Sixty Eight.

The Gig: Funny Bones Comedy, The Gala, Durham
The Date: July 16th 2010
The Line Up: Myself MCing for Neil McFarlane, James Christopher & Stephen Carlin

The compass pointed to the North East and Durham. Thus I found myself heading out on the M60 in a very definate anti-clockwise direction. I may struggle to learn the lessons I should as a comedian but I’m surprisingly quick at applying the lessons I learn as a navigator. I say quick, I’ve only been driving in and around Manchester now for nearly six years. Then again I changed my gameplan as soon as Messrs Moorhouse and Cook were kind enough to share their road wisdom. Fool me once Manchester Orbital Motorway shame on you… Fool me approximately sixty eight times… Well, then that’s just getting silly. M60, M62, M1, A1 and onwards.

In terms of familiarity I tend to put gigs into three groups. The first is the gigs that I’ve never played before and don’t know. The second, those that I’ve played before and know. The third group consists of the gigs that I’ve played, forgotten, assume I’ve never played before and then have a wonderfully reassuring “Ahhh, it’s that gig.” moment as I drive up to the venue. I say reassuring, occasionally it’s more the feeling of my entire organ collection trying to leave my body by the nearest hole accompanied by “Oh. It’s that gig.”. The Gala in Durham was suddenly familiar on the approach and familiar in a good way. I’d gigged for Warren there previously and besides remembering that it was a nice gig I also remembered where the venue car park was. Previously I’d driven around the centre of Durham like a chump trying to find a space, today I drove right into The Gala’s car park like a VIP.

I felt a bit less like a VIP when I noticed that all the available spaces had a conspicuously place traffice cone in front of them. Don’t these people know who I am? I spotted a gentleman in the car park that looked like he worked there and tried to manouvre my car a bit closer without actually running him over. He let me know that I was fine to park there as an act but made sure to let me know how lucky I was that there wasn’t another show running that night. Admittedly it wasn’t a glowing endorsement of my superstar status but I’m more than content for VIP to stand for Vehicle Is Parked in this instance. Otherwise I might have vanished into another city’s one way system on the desperate hunt for somewhere to leave my car.

Rather more shamefully my inner diva surfaced when I completely forgot the identity of the man in the carpark as soon as I left the gig later that night. I also forgot the identities of the younger chap running the sound booth and the young girl working as a steward/gopher. I’m really quite embarrassed about this. That said, it’s probably not a shock as I managed to forget the name of the girl I’m currently seeing in a social situation. Maybe the part of my memory that handles names is far too clogged up with wrestlers and other comics. Maybe this is forcing names out of my memory. I won’t know for sure until I next see my family and can’t remember any of their respective handles. For the purpose of this blog let’s call the first gentleman Paul, the younger gentleman Andy and the girl Emma. With any luck, some of those might even be right. If not, it saves me paying royalties. Not that I would have been anyway.

Paul was kind enough to take me up through The Gala to the green room I would share with the other acts. Paul was kind enough to take me up through The Gala to the green room I would share with the other acts. Our luxurious facilities included three tables, a couple of chairs, a couple of other chairs that had been gently ripped from the cinema downstairs and a balcony outside. Presumably this was provided in case we tanked and needed to end it all.

I took a wander out to the room that would play host to the night’s proceedings. It was a lovely summer’s evening in a well aired room full of natural light that opened out onto a patio that afforded a wonderful view of Durham castle. There was a jazz band playing in the building next door and their music wafted up to greet me. It was such a nice space and utterly, utterly unsuited to comedy. I felt like such an arsehole knowing that we’d soon be shutting the doors, pulling the blinds and trying to block out as much of this lovely night outside as humanly possible. There was no way on God’s green earth that anybody would give up a night like that just to watch comedy.

“We’ve pretty much sold out.” asserted Andy. “Never get less than eighty or ninety in.”

Goes to show what I know. Still, I’m always happy to be proven wrong if this means we have an audience. As show time approached we were still missing one comedian as James had yet to make an appearance. I suspected that he was on his way and that we were some way off of panic stations at this point. Emma, however, was a little anxious at not having a full bill of mirthmakers on site. To quell her nerves I suggested that she might want to prepare some material in case she ended up doing five in the middle. For some reason this didn’t really relax her much. It was all good natured though, Emma was lovely and looked after us well. Pretty girl too. If I’d been five years younger… well, it would have still been creepy.

Show time came about and I went back out to find that the place was indeed full. I did the usual pre-gig MC sweep of the room. Couple… Table of couples… Social group… Group of women… I noticed that the table that was dead centre in the room had a group of patrons that, at first glance, appeared to have a gentleman with learning disabilities amongst their number. On second glance this wasn’t quite the case. I noticed that the entire table appeared to comprise of a group of adults with learning disabilities along with a couple of women that appeared to be their carers. I wouldn’t say that my heart sank or that panic set in but I became suddenly aware of how blase I was with certain terms in my set.

My piece about coming from Somerset involves referring to coming from the West Country as being a bit like being the nation’s special cousin. Not, in itself, vastly offensive and the onus of the joke is very squarely on myself. Nonetheless, there’s a whole raft of throwaway lines I’ve heard used to deal with hecklers that are roughly grounded in that area. If the members of our front table had been of a heckly mind set then this could have led to some ropey exchanges. Exchanges that don’t raise an eyebrow in most clubs but tonight might have gotten me lynched.

“Get off, you’re shit.”
“Sorry I’m not to your taste. Which one of these is your carer?”
“Sandra.”
“Oh.”

