Open Magic Mic
I have been thinking about quitting my job recently, it’s not a feeling that came out of nowhere, it has been cultivating for months, maybe years, perhaps even for my whole life. I have yet to collapse inwards to the idea that it is actually necessary to work for a living, there has to be a better way to spend your life. I feel nothing but pure apathy for most of the day when I sit at my desk doing nothing, save for the occasional bout of- I hesitate to call it fury, but at least frustration directed at clients the poor souls trapped alongside me in Teams meetings. Their faces are nothing but a grim reminder of what awaits me if I do not deviate from this path. Christ, this is bleak. They don’t look miserable, they don’t even look like they’d rather be someplace else, they look like this meeting that they’ve organised is actually important to them in some capacity? That can’t be right, what is wrong with them? Why are they not struggling against the shackles that bind them to their desks all day long? Do they not realise how little time they have on this Earth? I start to scream, but nothing comes out. No one has stopped talking in the meeting, they’ve just carried on. Embarrassed and flustered, I go to close my laptop but instead of my usual beautiful smooth-skinned hand, the one reaching to the top of my HP ProBook is wrinkled and old. I look in horror back at my webcam on the screen and see what has become of me. This can’t actually be me, can it? There is a genteel, old man on the screen, have I really already wasted my life working this shitty job? It’s the same laptop, I’m wearing the same clothes. The faces in front of me haven’t even noticed that life has jumped 50 years and they’re still talking about exam moderation! I snap the laptop shut. Immediately the scene changes. I am 23 again, I’m at the pub with a pint in my hand about to perform stand-up comedy at an open mic night. Aah, this is much nicer.
I looked down at my free pint of cider, liquid gold, bubbling and boiling with the promise of being moulded into something far greater, but for now, it was just a free pint, and that was beautiful. As it transpired, the “Free drink for performers!” gimmick was ultimately a devious ploy conjured up by the host to encourage sign-ups. As I so deftly pointed out in my stand-up set, a free drink was all well and good until you realise that you need at least 5 to work up the nerve to get on stage and talk. I got a good laugh from that observation, a slice of relatable humour cutting right to the core of the audience’s sensibilities, but more on that later. Once I had bustled in out of the unseasonable warmth acquired my complimentary ambrosia and pulled up a seat at the side of the venue, other performers began to filter in through the door. I paid no mind to them, only occasionally glancing up from the essay on Russian national identity I was reading to give myself some esteem. I had attended this open mic two weeks back to scope out the scene and found the event cut adrift from the main pub in a cosy little back room, a perfect starter venue. This time, however, the mic was stood up right in the main bar, centre stage. A spotlight that Mark Ruffalo would be proud of was gleaning down to the stage below, it could not have felt more deadly had there been small crosshairs painted on it by a disgruntled stagehand. Still, whenever I looked around for reassurance, I was greatly comforted, the bartenders were taking turns to sit at the bar with a drink, doodle, and chat while the other served the thirsty clientele. Though I attempted to make eye contact many times, in order to indicate my approval of their laid back way of working, they seemed too busy actually being cool and socialising to notice. For some reason I felt like every time I looked back they would huddle their heads together and talk in hushed tones, but it may have been my imagination. Above the bar, drawing my attention even moreso than the busty barmaids, was a line of poetry. Had I known its feminist context I would not have been so taken in, but through my ignorance I was rapt by its beauty. Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes. Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread, but give us roses. “That’s the stuff.” I said out loud, fuck work, I wanna drink pints and tell jokes, that’s my roses. Bread is for losers.
