Tom Taylor’s column: Note to self - audience must not have the last laugh

New braille seat numbers at Crucible Theatre, Sheffield  'see  story Nick Ahad  Picture Chris Lawton 09 03 2009
New braille seat numbers at Crucible Theatre, Sheffield 'see story Nick Ahad Picture Chris Lawton 09 03 2009

The world of Harrogate Advertiser columnist Tom Taylor, promoter of Harrogate’s Sitting Room comedy club and finalist in So You Think You’re Funny contest at Edinburgh Fringe 2013

I think it was chat show host and/or comedian Craig Ferguson who once said comedy involves the audience as a participant as much as the comedian.

Or something along those lines.

These quotes get bandied about left, right and centre subject to liberal editing and reattributing. If in doubt, Mark Twain said it. Or, if the sentiment is a little more debauched, Churchill.

This can cause problems.

I was gigging in a lovely 600-seat spa theatre last week. The audience of 36 were scattered somewhat thinly across the stalls, the majority deciding to slide down in their seats so as to avoid detection and try to conceal their painfully self-conscious attendance.

From the stage you would occasionally spot a head pop up above the seat as someone repositioned themselves.

It all sort of resembled a giant, if slow moving, whack-a-mole game but with 564 broken and empty holes.

I shuffled on stage to a sound which can only be described as rapturous applause, if the applause came exclusively from the hands of mice all wearing really quite thick mittens.

(This sentence has taken 12 minutes to write as I have, seemingly comatosed, sat perfectly still contemplating whether mice have hands. Feet? Paws? As an avid reader of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series my internal dialogue plumped for hands as this would best explain the anthropomorphic warrior mice’s proficiency and dexterity as archers.)

Anyway, I digress, tremendously.

It was one of those gigs where you stride onto stage at 9pm, perform your 20 minute set, look at your watch, read the display, start sweating, re-read “9:08pm” and pray to any and all available gods that your banter is on good form.

My banter last week was transacted exclusively with a nonagenarian.

As someone who watches a lot of comedy, as well as performing and promoting it, I have picked up a few things. One fairly universal rule as an audience member is not to chat when the comedian’s on stage.

Even more so when you are 1/36th of the audience. And sat on the front row. Well, the third row but, by virtue of two empty rows, the first.

Thusly, our interactions consisted of her talking loudly, if incomprehensibly, followed by me explaining that she had picked a rum night to come and talk as everyone in the auditorium was painfully aware of everyone else in the auditorium. And then nothing.

No comebacks. I had succeeded in maintaining a conversation rally of two. Hardly top banter but I was well within my rights to politely request her to be quiet. I was in the position of power.

Throughout my 20 minutes there were a further four two-part conversation rallies until it emerged she was hard of hearing and was merely asking for her friend to repeat my jokes.

I kindly thanked her for generosity in calling them jokes, assured her they weren’t in any way worth repeating, wished everyone a safe drive home and left.

How the mighty can fall.

l Sitting Room Comedy Club returns on Wednesday, April 9th with Sitting Room favourite and award winning comedian, songwriter and playwright Boothby Graffoe with support from Mickey Sharma, Peter Brush and Phil Ellis.

Tom Taylor tweets at @tomtails.