Jim Davidson famously refused to go on stage when there was a group of customers in wheelchairs in the front row. His excuse was that he wouldn’t be able to take the piss out of them from the stage. I wasn’t about to make similar shallow demands but I was concerned about what might transpire if I had to corral them at any point. You know what? It’s possible to overthink these things. I mentally slapped myself around the face, told myself to man up and went with the base plan I take everywhere when I MC. If it comes up, I’ll deal with it. People are people.

James arrived just before the start of the show. I told Emma we could still squeeze her on if she wanted. She declined politely.

Showtime and, to maintain the illusion of showbiz, I put on a slight Geordie accent as I introduced myself from the offstage mic. The crowd were lovely but ever so slightly on the quiet side at the top. The gentle summer evening seemed to have lulled them into a slightly soporific place. Then again, I seem to recall them being a wee bit quiet at the top the last time. I persevered. During my initial forays into the crowd I found myself talking to Eric, a gentleman from Germany and Martin, a gentleman from Canada. We had a definate international feel tonight. I did the Moose Fucker/Sheep Shagger bit off the back of chatting to Martin but wasn’t pleased with it. In all honesty I think it’s going to get chopped. It worked a couple of times but just hasn’t had enough to it to make the distance. I didn’t ignore the middle table but I didn’t engage them specifically either. I just did what I normally do and went with the flow.

All went well, the people laughed and I brought on Neil to open. He didn’t quite have the gig he deserved to on this night. Despite some cracking lines the assembled masses were a little subdued and didn’t seem to mesh on this night with his somewhat deadpan persona. They were happy, don’t get me wrong, they just seemed rather content to sit back and be amused.

Coming back after the break I felt like I started to hit my flow as an MC. Chatting to Martin, our Canadian visitor, revealed that his origins were the opposite of mine. I was born in Canada and moved to England with my family when I was a child. He was born here and moved out to Canada when he was a child. Specifically he moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia from his birthplace of South Shields. This struck me as especially hilarious. I shared the mental image of a load of Canadian kids stood in the snow wrapped up like Kenny from South Park. Right in the middle is a Geordie kid refusing to put on a coat because he’s “Not some sort of puff!”. Ahh, gentle stereotyping can’t beat it.

At one point the mic fed back horrifically to the point that my ears were ringing slightly. I turned this into a joke about expecting to see a line of dogs sat outside when we leave with the universal expression of “What?” on their faces. A row of confused alsations. I wondered aloud why I picked alsations then suggested that the presence of Eric had made me think primarily of German Shepherds. I asked Eric if he liked dogs? He said no. I asked if he liked cats? He said no. I asked if he liked anything? He said no.

This was clearly the point where I forgot where the possible boundaries might be. Without missing a beat I launched into a faux German accent and started talking about loading cats onto trains to be taken away. The audience were stunned and part of my mind desperately tried to jam on the handbrake. Oops. Yes, they like you when you’re taking the piss out of Geordies being hard but it seems that they’re not really up for something that is essentially a thinly veiled holocause reference. Nice work Chris. The world Matrixed for a moment and slowed, I wondered to myself how I was going to get this sorted. I yanked the situation back 180 degress told them all I meant just trains out of Durham to prevent the carbon footprint of cat removal becoming excessive. If anyone thought I meant anything differently then shame on them. Nobody bought it. I decided to try Plan B.

“Look… I know I took the easy way out there. I made a cheap joke. I made a cheap, crass joke about someone’s nationality. I know we should all be moving beyond that, trying to celebrate what makes us the same rather than going on about things that make us different. We’re all the same deep down really, aren’t we? Especially when it comes to what we think about the Welsh.”

Boom, big laugh. They realised I was laying the irony on with a spade. The tension broke and it was a gig again. James came on for the middle section and had a fine gig of it. It was definately the sweet spot tonight as they were nice and warm but hadn’t hit the point where fatigue had set in. JC grabbed the opportunity and made the most of it, having a really good gig into the bargain.

Final break, final section. As is usually the case I tried to do as little as possible before bringing Stephen on to close. I asked my cheerleader, a cute young girl called Ushma, to dig deep to start the applause for the last section. I even asked if she could cheer loudly when I pointed to her. I counted to three, pointed and she pulled out the cutest little “Whoo hooo!” I’d ever heard. I then realised my brain shouldn’t be left unfettered. “Aw, you’re like a Ribena Berry. I just want to take you home and juice you.” There’s a fine line between flirtation and serial killer and I suspect I just vaulted over it. Still, the audience laughed and Ushma saw the funny side. At least it was a night off from flirting with boys.

Stephen, as ever, was brilliant and soon had them onside. The tipping point came during his set though when some of those in attendence started to succumb to the alcohol they had been ingesting all night. That said, Stephen handled them brilliantly, adlibbing without any effort and keeping the night going nicely. The show closed, everyone got thanked and I retrieved my car from the VIP parking with a view to heading south for home.

As he needed to be in Manchester that night I gave Neil a lift. In typical rock and roll fashion we spent most of the journey talking about cats. This is living.

I’m still a little bothered by how easily I slipped into the easiest, most crass jokes about the holocause merely because there was a German chap in the room. If nothing else, it must be horrifically tiring to hear that sort of thing over and over. A moment’s carelessness and I was blasting my way to Basil Fawlty country without the saving grace of being a fictional character. So determined to avoid offending anyone with jokes about disability but genocide is fine? A cheap, needless joke that could have turned the audience. I will try to avoid the path of least resistance in future, far too easy to victimise rather than be positive. Was it really fair to rub such a horrific shadow of his nation’s past in his face for little more than a reaction?

Probably not. Then again he doesn’t like cats so he deserves everything he gets.

Gig Score: 6/10 Too quiet at the top and I did seem to be intent on inciting racial hatred at one point.
Lesson Learnt: Don’t always take the first option that pops up. The cheapest and easiest path is not always the most worthy one.

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