The story so far - a café in West Australia, Chris about to start writing his new show. Enter, the Notes section of his phone.
-You're a failer.
-I'm a failure?
-No, a failer. Failure has a sense of past and present, the failure is done; a failer will continue to fail, long into the future.
Sometimes they're written down as conversations. A speck of an idea strung out through speech, and tapped quickly into the notes page. Some of them happened out loud, some of them happened in my head, and all of them resemble those 'you had to be there' Quotes that pubs write on cringing chalkboards behind the bar, to immortalise the tipsy wit of regulars.
Buffer slice of bread
There are loads of notes like this one. Un-extrapolated phrases, the bare marrow of the bare bones of a joke. It means I thought the concept was so clear, that all I need do was birth it, jot it, and the rest would grow miraculously at a later date. I think this one was about always leaving the end piece of bread in the pack to protect the loaf's more valuable central slices. I tried it on stage and no one agreed, or at least I conveyed the idea in such an esoterically clumsy fashion that no one had any idea what I meant.
You left she is so much he new name is Anneliese three regional British pounds
These are my least favourite notes. They're ones I've made while driving, using the phone's speech dictation, and so make no sense whatsoever. This cipher is one of five, all attempted transcriptions of an idea about limited geographical knowledge, cheese-based weight gain, and regional British towns. Five notes because I tried a few different American accents - the phone seems to recognise them better - before I gave up and just bellowed angrily at poor Siri.
The task at hand was to sort out the jokes from the phrases, the ideas from the words - there are times when only an on-stage airing can distinguish the two, but often it's a less subtle distinction. Reading through a year's worth of your own thoughts that you considered to be worthy of preservation is a mightily depressing task. That's even before you get onto the dictaphone recordings, when a one-line concept is mumbled over a hesitant, two minute mp3. Yes, some of them are actually funny, and some may be quite interesting; but with the perspective of time, the majority are overwhelmingly underwhelming. If you kept a diary, or t-shirts of bands that you liked, or have access to a dormant social media profile, go and look back through and prepare to hate younger you. For your inexperience, for your poor judgement, for assuming that future you would have the time and inclination to spend in the company of a more naïve version of themselves.
A single joke, memorised and spoken on stage, can function as kindling - further comedy emerging from a positive crowd response, as the performer's brain seeks to add 'toppers' and other twists of language. There were plenty of roughly worded gags in the notes, ones that had sprung from an improv show, or condensed in my mind during a shower. I know comedians who won't listen to music on a post-show drive, giving jokes an opportunity to emerge from the adrenaline. I've never been one to sit and write on a topic, I find that focusing on a lone subject evaporates any humour there might have been - I'd much prefer to talk through ideas, riff on them with a friend, and see what breaks through the speech bubbles.
In the cafe, I copy and pasted to and fro, compiling a jumbled document of unassigned gags. I grouped them, linked them, sorted them into a rough order of where I'd want them in the hour, even retooled the ends of them to make them rhyme for the jokes-disguised-as-poetry that I wanted to start the show with.
The show had a title - Chris Turner: XXV - I'd decided on that in October 2014, when the deadline for Perth FringeWorld had come around, and I knew the central story (which I'll sketch out in a future post). I needed to hang these new routines from this, find tangents and jumping off points where I could give the listener a break from what I believe to be quite tense and heavy subject matter.
I had told a pared-down version of events a few days earlier, at the Barefaced Stories Gala, a local storytelling night, where I'd crammed the important information into 10 minutes. Now came time to fray the ends of the narrative, and find where the jokes would fit.
Next time...The West Australian storytelling scene, being honest, and staying calm when no one laughs.