Double Edged Words

Diane Spencer imagines three very different comedians

In the upstairs room of an old pub, a man sits behind a black curtain, his unkempt hair curling slightly over his furrowed brow, his silently moving mouth, rehearsing, remembering. His clothes are unimportant.

Up until now, his head has been filled with the noise of his own voice reciting his new festival show, the preview is here and now. This is the culmination of years of hard work on the circuit and a special ‘sabbatical’: two months off for writing, tweaking, performing daily in front of the mirror, listening to the dictaphone, talking to friends, reading theory books, going on courses.

Tonight, the preview is the all-important thing, but now another sound fills his head, that of his best mate awkwardly shuffling at the entrance to the room. There are no people to usher in. The lone poster hastily put up two nights ago in the front bar, doesn’t seem to be working. In a rush, the best mate has scribbled: ‘Free Comedy Night! Edinburgh preview! Funny!’ on the sandwich board outside. But there is no one around.

In another venue, across town, where A1 posters have littered nearby walls and cafes for weeks, flyers overflow from boxes on bar counters, poking like rude tongues out of letterboxes. Two professional cameraman have been hired. This is the culmination of a month of planning and paying. ‘Backstage’, otherwise known as the gents, the man whose face is plastered all round town, is putting the finishing touches to his costume: slightly over-large suit jacket, cream slacks, amusing tie with brightly coloured Tazmanian devil on it saying: ‘Watch out!’

The tie is key, he grips the end and flaps it when he tells the punchline – the ladies love it. The finishing touch? He’s painted his face and hands the colour of gold. Gold man in crazy tie has a secret. He’s come to this club many times, and seen brilliant people before him, who then seem to fade and he has never seen or heard of since.

But he knows he will be different. All of this advertising, the cameras, he has paid for. He has sunk thousands of pounds, from his hard earned savings into creating a fame dragon which he will ride through the stratosphere and join the other stars. From his perspective, he is already funny, already brilliant. People simply need to see it. With a professional looking clip, he’s sure to land at least 5,000 hits in the first week, he reckons. Viral marketing is the future. The problem with other comedians, he tells the camera recording his preparations, is that they don’t know that it’s not enough to be funny, other people have to see you being funny. And to do that you have to get yourself out there, he says as he blends the creased gold beneath his eyes.

The club is heaving. The other acts sit waiting in the blind spot of the bar, where comedians usually sit in semi-darkness staring into their pints. The gold man joins them, stifling a laugh at the nervous opener looking over the notes of her precious ten minutes. Some people will only get so far, he thinks, they should stop deluding themselves.

Gold man is the third open spot. This is his first gig. Ever.

Somewhere else, not sure where, there’s a two-headed child who performs standup comedy. Maybe Chernobyl. One head is specifically concerned with making sure the other head gets to the gig on time, fills in the administration forms, and writes reminders on Post-It notes about thank you emails, diary dates and travel information. Not easy when you have hooves.

During the gigs, this head is silent. The other head, ponders on funny things and laughs a lot; making messy notes, obscure references from internet searches and generally being gleeful and mischievous. Right now, the child sits in the basket by the fire, it’s night time, and his grizzled old carer is smoking a pipe. One head of the child is gleefully awake, typing into its laptop.

The carer looks down fondly and says, ‘You’ll succeed one day, if you keep doing what you’re doing.’

‘I will,” said the admin head of the child, his little tail wagging, bright eyes beaming. “I’m reliable, and organised and people will be able to count on me and because of that, I’ll get lots of gigs and make lots of people laugh’

“Yeah... ” mumbled the other head from the basket, still hungover, with 2.30am Ginsters pasty round his mouth, “... people will come cos I’m organised... not because I’m a two headed talking freak or anything.’

The fire burned gold, the stars glittered overhead and two comedians died for simply lacking what the other had in spades.

Published: 23 Dec 2009

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