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Monday 26th May 2008

Headed down to the Komedia in Brighton this evening to take part in a gig called "Girls With Guns", a reverse on the usual comedy night in that it featured an all female line up, with one token male performer (me, in case you're the waiter from the restaurant the other night). Contrary to boring received opinion and idiots like Christopher Hitchen who don't bother actually going to see comedy, there are a lot of terrific female comedians on the circuit, who talk about a whole lot more than periods and their boyfriends. I certainly did my bit to prove women are funnier than men, by trying my new stuff to almost no laughs, after following the phenomenal Jo Neary, who whizzed through four or five brilliant new characters. She's incredible - go see her in Edinburgh.
It had been a strange and unsettling night already. I got to the venue earlier than the other acts and another show had just ended. The audience were milling out and a couple of people were having their photo taken with the singer who had been on. I took a seat at a table to wait for the other acts to get there. Right in front of me a member of the previous audience had apparently fallen asleep. Never a very good sign for a performer. He was face down on his table and one of the Komedia staff was attempting to wake him, as they needed to get the room ready for our show and the turnaround was quite tight. The man groaned a little, but wasn't moving. It was Bank Holiday Monday and the obvious assumption was that he'd had a bit too much to drink. The barman confirmed that the man had been snoring throughout the entire show.
Another staff member arrived and tried to rouse the man. But he was strangely floppy and hard to lift. He had a big shock of long hair which made it impossible to see his face. The new staff member was concerned that he wouldn't be able to bodily lift the man as he had recently been knocked over by a bus. It all happens in Brighton.
The collapsed man stirred a little, sitting up for a second and then almost falling on the floor. The bus hit man caught him and then cannily suggested getting another table to put beside the first to help prevent another unexpected spasm.
They were still mainly concerned with getting him out of the room, though slightly concerned about why he was quite so immobile. And not wanting to risk shifting him if he was ill, after some debate about whether it was serious enough to do so, they rang an ambulance.
I was sitting just watching all this, faintly amused by what seemed like a case of embarrassing over indulgence. "It's like an episode of Casualty," I quipped, "Admittedly quite a boring one, but still."
The first staff member had now called 999 and was having difficulty explaining where we were. There was no urgency on either side and understandably because it didn't seem that urgent. The guy explained to the operator what was going on, slightly embarrassed to be bothering the emergency services and saying he thought the man was just drunk. He was asked to estimate the man's age, which was hard as you couldn't see his face, but guessed he was in his thirties. He was asked to check the man was breathing - he was. The man who had survived the encounter with the bus said,"Make it sound a bit more urgent, mate. We need to get him out of here."
The ambulance was on its way. It was only then that someone discovered some notes that the guy had written and it became apparent that he'd taken something in a suicide attempt. To be fair to everyone at the theatre there was no way they could have known or anticipated this. It's not the kind of thing that you're expecting at 7.30pm, in public, during a gig. If it had happened during my laughless set the staff might have been primed to be on the look out for people losing the will to live (let's face it, people have tried to set themselves on fire to avoid my act). I know I shouldn't joke about this, but it is, for me, the only way to cope with something so horrible and unexpected and weird. I was asked by another member of staff to wait upstairs so that the ambulance people had space to do their job. Selfishly I was slightly annoyed to miss the action, which was now genuinely like an episode of Casualty, but accepted that it was for the best. I went up the road for a cup of tea, but apparently the ambulance came quickly and hopefully everything turned out well. To do something like this so publicly is clearly a cry for help and maybe the man wrongly assumed that if he collapsed during the gig that he would be spotted and saved. I think he had some connection - or maybe some perceived connection (fans can sometimes misconstrue the performer/consumer relationship) with the singer and was obviously trying to make some kind of a point. If that was his wish then he misjudged it quite badly, as unfortunately it's not that unusual to have someone in the crowd who is drunk enough to pass out and staff are inevitably going to let them sleep it off rather than disrupting the gig by getting you out of there.
Like I say though, it had been an unsettling start to the evening and I felt conflicted about the fact I had started watching the events as entertainment, even though I didn't know what was going on and there was nothing I could have done. The Komedia staff did an excellent job of coping with an unexpected and horrible event. It put my subsequent slightly poor gig into some kind of perspective.

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