On this occasion, we got lost at Carlisle. This was for no good reason. I've been to Carlise on a lot of occasions and it shouldn't have been too hard to pick up the junction we wanted from the road we were on. There was, however, a bad reason for our going wrong. I was not paying attention to the road. I wasn't driving, so I sort of forgot myself a bit. I was, however, navigating, and I wasn't doing a very good job of it. I should have been paying attention. I was, instead, messing on with my mobile phone. Not only that, but I was messing around on the mobile phone using the Chortle forums. The Chortle forums are where comedians go to take the piss out of each other, try to make themselves look clever, and generally bitch about the world of comedy.
There had been some recent moaning about my act on the Chortle forums and I'd sensibly risen above it and not responded. I'd still read it. I'm not completely mature enough to walk away from it and forget about the fact that they are people who mean very little to the best judges of a comedian - the audience they happen to be playing to at the time. Anyway, on this particular occasions a debate had arisen surrounding something I mention in my act. Someone had started a rumour that I'm taking a BBC reviewer to court. This is not true, though I wrote to that reviewer warning them that their remarks were unwarranted and bordering on libellous. I also pointed out that I hoped they would not take offence if I asked for them to be removed, which I MAY do if I found out that they're costing me work/reputation. This reviewer had described me as "mildly racist". It sounds like a mild accusation, but it still suggests that I'm racist.
Well, over the course of a busy day's toing and froing on the forums (or two - I think this has started the previous day). The whole story had emerged. I had done a routine in a club in Stockton on Tees based on Bernard Manning. The idea is that if you take a fat-northern-racist-comic like Bernard Manning and put a guitar in his hand, transforming him into a guitar act, he'd still be an unacceptable fat-racist-northern comic. Here is the routine in full. Bear in mind that I do a ridiculous "Fat northern comic" voice for Bernard's bits.
Bernard: I've decided to become a musical act
Me: Really Bernard? How did this happen
Bernard: Well, I woke up this morning [Guitar starts the blues]
I were a big fat racist bastard
Telling shit jokes about mother-in-laws
and having a problem with me xenophobia
Oh yes, I've got the "I'm a big fat racist northern bastard" blues
I hate the Pakis, the niggers, the wogs and the je...
Me: NO BERNARD! You're not a musical act.
It's fairly straightforward. It's not itself a racist statement, though it uses (ironically) racist language to make its point. At that gig, the audience's reaction had been shocked and I explained that I was doing an impression of a racist to demonstrate that they were racist... we moved on. Off stage, I discussed it with the other acts, who pointed out that context is everything and that I might easily be misunderstood if someone had not listened to the set-up. The racist langage jumps off the page and, taken out of context, could be misinterpreted.
I was, for a while, amused at the review's description of the night in question. I was also fairly amazed that the reviewer, the girlfriend of the promoter for whom I was gigging for free that night (I'd asked for the gig, so I wasn't being exploted) had chosen to be so bitchy in her remarks, which included a review of my trousers. Overly tight, apparently.
However, I was starting to realise the risk of the BBC officially branding me as a racist, especially since I had a specifically anti-racist agenda in the material I was using. Only a complete dimwit would misinterpret it if they'd listened to the routine. Some of the audience had, apparently, been offended, but perhaps that's a good thing. Comedy should push boundaries a bit... having said that, I'd decided that I wasn't the comedian to be pushing boundaries that way. Particularly as my actual point wasn't incredibly groundbreaking - "ooh, isn't racism a bad thing!". It wasn't worth the misunderstandings it might cause. The routine is a lot safer now and works pretty much every time. The original draft had worked perfectly, from start to finish, once, and seemed to need workshopping at the end, so I decided it was flawed. I'm happy to admit when a routine doesn't do what I want it to. I am not happy to admit censorship in comedy, when the point is clearly worthy of support. I'm also not happy to see myself branded a racist by a reviewer, who had missed the point.
I'm still passionate about this. The debate on Chortle raged on, and for once, was generally in my favour. The reviewer had their writing slagged off a treat. Perhaps that wasn't fair on her, but when you write a review, you are putting yourself forward with an opinion, perhaps in much the same way as when you sing a song about racism. So, bad luck girl. Perhaps this would have been easier to take if the reviewer was some unknown in the world of comedy, but as the girlfriend of the promoter, who is himself not an unknown to the fraternity... well, it just came across as snarling and bitchiness. In addition, another review from this reviewer, of another act entirely (one whom I've been accused, unfairly, of plagiarising) seemed to contain a sniping remark, aimed at me. Perhaps I'm being over sensitive, or perhaps there's simply some bitching going on in the Stockton camp and I've come to notice it. So, I was basically involved in some silliness of a debate on the subject. Yes, I know it's not important. Yes, I know I'm small minded to have wasted the time then, and again now, documenting it. However, I've gotten it off my chest, so that's something.
The question is whether these things have any impact on what happens on stage. Well, I'd soon find out. I had a gig to do. Once we got onto the right bit of road, the gig was in sight. We arrived just as it was starting, which is fine, as I was due to close it. The stage is right by the door and I was slightly startled to be introduced as I entered the room, but, in fairness, that's all the MC could do as the door was such an obvious feature of the room that the only way to work the room was to react to what happened in the door area.
Anyway, the gig went underway. The MC did tons of material, the opening act came out and did his bit, delivering what I thought to be a genuinely racist joke - not mildly racist - which was this - "Why do jews get circumcised? because they're tight." hil-fucking-arious, not! Anyway, things tootled along, the middle act did his bit and then I was given the stage.
I did 30+ minutes then an encore. About 40 minutes on stage in total. This was my personal record. Included in the audience were a couple of people who knew about the day's silliness on Chortle, so my "mildly racist" routine, which is how I satirise the stupidity of the review and make peace with the whole thing, got a nice big laugh. However, having been forced to encore to an audience that were not ready, I decided to go for broke. I did loads. I did the b-material, I lost the laugh and the room started to cool. I didn't care. It serves the promoter right for forcing an encore out of them. They were laughing heartily by the end of the set I decided to do a finale in.
We drove back from Ayr and I got to drive my girlfriend's car for some of the return journey, which was nice. Ayr is quite a long way from Newcastle. It had been a tiring night. The following night wasn't planning on being any easier.