I had not been in front of an audience, on a stage, for several years until this week. Then, from out of nowhere, I did it twice in two successive nights.
As anyone who has known me a long time will be aware, I used to fucking ADORE the stage light. I would sing, I would strip, I would shout in a loud voice… I would be being looked at whenever the possibility arose. Yet, since moving to London three and a half years ago, I’ve done nothing. Too intimidated by the wealth of opportunities, perhaps, or just too enveloped in a crippling depression that only really dissipated when I stopped trying to be “successful” and started trying to be a “writer-bartender”. Which, though I’m unpublished and no less of an alcoholic than I was before, makes me a much happier person. Hooray.
So maybe that is why, when asked by the editor of London’s Open Pen magazine to read at an event, rather than the “procrastinating until it becomes too late” I had been inclined to do whenever similar opportunities arose before, I said “Yes”. I accepted an invitation to do something that I actually wanted to do. This would have been an unimaginable breakthrough had it happened nine months earlier. But I was nervous, I was worried. I hadn’t so much as stripped in public since the Summer of 2010, and this would be reading my own work, not revealing my sweet pins to a baying crowd, sculpture which could at best be attributed to evolution, at worst to my parents. I was tense. But then, the evening before this was due to happen, I had the unexpected opportunity to feel the attention of a crowd.
On Wednesday evening I went to see my favourite comedian at the Soho Theatre. His name is Edward Aczel. You probably won’t have heard of him. He’s an anti-comedian. Zadie Smith is a fan. You’ve probably heard of her. But during the course of a BRILLIANT hour of arse-rottingly hilarious comedy, I was pulled onto the stage to participate in a “Group Therapy” segment of the show. It essentially involved me being interviewed for five minutes, half forgotten for three or four, then asked to give opinions on the show. I was onstage at the Soho Theatre for about ten minutes. I was onstage at the Soho Theatre with my favourite comedian for about ten minutes. The audience laughed at things I said. The friend I was there with overheard someone behind him whisper a belief that I was a “plant”, so funny did they find me. Someone believed that my awkward, unscripted attempts to say as little as possible whilst standing steps from my favourite comedian, was professional. My first time in front of an audience since the Summer of 2010 was judged to be worthy of prior practice. Of design. Of payment.
I felt like the king of the fucking world. Or at least the king of Soho, which I’d probably prefer to be. I slunk away at the end, confused, filled with a pounding mismatch of emotions after this return to the public gaze. And so the next day, performing AGAIN to a crowd of strangers, felt much less stressful. If I could accidentally entertain a crowd of paying customers to the point where one of them THOUGHT I WAS PROFUCKINGFESSIONAL, I could entertain a room of literary East Londoners with two violent scenes from my confused, prurient and self-indulgent literary oeuvre.* And I think I did. I think it went fine.
So from an extended period of performative abstinence, I suddenly found myself dipping my wick twice within twenty-four hours, and able to sustain audience attention sufficiently both times.
Maybe I’ll do some more. Or maybe that’s it. I’ll probably do some more. What a week.
* I read the “fight scene” from my abandoned (but complete) novel White Lines, Black Truffles and an aside called ‘Dead Butcher’ from a story cycle I’m slowly writing about middle England. I’m a fucking pro.