LapTopping – 72 – “Abracadabra”
LapTopping – The Bit Long, Official E-zine of The Bedroom Philosopher
Monday June 22, 2009.
BROWN & ORANGE NATIONAL TOUR WITH THE AWKWARDSTRA DURING JULY/AUGUST
Happy Birthday Clyde Drexler (NBA) 47 today!
Happy Birthday Cyndi Lauper 56 today!
THE ADVENTURES OF SPACE CAT!
Space Cat is launched into space, warp factor eight. He spends the journey in a deep hypersleep. This is nothing new.
Space Cat lands on a foreign planet. The ships landing paws come down and knead the ground. The docking doors open. Space Cat can’t decide whether to stay in or go out.
During the surveillance mission Space Cat is alarmed to discover an alien species that resemble vacuum cleaners.
Space Cat is brought to meet with the planet’s leader, but his Cat customs bring confusion. He appears interested for a moment then wanders away.
Space Cat returns to his ship to find biscuits and litter tray are at critical levels. Activates grey alert.
Space Cat is reminded of his Space Fleet oath not to interfere with other civilisations. The ship passes Canaryian 4, Goldfishilus and Lizardopia.
Space Cat is about to be killed by the great Doberman warlord. Thankfully, it’s just a holodeck simulation.
Space Cat returns home to Catnip 5. He is honoured for his bravery at a ceremony. He is given a trophy made out of the back of a couch and presented with the keys to his new home, built from old jumpers. He celebrates with milk but later has a little vomit.
TINY LEGENDS – Moments that fell down the back of the couch.
From Chris Rees:
Sunday, April 19, 2009
I was at a smallish-scale soccer match, crowd of about 100. One shot ballooned in the air, far enough to go over the quite high netting behind the goals. There are four or five low-rise villa units over the fence. As the crowd watched, an elderly lady walked up the driveway, picked up the ball, walked up the front steps of one of the units and disappeared inside. There was a gasp from the crowd as she closed the door.
EMAIL US YOUR TINY LEGENDS.
INANIMATE OBJECT BEREAVEMENT NOTICES
From Jason Arnold.
“To my beloved Motorola flip phone. You learnt the hard way that the toilet is not a phone sized swimming pool. I will always remember the times we shared, the drunken texts we sent, and the prank calls we made.
To my dear Toshiba laptop “Toshi”. You were one of my dearest friends, sticking with me through thick and thin. You were my entertainment, my connection with the world, my sanity. I have learnt never to plug expensive electric equipment into poorly wired powerboards. You will be sorely missed (until I buy your replacement with my tax return).”
SEND YOUR BEREAVEMENT NOTICES TO THIS ADDRESS.
GET A WRIGGLE ON GOOGLET!
Phrases people have typed into Google to land on my website:
“can someone learn the guitar competently at 23?”
“approaching indie girls”
“how to clean a disastrous bedroom”
“who is the hardest philosopher”
“big boss cigars what flavour lolly”
“stir ups slacks”
“bagging flaming lips”
“the blu-tak in my urinal tastes like lemonade”
“weetbix mixture to grow bigger worms”
“want can put in lolly bags sort dolls and for boys”
“where can i get harry potter iron ons in brisbane”
“what is the name of a repetitive comedy starring bill murray ? day”
“work for the dole allegic reactions”
TIME IS CHEESE AND MOUSE IS HUNGRY!
This is my pal Oliver Clark chatting to the creator of Arrested Development as part of the ‘Six Beers Of Separation’ thing. He has to meet Will Arnett in six degrees. This is number five.
Here is a really serious seven stage program designed to defeat procrastination once and for all! My psychologist friend Jane recommends it.
A GIGGLE OF GIGS
BROWN AND ORANGE NATIONAL TOUR FEATURING THE AWKWARDSTRA AND BEST FRIEND JOSH EARL! ALL SHOWS 8pm & $12 unless stated. I’ll be playing two sets. One solo and one with my hot band.
SYDNEY – Wednesday July 1. Bar Me. 154 Brougham Street cnr William Street, Kings Cross.
CANBERRA – Thursday July 2. ANU Bar.
NEWCASTLE – Friday July 3. Lass O’ Gowrie Hotel. (Free.)
BRISBANE – Sunday July 5. The Troubadour. (If you’re under eighteen and can’t come to this I am playing a comedy gig that night at the Brisbane Powerhouse from 6pm.)
