12:15 AM Saturday 12 October 2013 Nunhead Heights
A riot broke out once when I was hosting a show in New York. I created it.
I would do some stage time before I introduced the last act. The purpose was to spare the final comic having to tell jokes to a distracted audience while the waitresses collected the check – the bill in the UK. Generally, there isn’t table service in UK comedy clubs. UK clubs have breaks and pay at the bar.
I would give a little speech at the Boston Comedy Club in Greenwich Village, now closed, requesting the audience tip the waitstaff. It was a bit of sucking up to the women who worked there.
“Jews: Tip. Don’t tell me your father owns the place. Spanish people (Puerto Ricans and Dominicans): Don’t leave a joint. Leave money. English tourists: Don’t tell me you don’t have tipping where you come from. I am marrying an English woman. I know. Black people: Don’t worry about tipping. You never tip. Just don’t riot. Don’t throw the chairs.”
I am not saying it was or is comedy ‘gold’. I was in my early days of stand up. Plus, Americans like that stuff. The audiences at the Boston was at least 50% black and Hispanic and they usually laughed at it.
Two groups were sitting around the stage. One was black and one was Spanish. They were being lippy with each other. I noticed them but didn’t make much of it.
I introduced the final comic and went outside to see about the line for the next show. When I returned, chairs were being thrown across the room between the two parties.
I dove in from the back shouting, “People, people! Stop it. Let the love flow!” in my camp way. And then I steered the people onto West Third Street. Well, that is how I remember it. I was probably cowering in the bathroom waiting for the people to calm down.
Luckily no one was hurt in the flurry of thrown chairs. But it was ugly, and it was all my fault. I had planted the idea of tossing chairs and riots. Someone could have lost eye or worse.
Wednesday was another one of my worst nights in comedy.
A drunk homeless person wandered into my show at the Source Below seeking warmth on a cold night during the interval. He sat at a table in the back with his head resting on the table, sleeping.
No one had left my show – usually a good sign at my free show that I’m doing well. On another night, where I was feeling weaker, I might have let him stay and built a show around him. Or joked him out of the club. But that night I was on my comedy game – at least, I thought I was.
I asked the Italian barman to get the drunk a beer and lure him upstairs with it. But the barman refused and put his arm around the man and started pushing him upstairs. I knew this was the wrong way to handle the man.
Within a few seconds of my going on stage, the barman came downstairs holding his face. He had been punched. The barman had then hit the drunk back, and when the homeless guy got off the ground he smashed the £1500 plate glass window of Najj’s Carbon Restaurant on Brewer Street. I felt sick to my stomach.
Usually, my comedy failures come because I panic and think I am not funny. But these were two of my worst nights in comedy and they involved me feeling like I could say, and do, anything, on stage.
Luckily, or unluckily, comedy maven John Fleming was there to witness and document the Source Below show.
See me this Sunday at 5PM at the Leicester Square Theatre in Lewis Schaffer: American in London.