The scene: A comic book store. The proprietor, Raphael, is behind the counter, dusting a shelf of tiny Daleks. Enter a customer, played by Ian.
Ian (slapping a comic down on the counter): I demand a refund.
Raphael (examining the somewhat dog-eared comic): Really? Why?
Ian (heavily): A refund, sir, or I shall report you to Trading Standards. (Jabs a finger at the cover.) What does that say?
Ian: Exactly. (Holds up comic side-on so Raphael is looking directly at the spine.) Doesn’t look very 3D to me, I don’t know about you. (Begins leafing through the comic.) But even that wouldn’t matter if any of this made any sense or were at all legible.
Raphael: May I? (He takes the comic, detaches the red and blue cardboard glasses from the front, and places them on Ian’s nose. He opens the middle of the comic and holds it up. Ian peers at it suspiciously, then takes the comic and leafs through it, seeing each page in an entirely new light. Raphael allows himself a satisfied smile.)
Ian: I … I still demand a refund.
Raphael (taken aback): Why?
Ian: This so-called ‘3D’ is no more than an illusion.
Raphael: Unfortunately, sir, comics – (here, he steps out of character and addresses the reader directly) – and indeed comedians, jokes, the whole apparatus of comedy are thus; it is the complicity of the audience that lifts the idea into the air, buoyed by laughter, and sets it free.
Ian: I concur.
(They bow to one another, then to you, the reader.)
Let’s just say that last night, for whatever reason, the audience weren’t wearing the right glasses for the show.
It’s interesting, the bad gig, because you do look at what you’ve done, and wonder why the big laugh on, say, the penguin routine, was absent tonight. And being social creatures, the performer reviews his penguin material and finds it just as unfunny as the audience did. Where are the actual jokes? Surely these are just sentences, raw penguin facts that belong more in an encyclopaedia than on the stage? And yet the previous night, they were howling with laughter and calling it the greatest show about penguins on the Fringe. And you had hoped that prior knowledge of penguins wasn’t crucial to enjoyment of the show. Both parties can’t be right – can they?
Well, yes they can. Bad gigs are inevitable, and we came to Edinburgh knowing that at least one was going to happen. We’ve had tricky gigs, slow burning gigs, downright weird gigs, but last night was a proper good old-fashioned bad one. Two girls on the right absolutely loved it; a couple of Danish guys left early, baffled. Another couple, very quiet; a knot of drunks who heckled me (this was not the bad bit, in fact I thought they brought along a bit of energy) and a couple at the front who seemed determined not to enjoy themselves. Most disconcerting.
Raph hosted, and was immediately swimming up-stream. The audience didn’t seem to like either of us – and I mean that very literally as in ‘to like someone as a person’ as opposed to ‘found funny’ – as though we’d upset them before they came in. Do we bear an uncanny resemblance to some infamous puppy stranglers whose notoriety has passed us by? I must add that if you don’t find Raph a likeable presence on stage then a) you probably don’t have a soul and b) you will find our routines, self-deprecating as they are, less amusingly hubristic and more a thoroughly-deserved comeuppance. There was a very definite feeling when I was onstage that I should be taken down a peg or two, which is odd because I never went a peg up in the first place. Raph overheard someone calling me a ‘poof’ on the way out, a less-than-perceptive remark because I’d spent about ten minutes explaining this to them. My major disappointment is that without the complicity of the audience, I can’t relax enough into the material and explore the interesting corners that build a richer picture.
Still, enough went in the bucket to cover us for a couple of glasses of wine. ‘Let’s not talk about this now,’ said Raph, before embarking on a full post-mortem, and a walk home in the rain.
One bad show out of eleven isn’t bad.
It has now, mercifully, stopped.
Bad word of mouth is restricted to the few souls in the room last night; the good shows have been packed.
It crystallised what we want to achieve: a fun show in the presence of likeable guys. If that’s not your thing, you’re not our audience.
We did our time: tempting as it was to cut short, we did what we promised we would do.
We both felt that we were onstage with the right person. As I said to Raph, the last time I was here, I felt ten times worse when the show went ten times better.
At the end of the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo hugs Sam and says, ‘I’m glad you’re with me, here at the end of all things.’ Immediately after the show, we recreated this touching moment backstage (no prizes for guessing the casting) and although we’d only done an hour, it certainly felt more like nine, plus a traumatising trek up a volcano in hostile territory with a saboteur on our tracks. We didn’t get rescued by giant eagles, or catch a boat to the Grey Havens, but we have got comps to see Greg Proops, which a day after the event, feels more satisfactory.
We don’t have posters, and bring in our audience through people we meet. The nice thing about being under the radar is that you don’t have to walk home after a bad gig past huge images of your own stupid, coiffured head with a star rating stuck to it. It would’ve been nice though, for the friend and top comedy agent who came along to have seen any other show than this one. I doubt she will be hurrying to put me on the books.