On the run from Andi Peters following a misunderstanding about cruises, Melissa begrudgingly agrees to follow her friend Joanne (and Joanne’s 17th century throwback ‘life partner’ Fax) to the Edinburgh Fringe. While leafleting for Fax’s dreadful stand up show about faith healing and vegans, Melissa endures the highs and lows of pretentious student plays, ‘street typing’, and the knowledge that her shop has been left in the hands of someone who doesn’t understand tills…
Crap Comedy is the follow up to the 2018 novel Crap Holiday. Read it here.
Some song starts playing. I think it’s the Kaiser Chiefs. Something about rioting, or getting arrested, or condoms. Not sure. I wish Fax had got me something stronger than Stella. I mean, it’s not like I demanded another pitcher of “Assblaster”, but it would have been nice.
A group of skinny kids run onto the stage. I immediately hate them because they’re waving and acting like they’re at Butlin’s. Then I remember that I chose this show, so I make my mind up to act like I’m really enjoying myself, just to spite Joanne and Fax.
The main one bounds over to the microphone and yells at us.
‘WE ARE THE DE MONTFORD UNIVERSITY IMPROV ALL-STARS!’
That name rings a bell. Did they try and shove a flyer in my face?
They carry on flailing about while I go to the bar for a Stella, a Campari, and hopefully an arsenic and lemon. I only chose this show because I vaguely remember watching Whose Line Is It Anyway when I was younger, and that was always funny. Whose Line Is It Anyway didn’t feature screeching students in matching t-shirts.
When I get back to our table, Joanne is squinting at the stage. I assume she’s trying to read the writing on their t-shirts. I’m not much better, but I’m almost certain it says ‘De Montford University Improv All-Stars’. In comic sans.
‘OK guys, let’s get started! First up, we’re going to play “Shakespeare on Drugs”! All we need from you guys are some starting ideas, and then we’ll act out a Shakespearean play using those ideas!’
‘Wooooooo!’ screech the others. The audience doesn’t join in, but they seem more amenable to the upcoming entertainment than Fax’s audience did. At least they’re not trying to throw themselves off the roof. Yet.
Joanne bangs her fist on the table. Thankfully, the skinny kids on stage are still ‘woooooo!’-ing as she does this, so they don’t hear her. I do though.
‘That one!’ She’s pointing now. ‘That one! That fucking one!’
They’ve stopped screeching now, so we’re forced to communicate in hisses. ‘That one in the t-shirt!’
‘Yeah, that doesn’t really narrow it down Joanne.’
She keeps pointing, but more furiously. ‘That one! That’s the cheating bitch who got Fax injured!’
I join her at squinting at the stage. Oh yeah. That’s Nicole from this morning’s exemplary showing of Nonsense, where nothing at all went wrong. Oh Christ, I hope she doesn’t recognise us, we’ll get thrown out, if Nicole has any sense.
The leader of the improv comes back to hump the microphone stand. ‘OK ladies and gentlemen, let’s get started!’ He does a wiggly dance which I would normally be annoyed with, but my thoughts are more on what the fuck Joanne is going to do, and whether or not I can leave before she does it. Then I remember I’m going to stay and enjoy this show, just to spite Fax and Joanne. I start clapping furiously. Shit, no one else is clapping. I put my hands in my crotch and look ashamed.
‘Right, we need a few prompt words from you guys! First of all, call out a place in Britain!’
Some weedy voice calls out ‘London!’ Of course they do. Edinburgh and London are probably the only places they know.
‘Great! Now call out a profession!’
They wisely ignore Joanne. ‘Come on guys, call out a profession!’
It’s definitely Nicole from this morning, because now a good few of them look terrified. She looks over at where the suggestion came from. Joanne is not cowed.
They have no choice but to choose this, because she drowned out everyone else, including whatever plants were in the audience.
‘Well, well I guess…’
Suddenly I’m furious with Joanne. She’s trying to spoil my evening because of some stupid vendetta. I am not going to let her do this. What’s the most normal job I can think of?
Joanne looks at me like I’ve just thrown a live lion at Fax. The improv guys eagerly jump on my suggestion, shit as it is.
This has now become a battle of wills between me and Joanne.
‘Stop helping them!’ she hisses.
‘Stop being mental!’ I hiss back.
And now everyone’s looking at our table. Great.
The improv guys look at me like I am the big fat second coming of Jesus. ‘Fishmonger! Awesome!’
I smirk at Joanne, without meeting her eyes, because I am not that brave.
They start jumping around again. ‘OK guys, the last thing we need is a type of music!’
