Art Pact 276 - Reviews

"Christ," she said, scanning the column. "I've read hostile reviews before, but this is ridiculous. What did you do, strangle his mother?"

I hadn't strangled his mother. I hadn't run over his cat. I hadn't even (and this had been the source of at least three bad reviews in my university comedy group) gone out with him once and then blocked his calls on my mobile because he turned out to be a massive douchebag. In a life that I have spent inadvertently offending or injuring people, in fact, Martin St. Severan was one of the few people I had met personally who had no ulterior motive for writing me up in such scathing terms. If it wasn't for the fact that Caroline had assured me that my act was gold, I might have assumed that my initial fears were correct and that everything that came out of my mouth was a steaming pile of shit.

"He's not one of those arseholes who thinks that women can't be funny, is he?" she asked. "I hate those arseholes. I bet he's one of those arseholes."

Rebecca's level of emotional involvement in any conversation could be gauged by the number of times she said arsehole, and the proximity of those arseholes to each other measured in words. If she ever says "arsehole arsehole" we'll be able to calibrate the scale perfectly, having experienced the zenith of her rage, the theoretical maximum arsehole density. Her last set of sentences scored an average of nine, approximately equal to the rage she might feel when being cut up in traffic while late for an appointment.

"Yes," I agreed. "Those arseholes."

The sad truth was that - although there really are a lot of men who for some reason think women can't be funny, Rebecca actually was not funny. It's the sort of thing you want from an agent, someone with the worst sense of humour in the world. She couldn't tell when I was taking the piss out of her, and she negotiated on my behalf with a ruthless efficiency that was so humourless that it often completely paralysed the opposition. Unable to believe that she would not understand they often started with jokey offers which she would take deadly seriously, cutting them down to size as though they were grave insults to her heritage rather than light-hearted banter. Once you've been put on the wrong foot by Rebecca it's very difficult to make a comeback.

(An example: I was once offered a part in a comedy film in which I would have to appear topless in one scene. When Rebecca asked what the pay would be, the casting director jokingly suggested that I should do it for free, because the scene would give me much needed exposure. Needless to say, Rebecca pretty much eviscerated him. In case you're wondering I did the film and I did the scene but my character got cut in the final edit so I can only assume that the rushes of me with my tits out are in some cameraman's wank folder, ready to surface in the tabloids in the unlikely event that I hit it big).

"Well I shall be having a word with his editor," she said.

"Please don't."

"No, we can't let this kind of sexism stand."

"Look," I pleaded. "Humour's very subjective. So what if he didn't like it? Not everyone likes all comedy. I'm going to get a bad review from time to time, if you start harassing subeditors left right and centre they'll start putting the boot in on the front page too. Anyway, it's so ridiculously over the top that no-one's going to take his word for it anyway. You'll see."

"No publicity is bad publicity, is that what you're saying?"

"Well no-"

"Tickets will be selling like hot cakes by tomorrow?"

I shrugged.

"Well it's the middle of the hottest summer in ten years, which I'm guessing is traditionally a low point in the sales cycle of baked goods, but..."

She pursed her mouth and stared at me for a second.

"You know," she said. "For a comedienne you can be surprisingly pedantic."

That was a deliberate stab - she knew I didn't like being called a comedienne. It's one of the things I make her put into contracts, that I won't be described like that in promotional materials. I sighed.

"Hopefully there will be ticket sales, yes."

I hoped that what limited acting skills I'd picked up were working, because I did not believe it for one second. It was possible, of course, that people would read St. Severan's review and come along to see what all the fuss was about. St. Severan wasn't, from what I'd heard, the sort of person who was well-liked, and it was even possible that tickets might be sold on the basis of spite. But I was still paranoid that his review had some grain of truth in it, that it was the worst show that he'd ever seen and that that was because it was the worst show that anyone had ever seen (or, in my case, written and performed in). Had I just pitched the jokes a little too high or low? Had I been too self-indulgent in the long section in the middle? Did people just not want to watch a whole show about my time on the cruise-ship? It wasn't exactly topical, after all. Maybe I should have listened to Rebecca and just written another themeless stand-up set (which is what she always tells me, not because her assessment of my comedic skills suffers from any surfeit of perceptiveness, because as I've mentioned it does not, but because I've always done better financially from generic stand-up than I have from anything else, and if there's one thing that Rebecca can do, it's recognise when her fees are larger or smaller).

"I still think we should do something about St. Severan," she said, flipping the paper in half and then bashing it on the table as though she'd suddenly forgotten that she lived in the twenty-first century and not in a nineteen-forties government biopic. The breeze off the newspaper knocked the top off the little Moomin mobile I have on my desk and blew a playbill for Caroline's gig off the top of my in-tray. Rebecca spotted it instantly. She turned her head slightly to read the date. "Isn't that tonight?" she asked.

"Is it?"

"Don't play innocent with me, you don't have the chops for it."

A bit unfair. I played a wrongly-accused schoolteacher on The Bill once, and I got several very positive write-ups on FanPop. Admittedly half of them thought I was Sally Phillips, but - well, I'll take the compliment I suppose.

"That's tonight's date there," Rebecca said, tapping on the date. "It says Friday. Are you going?"

I shrugged, wiggled my head, made a little non-committal gesture with my mouth. I also made the mistake of catching sight of my reflection on the glass of the door.  Oh my god, I thought. She's right, I can't do innocent.

"I was maybe going to go," I said weakly.

"You were going to go, and you weren't going to tell me."

Direct hit.

"Oh - no, I mean - you know how it is, I get all absent-minded when I'm writing."

"You're not writing," she pointed out.

"Oh, I mean - I mean not now, obviously, but I was writing when I got this. In the post. Which is where I got it. Through the post, obviously." Oh god why can't I stop digging?

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