Gary Black offered me this gig at the weekend, when I was still in Brighton. As I had packing and travelling to do, about a week of sleep to catch up on, a gig on the Tuesday, and some other personal stuff going on throughout the week, I had to reply thanking him but saying that there was no way I could find the time (or the presence of mind) to organise a driver and another comedian for the bill, as requested. I suggested he ask Malky and Tony Hilton, as the three of us have gigged together for him previously and both of them drive, and when he approached them they were agreeable. So it sorted itself out pretty easily.
Balloch is a mental place to do comedy, which we have discovered on our earlier trips there, as the audience like to talk amongst themselves – and with you – during your set. It is boisterous and lively, usually entertaining, and often as funny for us as it is for them. This was a different venue tonight, a Friday night too (I had to be reminded of that when I queried the poster advertising “first Friday of every month”, and discovered I’d gained a day…), and the comedy follows the bingo. This is, as Gary told us, not your stereotypical bingo crowd. I was also warned by a friend on facebook, seeing that I’d been “tagged” as attending this event, that the pub is “rough as hell.” We were guaranteed an interesting night, and it started to look like the modest fee available to each of us might be better viewed as Danger Money.
I had scribbled a list of aide memoires down on my way out the house, having spent the day balancing a marginal hangover with the lack of sleep that had followed Thursday’s trip to the monthly Cryotec industrial night. My intention was to do much of the set from Tuesday, expanding it with older material – the Glasgow Music stuff, and maybe even a revisiting of the Gladiators set, which I have barely done this year. I also uncovered some newer jokes I’d accidently omitted from Tuesday’s gig, and put those back in. I transferred the list from my sheet of paper onto the back of my hand, leaving out the bits I wasn’t sure would work for this particular crowd. In truth, I wasn’t certain that many of my references would hit, but decided to persevere anyway.
Tony was compering, his cheeky but friendly persona perfect for drawing crowds in. The small audience of half a dozen slowly expanded, until there were about twenty people watching us. We sat on couches in the corner, far at the back of the performing area, and watched as the crowd loudly joined in with Tony. At one point, Rangers got mentioned, and there was a clear, and extremely vocal, divide between those fans and the Celtic contingent. The reaction was so strong, and heartfelt, that it led me to come up with a new opening joke on the spot – “Rangers are useless” would be my opening line, followed by “Because I saw this animated documentary about Rangers, and they couldn’t once stop Yogi Bear and BooBoo from stealing pic-a-nic baskets.”
The reaction to any mention of either team was so overwhelming that twice during Tony’s preamble Gary turned to me, having read the joke I’d jotted down, and asked if I was certain I wanted to use it. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” he asked. “No,” I said, smiling and completely unconvinced. I knew it was a risky joke, but I also knew that if I made the point of getting them to wait to hear where it was going after the original statement, then it might work. It barely worked.
I started with silly one-liners, and got interrupted by one woman to my left telling me she was waiting for the finale, and asking “Where’s the joke?” at regular intervals. There were guys to my right who were listening and keen to hear, others behind them who were a bit – well, I wouldn’t want to cross them – then on the left there was a table of older, bingo-playing ladies, and a table in front of them with a mix of ages. Between bar orders, and self-inclusive chatter, I quickly changed tack and addressed each joke at whoever was paying attention at that particular moment. I discovered that my importance was nil compared to the drink being ordered, and have never before had to actively fight to be heard while holding a microphone and having amplification on my side.
It was off-putting too to have to try and deliver jokes, talking over other people talking without losing track or interest in what I was saying. They finally warmed to me when I did a couple of exaggerated anecdotes, which are drawn out enough that they seem to engage people. Certainly, if you don’t listen to the whole thing then none of it will make any sense. I also ad-libbed a bit of a rant about the person who shopped a bomb squad onto a coach because of an electronic cigarette, and I would say more about that except Jamie Andrew got in touch tonight and asked me to contribute to his regular “Cunt Of The Week” section of his site, and so that’s who I chose to write about. I’ll put the link up separately when it goes online on Monday, but the premise is explained here.
Asked if I’m a Rangers man, I resorted to that childhood way of avoiding the question – stating simply that “I support my legs, and my legs support me.” I couldn’t care less about football, music is my thing and I follow bands the way that others follow teams. It’s just a difference. My facebook fills up with references to Rangers and tax, or to Euro 2012, or to X Factor and all that shite, and in return people hear a lot from me about Combichrist and Alice Cooper, and whoever else I’m listening to or lined up to go and see that month. That reminds me. Alice’s daughter, and her replacement in his live show, are close friends with the Combi guys, and on this tour I finally got the chance to ask if there is any likelihood of a collaboration. It’s not unfathomable, both have a history that would suggest it could happen. I was told by a source within the band – nameless in case it was supposed to be confidential – that Alice and Combi DID discuss the possibility of touring together, but that “it’s never going to happen, we decided it wouldn’t work.” Probably just as well, I don’t think my heart could have coped with the ecstasy that the prospect of that gig would bring, and there’s definitely no chance my wallet would have survived.
I had most of their attention by the end of my set, with no idea how long I’d done, and was happy to cut and run after I’d done the bulk of it. I was congratulated almost immediately by the one who had been shouting abuse at me at the start, and another asked Tony why I had all that stuff written on my hand. I turned to Malky and said “I can’t remember it when I’m NOT being heckled.” Jesus. Tough crowd, but warm – to them, they are as much a part of the evening as the comedians.
Bearing in mind the gig that Malky once had, where he was heckled for so long that it dragged his twenty minute set out for ninety minutes, I knew he would enjoy himself. With his hair bleached to allow him to do a set as “a black albino”, he launched into a character act that is not racist if viewed objectively, but which can definitely seem that way if you’re only half paying attention. Which is why he got shouts of “You’re a fucking idiot” and “You’re being racist” tonight, from someone who didn’t look averse to making his point with the sharp end of a broken bottle. Malky counted three walkouts during his set, and a lot of resistance to a predominantly daft observation about obesity and the attendance figures to see the pope in Glasgow recently compared to back in 1982.
It was only a couple of hours, if that, but it sure felt longer. I’d left a post about it on facebook, where other comedians, familiar with the gig, commented accordingly. Allan Park noted that “if you mention the weather they gab to each other about the weather, if you talk about the shops they tell you what happened to them at the shops hahaha you cant get a word in edge wise.” Will Setchell left a more succinct “This is Balloch aint it? No need to reply, I know it is.” So, yeah, definitely a gig that sticks in the memory of anyone who’s played it.
Despite being a little crazy, though, I think we all had fun.
My next gig isn’t until August at the Fringe, as it stands. If I work on the Jerry Generic act for the stage, then I might try and get back on at The Stand either at Jo Caulfield’s night again, or maybe even at Red Raw, depending how keen they are to see a character act in a sea of stand-ups and musical comedy. I have various bits and pieces going on to keep me busy for now though, including working on recording some stuff to submit for the Roughcuts podcast (which I was meant to do this week), and a trip to Holland in three weeks for the Summer Darkness festival. So, aye, if you’re not on my facebook then the best way to find out about short-notice gigs is probably to follow me on Twitter.
Until next time, have fun, and please keep supporting live comedy because it is far more intimate than the tightly-honed and cleverly-edited stuff you see on TV. Every big name who releases DVDs started out playing gigs like Balloch, and people who will be able to bring out DVDs in the future are already taking those same steps now. Go and get to see them first. 🙂