Laurence Clark finds that inviting his friend and fellow comedian Jess Thom to one of his Fringe shows made for some unexpected moments of hilarity
Last week I did one of the best and most exhilarating performances of my stand-up career.
I first met my mate Jess Thom about a month ago when we both appeared on the BBC Ouch podcast together. Jess is a performer with Tourette’s syndrome and frankly one of the funniest and most charismatic people I’ve ever met. The majority of her tics make her say words like ‘biscuit’, ‘hedgehog’ and ‘Alan’ a lot, but every so often she will come up with the kind of surreal juxtaposition of two completely unrelated concepts that comedy writers like myself spend hours scratching our heads over. Yet she makes it look so easy!
I’ve met up Jess a few times since being up here and have been to see her show Backstage in Biscuitland (which is absolutely brilliant by the way). In her show, she describes the experience of being put in a soundbooth at a Mark Thomas gig after audience members complained about the noise she was making during the show. So when Jess asked if we could set something up for her to come and see my show last night, I was determined to make it work. As a disabled person myself, I’ve fought my whole life to be included. Besides, one of the best things about performing up here is getting the opportunity to see other shows, so not being allowed to do this seems like missing out on an important part of the fringe experience.
However I did have some initial concerns about how the gig would go. I don’t perform in a large venue like Mark Thomas; I’m on at The Box in Assembly George Square which is, for want of a better term… a box! It’s a lovely, intimate space but there’s not a lot of room in there, so Jess would be on the front row and pretty well impossible to ignore.
Then there’s the issue that, as a performer with cerebral palsy, audiences can take a short while to get used to the way I move and talk. I always spend the first couple of minutes just breaking the ice and reassuring them that it’s OK to laugh. How would this work when they are confronted with two very different disabled people right at the start?
On top of this, I had a reviewer in, which always makes me more nervous. My shows tend to be precisely structured with little room for improvisation. Plus on the whole I never really get heckled so I’m not used to dealing with sudden outbursts from my audience. How would introducing an element of unpredictability work?
But if I’m completely honest, my main concern was that the audience might find Jess funnier than me!
The irony of all this is that my show, Moments of Instant Regret revolves around an incident that happened ten years ago when I heckled a well-known comedian by calling him a c**t. Therefore saying no to Jess would have seemed like double standards under these circumstances. In fact, in many ways last night’s show could be seen as karma finally being re-established.
At the top of the show I introduced Jess to the audience. Then as I got into the show I found it quite easy to ignore the constant biscuits, hedgehogs and Alans. But every so often when I paused for breath, Jess would finish my sentences in surreally funny ways that other stand-up comedians could only dream of. For example:
Me: I guess all I’ve ever wanted is what anyone wants in life, namely…
Jess: …dancing cats!
And then there was my personal favourite:
Me: If you start to think about your moments of instant regret, one defining incident will probably leap out…
Jess: …like kicking a duck in the fanny!
There were many other moments like this, too numerous to mention, which brought the audience (and sometimes me) to tears of laughter. That’s not to say I didn’t hold my own. After telling the story of shouting c**t at the well-known comedian, I couldn’t resist turning to Jess and asking “is any of this ringing any bells with you?”
But far from being a distraction, Jess’s presence brought out the very best in me as a stand-up comedian; and judging by the response on Twitter the audience had a great time as well. If nothing else, I’ll be a hell of a lot more confident if I ever get heckled now. So I’d like to ask any other comedians reading this to consider putting on ‘relaxed performances’ where people who find it hard to keep quiet are welcome. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how they go.
Laurence Clark: Moments of Instant Regret is at Assembly George Square at 7.20pm till 24 August, more info
Jess Thom: Backstage in Biscuitland is at Pleasance Courtyard at 1.55pm till 16 August