When to walk

A couple of dispiriting events happened in the last week that made me look again at my policy of ‘the show must go on.’ One was personal, the other was a lucky escape.

The first was a long drive to the coast with two other comics, both much better than I. We arrived at the venue to find an absence of the word ‘Comedy’, and discovered that our previously well received sets scored low on the laugh-o-meter. The drive home descended into a post mortem, which with an element of black levity was itself more enjoyable than the show. Problems with the show were myriad: no light state, no warning the punters there would be any comedy, terrible sight lines, no stage, a busy bar, table service, and the smoking area positioned so that you had to walk across the stage in order to reach it. Very difficult to tell jokes when you’re aware that two people are busy puffing away through a window behind you. It wasn’t the fault of the audience. They wanted a Saturday night in the pub. They got three people trying to tell them amplified jokes. My abiding memory is of a woman at a table who was turned ninety degrees away from me, making the occasional passive aggressive comment in the bits that some of us are wont to call ‘pauses for comic effect.’ I tried to get her involved, but she ignored me entirely, then, determined that she WOULD NOT FIND THIS FUNNY. Hey, it’s something comics have to deal with, this business of refusing to find something funny at whatever cost. It’s hard to imagine someone going to the opera with their hands over their ears, singing show tunes, and then complaining about the production afterwards, but it’s par for the course and there isn’t much you can do about it.

Then yesterday I received an email from a promoter cancelling a couple of gigs. She gave me the reasons why: the audience wasn’t receptive to comedy, fights were constantly threatened, the female MC got her face stroked (ugh!) and her husband was threatened with a knife. The promoter said they were lucky to get everyone out unharmed, and immediately cancelled all future gigs at the venue.

Both these gigs were free entry, which may play some part but certainly isn’t the whole story. Comedy Bin gigs are free, and usually have a very positive vibe. There is an element of comedians being flung out onto an unsuitable space where once a stripper might have dared to venture. My motivation is to entertain, but it’s a fact there are some audience members with a destructive bent, and it is only when the comic has the trappings of a good gig (proper stage, good sound, lights, an audience that’s paid for the show and the majority of whom want to see it etc.) that the performer has a fighting chance.

I want people to laugh, but I want them to laugh at the material, not at me. I’m a comedian. I am not an Aunt Sally. Sometimes it’s necessary to get to a gig, get a feel for the room and say ‘no’. And guess what? Under those circumstances, I won’t be missed.

Check my gig diary page for upcoming performances!


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