"Good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening," I hollered into the microphone, "and welcome to the Erotic Haha! I'm Innocent Loverboy. Are you adequately prepared to laugh?"
The crowd made a moderate amount of noise.
"That was pathetic," I said. "Are you adequately prepared to laugh?!"
The crowd made the same amount of noise.
Okay, time to pull out the planned introduction. The self-deprecating bit about myself was met with silence. The fire drill gag was met with... silence. And the oxygen mask bit, which I actually went out and bought an oxygen mask for, was met with... silence.
I panicked a bit and introduced Mel Jones, who went on and immediately got a laugh, before practically racing off the stage and looking imploringly at Jilly Boyd.
"What did I do wrong?"
"You didn't do anything wrong."
"But nobody laughed!"
"What am I going to do? I can never think of jokes I haven't used before!"
"You could start a webcomic," said my shoulder angel.
"You stay out of this!"
I took a deep breath, went back on and hurriedly introduced Frantic Ali. I was aware by this point that I was talking far too quickly and appeared nervous.
"I'm aware that I'm talking far too quickly, and I appear nervous," I said to whoever would listen to me. I was distracted for a while by Ali slathering cream over her body, before I realised I was expected to go back on and introduce Sasha Selavie. I went on and listed her achievements, then made a joke about feeling inadequate that I'd been planning for a week. It fell flat and I vanished from the stage faster than Billy Whizz.
"It's fine, I'm doing OK," I said, although my thoughts were something like, "oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck", and my immediate intention was to run as fast as I could to Nepal, where I intended to live as a goat. I hadn't done this badly on stage for a while, and the last time I was met with a befuddled silence, I at least had the excuse that I was singing a song about a cuddly rabbit. Here, I had nothing, except for the task of going back on and introducing Paul Burston.
"Some people are shortlisted for the Stonewall award. Get over it!" I grinned into the microphone. Again, nobody laughed, not even Paul Burston. I let him on and enjoyed listening to his reading, then went back on, did some stuff about the raffle, drinks and being back by 9pm. I then totally forgot to make the best joke I'd written for about three years, despite it being written on my cue sheet. People went to get drinks and I left to drown myself in the sink.
By the time I got back onto the stage, I was somewhat beyond caring, and when I did the introduction to the second half, I will admit to being somewhat acerbic. I was surprised, of course, when my loaded joke about not having any friends elicited a sound I didn't recognise. Although I realised afterwards that it was laughter. Interesting.
That was clearly the way to go, then. So I kept it up. I filled in for Miss Cairo Mascara (after suggesting she might set the stage on fire) in between Mel Jones' emergency poem and the performance itself - which was fantastic, by the way. I got a round of applause for Molly Moore after she performed corset removal skills, even though she wasn't on the bill. I said a prayer for Mr. Mistress while introducing him as "the gay messiah"; this necessitated my abandonment of a whole routine set in the Bronx, but I think it was better than I had expected and allowed me to evoke my Christian tendencies.
By the time I got to Rubyyy Jones, I had at last hit my stride, and weathered both unannounced interruptions and the crowd's chanting in order to deliver the jokes I'd prepared about having a sticky Y key and announcing a list of verbs ending in "save" before introducing her. They all got a laugh, and by the time I got around to watching her strut her fantastic, shoe-related stuff, I'd forgotten all about how awkward I felt at the beginning - I had finally worked out how to make the audience laugh.
Shame it was right at the end of the evening. But when I got my round of scattered, unenthusiastic applause, I felt that I'd sweated enough to have earned every clap. And that's what being a performer's all about... but, you know, next time I think I might make do with a two-minute show piece of my own. At least then I can go home and cry quickly afterwards.
Great evening, by the way.