It’s not often (so far it has been never) that I am compelled to write about a gig at which I wasn’t performing. Last night at The Halt was significant enough of a departure that it will be – maybe already is – one of those gigs that enters the grapevine and becomes part of folklore. Everybody who was there will have their version of events, and it was spreading across facebook, via the medium of the status update, long before the end of the evening. This is the – some would say inevitable – blog.
The night was unremarkable enough to begin with, the room busy but populated almost entirely by comedians. A lack of seats meant I was standing at the far end of the bar with my friends, in the spot where the gigging acts habitually congregate. As a preview show for the Glasgow International Comedy Festival, there was a larger bill than usual, and a lot of other acts down to spectate. The atmosphere was good, there was a mass sense of camaraderie, and no indication of the turn the evening would take. Will Setchell was compering, introducing to the stage acts with shows to plug – Marty Findlayson, Scott Brown, Alan Scott, Geoff Gawler, Joe Hullait. Those links will take you to their respective shows, and – if you’re going to see a big name at the comedy festival – you should also take a chance and see someone unknown too.
During the interval, a drunk Polish woman joined the audience. We didn’t know it at first, but she soon made it apparent with her incessant interruptions – shouting out, false laughter, high-pitched – barking, is how it’s probably best described – and repeated unnecessary clapping like a sealion who’d just learned a new trick. Setchell chastised her for it, as did Malky, and Ross Main (as Dogshit Johnson, and keeping in character), Rod Hunter, and finally Les Sinclair – by this time struggling to get a full sentence out uninterrupted. All of them had resorted to impromptu heckler putdowns and, being Polish, you can imagine the two main areas covered with increasing but not undeserved harshness.
With the audience growing increasingly restless at these relentless interruptions, and the comedians losing laughs as their punchlines were lost to another outburst, Setchell again told her to shut up and then suggested – for the benefit of those of us familiar with his persona – that he might get Steven Halcrow up next. Halcrow is a man not afraid of a little alienation, being angry and scathing and very often controversial. I’ve seen him do “Holocaust” material (actually it was a joke about toilets) to a room that included a handful of Europeans of varying nationalities. They didn’t laugh, and so none of the sold-out audience laughed, and yet he continued. The only person laughing in that room was me, as he deliberately engineered a situation so cringingly awkward that it became painfully hilarious. Halcrow is a man amused and unphased if somebody walks out during his set, but his material is always well-structured, off-kilter, and consistently funny. He has an edge to him that means most people would shy away from messing with him and just listen. If you decide to heckle him, you’re on your own.
I have to confess that, when Setchell suggested getting Halcrow on next, I led the cheering – there was no way this could fail to be entertaining, for me at least, and since nobody else had managed to shut this drunk arsehole up I had faith that Halcrow was the man for the job. If something (or someone) riles him, he can be like a dog with a favourite toy, sinking his teeth in and refusing to give it up until he has wrested control. That’s always worth seeing. The crowd largely agreed, and Setchell introduced him to the stage “in a change to the scheduled line-up.” He had barely started, when he was interrupted too. This was the final straw for Setchell, who marched back to the stage, told everyone he was “pulling rank”, and demanded the drunk get out as the night was on the verge of descending into a barrage of German-Polish jokes. Malky was sitting beside her at this point, usually able to quiet any heckler by reasoning with or humouring them, but he didn’t get the chance, and she eventually upped and left as instructed – to loud boos from a guy up the back. Setchell called him on it, booing his decision to remove a disruptive member of the audience, and addressed him as a “baldy prick.” He then reintroduced Halcrow and left the stage, to much rapturous applause as the audience tried to help get the gig back on track.
The baldy prick, perhaps understandably, took issue with that insult, and came over to pull Will up for it. I’m always kind of aware of shit like that because, although I’m not naturally given to fighting, I am aware that – being six-foot-two, broad-shouldered, weighing something like 16 stones (and until recently having a mohawk) – I have an imposing physical presence. Unlike Setchell, who is tall but built like a toothpick. Scott Brown stepped in though, as did Malky, and Geoff, all trying to diplomatically dispel the guy’s anger. Will returned to the stage and ordered him to get the fuck out too, before re-reintroducing Halcrow to louder applause and returning up the bar. It continued though, this guy arguing as loudly as he could, and so Halcrow was reduced to standing on stage asking the guy to please fuck off, over and over again to drown him out as a roomful of people began to resent the further intrusion into what had been a very pleasant evening.
