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Sunday 24th January 2010

The Lyric Hammersmith gigs have started up again after a month's hiatus with possibly my favourite line-up yet: Sarah Kendall, Greg Davies, Robin Ince and Brendon Burns. These gigs are always enjoyable for both the audience and the performers, but tonight was especially good and slightly mental as well. If you didn't come then make sure you book tickets for the rest. There's 5 more before Edinburgh and future acts include Sarah Millican, Issy Suttie (Dobbie from Peep Show) and Stewart Lee.
The show was livened up a little by a slightly bizarre heckler. Usually the audience are pretty well behaved in this austere theatre and if they do chip in it is usually helpful and funny. But early on as I did a joke which equated Robert Mugabe with a cunt (which usually people find a fine comparison) a wavery and quite elderly posh female voice came out of the gloom saying, "That's a bit rude!" I agreed that it was (though thinking about it, perhaps she was a fan of Mugabe and that was why she was affronted), but warned her that this was a comedy night and there might be some choice language, especially given that the unpredictable Brendon Burns was on the bill. But the woman kept up the conversation continuing to complain, sounding very much like a comedy character in the process. I didn't mind. I had slightly struggled to engage from the start, but now with this strange interloper chipping in and seemingly misunderstanding the nature of the evening, we were getting some big laughs. "Where's your striped shirt?" asked the woman. I was slightly bamboozled by this and she didn't have any explanation for the heckle. As far as I am aware I am not renowned for my striped shirts. I may have worn one or two in the past, but it's not like people see me and say, "There's Richard Herring, old stripy shirt. He always wears stripy shirts, doesn't he? Have you noticed? If he didn't wear a stripy shirt I would certainly feel the need to comment on it." But this random heckle of course gave me plenty of scope to start riffing and we were all waiting to see what this possibly batty woman might say next. "What's your name?" I asked.
"Well see you if you can pronounce it," she told me, "It's spelled A S A."
"I imagine this is some kind of trick question," I replied, "No doubt that is pronounced Zorcanistalan or something. I'd guess it's pronounced Asa."
"No, you're wrong," her piercing refined voice came back, "It's Orsa."
"Well, I was unlikely to get that wasn't I? If you choose to pronounce your name a different way than it is spelt. You're not some kind of troll from under a bridge are you? Asking impossible questions. I won't let you pass until you answer my questions three. How do you pronounce my name?"
Of course I was being slightly rude towards her by now, but the rest of the crowd didn't mind at all. Like me they could sense that this woman might be trouble, or might not be all there in the brainbox department.
"What do you do for a living?"
"Not a lot," she said.
"Yes, I guessed that. On a Sunday lunchtime do you think to yourself, "Well, better start tucking into the booze"? Is that pretty much your day?"
The badinage continued for a while, but I thought I ought to shut it down, genuinely concerned that the gig might be spoiled if she kept complaining at every juncture. She was with her daughter who didn't seem overly embarrassed by her mother grabbing the centre of attention though she did say "She didn't want to be dragged into it."
I made a joke about that being understandable as she had started life being dragged out of it.
The gig had woken up and when I was next on stage I said, "I've just had a call from my girlfriend. Apparently she looked in the wardrobe and all my striped shirts have disappeared. So the heckle was a kind of warning and a threat. The shirts have been kidnapped."
Later Asa or Orsa would make the mistake of challenging Brendon Burns over his material and he was not quite a playful with her and predictably she ended up leaving. I had warned her from the start.
I had fun in the second half as I tried to remember the names of the robot and computer from the original "Battlestar Galactica" but failed badly and then realised that I was thinking of "Buck Rogers" anyway. I ended up talking to a guy who looked like he would know about such things (I am not saying geeks stand out, but they do don't they?) a few rows back who got the names I wanted and knew the mess I had got myself into. I suggested that I might have found a new kind of comedy where a comedian asked people if they remembered things that he himself had forgotten. A kind of trivia nostalgia comedy. I asked him what the name of the computer in Blakes 7 was "Orac" he replied. "Correct!" I told him. "What was the name of that Dr Who assitant who was good at maths and wore the yellowy orange clothes?"
"Adric," he replied instantaneously as if this was the most obvious question in the world.
The trivia nostalgia act was working well. I knew he was right but wouldn't have been able to answer these questions myself until I'd been reminded.
"What was the name of the assistant who was an air hostess and wore a purple outfit?"
"Tegan," he chipped in.
"Correct. Did you like that bit when she went up that ladder that time?"
"Yes."
"Correct. You know the bit I mean?"
"Yes."
"Did you see the one with the Sea Devils?"
"Yes."
"Have you seen every Dr Who episode ever made?" I asked.
"No," he said, "Because some episodes are missing."
This made me laugh. It was the perfect geeky answer.
"Do you remember when Jo climbed in through that window?"
"Yes."
"What was the name of the Dr Who episode I appeared in?"
"It was the audio only adventure, Real Time."
"What was my character's name?"
"I don't know!"
This again was perfectly timed. He had shown he knew every piece of Dr Who trivia, but the only thing that tripped him up was this one detail. "How could you not remember? It was one of the most pivotal roles in the entire canon!"
Though even I couldn't remember it. "Was it Renchard?" I finally remembered, but he wasn't sure. I had learned my place.
Again the interaction had livened up the bit and it spiraled outwards to a conversation about sexiest companions (Peri, thought the nerd - he had good taste, although the brainbox did not realise that the actress -Nicola Bryant?- also plays Winston Churchill's mum in the video installation at Blenheim Palace - Call yourself a nerd?) and my bad luck about working alongside Evelyn, who was an elderly lady who only appeared in the audio adventures, rather than getting to act alongside one of the sexy sirens of my youth. Stuff was just flooding out of me now (and for once I hadn't been drinking) as I revealed personal information about myself and one of the former Doctors that I couldn't possibly repeat here. Which is why you should come to these live gigs. I love it when something totally spontaneous happens and when my mouth is working faster than my brain, but most of what is coming out is funny. It's a skill that I guess I am developing thanks to the podcasts, but it is still hard to leap into the unknown when I am on my own.
So I spent a very enjoyable evening laughing at some very funny comedians and laughing along with some very funny audience members (Orsa excluded). We'd all seen several quite unique moments. This is why live comedy is just the best.

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