Sunday gone, not too late, maybe eleven pm, I got angry with my friend Richard Rogers. Angry enough that I threw his pack of playing cards into a fire. Deserved! I thought as the flames teased their plastic coating, that’s the last time you disrupt a board game I’m trying to run. As the corners started to curl, dead, in on themselves I realised I had maybe over reacted. Where are my playing cards? Asked the puppy dog eyed Richard Rogers. People around me pointed as one to the fire. He might as well have said “my grandmother handmade them from the broken dreams of dead kittens” for all the guilt that flooded my heart. Had I drunk two bottles of red wine by this point? Reader, I had.
Luckily apologising to a man is a simple business. I had but to find him, buy him a pint and slap him playfully on the shoulder whilst saying something like “got a bit carried away” or “cheer up you big man dick” However, Richard Rogers was set to fly to India for a year so time was against me. This was how I found myself at the open mic comedy night he runs in Highbury.
Like a child born in 2012, I arrived just in time for the end. The last act left the stage and the lights came up to shroud the audience like a warm blanket around a disaster survivor. There is an energy to an open mic night that I had forgotten about, adrenaline rattling around the room with nowhere to escape. I recognised the looks on some of the faces as ones I had pulled back in the day, the raw emotion of knowing a stranger didn’t hate your observation about old kid’s TV shows, the dream just about ticking over for one more night. But there was also one youngster who, at the release of the light, had a girl jump full into his chest, arms clasped around him. How nice! A doting, proud girlfriend. But then two more women did the same as other, nervy acts looked on confused and a little deflated. It turned out these were just audience members that he had been working his magic on and now these German students were so taken by his comedy that they were going to have full sex with him. It was a little disconcerting. Was this now how we judged the success of a gig? I remember when a good open mic gig meant you got rebooked for six months time and maybe an audience member telling you “you weren’t as bad as the others.” The goalposts, it seemed moved to such an extent and in such a manner that they now looked a bit like genitals.
Now look here. I like open mic nights. I myself thought about setting one up reaction to the proliferation of “Gong Shows”where people genuinely get “gonged” off if, god forbid, they’re not doing very well playing in front of a crowd baying for their blood. My night would be called the “Go On! Show” where new acts would be welcome to do 5 minutes of material and if they struggled a bit the audience shout “Go On!” to encourage them and boost their confidence. Equally I don’t resent other people having sex, in fact I’ve even been known to google it to show my support for the whole, important process.
So why the over reaction to a man getting some scrub on after a joke party? Well now, having heroically bought Richard Rogers an apology pint, I left the pub to see, by the door, the young act from before, still grappling with the delighted Germans in some bizarre three way snog action. So busy was he in fact that he had failed to notice his notebook slide to the crude London ground and into my hands. I suppose I was curious to see if it had anything written inside it beyond the words “DO JOKES. GET SEX” scorched through so I opened it. The writing was small and precise, lovingly not wasting any paper or space. I pictured him carefully saving room for all the many ideas that were yet to gush from his gallant mind. These days a page in my notebook is lucky to have even a single joke scrawled clumsily across it. Perhaps the chance encounter with this young pup would reignite my love of carefully scribing ideas into a notebook, making them feel wanted and important, in turn forging onwards my performances and… “It’s COMEDY mate, you wouldn’t understand!” He scoffed as he pulled more women towards him as physical proof that here he stood, that most impressive of things, a comedian. It felt a bit like a moment in a film when a football goes out of play and ends up at the feet of a nerd, all the jocks laughing and screaming for him to pass the ball back if he can even kick it the damn nerd, only for that guy to dribble past everyone and score the greatest goal they’ve ever seen, all whilst still reading his goddam book, the hero nerd! The ball was at my feet. “Pass the comedy back you nerd!” He goaded “if you even know what comedy is like I obviously do!” I had but to reach for the mixed reviews of my latest Edinburgh show, or maybe hit him with my timeless “Animal Pub” routine right there in the street, to leave him shaking his bruised head and picking the ball out the back of a scorched net. Lesson learnt dickwad!
I passed him back his notebook. He held my gaze for a moment, seemingly moved and said “thanks mate, that’s really good of you” as if, what? Anyone else in possession of such a notebook would have run away with it and used its golden contents to forge their own life of sex and fame? Jokes so powerful that whoever controlled that notebook could take their pick of the averagely attractive women at open mic nights and maybe be asked back to do a longer slot next time? As I tumbled roughly with my bike lock he threw me one last look of pity, like a beggar you’ve encountered and decided to pass again to offer the rest of your sandwich; “you can come to the orgy if you like” I swear he actually said that. That was actually what he said. The open mic circuit has changed.
Well. I didn’t go to the orgy in the end but the next day I did help out on an online video a TV company were making with my friends Robin and Partridge. (www.robinandpartridge.com) Cycling back through the unseasonable March sunshine that will one day empty our oceans and scorch the tears from our malnourished bodies, I felt much more at ease with the world. That was more like it, good people working hard to earn other people money from their brilliant, abused ideas, that was the comedy world I knew and loved. But as I cycled past a Shoreditch bar I spotted two hip young things, one female, one a man out to impress, smoking and chatting. What do you do? she lazily asked, unaware of the impressive response about to hit her back:
– I’m actually writing some comedy sketches and bits
o Wow are you serious?
– Yeah, it’s just about my crazy life and all the weird shit that happens
o That sounds incredible!
I didn’t want to look back because I knew what I would I see. But look back I did. There he was, some guyster, all swagger and carefully ripped vintage hair, who presumably used to play bass in a band and now is a fashion blogger but doesn’t take shit too seriously you know and he’s thinking of setting up a photography studio in somewhere fucking weird like Nepal or something you know because that’s the sort of crazy shit that he does you know? He’s already got loads of fucking producers interested in the comedy he’s writing but he doesn’t want to sell out, you know? And why should he, he’s been working on them for nearly a week.
Is that how we will judge the success of a gig now? Not on laughter but on how many clothes were dispensed and fluids released? It’s no surprise really that people believe the comedian label will immediately lead to an endless cabaret of sexual miracles with the arena filling, Hollywood bad boy attitude it is currently rocking. But don’t be fooled. I know, some of our jokes are staggeringly good and have made you reevaluate how you see the hitherto simple world of ringtones and foreign travel, but truly, if anybody ever tries to impress you by saying they are a comedian, please re-sheath your sex bits and simply reply: “That sounds awful. Why would you do that? Those endless journeys to far flung universities, driving other acts for no money just so you can shuffle through five minutes of material you swore you would bench years ago? How can you bear it? The crushing pressures of the Fringe? The lolloping whims of TV producers? The grasping soul lapse of a two star review? The days wasted just hoping, praying, your joke about The Apprentice may elicit a sympathy retweet from the fickle youth whose simple carefree days you drift, penniless, further and further from? I wish you well but I fear, this will be the death of you, little clown.”
It’s a kindness and will save you time for sports/holidays