‘This is Angelo. He’s a comedian. You know, stand up. Like Julian Clary.’
While I’m trying to work out whether or not to be offended, all three of them turn to look at me – the lawyer, the accountant and the admin clerk. None of them told me what they did for a living, but I heard them trade names and occupations a couple of minutes earlier by way of introduction. The party’s host (my soon-to-be-ex friend) decided that since I was standing near them she should probably tell them something about me.
By ‘them’ I mean a group of people having a perfectly nice time without me. And by ‘me’ I mean a person who didn’t want to come to this party, didn’t want to have to speak to anyone, and definitely didn’t want to have to be funny.
The lawyer speaks first. ‘Oh that’s interesting. Go on then.’
Three expectant faces, looking at me. I’m standing between a pot plant and a locked window (I tried it earlier) so running away isn’t an option, unless I barge through my three new friends , but I’m pretty sure that’d be considered assault, and as one of them is a lawyer I’m not keen to find out.
‘Um, I don’t really… I don’t really do jokes… I do like, observational things about… stuff. I do some material about things in the news but not… not jokes. As such.’
The group looks at me as if I’ve just soiled myself.
The admin clerk looks the most unimpressed. ‘You don’t tell jokes? You can’t be very good at stand-up then!’
Laughter all around at my expense: lawyer, admin clerk and accountant. United in their amusement of silly old me. I’m pretty sure the pot plant gave a little snigger in my direction too.
‘Sorry, what do you do? Admin wasn’t it?’
She gives me a suspicious look, like maybe I know too much.
I take out my phone.
‘Would you be able to sort my text messages into alphabetical order by author please?’
I was wrong earlier. Now she’s looking at me as if I’ve soiled myself.
The silence hangs in the air just long enough for me to put my phone away and feel pretty pleased with myself. Angelo 1, Strangers I’ve just met and will probably never see again 0.
The accountant tries to change the subject. ‘I used to do some acting when I was at uni. I love live performance but it can be pretty stressful can’t it? I bet stand-up can get pretty difficult?’
I’m quite taken aback by this. At last, I can have a real conversation about stand up with someone at a party! Maybe we can actually talk about the stresses of comedy life, the peaks and the troughs, the highs and the lo-
‘You wouldn’t want me in the audience I can tell you.’
And turn and see that this is the lawyer’s contribution to the discussion. I don’t think he was meaning to be rude, he was just being, well, a lawyer.
‘Why’s that?’ I ask good-naturedly, as though we’re all friends here.
‘Well, I can be pretty sharp when I want to be. I’d beat you if I was heckling from the audience. You wouldn’t know what hit you.’
He takes a sip from his drink as though that’s the last word on the subject. The admin clerk looks really happy.
Before responding, I try to find a tone to my voice that doesn’t sound aggressive.
“Well … you wouldn’t. Comedians respond to hecklers all the time, if you think about the practice that goes into doing stand-up, not to mention the fact that comedians are on stage full of adrenali- ”
‘Wouldn’t matter,’ he says, shaking his head dismissively, ‘I’d beat you.’
Me, trying not to sound aggressive again. Starting my sentence with one of those half-chuckles that tells everyone I’m taking this really good-naturedly, really, and just happen to be pointing something out that isn’t true, and we’re still all friends here and I’m a good person so nobody judge me harshly.
‘Heh, I think it would matter. Trust me, it’s very different in a comedy club. You might not even really want to shout anything out and draw attention to yourself. It’s quite differen-‘
‘No. I’d beat you. I’d definitely win. I’m a lawyer.’
Another head shake, another sip. I decide to make fun of him a little bit. Non-aggression, my arse.
‘Sorry, and what’s being a lawyer got to do with it exactly? You don’t heckle judges, do you? You don’t stand there making the jury laugh, surely? You’re basically just listing bad things about the other guy, or good things about your own. So it’s not the same, is it?! Unless you do actually just stand there making jokes the whole time, in which case you might have a point that you’d be good at heckling, but you’d be a crap lawyer . And you still wouldn’t beat me.’
I don’t say ‘you jumped up little prick!’ at the end of that sentence. My tone and general demeanour say it for me.
The silence following my little rant isn’t what you’d call ‘golden’.
I decide at this point there’s basically one of two ways to go – backtrack and keep some dignity, or keep digging. It takes me exactly a fifth of a millisecond to decide.
‘And Little Miss Admin over there. All this crap about me not being a good comedian cos I didn’t tell you a joke at a party. It’s not just about telling jokes is it?! Any moron can recite a joke they’ve read in a cracker. It’s about reading the audience, and honing one-liners and telling well-crafted stories! It’s about getting out there and perfecting your technique!’
A little audience seems to have built up now, with people looking over to see what’s going on.
The accountant opens his mouth as though he’s going to say something. I don’t let him.
‘No! Accountant! There’s more to it than that.’
I turn to the lawyer.
‘And all this stuff about beating me with a heckle, are you on crack? How is a lawyer going to beat a comedian at comedy? I didn’t tell you when I met you that I’d be better than you at chasing ambulances, did I?’
Some of the ‘audience’ have started laughing, I’m getting quite into this.
‘Ooohh, I’m a lawyer, I charge people a thousand quid a day to go into court dressed like a Harry Potter villain.’
More laughter. Good crowd. Maybe it was the wiggle I did as I said it.
‘Then I try and get the old guy who sits in a big chair to agree with what I’m saying so that I win, which means I can then charge two thousand quid a day to the next loser who is getting divorced.’
Not as much laughter at that one, but still some. You’ve got to take what you can get sometimes.
Probably best to stop wiggling now though.
The accountant opens his mouth again.
‘Stop it! Accountant!’
This is my audience, get your own!
‘Ooohhh, admin clerk, oooh, I move paper from one filing cabinet to the other and that means I know about the state of British comedy!’
The accountant wants to say something again. I pause to let him speak this time, not to be courteous so much as to catch my breath.
‘It’s really going for it!’ he shouts excitedly.
Not quite the heckle I was expecting. Then I realise he’s looking behind me.
‘What? What’s really… going for…’
Then I realise everyone is looking behind me.
I follow their gazes and turn to look out of the window, very quickly seeing that my audience isn’t my audience at all. They’re laughing because two dogs are shagging behind me and they can see them through the glass.
I mumble something about being upstaged by a pair of ‘bloody dogs’ and escape.
I don’t go to parties anymore.
Gigs are much less stressful.