Cirque Du Freak

Its not very often I feel like I’m trapped inside a Trumanesque show where life is staged to specifically make things difficult or weird for me, but the events of last night and this morning feel like they could only have been written as part of a collaboration between the Coen Brothers, Tim Burton, Mike Leigh and a 6 year old with a vivid imagination and a tendency to draw on things with crayons that really didn’t need to be drawn on, such as a younger brother. Its not often that I will take you through events detail by detail but last night’s gig needs to be explained from start to finish. Please feel free to overlap it with the music from the Twilight Zone or perhaps Tales of the Unexpected. To be honest the Magic Roundabout or just the sound of someone hitting a dustbin would probably also work, as long as it emphasises a feeling of uncomfortable oddity. In fact, before we dive into the realms of last nights festival of freako, let it also be known that this morning Layla and I woke up to find our two cats sitting proudly by the bed, presenting to us with utmost excitement a fucking huge pigeon that they had chewed the neck off of. A perhaps unnecessary expletive you might think, but no, this pigeon was fucking huge. Considering both our cats are pretty small (the vets once told us they had tiny skulls and so would never really grow – huzzah for runts!) I cannot possibly understand how they lugged this pigeon through the cat flap and all the way into our bedroom without leaving a single trail of feathers or blood. I can only assume that their pride at such a catch had led them to work in tandem using a Chuckle Brothers style ‘to meiow to you-ow’ carrying action. Either way, their efforts were sadly not appreciated as Layla yelped and I trudged off to dispose of the dead flying rodent. When oh when will they learn that if they want to get us a present, some chocolates, an xbox game or a nice bottle of booze would suffice? Stupid bloody cats.

Right so ignoring that, let me tell you the story of last night’s gig. Are you sitting comfortably? If not, why not? Its a bank holiday Friday, I can’t understand why you would choose to sit somewhere uncomfortable? Unless of course discomfort is what you like in a weird sado way, which means that oddly you are comfortable with discomfort and essentially that means you are comfortable, and a liar. Anyway, the gig was at the upstairs part of a cafe within a cinema in Brixton. Already possibly an odd choice of venue, as despite the nicely set up stage, there was a gap in the floor allowing all the noise from the downstairs area to project through to the back few rows of the audience. I had been looking forward to the gig as the excellent bender of minds Chris Cox was on and thought it’d be nice to catch up, but sadly I had got delayed and only made it to the gig a short time before the start. As people started to filter in, I had a strange feeling something wasn’t right. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and it wasn’t just because audience members don’t like being prodded. It was that feeling you would probably get if you were quietly sat in a pub and a man with a blood covered t-shirt and no teeth wandered in to the other side of the room without saying a word. Like a possible threat, but also could just be his dress sense and poor dental hygiene, so nothing to worry about. The gig started and as I walked onto the stage, the audience made no effort to applaud or cheer. I’d have got a warmer welcome from cow carcasses in a meat freezer in Alaska. I, ever the professional, did not let this throw me, and so did my annual ‘April Fools! That’s how Mr T tells you what month it is’ joke, followed by my usual opening show banter and received miserable stares. Slightly thrown, I spoke to a chef who did not want to speak to me at all, and quickly diverted to talk to a woman called Sparkle. This is the sort of audience member name that if it had a theme tune would usually have an angelic choir singing ‘comedy golden opportunity’. Instead on probing her on her name and whether it had been a problem at school, she simply retorted ‘it wasn’t a problem at school as I had no friends and so no one spoke to me.’ Oh dear. It seemed apparent that instead of a room of comedy goers, they were all manic depressives who had sought the evenings entertainment as a way to boost their Prozac intake. There were a couple at the back who couldn’t have looked anymore disappointed in the evening had I urinated on their shoes and told them I’d just eaten all their savings.

So ever the happy chappy I tried to lighten the mood, noting she had a man next to her, and pointed out that she had friends now so it was all ok. I then, thinking it would be humorous, looked at the man next to her and said ‘of course, that is if you are friends and she’s not paying you to be here.’ It wasn’t humorous. I was clearly very very wrong. The man told me he definitely was her friend, without a hint of a smile. He then proceeded, in an aggressive manner, to question why I wasn’t telling any jokes. I asked him his name, and where he was from, discovering he was an Albanian builder, while he kept asking why I wasn’t being funny and saying that he had paid money for jokes. As it was a small room of 20-30 odd people (emphasis on the odd) I didn’t want to be vicious to him, as that would’ve made things worse and I was sure he might hit me. So I tried to be nice. It didn’t work. I moved on, he eventually shut up, and after talking to four or five more people who had nothing to say or contribute, I gave up, and simply asked a man if he could start the applause. He couldn’t. He said that he wasn’t very good at it, and so feeling more deflated than a porcupine’s bouncy castle, I asked someone else and got Chris onstage, apologising to him for making the crowd as warm as David Cameron’s heart.

