I was thrilled to find out last night that two of my short stories have been published in the excellent Tuck Magazine http://tuckmagazine.com/ . For anyone not familiar with the magazine it is an on-line monthy arts title, showcasing fiction, poetry, photography and comment. The two stories Tuck is featuring are a couple of my personal favourites. Here’s another, more in keeping with my “Silent Ranter” style of writing …
There must have been around 30 of them in the room. Nothing but shadowy figures, picked out in the half light of low voltage bulbs. I’ve been here before – many times – and rarely survived the 10 minute slot. But tonight I’m determined not to die on my feet. I’ve prepared my ammunition well. Practiced in front of the mirror – in front of the cat – and I’m confident that I can win them over. I have to. My material is running out – and so is my residency. If I don’t get some positive responses tonight – a few chuckles, some guffaws, a yay – then I’m dead. My career as a standup will be on the floor – with blood on it.
The guy on before me has raised a few laughs. He has this way of pausing and then spluttering out random words like a manic Tourette’s sufferer. They seem to like it. But it’s not my way.
My look is all wrong…. I’m a middle aged comic, for god’s sake, but not Ben Elton. If I wore a shiny suit like his I’d look like Nick Cage in Peggy Sue God Married. Washed up and ready for the knackers. It’s all about the look: the delivery. The gags are secondary. It’s always been the way. But now you seem to have to have a bigger hook – a deformity, a sexual preference, or reference, a cause, a niche.
I’m too…Tommy Cooper without the addiction. I’m too Crusty the Clown, without the malice and the yellow guy. I’m going to die to night. I know it. And I couldn’t have picked a more disinterested audience to breathe my last before. Most of them are drunk already; I can smell the liquor from here, as I cower behind the curtain. I can smell food too, greasy and pungent – like they couldn’t wait till the show is over. Ok, deep breaths: practise that smile. Lips don’t fail me now…
There’s hardly a ripple of applause as the Tourette guy saunters off stage. He looks pleased with himself, though. It could be so much worse. I know. The pub manager’s giving me a look from the back of the room. It’s not a good one. His arms are crossed against his chest and he’s frowning. It’s like he’s miming ‘ok, get on with it, dig your own grave, jump in, Amen’.
“Brrr, brrr, brrr” the sound reverberates off my lips, warming them up for the big entrance. The news girl Sian Philips let us devoted viewers into this warm up technique. Oh Sian, if only you were here tonight. You’d employ just the right type of appreciative noises to ensure my survival. We have so much in common, apart from the weight thing. You’re thin. I’m flabby, but not in a funny haha way. There’s a lot of flabby haha people in the audience tonight. Some have tattoos. A lot have piercings…and hats. The Muppet comedian Fozzy Bear wore a hat. He was funny. Probably not any more, though. A regular bear with a hat wouldn’t rock the crowd tonight.
Ok, the guy at the back is looking concerned. Move your limbs, man, with confidence, with confidence.
“Ladies, Transsexuals, and Flabby Men, lend me your cheers! And a special mention to the Gluten Intolerant. I can’t stomach you either!”
I wish I could say there was silence. Maybe there was for a split second, a blip in the continual drone of chat, scraping of chair legs and clinking of glasses and plates. Peering into the dimly-lit room I can’t be sure if anyone is actually looking at me, let alone listening.
“Well, that wheat joke didn’t go down well….huh?” Someone at the back shouts out a volley of profanities.
“I didn’t run into anyone I know today. Guess who’s wearing the exact same thing tomorrow!”
“They wouldn’t notice what you’re wearing any day of the week. Loser!” yells one sharp wit from the floor. And so it goes on, with each joke met with a volley of abuse. And not one single laugh. Not one. The manager at the back is grimacing and moving his hand from side to side, mouthing the words ‘flat-lining’.
But it isn’t over yet. I have one special trick up my sleeve – a tool of my trade.
“Yeah, you know, someone said if you want to get ahead you need to look good. You need a chiseled profile. What do you reckon Ladies, Transsexuals and Flabby Men? Shall I reconfigure myself before your bloodshot eyes?” I sort of shout the words out, so they can hear them above the racket they’re making as they fidget and shift in their seats, scenting blood.
I take the chisel from my pocket and thrust it into my cheek. The pain is immense and my mouth falls open and lets out an almighty scream. The sound cuts the atmosphere like a…chisel and, in that moment, I capture my audience’s full attention.
“Hey man, the dude’s cutting his own crappy face. Jese, this guy’s hilarious. He’s cutting his own ugly mug. Man you’re killing me!” shouts this one scrawny-looking guy, who starts hopping around his table in hysterics. And then, like sheep, they all start to bleat. They laugh like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen. And maybe it is. Maybe my chisel cut right through to their warped funny bones.
So, I reckon, I’ve finally carved out a niche for myself. I’ll have to work on the act. Employ a little of the magician’s dark arts. But tonight I succeeded. I floored those bastards, all 30 of them. I’ll live to die another day.