As the summer drew to a close, I looked back and counted up the gigs; this has been the busiest summer I’ve had since I went picking strawberries at a local farm to finance an electric guitar when I was twelve (my failure to do so torpedoing my musical aspirations and setting me on the comedy path… probably). Last gig on my list before a week-long break was a gig I had forgotten about until a few days beforehand; Magans pub, Kilnashee, Longford.
This was a gig I’d signed up for possibly YEARS in advance. I was approached by Longford-born, Cork-residing fellow comic Barry Magan (probably during a quiet break while gigging in the Comedy Somme that was The Tap) who told me he was planning on running a gig in his brothers pub in Longford, and when it happened, would I play there. I said of curse, and since then every time I’ve met Barry, he’s kept me up to date with when this gig would be happening, how great it was going to be and how excited he was to be running it, all with his trademark ear-to-ear grin and machine-gun happiness. That’s one thing that can be said for Barry; you cannot fault his zeal, his enthusiasm for every gig he’s involved with.
Come gig night, a Friday, I wished I could have had but a fraction of that zeal. It had been a LONG week, working twelve hour days from Monday to Friday, and I was expected in again on Saturday morning to cover for someone. I was WRECKED. On top of that, I’d found out during the week that my girlfriend had gotten a great new job; great news, except it was in Galway which meant we wouldn’t see each other all week, so I was a bit down about that. Plus I’d gone home to Monaghan during the week to see my folks, and a bunch of shit went down there which was melting my head too. Pretty much everything would have been eased by a nice quiet night in with a pizza, a few beers and a DVD, but bookings are bookings so off to Longford I went.
Setting off from Monaghan, I quickly became pissed at the journey. A lot of the time when travelling to gigs, the car practically drives itself on the motorway. You get a nice big motorway or dual carriageway, you reach a nice safe speed, and the road whizzes by until BOOM; destination. Time flies. Not so the trip to Longford, which was ALL cross country. Carrickmacross… Shercock… Baileborough… Virginia… Ballyjamesduff… Granard… Edgeworthstown… Longford town… Kilnashee.
Anyone who knows me knows that if it’s one thing I don’t mind, it’s a long drive (I once drove from Carrickmacross to Dublin and back to cool off after a row with an old girlfriend at three in the morning). But there was something about this trip that just made me hit the wall. My head was THUMPING. I was in a foul humour. I was going to a one-off gig in the middle of the sticks, and these gigs can be disastrous. I was finishing up the show, so I’d be there till God knows what time, then drive this long-arse journey all the fuck way home, and be up in five hours to go do another twelve hour day. There probably wouldn’t be a big crowd (because the gig was running on the same night as Tommy Tiernan was playing IN LONGFORD TOWN) and Barry was MCing it himself, which I know from experience can be less OK-folks-here’s-your-next-comedian and more Ok-lions-here’s-your-next-Christian.
So when I eventually landed in what my SatNav insisted was Kilnashee, I was one grumpy cunt. And this in itself is a test folks; if you’re going to be a comedian, can you be a comedian at all times? It’s no good if you’re only able to get out and gig when its sunshine and roses and you’re in great form; can you suck it up, put on a smile, and hit the stage and get a crowd laughing? Driving from Carrick to Longford, my set had been kinda re-written in my head from my usual witty observations and non-sequiters to a half hour ill-natured rant about how they should build a more motorways in this country, even if it means laying tarmac over every historical site we have. This is where comedy becomes WORK, and it always tickles me to hear people talk of quitting their day-jobs and doing comedy full time. Comedy isn’t something that will replace your day-job, it’s ANOTHER FUCKING DAY-JOB, albeit one you might like a hell of a lot better than whatever you do right now. Comedy is evenings and weekends, hard work and travel. It’s deadlines and pressure, it’s hard graft… and right then was having one shitty day at the office, but instead of closing the office door and counting down the minutes till five, I had to go onstage and act like I was having a great time.
But do you know who WAS having a good time? Barry. Here he was, doing a gig in his hometown; something which I myself will probably never have the balls to do. There were other comedians here too, and any one of them would have gladly have done my headline spot in place of their seven-ten, but Barry wanted me on last. It was a gig he’d been planning for months if not years, going back to those nights in the Tap when he first told me about this mythical gig he would one day run in his brothers pub. He went onstage in front of his friends and family and set in motion a gig that he had always wanted me to headline. And there I was out back, grumbling about the fucking journey. I copped on and put a few things in perspective. if you want to be in comedy, you have to WORK. That’s just it. It can’t all be lovely big packed arenas on your doorstep, there will be plenty of gigs in small towns that are hard to reach. I knew how hard a journey Longford would be, I knew how pissed off I would be after a long week at work, so I had plenty of time to ring Barry during the week and cancel. But the day you start cancelling gigs is the day people start thinking your head has breached your arse, and before too long you won’t have to cancel gigs; you just won’t get booked. This wasn’t some gig I was doing in the middle of nowhere for some promoter who didn’t know my name, this wasn’t a gig that I was doing just so I could get in someones good books for later in my career; this was a gig I had been asked to do by a friend which I promised to do, and do well.
There’s hundreds of comedians Barry could have asked to headline the gig he’d planned for ages, I should have been damn glad I was even considered. So fuck all the stuff that happened during the week that was getting me down, fuck the long trip (and the thoughts of an equally long trip home), and fuck feeling sorry for myself; I glucosed up, shook myself out of my fog and got ready to go out there and rock the shit out of it. And I’d like to say, my fellow No Punchliners, that I went out there and DID rock the shit out of it, and the hard days graft al paid off, but in actual fact from the second I hit the stage I was pretty much shouted down by an unbelievebly drunk local vegetable, who for the first ten minutes of my set I ignored, believing as I did that due to his contorted appearance and incomprehensible roarings that he was not in fact intoxicated but suffering from some severe mental and/ or physical disability.
Half an hour of telling the odd joke inbetween Sam Dingle yelling and everyone else yelling at Sam Dingle to shut the fuck up, I said my thanks and left. By and large, the crowd had enjoyed the night, but none as much as Barry himself. Even though the whole night had damn near broke my heart , I was happy to have helped him as best I could. Now get me the fuck home, before I pass out.