Ever since April I have kept a detailed blog of every gig I perform at as a stand-up comic. I heartily recommend this strategy to anybody that's serious about improving as a comedian. This, in contrast, is an account of a gig I attended as a spectator. I decided to write it up for reasons that will become clear and because I was asked to by several who were not in attendance. Brand new comics should read this and take notes.
The Gig: Mirth On Monday, The Iguana Bar, Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, Manchester
The Date: June 28, 2010
Monday off. Lovely. Having worked Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night I was ready for a night spent doing absolutely bugger all. A chance to sit and watch TV, blow the inch of dust off my PS3, read a book or sit clicking refresh on OkCupid. There was a slight temptation to nip out to Beat The Frog and see who Phil Ellis was going to tongue from the stage but not enough to stir me from my slobbery. Sat around in yesterday's shirt and shorts I was going to revel in being scum with nothing to do.
Then I noticed on the Manchester Comedy Forum that Des Sharples, the man behind Mirth On Monday, was in need of a copy of Surfin' Bird by The Trashmen. Having been kind enough to let me squeeze new Stuff out at his gig I felt it would be polite to help him out. I located the track online (legally!), burnt it onto a CD and drove over to Chorlton ahead of start of M.O.M. I intended to just nip in, drop off the CD and leave but Des insisted on getting me a drink to say thank you. What a gentleman.
I stood with Karen, Des's lovely wife, by the door so I could have a chat, finish my drink at my leisure and head off. At this point I noticed a large skinheaded gentleman in a yellow T-shirt and what appeared to industrial eye protection. He was clearly a character, big overblown personality chatting away to his mates at the front tables. You get a sense for these things as a comic, walk into a room and spot potential characters in the audience. Doesn't matter if you're on at a gig or not. Hmm, I thought to myself, he's going to be a challenge if he's sat in the front row.
At this point Karen told me he was one of the acts. Marcus McMillan had arrived in the meantime and, between them, they gave me a potted history of the man known professionally as M n M. A few weeks previously he had come into M.O.M. asking for a spot from Des at the recommendation of Woon, a chap that had gigged there a couple of times a few years previously. Humbly he said that comedy was his dream and that he knew he was going to be a superstar. Could Des give him his first break? Des, being the world's nicest man, offered him a few dates and they settled on 28th June. M, to give his proper name, thanked him and promised that he would have thirty of his mates in the audience to support him. Through a crack in time I swear I could hear Des' heart sinking.
Curtis Threadgold, another frequenter of M.O.M. had arrived, and helped fill in the details. On the night the deal was struck to make The Iguana M's launchpad to fame and fortune both Marcus and Rex Purnell had been on the bill. M had a chat with them afterwards, was gracious enough to tell them they had done alright considering but that he was going to rock the place. After all, he was a superstar and he knew it. It's no coincidence that Marcus had made it back for this night I'm sure.
I looked over to the front row where M was holding court in full view of the entire room before the gig started. Superstar. Hmm. I really should be getting going...
Fuck it. I'm not missing this.
The show started and Des stepped up to MC. As a regular MC of my own night I know exactly what it's like playing to the same room on a regular basis. Some days it's easy and some days it feels like work. Tonight it wasn't going to be easy, especially as M had sat pretty much in the centre of the front row and, when he wasn't talking to his mates, was already trying to chip in. Ever the diplomat, Des politely pointed out that he'd get his chance later. M took this opportunity to get up, walk ACROSS THE FRONT OF THE STAGE, and lean around the pillar by the bar like some sort of low budget one-man Statler and Waldorf. Still chatting to his mates, still trying to chip in, Des reminded him again that he'd get his moment later.
