The pause. It’s the damn pause – the pause that gets me every time.
The accompanying full-body cringe that marks the descent into car crash.
The physical manifestation of awkward that decimates even the experienced ones; the ones you thought it didn’t still happen to - couldn’t happen to.
The pause, as the comic brain screams one last protesting, ‘I assure you this has worked before’ before promptly self-lobotomising and leaving mind, body and soul to their vacant, frozen fate. Frozen to the spot by your own cowardly mind, who has run away and left you to this debacle. Frozen is bad – if you stay still, they’ll get you.
An increasingly disgruntled audience who by now have lost absolutely all faith - had there been any to begin with - looks on in pure contempt.
‘What were you possibly hoping to achieve, you rank amateur? Do you seriously expect us to believe you’ve done this before? What in the world, for an iota of a nano-second, made you imagine that that might be funny? That you might be funny?’
Some of the audience – other comics – identify and relate to the condition; looking away in some attempt to minimise the wreckage, but it’s no use – the pause has stimulated something primal. Something that should have died out with the Romans and coliseums and gladiatorial amphitheatres. They smell blood. And they are going to have it. The daggered stares perforate as just enough of you is left to ponder ‘What a curious thing it is: to have a room full of strangers actively wishing you harm – I wonder how this could possibly have come to pass?’
And you swear that this wasn’t what you were going for. That only the other night this had all gone really rather well – why couldn’t you have seen me then? Deaf ears. From the baying mob and from your peers, who are going to have to work so much harder now to deal with the room you have stunk out so effectively. They might not even manage it, at least not straight away. And they’ll remember this far more clearly than any occasion you did well.
I used to be quite a regular audience member at the Old Rope new material night in Oxford Circus for lots of reasons – for kick-off, it’s a fantastically well run club where you can see a lot of established comics for not much money. But there’s something about the thing’s very existence – the actual need for there to be a venue that specifically allows pros to road-test new stuff in a comparatively safe and comedy-savvy environment. Somewhere the ones who aren’t meant to die anymore can die in anonymity.
There’s a noose on the stage just for you, my friend. And there can be a kind of schadenfreude to it in a ‘self-help group’ sort of way – watching people you know to be fantastic comics and sometimes their new stuff still tanks. Which means it’s got to be ok when I do it. When you do it.
I once heard a comic say: ‘If comedians were honest, whenever they got on stage, the first words out of their mouths would be, ‘Please like me. Please. Like me’.”
Beware the pause – it has other ideas.