You need to be able to perform to anybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing to 200 people or just a man and his dog. Because guess what – you don’t know who that man is, and you certainly don’t know who that dog is.
That’s some advice I got once when I was worried about the amount of man and dog gigs I was doing. For confidentiality reasons, I can’t tell you who gave me that advice. It would ruin them. They’re now in the cold-hearted moneymaking business of teaching, and any association with my comedy would get their ass fired from Kings Norton High and they’d no longer be able to teach history there, or indeed carry on as head of year 7, and what on EARTH would happen to their afterschool basketball club?
The point they’re making though, is that you never know when someone important could be watching you perform. So, if you’re a comedian, and you’re playing to a small crowd, maybe someone in that crowd could give you your big break. Maybe they have connections, even if they’re a dog.
Since I got that advice, I like to imagine that I’ll perform to a dog someday who’ll turn out to be a big comedy agent, known in the game as “The Big Dog”. The name will be ironic because the dog will actually be a very small Chihuahua. It will be a bit of a joke. That’s the thing about the comedy industry, we like our jokes.
People forget that. People think comedy is dying, slowly becoming watered-down spoken word because being funny is too dangerous in a world where health and safety has gone mad. You can’t even question immigration policy these days without someone filling out a risk assessment form and putting red tape around your mouth. But no, trust me, a hell of a lot of people in this business love a good joke, and what’s more, they hate safety. And you can forget about health!
I reckon the time I gig to “The Big Dog” will be in Edinburgh, at The Fringe. That’s where you hear of these things happening. That’s where deals get done and dreams get made. I’ve got an idea for a show called “Convict” where I come on in prison uniform and handcuffs and pretend the whole thing is my parole hearing. It doesn’t sound great, but it might be.
Because of the show’s originality and great comedic content, a little bit of word of mouth will start to generate about it. Midway through my Fringe run, as my show is starting to sell out every day, I’ll get an email from a certain agent:
I’ll be ecstatic and panicked all at once. It will be an opportunity of a lifetime, that I might not get again until next year’s Fringe.
The next day my show will be packed out with a mixture of eager punters who have come from that precious word of mouth, and friends that are there out of obligation. The perfect mixture. It’ll be five minutes until show-time and I’ll look in the crowd and be like: “Where is he? He’s not coming. I knew it.” I’ll fret backstage, grumbling and cursing, and then just as the show is about to start I’ll see a little white Chihuahua come in followed by a big bald meathead in sunglasses and a suit who I guess is his bodyguard.
I’ll get out there, and at first I’ll be a little nervous. Mumbling words, flubbing lines, it’ll all be going to pot. I’ll look over at Big Dog and he’ll be licking his balls, totally uninterested in anything I’m doing. All that time worrying about not getting a break, worrying that I’m only performing to small crowds, rather than someone who can open or bark down doors for me. I finally get the opportunity I’ve been after, and I balls it up while they balls their mouth up. I’d have worked up the professionalism to give it my all even when it’s just a man and his dog, and now I’ll be messing it up in front of an actual dog!
I’ll remember what my teacher-friend Michael Baines said to me – that thing about giving it my all at every gig. I’ll remember that I’m not just performing for The Big Dog – there’s a crowd full of people that need me to entertain them as well. I’ll focus, but relax at the same time. I’ll put on the show of my life!
At the end, there’ll be rapturous applause, but in the applause there’ll be another sound: the barking of a dog. I’ll look over and there he’ll be, The Big Dog, tongue out, wagging his tail, absolutely loving life, all because my show was so great. It’ll be like how old-school American comedians speak of performing on The Tonight Show. If you look over and Jonny Carson gives you the thumbs up, then you know you’ve done a good job. In the same way, if you look over and The Big Dog is wagging his tail, then your career is about to take off.
I’ll be hovering around in the bar afterwards and he’ll approach me.
“That was great, Eric.”
“Oh, thank you Mr.Dog,” I’ll say.
“Please, just call me Big.”
“Oh sure thing, Big,” I’ll say, a little nervously. “Can I get you a drink? Or a treat?”
“I’ll just have some pork scratchings please,” he’ll say. “But I wanna talk business. You’re still looking for an agent?”
“Yes! Absolutely! Are you interested!?”
There’ll be a pause. I’ll be the one to break the silence.
“I mean, I’ve had interest in me. Obviously. I’m in negotiations with loads of people and domestic animals. But if you wanna talk or whatever… that’s cool.”
“A good act is ten a penny – seventy in dog pennies – so what sets you apart?”
“Well, I’ve got chops, you know?”
“Nah, metaphorical ones.”
His face will drop.
“Listen, kid, I see a lot of potential in you, so I’m gonna take a chance. I want you to sign with me.”
That will be the moment. One of those magical moments you read about in celebrities’ autobiographies where it starts to take off for them. I’ll start picturing my future: bigger gigs, my own tour, Mock the Week, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. It’s all gonna come my way. As a wave of hope and euphoria is surging through me, I’ll start to feel something else, less of an emotion and more of a physical sensation. I’ll look down and… The Big Dog will be humping my leg.
I should’ve known. I’ll feel dirty, used, abused. The whole industry is just a bunch of dogs, looking for the next young comedian they can exploit with their power. My faith in the art form will hit an all-time low. To save some pride, I’ll tell The Big Dog to fuck right off and forget about signing me. I’ll go to the bar to order another pint so I can drown my sorrows, and just as I’m considering giving it all up, quitting comedy and finding a proper career to pursue, I’ll get a tap on the shoulder.
“Eric, that was fantastic.”
I’ll turn around. I’ll be stunned.
“I go by Mr.Baines these days,” he’ll say, chuckling.
“Son of a bitch, what are you doing here?” I’ll say, hugging him. “How’s teaching? It’s been ages mate.”
“It’s going good, man. I’m up in Edinburgh for a few days. Thought I’d surprise you.”
“Well, consider me surprised.”
“I just wanna say, that was the best I’ve ever seen you. It was so well put together. Almost makes me wish I’d stuck it out instead of quitting. It’s great to see you doing so well.”
“Aw man, I’m buzzing you’re here.”
After that I’ll spend the night catching up with my old friend Michael Baines. I’ll say to him that this has cheered me up so much that I’ll probably write a blog about it. He’ll say “don’t use my name”. I’ll agree.
I guess you should always give it your all, because you never know who’ll be in the audience.
Anyway, that’s about it.