As a comedian I have my dream job. Of that I am never in doubt. However, as many can imagine there are times when my job can become a nightmare. I found myself at one such night this weekend and it made me reflect on a period when I was at my most unhappy and severely unwell.
First let’s give you a run down of what went wrong on Saturday. I was playing the Last Laugh Comedy club in Sheffield. I’ve worked there, for my friends who run it, for well over ten years. It is a club in which acts feel safe and has an almost zero reputation for trouble. On Saturday night the comedian who runs it was hosting the show and had just bounded onstage to get the atmosphere going. As a host will always, and is pretty much required to do, Toby opened with some gentle banter with the audience. This goes along the lines of, ‘What’s your name mate, what do you do for a living, are you celebrating anything tonight?’ The young man he tried to engage with sat glaring back at these questions. Toby then asks, ‘Are you OK mate, you look a bit unhappy?’ The chap then felt he was completely justified to stand up and throw a full pint of beer over the host. Despite the horrendousness of this Toby remained completely professional and made light of this shocking incident. As the young man was being ejected his father aggressively approached me (I was up the back watching) and demanded to know why his son was being ejected. I think that was the even more disturbing part to me. That somehow assaulting a comedian is all part of the job and we should just put up with it.
I’ll give you an idea of the character of Toby from a thing that happened pre show. As I mentioned he runs this show and is passionate about things going well. Pre show he spotted a woman slumped at a table with her friends clearly inebriated on what looked like more than just alcohol. Toby approached her friends and gave the woman £20.00 to get a taxi home. He also asked if one of them would accompany her and they all refused. Let’s face it this is not the kind reception you’ll get in most places where you exhibit such behaviour.
As the show started, with the first comedian introduced on stage, this same large group of over twenty women chatted among themselves for the entirety of the first act. Many of them didn’t ever turn around and acknowledge there was a show on. So at the break they were told they could get a full refund and were asked to leave. They flatly refused and insisted they should be allowed to chat to Toby. Quite correctly he refused this request. As security by law has no right to physically eject them the police had to be called. In the 25 minutes it took them to get there the atmosphere turned incredibly sour. Segments of the audience were chanting ‘Out! Out!’ It really looked like there was going to be a flashpoint incident. Eventually the cops arrived and they left.
A fellow comic and myself then closed the show to an atmosphere that remained icy and hostile. Thankfully I only got one ‘Fuck off!’ shouted at me. I’ve had much worse.
What really got to me that night was there was a time not so long ago where this would have been a typical night in many places I worked in. Thankfully they’re all pretty much gone now. Yes there is much less work, but you look back on it now and think, was it worth it.
I became healthy again around 8-9 years ago thanks to responding well to a treatment. For a couple of years before that I suffered the worst health I’ve ever had to endure. I was suffering from a condition known as Psychotic depression, also known as major depressive disorder with psychotic features. It is a serious condition that requires immediate treatment and close monitoring by a medical or mental health professional. I now can admit to myself that 99% of this suffering was work related. the stress of having to deal with rooms like that on a regular basis had a huge impact on me.
On behalf of all comedians I’ve decided to be open about this. There’s a bullshit theology out there that thinks taking abuse, being under threat and generally disregarded as a person is a big part of a comedian’s job. Trust me it isn’t. You don’t go to the cinema and hurl abuse at the screen, you don’t go to the opera and decide to sing along, you don’t deface a painting because you don’t like the subject matter, you don’t throw drinks over people because you’re not sure what they want.
If you decide to attend a comedy night please keep this in mind. If you think me having to put up with your ignorant, shitty and inhuman behaviour is part of my job…well as the heckler shouted at me the other night…FUCK OFF!