I realise this blog may end up being a tad long, so let me speed things up for you and relay the next few mental things that occurred. Chris Cox’s set, that is heavily dependant on being able to ‘mind read’ the audience’s choice of card/word/whatever, was consistently ruined by all the volunteers being massive idiots and picking a card, then telling him what the card was. Or picking a word out of a magazine, tearing out and eating the bit of paper with the word on, and then telling him what that word was anyway. During this mayhem, a man wandered in, sat in the front row, seemingly not noticing a show was on, and took off his jacket and jumper fully blocking the views of many of the crowd. Chris directly spoke to him and even mocked what he was doing, but not at one point did the man notice. Eventually Chris was lucky enough to finish what would have been an amazing set had the room not been full of the bottom of the loony bin, and he escaped. The second section started ok, with the weird front row man absent. I did just jokes, which seemed to please the angry Albanian man. I say please, but instead of scowling, he had an apathetic expression, so it felt like a move forward. Then the man in the front row returned and seemed to very much want to take part in the show. I did my old gags about funk music, and as I did each section he joined in by singing along. For example I would shout in funk voice ‘get up’ he would follow with ‘stand-up’. This was bad for several reasons, not least because it entirely ruins the timing and pace of said gag, but also because he had confused funk with reggae. I tried to discourage him from such things, without being rude, as he didn’t seem nasty, and stupidly made a quip about us being a double act. He seemed to take this seriously and throughout the duration of the next two acts, Broderick Chow and Fin Taylor, tried to be as much a part of the show as they were. Both did well, with Fin deciding to base his entire act about the man, who’s name was Amos, whilst he shouted things like ‘I’m bipolar’, and ‘I am a racist, I hate n****s’. Brilliant. The tension was so thick that if someone had pulled out a knife to cut it with, no one would have batted an eyelid, as it would almost have been expected. Fin’s set was very funny but there was still the worry that at any time Amos may just switch and lamp him, instead resorting to trying to steal his drink and telling a loud story about Amos Quito.

After an interval that felt almost like the time out boxers get after a heavy few rounds, we returned with me bringing the final act onto the stage. Amos had been removed, and I had been asked by the final act (who shall remain nameless) to bring him on quickly as he had another gig to get to. I was relieved to do so and hoped this meant the gig might finally get back on track. The couple at the back still looked angry, but had not yet left so if I’d had to do more material it may have resorted to shoe pissing anyway. The last act went onstage, proceeded to slam a pile of papers bigger than an A-Level exam board day’s marking and just read his new material from the notes, looking downwards and not injecting any energy into the dead atmosphere. He read notes and read notes and read notes until 30 minutes in, he was still reading notes, with no indication of heading to his next gig, nor of finishing. The survivors in the audience were starting to get restless. Lots of his jokes were very good but as the crowd were already dead, I couldn’t figure out how he was working out what to keep from their lacklustre responses. He kept ploughing on and eventually people started leaving. I got antsy and he noticed, saying that I could leave if I wanted and he’d wrap up the show. I didn’t want to do such a thing so I stayed. Until 10 minutes later, when like some sort of Beckettian play, he was still going on. When the audience were asked if he should do more, only two said yes, the Albanian man said angry unintelligible things but he continued, giving me a small view of perhaps what purgatory must feel like, this never ending oppressive gig that you are unable to leave. But as 50% of the crowd gave up and walked out, I joined them, deciding that enough was indeed enough. Feeling a huge sense of relief I briskly strolled out longing for the fresh air that was untainted by the gig’s madness. Just as I was about to exit, an audience member that had escaped said well done for getting through it. I thanked him and he proceeded to tell me that the one man I had asked to start the applause had declined because he had only had one hand. One bloody hand. If there was ever an appropriate time for the Twilight Zone music to appear from nowhere it would have been then, and again, had it have done, I think I’d be so desensitized to such weirdness, I wouldn’t have noticed. One bloody hand.

The name of the gig? Ironically it was called Ritzy Crackers, like some sort of horrible cruel mean joke. I don’t know if it was a full moon, or a rift in the fabric of time or what. If all bad things happen in threes then I feel like last night was a 2 for 1 deal for all the acts and we should all gallop into the next week on a steed of luckiness. I fully expect to discover that every time I sneeze I get £200 into my bank account and that during my sleep tonight I stop being diabetic, my flat doubles in size and that there is no consequence to me eating pizza all week long.

Phew, one hell of a long blog. Sorry readers, but you needed to know just how mad it was. Should any of you ever turn up to a gig with an angry Albanian man and a bipolar Amos, I suggest you leave immediately. Or, just sit back and enjoy possibly being on a Twin Peaks ride in the oddest theme park in the world.