My sworn enemy

Cath Styles on how she *should* have responded to a heckler

A strange thing happened at a gig recently. I was politely heckled - in the worse possible way. Not while I was on stage, but at the bar afterwards. This in itself annoyed me. Is there no safe haven for comedians any more?

If you're fair game on stage, at your table, out the front of the venue, out the back of the venue, while walking to your car, and even on the way to and from the toilet, surely the bar is a neutral haven like Switzerland.

Let me set the scene. Completely against my better judgement, (I'd been flat out at work in my job that actually pays me proper money all week), I'd travelled embarrassingly far to do an out-of-town gig, mostly to try some new stuff in a ten-minute spot.

I'd run in to find I was on first, not my favourite spot, especially after a long drive, and having only really had time to glance at the new stuff I was determined to try, I possibly forgot a little bit. And that little bit may very well have been the funny bit that actually held the joke together.

Anyway, I got a few good laughs, but I felt a bit rubbish. Some of the new stuff flew over the audience's heads like a flock of seagulls, (not the 80s band, an actual flock of seagulls), and was I annoyed at myself for not doing something I knew would work.

Whatever, right? That's stand-up for you. Some gigs are diamonds, some gigs don't even resemble the tiny, microchip of an imitation cubic zirconia given to you by your first ever boyfriend in the hope of getting a bit more than a snog at the cinema.

So I'm at the bar, waiting for the most well-deserved alcoholic beverage ever, and a guy approaches me. ‘Nervous?’ he asks me. ‘Not really, I've bought drinks before. Dickhead.’ I reply, silently. ‘Not really’, I say, in actual words.

Then, just as I thought he had picked up on my 'please leave me alone or I will be forced to insert this toothpick into your eyeball' vibe, he blessed me with his innermost thoughts on my routine. ‘It might be a little bit sexist of me...’ he starts, ‘but I find it a real turn-off when female comedians swear on stage. It's just really off-putting.’ Clearly trying to be helpful.

At this point, I'd like to be honest and say that I do swear a little when it's called for. And in my life, it's called for a lot. Put it this way, my kids rarely swear, but if we had a swear jar, I'd probably have to deposit my entire salary into it every payday. Even then, I'd probably owe it

But my material is usually pretty clean, especially on this night. I've maybe said the F-word twice, so it's not like it was peppered with profanity or anything. On this particular night.

Maybe it's a little sexist? I thought to myself... MAYBE it's a LITTLE sexist? I was almost speechless. So I said, ‘Oh do you? Well I think it’s important to be yourself on stage really. At times, I think it’s OK to add the odd “swear” for emphasis. That’s just how I roll, I guess’. In all honesty, it comes to me so naturally, I couldn’t even remember the context in which I may have used any of the offensive words in question.

Then, even worse, he gave me a little punch in the arm. ‘Well, good on you, mate. You'll be right.’ Ouch. Patronising. I'm allergic to that.

It was a weird situation. If he'd heckled me on stage, I could've handled that. ‘No more vulgarity!’ and ‘Stop the coarse language!’ are pretty crap heckles. If he just didn't like my stuff, fair enough. Hell, I wasn't that happy with it!

And I’m not one to shove the extreme notion that hey, maybe men and women are pretty much equal these days down anyone’s throats. I don’t have the time or energy to be the best feminist I can be. I'm not about to burn my bra or anything... I really need it. Burning my bra would probably create a real fire hazard. But to have someone say to you that that your creative use of the swear word is offensive because you're a woman? That just floored me.

I know I don't have to swear to emphasise stuff in my stand-up. I know I can live without it. I can quit any time I like, OK? Any time. I'm only a social swearer, after all. I only swear when I'm drinking. And eating. Or running late. Or if I hurt myself. Or I'm a bit grumpy. Or tired. Or driving. Or it's too hot. Or cold. Or if I'm with my mates. Or if I put on a little weight, and my clothes don't quite fit. Or if I lose a little weight, and everything's too baggy, and I have to buy new clothes. Or if a friend / colleague / neighbour / complete stranger / someone on TV really pisses me off. See? Hardly ever.

I also know this guy, 'in his way', was probably just trying to say, ‘I would have enjoyed your stuff more without the swearing.’ And I shouldn’t judge him for that. After all, I am only a female comic. What would I know? But after a really long day, too many miles, and too little bourbon, it really felt to me like he was saying: ‘You were shit. Get back home to your family, where you belong. And mend something.’

So don't worry, dude in the black shirt, I know you weren't trying to be harsh. But since you gave me the benefit of your honesty, I’ll do you the same courtesy, because I have to say, I found your offence at my offensive language really offensive! In fact, just about everything about you offends me on some level. And in future, please remember - the bar? Switzerland!

In retrospect, I'm a little disappointed with my initial response, so I've crafted a few others that are a little more appropriate, should this situation arise again.

Top Ten Responses to Polite But Sexist, Bar Heckler

1. I'm sorry my profanity 'turned you off'. I was unaware that that the 'turn on' was a requirement of my act tonight, and should have prepared better. There is an establishment a few streets from here, where the ladies will, I'm sure, do a much better job of turning you on. It will, however, cost you more than £7 at the door

2. Hey, dude. The Fifties called, and they want their attitude to women / comedy back... Maybe you should jump into your DeLorean and go back to deliver it personally?

3. I'm sorry you found my coarse language a turn off. Strangely, I find your honesty, and commitment to traditional values, quite a turn on! It’s clear to me now that I have both lost my way, and forgotten my place. Let's marry, and raise a little family behind a white picket fence in the suburbs.

4. If you Amish people don't enjoy contemporary humour, why don't you put on your waistcoat, hitch up the horse and buggy, and head off back to the village for some barn building?

5. I have a very rare medical condition called 'Reverse Selective Tourette's Syndrome', which means I'm able to voluntarily swear at appropriate times. For example, I might do this for emphasis, when I want to really do a description of an aggravating situation justice, eg: ‘The other night at a gig, this fuckwit comes up to me at the bar...’

6. I see you are truly a Jedi Master of Comedy, Obi Wan... I feel the force is strong inside me, but feel the pull of the Dark Side every time I get on stage.... (maybe it's because my nemesis is my Dad - a white dude with the voice of an asthmatic black dude, and a face like a 10-year-old plum pudding)

7. I'm sorry, the fact that you think I would be receptive to, and appreciative of your lecture on 'keeping yourself nice', leads me to believe that you may have mistaken me for someone else - possibly Marion Cunningham? The Happy Days reunion is actually on next week. In another countrry. I certainly hope you'll be there.

8. Hello, my name's Cath, and I'm a swearaholic. It’s been 30-minutes since my last swear. I’m sorry if I caused any offence. You’ll be pleased to hear that I am participating in a ten-step programme to deal with my problem though... I'm up to the bit where you apologise to all the people you swore at, or in front of. And that's a fucking lot of people. Oops! Sorry. It's a process. One day at a time, right?

9. Thank you for your critical analysis of my routine. Until I received your feedback, I didn't realise how much I needed a comedy mentor, like yourself. Your opinion, in particular, is invaluable to me, and I'll certainly reflect on your sage words before I write, or perform comedy again.

10. Fuck you.

Published: 8 Dec 2009

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