Tonight I had both the most beautiful and the ugliest gigs I’ve ever done in my life. All in the space of an hour.
It’s 3am. I’m exhausted. The flurry of intense emotions have departed my body, leaving a wilting fatigue in my bones. I should go to bed.
Fuck. I haven’t felt such regret and disappointment in myself for so long. I had forgotten what it was like. I catch myself grinding my teeth. My stomach hurts. There are red lines around my eyelids from the salt in my tears. I’m trying to process this all before I let my dreams get to it.
At 8pm tonight I had finished my solo show for that evening. Pleasant night. Good audience. Good times. I then rode my bike through the warm Melbourne air to partake in a line-up show called Darkness and Light. This is a stunning concept show where a handful of comedians share personal stories of dark subject matter to a captive audience and comedy peers.
The first act was Cy Fahey. I’ve gigged with him before in Canberra. Funny. Tonight his jokes were only the icing sugar sprinkled over a traumatic story centred on his friend’s drug overdose. The darkness of the subject matter was delicately interwoven with humour to create a thrilling and sad account of his experience. This was soon followed by Candy Bowers who spoke with a warm smile and heavy heart about the difficulties of the relationship with her father. I was long on the edge of my seat with my hands clasped over my mouth. Seeing my colleagues open up brought a shining glaze to my eyes.
It was then my turn. I hadn’t rehearsed. I hadn’t written gags. Pulling a chair up onto stage, I sat and recounted a story of an autistic child I used to work with. I’m not sure if it’s in part because I was already overwhelmed by the previous acts but I couldn’t hold back the sadness pouring down my cheeks as I recounted the young boy’s mental struggles.
It was unexpected. The story had been swelling in my heart for years. I never recognised how much it had affected me until now. Doing so felt like an internal concrete wall had ruptured, letting a dam of emotion gush out into the room.
After the gig I thanked Cath Styles, the show creator, for the opportunity to have such an experience on stage. I recommend you see this show. It allows comedians to take off their comedy armour and just be human. Something I feared and now appreciate.
Instead of going home, I did what I usually do: another gig. I was at the Exford Hotel at 11:30pm; a rough spot at a seedy pub in front of crowd of the drunk and the restless.
I asked to go on first so I could head to another gig straight afterwards. Festival time is where I like to cram in as much stage time as possible. Like a gym junkie on a limited membership.
The bar was noisy as usual. The MC had a tough time with a group of guys up the front. One man in particular, wearing a checkered shirt and black tie was, was being utmost drunk and obnoxious (two standard audience member characteristics you will find at these gigs). Checked Shirt talked to his friend continuously and threw out malicious heckles as if this whole show had been put on for him.
Side note: comedians, like myself, continue to do these erratic late-night spots for two main reasons:
1) it builds our skill as stand-ups
2) we’re sadistic idiots
I was up first after the MC’s decision not to dwell on Checkered Shirt and just let the night start moving. My set started okay. The joy I derive from these spots is the puzzle-like nature of trying to win over a rowdy crowd. It’s a fast and furious battle for attention, focus and laughter. I ignored obnoxious Checked Shirt for the first few minutes. Then as I was getting some traction with the crowd I turned to him and yelled “shut the fuck up!”. This is a line that one usually delivers with authority and control to establish dominance. When I heard it come out of my mouth this time I felt like I had been dunked into a glass water tank filled with rage. I could only see and hear what was going on through a blurry glaze of anger.
I took a deep suck of hot oxygen and continued with my jokes, feigning a grin and focusing on the routines.
Checkered Shirt then had another go at me for having heard one of my jokes before and yell that it was “not that funny”. I asked the audience if they liked it. Unanimous cheer. I asked the audience if they didn’t like the guy. Unanimous cheer. I won.
The mic went into the stand. “Thanks my name is Simon Taylor” bellowed out of the sound system. Just before I walked off the stage, I saw my hand move towards Checkered Shirt’s jug of beer. I don’t know who was controlling it because it wasn’t the Simon Taylor I know. The possessed hand pushed the jug towards Checkered Shirt, splattering him with beer. He threw it back at me and missed as I walked off stage.
I lost. I let him get to me.
Standing outside, my dear comedian comrade, Sean Bedlam, checked that I was alright. Checkered Shirt came out too because the MC kicked him out. He apologised to me, claiming that he just thought he was doing “helpful heckling”. This is a term only drunk assholes seem to understand the meaning of. Despite an exchange of saying sorry and shaking hands, I felt no change in emotion.
People I rode past on the way home would have experienced a strange sight of a tired young man in a cardigan swearing to himself.
I feel more settled now but still disappointed. Not a proud moment. There were other comics on the Exford line-up and I had made their life harder. I messaged the ones I knew and apologised. This was not an appropriate way to manage my emotions. I know not to take this gig too seriously, but I wish I had recognised that I wasn’t in the right head space for it tonight.
It was a painful lesson learned on assessing one’s mental and emotional state. If I could do it all again I would hope to realise my need to recover from the Darkness and Light show. I hadn’t been this much of an emotional ruin in such a long time so I had missed the signs that I should withdraw from social activity.
Looking forward, I’ll be back on at the Exford tomorrow night. And again and again after that. I suppose the only way to grow and learn is to reflect on times of weakness and try to better equip oneself for the future. Tomorrow I will dedicate to sleep, good food, friends and happiness.
It’s been quite a comedy festival.