I was on at the student union of the University of Central Lancashire today. I have always dreamed of playing here. I like to play the most specifically located Universities possible. Tomorrow, I am playing the University of North/North West Cumberland.
I had never heard of the University of Central Lancashire. If I had heard it mentioned in conversation I would assume it was a kind of joke about the proliferation of new Universities. I liked to imagine that it existed right on the central point of Lancashire and that it's catchment area was a cirlce of a mile around that spot.
It was a big venue, filled with 400 or more students, all of whom were only clever enough to have got in to the University of Central Lancashire and most of whom were enjoying the benefits of the subsidised bar. Trevor Lock was on first with his small face. He is a clever and understated act and though he went OK, most of them didn't really get what was going on. Three months ago I would have made the decision there and then to do my safe set of knob gags, but I was actually chomping at the bit at the chance to try out the yoghurt routine on an audience, at least 20% of whom definitely weren't going to like it, or be able to concentrate on such a stream of consciousness.
A young lad called Ray Peacock was on in the middle. He showed a lot of promise for a newcomer and one day might make a good living on cruise ships or the like. His zany true life stories held the attention of the crowd.
The first fifteen minutes of my act went fine. I did my topical jokes and more conventional stuff first, though I was enjoying questioning how difficult it was to get into the University of Central Lancashire and how good a college it actually was. This was upsetting certain elements of the crowd, which just amused me more. I told them I was sorry for dissing their University, I thought I'd been playing the University of South South West Lancashire, where they love it if you take the piss out of the central Lancastrians.
I was enjoying stirring things up a bit, like a kid with a stick, poking a nest of bees(though bees that aren't quite clever enough to get into a proper nest, making useful honey - see I still can't resist it). It's kind of fun to make things harder for yourself and admittedly a proportion of the crowd enjoyed having the piss taken out of them (in that kind of Eastbourne way
) though some were acting like Liverpudlians and booing me. Clearly I am feeling a bit confrontational at the moment, but it makes it more of an event and a spectacle if it's not all "oh please like me, be my friend" and there's something to be said for trying to turn a place against you and then seeing if you can win them back.
I started on the yoghurt routine, knowing that a lot of people weren't going to like it, but knowing that if they started heckling I could tell them that every time they did that, they merely would extend the routine by 5 minutes.
Predictably, whilst there were many who were laughing like drains who have just been told a good line taking the piss out of gutters (who they hate, with their airs and graces) some chatting began and then an occasional heckle. "Stop talking about yoghurt" was one of the things that was shouted. He shouldn't have said that. He knew the more he complained the more I had to go on.
One very bored, shaven-headed, quite hard-looking man was sitting in a spot in the audience where he was illuminated by a blue light. At one point he made as if to throw a wine bottle at me. I told him he should and that that was the only way to stop me talking about yoghurt, but even if he floored me I would still continue mumbling "yoghurt, yoghurt, yoghurt" as they took me away to the ambulance. I told some of the rowdier elements that they should come and punch me out if they wanted it to be over. But when I asked who liked the routine abotu three quarters of the crowd cheered. It was very loose and very fractured and mainly involved me re-explaining that I would carry on longer the more I was interrupted and calling people thick. To one girl who wasn't getting it, I said "Imagine being the thickest person at the University of Central Lancashire! What an accolade."
Eventually I gave in as there wasn't much point pushing on to the end, but got a rousing response and a (possibly ironic) roar for more. I didn't go back on though.
It was a bit of a bear-pit and one of those occasions where in hindsight you begin to wonder if it was such a good idea to ask a huge crowd of people that you are (jokingly) insulting, to punch you in the face.
I had spent the afternoon writing stuff for my programme and in the introduction I mentioned one of my last gigs in stand-up the first time round, which was also at a student venue, in which somehow I ended up with one of the audience on stage (I think I'd asked him to come up himself if her could do better) and we'd ended up by some series of event having to both drop our trousers. Somehow this was humiliating for me and a triumph for him. It was that night that I decided to give up stand up.
Tonight was certainly better, and my trousers stayed resolutely up, but it is a weird and uneartly situation to be faced with a braying mob, who you are attempting to agitate even more. Especially when you are largely doing this by talking about yoghurt.
It was a long, long drive home from Preston, which if my calculations are correct is at the exact epicentre of Lancashire. I was glad I did not crash, because I wouldn't have liked that to be my last ever gig.