Ho ho ho and a bottle of rum - it's Christmas time! Happy Saint Jesus Day, to almost all of you!
And what an event it is - a time for giving, sharing, and taking; a time for thinking about the past, as well as looking forward to the future, all the while contemplating the here and now; a time of remembrance and joy, coupled with inebriation, rage, and light misogyny. And more than anything, Christmas is a time for us to celebrate the birthday of that most worshipped and revered of figures, Princess Alexandra of Kent. Yes, there is truly nothing more English than a Christmas.
I celebrate it in the usual way. Every year my family wake up early to unwrap a whole stack of presents, laid carefully underneath the Christmas turkey, which my parents lovingly decorate with tinsel, bacon and fairy lights. My mum will always give my dad an empty bottle of Smirnoff as his main present - a keen reminder that he's been sober and violence-free for seven years. In return, my dad will buy my mum a £5 Woolworths voucher, which she is allowed to spend however she likes. PS: He also buys her a year's supply of compost.
Of course, there are always killjoys who want to ruin out fun. This year, I read in The Sun that the spoil-sports over at Birmingham City Council are trying to ruin Winterval for everyone, by replacing the city's Christmas tree with a big stack of diseased cats. Sure, they're going to decorate the cats with baubles and crackers, but it's just not the same. Can you imagine kids dancing under that? It's digusting. Also, I read that St. Percy's Primary School in Taunton is replacing the traditional nativity play with a stage producton of Reservoir Dogs. It's political correctness gone mad!
At Christmas time, we're encouraged by Bob Geldof and The "Queen" to think about those of us who can't afford iPods and Super Nintendos. But no-one ever asks us to spare a thought for the poor, suffering London comedy circuit. It's almost criminal! You see, the circuit receives two fatal blows. Fans of big-name comedy suffer, as the major clubs will be rammed to the jacksie with office parties. If Jongleurs was abhorrent for the rest of the year, at Christmas it turns into the seventh circle of hell. Imagine a room full of 300 estate agents, salesmen, bankers and slags. Now inject their faces with a mixture of Christmas cheer and casual violence. Now double it! It's a nasty thought, and no mistake.
If you prefer your stand-up a bit more indie, you also have a tough time, as the smaller clubs struggle to pull in a crowd at all, let alone a friendly one. Fellow stand-ups have told many tales this week of wasted journeys to clubs with ten acts and no audience. For this reason, I feared that my own club last Monday would have to be pulled; thankfully, we brought in twenty people, all of whom were every bit as lovely, warm and giving as a comic could possibly hope to perform to. They paid £5 to get in, and it's rather odd to think that, while we were all being silly, drawing and eating cake in Camden, there were people just ten minutes walk away who paid £45 to get into Jongleurs. You read that correctly - forty-five pounds! When would you ever pay five pounds to get in there?! On the Monday before Christmas, it's definitely, definitely going to be full of the most execrable people in London. Technically I'm not even sure if it counts as a comedy night, as the comics are just an unwanted distraction for the audience, who want to drink, chat and have fun.
Luckily, it's rare that the office-party penetrates the amateur clubs that I play, but occasionally it can happen. I'm reminded of a gig in Islington last year. As I walked in, I was delighted to see such a large audience - until I realised that about 25 of the 30 people in the audience were City Boys, all from the same financial firm, whom I strongly suspect didn't come for the comedy. Chances are they just paid to sit in a warm room. Trying to do stand-up at them (not to them, not with them, but at them) would prove futile beyond comprehension, but the owner of the club wanted to go ahead, so we did. The other five punters were definitely the sort of people who usually turn up - pretty, polite, personable and genial, with a keen sense of fun. They were laughing at jokes, and trying their hardest to have fun, but the lads were determined to spoil everyone's night. About five acts tried to do their set, and each one was eventually jeered off, with such impeccable locution that you could almost believe they were all posessed by the spirit of Victorian lexicographers, as they shouted at the top of their voice "Heard it!" and "Fuck off!".
