Don't leave me hanging... | Phil Ellis recalls his Unforgettable Five shows

Don't leave me hanging...

Phil Ellis recalls his Unforgettable Five shows

Gig where I learned my biggest lesson

I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes at gigs over the years. Mostly because I keep on making new ones.

Instead of calling them ‘mistakes’, though, I call them ‘risks’. That way, I can pretend to myself that I’m still a winner and pioneer.

I learned at the Frog and Bucket a couple of years ago that if you’re going to attempt to climb into a crows’ nest where the tech booth is, you will end up on an unstable ledge and will need to be saved by Tony the doorman and a set of ladders.

I’ve also learned that if you’re heckled, buying a bottle of Carlsberg from the bar during your set and then approaching the heckler, shaking the bottle and placing your thumb over the end so it douses them in beer, is the best way to deal it. You will however, receive a strongly worded and poorly written email of complaint.

I think my greatest lesson came in Edinburgh 2016 during the Chortle Fast Fringe. If you’re rushing to do a slot, read your three-star review along the way, it’s ill-advised to go on stage, scream at the organiser, throw a mic lead over a lighting rig, stand on a chair, wrap the lead around your neck like a noose, ask a lady in the audience to pull the lead tight and then plead for someone to kick the chair from beneath your tiptoes.

Someone may actually kick the chair and the unsecured lighting rig could wobble distressingly as you flail around trying to prevent yourself from being hanged.

If you do, however, to decide to do this, make sure that Gabriel Ebulue is nearby to hold you by the waist as though he’s just walked in on you having an unsuccessful strangle wank and Joey Page is at hand to direct the audience’s attention to your venue and show time.

Worst gig

Strangely not the one where I nearly strangled myself to death.

God, there’s so many to choose from really. Probably supporting Adam Buxton at the Shepherds Bush Empire. They pretty much hated me on sight, which doesn’t really bother me as most people do, whether it be at a gig or just walking to the Spar, but these pricks really detested me.

After about 15 minutes of my 30-minute set, I had managed to win some (tops 30 per cent) of them over with my lanky charm and a nipple flash or two. However, about 25 minutes in they all suddenly reinstated their hatred and moved it to a more aggressive nature.

After being heckled by a man from Preston who said he was ashamed of being from the town as me (I mean, we’re all ashamed of being from Preston but it’s not normally because I was popped out there) I clambered over the first six rows of theatre seating to confront him. He then said he did like me before I’d been racist.

Now I’ve been called a lot of things over the years: prick, asshole, wanker, cunt, piece of shit, pencil pusher, aqueduct, wankshaft, dicksplat, idiot, unlovable, in breach of my restraining order, late, early, bellend, dickhead, Paul and ‘only act available’. But I have never been called racist before.

Anyway, after a little discussion and everyone in theatre telling me I was a disgrace, I realised what had happened. I had been smelling a man on the front row who was from Canada (classic Phil Ellis material) After discovering that he was wearing Lynx Africa, I berated him for being a 45-year-old man wearing a scent that a teenager would douse themselves in to hide the smell of cigarette smoke.

I then said: ‘It’s taken years off you though, I mean if I was a blind man, I’d swear you were only about 18 years old.’ I then stood back, spread my arms wide open Christ-like, threw back my head and awaited the body shock of the endless waves of laughter that were bound to ensue. After a few seconds of silence I opened my eyes, dropped my arms and felt like a bit of a nob (ooh, I forgot to put that one to the list). Then the guy from Preston heckled me.

Cut back to me in the middle of the audience quizzing them about what had happened and it turned out that everyone in the theatre thought I had said: ‘Lynx Africa?….If I was a black man, I’d swear you were only 18 years old…’ which really makes no sense at all. My joke may have been poorer than me after Edinburgh 2016 but at least it made bloody sense. I called them all idiots, they all laughed at themselves about the whole mix up and then people started to shout out that the reason for the confusion was my northern accent. This of course makes them the racists (I know northerners aren’t a race but I stand by my point).

I left the gig feeling great about myself and my northerness. I hated the south a little more than usual that night as I tried to find a bar that was open past 11pm. As I gave up and settled for drinking the bottle of house red that I’d stolen from Adam Buxton’s rucksack, I suddenly had a flashback to just before I walked out when Adam had told me not to do my racist stuff at the top. I’ve never seen him since.

Best gig

I think the best gig was the first ever midnight Funz And Gamez show we did in Edinburgh 2014, the year we were relevant.

We had all rushed over to the Just the Tonic Community Project from other shows. The show had sold out and people had managed to get standing room in the tech booth and by the back of the room. I really hadn’t though that many people would be interested but as we waited to go on, everyone started chanting ‘Funz and Gamez! Funz and Gamez!’, The hairs stood up on the back of my neck (God knows they’d struggle to stand up on the top of my head. There’s hardly any of the bastards left!) I looked at us all, sweaty, poisoned by a month of alcohol abuse and I felt a twinge. Turned out to be the elastic on my only pair of boxers had finally perished.

We walked out on to the stage and did the Funz And Gamez song to a room full of people singing along. It was an amazing feeling that I’ll never forget and almost certainly will never repeat.

Best heckler

Funnily enough this abuse wasn’t aimed at me. It was at a gig where the act was doing an extremely high energy try-out set at the Frog and Bucket in Manchester. The act had re-worded the lyrics to various popular songs, I’d never seen it done before and it was blowing my tiny mind but for some reason the crowd just weren’t going for it, no matter how much the act displayed traits of a background in drama, they just wouldn’t get onboard.

Everyone in the audience was very polite, though, and applauded to fill the silence in between songs until after the third round of applause had died down a man sat on one of the front tables said, quite calmly and earnestly: ‘What are you doing?’

There was no real malice in his voice, he just seemed genuinely confused as to why this was being allowed to continue. It was too late though, the backing track to We’re Going To Ibiza by the Vengaboyz had already kicked in. However, none of us would be going to Ibiza this time. This time, we were all ‘going for a pizza’.

Worst journey

I think my worst journeys are usually the ones in which I kill an animal on the way there… less so on the way back for some reason. I’m obviously talking about killing them accidentally while driving. I have never and hopefully never will have to kill an animal for sport or as a result of peer pressure. I mean, never say never but I’m hoping that this will never be the case.

Biggest animal? The badger! The location? Congleton. (that cost me £500 for a new radiator)

The animal I felt the most upset about killing? The hedgehog. They’re my favourite of all the beasts and although it didn’t make a dent on the Vauxhall Astra I was driving at the time, it left a permanent dent in my heart.

Since Leanne took everything in the divorce, I have to travel by train most of the time now so I rarely have to suffer the guilt of ploughing through a family of wild cats any more.

Phil Ellis Has Been On Ice, Just The Tonic At The Mash House, 19:40; and Funz And Games: Flogging A Dead Horse, Just The Tonic At The Community Centre, 13:00

Published: 5 Aug 2017

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