It’s summer time, which for a comedian means lots of gigs in sweaty tents at the music festivals that spring up in fields in the middle of nowhere, only to disappear again like litterbug ghosts in the night.
They are quite tricky to play. You get very mixed audiences: families, small children, people a little the worse for wear, looking for somewhere to chill out.
The other weekend I was at the Nostock festival near Hereford. I was only at the event for two hours; suspiciously fresh-faced, clean, well rested and free from illegal substances. The tent had a very peculiar smell in it, like someone had been cooking exotic herbs and I worried that the strangely glass-eyed audience might recognise me for the square that I was, drag me out of the marquee in disgust and burn me in a wicker man.
I was following the wonderfully drunk and proudly half-arsed Bob Slayer (I am embarrassed about how many years passed before I spotted the joke in his name), who lives his art by refusing to spend a second of the day sober. He is exactly the kind of act you want at a festival: a beardy shouting man, more out of it than the crowd, reading the Hungry Caterpillar whilst getting a member of the audience to act out the part of the eponymous hero encased in a green sleeping bag, whilst force-feeding him apples. How do you follow that? I feared my blend of pedantry and swearing would be totally the wrong thing for this family/drug-addled crowd. I was down to do thirty minutes, but I only have about ninety seconds of jokes appropriate for those under 14.
My only option was to address this right from the start and explain that I could make few concessions. To give any concerned parents time to leave I told the only kids joke I know (which is still quite rude). “What’s brown and taps on your window? A poo on stilts.”
There was a wide-eyed and angelic looking boy of no more than four years old who was sitting cross-legged on the front row. He quite liked the stilt-poo joke. I would chat with him every now and again, apologising for saying that children were incapable of love and calling them “sexual excrement”. He seemed OK with it as hopefully it was going over his head.
I wracked my brain for another kids’ joke and thought I’d remembered one, but recalled too late that it was actually a parody, deliberately bad gag, “Where does a bird leave its sexual orgnas when it goes to a nightclub? In the cloaca room.”
I acknowledged that that quip needed a knowledge of bird biology that would be beyond most adults. But also would a child even understand what a cloakroom was? “You can’t possibly know,” I told him, “Forget about cloacas, a cloak is a rather archaic concept. I mean where do you leave your cloak?”
I had intended this to be a rhetorical question, but the angelic scamp piped up, “In my mummy’s bedroom”. Which is now the all time favourite heckle I have received. It brought the house down. Or the tent rather.
Later I asked the boy who was funnier, me or Mr Tumble. He didn’t even have to think about it - Mr Tumble. So I did my impression of the slapstick clown by going to have a drink and then throwing water all over myself. Which to be fair did go down very well with the pre-school demographic. Maybe I have a child friendly act after all.
For a comedian I come up with surprisingly few jokes. When I do one it makes the newspapers. Here’s my latest. Hope you enjoy it. “My great-grandad had a trout shop, my grandad had a haddock shop, my dad ran a cod shop and I have just opened a mackerel shop. I guess I have inherited the sell-fish gene.” It’s all right. I won’t give up the day job.