MELBOURNE – Thursday July 9. The Toff In Town. (Also features Merri-May Gill from Brisbane).
The following gigs are sans Josh Earl.
HOBART – Sunday July 12. The Republic. (W/ Charles Du Cane).
BURNIE – Thursday July 16. Stagedoor Cafe. (Solo, support TBA).
ADELAIDE – Wednesday August 5. Grace Emily Hotel. (Solo. W/ Guillaume Soloacoustic. $10)
PERTH / FREMANTLE – Sunday August 9. Mojo’s. (Solo. W/ Tomas Ford & The Whistling Dogs. NOTE: Early start – 5pm. $10)
(Brought to you by Captain Pork’s Fortune Roasts. In the tradition of fortune cookies, simply heat up this prepackaged roast meal and scurry about the gravy for your piece of wisdom.)
2009 COMEDY FESTIVAL ROADSHOW TOUR DIARY
Tuesday May 26. Rutherglen.
The visions I had of my first Roadshow were five comedians packed into the back of a Tarago eyeballing each other off nervously and trying to out joke each other like some overgrown high school tournament of broken minds. This wasn’t the case. I travelled separately with the stage manager to keep her company. Joining me for the ride was my right hand man Oliver Clark who had been enlisted to play guitar for me due to my recently broken arm, which had healed enough for me to strum the guitar, but as the doctor put it, ‘no windmills for you yet poppet.’
I ate a KFC hot and spicy hot pocket thing which had me singing the Bloodhound Gang hit ‘The Roof Is On Fire’ in this case the roof being my mouth. Having successfully removed a layer of skin and dignity we journeyed deeper into the Australian heartland. Trees. Paddocks. Servos. Funny town names. Cooriewotsit. Mang. Poonwit. I was in charge of music, and having skipped through most of the Hottest 100 CD’s I landed on ABC local radio to hear an old woman blathering about the origins of the saying ‘spitting image.’ We arrived in Rutherglen and checked into our hotel. An ash grey cat with comfortable green eyes scurried up to us itching to be handled. This was a beautiful four star country cottage affair near a winery. Oliver and I trotted off to our rooms to practice. Oliver would be playing guitar on Golden Gaytime and Wow Wow’s Song. Compared to the end of my Comedy Festival run, when I had all four of my eyes in, this was well outside my comfort zone. What to do with my hands? I was trying to pass it all off in a ‘she’ll be right, laugh it off’ manner, which was undone by Sam Simmons bursting into my room and asking if I’d like to replace him in the second set because he’d been having a bad run in front of audiences.
For Sam and Felicity Ward, the Roadshow had been going for a couple of weeks. Basically, there are two different sets of comedians going around Australia at the same time. There might be one doing regional NSW, and the other regional Queensland. Some comedians do the whole one month run, some, like me, drop in for a week. Sam looked downcast and I knew this didn’t bode well for me. It can be a heavyweight bout trying to convince country audiences to take a trip on the irony train. I was quietly confident that I had my bogan love song and nan song up my sleeve, which had been consistently kicking goals for a year.
My head wasn’t in a good place, however, and I knew it. I have a track record of not doing well on organised trips away in small to large groups. This dates right back to school camps. The grade ten school trip is the best example. There you are, on a bus with all your friends, and only two people to a seat. Inevitably, the best friends I thought I had who I really wanted to sit next to would pair up on me, and I’d always end up being the third wheel, sitting with some second or third string guy. Being an only child with dramatic and depressive tendencies, this would only fuel my brain into a barnstorm of antisocial sentiments like ‘you always end up on your own,’ ‘you are not as liked as the others, see?’ and ‘you don’t need them, boo hiss!’ In this case, I had the group dynamic away from home, plus general gig anxiety with the increased fear of the unknown due to my broken arm. With the sunset dying on a clear country sky, I wandered around the gravelly carpark strumming the chords to ‘Jesus On Big Brother.’ My mood was locked in like tiger’s teeth. Let’s face it, ‘snap out of it’ isn’t quite the blue ribbon approach to mental health. I’m like Jamiroquai, I go deeper underground.
