life for us. I just count myself lucky every day that I found someone who was willing to put up with me through it all.