Yep, this week No Punchline is coming at you Straight Outta Monaghan. Or to be more specific…
Coming straight out of Carrickmacross, just like myself. Carrickmacross is a small town in South Monaghan, and it’s my hometown; born and bred on the outskirts, I lived, worked, played, and was schooled here for the first 28 years of my life until the bright lights of Dublin City lured me up. Hometown to me, Barry Mack, Michael Downey, Oliver Callan, Niamh Marron, and of course Ardal O’Hanlon, I’m willing to be that Carrickmacross has turned out more stand up comedians per head of capita than any other town in Ireland. I still visit home every week (more often if I’m gigging up north) to call in on my Mam and Dad and visit friends. No matter how long I spend away from the town, I always love to come back to Carrickmacross (or Carrick for short, or indeed CMX; home of the CMXicans for kickass-ness). For better or worse, it was growing up in this town that made me who I am; from the good times I had there to the bad. But despite all my fondness for my hometown, I have never done a comedy gig there and had vowed to myself never to do so. Until, of course;
Until of course fellow Pale-Horse Alan Gernon went and set up a comedy night in none other than The Fiddlers Elbow, a nightclub which was my stomping ground since Year Dot, a gig which happens this Sunday. For the first time on No Punchline, this is for a gig that hasn’t taken place yet. See, with No Punchline I can hide my bad gigs; after all, I only need to write 32 blogs so it’s easy enough to just write about the good ones. But here’s a gig that I haven’t done yet, a gig which could quite frankly go either way. I booked it without giving it too much thought; Alan asked if I wanted the booking and fuck knows I don’t have the ability to turn down comedy work (I must be missing a synapse or something) so I said count me in. That was months ago, but now the reality is upon me; I’m doing a comedy gig in Carrickmacross. In my hometown. In front of a crowd consisting of people I know from school, from work, family, friends…
But why the big panic attack all of a sudden? Comedians do hometown gigs all the time (shit, I make a living doing the gigs that newer comedians run in their local pubs). Why am I so concerned about my own homecoming? This isn’t my first night out; I’ve played in more towns than Aslan. It’s not like the promoter is going to half-ass the night; I’ve gigged for Alan Gernon loads of times (sometimes with the exact same line-up as Sundays), and he always runs a good show which gets a good crowd. Whats the problem? Of course there’s the threat of a horrible death onstage… but a horrible death onstage could happen to me at any gig. I’ve had plenty of deaths, and I’ll have plenty more in the future. But the thoughts of dying in front of everyone I know; that’s a particularly grim prospect, and one that’s not out of the question. Why, I hear you ask, would I be under the impression that I wouldn’t do well in front of a home crowd?
1; The crowd might be too wary of me
When I’ve done gigs in front of people I know, they’ll be the people in crowd who are most ill at ease. This could be for many reasons, not least the fact that a lot of people are very wary of comedians. If your friend got up to tell jokes onstage, you’d be a bit cautious about just what the fuck it was he was about to say. He could be about to slag you off or make a show of you, or talk about a bunch of shit that you would rather people didn’t know about. So you’d be kinda bracing yourself throughout his set and not really enjoying it. I can accept that a lot of people would react like that. Even if your friends or family are comfortable with what you’re about to talk about onstage (or how much you reassure them that they aren’t in the comedy firing line), they may not fully relax; watching a friend get up to do something onstage can be like watching them wrestle an alligator or do a trapeze act. No matter how many times they assure you that they know what they’re doing, you’d still be on the edge of your seat hoping and praying that they don’t fuck up and die horribly. And if you spend all your time either worrying about what a comedian will say or worrying about him dying or making an idiot of himself, well, you aren’t going to be doing much laughing.
2; The crowd know me too well
Welcome to small town Ireland, where everyone knows your name. I love this aspect of rural Ireland life, but it’s a gift and a curse, especially when you want to present a stand-up routine as being factual. I’m going to be doing my set to a bunch of people who will know exactly what is truth and what is bullshit, and I’m dreading a wait-a-minute-his-father-never-owned-a-Berlingo situation where people are too busy trying to relate what I’m saying to what they know of me. On top of that, if when making reference to people I know or “some lad”, they’ll not listen to the rest while they try figure out who this “some lad” might be. And if I happen to make derogatory (and fictitious) reference to some ex-girlfriend or job, then instead of laughs I might get a dreaded “ooooooHHHHH” as they turn to look at any ex-girlfriend or employer that are in the crowd. Awkward.
3; I’m too pre-occupied worrying about the crowd to actually do a good gig
And there it is; in front of a hometown crowd, I’ll probably choke myself trying to second-guess them. I’ll drop my good jokes in fear that they’re too close to the hometown nerves. I’ll trip and mumble trying to re-word my routine onstage so as to not make reference to anything or anyone (which doesn’t work if you’re in a club and you want to re-word your one potentially racist joke halfway through your routine because you just noticed there’s a black guy sitting in the crowd, so how the fuck would it work if I was trying to re-word pretty much everything on the fly). I could get too nervous and it will show; I’ll stand up there looking like a guy who’s only ever had two gigs and bring the whole thing crashing down on myself.
This doesn’t happen in other gigs because the audience is a bunch of strangers- never met ’em before, will never meet ’em again. Therefore I can relax and not worry about making an ass of myself, unlike the CMX gig where I’m pissing myself at the thoughts of dying an excruciating death and then reliving it every time I come home. The barrier is very much a psychological one and as such, the only foreseeable way for me do the gig and not shit on the eggs is to just get the fuck out there and do it; treat it like any other gig, be a professional, man the fuck up and stop worrying about what people are going to think of you and whether or not this joke will offend that guy or this routine will make me look like an asshole. There is no impasse unless I create one. The crowd will relax if I relax. The crowd will laugh if I tell jokes that are funny.
A hometown gig will be a weight on my shoulders until I do it, it’ll always be there waiting to be done. You can’t run from it forever. I can’t claim to be a stand-up comedian without doing this gig; it would show that I’m embarrassed of what I do, or that I’ve no confidence in myself or my material. The people of my hometown will be like any other comedy audience, paying hard-earned money for a hard-earned night out and they deserve to get as good as I can give. There’s no sense in worrying about who will show up, from ex-girlfriends to old schoolyard bullies to those tiny pockets of small-town Bitterati that just straight up hate to see someone do well for themself… it’s time to put all that to the side and move on. If I chickened out and didn’t do the gig, it’d show that I’m still very much hung up on a lot of stuff from the past. It’s time for me to stop caring so much about what other people think. That’s the kind of thing that could drive a man crazy if he let it.
And hey, lets not forget one thing; the vast majority of the crowd are probably not going to know or care who the fuck I am (and I should probably just get over myself) and those that do know me, will know I’m no stranger to being on a stage. I keep forgetting that although this is my first straight stand-up gig in CMX, it’s not my first stage appearance in the town.
So that’s this Sunday, and I can’t wait. For those reading this after the gig wondering how it went, well, maybe it’ll have gone well and maybe it won’t. Like I said earlier, I can hide my bad gigs here on No Punchline by just not writing about them, if I’m ashamed of them or mortified by how badly I did… This one I wanted to write about ahead of time because no matter how the gig goes, it’s one that I’ll be happy to have done.