Stand-Up Comedy and my part in its downfall

stand up

Watching a comedian die a death on stage (in the theatrical sense, not in the Tommy Cooper sense) is actually quite a horrible thing to watch, but when you are the comedian on stage who is dying the death then believe me, its worse, much worse.

My father once insisted that I take my recently new wife to his Working Mens Club one Christmas Eve, we were visiting from Newcastle, spending Christmas with my parents, I wanted to go out with all my old mates but like a fool I listened to him and found myself sitting on a front row seat in his club waiting for a comedian to take the stage who, the publicity material said, had just made a place in the Guinness Book of Records for telling the most jokes in ten minutes.

What the Guinness Book of Records didn’t state was that none of the jokes were funny.

Lets face it, being funny is the least you’d expect your comedian to be isn’t it, I mean he doesn’t have to crack your ribs with his mirth making stories but the odd chuckle here and there is going to be your absolute minimum for a professional comedian.

This comedian stood on stage for twenty minutes and told the Guinness Book of Records story at least twelve times, interspersed with what he jokingly called “jokes”, they were not funny jokes, in fact as the definition of a joke is a story that is funny then in fact they were just a story, we sat and watched someone tell an endless round of stories that weren’t even plausible, then he left the stage.

During the interval in the snooker room, Don the concert secretary was besieged by club members all demanding that he get rid of the comedian as he was actually booked to do another two spots and no-one could stand the thought of two twenty minute sessions of tumbleweed blowing across the stage, Don relented with the proviso that he’d give the comedian another five minutes, after all, his second slot might actually have some jokes in it.

It didn’t, and as promised after five minutes Don stood up and told the comedian to leave the stage, pack his bags and clear off, to a huge cheer from the audience.

But he wouldn’t leave, he had the microphone and as he reminded everyone in the audience for the twentieth time, he was in the Guinness Book of Records you know, and he’d never been “paid off” before, he wasn’t leaving, no sir, he was going to finish his act…

…and he stuck to that story for the next ten seconds until two rather large members of the audience arrived on stage to escort him all the way to the fire escape, through the door and hence down the external stairs.

When the cheering died down all eyes turned to Don the concert secretary, “Who else did you book Don ?” they all asked in unison, “No-one” answered Don, “the comedian was too expensive”.

It wasn’t the best Christmas Eve I’ve ever spent.

But I knew exactly what that comedian felt like, for the same thing had happened to me one drunken night at the Devon Coast Country Club in 1978, a lads holiday on a traditional British holiday camp, we’d been to see Freddy Starr in Paignton the night before, yes, THE Freddy Starr, remember this was 1978 when Freddy Starr was considered to be funny and not just a bloody embarrassment, he had been funny, I had remembered some of his act…

The following night in the concert room of the camp site clubhouse a band was playing songs from the sixties and in a very drunken state I asked one of them if I could borrow a microphone when they took their half time break – my debut as a stand-up comedian using all of Freddy Starr’s material, they’d love me, I told myself they’d love me as I rehearsed some of the act in the toilet, so pissed was I that I couldn’t actually focus on myself in the mirror but it was going to be great, dead easy this telling jokes on stage.

Let me tell you now, its not dead easy, in fact its not easy at all, in fact its awful, in fact I am cringing right now at the recollection, when you tell your first joke and no-one laughs (probably because they all went to the Freddie Starr gig the night before too), then you pause and a part of your brain tells you that no-one is laughing while another part of your brain takes a look at the script and confirms that they definitely should be laughing now because that was your best joke, and then the first part of your brain asks the second part of your brain for the details of the next joke but the second parts not listening to the first part, its listening for the audience to start laughing as its cue.

You stand there, alone, everyone is staring at you, you’re pissed, they know you’re pissed, you start to look for a way off the stage and then the second part of your brain feeds you the next joke and the first part of your brain finds itself telling the next joke while the second part prays that the audience will laugh at that one because thats the second best joke you’ve got in your arsenal and they are supposed to be in raptures of laughter by now, not staring at you as though the cat had just coughed you up onto the Chinese silk rug.

There is silence after the second joke too, then someone stands up and walks to the bar and you wish that was you and you wish your holiday was over now and you were in the car driving home and that you’ll never see these people again so none of this matters, all you have to do now is get off the stage and find another bar to get very drunk in.

And then the second part of your brain feeds another joke off the script, the same script that was so funny last night when Freddy Starr did it, and the first part of your brain tells the joke and no-one laughs again, and then the jokes come thick and fast and you don’t pause for laughter because there is none, your joke telling just gets faster and faster and then you are running down the stairs and through the room and out onto the tennis courts, down the path, around the swimming pool and you find yourself sitting at the bar at the bottom of the holiday camp, the one where nobody goes, and you’re telling the barman that you’ve just seen a really crap comedian on at the top bar and can he line up lots of beer on the bar please because tonight you’re going to see if its possible to drink so hard that you remember nothing at all in the morning.

35 years later let me tell you, its not possible to drink away memories, not even when you try very hard.

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