The Elephant in the Room (thanks, John Mann)

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

            OK, even before we get to assessing the weekend’s gigs and their plusses and minuses, we must vent about the continual problem that is UK driving. Friday’s gig was in Exeter, and since it’s over 200 miles from Dagenham, I figured to leave at noon, which I did. This after talking earlier in the day to John Mann, who was emceeing the gig and was also coming from Essex. He mentioned working in Exeter the week before and leaving at noon, getting there at 10 minutes to 8. So before I took off, I checked online, and there were problems on the northern stretch of M25. OK, it would be going round Robin Hood’s barn, as my 6th grade teacher used to say (and I didn’t know what Robin Hood had to do with taking the long way, but I got what she was getting at). I took the southern route of M25, to M3, then to A303, a fluctuating route that’s sometimes four lanes, sometimes two, sometimes three, plus it goes by Stonehenge, something I’ll probably never see up close unless I actually plan to go there. 

              So here’s where things go awry. To jump ahead for a second, I didn’t get hopelessly stuck at any point, and I actually made it to the hotel shortly before 5:00, still a long time when you consider that in California, you can go from LA to San Francisco, a distance of exactly 383 miles, in 6 hours, if all is well. My one bottleneck on this particular trip was when I decided to stop for lunch after driving about 2 1/2 hours. Traffic had been moving just fine all the way, I was less than 100 miles away, I’m hungry, all the usual reasons to stop. So my total lunch break took about 20 minutes, during which time a massive queue had built up on the A303 westbound, so that when I’m trying to get back on, that manoeuvre (a word that even spellcheck has a problem with!) took about 10 minutes. OK, so what the hell happened? To my way of thinking, there must have been an accident during that 20 minutes. But, no, that would have made sense! I saw there was a roundabout up ahead. OK, maybe the accident happened on the roundabout. No, there was no accident. what had suddenly bogged up traffic was nothing more than the roundabout itself, and too many pussy drivers unwilling to cross it until there was no sign of another automobile for a mile in each direction! That was the best hypothesis I could formulate on such short notice. The distance from where I re-entered A303 and the roundabout was about a mile, yet that part of the trip took a good 20 minutes, and the requisite amount of swearing.

                Check into hotel, nap, watch a 1990 Simpsons episode for about the 800th time, as Channel 4 here likes to mess with your head, and show a run of episodes from two or three years ago, then when that run is over, show another run of 22 from somewhere in the 90’s… OK, again an individual problem. I meet John Mann in the lobby, and we ride to the gig together. This was a Jongleurs On The Road gig, which they’ve been doing in many different parts of UK, usually a one-night-only gig in a local theatre. I’ve worked Exeter many times over the years, but never a Jongleurs. The room seated about 300, though the turnout was closer to about 150.

                  A half-full theatre is not that big a problem, unless you got an additional factor, that John referred to as “The Elephant in the Room.” This refers to anything that serves as a distraction from what we set out to do, but there seemed no alternative choice. People with disabilities have every right to attend and enjoy, in whatever way they can, any type of performance, and if the performers have any qualms about it, they have to get over it immediately! This became John’s, and my, and the closer Will E Robo’s problem, as a very obese man in a wheelchair, with an oxygen tank, was seated in the very front. There’s only time to assess what you plan to say when you’re onstage, and assure yourself that nothing will be said that is in any way degrading. How the fuck did Jerry Lewis do it all those years? Was his Muscular Dystrophy telethon his own way of saying he’s sorry for acting like a retard and making millions from it? Our best way of dealing with it is to ignore it, though the temptation is really strong to keep glancing over every few seconds and see if the man is enjoying himself. Often there’s no way to tell, but you just keep on going. The man was conspicuous in his presence, but we all did what we do, and the mystery of “did he enjoy/comprehend/laugh” remains an unanswered question.

                 I didn’t know I’d have to deal with said elephant again so soon, but there I was in Cambridge on Saturday, playing a 40th birthday party. I arrived at the venue about an hour before I had to go on, and got to befriend the birthday boy and his immediate circle of friends and family. One of those was another special case, this one not in a wheelchair, but clearly handicapped by some illness, maybe from birth, which rendered him unable to speak, but able to comprehend, as I’d find out later. Again, the syndrome came up, but there was enough going on here that, even though he was seated up front, I could play off the rest of the crowd.

                     This was a great gig in so many ways. First off, I was THE comedian for the night. The rest of the evening’s entertainment was dancing and background music, but I would be expected to kick things off in a big way, which in retrospect, I think I did. None of them would know what I do until I actually did it, and I tried to talk to as few party goers as possible, so as not to give away my American accent to too many. Once I was on for about five minutes, and realized how easily they would be distracted, I went straight for the request situation. Also, seeing how many children were watching, I had to watch the language, (one of the kids asked me before I went on, “Do you swear?” and I said “Yes, but I’ll try not to”) got away with a LOT, all things considered. The requests were, for the most part, fun, and my big test came when the disabled person had a request. Oh. no, I have enough trouble when some drunk Midlanders try to request something, and “Fizhlaoodmucawk” is meant to be interpreted as “Do you know any Ozzy Osbourne?” 

                      The requests reminded me of when I played my niece’s bat mitzvah 10 years ago, and I was forced to make my act accommodate her friends, their parents, and their grandparents. Here was the same situation, and they were all Brits to boot. So in between the kids wanting me to do Lady Gaga songs, and the 20-somethings wanting to hear Hanson and Snoop Dogg, and THEIR parents wanting to hear Cliff Richard, the disabled man had my attention. OMG, direct contact, will I emerge not looking the total insensitive bastard? Through his minder, we ascertained that he wanted to hear some Phil Collins. Oh, and there’s so much trashing of Phil Collins that may not have been done yet that I may have felt obligated to do, being Rick Right, among other things, but I had to put my biases aside, and just allow that somewhere along the way, Phil Collins and/or Genesis have come up with listenable songs. A piss take here, no matter how warranted, would have looked like a piss take at the young man for his taste in music. I did a shitty rendition of the one Collins song I like, “Two Hearts,” and felt terrible for screwing it up. Thankfully, the man smiled, and a big sigh of relief from the man on stage.

                           I left that party with no one but myself noticing how much I worked my fucking ass off, and even though I lost my voice, I left with such a feeling of triumph at reaching, if not everybody there, a good enough spectrum that all of us went home happy. I look forward to the next challenge. 



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