As a stand-up comedian, I’m used to the odd heckle. It always begins in one of two ways: with an intoxicated man just drunk enough to think he’s hilarious and clever and that the world needs to hear about it, or with an extremely attractive woman who wants the room to know she’s not amused by the person on stage taking attention away from where it should belong.
A seasoned comic will repeat the heckler’s words, just so the audience knows what was said. My personal technique involves being extremely nice to the heckler, politely requesting that he or she refrain from disrupting the flow required to deliver my carefully honed and expertly crafted witticisms. This provides the heckler with an opportunity to back down, and also makes me look like the good guy. But if the heckler – confidence bolstered by more VB – starts heckling again, the comedian is free to let fly a flurry of abuse to pound the spoiler into submission, resulting in either a whimper of surrender or a contemptuous walk-out.
But 150 booing hecklers are another matter.
Let me back up. We stand-ups do most gigs in comedy clubs. We love these shows. Even though the floor is sticky and the green room never has enough beer, comedy clubs are where we hone our craft. The audiences are there to see comedy, and we are there to deliver it. Unfortunately, though, comedy clubs pay very little. Last year I did nothing but comedy club shows and made a few hundred dollars. So, in a bid to, well, eat, I began accepting corporate shows.
Corporate shows are when someone unrelated to comedy hires a comedian to perform comedy in an environment that’s pitifully ill-suited to the genre. Usually it’s a boardroom, where the HR manager looks on nervously as you sweat in front of bored and disinterested businessmen staring blankly into the middle distance as they contemplate the emptiness of their existence. But they pay really well, so it’s hard to say no.
The strangest corporate booking I’ve had was with the WA Health Department, which paid me moderately well to deliver comedy about STDs. Apparently there was a growing need to inform recent migrants from the developing world about chlamydia and hepatitis C. As an immigrant from a developing country, I can inform you that knowledge of safe sex can be quite lacking in some of these places. Back home, if after a night of passionate lovemaking your pee didn’t burn like fire ants and your genitalia glow like a neon wand at a 90s rave, it just meant you hadn’t done it right. So, having failed in every other method of awareness-raising, someone in the Health Department decided to pay me to write several jokes about STDs and be filmed delivering them.
The department deemed the video a success – although I am yet to know by what metrics this success was calculated – and I was asked to expand the jokes to a half-hour set for students at a Perth college. Apparently young people, when given the opportunity to rub their genitalia against each other, throw caution out with their underwear. Who knew?
I assumed the show would be in an auditorium or large classroom, with audience members either politely laughing or politely ignoring me. Either way, I’d get paid and we’d all walk away with no lasting trauma. Instead, I discovered that the venue was the college bar, where the End-of-Year party was underway. It was 7pm, 150 students had been drinking since the afternoon and were bumping and grinding to the DJ’s jarring ringtone hiccups, and making out en masse. Now I’m 36, so when I make out it’s light kissing and gentle patting. They, however, were making out like the vampires in The Strain, tongues lashing their partners’ uvulas. Before I could turn to the organiser and beg for the show to be cancelled, the DJ stopped the music and yelled: “Hey everyone! The comedy is here!” Then he handed me the microphone and ran.
A barrage of hate was loosed upon me. 150 students, wiping spittle from their faces, booed as one, exhaling beer-soaked disdain through the media of jeers and abuse. For five continuous minutes I stood there, hands shaking, mouth dry, unable to say a word. You learn a lot about yourself when booed by an angry mob. I learned that I really hate young people. People are always harping on about how the children are our future and how we should make it a better world for them. Bollocks. Young people are selfish, and soaked in alcohol and shared spittle; they deserve nothing. If you’re going to make a better world, do it for bitter, jaded, 36-year-old comedians.
Then the mob stopped booing in unison, presumably to draw more air into their lungs and begin another barrage. Seeing my chance, I took the opportunity to pull up the microphone and say, “I hope you all get hepatitis.” Then I ran.
I consider that a draw.
Catch Sami at the 2015 Fringe Festival.