I’m a stand-up comedian, I know that you’d say what a cool sort of lifestyle, getting to travel all around New Zealand but I’m telling you it isn’t. Take tonight, for example, I’m part of a travelling show, which people have paid good money to come and see.
I looked around the changing room and see my fellow funny men and women. One of my colleagues, Willie Pee, who does takeoffs of the late great Billy Tee James, (which always seems a little ironic as Willie is a little scrawny white guy, with a pox-ridden face) always comes up to me like I’m his father-confessor or something. “Hey, hey, what do you think of this one?” he says enthusiastically, I look at him; he seems oblivious to my ambivalence, “Yeah what is it this time Willie?” I say, with a longsuffering tone. “One Maori chief says to another, ‘How many Pakeha should I invite for dinner tonight?’ and the other Chief says ‘Depends on how many you can fit into your Hangi pit.” Then he slaps me on the back and walks off laughing.
Now I know you are reading this thinking that I’m cynical, and I guess that to a certain extent you’d be right, I’ve been on the circuit now for the last eight years and I’m stale. I mean to say, hands up if you’ve never been stale in your job? Just lately I’ve been struggling for new material; I’ve got the standard repertoire, those jokes that make people laugh, no matter how many times they have heard them, they (the jokes) are like old friends; you can pull them out and they work.
It’s a funny thing human nature, we have taboos in our society, and if one stands up on a stage with the only light in the house trained upon them, one can say as one pleases, nothing is sacred. It is like you have become the collective mouthpiece saying all the things that other everyday people wouldn’t have the nerve to.
It seems that it is acceptable to make jokes about people who have disabilities or who have certain traits that through no fault of their own are in a lesser position in life than us. No one really makes political jokes anymore, cause most of them are already in parliament. (I just had to slip that one in, it’s one of my oldies, sorry)
We have young comedians standing up, they’re usually drunk, by the way, spouting profanities and curses, and this has become the new stand up comic. It is something that has never sat easily with me, though don’t get me wrong I am no saint, and tonight is proof of that.
Tonight my act followed Willie Pee’s, he had got a few laughs and giggles from the crowd and they seemed ready to let loose; I looked out on my audience, and they looked at me expectantly. I thought I would try something totally different to my normal jokes. I scanned the crowd, and from my experience in the past, I can almost tell by looking at their body language who and what they do.
Take for example the group of thirty-somethings to the left of the stage, about three tables back. In their group of seven there will be one married couple, both working with no kids, ‘DINKYS’ I call them, dual income no kids yet, don’t ask me what the ‘s’ stands for you may be offended. Also included in the group is one set of boyfriend/girlfriends steady and committed, yet scared as hell to marry each other in case they fail as their olds did. The other three are a mish-mash of society and it is here that I spy the unwitting part of my new act.
You see tonight, I’d decided to abandon my normal genre of jokes and witticisms that I usually use, and stray into the murky world of character assassination. I’ve seen Kevin Bloody Wilson do it, and though I’ve never tried it before, I was willing to give it a go. I sit quietly and peer into the crowd with a funny expression on my face; even that elicits a few laughs from the crowd and my unknown victim.
Then as if right on cue, my chosen one calls out. “Get on with it,” he shouts from his table, from my vantage point I look at him, he is a slightly overweight young man, and a short brown bottle is in his hand. I stand up and glare at him across the room; he is slightly flushed. His sandy hair seems to contrast with the redness of his face. “You know,” I speak slowly into my microphone, “That telling a performer to start is not the brightest thing to do young man,” the crowd giggle, I feel like I’m changing a bit like Jackel and Hyde, “In fact stand up tubby boy.”
He shakes his head, his friends are jostling him, “Come on, I won’t hurt you.” I say trying to entice him to his feet. Eventually, he yields to my command, I have never felt this much power, and I loved it. “What’s your name son,” I deliberately use the fatherly approach, “Jim” he calls out, “Okay Tim,” I respond, intentionally mispronouncing his name, “Come up here,” “It’s Jim,” he protests, “And I’m not leaving my seat,” At that, he starts to sit down, “Who gave you the command to sit down Tim?” I thunder, pointing my finger at him like I was a conjurer. He rises and stands again, I feel like a headmaster of a school, all-powerful and important. “I would say that you could do with some exercise? Don’t the rest of you agree that Tim could use a little workout?”
