COMEDY MOMENTS: Smiley's people

In the second of our monthly series in which comedians reflect on the business of making people laugh, Irish stand-up Michael Smiley recalls the agony and ecstasy of performing before his home crowd

Every gig manages to throw up a comedy moment, whether it's with the audience themselves, the venue, or the journey to and from the gig. You may perform similar material at a gig you've done before but the audience and, most importantly of all, their attitude can and will change in a matter of minutes. Call it comedy karma, but you may be backstage confidently watching the comedian before you hold the room in the palm of their hand, yet, by the time you're due to get on they seem to have, collectively, had one pint too many and "Captain Confident" is dealing with an abusive bear pit.

Never assume you know the room and don't be over-confident; a little apprehension and respect helps a performance immensely. Not forgetting some fail-safe put downs stowed in the back pocket.

My weirdest experience to date was during the summer of 1995. Being a comedian from Northern Ireland, I was asked to perform at the West Belfast Festival supporting Jeremy Hardy. With two gigs in as many days under our belts we were booked at a club in Ballymurphy, which is, let us say, one of Belfast's more partisan areas - where most of the windows of the shops have cages and the kerbstones are painted green, white and gold to help the confused, but not the colour-blind.

I arrived at the venue to find that most of the audience were of my parents' age and had my father's air of disapproval. The latter became apparent when, half way through a routine about Gerry Adams on ecstasy, an old man approached the stage and announced in no uncertain terms what his opinion of me was and offered to give me a good slap and to wash my mouth out with soap.

I mentally searched in my pocket for the aforementioned collection of witty put-downs but they must have been in my other trousers. So, thinking on my feet, I retorted with great aplomb: "Away and empty your colostomy bag you old git." Needless to say, all hell broke loose and I retired to the safety of the bar.

Standing at the bar, as if this gig couldn't get any more bizarre, were the "Birmingham Six". They were there to say thanks to Hardy for his support in highlighting their miscarriage of justice. One of them turned to me as I sheepishly ordered a pint and said: "Don't worry, I'll get that. It's not the end of the world, Big Lad. We were laughing." So while Jeremy was on stage performing, I was at the bar necking pints of the black stuff with the source of his material.

Everything was going great guns. There I was at the bar, pint of Guinness in one hand, fag in the other, regaling the Birmingham Six with tales of my life as a comedian, when up stepped my pissed-off pensioner, and what turned out to be his wife. "There's that idiot who says Gerry Adams takes those drugs," he said, whereupon him and his wife, started swinging punches at me.

If it hadn't been for the Birmingham Six restraining him, I would have been beaten to death by Belfast's oldest tag-team. I remember thinking to myself at the time, "I've done the worst gig in my lifetime, two pensioners are trying to beat me up and the Birmingham Six are holding them back. Jesus, there has to be a joke in here somewhere!"

As you can see, comedy does have its moments.

Michael Smiley is at Jongleurs Bow and the Comedy Cafe tonight; Bearcat 2 Mar; Comedy Store 5,6,7 Mar, Balham Bar & Comedy Cafe 13 Mar

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