We ate dinner in the fancy restaurant at the hotel. Sam sat opposite me at the table and I glanced over at him nervously. We have a strange relationship. It is best described by saying we are like brothers. We have an awful lot in common. He amuses, annoys and challenges me, and gets under my skin like very few people ever have. He exists in a fascinating side dimension. He is likely to punctuate our conversation with a visual montage of ways to kill yourself. (Hands make a gun to the head / fingers make a little man jumping to his death / hands mime pills being put to mouth, then head resting on pillow. “Aah, forever sleep.”) He and Lawrence Mooney had a great dynamic that I was happy to watch like a sitcom. They ordered mushroom soups which came out in large yet impractical bowls; a large dinner plate with a small dip in the middle. They both laughed for about a minute when they came out. They’d deliberated heavily on the menu and had clearly got it so wrong. I got way too much risotto, scooping extra out to Oliver, who’d been given just four precise squares of fish.
The gig was at the community hall. Our dressing room was the RSL headquarters, adorned with wonderful old war memorabilia. Crisp black and white photos of uniformed men. Colourful ribbons and flags from around Australia. Old maps and plaques and huge gold bullet shells, which Sam naturally performed fellatio on.
‘Hey Justin did you see the Burnie flag over there?’ asked Lawrence.
I had, and it had made me happy. It was a smallish yellow banner with ‘Greetings from Burnie RSL’ written on it. I took a wobbly photo of it on my iphone adding to a collection I’ll never look at.
Felicity was first on, she was skipping about with headphones, getting in the moment. Lawrence was studying the war memorabilia, offering snippets of knowledge about the surround areas. Englishman Jeff Green sat on a chair making notes. Oliver was changing into his famous blue velvet suit. We had worked out a cheesy routine for when I called him on stage.
Justin: Hey Oliver is there a hospital around here?
Oliver: No, why?
Justin: Because we’ve got (both turn heads to face each other and point to sideburns)
Both: THIRD DEGREE BURNS!
No really, encore! By the time we were in the headlights of the gig we managed to muck it up. One of us said ‘three degree burns.’ The audience laughed politely. I have been performing for seven years now, and let it be said, it’s hard. You are up on stage in a cold rectangle room staring out into the black, the ghostly apparition of faces you know have a lot riding on this night, who have paid very good money to see state of the art big city entertainment. I had the impression that everyone was over forty and probably enjoyed their comedy on face value. The problem with my act in this context is that I ‘act’ hesitant and standoffish which embraces how vulnerable I am actually feeling and at once makes a caricature of it as a vague satire on the whole ‘confident comedian’ thing, which usually achieves the contrast it requires when every other performer comes out all guns blazing and ‘hey how are we tonight’ openings. However, in country towns, when many have never even been to a live comedy night, this dynamic that I’m parodying in my own subtle way, isn’t obvious enough. So I just appear like a hesitant and nervy performer – qualities the audience instantly associates with being a bit crap. Thus, in the opening minute, when they are working me out, they assume that I’m a bit crap, thus, without this initial confidence instilled in them, it makes my material, which requires a little bit of work to digest already, even more difficult to engage with. Such was the case tonight. The song where I am a bogan singing a love song to ‘Trishine’ got the smallest reaction it’s ever got. This was the same with the Nan song ‘In My Day.’ There is a specific frequency of irony that I’m operating on that can’t be read by this demographic of peeps. They need a special set top box. I’m pretty sure, that if I did the Nan voice, and started swearing, and talking tough, the audience would enjoy this. As a comedy construct, it’s one that they can recognise straight away. Juxtaposition. Perhaps my success in cities is because people enjoy figuring out what you’re doing and being not quite sure where you’re coming from, whereas in the country, they want to get you straight away, they need to be having fun like yesterday already. They didn’t come out for a night of cerebral challenges and multi-faceted wit. The fact I’m being an old person and then just saying absurdist things isn’t enough of a pay off.
Having said all that, I’ve been fine in front of regional crowds in the past, especially on tour with Tripod in W.A. In 2005. Not tonight everyone, I’ve got a headache.
The lack of laughter for these songs was disappointing. This was my ‘winning over country crowds’ set, and it wasn’t winning. Golden Gaytime and Wow Wow were performed admirably enough, and Oliver did a great job. But standing there with my hands in my pockets feeling awkward about my body took me out of my performance and back to high school. Jason, the tour manager said he loved my set, and I fed off the compliment like a possum with a chop. Lawrence Mooney was very funny before our curtain call. “How funny would it be if we went out there with the picture of the Queen and I just went like this,” he said. He then made the action of putting his knee through the frame.
Wednesday May 27. Yarrawonga.
The next morning I ate breakfast with Jess the stage manager and Jeff Green. A scruffy looking bloke, one of the lighting rig guys from the night before came in and handed Jeff a notepad.
