Rob Newman's rules of the road
1. Don’t throw away that backstage pass thinking that you don’t really need it. What with you being a big star and that.
‘Backstage pass? This is just for the crew, surely, not me, the turn, the star of the show. I’ll lend it to my friend so she can come backstage after the show and say hello.’
By arrogantly discarding backstage passes I have found myself being chased by uniformed commissionaires up and down the backstage areas of:
• Theatre Royal, Glasgow
• Birmingham Symphony Hall
• Soho Theatre, London – where I only escaped by running onstage to lights and applause, but, alas, during someone else’s set.
Once, for want of an Access All Areas pass I was even denied entrance to my own gig at the Leeds Town & Country Club. There was no answer at the stage door and front-of-house told me that if I didn’t have a ticket I couldn’t come in since it was sold out.
I was getting very stressed because the punters were already queuing up for the gig. I forced the double-doors just enough apart to wriggle under those chains they loop round the door handles. I only got a few strides into the foyer before bouncers gave chase.
Luckily, the young man on the box-office was aware of my work, and he told the bouncers to let me go. I dusted myself down, but, still angry, I punched a framed poster of John Cougar Mellencamp, broke my hand on the brick wall behind it, and had to postpone the gig for two hours while I went to Leeds A&E.
Now, all of the above hassle could have been avoided if I had just had the humility to wear a laminate. And why not after all? I mean, when else does a comic ever get called an artist except on that little plastic laminate?
2. How to avoid the curse of the onstage out-of-body experience
Steve Martin once described his stand-up career in this way.
‘For 14 years my mind was doing one thing while my body did another’ - meaning that he was never in the moment onstage.
While his body was performing one gag, his mind was racing ahead, wondering should he skip that next-joke-but-three since this seemed to be less of Happy Feet crowd and more of a Jokeshop-Arrow-Through-The-Head type crowd.
I once caught myself onstage doing the hand gestures for the next-joke-but-one. I went cold with the fear that the audience would now spot how badly out of sync my mouth was with body and brain. There I was telling the one about fracking while doing the flailing arm gestures that went with the bit about drowning in sight of a beach. (After the gig, I’d asked a member of the audience if she’d found the drowning man mime oddly misplaced. She said she’d thought it was just me suddenly and powerfully sensing how the gig was going).
So, how do you prevent autopilot brain death? How do you snap out of it? How do you get back into the moment, all present and correct?
I’ve asked around.
Harry Hill once told me that if he ever feels this out-of-body experience creeping up on him onstage, his trick is to close his eyes for a few seconds, which instantly reboots his in-the-moment-ness. That one never works for me, alas, because I don’t like closing my eyes in a theatre, not since a tour manager told me that the reason Kate Bush never plays live is because once, during a soundcheck, a blind piano tuner fell through a trap door to his death.
The best trick for staying in the moment was told me by Mark Thomas. Or it might have been Tony Allen. Or it might have been both. Anyway, it’s the trick I always use: Trip Yourself Up.
...Put in the new bit you were saving for tomorrow. Or do your Danish scientist character as a Hammersmith roadie. This will give you just the dose of fear you need to snap yourself out of the attack of the killer stand-up autopilot robots. Trip yourself up and the gig snaps back into focus.
3. The grungiest couch of a friend is better than even the Malmaison
Couch-surfing slays one of the big problems of touring: how to get down from the post-gig buzz. When you’re on your own in a cold B&B minutes after coming off stage, it’s weird to have all this elation and nowhere to channel it. You may be tempted to hit the town and take your euphoria onto the dance floor, were it not for the fact that Sheffield’s all-night dancing means is Durham’s heavy cold and rubbish performance.
But sitting in a communal kitchen with a bunch of friends is the perfect comedown. There’s only about three towns to a tour, alas, where I’ve old friends I can crash with.
…Hmm. Now, why’s that I wonder? What was I doing while other people were cultivating lifelong friends?
Oh, yeah. Touring.
Published: 3 Sep 2013