The exciting thing about being a stand-up comedian is the infinite number of situations into which you suddenly find yourself being thrown. For example, at the 1996 Edinburgh Festival, I was performing at a late-night stand-up show called The Comedy Zone. There were three acts, a compere and 180 semi-drunk punters crammed into a smokey room with a bar at the back. The compere, Brendon Burns (as seen on Channel 4's The 11 0'Clock Show), had whipped the crowd into a frenzy, introduced me and on I went, to what seemed like just another gig.
I hit them with the first line. They laughed. I hit them with another. They laughed louder. And another. Round of applause. Suddenly, from the middle of the room, someone shouted: "Oh no, you're not going to do the same stuff again are you?" I panicked. Every comedian's nightmare is to be confronted by someone complaining that they've heard the material before.
I looked down into the audience to find that my heckler was a 17-year- old public-school boy. I confidently answered: "Yes, I'm gonna do all the stuff you've seen me do before! In fact, if you remind me of what night you saw me, I'll repeat it word for word, just to piss you off!"
There was a pause. Then, as one, the audience cheered my response. Good, the audience are on my side, I thought. There was only one problem. Despite what I'd said, it was impossible for me to know exactly what material the heckler had seen me do as my set varies every night. I hit them with a very new line. "Oh God," he yelled. "You did that one last time as well." He then stood up and swaggered towards the bar.
Without even pausing to think where this might end, I dropped the microphone on the floor, ran into the audience, threw him over my shoulder and carried him back on to the stage. By this point, the audience couldn't wait to see what I was going to do next. The truth was, I had no idea. Then it hit me. I put him down, pulled the curtain back and threw him back-stage, telling Brendon and the other acts to keep him there until I'd finished. The comedian had kidnapped the heckler!
So, the crowd were cheering, the buzz was intense and, more to the point, I could now carry on without fear of someone shouting out my punch-lines. "So, where are we?" I asked the audience. Suddenly, I heard a huge thud. The audience gasped. I looked round and there, lying on the floor, was the heckler. He had got nothing on except for a pair of underpants and he was bleeding heavily from the head. One hundred and eighty people stared at me as if to say, "What have you done to him?" By then, it had occurred to me that the other acts had stripped him for a joke and poured fake blood all over him. Incidentally, he was just lying there motionless because he had, by then, decided to join in on the joke.
"It's a joke!" I beamed. "It's fake blood! Come on, mate. Stand up." He stood up, still acting like he'd been stabbed. The audience were confused. I could feel them thinking, "Wait a second. If this bloke is in on the joke, then that whole heckling business must have been a set-up as well." Of course, it wasn't. But it was easier to conclude that he was a stooge than to think, "Oh, he's playing along because it's the only way he can look at all dignified while standing in a pair of underpants in front of hundreds of strangers."
They were still staring at him in shock. "It's fake blood. Relax!" I screamed reassuringly. But I sounded like a policeman at the scene of a car crash telling a crowd of passers-by to move on. "A round of applause for a good sport." A very confused audience obliged, even though they still weren't quite sure what had just happened. I glanced at my watch. I had 10 minutes left and there was a naked teenage boy covered in ketchup standing next to me. Oh well, just another day at the office.
Adam Bloom is at Southampton Jongleurs tonight; Leicester Jongleurs, 5, 6 & 7 Nov; Battersea Jongleurs, 20 Nov; Nottingham Jongleurs, 26 Nov; Oxford Jongleurs, 27 & 28 NovReuse content