(I’ve written the title of this post for Richard, as he’s currently on his way to Japan, and you shouldn’t bother a man on his way to Japan, that’s the saying. He can change it when he gets back if he wants to. This is probably more of a one-to-one chat situation between the two of us.. Anyway, I hope you are all well – James)
by Richard Hanrahan
In show business we have a phrase (and I use the term “we” very loosely) – don’t ever work with animals or children. To be frank, this rule should apply to most other jobs as well. Aside from teaching, children shouldn’t be involved at all, and even then they don’t know enough to really be valuable as teachers. Put simply, they don’t have the business acumen required, their minds can’t cope with spreadsheets and they have the attention span of a sieve (this not being a metaphor for a mind with holes with little retention quality, but the suggestion that they share the mental faculties with an inanimate object). Follow a child around Tescos, and you’ll notice they are distracted by cartoon characters, bright lights and shiny objects – and have poor budgetting awareness. Insert joke here about following children round supermarkets.
Specifically for comedy, the problem is beyond the logistics of the thing. For a gig made fertile for laughter involves a number of criteria being in balance: the size and shape one would hope means the acts on stage can be seen, acoustics and sound should be set up so that the act can be heard, audience distribution too is important – at least 3 people with the majority of those ideally not being other acts on the bill. Alcohol should also be flowing at an optimum: not too little, not too much, but enough that you feel comfortable stood in front of random strangers.
Children should be kept to an absolute minimum. There are many reasons for this – as a race, they just don’t get jokes. A joke for a child could be as simple as a talking animal farting, or some brightly coloured baffoon being hit in the face with a custard pie. But we aren’t clowns – children don’t appreciate that we’re professionals: Flatulence is an art form. Delicate wordplay like smuggling puns through, deceitful stories about things that happened on the way to the gig and a well crafted cock gag do not come without practice. Custard pies don’t come cheap.
But the biggest problem with children is the reactions of those around them. People always think wonderfully of these little beasts, but the fact of the matter is the laughing muscles of a wider audience cannot function knowing there are children in the room with them. They suddenly get emabarassed by the merest existence of their sexual organs, worried that the combined letters of words like “shit” and “fuck” have the power to destroy their tiny skulls. And no one gets behind you when you call them out for their heckles.
Just last week, I was asked to do a gig – a charity event for sick children as it happens, which (and I am not one to brag about such things) I did because I’m a good fucking person. I didn’t even ask for a fee (unusual as at almost every other gig I ask if I’m always asking promoters if I might paid this time). But when I accepted the gig it was made explicitly clear to me that the event was for the benefit of sick children and not for their direct entertainment.
Now, my act isn’t obscene, it isn’t dirty. It’s mildly curious at best. But some of my punchlines – not all, as I have a perfectly clean joke about kicking dogs to death – some of my punchlines involve masturbation and rim jobs. And I am sick to death of having to explain to children onstage that a rim job is cleaning a dirty toilet with your tongue. I can’t stand lying to them anymore.
It was bad enough that three nine year old children (roughly 10% of the audience) were to be allowed to witness my act. I could cope with that, and I asked the compere to make it absolutely clear that the parents be warned what I was about to do. But not only were there kids present – but one of them was the opening act.
This sounds like it could be a joke, but it isn’t. The opening act of the evening was a 9 year old girl singing to her family and friends. The worst thing was that I had been told I was going on after the first act – and had budgetted around 15 minutes to censor my set. I was not expecting the opening act to be a child, and I certainly wasn’t expecting her to only manage a tight 5 minutes. Totally unprofessional.
So as this little angel sung the final moments of “There is a castle on a Cloud” – beautifully I might add, a real talent for the future – and the compere stepped in, I wasn’t even stood in the wings but still scribbling notes onto the back of my hand.
The following happened: I got onstage. I did a joke about being fat. People were enjoying themselves, the room were warming to me – a thing I struggle with at the best of times. And as I approached my first problematic moment – already having to stretch out half written ten minutes into a twenty and so no hope at all of cutting these jokes – I warned the audience that things were about to get dirty. And I offered them. An example, an inoffensive piece of wordplay to test the waters. The joke goes thusly:
“My Dog has no nose. How does he smell?” (Pause) “With his magic dick”*
Silence. There exists audio of this moment, as the audience, clearly giddy and buoyant, enjoying not only my appearance of being fat, but my clear admission of this quality, suddenly resort to shock, and one old woman in the room makes a sound as if her entire world is rocked. Maybe it’s the way I foiled her expectations by not resorting to the “terrible” punchline.
The other alternative is that she found my material unclean, which I don’t understand. The punchline involves the genitals of my dog (the dog does not exist, and is a different dog to the one that I talk about being kicked to death) which are not inthemselves dirty. Not only this, but they are removed from their usual sexual or excretial functions to become useful as a nose for my dog. Similarly, it isn’t as if it’s just a normal penis – it is magic. Kids love magic, and the idea of a magic dick is surely wonderful for a child. They certainly didn’t seem to mind the intrusion of my mouth as much as their parents.*
But this, my friends, is not why I bring up my objections to these uncouth prematures. As the only comedian on the bill, my role was to provide the laughs, and regardless. We decided after the magic dick moment that we would request the children cover their ears at the appropriate moments (with me being the designated gatekeeper for the evening as one could not trust these children to arbitrate themselves, especially as they would have to hear the jokes first before they arrived at a decsion).
As I finished my act, with a sublime rendition of my always wonderful erotic story closer – in which an old woman shits herself – I returned to my seat, satisfied with a job well done. Congratulations, I thought to myself, you’ve survived unscathed, and from the looks of faces around the room, everyone had enjoyed themselves. Thanks to my mouth I had saved the lives of sick children, and was directly a hero of the evening.
But three young faces were not in the room. They were off in toilet, discussing my performance. They talked to an audience member and asked that she relate the information to me which was as following:
“Can you tell the funny man** that we did not approve of his performance, and that he smells of garbage”
So much was my desire to fix the lives of broken children with my sharp tongue. I was shocked. The sheer audacity of their statement cut me to the core – yes, I may not have smelled particularly good (I had to walk 4 miles to get to the gig), but their appraisal wasn’t ever going to be accurate as they had been censored from my best material. Not only this but another audience member told me they’d told her to tell me that “the magician*** was a smelly banana”
It was a long walk home, that night, my tail between my legs. And so, fellow comedians and audience members of the jury, I implore you to consider once more the moral of the story: Why shouldn’t you work with children? Because they are whiney, bitchy little shits.
* – this joke, without exception, always has some idiot shouting in the pause the word “terrible” as if I was about to start a set of material of the oldest and most tired jokes imagineable. Surely there aren’t acts that reach these expectations? Would someone really claim to be a comedian than walk onstage and just read from a joke book? I find this position laughable, but then maybe I am naiive.
** – this phrase is deliberately written to be a bit disgusting and imply something sexual. The use of “my mouth” is clearly in that I was speaking and making sounds, and not any other active function towards the children.
*** – one of the best reviews I’ve received.
**** – the mask slipping here, there was clearly some resentment, not only referring to me as a funny man, but also suggesting I was a magician of my art.
Richard is looking for people to help fund his Kickstarter for a new alternative wordbook. If you feel like helping him out please do so: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/138101816/the-alternative-wordbook