The Night I Died

Gig review by Steve Bennett

This is such an obvious idea it would be a wonder if no one’s thought of it before – a talk show based entirely around comedians recalling their worst ever gigs.

After all, no one wants to hear stand-ups boast about ‘storming it’, it’s them facing the humiliation of boos and catcalls or – worse – dead silence that intrigues. And for comics themselves, such battle stories prove their mettle, and only strengthens the idea that they are a breed apart, facing the lions’ den with only a microphone and their wits for defence.

One perhaps unexpected theme to come out of Viv Groskop’s second instalment of The Night I Died is that comedians who have bombed often feel as bad for the audience as they do for themselves, if not worse.

‘The reason people want you to get off is because you are making them [the audience] feel bad,’ Lucy Porter told the Royal Vauxhall Tavern audience. ‘People look at you with such pity, and it breaks your heart for them.’

It’s an experience confirmed by Scott Capurro, who said that once a crowd loses confidence in the comedian, it’s game over. ‘The audience gets nervous for you,’ he said. ‘Then they don’t know how to take the jokes... they are embarrassed for you.’

The controversial Capurro has upset a few rooms before now, and wears his ban from Australian TV - for a graphic description of just how much he loved Jesus in a very physical way – as a badge of pride.

As a guest tonight, he needs little prompting – reeling off the stories with the sane relentless drive of his provocative stand-up, speckled with waspish asides. Groskop barely needed to be there.

In a more conversational style, Tom Allen compared the experience of a bad gig to madness. ‘It feels like you’re insane,’ he said. ‘It feels like you’ve turned up at someone’s party with a microphone and no one’s listening.’

He said his worst gig was at Birmingham Highlight, when he came offstage early after facing some particularly vile abuse. To add salt into the wound, the club would only pay him half his fee as he hadn’t completed his time.

He’s never returned to that chain and said: ‘I would happily burn them all down.’ It may or may not have been a joke.

Still, rude Brummies are nothing compared to Jane Bussman’s worst gig. She used stand-up as a platform to highlight Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony’s reign of child kidnap long before the Kony2012 viral campaign – with a show that attracted some unwanted attention from Kony's Lord's Resistance Army thugs.

Some of them came to watch her perform in London and stood, intimidatingly in their uniforms, throughout. Afterwards they wanted a word...

Yet –surprise, surprise – they said nothing more than they understood what she was trying to do. A relief, to put it mildly.

Even if that’s hardly a typical ‘bad gig’ story, this format promises an almost endless stream of anecdotes in its vein. It’s an honest and often funny glimpse into the downside of being a comedian that should be food for thought for anyone who thinks stand-up might be a shortcut to fame.

As host, Groskop doesn’t stamp her own personality on to the show, which is probably for the best as it allows the comics to speak for themselves. She’s dressed in sparkly hotpants and jacket, dancing around before the show starts, which is certainly in contrast to the anti-showbiz style of the stories.

But why isn’t this a a podcast, too? It seems perfect for that.

Published: 26 Apr 2013

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