Metro 130

Richard Herring: This is your comedian speaking

Friday 5 Sep 2014 1
I have done stand-up gigs in some unusual places (a museum, the lounge of the Evening Standard comedy critic and a train-shed in the middle of nowhere in North Wales), but last month topped the lot. In terms of altitude at least.
I was invited to perform on an aeroplane. Imagine my disappointment when I found out they were asking me to join the Smile-High Club.
Most people fear public speaking, lots of people have a phobia of flying, I was going to attempt both at once. If they filled the overhead luggage compartments with spiders and snakes and then had them spring open every 30 seconds it would officially be the scariest possible human nightmare.
Whenever you get on a plane you always worry you might be seated next to a weirdo who won’t stop talking. I was fearful that I going to be that weirdo for every passenger.
There were a hundred reasons why the gig shouldn’t work: I was performing to an audience who hadn’t paid to see me and who weren’t even expecting comedy, I wasn’t allowed to mention any flying-related sensitive subjects (you know how much trouble you get into just joking about bombs as you pass through security), I would be addressing the passengers via the intercom used by the cabin staff, I wouldn’t be able to hear any reactions due to the roar of the engines or see most of the audience behind their seats and the cabin crew would be serving drinks as I did my stuff. On the plus side if anyone wanted to heckle then they’d have to press their little button and I’d have to come round later to deal with them one by one. And if there were any walk-outs then I’d know I was doing a really bad job.
Most difficult for me though was that as there were kids aboard I had to be age appropriate. I didn’t know if I had ten minutes worth of material that had no swear words of sexually explicit content.It was such an impossible situation that I wasn’t at all nervous. Though it was difficult to know how to start. Most comedians will shout something like ‘Hello Wembley’ at the start of their set. But if I tried that I’d have to say, ‘Hello Northumberland…. Oh no sorry, we’ve just entered Durham air space… And now we’re over North Yorkshire.’ Maybe I’d have to begin, ‘Hello, this is your comedian speaking…’
Somehow though, in spite of all obstacles, the gig worked. I even occasionally managed to hear laughter over the roar of the engines. No one got up during my set in order to visit the toilets (which were right behind me) and the plane was still rocking about 15 minutes after I’d finished (some said that that was turbulence, but they are just jealous of my comedic brilliance).
It turned out that the hardest thing about the set was keeping the intercom button pressed down for so long. If you hold the phone at the wrong angle it’s quite uncomfortable. I learn something new every day in this job, though suspect that that lesson is one that won’t prove very useful to me in the future.
My grandfather never flew on a plane and could remember the first time he’d ever seen one (he’d excitedly run across the countryside for miles until it disappeared out of sight). How much would his mind be blown at me casually doing stand-up comedy on one? He’d be rightly amazed that anyone would pay to see me doing that on the ground.