Monday, September 14, 2009

My strangest gig so far

Tonight I went back to the club ran at the bar of the Theatre Royal in Stratford. It's a gig completely different from any other I know: the bar is huge, the night is free and people sit at the tables drinking, eating and often chatting, so you really need to fight for attention. The demographic is very young, very black and very very noisy, with laughter alternated not with the usual silence but with cheers or shouts of protest, American-style. Well, I had the strangest problem ever: I did very few jokes because people were laughing too much and didn't let me continue! It didn't feel as right as you might expect, though, it wasn't exciting or rewarding but felt actually very scary. I guess what made it so scary was the lack of control I was experiencing, the fact that I was getting a different and a bigger reaction from what I had bargained for. Sometimes they were even laughing at the set-ups, so if was clear that the balance between "laughing with" and "laughing at" this time was definitively screwed in favour of the second. I guess it was the opposite of a laugh of recognition: the vision of a geeky, bespectacled, grey-haired Italian with the strongest Italian accent attempting comedy in the most demographically unlikely of places was probably already enough. But fortunately there was a moment when I felt I managed to turn the tables and take control. The MC had done some jokes about Nigerians doing announcements on the tube, so I did my "learning English from the tube announcements" routine adding this time that "the problem with that method is that you pick up a Nigerian accent". That brought the house down, it was probably the biggest laugh I ever had. Now that I think of it, it's as if I inconsciously realised that I was "laughed at" for being so incongrous with the environment and I reacted by turning that very experience into its comical opposite. After the gig, many people came to shake my hand and congratulate me, so I should definitively be very happy and proud of it, but I'm also still perturbed by the experience. It showed me a side of comedy I had never experienced so clearly before. And I wonder if I like that side and, if I do, what that says about me. As Nietzsche famously wrote: "when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you".

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