Why I got branded a racist

Comedian James Billington REALLY wants to explain...

So, I got kicked off stage at the Frog and Bucket Comedy Club for being a racist.

That's quite a statement. Let me try to explain...

I am a part-time stand-up. And by part-time. I mean I am starting up and trying to get as many gig as possible. I have probably done about 100 so far. Like most comics, the majority have gone pretty well, there have been a few stinkers, some odd ones and a couple of blinders. However, the gig at the prestigious Frog and Bucket Comedy Club in Preston went like no other.

I live in Nottingham, and to get to the show, I didn't have time to come back home after work to get changed or grab some food. So at 4pm, I picked up another comic and we drove to somewhere in Derbyshire to pick up another. The three of us headed to Preston for an evening of laughs and frivolity.

The evening was a Beat The Frog gong-show-style competition, so my set that night was to be more joke orientated with more prevalent punchlines to get the audience on my side, to make sure I wasn’t booted off early.

The evening started off well. There was a good crowd of about 100 people in there. The venue was lovely. I felt this was going to be a good one. It was decreed (I never say this word out loud, but it seems good on paper) that I would go on third in the second section. A pretty good spot.

The compere was great. she had the audience in the palm of her hand. This was going to be a good night. She told the audience to give the acts at least 90 seconds grace to get into the groove before the judges, well, judged the comics. If the three of them held their card up, it would be the end for me...

It was soon my time to hit the stage. My name was read out, a lovely cheer came from the audience and I made my way to tell my opening joke, which is:

Good evening everyone. Let me tell you a bit about myself. I have just recently got back from Asia. Give me a shout if anyone's ever been to Asia. Yeah, what a horrible place it is. Asia. Horrible place. Its a very cramped place, isn't it... You can hardly move for people in Asia. And lets talk about the people in Asia. My word, aren't they horrible. Fat aren't they.... Ugly aren't they.... Bad skin, bad teeth..... My advice to anyone that's ever thinking of going to Asia is simple..... Just don't bother.....(long pause..... look at hand for handwritten notes)..... hang on, sorry... not Asia... Asda.

I understand that the whole of that last paragraph apart the last four letters is very controversial. I have done that joke at gigs about 30 times and every time it has gone down well. It makes the audience a bit nervous, a bit tense, and when the joke is revealed, there's relief, and hopefully/usually laughter.

However, on that night in Preston, that wasn't the case... I started with that joke. And I paused before the punchline. My mouth opened to reveal the reveal.... and then the music cut me off... I looked over at my fellow comics who I had travelled with and they mouthed 'FUCK' back at me.

Now, looking into the audience I couldn't see any cards go up. I left the stage in a state of shock. The compere grabbed the microphone and apologised to the audience for what had happened and how they sometimes get people like that at the gig. She then asked the audience who put their cards up. The judges remained silent and then the sound tech guy spoke over the microphone: 'It was me, I had heard enough, I am not having that sort of material at this club.’

I was pretty furious at this point. The compere mumbled something about the next comedian, who would definitely not be racist and would be hilarious, and the gig continued.

One of my fellow travellers went straight to the compere and explained the joke. I sat back with all the other comics who asked what was going on. I didn't really know. But people who hadn't seen me before, obviously thought the worst. I was afraid to go to the bar or to the toilet in case I bumped into someone who though I was an actual racist and might give me a kicking.

In the interval the compere came over and we had a discussion about what happened. I explained that she had requested the audience gave the comics 90 seconds grace an they did that. Thew sound tech should have assumed at a comedy club, there might be some comedy in the material I was using.

It’s not like I am saying to people at work 'Hey, I am off to Preston tonight – you know it’s a three hour drive – so I can grab a microphone and shout racist abuse to a few people until they cut me off... oh, and its Leeds on Friday.'

By the time my other traveling comics had finished (and by the way, everyone who was on that bill got to the final, except James The Racist) and by the time we had grabbed some McDonalds food on the way home, it was 2.30am. I had left the house to go to work at 7.20am and I would be back up at 6am to go back to work.

In the next few days, I received an email from the Frog and Bucket that advised I would be allowed back but under no circumstance to use that joke and that the Frog and Bucket was a club that doesn't tolerate any form of racism, homophobia, xenophobia etc. Thanks for the clarification, Frog and Bucket.

I have continued to use that joke in the gigs I have done since and its still gone down really well. Its a roller-coaster and a learning experience, this comedy lark. Will I go back there? Probably. Will I be on my best behaviour and not tell that joke? Yes. Should I? Who knows.....

So, what have I learned?

Published: 30 Dec 2012

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