Gorilla tactics

How a man in a primate suit changed Matt Price's ideas of comedy

It's the immediacy of live comedy that appeals to me. The fact, that every evening of comedy is unique to that particular audience is what keeps it fresh, even if the material may be the same. Us comics all have memories of great triumphs or failures and it's only the day at the office type gigs that really fade away.

Nonetheless, I find myself consistently going full circle in my views about certain aspects of performing live comedy. When I first started, I would have blamed any bad experience on my abilities as a comic. I believed that there was no such thing as a bad audience and that I could attribute my level of success to something that I did on a particular night.

There is of course no substitute for experience in any profession, but especially comedy. As I progressed and did more and more gigs I became aware of another view, namely that it's very easy to become disillusioned and to blame a bad experience on a ‘bad crowd’.

But one of the highlights of the Fringe for me this year was a Free Fringe Show entitled, ‘A young man dressed as a gorilla, dressed as an old man, sits in a rocking chair for 56 minutes and then leaves...’ For me, it really changed how I felt about audiences yet again.

The gig was a one-off PBH Free Fringe gig advertised on a large black and poster and hand made flyers that seemed to appear from nowhere. On the one hand it can be argued that this may have been an elaborate publicity stunt, or an audience wind-up but I watched the whole show and after a while something very interesting happened - the audience turned it into something truly brilliant.

The young man did exactly as the poster advertised and it was free entry. The audience sat there silent for the first five minutes or so and then the atmosphere really changed. The audience made their own jokes and had photos taken with the gorilla. They were heckling each other and there was plenty of laughter. Naturally, there were some people who left, but they were replaced almost instantly, by others. There was a core of people who stayed for the whole show.

There were people with camcorders filming the event and talking to the audience and asking their opinions, some of which were really funny. There were cheers, when the Gorilla changed his foot position or scratched his head and intense audience debate as to who the person in the suit might be. I am probably best not to say who the various names that were suggested, but they showed an imagination that I have rarely seen in an audience.

The discussion continued with suggestions as to what the next year's show might be. One suggestion being ‘A small boy dressed as himself, watches a young man, dressed as...’ You get the point? A facebook group was suggested. A brief dispute about whether it would be morally right for the audience to forcibly remove the young man's mask thereby ruining the mystique. It was an extraordinary show to watch and I still don't quite know what it was.

Somebody brought a banana and placed it on the edge of the stage and at 56 minutes as the Gorilla stood up to leave, the audience gave a standing ovation.

My conclusion, is actually very simple. I may never be certain as to whether the magic of live comedy is due to an audience, a comic or a mixture of the two. But I would say, that from now on, I will never underestimate an audience or their capacity to have a good time in even the most unusual of circumstances.

Published: 14 Sep 2009

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