I've decided to write this because people keep asking me what the current state of play is with a project I was working really very hard on at the start of the year, and the answer to that is quite complicated, and I thought it might be vaguely cathartic for me to actually try to explain where that project is at the moment. So, a recap - at the start of this year I was talking a lot about a new comedy-theatre hybrid show I was developing called 60 Minutes After Feeling Sad, which I performed at VAULT Festival at the start of February. It did rather well – it sold out, was chosen as a top pick of the festival by the likes of Time Out, British Comedy Guide, To Do List, Exeunt Magazine and others, and I received a lot of really encouraging, supportive feedback about it after the performance. At the time I talked a lot about how I wanted to develop it over the following year, possibly with a view to touring it around some regional theatres, and taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019. Since then I’ve been very quiet about it and, to be honest, I’ve barely thought about it. One of the reasons for that is practical – my background is in making independent solo comedy shows and that’s what my network of collaborators focuses on too, and I have no idea how to develop and build a theatre show. My brother, who was going to produce the show and help me build the networks necessary to develop it, has not only been enormously busy in a professional capacity this year, he’s also had a really serious personal situation of his own to deal with, and I felt like I didn’t want to burden him by asking for the help I needed with my show. I thought it could be something I went back to when we both had the time and mental space.
But the other reason I’ve not thought about it is my own personal situation, and how that show affected it. I already knew when I was making 60 Minutes that there was something not quite right in my head that was steering me in a new direction, and I thought it was just a sort of creative block. I knew at the end of Edinburgh 2017 that I was getting exhausted of the physical experience of “being a comedian,” of standing alone onstage in a situation I manufactured and talking directly to the audience about myself. It was making me feel anxious and vain and invisible, and I wanted to rethink my relationship with a live audience and make something that interacted with them in a different way, in a way that felt gentler and less superficial and less, to my mind at the time, vacuous. So I set about making a theatre show that had fun with the idea of pretending the audience weren’t there. It was about talking to yourself and sadness and loneliness and being stuck in your own head. Ironically enough, and perhaps predictably enough, the process of working on it made me feel a bit sad and lonely and stuck in my own head. I should stress that I’m not for one second trying to suggest that the show I made was some sort of tortured, harrowing, soul-searching piece. As those who saw it at VAULT Festival know, it was a fairly gentle, silly comedy show that lightly brushed questions about loneliness and anxiety. But the process of thinking about those questions made me feel strange.
With every solo comedy show I’ve ever made, when it comes to the time for me to put it to bed, I’ve had a very strange, sad feeling in my heart and in my stomach, like I didn’t quite grasp something. Every time I would perform each show I would feel like I was dancing around the edge of a vast idea I didn’t understand, and every time I performed it for the final time I felt sad that I didn’t reach the centre of the idea. With every subsequent show I made I would hope I might get further in, closer to the centre this time, and every time I did, but I would also find that, while I had danced further into the circle than last time, I would realise that the circle itself was far more vast than I thought it was before, and in actual fact I was now further away from the centre than I previously thought. I now realise that I will always feel like that, that this dance around the perimeter is the process of making things. But at the start of this year I thought that drastically changing the form of what I do would create a tangible change in how I felt, would get me further in than ever before. After I finished performing it and as people were applauding, I felt further away from the centre of that feeling than I have ever felt before and it made me feel desperately sad. I felt like I had tried to close my hand around smoke. People afterwards came up to me and told me how much they’d enjoyed it, and how great the show was going to be and how exciting the development process of those ideas would be, but I could barely hear them.
In the initial draft of this blog, I followed this bit with a quite lengthy, detailed and very personal account of what happened to me over the subsequent two-to-three months, but I no longer feel like I need to share the details of that. I think one of the things I need to get better at is learning to process and deal with the things I find difficult in my head without feeling the need to project them onto the rest of the world and have them reflected in my work somehow, and somehow validated by other people seeing and understanding them. Suffice to say, I spent a few months having a really tough time with what I eventually learned was an anxiety disorder, and it made a lot of bad things happen, and I found it a difficult time to get through and, while there was nothing in particular about that show that ushered in that difficult time, and all the things that caused it were already going on in my head, I do now have enough distance from it to be able to see that, on some level, it was an attempt to change the nature of what I do in the hope that it would make the increasingly difficult things going on in my head easier to deal with, and it failed in doing that. That's not the show's fault, but it does now mean I look back on that show with sadness and I don’t know if I’ll go back to it.
It was a fun show with some good, silly bits and some genuinely interesting, innovative ideas, I think. And I do think it might be nice to revisit it one day and develop it properly and perform it at the Fringe. But for now it’s entirely caught up in my head with the onset of a time in my life that I found a real struggle to get through. Today I’m feeling much better. I’m filling my time with projects and with meeting friends and going out and doing things, and I’m trying to expand my world again after having shrunk it quite small and cut off a lot of people. I’m feeling positive and energetic and excited and inspired most of the time, and in the moments where sadness or worry descend on me, I try to let them serve their purpose, and to think about them, and to feel them, but not to wallow in them or let them defeat me or wipe out whole days at a time, or interfere with plans I’ve made. I feel excited to learn better how to handle my emotional health, and to continue getting better. If anybody reads this who has had similar struggles feels comforted by any of it, then I’m really glad and I do hope this brief piece serves some function for somebody other than just being cathartic for me, even if it’s just one person. The whole reason I started making that show in the first place was because I was sick of everything always being about me.
Here are the three things said to me by friends during this time that more than any other made me stop and raise up my head for a moment and see things as they really were. Those who said them know who they are. Thank you, you three.
“Different people have different priorities in their lives, and you shouldn’t judge yourself by other people’s. You know the things that you prioritise as being important in your life.”
“We are all alone and we are all there for one another.”
“I love you, you’re wonderful, now keep going.”