GAGGING FOR LAUGHS - CARSHALTON, SURREY
Friday 20th November 2015
This is a packed social club attached to a sports club in Surrey. In many ways I have come home.
Central Scotland is doted with similar venues: bowling clubs, football clubs, rugby clubs, cricket club, British Legions. Most of the patrons never participate in the sports. Rather it is a chance to enjoy subsided alcohol prices, amidst unfashionable furnishings and petty bureaucracy. Many times as a child, I was parked in the corner of a room like this with a packet of crisps and half pint of cola and expected to “get on with it”, whatever it was? I should know how to play a room like this. The energy certainly feels a familiar one.
I am offered a complementary cornish pasty before I go on stage but the pasty feels heavy. I put it aside for afterwords as I fear eating it will change my centre of gravity and cause a sluggish performance. The first act has gone down well and the audience seem a high energy one, I have high hopes for this gig.
Is there such a thing as a front row that laugh too much? I wouldn’t have thought so but here we are. For the first few minutes I thought I might be in trouble. After the reception the first act received I found the response under whelming. I really thought I had my work cut out but now it turns out, I DO have my work cut out but in an entirely different way. The front row are on board, they are big laughers. They could have been hand picked for optimum performance. They comprise a cast of every individual type of audience member you could want. They are the perfect and that is their problem. The very fact that they are enjoying it so much seems to make it a private gig exclusively for them. Ideally their laughter should spread through the room but instead it erects some kind of barrier between them and the rest of the audience. They are an obstacle to be surmounted. In an attempt to connect with the back of the room I am forced to try harder. But this trying harder just makes the front row enjoy it even more. And this enjoying it even more results in the rest of the audience feeling even more disconnected. The room is long and deep. It is getting longer and deeper. I am pretty sure I can see the curvature of the earth now. Maybe the people further back are enjoying it? I cannot really tell. It is the ten minute mark now and I can feel the audience really start to separate into two distinct gigs. There is the front row and their private corporate gig and there is the rest of them apparently enjoying it on television.
There is a woman on the front row with red hair who now reaches some kind of tipping point. She gets into hysterics. She laughs at a segue between material. Not a punchline. Not a set up, a segue. It no longer matters what I say. She is just is in hysterics. It may seem a compliment but I find it mildly insulting. Is this laughter at me or with me? Does it really matter? This may seem a nice problem to have, and it is, but it is still a problem none the less. The hysterical laugher is no respecter of rhythm. The usual call and response between performer and audience is shot to pieces. The audience equivalent of the car alarm. And any attempt to tackle her hysteria just fuels it further. She is probably embarrassed and in her case embarrassment induces hysterics. She is stuck in vicious circle of mirth. She is as much victim here as anyone. But this problem peaks the interest of the rest of the audience and I sense an opportunity. For a few moments this becomes the gig: my attempts to quell one hysterical woman. I really am trying to work out how best to deal with this and I let the audience in on my dilemma. I have to park the material for awhile, I can’t ignore this problem. I do have fun here and I noticeably take the energy down and make the whole delivery more relaxed, giving the impression that the gig is sort of suspended as I mull over this particular problem. I find the way forward here is to pretend that this is a really big problem, that it is somehow beyond me, that I find it an imposition to have to even deal with it in the first place and furthermore it isn’t really my job to deal with it. Basically it is the British customer service option. This works well but I still have a several false starts getting back into material. She is still going off on her own. The audience are an orchestra, I am the conductor and this woman is an errant violin playing her own composition. This for me is the best part of the gig but I don’t feel totally in control of it here. There is something going on underneath that I can’t quite fathom. Perhaps my perplexity adds to the humour. This incident gels the audience and I feel that the gig needed it. Did I will it in some subconscious way?
I feel I did a good job there but not one member of the audience approaches me afterwards to say that they enjoyed it. As I walk amongst them at the interval they seem a bit nonchalant. I therefore am forced to conclude, that empirically, I didn’t do a good job.
I listen to the tape afterwards. It went better than I thought it did at the time.