Dom Joly: After three months on the road, thank you and goodnight


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The Independent Online

My tour has finally come to an end. At times, it seemed as if it was going to stretch on into infinity, as I spent two hours every night essentially repeating the same stories, the same jokes – a Sartrean fate that would, until very recently, have been my own vision of hell. But I have loved touring, and I'll miss my two hours of adrenaline every night when I'm recovering in the postdiluvian calm of the Canadian north.

Most people assume that I have always done live work. Far from it: until this tour I had been on stage about three times, and had felt more uncomfortable than Rebekah Brooks tuning into the news. It was the steepest learning curve possible – 70 dates in three months. I did four warm-up gigs, then I was off, visiting places I never even knew existed.

I loved Lincoln, Harrogate, Buxton, Winchester, Berwick... I mostly seemed to like civilised spa towns with good shopping and the availability of more than a drive-thru Kentucky Fried Chicken for culinary satisfaction. I'm tempted to call my next tour "Dom Joly's Tour of the Nice Towns of Britain". It could ruffle some feathers, but at least I might have a chance of finding something hot to eat after 9pm and not risk a kicking when walking to a venue.

What have I learnt from touring? Well, aesthetics are very important. A gig that takes place in some sort of municipal hall is already at a disadvantage. These venues smell of depression, and the dressing rooms are normally underground bunkers that reek of loneliness and disappointment. Not the ideal surroundings in which to inspire hilarity.

When I arrived somewhere with a wonderful theatre, like Buxton or Berwick, my spirits soared and the performance was bound to be better. I particularly liked oddball venues, such as Farnham Maltings in Surrey, a barn whose charmingly ramshackle feel soothes the soul.

I've also learnt a lot about crowd psychology. An audience comes with the intention of having a good time, but it essentially becomes a mob and starts to think with the single brain of the mob. This is fine if that brain is laughing, but there are things that can affect this – apart from me not being funny, which is a given.

I hate it when audiences are divided into blocks with large spaces between them, as often happens in civic halls. This turns each block into an individual mob and you need to convince each single block in turn to laugh, as opposed to a single mass. I played a weird room in Sheffield where half the audience were up in a balcony, so disconnected from the rest of the crowd that I spent the entire gig staring at a huge concrete wall above which they were perched, remote and frightened.

The main thing I've learnt, however, is that you can never, ever guess how a show is going to go. I assumed all my best shows would be in sold-out beautiful venues in civilised towns. Far from it – often a sold-out show could be a dud, possibly blown by the pressure of expectation. Sometimes I'd walk out on stage in an unpromising town and the audience would be up for anything and with you straight away. Other times, you'd walk out, feel a coolness and instantly realise that you were going to have to fight for the laughs.

Whatever, it's been a roller-coaster ride – breaking four metatarsals three weeks beforehand and my father dying halfway through the run. I've suffered critics, Kinder eggs in the face and chronic food poisoning. Would I do it all again? You bet.