Eddie Izzard warned me about this. He did.
I've been at this comedy malarky for nine months now. In that time I have done a grand total of five gigs. Tonight will be my sixth - a five minute spot at Monkey Business comedy club in Camden.
I did five minutes at Monkey Business in Chalk Farm last week and I did not do myself any favours. This was my first real gig on the London circuit and I should have been jazzed about it, but I wasn't. In fact, I couldn't be arsed and I took that on stage with me, along with some needless anger.
There were 13 acts on the bill - all were supposed to do a tight five but most rambled for much longer - and the small number of people who were actually anything like comedians stood out a mile. I can't say whether I fitted into the latter category, that's for others to judge, but if I wasn't better than some of what I saw then I may as well quit now. Quit, and then shoot my toes off and attach live mice to the bleeding stumps so that all my shoes don't fit and every time I try to buy a new pair of shoes I am reminded of my failure.
It reinforced how important it is to take the right attitude on stage. At the Amused Moose Laugh Off qualifiers in Covent Garden a few months ago I had convinced myself I was going to fail and I failed. For my next gig at the Glee Club I got myself focussed and confident, and I turned in my best gig to date. Last week I wasn't having a good time of it personally. I took that on stage with me and I was a bit rubbish.
Tonight I'm back in determined mood, although I haven't rehearsed at all for it. But this is deliberate. So far I've been hanging onto my one routine for dear life. I actually have loads of material but sticking to what I know is a way of stablising myself in case stage fright strikes.
Last week at Chalk Farm I went on stage, for the first time, not caring a jot about nerves; if anything my abiding emotion was pissed-offedness and it was quite liberating. Of all the gigs I have done so far last week's was the most interesting because I wasn't afraid to be disliked - and I probably succeeded in being just that! I was probably far more interesting or intense to watch because of that.
One of the reasons I thought I'd be good at stand-up is because in conversation I am generally fearless - or completely ignorant, depending on your point of view. I have many different strands of social modifier to call on and am capable of making sure I don't say the wrong thing. I can be exceptionally cute about every word if I want to be.
Now, I'm sure anyone who knows me will be able to recall many instances where I did or said completely the wrong thing at completely the wrong time to horrific or humourous effect. But it wasn't because I wasn't thinking. It's because I don't want to be careful in conversation, I'd rather be interesting; difficult; funny; wrong; vague; ultra-specific; egotistical, fragile; spontaneous. That's where the fun lies. For me at least.
And that's what I need to take on stage. Yes, I need very tightly scripted lines, and yes, I need to be well-rehearsed, but what I also need to do is take my personality on stage with me and not just my writing. Unless I am capable of doing that then I'm not going to get anywhere. I haven't impressed myself on stage yet, and if I'm not impressed by me why the hell should anyone else be impressed?
I've been thinking this week, after Monday's gig, that I might not want to do any more comedy, not for the usual reason people stop - because I've had a bad gig and I feel cowed - but because I haven't been as good as I want to be.
I'm not sure I want it enough. Another of my heroes is Eddie Izzard. I was lucky enough to interview Izzard a few weeks after my first gig and he told me "You've got to want it more than blood." He followed that up with. "I've no idea what that means but I've been saying it a lot lately." Then he ran 50-odd marathons. The magnificent nutbag.
I get his point though. I think maybe I do want it, I want it so much that the idea of not being good at it is crushing. The fear of failure is always a big problem for me. It's why I didn't make sweet love to Didier Drogba that time he asked at Mid-Rhondda Working Men's Club's Christmas disco. I'm pretty sure I could have done it, and brought him to a full and satisfactory climax, but what if I'd failed? The Drog would have told Ashley Cole and John Terry about it - and the thought of John Terry laughing (or being happy, or continuing to live his privileged life with so little human decency ) sickens me.
"No", I thought, "better to not shag Dider Drogba and not risk failing. I can't give John Terry the satisfaction."
But given the chance again, I would do it. I'll say this on the record here and now. If Didier Drogba turns up at Mid-Rhondda Working Men's Club and asks me for a bumming, I'll give him a bumming he'll never forget.
My point is, it is better to try and quit than to not try at all. However, at this stage, quitting comedy would be the cowards way out for me.
It's time to prove I can do this. It's time to shit or get off the pot, as Frank Sobotka might say.
Five questions for the stand-up ... (this is what journalists call a panel)
1) How is it possible to be so riddled with self-doubt and rampant egotism at the same time?
2) How do you raise yourself to attack a five-minute spot with only the other open mic spots watching you as you can for a big gig? And by a big gig I only mean about 90 people.
3) Do you have other stuff going on in your life and if so how do you find time to play a lot of gigs every week and still see your girlfriend, play football, work, watch The Wire, go to gigs, etc.
4) Presuming you are any good, how long do you have to do this unpaid five minute stuff until someone books you?
5) Am I funny?