“You can’t tell anyone about this gig, because nobody will ever believe you”
– Scott Gibson, compere.
None of this happened, but this was one of the funniest nights of my short life on the comedy circuit, though it started – as most good nights do – by being completely unassuming. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny evening in Glasgow and the gig was unlisted, confirmed too late to feature in the official festival brochure, and so the audience was generated solely by word of mouth. With tongue firmly in cheek, I invited everyone on my facebook and twitter to leave the rare sunshine in favour of seeing a low-key comedy gig in a dark pub basement, and the audience eventually consisted of acts, one sibling, bar staff, and a few folk from a band that were playing that night.
Paul McDaniel and Sandy Boutell were there before me, as was Jim Hobbit. I later heard the latter bemoaning his lack of bookings at The Stand and, without knowing or ever wishing to know the context, I overheard him say “it could be because of the time with the rubber genitals.” I don’t need or want to know any more about what that entailed, as a stand-alone sentence it is up there with his onstage exclamation about living in “a haunted donkey shed” – a line that literally reduced me to tears of laughter the first time I heard it uttered.
With the arrival of Will Setchell, we started writing down themes and topics for the acts to pick from a bucket, the idea being that you blindly pick out a topic then have to try and talk about it, in a funny way, for a maximum of five minutes. I joked to Sandy and Paul that I’d help them out, and (with reference to their sets) wrote down “Ireland”, and then wrote “Farms In Beith” for Will – even though one of the few rules is that you can’t resort to old material.
Downstairs, in the cramped underbelly, a drumkit sat at the back of the stage area (there is no raised aspect to the stage, it is floor level), and AC/DC blasted loudly out from the PA – making talking difficult, and being complete overkill for such a small, empty room. Compere Scott Gibson said that he’d just do a thirty-minute drum solo if nobody came to watch, a prospect made more ridiculous by the absence of cymbals or sticks. I quickly noted down “Animal from The Muppets” and added it to the disproportionately-large pile of themes. At this rate, we’d be able to pick six or seven topics each.
It was decided to go ahead, largely for our own amusement as we started the “workshop”. Sarah-May Philo, whose concept it is, played the most ludicrously over-the-top intro music (with sound effects and atmospheric vocal introduction) given the situation. This was followed, eventually, after the track had ended and our laughter had subsided, with the playing of the warning and get-off sound effects. These reverberated loudly around the room, adding to the hilarity with their blaring horns and screeching tyres. The highlight of the gig, for me, was watching big Gibson’s face and seeing his reactions to these sound effects, the coerced volunteer participants, and the “material” people came up with.
Paul McDaniel managed a witty, nonsensical discussion about “pie”, interrupting himself only to ask in all seriousness “is this real?”; Sandy spoke about “Ireland”; Setchell drew both “Germany” and something else I now forget. Hobbit drew “Robot Wars” and started by playing the Red Dwarf theme on his kazoo. It descended from there, as he immediately confused Craig Charles with Ray Charles, but he was the first to hit the five-minute mark after much goading and encouragement from the audience. There were at least two further incidences of the trademark kazoo coming into play, and I was wheezy with laughing so hard. He earned the hallowed “hallelujah” sound effect to signal a success.
Sarah-May’s brother was apparently coaxed up to help fill the time, further blurring the line between performer and audience, but his complete confidence as he left the mic behind and strutted boldly forward to talk loudly about “buckets” left Gibson gobsmacked. Never before have I seen someone’s jaw physically drop in astonishment. It cracked me up. He was allowed to change topic, launching into something that sounded extremely prepared about Paddington Bear’s orange-addicted brother(!), and he too made it to the five-minute mark. I had to follow him.
I drew the topic of “Picasso” and mentioned the car model that shared his name, which had round wheels despite his reputation as a Cubist. That was the highlight of a dreadful “set”, and when I started to flounder I asked for another topic – saying this was no place for nepotism, and if the man before me could have several topics, so could I. “All rules are out the window!” declared Scott, and picked out “bread.” I’d floundered on Picasso by descending into facts, and the first thing that occurred to me to say about Bread was that it had been a Liverpool-set sitcom, which I remember watching (and not really understanding) in my early years. I acknowledged that that was just a fact too, and got another topic – David Cameron. Hoist by my own petard, or in this case, suggestion, I said that the one thing that would guarantee Scottish Independence is the Tories. That was less comedy and more political rally, though, and so I was duly “crashed off” and not before time.
One of the guys from the band was talked into getting up, though he sat down again almost as fast, Setchell was afforded a second go as it seemed we might go round and do it all again, Hobbit went back up as the undisputed “winner” and went through topic after topic, aided by his kazoo, before Pearse James was dragged up and given the carefully set-aside topic of “Glasgow”, which he dealt with by dragging the mic and stand upstage to the drumkit. He sat and proceeded to beat out a monotonous rhythm while freeforming some stream-of-consciousness lyrics that incorporated, after a while, the line “How much longer do I need to do this for?”
It was an experience, a fantastically funny car crash of a gig that left me breathless and sore with laughter, but as it was unanimously agreed that we can never talk about it, I have to admit that it’s a pity that none of this actually happened.
I left with Sandy, walking up to The Halt to see Malky’s solo show. I’d seen it the week before, and heard it had been pulled the previous night, so I wasn’t sure if it would go ahead. I was in town anyway though, and planned to stop by. As we walked, I said that it’s funny how, last year, he did one show and they spent months writing then promoting it. This year they booked three shows, but did even less preparation and no promotion. It was something that Malky himself brought up on stage, in about as many words. That was early on, when he could actually get a word out.
