Two previews for Lord of the Dance Settee tonight in Hackney and Islington and the stand-up show, at least, is looking in good shape with six weeks to go (the progress of the play is slow, but steady - it's going to be OK, I think, but it's going to be a struggle).
I arrived at the second gig to see the end of Sara Pascoe's show, which seemed very funny and the audience were great too, so although I felt like having a little sleep I was looking forward to giving the material its second run through of the night. But some new audience members arrived during the interval and they had had a few drinks. They sat on the front row and during my second routine a surly looking man in a suit and the slightly floaty eyes of a drunk started commenting about my act to his friend. I couldn't hear what he was saying, but the tone was sneery and superior. It was really much too early to make a judgement call, so I assume that he had been in that kind of mood before I started, or needed shorter jokes due to his alcohol-inhibited attention span. He wasn't heckling, but in a sense this was worse. He thought he was whispering, but he was disrupting the flow and annoying the audience around him and clearly not listening to anything, so at the ned of the second routine I looked at him and made a zipping gesture over my mouth. He was finding it hard to process that, or perhaps didn't realised how loud he'd been (drunks do tend to lose the ability to whisper for some reason), so I said that he'd have to stop talking as this was a live show and he wasn't watching TV so couldn't have a conversation with his mate. To prove my point I poked him in the face with my finger. I felt this was a good way of making him realise that I was real.
I could see from his cold eyes and his sneering lip that he was not going to come round to my side or be able to enjoy the show and I nearly asked him to leave. He had been frosty already, but now I had drawn attention to him he had an almost visible icy aura around him. Everyone else was having fun, but he was determined not to.
Another routine passed and he made one more interruption, though it might have been an accidental laugh. Then thankfully he got unsteadily to his feet and started to leave. He had chosen to do this just as I got to the crucial part of a routine, so I chastised him for his timing. He turned round to look at me. You could see his brain whirring, trying to think of a response, but he had been poisoned at his own hand by booze and his mind and body weren't playing ball. He moved further back, kicking over someone's drink and stumbling into chairs. I said I was sad to see him go and the audience were sniggering at him. He turned again, "Well done, good luck with getting the contract," he spluttered. His brain had managed to put together a selectiong of words in the form of a heckle, but alas like a child telling a joke the words were non-sensical.
"The contract?" I repeated, "Oh, right, I see. Did you think this was an interview? I can understand why you'd be disappointed at a man coming on and reading out stories from his life. That's no way to win a contract, is it? Were you interviewing me for the contract? Because if so I think it was a little unprofessional of you to get so drunk."
He hung around at the back, trying to gather his wit (singular), bewildered that the audience were laughing at him. All of this was going down very well with them. He had been alone in being so disenchanted with the evening. He tried to order another drink, but I told him that he wasn't coming back in. Finally he worked out what he was trying to say, "Good luck with the Foster's Comedy Award. You'll need it."
"I am not eligible," I told him as he turned to head for the door. He wanted this to be his brilliant parting shot. "Apparently I am too "successful" to be nominated. I know, that doesn't make any sense to me either. Look at me playing to thirty people in a tiny bar." I was so far ahead in this contest that I was able to be self-deprecating whilst putting down a heckler. I loved the fact that he thought that I would only be going to Edinburgh to win prizes, so that if that wasn't going to happen my journey would be wasted. Plus this was my fourth preview so it was probably a bit early to tell.
His friend had stayed and was also fairly drunk, but in a smiley way, unlike his mate who became surly and pinched with the booze. I asked him what the story was and why his friend was so upset and what he was like, but the more affable friend was a bit too pissed to have fun with. And thought that I had been wounded by the interjections. "Don't take it to heart mate. It's water off a duck's back." I pretended that his pal had wounded me and that this was the first time in 25 years that anyone had challenged my funniness and that I was going to give in.
As usual, if anything, the disruption and my response to it, just made the rest of the audience enjoy the show more. I was able to back reference the incident quite a few times. "The thing is, the reason this got to me so much was that I was really hoping to get a contract tonight. Chris who runs this gig has been employing me on an ad hoc basis for about eight years and I was praying that tonight's show would be good enough that he might say,"You know Rich, I was so impressed that I am going to give you a contract from now on. One gig a year, guaranteed for fifty pounds."
I also imagined the heckler telling his mates about his victory, "Yeah, I really showed this rubbish comedian last night, I said, "Good luck with the Fosters Comedy Award!" You should have seen his face. I just came up with that off the top of my head, quick as a flash. Bang! I didn't say anything about a contract first, that wouldn't have made sense. Everyone thought I was amazing. I destroyed him."
It wasn't a difficult battle, but it was fun to flex that muscle again. It's been a little while.
This week's Metro column (based on last week's blog) about Morph being the last trustworthy 70s childrens TV star is here.