Three conversations I’ve had in a bar

James laughed, all the while checking out Chad's spectacular left moob

James laughed, all the while checking out Chad’s spectacular left moob

Three conversations take place in a bar. To be fair, only two of these conversations have actually happened. The other one hasn’t yet, but it will.

One of the good things about being a comedian is that if you are too slow one night with your witty repartee, chances are either a) someone will throw you the line another time and you will be impressively ready; or b) you can fake it by telling it later as a story. What for anyone else is frustrating l’esprit d’escalier (that hilarious thing you think of on the stairs after you’ve left the room) can be, for a comedian, material.

So first up, here’s an actual conversation I had with a dude at the Sit Down Comedy Club in Brisbane ten days ago. To set the scene, you should know that this is a beautiful club which has been running for years and I had a brilliant time there. The owner is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, the staff are incredibly welcoming, and the shows were terrific.

If you’re reading this and you’re not a comedian, maybe a thing you need to know is how a gig is structured. Typical set up: a local professional comic to MC, an Open Spot (a rookie comedian or someone trying out new material – this is unpaid); a Feature act (paid) and a Headliner (usually paid more).

It doesn’t affect this story but I’ll explain anyway that our shows at the Sit Down were a little different in that Jeremy Elwood and I were brought over as visiting internationals and performed as “double features” – we alternated the Feature and Headline spots over the nights we were there.

On this night, I was headlining and walked into the club on my own – Jeremy had stopped upstairs to have a beer and a ciggie. Down the back of the 240 seat room is Table 22, set aside for comedians. From here you can see the stage, feel the room, and easily slip round the side to the loo. Plus it’s handy to the bar.

There was a dude sitting at the table. I assumed, because I’d already worked with the MC and I know Jeremy, that he might be the Open Spot guy, so I held out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Michele.”

HIM: This table is for the comedians.

ME: Yeah, I know.

HIM: Are you with one of them?

ME: I’m one of the comedians.

HIM: Oh, are you the Open Spot?

ME: No, I’m headlining.

HIM: Are you any good?

ME: I guess we’ll find out.

HIM: [Awkward pause, then a five minute monologue on his experience in the industry…]

I will admit to not listening all that intently to his story – something about living for the past ten years in a non-English speaking country and wanting to get back onto the Australian circuit, hence hanging out at the comedians table.

I don’t want to be unkind about him. He was kind of sweet, really, once we’d managed to work our way through why I might be allowed to sit at Table 22. Mostly, I was tickled – kind of impressed – that in one brief conversation he had seamlessly ticked every box on the List of Assumptions You Shouldn’t Make Based on Gender: that I wasn’t a comedian; that I was the girlfriend of a comedian; that if I was a comedian, I wouldn’t be a headliner; that if I was a headliner I might be shit; and then the assumption after all this that I was dying to know all about him.

I suspect, after spending an evening with him, he may be this out-of-touch with other aspects of the way the world works. Our conversation says more about him, probably, than the industry we work in. But it says a little.

The last time a comedian assumed I was “girlfriend” rather than “comedian” was on Vancouver Island two years ago and it was entirely forgiveable. The MC spotted two strangers in the bar and assumed Jeremy was one of the comedians he had been asked to meet up with before the show. He could tell from our accents that we were both Kiwis, and assumed (correctly) we were a couple.

Over dinner, he engaged Jeremy and the Open Spot guy with chat about being comedians. I joined in a bit. Then he said he needed to go find the third comedian he was expecting – Michael someone. I hadn’t understood till then he didn’t know I was on the bill. He’d just assumed “wife” ruled out the possibility of “comedian”.

Not entirely his fault – comedian couples are rare and I should have been clearer. He was mortified, though, that he’d assumed the other comedian would be a bloke (they mostly are) and he’d read “Michael” rather than “Michele”. He was sincerely sorry about the mix up.

I liked him. And I am pretty sure he has spent the two years since assuming that every comedian’s partner is also a comedian until told otherwise. Which is how assumptions are challenged and attitudes change.

Now, let’s go back to that recent night in Brisbane and another conversation that almost happened, but didn’t. Though it will.

The real conversation that actually happened went like this:

[After the Show]

ANOTHER HIM: I don’t like female comedians, but I like you.

ME: Um, thanks. I guess.

Every female comedian has been told this at least once. It is the weirdest kind of compliment. Women from the audience say it as often as men say it to us. It happens so often, I suspect that there are people who go around saying it to every female comedian they see. This would undermine its value, if it had any value to begin with. Which it doesn’t. It makes me angrier (and sadder) than the other conversation I had with the dude at Table 22.

So, in the spirit of the stairs, here’s how that conversation went at 3am as it played around inside my head:

[After the Show]

ANOTHER HIM: I don’t like female comedians, but I like you.

ME: Some people don’t like Jews.

ANOTHER HIM: What?

ME: Well, you just dismissed a whole group of people because of their gender. Some people do that because of religion or race. I’m just illustrating that it’s the same thing.

ANOTHER HIM: Jeez, I was only trying to be nice. I take it back. You’re an arsehole.

ME: See, that’s better. Now you’re disliking someone for something they’ve actually done, not just their gender. I can respect that. And now that I respect you, naturally I want your approval. Tell me again that I’m special by emphasising that all the other women who do this for a living are shit. I can’t get enough of that.

ANOTHER HIM: Fuck off.

ME: My pleasure.

I would like one of two things to happen: that a) one night I am brave enough to say this; or b) people stop thinking that dismissing all women but one is any kind of compliment.

Ends.

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One Comment

  1. Excellent post, Michele – thank you!

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