day 14: the only duty we have

In Edinburgh, following the funny is not just a hobby.

The day’s work started at Cabaret Voltaire, where I was again co-hosting the 4pm showcase with Patch. Everything started out in a way which was only a little weird. Somehow we managed to begin the show by performing some mock-Pinter and Shakespeare. Patch got some particularly nice laughs from the fact that an ex-girlfriend had turned up. Then, as the acts got going, things seemed to have settled and become normal.

That is, until Joel Dommett, halfway through his set and not getting a huge amount out of the audience, said – apropos of nothing, as I remember – “So, has anyone ever drunk piss?”

A man in the front row put his hand up (a little too keenly perhaps) and Joel got to work on getting the full story out of him: he said he’d drunk a pint of his friend’s wee the previous night. For eight pounds.

Joel, of course, did what any good comic would do, and offered him ten if he’d reprise it on stage.

“Eleven,” said the piss-drinking man.

“Done,” said Joel and started to organise a whipround. Then he asked if anyone in the audience needed a wee. A girl in a blue dress leapt up and said she did, so Joel gave her a glass and we directed her to the little area behind the stage.

At this point the audience were buzzing, waiting to see what would actually happen, and as Joel tried admirably to keep control of the situation, Patch leaned to me and said, “This is turning into Spank – only at four in the afternoon.

After a minute, though, the girl came back out saying that couldn’t go with all the pressure on her.

“Ohhhhhh,” went the whole room in disappointment.

“Well,” concluded Joel, “that was almost something,” and began to wrap up. But just as he was about to say ‘thank you and goodbye’, another man came striding through the audience from the back of the room.

Held aloft in the man’s right hand, a plastic pint full of yellow liquid.

He marched to the stage, to roars from the audience, and handed it to Joel.

“This isn’t real, though,” said Joel. Then, “Oh, it’s WARM!”

Then it all happened in a flash – the first man was up on stage almost as soon as Joel confirmed that it genuinely was a cup of real live wee. In a few seconds, he’d swept up the money, gulped down the whole glass, and was sitting back in his seat, to cries of shock, disgust and a kind of strange appreciation.

It is, after all, good to have a skill.

At that point, Joel left the stage, and Patch and I had to come back on and try and get the room back to the kind of level that the next act could play.

Understandably, I think, we couldn’t do it. The next act came up and did material which got almost nothing.

In the end – and to his very great credit, he stopped after a few minutes, paused, and said, “So. Does anyone here eat poo?”

That was the last I saw before I had to go to The Stand, where I was meeting Nan to see Stewart Lee. He’s a master, of course; but it was really a work-in-progress show that it would be foolish of me to try and judge as a show. I can only say that I enjoyed it a lot, and that the audience did too. Perhaps the best thing Lee’s TV show has done for him is to help him find his audience, and to make sure that he no longer has to do live shows for people who don’t like his act.

One thing that did annoy me, though – and that always does annoy me – is that despite its name, it really would be better if The Stand had enough chairs for everyone to sit down. Having to stand up to watch over an hour of one person talking (even if that person is Stewart Lee) is unreasonable for ten quid. Yes, it’s a really wonderful club. But it would be no worse a club if everyone was able to watch the show and leave without their legs aching. They just need to buy some more bloody chairs.

The showcase and the flashback were good. My compering in the showcase wasn’t amazing but I did the job well enough. Rik did well, though Laura Carr had a tough opening slot in the Showcase. Apparently she’s had a conversation with Julia Chamberlain, the comedy club promoter, who told her that she should drop some of the filth from her act if she wants to be successful. I just worry that it’s just made Laura a little uncertain about her material, which is admittedly a bit rude, but it’s funny. It’s a good thing Julia Chamberlain wasn’t around to give Lucy Porter that kind of advice at the start of her career, and I hope Laura doesn’t take it too seriously.

And then the 80s Movie Flashback was super. Doctor Brown started and ended on time, we got the audience in, and the show felt great. It feels like there are people in every show who hate it, who don’t get the joke. But our performances are good enough now that the people who enjoy it are really going for it.

The thing that we always need to keep in mind as comedians – and we fail when we forget this rule – is that simply have to do what we think will be funny.

Sometimes that means talking filth, sometimes it means dressing up in ridiculous clothes and talking in silly accents and voices; sometimes it means watching a man drink another man’s piss. And often, people won’t like it. But if we can find an audience for the things we find funny, then that audience will. So if we think something could be funny, we have to do it.

It is, after all, the only real duty we have.

Llaugh Showcase at Cabaret Voltaire: performance – 6

Stand-up Showcase: audience – small; performance – 5

80s Movie Flashback – good performance.

Overall: WIN

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