At no notice, the line-up had changed to Alan Scott, Chris Stephen, and Malky, playing to an audience of about twelve or at most fourteen. We were given the opportunity of a break before Malky “headlined”, and during this time he convinced Ellen to come in. Ellen lives above the pub, and she seems pleasant enough – and she’s very chatty…
Malky went up to do about twenty minutes, and it took him over an hour. Ellen decided she was in a conversation with him, and with the rest of us too, loudly joining in at every single opportunity. She was funny, thankfully, but incessant, and Malky’s set became a conversation with her. As it went on, and on, and on, we started to heckle her (“This double-act is shite!”) but all good-naturedly – it was evident to us from the beginning that Malky knew everyone in the room, and most of us recognised each other by sight if nothing else. As the restlessness grew, and she showed no signs of letting up, I decided to start filming. It had been going on for half an hour, and I got about thirty minutes of footage out of it from when I started. Sadly, I missed the part where she decided to talk in intimate, vivid, and hilarious detail about her personal grooming habits in response to Malky’s talk of pubic hair. I got plenty of other funny stuff though, and the videos will be up as soon as my monthly net usage allowance has been reset, this week. For now, here’s what you can expect:
Malky discussing the acceptable use of the word “n-gger”, as researched and documented in the book he produces to make his point. I personally have no strong feelings on the word, which I’m not given to using, but I figure it’s all about context. I definitely think it’s wrong to pretend that the word never existed, or that white people didn’t exploit black people, as seems to happen more and more these days – like when they removed it from the recent reprint of the contemporary novel Huckleberry Finn. As for writing the word here, instead of hiding it behind the more accepted term “the N Word”, you can hear Louis CK explain that decision by watching this video from 05:55 in. And with regard to this part of Malky’s routine, it is what it is – I don’t condone or condemn it, like anyone else he is free to say anything he likes. And, more than most, he does just that. He also justifies it, and isn’t relying solely on shock value.
[EDIT: I changed the “i” to a dash purely to avoid unwanted internet traffic.]
His heckler then managed to confuse his bit about having a girlfriend, or the intimate workings of the female anatomy, with the previous bit about the use of that word, and can be heard telling Malky “not to get a girlfriend and then call her a n-gger.” This is drunken ignorance meant in general good humour, with reference to the full gig, and these videos are all unlisted on youtube. That way, you can only see them from this page, where I’ve tried to set them in context.
With the bar staff getting increasingly hacked off with her relentless interruptions, they played a practical joke on her. When, having jumped in on the set-up to a line about a text he genuinely received, demanding to know if it “was from your mum”, she went to the toilet, they turned the light off from behind the bar, turning it back on when she came out, confused. When she went in again, they turned it off once more, which Malky noticed, colluding with them by telling her “there must be a sensor.”
Finally, in the last ten minutes of his set, she returned from the bar next door as Malky was talking about firemen. He was making the point that comedians have set jokes, which they tailor to whatever response they get from the audience members they talk to. For the purpose of illustration, he asked the guy in the front row “what do you do for a living” – knowing the answer. We had just discovered that he was a fireman, which was otherwise irrelevant, when she piped up with how ugly and smelly they all are – ignorant to the fact that she was sitting one seat away from one. That’s his girlfriend howling with laughter as she goes off on one about the profession to which her boyfriend belongs.
At the end of the night, Ellen took the the stage and sat next to the bar manager, Johnny, taking the mic from him in order to serenade us all. His avoidance of involvement in a duet was short, to the point, and fucking funny.
With the PA switched off, she proceeded to follow Johnny to the other side of the stage, where she indulged us with an a capella rendition of Mustang Sally. Complete with impressive bodyswerve to avoid handing the mic back.
It was a marathon of a set, which lasted forever but which was thankfully enjoyable. In the past two weeks, the Halt has become host to numerous nutters – the Polish heckler and the “baldy prick” that Will offended; “mushroom man”, who turned up on Tuesday, interrupted the gig, tried to sell people drugs (“you need them”), and stood in front of me at one point, raising a rolled-up poster to his lips and silently playing it like a mute trumpet; “Beach Bum”, who slipped out of a low-five with Pearse James, then went to leave. Pearse coyly slapped his arse, whereupon he stepped onstage after a moment’s hesitation, and Geoff The Brawler Gawler ran the length of the bar to physically remove him from the premises. And that’s just the ones I can remember. That was partly why I filmed tonight’s gig, that and the fact that she had been so entertaining – with no signs of stopping – that I knew I’d probably get something worthwile from it. If nothing else, you can see how very different a pub gig can be compared to the stand-up you see on television. Not many people would have been as tolerant as to humour her for over an hour, but since we all know Malky and his material it was an interesting and entertaining diversion. And certainly an evening that will live on in the memory for a long time.
The comedy festival has now ended for another year, but my next gig is this coming Tuesday (3rd). It’s a charity night in aid of Alzheimers, with three comedians, compere, and band. The idea is that you do five minutes, and one comedian who receives the highest bid in the “auction” will return to do a further ten. It’s at Nice n’ Sleazy’s on Sauchiehall Street, starts at 7.30pm, and is £3 entry. Details here.