One thing has become very clear from writing this blog. Nobody wants to hear about your good gigs. This is of course entirely understandable. Having good gigs is my job. Me talking about good gigs is like Barack Obama talking about hiding neocon militarism behind a liberal veneer. Nevertheless , there is a much discussed financial crisis in standup comedy at the moment and anything I can do to highlight gigs which deserve to thrive , then I will.
So today I wont be discussing last Wednesday’s gig at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford , other than to say it was a delight , and deserves to flourish. Instead I would like to take you back to December 2008……..
Of course my worst gig ever would be at Christmas time. It is a horrific time to be a standup , a season where onstage nuance and subtlety meet a grisly end. However the wages are excellent , so up and down the country comedians choose financial pragmatism , change their joke about Freud into one about a huge throbbing cock , and keep their fingers crossed that the room of office parties dislike them rather than actively hate them.
My first gig that evening , the last Saturday before Christmas had gone okay. In this season , ok is a triumph. So I jumped in a taxi to Shoreditch to do my second gig , a headlining spot at a club where Ricky Grover had been the opening act.
Under any circumstances this is a hard task. Ricky Grover , more recently best known for his role in Eastenders , is a viscerally hilarious as a comedian can be. Fantastic jokes blend with superb use of obese physicality. Comedically very few comics have more tools in their arsenal. In Shoreditch , however , the task of following him is not hard. It is impossible. Ricky is untouchable to any audiences east of London Bridge. He is their king. Now I , with my middle class sensibilites and sideways glance at sexuality and multiculturalism have to follow him.
When I get there it’s the interval. “How has it been ?” I ask of the compere. “Great.” He answers. They didn’t look great. They looked like a room maxed up on the one cocktail that in their eyes isn’t gay – beer and cocaine. If they were “great” in the first half , then that can only be a credit to the compere and the unbreakable Ricky Grover.
I walk on stage. I am only too aware of the degree to which the crowd judges you instantly when you walk on. There is a hierarchy of expectation in a lot of comedy crowds. It’s complex , and it is usually beneficial to morbidly obese comics , black comics with confident swagger , and TV names. It is less beneficial to women and the overtly middle class. I always used to think that because there is no real template with Asian comics of knowing what to expect , audience prejudice is not so acute. But from the moment I walked onto the stage , it was clear that the audience were thinking ….. “Who the fuck is this prick ?”
I gave it a go. I tried oneliners , stories , audience interaction. It was clear after about 15 minutes that I had done my best , and failed. Not failed badly. Just failed. Unfortunately I was booked to do 25 minutes. And I am professional. The next ten minutes was torture , as the audience looked baffled that I was still onstage interrupting their Christmas party conversations. Conversations which grew louder and louder , and eventually much louder than an exasperated man with a microphone. I was just about to call it a day when a guy got up and made his way towards the stage. As he approached , he was being cheered by the crowd.In their eyes anything that was a change from my routine had to be a good thing. At this point I had rather forgotten that people are simply not allowed to get on stage without being asked , and i watched passively as he got onto the stage and grabbed the mic off me.
Security could not have been quicker. Well they could have , they could have grabbed him before he got to the stage. But that’s another debate. Two burly security guys ran onto the stage and forced him off. One of them said to me in a very knowing way “Go to the kitchen”.
So I went to the kitchen. And sat there for 45 minutes. On the floor. While chefs looked at me with a sympathetic smile. During those 45 minutes I heard a mass brawl take place inside. All I could hear was a cacophony of increasingly angry voices. Eventually I heard one voice , which seemed to be just outside the kitchen door. “You can tell that last act to fuck off back to Pakistan”
What I wanted to say was….. “I’m not from Pakistan. I’m from Crystal Palace. My parents were originally from India. I’ve been to India. I could fuck off back there in theory. But I have never been to Pakistan. So I can’t. I wasn’t even pro partition. Can you imagine the cricket world without partition ? Imran and Kapil Dev in the same team ? Kumble and Saqlain ? Tendlukar , Dravid and Inzaman ?”
But I suspect he was more of a football man.
So i sat there silently for 45 minutes contemplating the degree to which so many people who claim to care about Christmas actually have no idea whatsoever. How comedy more than any other art form inspires utter hatred from those who dont like you.And how following Ricky Grover at a club gig in East London might just be the hardest comedy task in the world.
Police sirens were now only too audible. They had come to quell the mini riot. I was a 21st century “The Rite of Spring”. Eventually I was bundled out of the back door of the kitchen into the open air and straight into a cab. As I looked to my left I saw “comedy fans” still fighting amongst themselves and with the police. Merry Christmas. I did make sure of one thing though. I made sure I got paid in full. I had done my 25 minutes.