Prime suspect

Stand-up Steve Day on his run-in with the law

There are many hazards in the life of a gigging comedian, not just eating bad food from motorway services and getting a fat face. As well as dietary dangers there is always, given the fact that the work is normally at night and normally somewhere urban, the risk of getting involved with the boys, and girls, in blue.

This happened to me earlier this year. In a shockingly under-reported incident, I became victim of a near miscarriage of justice when I was nearly arrested.

I'd just done the Leicester Comedy Festival preview gala, at De Montfort Hall, to an audience of 1,500, the most I've ever played to. As I walked down the hill from the gig, three police persons, one PC two WPCs came toward me and we got into what I thought was one of those pavement dances where you go one way and they go that way, then go the other way and they go that way.

I decided I'd carry on straight to pass them, but at that point I was grabbed from each side in what must have been a choreographed manoeuvre straight out of the police handbook, if not Police Academy. I was lifted off my feet, then set down quickly, while they said stuff I couldn't hear.

I have to admit I was waiting for them to burst out laughing in a kind of Jeremy Beadle way – he still had 12 days to live then, albeit on a life-support machine –or to start taking their clothes off, strippergram style. None of this happened, though and their demeanour seemed serious. When they eventually realised I was deaf, and started looking at me when speaking, they told me that I was being detained on suspicion, but of what I didn't know. Elvis has taught me that you can't go on together with suspicious minds – and that eating deep fried cheeseburgers on the toilet is not good for you – but they were not about to release me, or let me go.

Finally they said I matched the description of a youth, ha, a youth - I was 43 at the time – who had been seen smashing windows. I did match the description, male with a dark 'bomber' style jacket and a hoodie underneath. Their quotes by the way on 'bomber', not mine, that was the way they said it, as though this was the clinching piece of evidence. The fact that the description also fitted just about every other male in the UK seemed not to occur to them, neither did the fact that while they talked to me at least five people also matching the description walked past unhindered.

They asked me where I'd just come from. Now it has been said that if apprehended by the police it may harm your situation if, when asked what you do, you mention the word ‘comedian’. For some reason this is seen as a direct challenge to their authority. Too late, I'd said it. Then they asked me if anyone could confirm that if necessary. Indeed they could, 1,500 of them, including Steve Bennett the reviewer from this very website, who could also have added, for the benefit of the court, that in his opinion I just trundled out a load of old material, but a got a bit better as I went on.

None of that seemed to cut any ice and still convinced I was the precocious, window-smashing mastermind of old Leicester town, they then searched me, humiliatingly, in the street while half of the city walked past having made their own judgement open someone who obviously must be guilty. Let me tell you, if you're looked down upon in Leicester, then you are looked down upon, seriously. It was cold as well.

Finally I was allowed to put my clothes back on and I was handed a form telling me I was white. Surely they could have ascertained this while I was fully clothed? Anyway any lingering ethnic confusion I may have been suffering was now dispelled, yet I was still prime suspect in the window-smashing case. Then after about an hour of helping them with their enquiries by just standing there, as quickly as they'd grabbed me, I was free to go.

This was the biggest insult of the lot. You see, although it was insulting and humiliating to be stopped and searched, accused and intimidated, the thing that was strongest in my mind was the consolation that as bad as things were, THERE WAS A SHOW IN THIS. They'd just messed it up completely. Comedian gets arrested, that's publicity, column inches, and most definitely a show. Comedian nearly gets arrested, that's nothing.

I really needed to be arrested, but nothing I could do would make them take me in. By now they were convinced I was a comedian, just when I didn't need them to. And though I tried insulting them, saying all coppers are twats and so on, they just laughed and told me how funny I was. ‘See those windows over there, can I break those?’ I said. ‘Ha, ha, ha, listen to this guy, he's hilarious.’

That's it. Steve Day: Couldn't get arrested.

  • Steve Day is performing his show Should I Stay Or Should I Go? at the Edinburgh Fringe at 8.20pm from August 1 to 9 at Hide @ The Argyle.

Published: 14 May 2008

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