The performers that percolated around me were everything that represents modern day London. There were Jamaican guitarists, French guitarists, hell, even British guitarists. There were young lads like me, desperate to cast off the shackles of an ordinary workaday life, and older hands, using the stage as a reprieve from their spouses and children, I assume. The first few performers took to the stage and strutted their stuff with little fanfare, I had put down my Russian essay and, despite my intention to sit at the back and to the side, aloof and out of the way, found that the other patrons had sat even further back than me and I was actually the crowd member closest to the stage and most visible to everyone. I therefore wanted to gee up the crowd and get them in a good mood for my set, so I did my best to hoot and holler at even the mildest of guitar riffs, encouraging the mob around me to do the same. And it worked, the crowd was a braying, hungry mass as a Jamaican guitarist ambled off and was succeeded by the first comedian of the night. A young man about my age, my competition. He told a lukewarm story about his younger brother killing a cat that the audience seemed to love. I laughed. “HA!” Not because I thought his act was funny but at his performance, this man was your classic observational comic, what a cliché. Unfortunately, my laugh was taken as an appreciation of his comedy, not what I intended, but never mind, once a true master of his craft took to the stage they would see how it was supposed to be done. This guy was a natural though, hopping from joke to jape with the cadence and rhythm of a seasoned professional. He wouldn’t have looked out of place on a golden age episode of Russell Howard’s Good News, maybe the one with the tattooed granny. Up next was an elderly man, helped onto the stage by the host, as he sang, video’d the entire time by his loving wife, the host came over to me to inform me that I was next. “Yeah, whatever” I shrugged. I was only doing this for a laugh anyway, I didn’t even care how well I did or when I went. But while this was happening the old timer had pivoted into a medley about the rigours of being elderly, he even had a line about getting turned down by the council! Oh god, I can’t follow this guy! I’ll get eaten alive! I could never hope to relate with the audience on anywhere near his level, I don’t even have that much beef with the council! I mean, yeah, there’s the pothole on my street they refuse to fix. And I suppose the management of bike lanes leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe I could work that into my set somehow- “And up next, we’ve got some more comedy! Round of applause for Callum Gordon!” Oh fuck, that’s me! I de-jacketed and took my trusty pint up to the stage with me, with undue and unearned confidence and grabbed the mic, this could go one of two ways…
This is incredible! I’ve got them eating out the palm of my hand! They loved the shtick about needing alcohol to perform (easy stuff), I fumbled around the concept of Dyson Airblades being mistaken for urinals but stuck the landing with a gesture to my flailing cock. I knew that one would work though, that was my home run swing after all. Before performing, I had privately thought that this could either be a disaster and something I’d regret for a long time, or I could love it, embrace the natural high of all the attention and wonder why I had never done it before. The second was becoming reality, this could actually be my calling. As I finished my set I started to feel the way this was already changing my future, is this the beginning of something new? I could see my name up in lights at The Apollo, people queuing around the block to experience my oeuvre. Next I was on a panel show with David Mitchell to my left, he was ranting about the way that these new robotic postmen really missed an opportunity to remove the social interaction of deliveries, I warmly chuckled beside him, let the people have their Mitchells, my cult following knew who was really the star of the show. The obituaries following my death, littered with all the great minds who say I inspired them to think differently about the world and challenge conventional norms of what comedy could be. But first I had to finish this set, it had now become automatic, easy, just keep talking and the words will look after themselves. I talk about the tube strikes *laughs*, I talk about the economy *laughs*. Man, this is easy! Cruise it in for a finish, time to let someone else try to follow this act. Ha, good luck. Okay, here we go, I’m almost already disembarking the stage, stepping from the local pub to Madison Square Garden as I do, when I lay down my final joke. “Since moving to London, you know what I’ve actually noticed about all the trans people?” Instantly the scene changes back. I’m in my office again, my colleagues are talking about the impracticality of embedded images in exam questions. I look down at my hands, they’re old and wrinkled once more, in the mirror I see my skin disintegrating. I collapse onto my desk, the exam papers beneath catch me as my last breath leaves my corpse. Oh well, easy come easy go.
Thanks for reading!
Still holding out hope of doing reader mail. What do you think about working life and comedy? Any suggestions for next week’s topic? Also, I’ve been wondering if people find it jarring that I kind of switch what tense I’m writing without really caring, is it interesting or annoying?
As always, talk to me @CallumRG21 on Twitter. callumrg21@gmail for email. Or however else you wanna get in contact with me, you’ll figure it out.