‘Is this yours?’
‘Oh yes it is, thanks very much, you brought this all the way in.’
‘Yep. I was going to keep it and sell it but you’re not quite that famous.’
‘Yeah, anyway, you lot are lucky to be in here. They don’t normally let your sort in here.’
‘You’ve normally got to be (makes motion of hand up above head to suggest social stature) up here, but yeah, you’re lucky. They don’t normally have you kind of people.’
I dashed off to find an opshop. There was only one street and it wasn’t far away. I felt self conscious, as I often do in small towns, with my midlength hair and long scarf wrapped around – i’m a toss up between Austin Powers or Tom Baker. I resent feeling self-conscious in a year when I feel like I’ve found my confidence. I try not to overblow it in my head, but then I catch the glimpse of a worker in an orange vest, all narrow eyes and cigarette mouth and it takes me back to Burnie when you’d walk into the football club rooms and see tense, shifty eyed men murmuring in pockets, backs turned. There was always something so unwelcoming about those men, so closed off.
The opshop was the most good old fashioned proper country opshop I’d seen in years. Hand written price tags. Nothing over $5. Some good ties and a sky blue ‘Pelaco’ 70’s shirt that fit perfectly. Back at the cars a tough loooking bloke on a ride on mower cruised up and told Sam that he ‘enjoyed his energy on stage.’
We drove on to Yarrawonga. I sat in the back of the car, quite happily sulking away. I put on Boards Of Canada, the only music I’ve been able to listen to recently. Thick, warm, haunting synths mixed with psychedelic soundscapes and solid electro beats. These days I’ve had enough of lyrics – when you’ve experienced heartbreak and you feel like you’ve whittled all meaning away the last thing you need is someone’s whiny two cents about love and loss. Instrumental music is show don’t tell.
After a four hour drive we checked into our hotel and realised we’d peaked too early on the accommodation. There was no ash grey cat, just an ashen faced man handing us a small plastic container of milk for our rooms. We joked about not getting out of bed for under four stars. Some of the group were off to play golf, but I opted out because of my arm. We all checked out the opshop nearby. It was more of your big country town, modernised, a bit too organised, counter in the middle with touchscreens and frazzled middle aged women, overrun by 90’s crap opshops. The one thing it was good for was 70’s knitting books. This is something else I collect, along with ties. This is probably me at my most self conscious, a gangly man in his late twenties, cardigan clad, knees spread on the floor, hunched over a basket of knitting books feverishly flicking through pages, sussing covers and creating a small pile of keepers next to him. The self consciousness was aided by a surly old man who kept needing to push a trolley past where I was sitting on his way to the staff room, as if to say ‘I represent your gender, and we don’t approve of your behaviour. I don’t know where to file you away in my brain and I don’t like feeling uncomfortable and I wish you’d just go away.’ If only I could tell him that in a lot of ways, I collect these books just so I can check out the girls. Seriously, this stuff is my FHM. Fresh faced girls with long wavy brown hair and fitted orange crotched dresses with white stockings, posing next to a lime green wall. Hot! I bought so many books that I had to then walk to the post office and post a package to myself back home. How apt.
Disaster struck when I wandered into a local cafe and said the two words that would haunt me for the rest of the trip. “Veggie burger.” Now, I love my meat, but make a conscious effort not to eat too much of it, and opt for vegetables in the mix where possible. I feel like this place had veggie burger up on the menu as a vague joke, and I was the first person to order it since the Dalai Lama blew through. I swore I saw from the side of my glasses the chef blowing dust off a yellow book marked ’emergency burger instructions.’ This fantasy was further aided when, about fifteen minutes after ordering, the woman came over to me and said ‘so, what did you want on it?’ It eventually came, looking like a potato patty that had gone punk, with a few flecks of red and green. The side order of home cut chips were fluro white and chewy. In a day when lunch is the one thing you’re counting on to make things okay, a bad meal can be a bitter pill. I forced it all down, drinking ginger beer like medicine, staring into an article in the local paper about ‘macca makes good.’
Country towns have lots of old people in them. Farmer Joe and his wife coming to town to do some banking and pick up a few things for dinner. Farmer Joe has dark grey trousers and a button up vest and hat. He’s bent over on a walking stick and appears to have some problems in the hips. His wife walks ahead. Hair fluffed and assured. Handbag clutched. Lavender blouse and white slacks. Gold jewellery reflecting in the lunchtime sun. Off they go. Living their lives. Everything already said and done.