By this time the crowd is right behind me, someone starts chanting, “Tim, Tim,” over and over, and everyone joins in banging their hands on the tables. Each privately glad that it is not them getting a hard time. Jim stands there, his face now bright red, as a fire of embarrassment burns deep from inside of him. I lift my hands like a conductor of an orchestra; the room falls slowly silent. “Come up here Timmy and let’s see how tuff you really are.” After some encouragement from his friends, he comes towards the stage; (He is far braver than I am, as I wouldn’t have subjected myself to this.) Finally, he arrives, I hold out my hand to shake his hand, he stretches out his hand but I pull mine away and run my fingers through my hair. The crowd laughs at my cheap gag and then grows silent as they await my next move. “Did you come here on your own tonight Tim?” I ask softly, “No,” he replies “I came with my friends” he looks vulnerable. “And how much did you have to pay them to come with you tonight,” “Nothing.” He states as he shifts from one foot to another. “I don’t believe you Tim; I mean these are nice looking people sitting at that table, why would they want to be seen with you?” He looks at them for help but his friends are laughing, along with everyone else. “Well I’ll tell you something Tim, tonight is your lucky night; I’m going to become your personal trainer.” I lean forward and gaze at the crowd; “Don’t you all think Tim could use a little exercise?” “Yes,” they scream all eager to see what punishment I’ll mete out. “Right Tim. When was the last time you went out on a date?” he hesitates then says, “Um, last year,” “Did you get lucky Tim?” “No,” he says, then wishes he’d said nothing, “I’m glad you didn’t,” I say sincerely, “Because it’s illegal to have relations with dogs!” By now the crowd is right behind me and they roar with laughter, I should’ve stopped and let him return to his seat, but I couldn’t, I was on a role. “Okay Timmy after I’m finished with you I’ll guarantee you that you’ll be able to get a date, but first you’re going to have to shape up a little. When was the last time you saw, let alone touched your toes?” He shrugged his shoulders, “Well I’m not surprised,” I put my hand on my chin, and stroked my goatee thoughtfully; memories of my school days come flooding back.
I guess that you could say that I’m one of those people who have got better looking as I’ve got older. When I was a schoolboy I was this weedy little jerk, I came in for a lot of flack and one boy, in particular, Darren McDonald made it his task to make every day of mine a living hell. All the taunts and humiliations came from deep within me and poured out onto Jim. I saw something in his eyes that reminded me of myself, and how I despised it! Why doesn’t he stand up to me, he’s a coward just like I was, I was weak and now I’m atoning for that by destroying this poor excuse for a human standing in front of me. I did feel a glimmer of guilt but pushed it deep down, it was my chance to get back at humanity, and it was like Karma or something, I was in my parallel universe. The abuse that I hurled at him came unrehearsed and uncensored, the crowd ran along with me, and I felt encouraged and brave. I attacked him from every quarter, bringing into question his manhood and even his reason for being on earth.
Then I saw him start to break, his body trembled and shook, and little tears formed in the corner of his eyes. “Don’t leave the stage just yet Timmy,” I taunt him, but he has made up his mind, he turns to leave the stage, he starts to head towards his table, then sees his friend’s. They are still laughing and joking, he stops, “Oh come on Timmy, come back to me.”
He searches for an escape. On the left wall is a fire escape, Jim barges onto the two horizontal bars and the door flings open, from where I’m standing I can see out onto the open street and the first thing that I notice is that it is dark and raining.
He rushed headlong into the rain, and in the light of a street light, he pauses at the road’s edge. He turned and stares back at the stage, a hollow and empty look, which will haunt me to the grave. He then turned his head and looked first to the left and then the right; he then walked calmly out onto the road.
The blast of an air horn and the screaming of twenty tyres belonging to a logging truck, trying desperately trying to stop shatter the quietness of the night air. The deep thud of flesh and bone against thirty-five tonnes of steel filled the room.
I stay on stage, looking at the open door, then back at the silent crowd. Never in any of my shows have I had that kind of reaction before.