Scotland

Empty comedy club is no laughing matter

Emma and Pauline before the audience deserted the bar
Image caption Emma and Pauline before the rest of the audience deserted the bar

How do comedians cope when they outnumber the audience and what is it like to watch a show when you and a friend are the ones in the spotlight?

Blame it on the excitement of my friend Emma's first experience of a live comedy show but she wants to sit in the front row.

Me, on the other hand, already marked out as "the woman from the BBC" and the veteran of too many late night shows at the fringe, I'd like to sit a little further back, in the middle of a row where I can't be picked out, or picked on.

Not that it matters. By the end of the show, we may as well pull up a chair onstage, and crack a few jokes of our own. This is comedy at its most intimate.

It begins simply enough, with a packed room at the Glasgow International Comedy Festival for Chris Broomfield's latest show.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Stand-up comedy is a risky business for everyone involved

Chris is a comedian of 20 years standing (or should that be stand-up?) but he's also deaf and as he's part of a discussion I'm doing on BBC Radio Scotland about comedy and disability. I want to see him in action.

Chris would be first to admit his latest show Game of Tones is new territory, a sort of radio show work in progress.

And he'd also be first to admit it didn't go down well with the audience.

Heckling is limited to the first few rows - he lipreads well, and there's unexpected comedy in his bad lip reading (you went to Nipples? Ah, Naples!) but it can't save the show which he eventually gives up as a bad joke after 40 minutes.

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Image caption The joke's on him. Comedians get used to bad experiences

Another Chris - comedy promoter Chris Stephen - moves in fast and tries to persuade the audience to stay on for a comedy showcase.

It's for charity, and a taste of the comedy marathon they plan for the end of the festival.

The night is young and this is Emma's first live comedy experience so we pay our money and settle back for the show.

Comedy showcases are brilliant because comics are only on for five minutes at a time.

It's essentially one joke and you're off.

If it's bad, another will be along in a minute, and the first few comics don't disappoint.

But soon Emma and I realise we are the only people laughing.

The front row has cleared, and behind us, the audience is actually other comedians waiting to go on.

Image caption Sitting in the second row is comfort when all the other seats are empty

By the time the fifth comic arrives, there's only one other man in the audience, who stares mournfully into space.

"Less of an audience, more of a hostage situation," quips young comic Christoper KC.

We're trying not to feel uncomfortable, for ourselves, but also for the comedians.

Every comedian must have a gig like this, where a routine, so funny to a belly-laughing crowd, echoes around an almost empty bar room.

Stand-up comics don't just need the laughs, they need a connection, one individual whose experience chimes with their own.

Ross Thomson's routine about bowel screening in the East End of Glasgow (like an invitation to a film premiere!) is lost on the sole male in the audience.

Don't pick on me, he scowls. Bit tricky in a room with just three people, two of whom are women.

By the time the last comic Scot Laird arrives, he shakes our hands, commends our stamina and delivers his routine directly to me and Emma from the chair in front (our second row, mid-position seats, offering no hiding place in an empty room).

Image caption Is this on? Comedian battles on despite the silence of the empty room

I'm guessing it wasn't any comedian's finest five minutes but it may have provided some useful insight, both for the promoter, in timing (Saturday night, in the midst of a busy festival with many other bigger shows on offer) and for performers, into reading a room and handling an audience.

We may have been a small audience but we were an enthusiastic one - willing the comedians on, rather than heckling them.

They in turn, adapted their material. Two middle-aged mums, nursing a glass of wine on a Saturday night, are a different proposition from a raucous stag party.

I won't lie.

It was a 'wriggle in your seat'-type experience, and one I'm not sure I'd like to repeat.

Which is why I'd urge you to get along and support the Round the Clock Comedy Roadshow they are staging on 25 March.

Fifty comedians, eight venues and all money raised for the Beatson Cancer Charity. A marathon event, which this time, hopefully, will have an audience to match.

Glasgow International Comedy Festival runs until 26 March.

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