I was furious at this point. On your first gig you can be forgiven for not knowing the myriad of etiquette that surrounds a stand-up comedy gig. Then again, it doesn't exactly take a genius to guess that heckling the MC AND promoter at the start of the show is a terrible, terrible idea. In my eyes M had already disrespected the gig, the audience and Des. I walked over, put my hand gently on his shoulder, drew him away towards the bar and had a quiet word. I politely told him I was professional comic and that what he was doing was incredibly poor form. If you're gigging then you shouldn't be talking, messing about or basically trying to pull focus from the stage. Talking to him was like talking to someone in the post office without the little mic on. He realised I was saying words but they didn't seem to register. A cynic might suggest he had taken something to steady his nerves. I'm not a cynic. In any case, despite his repeated protestations about his being his first gig, I calmly made my point again. Nodding, he went and stood at the bar away from the stage.
For about five minutes.
He wandered back during Ben's opening set. Ben's good but M.O.M. isn't always the easiest room in the world to open. A nice crowd but not the most demonstrably enthusiastic. They sit, they smile, they enjoy but they're not generally raucous or rowdy. Ben's gentle, off beat humour and downplayed delivery worked but didn't always get the response it deserved. I could see M laughing with his mate at the front table. I imagine he was laughing at Ben having to work for his laughs. Laughing and thinking, “If he's getting a few laughs for this, imagine what I'm going to do.’
Ben wrapped up, got an enthusiastic round of applause and it was beer break time. Further conversation revealed that M had actually come over to Karen earlier and asked about the takings for the night. Hmph. Clearly this guy was used to being the big shot and, to say the least, was trying much too hard. Hayley, given the task of following him, was a bag of nerves. I gave her my best teacherly hug and pointed out that she was going to rip the room apart tonight. No doubt in my mind whatsoever. No doubt for one simple reason.
M was going to die.
His onstage death was so completely inevitable at this point that he might well have painted a bullseye on his face. His absolute arrogance, proclamation of his own superstar status and repeated mentions that he didn't really need material pretty much guaranteed it. He'd also made a weapons-grade bellend (© Sam Gore 2010) of himself in front of the M.O.M. audience before going near the mic. If you stick your head over the parapet be prepared to have it knocked off. M hadn't just stuck his head over the parapet, he'd waited for a ferocious electric storm, stuck a copper rod up his arse and performed a handstand on the parapet whilst wiping his cock on a bible. His onstage death was going to make Hostel look like Finding Nemo.
That said, there was a tiny part wondering if he could actually back this up. I leant over to Des. ‘If he rips it, I'm never playing your fucking gig again.’
The interval ended.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready for your next act?’
‘Please welcome, all the way from over there... M n M.’
I honestly can't remember his opening line. What I can remember is the expectant look on his face when he paused for the laughter that never came. The same thing happened for his second line. And his third. Loud, abrasive...
He suggested that we should all calm down (Cue a sea of calm faces calmly looking at each other with expressions of calm confusion.) and that everything was all right, he was a superstar and he was going to prove it. He shouted into the mic and asked anyone from Manchester to give him a cheer. He then asked if there were any Scousers in. Ah yes, the gold.
A girl at the back said yes and M invited her onstage. You couldn't have separated her from her chair with the jaws of life. Especially when he went to a bag and got out a pair of boxing gloves. Good luck with that. Essentially hung out to dry, he went on to the next note on his sheet. He asked if there were any Man U fans in? They cheered. He asked if there were any City fans in? Des cheered, M told him to fuck off. Slick.
Part of his delivery involved shouting into the mic for no explicable reason. At this time, the phone was ringing in the bar as neighbours genuinely complained about the ludicrous noise levels. Continuing to suggest that we should all calm down, he went on to try and engage people in the audience in his own aggressive manner. Nobody was playing along. He told everyone they were allowed to laugh, this is comedy after all. Nothing. He suggested that the reason nobody was laughing was because they were all students.
‘You'll like this, how about some politics? Someone shout out a politician?’
‘Come on, any politician. I'll do an impression.’
The place melted. All of a sudden the line between laughing with and laughing at had been crossed. The Iguana was ready to watch M dance. I'd have felt sorry for him had it not been for his astonishing conduct earlier. He continued to invite anyone he spoke to onstage with him to no avail and overreacted to any heckles he invited. A mistake when the audience is on the heckler's side.