I went to a computer shop that offered Internet. There’s nothing like paying $5 for half an hour. While I waited to pay the bloke gave a women the verdict about her PC.
‘I’m afraid it does have a lot of viruses on it, a lot of spyware. I’m going to have to reformat the hard drive.’
‘Oh dear, yes David my husband thought that was the case. Tell me, you can get these viruses from all websites right?’
‘Oh yes, any website these days.’
I enjoyed the transparency of the woman, clearly sheepish about her husbands virtual sexual health. On the counter was a small jar with a corked lid. On it was written ‘ashes of problem customers.’
I started to feel ill in the stomach. I had an afternoon nap, which brought little comfort, my mind gushing thoughts like a burst main. Oliver returned from golf by the time I was ready to get up. He wanted to take a quick nap and I didn’t want to disturb him. It was too cold to go outside so I sat in the bathroom with the toilet seat down, reading.
The gig that night was in a gigantic 600 seat community hall with a tall stage and audience stretched out in rows all on one level to the back of the room. One of my pet hates is ‘dancefloor gap’ when there’s a big distance between you and the front row of the audience. It’s hard to connect. Also, in large rooms the laughter from the back doesn’t make it up on stage. Lawrence Mooney is a hugely underrated comedian and made for a terrific MC. He reminds me of my Uncle Nigel, the most effortlessly funny guy I ever knew. He has such a warmth and openness about him, and a general love of people. He does a great bit of material about learning his daughter has worms, then wondering if she’ll start dragging her bum around on the floor. After the show, I had to race around the front and try and sell my CD’s. I was wrong about the knitting books, this is me at my most self conscious. Standing there, with an obvious purpose, but unwilling to engage with the moment I’ve created. I can’t make eye contact with anyone in case it makes them uncomfortable or they look away in disappointment. How much of life can be written off as fear of rejection? I can’t bear the possibility of witnessing facial evidence of someone in the audience not thinking I am brilliant and therefore probably hating me, their night in tatters because they thought my puns were a little laboured. I stood there pretending to read the back of the comedy festival DVD for something to do, heart racing, disgusting with self awareness. A spiky haired teenager bounded up and told me I was great.
‘I love I’m so Post Modern’
‘Cool. I didn’t play that tonight.’
‘How much are gala DVD’s?’
Thursday May 28. Swan Hill.
The next day, I felt bad. My stomach was incredibly upset, and I figured I had some level of food poisoning from that punk pattie and undercooked chips in Yarrawonga. A second generation rot was setting in, and there was little I could do about it. This wasn’t a very good setting to feel low in. When you’re having breakfast with the rest of the comedy crew, all flippin’ through papers and firing off witticisms, your own silence is deafening. I was head down, making my way through toast and honey, hoping for the best. I was glad to have Oliver on the trip, I had lived with him for a year and he understood my performance neuroses and wasn’t afraid of a D&M. He had just participated in the online documentary ‘Six Beers Of Separation,’ and met up with Will Arnett from Arrested Development. Ads featuring him were plastered all over Zoo and Ralph, which he flicked through over breakfast. I peered over his shoulder, utterly confounded by the oily airbrushed women. I imagined myself as a Mrs Doubtfire kind of character trying to cover them with doilies.
Sam Simmons was finding his form on stage again and each day would say ‘tonights gonna be a fun one, I can feel it’ an optimism I resented. Sam was starting to pick up on my low mood and in classic comedian form, gave me crap about it. I actually enjoyed this. He’d started doing an impression of me which involved him hunching down and putting on a whiny voice ‘ooh, i’m so dark, i’m an artist. I knitted a bike.’ I was determined to do a good show tonight. My ego had been knocked around. I tried to put things in perspective. I’d been spoilt lately, performing to my home crowd during Melbourne Comedy Festival and my album launch, When was the last time I’d played 500 seat country venues full of people not there to see me? It was a big leap, and I had to remember not to be so hard on myself and that what I was doing was actually really hard to pull off and a bit scary. I decided not to play with Oliver tonight, as I needed to take the guitar by the strings and get my mojo working again. I needed my full arsenal of songs back. Medium Ted came in off the bench for an injured Nan song. Swan Hill was cabaret seating. A more intimate room with bright, multi-coloured tables of reds and yellows. Sam took one look and said ‘bags a connect four joke.’
