Column: November 9, 2011

LONGTIME readers of this column with memories better than mine might remember that in January this year I overcame my crippling self-doubt and inability to speak without burbling to take part in a stand-up comedy gong show.

They will recall how I held an audience in the palm of my hand, rapt and helpless with giddy laughter until, like the Road Runner’s nemesis Wile E. Coyote running across an empty chasm, I simultaneously remembered where I was and forgot what I was going to say next. The gong of doom was sounded, and I was bundled from the stage in order to avoid an unpleasant scene or duffing-up.

In the aftermath, one of the few comedians still willing to meet my gaze told me I should have written key words from my routine on my hand, for quick reference.

Armed with this precious nugget of advice, I swore I would try again. I would beat that gong. Well, not beat it. If anything, that would be counter-productive. The point would be for the gong not to sound and for me to finish my routine.

So I tried twice more over the months. And each time I was gonged off. Now, each person in the audience had shelled out three pounds to watch an evening of comedy with nine acts. That works out as 33p an act. I was gonged off, on average, 64% of the way through my routine. Assuming an average audience of 60, and multiplying that by three… essentially the people who watched me had raised £21.38 to get me off the stage.
But I refused to take the hint.

And so, I found myself sitting once again with a group of actual comedians waiting to go on stage. I took out my pen, and wrote the keywords on my hand. There was no way my terrible memory would be allowed to sabotage me. I guzzled a glass of cola to get the nervous dryness out of my mouth and watched the first part of the show.

At the interval, before I went on, the cola decided not to hang around, and I went to the lavatory to bid it farewell, running over my routine in my head again and again.

I returned to my seat and watched as the three gong show judges were chosen – two men, and a young woman in front of the stage. My call came. I bounded forward confidently. I took the mic. I let off a brace of jokes. Warm laughter rippled over me.

I carried on for a couple of minutes, then stumbled over a joke. It didn’t go well as a result.

“Do the next one,” I told myself.

“What’s the next one?” myself asked.

I looked at my hand, and rued the fact that I am not one of those men who can go for a wee and not wash his hands. My aide-memoire had become a black smear.

I babbled. The two male judges whipped up their cards, to signal I should be swiftly removed. But the female judge, sitting in front of me, kept her card down: perhaps it was compassion, perhaps it was sadism. I like to think that it was Stockholm syndrome – comedian/kidnapper and audience member/victim locked together in a dysfunctional but supportive embrace.

But it was clear she wasn’t going to gong me off. Consequently I recovered and finished to a fanfare. I had slain the Kraken. I had beaten the gong.

I sat in my seat, smugly chuckling at my black smear, waiting for the end of the evening, when those who beat the gong would line up and the comedian given the biggest cheer would be the overall winner. I knew I wouldn’t win, but just to be up there was achievement enough. Damn you, previous audiences, I thought, these people here . . . they know comedy.

Four of us took the stage. Our names were read out in turn.

– “Terry McBloke.” Wild applause.

– “Fintan O’Bulldogclip.” Wild applause. A little whooping.

– “Gary Bainbridge.” Somebody softly clearing his throat.

– “Jasmine Mullard.” Wild applause.

At least I have a new target.

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