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Friday 13th May 2005

I had quite an extraordinary show in Bracknell tonight, that was both the worst and best gig I have done so far.
Things started well. My graffiti material went down a storm, a pretty woman with a big laugh and bright lipstick particularly enjoying things. I then went into the Pope stuff, which went OK and even got a small smattering of applause as I finished the letter. I then discussed what might be considered a waste of sperm and as I got to the question of whether sperm placed in the anal passage of a choirboy is a “waste” some of the audience were not massively impressed, but it was still not a disaster.
After this bit I have taken to explaining that I am not condoning paedophilia, merely satirising the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. I say, “I am prepared to stick my neck out and say that I think having sex with 10 year old boys is wrong. I also think killing children is wrong. It may be an unpopular point of view, but I am prepared to say it. I want you to understand that I am a nice person.” I usually go straight into the material about the fact that if I am offered a pie made of dead babies, that I will eat that. Because it’s a delicious pie and I can understand why witches keep making them, but I haven’t killed the babies myself. It is a by-product of the child-killing industry, like those vegetarians who still wear leather shoes. This can get a few gasps, but most people understand where I am going with it and I will mess around and ad-lib, playing with this offensive idea, which should be familiar to everyone from fairy stories, which let’s face it are considered appropriate for infants.
Today I added a new line first before going into the pie bit in which I said, “If you have killed a child, then I don’t think it really matters if you have sex with it afterwards, because as far as I am concerned you have already crossed a moral line and your initial behaviour is as bad as it gets.”
Some Bracknell residents didn’t seem to find this amusing. In fact the table with the woman with the bright lipstick found it especially unamusing. As I finished the bit about the pies I said to them, “Not so into the child-killing material then?” and one of the men shook his head solemnly and said, “No”.
I pressed on with the act rather than addressing this immediately, suspecting that maybe these people had had some experience of losing a child. Which is obviously something that is going to happen every now and again, but I still think the material (especially the pie stuff) is sufficiently surreal to not be taken literally.
But I was losing the audience and suddenly my next couple of routines seemed a bit ruder and more offensive than normal. My bit about asking a woman in the audience to wank me off as a joke, and then get more insistent about it leading me to question whether this is comedy or sexual harassment died too. It sort of depends on an audience liking me and getting where I was coming from (so to speak), but they were losing interest and finding me unpleasant.
I tried to get into the yoghurt thing, but it really wasn’t working. The audience were shifting from the start. I knew I didn’t have the necessary good will to get through the boring and odd bits. Some people passed sarcastic comments. I had lost them. There was surely no way back. I kind of thought, “Fuck it, I’ve got to drive to Weston-Super-Mare after this and then get up at 6.15am to start filming. Maybe I should cut my losses and get off.”
But first I decided to do what I should have done the minute the swingometer had gone against me and addressed the atmosphere with the audience. There had been another table of drunk people, two of the female members of which had been talking loudly during the act and who I had had trouble getting to stop. I admitted that things weren’t working well, but explained that the only way to get me off was to laugh at my stuff about yoghurts and the worse things went the longer I would keep on about yoghurt. The drunk women started to laugh loudly and sarcastically, “Come on, “ they encouraged the others, “Get him off. Laugh!”
“It doesn’t count if the laughter is sarcastic,” I told them. I started to apologise for not having made people laugh. “So you don’t like baby pie and yoghurt stuff in Bracknell,” I observed, “I better not come back and do my routine about the pie made of yoghurt and dead babies which is then slammed into the face of the Pope!” Some people laughed. “What kind of stuff do you like?” I asked the drunk women, “Peter Kay?”
They cheered with approval.
“In that case I am delighted you didn’t like me then.”
This got a surprisingly positive response from the rest of the crowd.
“But you should have said,” I continued, “I could have done some stuff like him. “Do you remember Fredos? They were frogs made of chocolate. What was that about? Do you remember being at school. Things were quite different weren’t they? Stuff in the seventies wasn’t the same as now. It’s good to remember things isn’t it? It’s good to have someone to remind you of some things that you already knew isn’t it?”
A couple left at this point. I was able to pretend that they had been enjoying it up to then and then I had done one Fredo joke and they had had enough and given up on me. I blamed the Peter Kay fans for ruining everything for me. The others, sensing that something interesting was now happening, started to take more interest in me.
To be honest I can’t really remember (ironically) what I actually said, but bit by bit by fury and invective and my admitting that the gig had been going badly turned people round. The rest of the audience seemed to like the ad-libbed routines and to appreciate me having a go both at the lowest common denominator people who ruin comedy gigs by being too drunk and/or thick to listen, as well as the lazy crowd-pleasing routines of certain comics, which tell people things they already know, rather than trying to confound or surprise them with original ideas. I actually think comedians like Kay have their place (on the end of a big spike? No not really), but it was good to see that so many people actually can see what makes him a bit rubbish and boring as a stand-up at least.
I told the table who had been laughing, but who had stopped laughing that I was very sorry to have ruined their night, and told one of the women at the back that if she would just laugh at one thing I said that I would get off. But she steadfastly refused to find me amusing in any way. I pointed out that I had maybe not been serious about the baby pie and that it wasn’t necessarily something worth getting upset about, and also remarked on what it is like when someone has decided that they are definitely not going to laugh at something. I did push it a bit far, especially given the fact that I had suspicions about why they were upset, but I was also trying to apologise.
I must have done twenty minutes of stuff that was just made up off the top of my head and not even based on anything that I’d done before and I turned an audience that was 10% behind me into an audience that was maybe 90% behind me. I had had to work my socks off, and it came from a place where I had practically given up, but this just it made it all the more exciting for me and hopefully most of them.
I guess you maybe had to be there, but it was great to be off script in such unpromising territory and turn a bored offended audience into people who were finding me funny and enjoying the theatricality of the whole experience.
I was still upset to have upset people and yet also slightly annoyed with the same people for not understanding what I had been doing. I did at least make them feel better by telling them that I was spending the weekend in Weston. “Good!” said the woman I had upset the most. “I am going to be thinking of your beautiful laughing face turning to unhappiness on the drive all the way there,” I told her.
I got off eventually. “Do you want to do more?” asked the compere, but I didn’t. I’d been on for over 45 minutes as it was. He later texted me to tell me that the audience had given me a standing ovation when he’d mentioned my name at the end. It was quite a turnaround. I learnt a lot. I am astonished that I still have so much to learn after all this time and that so much of it can strike me all on one night. But still very glad to be doing this crazy job.
But I did think of the sad lady’s face as I drove.

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