So me and a younger stand-up are sharing a bill and comparing heckling scenarios in the dressing room before the off; I describe a middle-aged comedian I saw recently whose volume of delivery was in inverse proportion to the strength of his material. In the middle of his set a woman’s serious voice cut through the silence that followed one of his ‘gags’ – “You know, I think you really need to think about the way your life is going.” Ouch! She was rubbishing not only his act, but his entire existence.
My young colleague winces, laughs and tells me about a show during which a woman threw a glass at him.
“Oo, nasty!” I am sympathetic. “What led up to that?”
“It was a table of drunken girls on a hen night. They were just talking all through my act. I managed to quieten them down, apart from one who just wouldn’t shut up, so I said to her, ‘You’re the sort of woman who makes domestic abuse possible.’ She was the one who threw a glass at me.”
I say nothing but in truth I am appalled at his presumption of innocence in this situation. I do not believe it is acceptable to throw heavy objects at entertainers – but equally I do not believe his put-down line was anything other than crass, witless and offensive. Yeah, let’s all have a laugh about men beating up their partners. I consider asking him if, had the heckler been black, he might have said, “you’re the sort of man who made slavery possible.” But I don’t.
“That’s the thing,’” he adds, “there’s no line with me.” He says this sentence with a thinly-disguised tone of smugness and pride, as though he has just uttered the phrase, “That’s the thing with me – I have spent all my life struggling on behalf of freedom of speech.”
And what do you think of his ad lib? It is entirely possible that you are in accord with Dan Dan domestic-abuse-man (as he shall be known). ‘Hey, it’s just a joke, doesn’t mean he approves of domestic abuse, we’re all grown ups.’ It has been remarked (not least, of course in the Guardian) that among the recent crop of new male comics, not to mention the current crop of young men, there is a rebirth of old school sexism. Why is this? Is it a reaction against the perceived ‘political correctness’ of my generation of comics? Is it in imitation of the Jimmy Carrs who do flippant rape material? Is it to do with porn on the internet or video games or magazines like Nuts and Loaded ?
I watch Dan’s opening spot of MC-ing. It mostly involves him asking women in the audience if they are single and then dispensing low grade suggestive smut in response. To be fair to him he seems to get away with it, which I find somewhat depressing. He does a bit of material about how he inserted chocolate between the cheeks of a woman’s bottom so that on awakening she thought she had had an accident. Why a woman? The joke, such as it is, would be the same if it were a man’s bottom, wouldn’t it? Then he gets the men in the audience to growl and then the women to giggle. He observes, “sounds a bit rapey doesn’t it?” ‘Rapey’ – is this the most repulsive new word in the English language?
I return to the dressing room. I’ll read the paper til I’m on……..