If there was ever a good time for a rape joke...

Freddy Quinne on an unusual start to his gig

During my last 15 months in comedy, I’ve done over 150 gigs all over the UK. I’ve been on the bill with people who inspire me, people who bore me, people I think are masters of the art and people who I think are possible candidates for being sectioned. I’ve done lovely gigs to nobody, and horrible gigs in front of hundreds.

And I’ve kept my principles, too. I’ve never done any of the rape or paedophile jokes, and I’ve tried to stay away from hack pull-back-and-reveals designed to get a cheap laugh or debasing my set to a long list of things I look like.

On Saturday night I was in Carlisle. Not known for its comedy scene, but slowly progressing. Tonight was a gig in a sports bar. I was the opening 15, the first comedian in a new venue. The gig seemed nice enough. There was no stage, but adequate lighting and sound. The 100ish people who had turned up were all facing the stage in anticipation. The gig was due to start at 8.30, and it was 25 past. Then, with no prior warning at all, the police came in.

They began to systematically question people in the bar. A police officer approached the comedians, read out a car registration plate, and asked if it belonged to any of us. To my dismay, the number plate was mine. I was led out of the venue and back towards the entrance, 100 pairs of eyes following me and whispering poorly constructed rumours to their friends.

Two police officers began to question me. Name. Address. Driver’s Licence. Radioing back and forth.

‘Purpose of visit?’ one officer asked.

‘The comedy,’ I replied ‘I’m the opening 15.’ Thinking that a small display of the lingo would be to enough to convince them.

‘Been to Carlisle before?’ The police officer pursued with an aggressive and direct tone that would suggest he perhaps didn’t have the skills necessary to compere. I told them I’d been to Carlisle a couple of times, one gig in a hotel, one in a studenty pub, one a charity gig in a nightclub.

‘The reason we’ve come here,’ the officer explained, ‘is that you fit an e-fit of someone we are currently looking for. Now we can be satisfied you’re not the person we’re looking for. However, you do look a lot like the guy. My advice would be to leave Carlisle straight away.’

I asked what the man was wanted for. One word escaped the officer’s lips – rape.

He was on the front page of every newspaper in the city. He had the same hair as me, the same beard, the same cheeks and the same nose. He was the same height, the same build. He looked enough like me for not one but several people to contact the police, and that was just while I was driving. I walked back into the gig. Everyone’s gaze was focused on me. We were running 30 mins late.

Because we were so late, the compere brought me straight on. I had to address the issue. So I told them what happened. For the first time in 150 gigs, I made a rape joke. Not because it was sick, but because it was relevant. It tore the roof off.

Fifteen minutes absolutely flew by. One group of girls got all chatty. I fell back on the rape thing. Not my best moment, but in these circumstances it brought the house down. I think this goes to show, gigs can come with incredible circumstances. But providing you adapt to them, you can use them to your advantage.

If nothing else, at least I’m getting recognised at gigs.

Published: 26 Sep 2011

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