Right, where were we?
So in the post before last I’d been banging on about audience complicity, and how with comedy in particular there often needs to be work done on the part of the audience, it’s not really a genre that can always operate on a completely impassive position from the viewer. Despite this, there remain a significant section of ticket buyers who want to watch it like a music gig, who wish to sit back, listen to jokes and let the comedian on stage do all the work.
This, I would hope you realise, is not a complaint on my side. If you’ve bought a ticket to a show it is your prerogative how you then go about watching said show. There are plenty of amazing joke tellers still in comedy, and I’d further wish to clarify that with most of the present day gagsmiths you still have a fair chunk of work to do yourself, with Gary Delaney or Milton Jones there are still some important pieces of the puzzle that you will have to find and slot in the right place (I’m just saying this is in no way dismissive of joke tellers).
For the last three years, you may or may not know, my Fringe shows have been with Ed Gamble doing our brilliant double act, which was as close to organised idiocy as two grown men have any right to be. The shows were knockabout, riotous, extremely childish but, even if I do say so myself, they had a big heart. You could watch a Peacock & Gamble show with your feet up, there was little to no actual intelligence to the two characters we played, so an audience could sit back, enjoy the revelry and bickering, and just take what was thrown at them. Or sit there and get irrationally annoyed by the fact that two people could make a living from being such enormous dicks, which happened an alarming amount of the time. It always got to us when that happened, we always felt it said a lot more about people when they got cross at two nice boys just trying their very hardest to be funny and being lovely friends, we could never properly understand why folk got so incensed.
But that’s by the by, point is, myself and Ed grew a fanbase over many years, we started with The Ray Peacock Podcast which then became the Peacock & Gamble Podcast(which was basically us sat chatting, silly sometimes, revealing others, but the folk that listened got a sense of us as people), then came the double act and we lost a few fans with this new direction whilst gaining new ones, and now we are plying our trades in solo stand up shows, mine being an ultra-personal account of my idiot head, and Ed’s an also personal tale of reinvention, laden with the wonderful verbosity that we have all championed from the moment we met him. Whatever journey our audiences went through with us to get to the point where they are sharing our shows, everyone has brought a preconception with them, even those who are strangers to us have made their purchase based on publicity, or this blog, or the word of a member of the street team – they all have an opinion, before it begins, of what it is going to be.
Or that is usually the case. The Edinburgh Fringe is in so many ways a rule unto itself. Pretty unique in that here, at any given time, you can see people aimlessly wandering around looking for something to go to and this ups at the weekend. Weekend, I should point out, means Friday and Saturday in Edinburgh during August, these are the busiest days of the week, and the days where consistency and trend fly out the window in favour of a far more random buying public. It’s very easy for us as comedians to bemoan this fact, it’s the cruellest of the fringe nonsense, that your busiest nights invariably end up being the hardest, it always ends up feeling that the few empty seats midweek are actually just missing the dicks.
And so it came to pass, last Saturday, an age ago now due to my distraction and childish desire to eek out a story, that my last few seats were filled up with said dicks. It ended up being a positive – would still rather have not gone through it – but it did confirm to me how far I’ve come, because just a handful of years ago it would have culminated with me losing my shit, shouting or, at worst, pinning someone against a wall. There truly is nothing worse than seeing a comedian get real-life angry (except war and famine), but it’s a place we have all been to at some point – some more than others (me). I’ve ruined many a gig due to increasing frustration at the rank unfairness of an audience member disrupting proceedings and knackering it for the others around them, always believing that I’d have the backing of the rest of the audience, regularly not getting that when the eruption actually happens. It could have been one of them last Saturday, but I took a very different approach.
