The Seven Year Shits

Vince Atta celebrates his comedy anniversary in style

An excellent comedian friend of mine, Eddie, doesn’t gig enough. One reason is he can’t deal with the constant travelling. ‘I can’t be bothered with it, Vince, I’m a creature of habit.’ I’ve realised recently that despite my nomadic nature which dovetails nicely with my chosen career, my good friend and I are actually of the same species. I quite like being on the road but it’s there where I also become a creature of habit. I stop off at the same service stations, get the same car snacks, get to wherever I’m staying and go through the same mind-numbing procedure in preparation for whatever lies ahead of me that evening. A nap, maybe a light spot of exercise – and by light I do mean a half-arsed stretch, a pres- up or two, perhaps a smattering of sit ups.

It was at this moment last Saturday at the Days Inn Hotel, Sedgemoor service station (M5, J22) that I lay on the bed, contemplating a doze or sit ups when my stomach gently pre-warned me that neither would be viable. There was no ache but a grumble that bore ill will, like the imperceptible inflection in a lover’s tone, heralding the unseen yet inevitable, monstrous and scarring set-to ahead. I lay on the bed correctly thinking ‘this isn’t over, it’s only going to get worse’. Although I couldn’t be bothered to move, my queasy lethargy quickly vanished as my torso heaved me swiftly into the ensuite where – I’m afraid I can’t dress this up nicely –  I wee’d out of my bum.

My brain spilled out a compendium of ‘better-out-than-in’ type mantras which I knew held little sway as I was repeating them with my quivering head rested on the toilet-roll holder. This continued at regular ten minute intervals for the remaining two hours before the gig. ‘Why, why, why not pull the gig?’ is a valid triumvirate of questioning you’d be a fool not to ask. The answers are

a) I live in Manchester & had travelled a very long way to get there

b) I was closing the gig which was in the middle of nowhere (Taunton) so there’d be no chance of finding a replacement now

c) my professional altruism was garnished with the fact that if I didn’t go, considering how much I’d already forked out on diesel/food/hotel I stood to lose a hell of a lot of money.

So after countless false dawns running back to the toilet, I dragged my miserable carcass into the car and set off.

My first point of call was the adjoining service station, where I decided to stock up on as many drugs and diarrhoea-based provisions as possible. As I stepped out again, ill-boy-motion-sickness kicked in hard and I puked all over the back of my car.

I’ll tell you one thing about puking in a service station car park; no bastard helps you, my expanding pool of vomit receiving an ever widening wide berth from the throngs of ‘there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-I’-faced travellers. After my bizarre combination of public retching came to an end I wobbled into W H Smith and loaded up with paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Imodium and Pampers baby wipes. Despite being faced with this overwhelming physical evidence, the cashier still asked: ‘And will you be buying a Galaxy bar for a pound today?’

‘No, love… Unless it comes in suppository form!’ is the quip I was much too ill to have thought of at the time.

Back in the car, useless Imodium necked, off to the gig, quick pit stop at the mercifully close Bridgwater services then onwards to Taunton. As I arrived at the venue my mate Mickey Sharma whom I had been looking forward to seeing, had finished his set and was by his car about to leave.

‘I’m fucked, Mickey’ I whimpered when I saw him.

‘What’s wrong with you?’

‘I’ve got really bad diarrhoea and I’ve just been sick!’

Mickey laughed in my face. Not callously… nervously, misunderstanding the severity of my plight. His laugh meant: ‘That crazy Vince, whatever will he do next…?’

‘I wouldn’t have come but I’m too far,’ I nonsensically continued until he said: ‘Ok, well I’m off… They’re lovely by the way’

‘Cheers Mickey…’

Mickey was right, the middle section had just got started and they were lovely. But to me, in my state, all I could think was ‘God they’re loud!’ – even though I hadn’t yet ventured inside. So after a time I braved it in through the door – something of a mistake. The room at The Grove, Taunton is set up great, but as you walk in you can’t be seen from the stage. People had turned to look at the bedraggled wreck who had fallen in and skulked out of harm’s way on a table by the door. This head-turning rightly caught the attention of MC Alex Marion, who I’d never met before, causing him to ask loudly ‘What’s going on over there then?’ ‘Nothing’ replied the audience ‘Just a guy who’s come in’

‘Well don’t be shy fella,’ boomed Alex, ‘cCome on in, let’s have a look at you!’ I slunk into his vision. ‘Hello mate! Don’t worry we’re all friendly here, what’s your name?’

I took a deep breath; ‘…My name’s Vince, I’m on last and I’ve got the shits!’

