The measure of my success

Geoff Norcott on the concerns of the not-famous comedian

I have no idea what someone like Rhod Gilbert would view as success, the first time they - or their people - run a sales report for their Edinburgh fringe run in early June. I have no idea what sort of initial numbers would generate excitement or a surge of euphoria and belief.

A thousand? Ten thousand? Total sell-out? Having to add a late show at Murrayfield just to cope with the hysterical demand for tickets?

Once you’ve got to that level, and added so much to fabric of the Edinburgh Fringe with a string of well received shows, I cannot speculate as to what you see as a fair opening salvo in the battle to sell tickets.

I do know however, that when I ran my first sales report the other day, I did feel that excitement and euphoria - but what kind of number would make a circuit comic like me punch the air, shout and scare the shit out of the cat

My show, Geoff Norcott Avoids A Double Dip, is all about recovering your positivity. Part of that has to come from appreciating the things you do have as opposed to those you don’t. There is a perception about stand-ups that unless we are on television or striding around giant arenas on screens we can’t bear the sight of our own reflection, let alone the public success of others.

I think this is some way off. There are days I can’t bear the sight of my own reflection, but that’s usually because I’ve got up after 11am and neglected to comb my hair.

Rather than being bitter and jealous people, stand-ups are operating in an environment where rapid and dizzying levels of success are familiar. By and large, most professional comics cope with these vicissitudes with a fair amount of dignity and acceptance.

Imagine you’re in your early thirties. You and your mate both started your job at the same time. You both move steadily through the ranks, but one year, the guy who sits opposite you doing ostensibly the same job is not only promoted, he is catapulted from the equivalent of middle management to the role of global CEO and master of the universe.

This happens in stand-up in a manner unlike any other job. This is not to say the success bestowed on such industry comets is unwarranted, just that its Velocity and trajectory are largely un-matched in entertainment (unless you learn how to teach a dog to walk backwards, possibly).

There are balancing factors, which make being a comic enjoyable at any level. One of those coefficients is that a good gig is enjoyable, no matter what the scale. I often look at someone like John Bishop as he performs to the kind of crowds usually reserved for North Korean state pageantry and wonder if he feels the same things I do when playing to weekend club audiences. It seems so different on face value, but the under-lying principles are similar.

There are differences of course. At John Bishop’s gig the punters know who he is and want to see him. When the announcer mentions his name there is instinctive jubilation.

Club comics on the other hand mostly start from year zero every time they take to the stage. It may sound oppressive, but it has its plus points. It is, admittedly, like being interviewed for your job five times a week, but, on the other hand, audience members always seem mildly surprised when you have a good gig. Surprised that, despite your lack of presence on national television, you still managed to be funny and good at your job. I wonder if this faith in the validation of television extends to other professions; whether house buyers comment to estate agents, ‘Even though you weren’t Kirsty or Phil and have never appeared on A Place In The Country, you were surprisingly un-shit.’

We all have our days in the sun, no matter what kind of comic you are. I did a gig recently on a Thursday night in Milton Keynes. Off the back of a two-week tour of China it wasn’t the most glamorous looking date in the diary.

However, the audience were one of the most comedy savvy I’ve performed to this year. I ended up doing 15 minutes of new material, which they enjoyed. I don’t care of you’re Jerry Seinfeld playing the O2 or Geoff Norcott playing City Limits in ‘Centre MK’, nothing beats the feeling of trying something new and getting a good reaction.

So what was the number I got when I ran that sales report?

Ego tempts me to play it up, but a stand up must at least attempt to be truthful. After just 24 hours of the tickets being on sale it stood at four people. Four whole people who – despite the fact I have never appeared on Live At The Apollo, Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow, or even done a voice-over on Dave – had read my show blurb in the Fringe brochure and decided to take a punt. God bless those punters and their ability to make their own decisions.

I haven’t checked it for a few days. It could be as many as eleven by now. Maybe I’m getting carried away. I’ve always been a dreamer.

I do know this though: if it is eleven, I will stride around the house, scaring the animals again, exulting like a man who has just sold out Broadway.

Why not book some yourself and help a modest dream come true?

Published: 7 Jun 2012

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