Blog 6th November 2015 - The Hideaway Streatham
This Friday night club has a warm and civilised crowd consisting mainly of couples or family groups. The venue is primarily a music venue and a live soul band are playing elsewhere in the building. The audience have been warm and appreciative all night. Just before I am brought on a man enters the room on his own and starts to heckle. If there is such a thing as an old man hipster then this man is it. He sits down, heckles, then realises he wants a drink, so he gets up and walks to the bar and gets a beer while continuing to chip in. There is something about this wandering about that really gets my goat. There is a cockiness about it, as if he owns the place. I have rarely seen a heckler so relaxed (perhaps he really does own the place?) He doesn’t seem drunk, just full of himself. Nether does he seem deluded in anyway - like he thinks he is helping. I get the impression he knows exactly the impact he is having. He wanders about and heckles with detached interest like a kid torturing an insect. I could see this guy take the gig down merely as a social experiment. It is now that two emotions start simultaneously. The first disappointment. Disappointment that the lovely gig I had been promised by fate will not now be mine. The second: a swelling anger at the future direction this gig is about to take. I can already smell the soured atmosphere that will be unleashed during my set as I clash with this guy and fail to contain my contempt. The compere reads the heckler the riot act and he shuts up for the time being. But this is surely only a holding position.
The stage is very wide. Too wide. When I take the mic out of the stand and walk with the stand to the edge of the stage I don’t know when to stop. If I walked to the literal edge of the stage, it would take too long and I would have turned into a physical comedian. I have to plank the mic down where I arbitrarily decide the edge of the stage is going to be. The start is sluggish and it doesn’t quite connect, I don’t know if I have done anything wrong or they are just getting used to me. I do adjust the delivery, injecting a bit more energy and now it seems to land better. Things start to build gradually but steadily. Even within two minutes I am throwing in some new lines so it must be going reasonably well. The momentum continues to build. The women are particularly enjoy it. There is one woman who has a noticeable laugh and this injecting more energy into the crowd. Rolling laughter is now picking up. Each routine is building on the laugh. By the five minute mark I am thinking that this could become an exceptional gig if I continue to build upon it. At the end of the dentist routine I deliver the final punchline and the heckler chips in and tags it. He isn’t funny but it never the less cuts the energy out of the routine. He is very calm as it chips it in. A sort of sniper heckle. It ruins my punchline but in a very specific way. I try to tackle him in a more conventional way, stating that his heckle wasn’t funny. But I don’t think that was the point and neither do the audience. I am irritated by him and it shows. There is a bit of an atmosphere. I marvel how the warmth and energy of a few seconds previously is now dissipating. I can see this turning ugly. Not really aggressive just majorly awkward. For a few seconds I am not sure how to handle this and then I know what to do or I accidentally do the right thing and build from there, who knows? I think it was a conscious decision? I switch to congratulating the heckler, apparently sincerely, for taking the momentum out of the gig, for preventing me from resting on my laurels. I hate comedians cruising on previous energy, I tell the audience, cheats, charlatans, every one of them. This is now getting traction. There is an American woman in the audience. I now bring her in, berating American comedy for not having similar in-built hurdles for the comedians to overcome. Now the momentum is building so I just continue, saying that I hate doing material and that I prayed to God something like this would happen so I could get out of doing it. In a way everything I am saying is true. I am basically offering a commentary of what is actually happening although sometimes flipping my attitude: saying that I am happy with something that I am clearly not happy about. But other times it is just straight forward candid admission. I am now pushing at an open door. I wonder how long I can run with this? It has been approximately three minutes. I muse aloud of the problems of getting back into material after a prolonged ad-libbing section. This is of course true. I know that the window of opportunity, to switch back into material, is narrowing. I am debating with myself whether to go into material at all now. I feel I could ad-lib indefinitely but perhaps another ten minutes is a stretch? I worry about the absence of any shape in a prolonged riff. Soon I will pass the point of no return where the rhythm of the ad-libbing will jar too much with scripted stuff. I decide to go back to material but that is a decision of the head not of the heart. I would dearly love to keep winging this to see where it takes me. Even at this point it already feels a leap to get back to material. I have to go back to material but ad-lib a bit about the absurdity of going but to a routine from 5 minutes ago. This softens the landing and then I go back in. And it is fine but I never quite regain the momentum of the early set. I spend the remainder of the time regretting my decision to return to written material. I don’t know if this regret is justified. I never will but it feels like a cop out on some level and a wasted opportunity.
The Heckler buys me a pint of lager. He plonks it down in a slightly cocky manner. He gives it to me in front of the other acts. He fails to offer them a drink. This is like when a punter compliments one act in front of the other acts and fails to say anything to the others but only ten times worse.
I don’t even want the drink. I offer it to the other acts. They don’t want it either. It is as if has been tainted by the heckler. I drink it. I don’t enjoy it. It gives me a headache. I go home.
Later at home I listen back to the recording. I can hear the note of annoyance in my initial exchanges with the heckler that I had to overcome before I really started taking him on. Perhaps of more note however is that the highlight for me is not now the ad-lib section at all. Listening back the best bit is the early section of my set prior to the heckler. This is the bit that really crackled and felt alive. And while I was loving the ad-libbing at the time, now that I listen back I feel that the set could have been really good without it. So my regrets are of a different kind now and I wish I could have worked out how to get back to the spirit of the early bit as I minimised my dealing with the heckler. Lesson: what feels best isn’t necessarily best.