Harrogate tonight. I got to the theatre to find a letter waiting for me in the dressing room. On any other tour I could be pretty certain that this would be from an autograph hunter wanting me to sign a leaflet for them, but on this tour there is the chance that it will be from a religious person offended by the show (or usually just its title).
This time the letter was of the latter variety and came from a name I vaguely recognised. It was Ken Stallard, the man who had complained to the Oxford Times about my show
. It was a friendly enough missive, though contained possible veiled threats, reminding me at the start of the libel laws. Ken said that I had made an incorrect presumption in my remarks to the paper when I had talked about him judging things that he hadn't seen. He claimed he had seen the show, though unfortunately didn't give any details of when and where. I wouldn't have thought he would be lying about that, after all he must know that God can see his every thought and that He wouldn't look kindly on mendacity, but it surprised me that Dr Stallard had not mentioned that fact in the original article. Indeed his letter gave no further evidence of his attendance, nor did it give a return address. He quoted the line about Jesus being cool, but all the people who follow him being such idiots, which has been all over the press (and didn't quote it as it appears in the show where I say they "tend to be such idiots". He did say I was a good performer with great diction and comic timing, which would suggest that he had seen me, because all those things are true, but he said I was let down by my rubbish material.
Of course it's not worth getting worked up about and it's probably good that I am unable to respond to him directly, but everything he has said about me in the letter and the paper gives no indication that he has been to the show and if he had been would he not have been struck by the Christian principles and sympathy for Christ at the heart of the show? And if he had seen it, surely he would have mentioned that to the paper and made more of some of the content in it. Possibly not. I am not calling Dr Ken Stallard a liar. He says he has seen it and he says that the Kray twins were good Christians and I believe him. Because if he was lying he'd know that an eternity in Hell would be the inevitable consequence.
Maybe he just meant he has seen some of my stuff on line, probably subsequently to the original article would be my guess. Maybe he just got confused.
He said that he thought that I was hiding an inner sadness and emptiness with my jovial stage presence, so maybe I am just striking out because he has perceptively seen to the heart of me. That is a remark that would work for almost any human of course, and some people might be surprised that their mask of happiness has been detected by someone so perceptive. But if anything my act is really about revealing the emptiness that most of us hide and I am pretty honest about my flaws. Maybe he was in the toilet during those bits of the show though.
If you're reading this Dr Stallard - and I suspect you do trawl the internet for your name, then do let me know which gig you came to and I will just get the venue to check the credit card records to ensure you are telling the truth. Because it would be awful if a man in your position just made stuff up to try and cement your argument. I know the libel laws are strict, so I will just make it clear that I am not suggesting you are lying. I just want to exonerate you against anyone who thinks there is something mendacious about your claims.
The letter provided a nice item for the tour video that I am making - I have managed to make a short film at each of the venues I have visited, but in all the kerfuffle I forgot to do it yesterday in York. It will make for a long and quite boring DVD extra for those of you who wish to see the toll that daily touring can take on a man's mental and physical well being.
Harrogate Theatre is a lovely place to perform, though the backstage toilet is officially the coldest theatre lavatory in the UK. They don't have a plaque up, but they will next time I go there. It's rather a genteel town and I have been slowly building up an audience here over the years and I wasn't expecting any trouble. But the show got off to an unusual start where promising that in honour of Pope Benedict (given the similarity of us both having gone from Hitler to Jesus) that next year's show would be covering up child abuse and why that is a good thing. As I said I hoped they would come to see that I caught the eye of an 11 year old child on the front row, who I had not noticed and then laughed to myself about how appalling this happenchance had made that comment seem.
I apologised and recovered quickly enough, but about five minutes into the show came a sudden ululation from the stalls. I had just said that Jesus had done some pretty impressive stuff, when a loud voice interrupted me. With Dr Stallard's letter in my mind I initially assumed that it might be some kind of Christian protest (weird to complain now that I was praising him, rather than when I said he had wanked on to the Turin Shroud), but quickly I realised the man babbling loudly in tongues was just spectacularly drunk. The bit I made out was him yelling and slurring the words, "It's my birthday today and you're all invited to my party!" It was something of a non sequitir and an unusual heckle and one that had been so disruptive that it had to be addressed. I told the man that that was a nice offer and quite a difficult heckle to deal with. Not only was it at something of a tangent to what I was talking about, it also wrong-footed me by being an unusually pleasant offer. He was inviting me to a party, so I could hardly respond with, "No, fuck YOU!"
The audience laughed along, though a little nervously because there was a strange, drunk man in their midst and it was unclear what he would do.
I suggested to the theatre staff that they might wish to remove the man, adding that my professional expertise meant that I recognised that a man in this state would probably continue to interrupt the show and ruin it for everyone else. No one made any move to get rid of him and there was a tension in the air as a result. "Oh, dear," I said, "Is he the Mayor of Harrogate? Are you all sitting there thinking, "Oh no, he's come to town and insulted the most important person here. Just sit here and say nothing." The man was now sitting quietly and there had been some laughs thanks to the interruption, but I was genuinely aware that this would not be an end of it and though I finally ploughed on, it threw my timing off a little bit. I didn't want to leave any gaps for him to interject into and was expecting more incoherent shouting. The audience too were similarly nervous. But everything was fine for the next ten or so minutes and it looked like my earlier pronouncement that he would continue to be trouble was incorrect.
Then suddenly he jumped to his feet, complaining that the show was rubbish and that he was leaving. Although he was in the fourth seat from the end of his long row, he was so drunk that he attempted to leave via the other end, which would mean him having to get past about 30 people. I pointed out to him that there was an easier way to go and the people sitting with him shepherded him out. We were all relieved by his exit and it was better and less dispruptive that he had made up his own mind to leave, rather than having to be ejected. I joked that my professional opinion had been correct, claiming I had a kind of sixth sense that allowed me to see people who would be troublesome. It gave the show a whole different dimension and was very funny, although there was an underlying tragedy to the man's life, being that drunk on Monday at 8pm (even if it was his birthday). You didn't have to be Ken Stallard to see that there was something deeply wrong in that man's life.
I had coped well with the interruption and managed to keep it light and unconfrontational and I was able to remark at the start of the second half that I was surprised the audience had stayed to see ths show given there was a party we should all be going to.
After the show the 11 year old from the front row bought my rude book. I told him that I would not report his parents to the authorities for allowing him access to my filth.