My stomach was still wrongtown. I needed frequent trips to the bathroom, which I was conscious of fouling up for my colleagues. I took deep breaths, strolled around, drank lots of water and remembered that I was funny and that I deserved to be here. Onstage, I decided to amend my usual line of ‘I look like a cross between Jarvis Cocker, Graeme Garden and Harry Potter.’ Figuring that two out of those three might be unknown to the regional mobs. After some deliberation I went with ‘I was walking down the street today and someone yelled ‘hey Austin Powers, you look like a lesbian.’ This seemed to resonate. I figured they would enjoy an arty city fop like me taking myself down a peg or two early. Jason the tour manager said that night I was a narrow second best on ground behind Sam, who was throwing every shape from the comedy Kama Sutra. A particular highlight was ‘love puzzle, the pieces don’t fit / love puzzle i’m crying sex tears.’ Which I proceeded to have in my head for a week.
Friday May 29. Robinvale.
I’d brought along Alain De Botton’s ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’ to read, partly because I was halfway through and enjoying it, but mostly just to be seen reading it. I was still feeling too ill and weak to bother. By this stage I was taking anti-diarrhoea medication and hunched up in the back seat eating a plain scroll and trying to listen to some Bob Dylan, as if he was the leader of all songwriters who may convince me to once again embrace lyrics. “I’m going out of my mind, oh, oh / With a pain that stops and starts /
Like a corkscrew to my heart / Ever since we’ve been apart.” Thanks Bob, when you’re balled up in the backseat of a station wagon with food poisoning in the middle of a regional comedy tour, you need a gentle reminder that your heart is a volcanic swampland of pain and confusion. I switched off Bob and put on a Tony Martin ‘Get This’ podcast and cackled away as Tony declared April ‘Capril’ where everyone has to wear a cape.
On our way towards Robinvale we drove through Kerang. It featured a takeaway shop called ‘Hungry Azz.’ I am fascinated with the country town obsession with mis-spelling shop signs. ‘Sports Biz’, ‘Supa Cutz’ and a book shop called ‘Browzers’ were highlights. We couldn’t work out if they did it because they thought it made them sound cool, or because the original names were taken. We stopped outside some public toilets. A group of three sour faced teenage girls were standing next to it, smoking. Behind them, on a park bench were about four boys, in baggy jeans and frowns. This bleak setting continued into Robinvale. It was a dry, dusty, low economic one horse town with ‘no drinking’ signs in the public parks. Lunch was an ordeal. With my stomach lining, and spellings like ‘potatoe’ on the menu, I was faced with a russian roulette of gastronomical possibilities. I ordered a ham and pineapple wrap, the kind of thing I’d eat with my Mum for morning tea in Burnie. It was like a squashed spam pancake found in a glovebox. I ate it anyway. Even the opshops here were depressing. A vacant looking old woman wandering around. Dusty clothes all jumbled and unsorted in baskets. Grim Aboriginals trying on jackets. The incessant drone of the AM radio advertising ‘Greg’s cement mix and sheet metal supplies.’
We killed time during the day by going to look at the venue. It was amazing! A small theatrette with tiered seating and rows of low gravity black retro space chairs. The place looked like it was designed in the late 60’s. There was a healthy ambience and a sense of the audience being right up in your grill. Oliver and Felicity played soccer with a ball of socks while Jess went to chat with the house manager, an uppity young blonde woman who Sam claimed had barged through him rudely only moments before while going to the bathroom, adding to me ‘she was pretty fey, the kind of girl you’d go for.’ Moments later it was revealed that we wouldn’t be performing in this space at all, but over the other end of the complex, in a huge function room with fluorescent lights and round tables. We’d gone from Stanley Kubrick’s New York art space to footy club awards night in ten paces. The claim was that the locals wanted to bring their own food to the gig. We skulked off while the organisers had a sparring match. We went and stood by the river and joked about Nescafe ads. Sam asked Oliver to pose on the ground, drawing a map in the dirt with a stick and then pointing in the distance. Jeff suggested we get back in the Tarago and drive around for a bit. We passed an old woman tottering along and he absently came out with ‘hey darling did you break your hip when you fell from heaven.’ Call of the trip.
