Some Comedian from the United States
My agent said I had to catch the train back to London at 10:30 or I’d be stuck at the station all night. I had a road gig at a so-called comedy club just out side of Dover. In reality it was a local pub that managed to throw a microphone in the corner of the room that hooked into a sound system that sounded more like a baby monitor. No stand. No stage. No emcee. Just me and an un-thought-out introduction which emerged in bursts like someone trying to hack up phlegm. It didn’t matter that my name was mispronounced and I was introduced as “some comedian from the United States” because it barely could be heard above the TV and a raucous crowd, which sounded like a subway train that periodically hit its breaks.
I slid between the pub’s patrons and walked to the corner where they managed to light just enough of the area for me to find the microphone on an old bar stool. I was pretty sure the stool was not meant for me to climb up on and use as a stage, since the top was cracked and seemed to be standing only because gravity had a soft spot for it. I looked out into my audience; surprisingly, had turned away from the bar and were looking at me; red faces armed with pints of lager—blatantly mashing pretzels with their sparse teeth, silently challenged me to make them laugh.
I had a Hobson’s choice: going straight into material or to start off by doing the old “where are you from” kind of warm up for myself. Since they were probably all local and I had no idea what living creatures did in Dover besides eventually die (which I prayed would happen immediately), I didn’t think it would work. I figured, I’d give them my most pathetic facial expression and dive into my loser material, and hope for the best, while being terrified of the worst. I hadn’t anticipated that the worst was being stuck in the corner of the room surrounded by a rabid audience that I began to imagine as a horde of slurring zombies closing in—ready to eviscerate my comedic soul. Before I could even get the first joke off my tongue, they started to heckle me. I later found out from a few English comedian friends that outside of London, Manchester, Liverpool, and a few of the large cities the audiences thought stand-up comedy was a contact sport—that somehow a drunken mob insulting, mocking, criticizing, and threatening a comic was helpful.
I actually thought about running, forgetting my pay, and my coat, that I’d left at the bar, but my train wasn’t leaving for another hour and I didn’t have a ride to the train station—wherever the hell that was. I had worked many bars in America, and I could always ingratiate myself by talking about the local baseball, basketball, or football team. I knew nothing about soccer other than you can use every part of your body to move the ball except the parts you should use, your God damn hands. And from what I’ve seen of cricket I couldn’t tell if it was a sport, a stint in purgatory, or an aristocratic method of torture.
I tried a few more jokes, which were answered with me being called things that a Mafia boss with Turret’s Syndrome wouldn’t say to threaten a witness. I didn’t have the option of name calling. I couldn’t just call audience members offensive things, especially because I didn’t want to wait for my train tied to the tracks. While I inhaled their insults and considered faking a heart attack, a satanic possession, or pretended I had a bomb under my sports jacket, I heard an audience member toss an insult, not in my direction, but in the direction of another person in the crowd. The insultee quickly parried the barb (I think that’s how they would say it in London) with a crueler slur. That’s when a plan was found in the midst of my frenetic mind. I decided to use the audience by turning them on each other. Instead of a comic I became a referee and then a judge. At different times I cheered each side and at other times, I was Caesar giving the thumbs up or down to insults. Soon I had a portion of the audience judging along with me. As I grew more comfortable, I began to get laughs on insulting their insults. Audience members cheered and jeered at their inebriated adversaries while they looked for my approval. I would have never known it was time to leave if I wasn’t hit in the face by my over coat thrown from the bar. The barkeep yelled, in demonic voice that would have provoked Larry David into a fist fight, that my cab was outside and I better get my comic ass out there if I wanted to make the train to London. Oh and my pay was in my coat pocket.
The cab driver who must have taken his tips in lager, swerved, and spun his way to the train station. We arrived at 10:40 and the station was deserted.
I asked the driver if he could beat the train to the next station. He said he could and we might even have enough to time stop for a drink or two. I figured in Dover taxi drivers were probably required to take their hack test holding a pint (both inside of them and out). He offered me a swig from his flask. As he unscrewed the top, I heard the rumble, then the whistle. It wasn’t either of our stomachs, or the car trembling in fear, it was my train not being on time. I tossed several quid at the driver and caught the train back to London. I had survived a precarious taxi ride and more importantly I had won over a hostile crowd not by turning to vulgarity or cheap sex jokes but by showing my professionalism and making them hate each other.