‘OK, moving on…’ Alex said as he did just that. Thankfully, my curt and rigorously truthful outburst got a good laugh so I quickly slalomed towards the back of the room before my appearance began to alarm people and the goodwill turned to unease. The first act of the middle section went on and I slipped into the gents to get acquainted with my second new home for the evening, business as usual but with the added bonus of ‘maybe-I’ll-be-sick’ thrown in to spice things up.

I wasn’t sick, but came out of the bathroom leaning on anything; walls, the bar, my new friend the MC, so I decided to find a quiet place to sit. There’s something about quiet places to sit when you most need them that people find the utmost need to invade and stand over you. A lovely and well-meaning girl who, despite the best efforts of her boyfriend’s suggestion ‘leave him be love, he looks like he needs a bit of space’ came over to ask if I was OK.

‘I’m fine, really’

‘Would you like a glass of water?’

‘That’d be lovely thank you’

She didn’t get it; instead she decided to continue staring at me quizzically. Then inspiration hit her

‘Aw, are you nervous?’


‘Is this your first time on stage?’

‘No, I’ve been doing this for- in fact now I think about it; tonight is actually my seven year anniversary gig

‘Oh… is that why you’re so nervous?’

‘Can I have that water please?’

‘Sure!’ She skipped off to the bar as I slumped against the wall with my thoughts. ‘Seven years!’ I feverishly ruminated, then scuttled off back to the toilet. I emerged later to get my water and to ask MC Alex for two things; a bar stool on stage and, bearing in mind that my previous personal best between ablutions lay at ten minutes, for him to remain present at all time. But I did promise I’d come back if I had to quickly vacate the stage.

One last toilet run had me thinking that if I was sick again, it’ll be one less thing to worry about on stage. No such luck so I loitered at the back while Alex, who’d promised to ‘keep it tight’ did just that. Before I knew it my name was announced and I was woozily making my way to the stage…

I sat down on the stool, made jokes and they laughed, that was good. I told them about the girl in W H Smith, they laughed. I told them about my magic bag of involuntary poo-based essentials, they laughed at them. I told them how normally I was a high energy comedian whose main quote on posters was ‘An unstoppable force! Like an intravenous shot of adrenaline!’ which I now realised made me sound more than anything like a fizzy rapist, they laughed again, this was great.

I looked into the audience and saw the nice water lady from before, smiling as if to say ‘See, there was nothing to be nervous about!’ Among other bits of good silliness, my introductory banter went on for about ten minutes, I then dove into some material; a bit I often open with about couples that culminates in an observation on how women hear your voice during an argument, which takes quite a lot of face gurning and acting out,. It’s the only bit of material that’s stayed with me from day one. Anyway, as I once again got to the gurning, big laugh bit, I had a sharp moment of clarity.

‘Seven years’ I thought, ‘This bloody joke! Seven years doing stand up and look at me, I’m still struggling, still got gaps in me diary, still unknown by too many promoters, still got an agent who I genuinely don’t think would recognise me in the street. For God’s sake, look at me… I’m doing a gig with the shits because I can’t afford not to!’

Maybe it was fatigue, maybe the harsh reality check or maybe the that I was contorting my face far more than an unwell man should but my next words were ‘Alex, you’d better get up here…’ and like a heroic flash he was there, although I still passed him before he’d even stepped foot on stage as I hurtled to the toilets to perform the loudest, shoutiest sick I’ve ever heard, ever.

Four men. Four strange men followed me into that toilet, chuckling and offering slight variations on the unhelpful mantras I’d earlier been uttering to myself back at the hotel. All comedians are like Blanche Dubois, we often rely on the kindness of strangers, and what these four chunder-chasing inspirational speakers had given me was just that, kindness. So reinvigorated I stood up, wiped my chin on my sleeve, stoically turned to the now curiously staring men in the toilet and said with considerable gravitas: ‘Gentlemen… I’ll be back!’

I went out, caught Alex’s eye and he got me back on for another 15 minutes which were absolutely superb, even though things had got a bit odd in my absence as one man had upturned the couch he was sitting on ‘cos it was wonky!’ But it was great, I finished my time with pleasure, stopping only when it clearly became time for another bum wee. As I sat in the cubicle listening to Alex wrap up with his trademark gusto, I reflected on a joyous gig juxtaposed with the rotten pain, when two guys came into the gents talking in deep, say-it-like-is, west country accents, two more strangers if you will;

‘He was funny…’

‘Yeah, could’ve stayed on longer, though!’

As far as poignant anniversaries go, this gig was an almost perfect microcosm of where I am now and exactly how I feel about it. If it was cheque-to-follow I’d have definitely quit… Here’s to seven more years!

Published: 12 May 2011

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