Dom Joly: Hell is other people being oh so calm. Omm....

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The Independent Online

Everyone has a personal vision of hell. I used to think that it was something along the lines of being stuck in a lift with (insert your bête noire here) for an indeterminate period of time while experimental jazz was played on a loop through crackly speakers.

Last week I not only became aware of what my personal hell actually was, but was right in the middle of it. I was back in New York doing some filming. For reasons I can't go into right now, I had to infiltrate myself into the Yoga On The Lawn event that was happening in Central Park. This was an attempt to set the world record for the biggest yoga session by getting 10,000 people to sit on free yoga mats in the Great Lawn area and be led through a one-hour lesson.

More than 13,000 people turned up. Who knew so many people in New York did this sort of thing? In the old days, this kind of West Coast hippy stuff would have been an anathema for a New Yorker. But since 9/11, the Big Apple has become the Big Softie.

I snuck in through a gap in the fence and took up my position 10 rows from the front, dressed in fluorescent yellow leg-warmers, orange headband and uber-baggy pants. I was attempting to look ridiculous but actually blended in far too much. In hindsight I should have worn a pinstripe suit.

I awaited the start of the lesson but, while 13,000 vegans drifted in, we were forced to listen to some warm-up acts. If you had to imagine the kind of noise terror used by Special Ops to disorientate a hostage situation, you wouldn't be far off.

First was a band that called themselves Thirteen Clouds. A couple of hippies sat on the stage tapping Indian drums, while a pale, unhealthy-looking singer played a kind of table accordion and screamed into his mike in what sounded like considerable pain.

I couldn't make out particular words, but the Chinese lady sat next to me told me that she thought he was singing in tongues. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" she asked with a huge smile on her wan face. I turned away and tried to will myself out of this situation but my shakra was not strong enough.

A poet now appeared at the microphone – not just a normal poet, but a physical poet. He writhed and emoted some nonsense about his father not liking him while jumping up and down and smiling beatifically. I looked around me for someone with a concealed handgun. New York is not what it once was: everybody appeared unarmed and I was unable to act.

Back on stage, a huge white man now appeared with an enormous Afro. He looked like one of the Freak Brothers. His "skill" was as a human beat-box, but he also appeared to be schizophrenic, as a weird falsetto voice would often suddenly appear out of nowhere in the middle of his hideous cacophony. Using a machine he looped himself, making beats while screaming the word "Yoga!" He then replayed it over and over again. I wanted to stand up and shout to the nearest policeman that I had a bomb and that he must arrest me now, but there was nobody to tell.

Finally, the yoga was due to start. But a woman came on stage and announced that there was a storm coming and that, unless the crowd could make the clouds move with their collective minds, the event was going to be cancelled by the parks police.

Everyone did their best, but nature had clearly had enough. The heavens opened and 12,999 yogis ran for the nearest falafel joint. I headed for the nearest bar.