He tried to pull out some in-jokes with his mates in the front row, they all but hung him out to dry too. At one point he tried to get one of his mates to say a tongue twister in an effort to shift the humiliation. It led to him all but yelling at his friend: ‘I want a proper coffee from a proper coffee pot! SAY IT! SAY IT!’
It was a live meltdown. He bantered with his girlfriend to no avail. Then, rather randomly, said he wasn't afraid of anything. Anything, that is, except tomatoes and buttons. I had a brief daydream about an old fashioned blunderbus loaded with cherry tomatoes and buttons. All the while he repeated that he was a star and radiated incredulity that nobody was giving him the response he deserved. At one point he even said that he'd do much better at The Frog & Bucket. Nice touch.
Eventually Des, having had to hush him a couple of times, went over and said it was time to wrap up from the side of the stage. By this point M had actually tried to get Hayley onstage with him, when I pointed out that she was the next act, he fixed me with his scariest stare. Nah. Not impressed. After what seemed like an eternity, M wound up and left the stage.
I say left the stage. What he actually did was stand right in front of Des and mill around like a dog before it settles down for a nap. Des pretty much vanished in the buffoon's eclipse and there was a genuine tension in the room. Trying his best, there was no way to get them settled. Des called an audible and suggested a very quick break. Yes, good call. There was a room full of people that had to try and make sense of what had just happened.
‘So, when're you getting him back?’ I asked Des, who answered with no more than a wry look. Stood by the front door with Curtis, we noticed M getting into a heated discussion with one of his friends outside. Heated discussion soon gave way to shoving. Marvellous. M really wants to make sure his night is a complete disaster. Have to admire his sense of dedication.
Des had wandered out to try to handle things. Suspecting that Des wasn't quite physically intimating enough, I wandered out for moral support along with a couple of large regulars. M was clearly embarrassed and venting at whomever was closest to him. One of his other mates put an arm around him and walked him off up the street to cool down. This meant that the fracas, essentially little more than grown men trying to save face by shouting, shoving and willy waving, moved up the road to outside Bargain Booze. Classy.
I waited by the door while Des went in to start the show again. M wasn't getting back in at this point. Too drunk, too angry and too likely to further disrupt the show. I suspect he knew this because, despite hanging around on the terrace outside, he didn't once try to get back inside. I heard Hayley introduced and a minute later she was storming it. Apparently she walked onstage and asked everyone to calm down... Whoomph! All the tension released and from that point on she could do no wrong. Tonight she was undoubtedly a superstar.
After Hayley there was another quick break and I walked back in to see how it had gone. Hayley was shaking and looked to be on the verge of collapsing, such was the surge of adrenaline that had shot through her body that night. A real baptism of fire and a hell of a showing for someone with less than two years on the circuit under her belt. I gave her another hug. In fact everyone hugged each other for a long, long time. Just by being there we felt like survivors. It's all right, comedy's going to be okay.
Noel went on to close and did a fine job, sneaking in a few references to our yellow T-shirted ‘saviour’ for good measure. By this point the night had run late, everyone was tired and more than a little traumatised. Middle-class people don't take being shouted at well. I could feel the houmous going sour in the store across the road just from the proximity. Nevertheless Mr James closed in fine style and pulled out some wonderful gags I'd not heard alongside the ones I had. Thus the night drew to a close and everyone went home to think about what they'd done.
What of M I hear you say? By this point he had wandered off into the night with his girlfriend. I know this because I was implored by several people, remaining nameless, to go outside and make sure he was gone. I suspect he neglected to thank Des for the gig or even say goodbye to him. Well, that's the trouble with superstars... They always forget the little people.
You play this club twice son... Well, maybe not in your case.
This blog is essential reading for anyone about to have their first gig. Do the opposite of our chum M and you might be all right. I genuinely feel sorry for the fella, he must have woken up today with a banging hangover and possibly the worst comedown of his entire life. We all make mistakes, the question now is what he learnt from it. Possibly that old adage spat onto many a heckler.
‘Comedy eh? Not as easy as it looks.’