Have you ever had something described to you that sounded like a great idea and then in reality it was the most horrific opposite you could imagine? Like the year me and Layla went to Turkey to a ‘idyllic white sand beach in a quiet area’ only to find its not so quiet with several thousand other people squashed on the beach with you while all the beach front shops compete with noise levels until 4am. Or the constant saying at gigs where the promoter tells everyone ‘yeah it was packed last week’, but when you get there 4 people are in a room for 500 and you still have to do the show and drive 4 hours home. Well last night was the worst error of judgement I, or any of the acts I was with have ever made.
‘ Would you like to do a Laughter In Odd Places gig in a house in Epsom that a lady bought for charity?’ Immediately it sounds great. Laughter in Odd Places is a truly great gig and normally takes place in interesting and wonderful locations keeping its nights exciting for acts and punters. A house in Epsom? One that has suitable space for a gig in it? Sounds like it will be a plush location, a big house with a slap up feast and charity giving nice people as your audience. It was organised by a journalist who very much knows his comedy and has previously had a Laughter In Odd Places gig at his very own house. What could possibly go wrong?
Really we should have investigated it a bit more. The amount the lady gave to Children in Need for the gig was a paltry £165. As I read that back to myself, already alarm bells are ringing and I wish they had been before hand. £165 at a charity auction is rubbish, especially if you are getting a whole show for it. There are children out there crying and hungry wondering why they are not eating what they were promised or playing with the toys they were told they would get and it would be because of that shitty £165.
Myself, Terry Saunders and Fergus Craig arrived at the gig to see an orange woman shouting a very large dog. As we thought about calling the first act (whose name has been removed for security reasons and shall only be known as BG) to see if it was the right house, a bald man stuck his head out of the window and shouted ‘You the comedians?’ and then ran down to let us in. Inside it was bad. A handful of people, who without meaning to sound horrible and snobbish, immediately appeared to be the sort of crowd I wouldn’t mingle with outside of a Lidl. We walked through the tiny table of sandwiches and Tesco Value Lemonade and booze, to the garden where the ‘stage’ was. A couple of steps, with a microphone on it, two disco lights and several kids running around looking like they would do anything between tag you and stab you. Brett found us and greeted us with the sort of grin someone gives you when they have a gun to their back and are being forced to look happy. He told us that he had already been given tips as to what to say. One woman was to be picked on because ‘she’s a right slag’ and then they had told him a racist joke he could tell. Those alarm bells were about to split my eardrums open when the ‘slag’ ran past and made a joke about the large dog’s dick being bigger than her husbands. I wanted to get straight back in the car and head home. It was not a nice atmosphere at all.
We formed a group huddle and discussed the show. There would be no intervals, our sets didn’t have to last 20 minutes and if it all went wrong Terry would grab the bags, I’d get the car and the others would throw cutlery at anyone violent. The man of the house came up to us and asked if all was ok. He then said the most ironic statement of 2009 thus far ‘ I bet you weren’t expecting this were you? I bet you thought it was gonna be a little shitty shed with a crapload of pikeys innit? Hahaha’. Its amazing how unaware of his surroundings he was. I’m not sure if he had sight and hearing defects but his abode was in no way a palace and the people scuttling around around him were the sort of people who would definitely not think twice before cheering on a dog fight in a caravan park. Now I understand I may be sounding quick to judge, but bear in mind I am speaking in past tense and my view of these people was about to descend even further. At this point last night, there was still a part of me that really thought they might be a nice crowd.