See, I know I can deal with heckles, and very well, I just can’t be arsed any more. I particularly can’t be arsed with it when I’ve written and structured an hour show that I’m proud as Punch of, that I struggle most nights to even cram into the allotted hour, a story I want to tell that doesn’t leave room for fucking about with attention seekers. One of the few downsides to my venue this year is the fact that I can hear the audience very clearly as they come in, I’m right there. Before the Fringe I spoke to African comedian Nish Kumar about this, he performed his show in my venue last year, and he warned me to stay into the dressing room until clearance (when you’re told you’re ready to go). Naturally I took no notice of this advice as I know best and so now find myself shackled to this habit as I increasingly battle a sense of superstition that if I change anything about the preparation of the show it will go wrong or I’ll get cancer or something. I even caught myself “touching wood” the other night like a bellend.
So on the night in question I had heard the gaggle of boys entering the venue. When you’ve been performing as long as me you just get a sense of when things are looking bleak for the show ahead. A newer comic might miss the giveaways, but this old head notices the subtle clues like shouting and singing and excitedly informing each other what they are going to shout out. You just get a feeling, wouldn’t expect you to understand. I told the venue manager that we’d have to keep an eye on them, and was told that because the show was sold out there wouldn’t actually be a member of venue staff in the room. Marvellous.
It started early, they sang loudly along to my intro music whilst I rolled my eyes backstage and battled the fervent desire to go straight on the attack the second I stepped into the light, there’s no gold in them thar hills…
The initial exchanges were good-natured; I claimed to be 24 and one of them shouted “Plus VAT” which genuinely made me laugh. Unfortunately my friendly assailant got excited by this laughter and added “and VAT is 33%”, undoing his good work by over-egging the joke. My pointing this out may have slightly wounded his ego, as the interruptions had a slight edge to them from then onwards.
The show itself was lovely, the rest of the audience engaged and supportive. I noticed a couple of whispers to and from the lads to other audience members, a couple of shhhh’s, but carried on talking my talk. Then two of them left.
I’ve gotten good at just doing the show. As I said, in my younger years I’d be drawn into a fight in a heartbeat, any distraction in the room provoking a merciless tirade from the stage as I battled my frustrations, but when you’ve put together a show that you’re proud of, which was also running at 1hr 40mins the week before the fringe and takes a lot to get into the allotted solitary hour, there’s no time for dicking about with dicks. I asked the remnants of the group if those boys were coming back, and they informed me that they were not as the departed thought I was shit. So it’s not been universally good reviews. I shrugged it off and continued, first checking that the lads left were going to shush and behave which they assured me they were. Five short minutes later they were at it again, and I pulled them for breaking their promise. Another audience member chipped in.
“They just threatened me for telling them to be quiet.”
That was enough for me, I told them they had to go. There wasn’t even that much argument – although they did accuse their informant of being a “fucking nob”. Another lady shouted “You’re the fucking nob” and I had to check that she didn’t mean me. I gently told off the exodus and said I had been fair, that it wasn’t for them, that I could have destroyed them but didn’t, instead opting to give them a gentle exit.
They left to applause from the remaining audience which I quickly stopped, telling them “No matter how well meaning that is, it will always sound patronising…’
The rest of the show was adorable. Until the last minute, where – for reasons that would be apparent if you saw it – I have to play a silence in the room for a payoff. It’s a hard thing to do at the best of times and takes nerve, to slowly and quietly talk through something that has no laughs in it, a real delicate knife-edge to walk but it is worth it. My quiet was disturbed by one of the dicks returning loudly to retrieve the phone he had left behind, if he had been on the front row rather than the second I’d have kicked him squarely in the face without hesitation.
It’s the bane of all performers lives when an audience don’t know how to be an audience, whether it is a decline in social standards of good manners, whether it be a lack of intelligence to understand that sometimes you land a bigger laugh by sacrificing laughs on the journey to it, or whether some people are just born dicks, it’s one of the very few things that are out of your hands from the stage. You just have to keep reminding yourself that they are invariably a minority, and that there will always be a majority who will applaud them leaving.
And what do venue staff do exactly?
RAY PEACOCK – HERE COMES TROUBLE – 9:25pm Underbelly, 30 July-24 August 2014. Tickets at underbellyedinburgh.co.uk or 0844 545 8252