‘pop’, ‘rock’ and ‘rap’ are all drowned out by ‘TRIBAL ZEN WITH NOSE FLUTE!’
I am not going down without a fight. ‘COUNTRY!’ I scream at the top of my poor abused lungs. As I shout I go to put my hand over Joanne’s mouth, but I just end up slapping her in the nose. I suppose I win each way.
‘Country! Yeah! Cowboys!’ Nicole has now braved the front of the stage and is replying to me. ‘Cowboys!’
I shrug and sit back down. My work is done.
They launch into their obviously pre-scripted “Shakespeare play”, about a fishmonger living in London, who wants to become a Country singer. I have to say, it doesn’t sound that Shakespearean to me. All they’re doing is replacing random words with ‘thee’ and ‘thou’. Fax does the same thing when he’s feeling nervous. I’m not that impressed. And what does this have to do with being on drugs?
Nicole gets down on one knee and starts pontificating. ‘Oh, how hast thou given me a rap album for Christmas, when I wanteth to be a Country star in London!’
You know what? This is a bit shit.
One of her 6 stone friends joins her. ‘But thou must become a fishmonger!’
I thought this was supposed to be a comedy show? Unless we’re supposed to be laughing at how terrible they are?
I risk a look over at Joanne. Even she just looks bored by this point. Never mind, I am determined to stick it out, until the next sketch at least.
When they finish, the people who realise they’ve actually finished start clapping with all the zeal of raw tuna. But I am determined to enjoy this; they were probably just put off by Joanne and her lunacy.
‘OK guys, now we’re going to do a scene in the style of EastEnders, but with a few twists!’
This might be more promising.
‘First of all, we need a location!’
‘London!’ calls out the weedy guy again.
Everyone laughs. ‘It’s already set in London!’
‘Surrey!’ calls out the same voice. Someone have him shot please.
The improv troupe wisely ignore him. Because I am how invested in this, I shout ‘Cardiff!’
Nicole gives me a big thumbs up. ‘Next, we need a woman’s name…’
Oh fuck I thought she’d given up. I panic and shout the first girl’s name that comes to mind.
I didn’t mean to shout that. I’m not sure what I meant to shout.
Great, now they have a choice between “Q’a’mtalat” and “Dominic”. Luckily, the weedy voice from earlier isn’t put off by his earlier rejection, and he wibbles out ‘Amelia!’
I turn round and try to peer at him. Is this the famous Jeremy from the “Jeremy and Amelia” performance art I was forced to witness the other day? Unfortunately it’s dark and I have had a pitcher of “Assblaster”, so I can’t tell. I don’t think he’s wearing a powdered wig, anyway.
‘Amelia! Lovely name! Now then, last up we need a type of tree…’
Oh fuck no.
Fax and Joanne stand up as one and yell ‘ROWAN! ROWAN! ROWAN! ROWAN! ROWAN!’ until the head student agrees to go with their suggestion. I stay sat down and drink a bit of Joanne’s Stella. There’s no point arguing with them over rowan trees.
‘Yeah, rowan trees!’ They sound so enthusiastic. They have no idea what a rowan tree is. They were expecting’ “oak” or “Christmas”. Well, serves them right for doing shit improv and not scripts.
‘OK, rowan tree, cool!’ says the head student, with not much enthusiasm. If I’m honest with myself, at this point I’d rather go watch a stripper, or a homeless guy punching himself, or some slags at chucking out time. Anything that might make me laugh. This is not making me laugh. I don’t think anyone wants to be here.
They start their EastEnders riff. One of them is holding a massive piece of cardboard (I assume that’s meant to be the bar). Another one walks up to her.
‘Give us a paynt of that beeeeeer layke!’
I think that’s Welsh. Not ruling out the idea that they’ve just had a stroke.
‘No you are baaaaared, now get out of maayyy pubbb!’
Again, Welsh? If I were Welsh I think I’d be offended at this point. But I’m not, so instead I’m bored and underwhelmed.
Someone else comes into the “pub” (stands next to the cardboard). ‘Ay’ve lost mah rowan tree!’
‘Whaaarrrr did you leave it layke?’
‘I dunno, I bet it was that bladdy EEE UUU that took it!’
Then they all do gurning faces. I’m pretty sure this isn’t what Wales is like. Or anywhere. As much as it pains me to admit this, and as much as I really wanted to spite Joanne, I have to admit defeat.
‘This is shit,’ I whisper to Joanne. She nods. At this point we decide to make our excuses and leave.