I am a fool for thinking so. Starting 15 minutes late after they shuffled out into the garden, each one of the 30 guests telling us we could be as blue as we liked, Terry took to the mic stand like the brave soldier he was. The sound was terrible and Terry tried his best to do friendly MC banter. This was immediately shouted down by the ‘slag’ shouting innuendos at every possible opportunity and man called Don having tourettes like explosions of Daily Mail headline chat. Terry persevered until the big dog came on stage, farted and then left giving the audience the biggest laugh so far. These were bad times. I overheard a man walk to the back of the garden and say on his phone ‘No, he’s not blue at all. He hasn’t said any poof gags. Yeah, he’s crap.’ Terry should be massively proud of this. BG was up on stage next and fared well. This was partly because he took his usually clever set to its lowest level and bantered with the ‘slag’ for a while. The ‘slag’ clearly fancied him and cackled like a witch on several occasions which seemed to please the rest of the pack. He was still shouted at by Don, and the low point came when BG was talking about an incident with a gang, and before he could finish the sentence ‘a gang of…’, most of the room shouted ‘blacks’. To BG’s credit he called them racists which they didn’t seem to like very much and then followed up with a rather funny paedophile gag that the crowd just got offended by. It was very obvious that they were of the Daily Mail ilk. Hating immigrants, homosexuals and unable to laugh at paedophile gags. There was a fine line between this and a BNP rally. I really thought about revving the car.
BG left the stage looking broken and saying that he had said things he never would have said before. He was the first casualty of war, and was clearly damaged and shell shocked. After a small bit of banter from Saunders, keeping the night together and another dog farting on him, Fergus stepped up to the mantle. Unashamedly telling them it was the weirdest night he’d ever done, he split the already small crowd by having some vaguely intelligent material. They did really like his accent bits but only because I think they misconstrued it as racist. It wasn’t. They were. It was about now I was weighing up whether or not I wanted them to like me. If they hated my stuff, I would have a horrible night, but if they liked it, I would lose a lot of respect in my material. As Fergus battled on, it got worse for two reasons. One, it started getting really cold and two, Tom Craine rang me up with a nice other decent gig that paid well just 30 minutes away. I tried to think of ways I could get to that gig, but we were in it too deep and I couldn’t let my people down. I didn’t want to be known as the one that went AWOL while the others were mauled in Epsom. We were in this together.
Then finally I went onstage and used all the bits of material I thought they might get. I started by having a go straight away at Don who told me after I put him down that I ‘had made a big mistake’. This is something I am still scared of right now. He was a 65 year old skinhead and I have a feeling has done more kneecappings than someone who makes hats for legs. There were no bouncers here and no sneaky backstage exit. We were trapped, in their garden. It was fight and not flight so I chose to continue to insult Don, using the age old trick of shouting ‘All sex offenders to the back of the garden’ as he got up to go to the loo’. I felt cheap but it worked. The rest of my set included a few bits of material and mostly some half arsed banter I could get from the people who were left. At 15 minutes I quickly closed my set and ran away. I said goodbye to the hosts and tried to gather up the boys but they were cornered and forced to eat some food. I kept re-iterating the lie that we had another gig to get to but it didn’t work. I walked out refusing to eat anything because I’ve seen what’s happened to Kerry Katona. I brought the car round to the front, called Terry, and made him shuffle them all out before we jumped in the car and drove away.
There was an audible sigh of relief as we pulled away. We had survived the most horrible gig ever, and we hadn’t been killed by Don. It was a good effort made by everyone and as it didn’t kill us (although it was a ‘death’ of sorts) we have become stronger and were we ever to be asked to do a gig like that again, I think each and every one of us would rudely decline. We all deserve dog tags or medals for a feat like that. God knows what Bruce will write about. He has to somehow convey the horror of the night without offending the hosts, although I can’t imagine they will read it unless it accidentally got printed in the Sun, so maybe he’s safe.
What a grim evening. Still it will be a tale to regale the grandkids with one day. ‘Hey Grandad tell us again about the one where you shouted at the racist chavs in a garden in Epsom?’ and there will be rejoicing from all. Thats if I don’t suppress the memory and wake up screaming at night dreaming of Don’s face learing over me about to give me a Chelsea smile. Which I have learnt recently most certainly isn’t the smug look of a rich lady in a 4×4.