The bald guy eventually took the hint and left, but not before yelling something about “fuck you, and your east end poverty porn!” Comedy can be an art form, and to accuse artists of exploiting poverty… We’re not renowned for the lavish lifestyles we lead, certainly not at the level where our comedy is delivered in the backrooms of pubs to audiences that sometimes number just single figures, who laugh, but which can include all manner of heckles, abuse, aggro, and – very, very occasionally – threatening behaviour. You’ll never see that on Live At The Apollo. So again, if you are going to see a big name at the comedy festival, please also come and see someone new and unknown, and support the people who are knocking their pan in week in and week out playing any and every gig that comes along. The comedy festival is their chance to play a show of their own to an audience who want to be there, who haven’t just wandered in off the street. There are plenty of shows to choose from, and none of them will cost you more than a tenner. Some are half that, some are free. Check out the brochure or look online, and take a chance on whatever catches your eye. There’s a lot of talent out there deserving of an audience.
By the time the guy had fucked off, and Setchell had re-re-reintroduced Halcrow, the latter had run out of his allotted time and had nothing left in him but a plug for his show with Darren Connell, Scott Gibson, Joe Heenan, and The Reverend Obadiah Steppenwolfe III. That’s a line-up worthy of the ten quid ticket price, and one of the bargains of the festival.
The Wee Man and Sarah Cassidy closed the second half, after Setchell had won the crowd back. In the interval, the Polish woman reappeared at the back of the pub, looking like regret personified as she sat slumped at the high table. She eventually made her way to the bar, and was asked to leave – licensing laws being what they are. Obie then headlined, interspersing new material with improvisation and tried-and-tested routines. He was interrupted too, by the woman’s man/date/partner/carer being loud and then searching for her coat, and said later that he’d had to work hard to keep the crowd laughing. He told onstage of a gig he’d done where some heckler had been told to fuck off, and returned later and lobbed a petrol bomb through the door. It says everything you need to know about yesterday’s gig that, by the end of the night, the headliner was trying to incite a petrol-bombing. Obie is playing the Melbourne Comedy Festival next month, and is raising funds by selling DVDs of his professionally-recorded show. His solo show is on this Friday night, in the same venue as, and just after, Dogshit Johnson – you are advised to check both shows out if you can, these are two of the most likeable, skilled, and funny acts playing in Glasgow this Friday night. And generally.
Last night was eventful, and emphasises what I’ve said on here before – if you’re coming to see comedy, watch the comedy. Don’t join in unless asked, don’t talk over it, don’t think you can be louder than the person holding the microphone. You’re not helping, and the more you do it the more hated you will be – regardless of your sex, heritage, orientation, or sobriety. Don’t be a dick. Comedy is necessarily arrogant – “everyone shut up and listen to me now” – but that’s how it works. You have to listen, and if you can’t hear the whole sentence, or the punchline, it won’t be funny. If you’re not enjoying it, please leave quietly.
Halcrow told me afterwards that he’d come down prepared to get into the spirit of the evening, ready to do a tight five minutes then plug his show. Instead he was caught completely off-guard, and spent his whole time telling a heckler to fuck off – depriving him of the chance to perform his rehearsed material, and depriving the audience of laughter. The upshot of this post being, please go and watch live comedy locally, but please WATCH the comedy.
As well as the Comedy Festival in Glasgow, which starts this week, if you’re in Edinburgh there’s a cheap and act-heavy Gong Show on at The Shack tomorrow (Thursday) night, which you should check out too. Here’s the promo video:
Ultimately, last night was nothing if not memorable, and even topped the night some dirty bastard took a shite in the urinal.
Have a good festival, boys and girls. 🙂