I was up in Liverpool to perform my yoghurty show at the Comedy Festival, and hoping that none of the audience had read my previous humorous musings on their fine city
and then less obliquely here
. You could see from the annoyed faces of everyone in the city that they were fuming about the fact that a city other than theirs had had a disaster befall it. I considered doing a bit of material about the different ways that our two cities confront disaster. Londoners are being stoical about the disaster, going about their lives as if nothing has happened, refusing to show any emotion, just like Rudyard Kipling wanted
(though he would have been disappointed to see that we treated the triumph of winning the Olympics in a very different fashion oh how he would have shaken his head at us and said Look if thats your reaction to the triumph then you have to get down Trafalgar Square and have a party for the disasters as well. Was I wasting my breath? Only the men though. I dont care about women. They bore me. It is only men that I like and only if they react in the same way to everything). If the bombing had happened in Liverpool the inhabitants would be out in the street, moaning and wailing and making a fuss. I am not sure which reaction is the correct one. No reaction like London goes for, mawkish grief like Liverpool or whooping, cheering and partying like Rudyard Kipling wants. I think maybe Liverpool have got it right after all. So apologies for my previous comments.
My main show went fine, despite my worries about slagging off John Paul II in the city where everyone loved him and where I believe there might be a small Catholic population. But then I went on to do a second stand up spot that was probably the most extraordinary gig of my long and varied career.
Each year the Liverpool Comedy Festival holds a comedy pub crawl. Essentially its a tour of a few pubs with a comedian performing a set at each. Its rough and ready with the comic squeezing in wherever there is a space and entertaining the paying crowd as well as any regular punters that are drinking there anyway. Theres nothing fancy like lighting or proper seating and the audience is getting increasingly drunk as things progress, but I was staying over anyway and liked the sound of it, so I agreed to take part.
I joined the crawl at the second pub and things seemed already suitably chaotic but fun. We then all walked up the road to the next pub where I would be performing.
I dont usually drink before a gig, but thought I would get into the spirit of things and had had a couple of pints of Guinness before I was up on stage. Well I say on stage, though in fact at this pub we had to stand on a small table so that people would be able to see us. And even then there was no real lighting so they werent really able to see us. In fact we were backlit by a couple of dim lights on the wall. I laughed with the compere Mick about it all. To be honest its this kind of thing that makes me glad I am back doing stand up. Its raw, its stupid and at times you know its going to be an uphill struggle, literally when you have to start the gig with an undignified clamber on to a table.
Mick got things started and I realised that no-one could really see his face and made a mental note to treat this like I was on the radio and not bother with any face pulling. Does Mick know about the incident? asked the man next to me.
What incident? I said.
He told me a slightly confusing story about some men at the front having been accused of trying to steal a womans bag. Shed got upset, maybe someone had been hit with the bag, the men had taken umbrage at what they said was a false accusation. I didnt have time to take it in, but could see the grumpy-faced men sitting angrily on sofas by the stage (sorry table). They werent laughing at anything (except when Mick said he thought they were going to stab him) and they looked pretty hard. Apparently they hadnt been on the rest of the pub crawl. Then Mick started bating them a little. Oh dear, I thought, Something could kick off here.
I got up to do my stuff. I was aware of the scary men talking throughout the whole of my first joke. There seemed to be a disagreement going on of some kind. I decided to try and ignore it and not add fuel to the fire, but this is always distracting for the act and one suspects the audience. I always feel that if you dont deal with someone chatting then the rest of the audience loses confidence in your control and your ability. So after my graffiti gags I turned to them and asked them if they wouldnt mind stopping talking, as I was trying to work here, standing on this table.
The most aggrieved of the men, and as it turned out, the one who had been accused of attempted bag theft was moaning petulantly and drunkenly about his lot. He had a thick Liverpudlian accent which made it harder to understand and he was going into some detail about what had happened. I was aware that the audience were having enough difficulty seeing and hearing me and just hoped I could get him to be quiet, but he was indignant. I know youve had a tough time and I dont want to come over all Trisha here, but maybe its time to let it go. The rest of the audience were obviously enjoying this distraction and I was staying calm and going with it. As usual, I felt totally safe being on stage (even though it was just a table) and was uncharacteristically brave, even though it felt like a fight might be breaking out at any moment and I could well be at the centre of it.
I pressed on with things doing my bit about the drink driving 12 year old girl, including the admission that I admired the police for having the wherewithal to breathalyse this girl when they already had so many reasons to arrest her. I then went on to attempt to give my five reasons why drinking to excess is a great thing, including the observation that alcohol increases your confidence in a fight situation. I pointed out that this might prove to be rather ironic given the current circumstances
Almost on cue the agitated man started indicating at what I thought was the man sitting opposite him, a long haired young student type who did not look like he would be a match for this shaven headed Scouser. I was still having trouble making out what the exact problem was. But then I noticed that the old agitato was in fact pointing at some policemen and women who were standing outside talking to the woman who had presumably complained about their behaviour.
Things were spiralling out of control and yet I still remained calm and attempted to keep things cool. A policeman then came into the venue and approached the sofa with the men on it. What could I do? I said Hello constable, to the policeman who didnt respond. Then I noticed the stripes on his lapels and said, Sorry, Sergeant. He then asked agitato to accompany him out of the room. I was by now looking around for Jeremy Beadle and the whole thing was so bizarre that I suspected some kind of set up. Or probably more likely Dom Joly, who I would imagine has it in for me if hes been listening to the Andrew Collings show recently.
I had of course given up on doing material and was merely commentating on events. As the man was being led away I said, Well this is the last thing I expected to happen in Liverpool. Youve totally turned my stereotypical vision of this city on its head. A few of the crowd hissed at my sarcasm best sense of humour in the world the Liverpudlians.
Did you set this up? asked one of the audience.
Oh yes, I replied, theyre all just actors who I have paid to come in and ruin my gig.
The fact that as all this was going on I was standing in the middle of it, on a table, just made the experience more bizarre. Luckily it was amusing me, rather than phasing me and I think I impressed a crowd who had previously been a little non-plussed with my calmness under duress. The rest of the set went fine. Given that a man had essentially been arrested in the middle of it. The audience were now well on side. I should probably pay these people to follow me around everywhere.
Of course once I was off-table all the things I should have said suddenly occurred to me. Like, Let this be a warning to you all this is what happens to anyone who dares talk whilst Im on. This is how I deal with hecklers. Prison! I also wished I had said to the copper as he approached, Hello, so what do you do for a living?
I believe the man got away with a talking to. Given he hadnt actually done anything this seemed fair enough and I quite liked him to be honest and felt sorry for him. At least he hadnt decided to make a last stand because no copper was going to take him alive and a fight hadnt broken out. I might have been knocked off my table.
You can only go up from this, observed the promoter who had previously opined that possibly this gig was a bit of a come-down from having been on TV six years ago. I am not sure he is right about that, but in any case I think this is what my job is really about, this is where it is really exciting and genuinely dangerous. I dont think it gets much better than standing on a table in the dark watching a member of your audience being taken away by the police