Sunday 22nd January 2012
I received a few messages of apology from the people of Stafford today, for the behaviour of those drunken elements of last night's audience. But there is no need to. Neither the town or the theatre are to blame at all. It's the kind of thing that just happens every now and again. I don't even particularly blame the people involved. They wanted a good night out and made the mistake of choosing my show for that.... that came out wrong.
Just seventeen hours after the gig, as I was out for a run with my girlfriend, I came up with a good off the cuff response to the situation. As the tenth person got up to go to the toilet I should have said - "Come on, we're in Staffordshire, don't any of you have a pot to piss in." If that had come out on the spur of the moment it would have been an amazing piece of improvisation. I don't think it counts as repartee if it comes nearly a day late. More spirit of the staircase. But next time I am in the Potteries area of the UK and loads of people are urinating I will have a brilliant ad-lib to impress the audience.
And anyway, I deserve the odd difficult night like last night, because it is karma for something I did as a young man. In the summer of 1983, as we waited for our O level results, me and my friends went on a camping holiday to Weymouth. It's something I wrote about in the play, "Punk's Not Dead", which included real-life anecdotes including the encounter with Dave Manager, the man who served in the fried chicken shop which we ate at for pretty much every meal of our stay, who we continually asked, "Is your name Dave Manager or are you Dave the Manager?" It was also during that holiday that an angry Frenchman hit the roof of our tent at 3am hissing, "You can keep your blardy, sheety mouths closed", a catchphrase that I still use to this day.
But the incident I don't think I've mentioned, on this blog at least, is the evening we decided to go and see Ted Rogers at the theatre. At the time Ted was riding high as the host of the strange and cryptic ITV Saturday night quiz show "3-2-1", with his lovable side-kick Dusty Bin (a motorised dustbin). As 16 year olds who liked to think of themselves as cool and ironic (we were actually nerdy and unpleasantly rude) we saw the poster and decided to go along to take the piss out of this old school comedia
n. I am sure that there was a part of each of us that was actually excited to see someone off the telly in real life and probably actually genuinely hoping to see Dusty Bin, but we liked Monty Python and the Young Ones and had to affect disdain for this populist comic and old-time variety show we were going to see. There was no internet or Twitter then, so we couldn't just get in touch and call him a prick - we had to go along and disrupt his show in person. It was much harder to be a prick in the old days.
In actual fact we didn't go overboard on disruption and were probably quite sweet, but as a professional performer I can now see that we would have been an unwelcome distraction for the people on stage. The theatre was far from sold out and we could sit where we like. We all ran to the very front seats and took photos of each other with expressions of mock excitement. Ted was topping the bill and there were various other acts for us to sit through first. I think there was an elderly magician who was perhaps a little past his prime and there were three women dressed in spangly clothes dancing and singing (rather aptly) to the song "Does Your Mother Know That You're Out?" We lightly heckled everyone and I remember Phil Fry standing up to imply that he was happy for any of the female singers to take him backstage (though suspect he would have been a bit lost if they'd taken him up on his offer).
In the second half Ted Rogers came on and we ironically screamed with excitement, pretending we were the kinds of idiots who would be big fans of his (one step up the ladder from the kinds of idiots who would come to a show of someone they didn't like in order to mildly spoil it). "Do the 3-2-1!" we shouted, "Do the 3-2-1!" We were referring to the hand signal that Ted did every show, something that was meant to be impressive (and maybe it was in the 1980s) but which involve him holding up 3 fingers turning his hand quickly and putting down one of the fingers and then turning it quickly again whilst putting down another finger. As we shouted we did a deliberately fucked up version of the gesture involving just turning our hands and waggling our fingers. Ted, ever the professional, answered us as at face value (though I am sure he knew what was going on and realised this was the best way to deal with these children with dignity) and showed us how it was actually done.
I don't remember much else about the night, except that our interruptions were pretty constant. But in order to fill some time there was a bit in the show where Ted asked for volunteers. We rushed up on stage before anyone else could get there, but he needed four males and four females so one of us had to go back. I was one of the lucky winners. The game was that old favourite where a spoon on a string has to be put up and down each trouser leg and then down the dress of the lady and then up the leg of the next guy and so on. Once on stage our desire to be subversive left us and we participated willingly (like the children we were) in this game where we could win prizes, ignoring the oddness of the undercurrent of sexuality to this game when we were 16 and the women on our teams were somewhat older. It was actually the perfect punishment for our cockiness from the darkness of the stalls. Here we were in the bright lights having to do something that was mildly humiliating. I was wearing jeans that were pretty tight and I remember struggling to get the spoon up the leg. But sweetly, still doing my best.
I can't remember who won. But to our ironic delight and actual delight Dusty Bin then wheeled on to stage, carrying our prizes within. We were all given a lighter in a box (or it seems a box of Flash washing powder for the losers - who knows what the gag was?). Ted's middle-aged, hard-smoking audience might have loved that, but again it seemed a strange gift for 16 year olds. We were lucky that we didn't end up burning our tent down.
So now, as an adult and a professional comedian, I do feel mild shame for the way we behaved. And any difficult audience I get (or indeed any 16 year old Twitter troll thinking they're smart for taking the piss out of the hasbeen from another generation) is a fitting punishment. In 1983 Ted was 48. Just four years older than I am. Now that's a sobering thought.
What goes around.
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