Hello and greetings from Montreal, where I am once again about to do a stint at the Just For Laughs Festival. I am so fortunate to be invited back here regularly, and this week I will be hosting the New Faces shows, MC’ing at Go West, appearing in the Gala and also presenting Late Night Down Under – featuring Akmal Saleh, Wil Anderson and Julia Morris.
It’s a far cry from the countryside of Suffolk, where last Saturday I had what seems to be becoming my stock in trade – bonkers onstage moments, this time at The Latitude Festival.
The Festival itself is fast becoming one of the favourites in England, mainly because of its beautiful setting, boutique feel, and lovely crowds. Headliners this year included Nick Cave, Grace Jones, and The Pet Shop Boys, as well as appearances by Doves, Regina Spektor, Bat For Lashes, and an acoustic set from Thom Yorke.
I arrived around 1pm, and after hosting a live stand up show for BBC Radio 4, made my way up the hill to the comedy tent.
I say “tent” – it was in fact a massive marquee that held around a thousand people, and featured giant video screens so that the people at the back could see clearly. There were also screens outside the tent, so that those across the grounds of the Festival could also see and hear what was going on inside.
What was going on inside was an assortment of the best comics in Britain – Dave Gorman, Sean Hughes, Ed Byrne, Janeane Garofalo, and little ol’ me. There was an enormous plastic chandelier hanging from the roof of the tent, and bizarrely, two twenty-foot-high poodles on either side of the stage, between the audience and the actual stage. I think they were there for a dance event called Guilty Pleasures that was due to take place after the comedy each night. It’s fair to say they looked out of place.
I took to the stage at 6.55pm, and in all honesty I had every intention of delivering my forty-five minutes of prepared material. However a little part of my brain knew that probably wasn’t going to happen.
Much like the aftermath of a car accident, or the testimony of a dodgy politician, I can’t exactly remember the details of what happened, but it went down a little something like this.
6.55pm I start the show by singing various bits of songs to see who responds. I’ve done it before on stage, you may have seen it.
6.57pm I spot a twelve year old in the crowd and ask if he knows any of the songs. His name is Cameron. I walk offstage, down to the crowd barrier and ask Cameron if he’s ever ridden a gay pink poodle before. He baulks, understandably, and I ask him to come up and sit on the poodle.
6.59pm It occurs to me that I should put the poodle on stage, then the cameras will film Cameron on top of it. If the audience then cheer, the people outside will look to the screen and see a twelve year-old boy on a poodle, and wonder what the hell is going on.
7pm Two heavy metal fans jump the barrier and lift the poodle on to the stage. I remark that it is unusual to seem men dressed in denim and black heavy metal t-shirts carrying a giant pink poodle.
7.01pm Cameron climbs onto the poodle, and rocks back and forward while the crowd sing “How much is that doggie in the window?” The whole thing is projected onto the big screens.
7.03pm I find another kid in the crowd, this one called Gabriel, and ask if he wants to ride the other poodle. The two heavy metal fans jump the barrier again, and lift the second poodle onto the stage. Gabriel climbs on.
7.05pm I realise I have no idea what to do next, so ask the audience if we should crowd surf the poodles. They say “yes”, the stage managers say “no way”, so I say “let’s do it”.
7.06pm The heavy metal fans and the stage managers lift both poodles into the crowd. I then decide that we are going to race the poodles to the back of the tent, and return them to the stage, to see who wins.
7.07pm The audience and I take part in what I can only assume is the world’s first ever massive gay pink poodle crowd surf race. The poodle on my right wins, and as the one on my left crashes back over the crowd barrier, it breaks in half. I notice the stage manager swearing profusely, and offer my apologies.
7.12pm I then ask if we should crowd surf the two boys. The audience scream “yes”, however, just as they get to the barriers the security guards pull them back, telling me that Health And Safety rules mean the kids can’t be crowd surfed.
(Two points need to be made here. 1) I understand these rules and abide by them. Those kids aren’t covered by insurance, so if anything happens to them, the venue and I are liable. And 2) In his rush to prevent the kids from being surfed, one security guard accidentally knocked over Aussie comic Hannah Gadsby, who was standing beside the stage watching. So, sorry Hannah – the irony is that the kids were unharmed, but you hit the deck)
7.13pm Someone in the crowd yells out that I should crowd surf. If you’ve seen me at a Festival before, you’ll know that is hardly a challenge to me, so I jumped at it.
7.14pm I crowd surf to the back of the tent, then return to the stage.
7.19pm Not knowing how to finish the gig, I decide that the kids need photos of themselves on stage to remember the occasion. I then get their cameras from their parents in the crowd (Cameron’s Dad was wearing a bandana and referred to himself as “Sweaty”) and take rock star photos from side on, with the audience in shot. I don’t mind saying – they were great photos. Cameron looked like a hip hop star, and Gabriel ended up wearing Sweaty’s bandana.
7.24pm The stage manager pumps smoke onto the stage to complete the rock star effect so I decide to give the kids one last hurrah. While the audience clapped along, I improvised a version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” around the two boys, with the audience singing the chorus. We then segwayed into “We Are The Champions” and the kids left the stage to a standing ovation.
7.30pm I leave the stage, having crowd surfed two giant gay pink poodles, crowd surfed myself, and turned two kids into rock stars. Happy.
The best part of all this is that my good friend Steph took photos of it on my phone, so I have posted them on my Myspace site in a folder named Latitude. Check it out – you can follow it from the moment of crowd surfing poodles to rock star kids. Also, keep an eye on Youtube. There’s every likelihood that someone in the crowd filmed it, and will post it.
To those of you in the comedy tent at Latitude on Saturday – thank you for making it a memorable gig. To the stage managers – thank you for letting me get away with so much. To Cameron and Gabriel – you guys were stars. And to the people that own the giant gay pink poodles – sorry I broke one of them.
After the show I headed backstage to walk it off, and as I did a guy came up to me and said “I’ve only ever seen you twice. Once here, and once at the Leeds festival when you crowd surfed your artificial leg”
I looked back at him and said “I do have jokes. Honest”
Until my next bonkers gig
PS the next night I performed for ninety people in a Community Hall in Buckingham. Turns out Buckingham is one of the few towns in Britain with its own official Jester, so I called him from the stage. He wasn’t home, but I did leave a message with his mum. I got an email from him the next day, signed “yours foolishly”. I like that.