Comedy Festival Patron Ralph Oswick’s occasional festival diary
People can behave very strangely in audiences. This week I’ve seen a couple in the middle of the front row who remained stony-faced throughout and then were heard saying how much they enjoyed themselves. Not sure the comedian, who was all of six feet away, felt overjoyed at having them stare him out for an hour.
In the same show an annoying chap next to me constantly checked his emails, while occasionally looking up and laughing uproariously. A new slant on multi-tasking?
I’ve done a show where a pesky kid who’s seen the show before shouted out all the punchlines seconds before I delivered them. In a musical show with Natural Theatre, they wheeled in a paraplegic lad on a trolley. His breathing machine clicked and hissed completely out of time with most of our songs. Really hard to adjust, but we managed it and the young fellow enjoyed the show immensely.
In a show called Scarlatti’s Wedding I was required to pass along the front row and engage directly with members of the audience and receive the wedding gifts they had brought along. In a particularly cramped German theatre I couldn’t get past one chap. His wife cracked her knuckles on his knee and cried out ‘Vooden leg! Vooden leg!’ I did my best and clambered over.
Once, we had a message to say that a woman in the stalls had died. This was in Germany too, and true to form the audience remained politely silent. Hiding behind the set, we heard the ambulance arrive and the paramedics rushing in. The sound of the siren fading into the distance indicated that the poor woman had been taken away. But no message came through from front of house that the show could start again or had perhaps been cancelled.
After a very long, silent wait, I said, well, lads, I think the show should go on. But none of us could remember exactly at which point it had stopped. Being the director I decreed that we should start vaguely in the middle of the act and speak really fast for the first five minutes so the German audience would be as confused as we were.
It worked and we got our usual standing ovation. And it turned out the woman wasn’t dead but had suffered a seizure and was recovering in hospital.
By the way, concerning the aforementioned wedding gifts, people really did bring all sorts of things. I can remember novelty teapots, a hot water bottle, his and hers tea towels and of course condoms. Lots and lots of condoms. Yawn. One chap presented us with a whole four place dinner service, while in Berlin we were pelted with gift-wrapped chunks of the Berlin wall.
Mind you, we had to be careful to ask for presents, not gifts. Gift in German means poison.
Weird audience members apart, I have enjoyed everything I’ve seen in the festival so far. Yes I am a patron, and I do my duty by being a bum on a seat when required, but stand-up is not totally my thing so I’m not a push-over. I particularly enjoyed Diane Spencer in the intimate and subtly sparkling surroundings of the upstairs room at the Ring O Bells. Despite my own efforts to murder the front row in many shows in which I have appeared, I don’t like being too near the action. But this little venue is just right, and Diane’s true account of her struggles to write a show for Nancy Dell ‘Olio had everyone in fits. She’s a great story teller and her show, with a bit of honing, will be a hit at Edinburgh Fringe later in the year I’m sure.