Do you sometimes notice things about yourself? I don't mean the big things – the mighty foundations of your personality that you discover and learn to build upon, and which form the architecture of your entire adult identity. I mean the little things, the character equivalents of a mole on your leg, a rogue eyebrow hair or a patch of dry, flaky skin – things about yourself that make you think "How long has that been there?"
One thing I've recently noticed about myself is that I don't like repeating myself. "But you do that, Michael," you will say. "You repeat yourself all the time. You tell the same stories again and again, sometimes within the space of a few hours. Even within a single utterance, you will say something you think is funny, laugh at it yourself, and, if no one else laughs along with you, tell exactly the same joke again with only slightly different intonation, in a desperate (and frankly unattractive) attempt to seem witty. While I think of it, you also persistently laugh at your own jokes. Stop doing that."
It's safe to say that the things I notice about myself are generally negative – the clumsy habits, lazy ways of speaking, poor manners, shoddy attitude. As with a bathroom mirror inspection, once you start consciously looking for things to notice about yourself, it's hard to stop. You could eventually decide that the combined effect of these petty flaws is too great to tackle them one by one. For most people, it's easier to reconstruct their whole persona based on the few bad habits that make them interesting.
My deep-seated aversion to self-repetition, however poorly realised, means that I could never become a standup comedian. Not, at least, a standup comedian of the conventional variety, success at which requires tireless, patient repetition, repetition, refinement and repetition. I also doubt I could write a novel. Not, that is, a novel of the conventional variety, which involves spinning out ideas as far as they will go.
(All of this is preamble to a plug. The extent and manner of my self-promotion is yet another thing I've noticed I do badly. I veer between star-struck mortification in the presence of my heroes and a graceless, churlish pushiness with people I'm trying to impress. I do hope that this soul-baring self-awareness makes this plug appealing, though – couched in such ironic language – that's highly unlikely.)
I first performed "The Human Loire" at Marbles' short-lived talkshow format The Yak, last year. It was intended to be a one-off so-bad-it's-good-no-wait-it's-actually-bad novelty gag act. As the other guests who performed on the show (Sarah-Louise Young and Alexis Dubus) are what I would describe as genuinely talented – unlike myself, who must pretend to be talented – I thought it best to present my contribution as modestly as possible. It went down surprisingly well, and people started to ask me when I would do it again. "Never!" I barked. But then in Edinburgh, I got asked if I'd perform "The Human Loire" at the late-night Music Box cabaret in front of an audience of about 100. I relented, a little reluctantly, thinking "Edinburgh audiences deserve nothing better". This time, the audience reaction was even more rapturous. I swore that would be the last time. Finally, Steve Roe asked if I'd do it for a Christmas cabaret. It was Christmas, so I said yes.
I have started on that dangerous road of repeating myself, of finding something that (inexplicably) works, and repeating/refining it. This feels odd and wrong. On Thursday, I will perform "The Human Loire" for the very last time, assuming it goes as badly as I expect. Additionally, I will be performing my "Homage to Sir Alexander Fleming", which has also been done before.
Thursday 17th May
Downstairs at The Harrison
28 Harrison Street
Doors 7.30pm £5
This is tried-and-tested material. After Thursday – I promise – I will do something new.