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Thursday 28th April 2005

I think people imagine that touring as a stand up comedian is an endless hedonistic life of drinking, taking drugs and sleeping with eighteen year old twins every night. And people are right: it is like that about 90 per cent of the time. But very very occasionally you end up finishing the gig, getting a taxi back to you Premier Travel Lodge and then sitting in the bar on your own drinking a pint of Guinness and playing Brickbreaker on your mobile phone. But I wouldn’t want you to think it’s like that all the time. Because it’s nearly always the first scenario that I mentioned. And anyone who says it isn’t and that they’ve followed me around the country secretly for weeks, spying on me and that they’re very impressed with my Brickbreaker high score (though would be more impressed if they didn’t know how much practice I had had at it) is lying.
I was in Sheffield tonight and very lucky to get a hotel room as the place is packed out with people coming to see and work on the Snooker World Championship or something that is in town. None of the top snooker stars seemed to be staying at the Premier Travel Lodge though. Or if they were, they were having an early night and not propping up the bar after midnight. Quite right too. They are sportsman and must act accordingly. Probably by breaking off from a frame to do a quick poo in the corner of the auditorium. Winning is all that matters and if you have to go, you have to go.
The gig had been fine, though I had overstepped the mark a little in dealing with a fat man whose phone rang during the proceedings. I had already done the bit about ringing people up to ask their permission if you want to imagine them when you are masturbating, and was able to ad-lib a comment about someone doing this to him. “You wouldn’t think anyone would be wanking over you, would you? – “Hi there, I want to imagine fucking you in the arse, even though that is the most disgusting thought imaginable. But thinking of something awful is the only way I can get off.” This was comparably witty compared to my next comment which was “Turn your phone off you fat fuck!”.
“That’s a bit harsh!” he replied quite fairly.
And it was. Sometimes when you let yourself go you do overstep the mark. It was a friendly regular crowd and you don’t want someone coming into that and insulting people based only on their physical appearance. Especially when they are not exactly lithe themselves.
It’s strange, sometimes you can ad-lib and it will almost be poetry, so beautifully formed is the thought that appears out of nowhere, but other times it just goes a bit wrong. I had allowed my genuine annoyance to spill over. I hate it when people don’t turn off their phones at gigs or any public event. He was quite lucky though, during one performance of Christ On A Bike in Edinburgh, a mobile had started ringing the second I got on to stage. I tried to ignore it, but it was still ringing 45 seconds later when I’d got through my opening gags. “Could you turn that off, do you think?” I asked the section of the audience where the noise was coming from.
“It’s not ours,” said a drunk woman. “We think it’s coming from back there.” She pointed at the curtain behind me. As this merely covered the back wall this seemed very unlikely. By this time Simon Streeting had arrogantly (and helpfully) come down from his lighting booth and discovered the phone was in the woman’s bag. “Give that to me!” I commanded.
I took the phone and threw it slightly forcefully on the ground. It rather spectacularly broke up on impact into three or four bits (it had just fallen apart, nothing was broken as such). The audience gasped at this audacity, (and I remember this reaction very clearly as it seemed to spread through them like an audio version of a Mexican Wave), then after a beat they laughed, cheered and applauded. We’ve all been irritated by some inconsiderate idiot’s phone and the fact that they hasn’t immediately turned it off and had in fact tried to pretend they weren’t responsible, made my judge, jury and executioner call the completely correct one. It was a dazzling coup de theatre. The drunk woman howled. If I’d been on top of things I would have added, “What are you worried about? You said it wasn’t yours.” But I wasn’t, so I just carried on with the show, a little shaken and thrown. Worrying I hadn’t just overstepped the mark, but poured petrol on it and set it on fire as I pole-vaulted over it.
The couple were complaining throughout the next twenty minutes. At which point she came up on stage. She was looking for the battery to the phone which I hadn’t returned to her. I wanted them out and offered them their money back if they would go. She said, “Fuck that. We want seventy pounds for the phone.” This time I was more on top of things, as I responded, “I’m not giving you seventy pounds for that. It’s broken.”
So getting called a “Fat Fuck” is probably not as bad over all and he took it reasonably well. It didn’t destroy the performance, but gave me a valuable reminder about staying in control at all times, even if the point of what you’re saying is to be apparently out of control. It’s a difficult line to tread, and I suppose it is worth stepping on a few turds along the way, if you also spot a few diamonds littered along the path.
I saw the man afterwards getting into a car and shouted my apologies to him. And he seemed unscathed by the experience, perhaps having accepted by now that he is not thin. He was a nice man. I felt worse. But you have to turn your phone off, people.
If it’s any consolation to the man I offended, I didn’t even get anywhere near my high score at Brickbreaker and by the time I got to bed the 18 year old twins had fallen asleep, having lezzed themselves out in my absence. This is what it’s like on tour.

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