The lesson? Take some chances! | Phil Nichol recalls his most memorable gigs

The lesson? Take some chances!

Phil Nichol recalls his most memorable gigs

Worst gig and best gig

At Edinburgh in 1996, in a different era, the Gilded Balloon was still on Cowgate. The Teviot building had a cheap, free, smoked-filled, mayhem of a student union gig in The Wine Bar which was dubbed The Bearpit.

It was by far the worst ever gig any comedian ever had to play. The hammered student audience booed everyone off. Everyone. I hadn’t even opened my mouth when I was drenched from the balcony above by a full pot of beer. This brought the house down. Funniest thing that they had ever seen.

Having had a lot of experience with shit student gigs across the globe with Corky And The Juice Pigs, I remained calm and named the beer, Heineken. Nothing.

The determined booing and incessant heckling began coming from ten places at once. They hated me although I had at that point only said one word. Heineken. Then came the second beer, raining down upon my head. Again, I named the beer. Tennents. Nothing.

Thinking that I might be losing them…I picked up the guitar and began the intro to Juice Pigs classic The Only Gay Eskimo. Before I reached the end of the intro an entire large ashtray was doused over me from above quickly mixing with the beer. The whole joint screamed with laughter and cheered the aggressor.

The chant began: ‘Off. Off. Off. OFF!’ I beat-boxed somewhat before going blindly into the opening chords and chorus of Gay Eskimo. The room screeched to a standstill. They really loved that song. Someone yelled ‘That’s Corky and The Juice Pigs!’ I answered: ‘I am Corky!’

I’ve never seen a room turn so quickly as I began to get a standing ovation, cheering and chanting: ‘Gay Eskimo. Gay Eskimo!’ They wanted it so so badly.

I allowed this to go one for quite some time before I quieted them down, unplugged the guitar and whispered: ‘No. You can all fuck off’ I left the stage to a roar of approval and frustration. Knobs. They are now all members of the Conservative party.

Best heckler

I was on stage at the Stand at the end of my Naked Racist show. I was dripping with sweat, naked and with my guitar straddling atop a man in the front row belting out the closing song Get Your Troops Out backed by my dear friends, naked backing band The Shitsticks.

It was the end of the show. I was manic beyond even my normal state of mania. The place was in bits. Then, in the tiniest moment of calm, which is so very rare at my shows, a young drunk Scotsman had the wherewithal and timing to say in a very normal and metered voice: ‘Show-off.’

He wasn’t wrong and it was very very funny. It took us forever to get the show finished as we couldn’t stop repeating the heckle.

First gig

March 21st, 1987. At the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. Sean Cullen, Joe Costa and myself had entered the Schooner Comedy Quest run by Labbatt’s Brewery. We were living in a university house, the power had been turned off and the place was freezing so we entered the contest to try and win the prize money.

We stayed up all night smoking pot and came up with the stupidest name we could think of, Corky And The Juice Pigs. On the show the next night, we performed a seven-minute set which included a sketch about the Weebles, a punk version of The Flintstones theme and our soon-to-be famous Two Game Show Hosts Meet on the Street sketch.

The Canadian legends Al and George were the professional act and the hilarious Boyd Banks was the host. We won that heat, then went on to appear a month later on Canadian TV where Eugene Levy hosted the show. Mind-blowing! I have never worked a proper day job since.

Most audacious move

With the Juice Pigs, we took a lot of chances. The biggest one, next to successfully crashing the third ever Melbourne comedy festival in 1990, was previously crashing the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival in 1987.

They hadn’t invited us so we thought: ‘Fuck ‘em, let’s just go set up on the street.’ It worked a treat. Before festival security could shut us down we had a crowd of 400 punters who booed the security and formed a wall around us.

With no choice but to let us continue the security team stood back. Fortunately for us, the TV show George Schlatter’s Funny People were passing by and filmed it. This lead to the legendary producer, George Schlatter himself, inviting the Juice Pigs to appear on the Dudley Moore Comedy Club Special on ABC TV four months later.

The lesson learned? Take some fucking chances. Many years later George invited me for breakfast with Charles H. Joffe. What a showbiz memory. It paid off.

Biggest heroes

The Edinburgh Festival allows for the strangest twists of fate. Playing in Bill Bailey’s Beergut 100 saw us backing New Order’s Peter Hook in a mammoth version of Blue Monday in front of an absolutely insane Late N Live Crowd back in the day.

But for me, playing in Rich Hall’s debut Otis Lee Crenshaw show with the legend Boothby Graffoe and the Australian acoustic power trio The Gadflys brought me more freeform joy than almost anything else in my time.

However, the day that Steve Harley happened to be in and got up to sing the seminal Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) was the most mind-bogglingly brilliant moment of my young career.

He is a god. Rich Hall is hysterical. The Gadflys are legends. And Boothby Graffoe is still one of the funniest comedians that you may never have heard of. Sometimes it’s good to meet your heroes.

Phil Nichol’s stand-up show Too Much is at Monkey Barrel Comedy at 9pm.

Published: 19 Aug 2019

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