I'm off to York this weekend with the Evening of Burlesque tour. Last time I was there was in 2000. I got off the train from Garforth and went straight to the Minster to pray.
I was up north for the Leeds 2000 Festival. I played the UK Play Comedy Tent, packed with mostly seventeen year old boys just broken up from school and off their trolleys on MDMA. Backstage I had bumped into Jason Baron, one of the Baron Brothers – the musical-comedy trio Baron Brothers based in London, you understand, not the Baron Brothers who own a plant nursery in Ventura, and guarantee their customers A Better Sod.
‘Not quite Klub Kabaret this gig,’ Jason said. ‘Strictly TTMAR…’
‘Take the Money and Run. Get them to turn your mike and your backing track up full blast so you don’t have to hear the crowd.’
I was the opening act. My backing track didn’t come on at all. The seventeen-year-olds looked at me in the silence. I looked at them. A curly haired shirtless lad with a build like a college wrestler stood up and led the chanting: ‘Put your tutu on your head, put your tutu on your head. You fat bastard, you fat bastard, put your tutu on your head.’
A ten minute potty-mouth slanging match followed, and I fitted what I could of my act proper around it. At one point, security pulled out a group of ten or so lads from the middle of the tent. They hadn’t actually been heckling but they were in my eye-line. I told one of them not to bother trying to pull the girl lying next to him: I had seen inside his sleeping bag and it wasn’t nice. They were on their way to the stage to rout me when security got to them first.
I came off-stage and went into shock.
‘Why have you made me come here and do this?’ I blurted to Jill, the event promoter. She had expensive hair, status-defining accessories; the custard colour velour tracksuit was a comfort-choice.
Jill said, ‘If you found it that traumatic, fine – you can go home now and I’ll still pay you for all the shows. But I think you’ve just been taken out of your comfort zone from the nice, London, Klub Kabaret, Regency Rooms, Cobden Club gigs. This lot are here to heckle.’
A girl in a tie-dyed t-shirt and paisley sarong flapped out of the tent, looked round, spotted a portaloo and headed our way en route.
‘Please you’re going on again?’ she said to me.
‘What? The boys hated me.’
‘They didn’t. You just started it going back and forth and they were on it. If they had hated you, you’d know.’
‘How? What could possibly have been different?’
‘If you go back on…’
‘…I am going back on…’
‘...have a look at the boys near the front – the one that started the chanting off – him and his mates. Have a look round about their feet.’
‘What would I be looking for?’
She leant in and whispered.
I made myself go back on. The slanging match kicked off again. I peered down at wrestler-boy’s feet. There were bottles lined up.
‘Bottles of piss,’ the girl had whispered.
Except I couldn't use that word in York Minster, praying for a better third gig - so changed it to 'wee'.