By night’s fall I was at my lowest. I felt ill, tired and ominous. Tonight was going to be a clanger, I could feel it in my sideburns. Sure enough – it was. By the time I hit the stage I was anxious, scattered and awkward. In the spaces between my warbly delivery I could hear the scrunch of chips as cocktail faced women leered up at me. I had very little to offer. I autopiloted through my material, trying to hide in the character songs like jackets. Nan song tanked like a tank monster on tank day. I finished it early and then went into a made up self referential freestyle about how bad I thought I was going, told from the perspective of the audience. A by-product of my 2005 days, this is the musical equivalent of a distress flare, hoping to spark some chemistry in the room. Not this time. I said ‘thanks Robinvale it’s been magic,’ and hurried off stage. I hadn’t felt this bad after a gig for years. I wanted to crawl into the ground and sleep off this nightmare. I was a bird trapped in the glasshouse of my mind. I asked to be taken back to the hotel, where I plunged into bed and jammed my eyes shut. For years I’d wanted to come on Roadshow, and here I was unable to be as good as I knew I was.
That night a had a long, cryptic dream about a past love and awoke to find a message from Sam Simmons, making sure I hadn’t topped myself.
Saturday May 30. Broken Hill.
Everyone was happy to get out of Robinvale. After we blasted out onto the highway, a gloom lifted. My spirit had revived a little after a long sleep. Broken Hill is a bad-ass mining town where Pro Hart is from. One set of streets are named after chemicals and the other set after women. So at one point I was standing at the corner of Sulphur and Beryl. On the main street is a bronze statue of a couple of ladies and a plaque dedicated ‘to the solidarity of Broken Hill women who supported their menfolk during union disputes in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.’ Isn’t that lovely? The local cinema offered ‘The Reader’ or Zack Efron’s ’17 again’ but the concept of watching either alone in Broken Hill was too ridiculous to consider. We ate at a place where the burgers are big and expensive and the girls wear black and all have boyfriends. I chatted with Felicity, who I’d never had a chance to connect with before. She was performing on Ronnie Johns Half Hour when I was writing for it, but that was a frenzied atmosphere. I was impressed with her stand-up, she illuminates the room with confidence and prowess and is someone who has gone through a personal transformation.
People often ask what the deal is with comedians being a bit depressive off stage. Theory one is that every other artform, be it music or acting or writing, you have your sense of humour to fall back on, but with comedy that sense is the one thing you have to mine for your craft. Theory two is that to be a good comedian you need to be particularly intelligent, sensitive and observational. You must scrutinise and internalise the world to such a degree that you can locate the fundamental truths and make the absurd connections that form the basis of all jokes. Such a dynamic mental state is a double edged sword. For all its advantages, it also has the nature to turn back on its user, and the comedian can find themselves over analysing themselves into oblivion, and making outrageous negative connections about themselves and their surroundings. Theory three is the nature of the artform. In comedy, you get massive payoffs, ie, laughs. In music, you get mild pay offs, ie a bit of clapping. In music, if no one claps it doesn’t really matter, it just means they’re a bit bored, or they’re just paying really close attention, there isn’t as much to lose. In comedy, there is an outright fail meter. If the audience is quiet, you have failed. That’s a big, scary, unstable ride to go on. Comedians experience the sensation of crashing back down to earth a lot more than other artists. There are more dramatic highs and lows, possibly even more at stake. I mean, if you’re a musician and you do a bad gig, you’re still an okay person. Maybe you just need to rehearse a bit more, but if you’re a comedian and you do a bad gig, it means you are NOT FUNNY. That’s a reality no human should ever have to face. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you fail a funny test, then you’re just a husk in jeans. This is a lot of pressure to be facing. That’s why comedians are a bit quiet and troubled looking off stage. Try not to be too judgemental about it, they’re usually doing their best.
For dinner I ate a steak the size of a housebrick. I’d heard an old wive’s tale that the best way to calm a troubled stomach was to eat half a kilo of beef. I begged, poked, prodded and pleaded with myself to do a good gig that evening. I simply had to go out on a high. I have a history of doing my best gigs when I’m in my worst moods. When you feel like you don’t have the energy to care, it actually frees you of a lot of nervous baggage and you hit the stage with a bit of fire in your belly and it can make for a focussed performance. This was the case tonight. I hit the 400 seat theatre running. I was like an Olympic shooter, just throwing up the set ups and shooting the punchlines down one by one. Golden Gaytime, a song I’ve been particularly bored with in the past, got the biggest reaction it’s had in years, while I was so on the ball that I successfully bailed out of Medium Ted when the audience failed to clap along, rather than trying to flog it. By the end of Wow Wow’s Song I was ecstatic with glee and in lieu of windmill rock outs, I ran across the stage and did a powerslide in my flares. I later regretted this when I realised it had left a permanent burn mark. Being polyester, they’d partly melted! I could have ignited my trousers and had my groin go up in flames. That’s the Philosopher promise.