Two-thirds of the way through this sham of a comedy night, a comic called Luke took to the stage. I was due to go on after him. Luke did his act, to cries of "Get back to the job centre!", despite the fact that we told them many, many times that we did this for a hobby, not for a living. In retrospect, it was silly to try using reason and logic with them. One of the City Boys heckled Luke by saying "Jimmy Carr! He's Jimmy Carr!" at the top of his voice after every joke, despite the fact that Luke neither looks like Jimmy Carr, or tells jokes which are at all similar. Of the small group of good people in the crowd, one guy was getting visibly more irate at their behaviour as the night went on, and it was the Jimmy Carr heckle which dried up his vast store of patience. The punter got out of his seat, shouted "SHUT THE FUCK UP!!", and dived head-first into the table of boys. Within about three seconds, the room had turned into a massive bundle of fighting men! The only thing missing was the cartoon smoke-clouds emenating from the pile of punches. I don't blame him for being so angry - whenever I hear Jimmy Carr's name, I also feel like punching people in the face.
The house lights went up, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn't have to perform. It was then that I noticed that Luke was still on stage. If all this had happened while I was performing, I would have been scared stiff. I'd have absolutely no idea how to react to the sight of almost the entire audience fighting in front of me. But at that moment, Luke had the sharpest mind in London - without a second of hesitation, he whipped out his phone, and recorded the whole thing for YouTube! He looks into the camera and says "Hi mum! Here, look what I do with my evenings", then points the camera at the big pile of men. The man's a genius!
I'm grateful that I got away with not performing. At best it would have been a waste of time; at worst, I would have come off stage devastated. I've had it argued to me that I would have benefitted from performing to them, because it would have toughened me up for future angry mobs, but I strongly disagree. I write and perform for comedy fans, for people who pay attention, who are amiable, comradely and affectionate. I no more need to "toughen myself up" than an acoustic singer-songwriter needs to try opening for a thrash metal band, to get used to how to play any room. Of course, for those comedians who plan to make a living out of being a circuit comic, it's essential that they learn how to handle a crowd like that; for me, this is a hobby that I do so I can entertain my peers. I'd sooner leave the stage than stay on and try to out-lad the lads. Besides, I get the feeling that these boys wouldn't have appreciated being entertained by a boy wearing make-up, talking about what the internet was like in the 19th century.
I talked to a few of the nicer patrons afterwards, and apologised profusely for the debacle they were forced to witness. One lady told me that the reason they came to that particular club was because they thought the Comedy Store would be full of drunk obnoxious lads. Her son said that he chose the club in the hope that it wouldn't be aggressive, because he'd recently been mugged, and had only just found the confidence to leave the house on his own again. I felt like dragging the fighting idiots over by the ear, to personally say sorry to them. It pisses me off that a load of guys like that can spoil the night of such charming and compassionate people. It's bullying, is what it is. Not of the comedians, we're made of tougher stuff, but they're bullying the audience. And it absolutely breaks my heart.
I'm not sure if there's a lesson to be learned from this story. Certainly beware of the bigger clubs during the festive season, but then Londonist readers are already wise to that. But don't let this story stop you from supporting small comedy clubs, especially at this time of year. On the contrary, we need you guys to go out more, and keep the scene alive! The big clubs often get rowdy, but the smaller clubs hardly ever have any trouble, because they're so quiet. The lesson to be learned is that, if you find yourself with a night off in the week before Christmas, get twenty friends together, and go en masse to a comedy club with a heart and a soul, and a passion for the comics it showcases, and you'll have a great time. Take enough people to make the night worth running even if you're the only people there, and also to smother any trouble-makers with non-violent protest. Gather round, comedy fans, and hear these words - if we all work together, and support small clubs, we can turn the Christmas comedy circuit into something that will put London on the map!
In the mean time, I'm going to wrap some presents. BYE!Image adapted from Chiceaux's Flickr photostream.