My recent trip to Kerry was a double-header over two nights; Killarney on the Friday night, Cahirciveen on Saturday. Good news all around, as it gave me a nice weekend away around the beautiful Ring of Kerry, and also that it was double value to do two gigs so far away from home. I’m normally very stoic about driving distances to gigs, and think nothing about driving anywhere at anytime, but even I have to admit that to Kerry and back is quite the roadtrip. Kerry is FAR the fuck away. In fact, the gig in Cahirciveen holds my record for furthest the fuck away gig I’ve ever done in Ireland, a record that probably won’t be broken (unless there’s some small-print stipulation in the No Punchline clause that states I have to gig on all the islands as well).
The five hours there, five hours back journey really hammered home the work aspect of comedy life, and the long nights spent driving and driving. It’s to my great advantage that hey; I love driving. I would count it as one of my freakin hobbies, frankly. It stems from a time before comedy, when my Dad was in hospital for nearly six months and I would spend every single night of that driving the rest of the family the hundred mile round trip to see him. After we got him home safe and sound, I was hardwired to drive long distances. Once a week I would get in the car and just go on wee trips, to no-where in particular. “How the fuck did I end up in Enniskillen?”, I recall saying to myself one night at half twelve. I needed no prompting to drive long distances for very little reason. So when I decided to give comedy a go, it was to my benefit that I was able to be at any gig, anywhere. “I know you’re in Monaghan, but is there any chance you could be in Dublin by nine to fill in an open spot?, I’d be asked. No problems, I ‘d say.
I have no problems admitting that when I was starting out in comedy, if I hadn’t got the means to get myself to gigs, I wouldn’t be gigging now. The fact that it was no hassle to get me to and from a venue meant a lot of promoters were more inclined to book me for open spots around the country and the minute I realised this, I played it up big time. After six months of just asking and asking and asking for gigs, it was when I turned round and offered something in return, that I started to get booked a bit more. It became less of what a promoter could do for me, and more what I could do to help him out. I believe my earlier self-promoting emails went along the lines of;
My Name is Gerry McBride and I am a new comedian, trying to get as many gigs as possible. If you have any open spots at your club, I would love an oppurtunity. So far I have gigged in the Ha’Penny Inn in Dublin, the Craichouse in Cork, and also some Gigs in Belfast and Bray. IHAVEACARANDCANGIVEYOURHEADLINERALIFT If you have anything available in the coming months, I’d appreciate it greatly,
And that was how I got booked until enough people had seen me to give me the benefit of the doubt. And it still happens to this day; someone on a bill that was supposed to drive everyone to the gig drops out, and the promoter goes to the list not marked “Comedians who I would love to play at this venue” but to the list marked “Comedians who know how to at least face the right way and can drive”. And to anyone who like me can offer that service and soak up all those luvverly gigs, it’s freakin Mardi Gras. But know this; your success in this endeavour will bring down the full wrath of the Comedy Bitteratti. Yes dear readers, not everyone in comedy wishes you well, and those that don’t will always find some way to diminish your achievements, to take the sting out of their own shortcomings. In this case, they’ll bring out the “Only people who can drive get ahead in this business ” hammer.
But based on my own experiences, I must admit… Maybe the Bitterati have a point this time. I mean, before I was any way competent onstage, I was getting booked based solely on the fact that I could transport other acts, or just get myself to the venue without being a massive pain in the balls for the promoter. In those instances, there were many other acts that would have been far more deserving of my spot. Being serious for a minute, I believe that emerging talent is poorly served in comedy; the tenacious win out over the talented. Should this be the case? It seems to be the same in most arts; if you’re going to be in a band, you’re going to need a van. Does this leave the more talented people by the wayside? Should there be in place a system that spots emerging talent and helps them along, or should it be the case that the good new acts get stuck playing their local clubs while the less deserving gig up and down the country based solely on the fact that they can transport themselves, hoping that they’ll EVENTUALLY get good enough to be booked on merit? Of all the accolades that I’d like to see on a poster of myself, “Persistent” and “Passed the NCT” are ones I’d rather omit, to be honest.
Just as I was starting to side with the Bitterati though, I remembered the guy who gigged with me down in both my Kerry gigs; young Cavanite (no, not the stuff they froze Han Solo in) David Reilly. Here’s a guy with lovely material, great style and get this; no car. And here he was gigging on the far end of the fucking country. He’d gotten trains, busses, bummed lifts, done everything he could just to perform to an audience. To the Bitterati, I say THAT’S how you get ahead in comedy- not through persistence, through passion. Fuck how CAN you do it, how much do you WANT to do it. That’s how you get ahead in not just comedy, but in anything you want to achieve. I could be talking shit here, but if I am then answer me this; why is it that when I get the call offering a gig if I can give someone a lift, nine times out of ten it’s the HEADLINER that needs it? How did he get to be the headliner if he doesn’t drive?
So yes in the early days, I was getting picked for gigs just because I could get to them and give lifts, but let me tell you; that’ll only last so long. When I really started getting booked was when I started putting the journey time to good use. It’s very possible that when I look back over my time in comedy, I’ll be able to say that the true turning point for me, when things started to pick up and I started to get better, was the week after I snapped the aerial off the roof going through a carwash. With no radio to entertain me, I’d just do my set over and over again. It’s an hour and a half from Monaghan to Dublin, let alone Cork… that’s plenty of driving time to have a seven-minute open slot learned off by heart, and it’s a long, solemn journey on the way back after dying on your hole, with plenty of time to reflect on where it all went tits-to-the-sky and how you can do better next time. And whether by bus, train or car travel is expensive; there will come a point where it cripples you so much that you have to get better or you have to quit. You simply cannot afford to continue if you aren’t willing to improve. I’ve totted up roughly what it cost me driving to do my first 100 open mic slots in my early years, and it’s a figure far too vulgar to mention in polite society.
The notion that only those with cars are those who get ahead in comedy is an insulting one. The road is a cruel Drill Instructor, there to weed out all who don’t have the fire in their belly to put in the effort needed to improve. There are many ways to get to gigs and if you’re passionate enough to want to perform, you’ll fucking walk if necessary. The further away the gig is, the better; it’s more time to practise, getting each line, each phrase, each punchline down to a tee. By the time you reach a gig 300 miles away from where you’ve started, you’ve got too much invested in it to half-ass the job. There wasn’t huge audiences waiting for me and David in Kerry, but we went out like there was anyway. After going all that way, there was no other option. Looking at David onstage I could see that here’s a guy who is going to do great things in comedy; not only has he got the material, he’s got the guts and the thousand-yard focus. As for me, I’m going to stick to a gameplan that has served me well so far; just keep driving until the engine falls out.
Oh, and just a wee postscript here… I’m sorry if I was arrogant or dismissive earlier in this post; let me just say now that I would LOVE a gig in Arranmore. If anyone is running a club in Arranmore, I’m your man.