Greg Fleet had been ill and missed most of the tour, but had come in to replace Lawrence Mooney. I sat satisfied side-stage with a beer and had the biggest laugh I’d had all week. Greg Fleet is the master, he does the high-brow/low-brow cha cha like a lazy wizard. He said my favourite piece of material on tour which was ‘drive past someone in the street, wind down the window and yell out ‘hey uncle barry,’ I guarantee you, if you say it passionately and excitedly enough the person will turn around and go ‘wahaaaaaaay!’
Outside I was confounded by my inability to sell a CD on this tour, and made a mental note to do more songs where you sing twenty songs over the same four chords. A middle aged women strolled over cheekily and said something about ‘you’re not really gay are you?’ Middle aged women are the worst behaved demographic of people I’ve ever encountered. More often than not they’re self-absorbed, vulgar, tactless and drunk. In the past I’ve had them sidle up to me and tell me in their best Bea Arthur from Golden Girls impression that I remind them of their son. I’ve seen them stagger and teeter out onto the streets, like a flock of sequinned cockatoos, loud and territorial.
Tonight was a night to let our hair down. We asked the locals what was good and were told ‘go to demo’s for dancing’ but were then given a second opinion that it was ‘lousy with miners.’ We considered ‘The Black Lion,’ getting as far as the window before seeing a bunch of sixteen year olds with Beam cans screaming to Foo Fighters. We settled on ‘The Musicians Club’ with surly bouncers out the front. I sculled the rest of my can. I’d been holding off drinking the whole tour, but tonight I was on nobody’s dime and needed a one way ticket to brightly lit good times. I bought a beer and hurried out the back for a cigarette. On my way I found myself putting on a facial expression that I don’t normally have. I was clenching my face up into a hard edged stare. I was trying to look tougher in this place just to fit in. People ask if we got any groupies on these trips. Not a trace element. I guess my broody bookish bohemian Eeyore routine wasn’t exactly what these country gals in track pants and crop tops were after. I tried playing pool, which only got three balls in before the white ball got stuck and a local girl came to help, only to lose her mobile phone down one of the pockets. A bloke with keys turned up and pulled the whole table apart while the girl ‘helped’ loudly. I sat back in a stupor and took blurry photos with my phone. The house band were brought to my attention as we were leaving, they played a seriously out of key version of Bob Segar’s ‘Old Time Rock And Roll.’ (If you’re unfamiliar, perhaps Alf can jog your memory HERE). This song is important to me, as it used to get played to us a lot in primary school music class, along with ‘Don’t Stop’ by Fleetwood Mac and ‘Juicy Juicy Green Grass’ by Peter Combe. The band on this occasion were singing the whole thing in a truly puzzling sub-key monotone.
Sunday May 31. Melbourne.
I awoke feeling like a smashed ant. Outside it was overcast and raining. Last night had been fun, but now everything cained. We didn’t fly out until the afternoon, so after breakfast we drove out to the Silverton Hotel where Mad Max was filmed. The pub was packed with memorabilia, photos, joke collections and overthought signs like ‘don’t hog the fire, other people need its heat as well.’ The experience was greatly heightened by Sam who’d decided to conduct a series of experiments where you play Bomfunk MC’s ‘Freestyler’ in inappropriate situations. The first one was where he held his phone right behind the head of an old woman who was hobbling away from the pub. ‘Ooh straight from the top of my dome as I rock rock rock rock rock the microphone.’ The second time was when we were wandering across a stretch of dirt road. I could hear ‘Freestyler’ in the distance behind me. I turned back to see Sam holding his phone down at some animal droppings. The third was when we were at a look out, where you can supposedly almost see Adelaide on a clear day. Sam urged for us to all be quiet and listen to the tranquillity, we waited while he fiddled with something behind his back. The best one was driving back. We found a couple of bullocks on the ride of the road. Huge po faced bulls with metre wide horns looking like the guardians of rural hell. We were about to drive on when I had a brainwave.
“Sam, the bull needs Freestyler!”
Everyone in the van giggled with anticipation as Sam held his phone out of the window. The song began. The bull continued staring straight at us, not moving a muscle, as if to say ‘are you serious? Is that all you’ve got?’ We cackled inanely and drove on. That was all we had.
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