Best of Order…Please?

I was intrigued to read an article in the Edinburgh Evening News today about how the comedian Kevin Bridges had a night of his sell-out tour ruined by hecklers constantly, well, er… heckling during his performance at the Edinburgh Playhouse recently. The article’s author, Brian Ferguson, who was in attendance said, “Frankly, it was the worst-behaved audience I had witnessed in 25 years of attending events.” For those watching, solely to be entertained by Kevin’s latest stand-up tour (as well they might have not unreasonably expected), having forked out £30 for the privilege, it was probably a night to forget.

Things get worse when you realise this seems to have become a familiar problem for Kevin at other gigs; such as those in Derry, Arbroath and even, as can be seen via Trip Advisor of all things, Ludlow. (There were no such issues for “The Searchers” who performed at the same Ludlow Assembly Rooms venue with a “great atmosphere”.)

Is this just a problem for Kevin Bridges though? Perhaps the demographic he appeals to is that of a loudmouth, drunken, lout? It appears not! Brennan Reece was “throttled” in Northwich, police had to remove a man disrupting Celia Pacquola’s set in South Wales and Michael McIntyre had his show interrupted in Darlington by a woman who “kept using her phone”.

Trawling the internet there are thousands of instances of disrupting audience members. Of course, there have always been hecklers, but more recently there seems to have been a slip in what some people deem to be acceptable behaviour. Some of this is encouraged by venues who allow taking drinks into gigs as well as serving them beforehand and during the interval which leads to anything from people wandering in and out to go to the toilet during a performance to the kind of behaviour seen in Edinburgh. It’s almost as if some people seem to have forgotten basic manners and can’t actually distinguish what may or may not be just plain rude.

It’s a cultural shift which is not just affecting comedy gigs, but other areas of our lives too. Indeed, in some cases this shift has been encouraged and actively courted. Darts for example. The sport of darts was losing appeal, viewers and sponsors at a rapid rate during the late 80’s and early 90’s. Nowadays, it’s big business, largely thanks to the promotional skills of Barry Hearn. The Premier League of Darts sees the big arenas sold-out across the country to watch the likes of Phil “The Power” Taylor and “Mighty” Michael van Gerwen. The TV coverage has blossomed and there is no doubt that interest in the game has hit new heights.

dartscrowd

Yet, despite this, what has been done to the game of darts? Darts crowds have always shouted, cheered and if you like, heckled. It was controlled though. For the most part, common courtesy for the players dictated that all the jeering and shouting happened between the throw of the players and not when they were actually concentrating and throwing their darts. During throws there was a hush. A silence. A respect for the players. If the crowd overstepped the mark there was a phrase that the referee would use that would compel them to regain their senses and have respect for the two guys at the oche: “Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Best of order please! Game on!”

I love darts but I can hardly watch it now as an ignorant mass, barely watch the game, (in fairness there’s not much you can see in such a large venue, especially when you’re pissed!) dressed in their comedy fancy dress, with their hilarious home made placards, drinking, screaming, chanting and at times abusing players throughout the game. Quite often timing their collective wisdom of jeers and bully-boy booing directly when a player is throwing or about to throw. Yes, darts is popular and growing and has a massive appeal, making lots of money. Is it actually better off for it though in sporting terms? Not for me it isn’t. It’s sold itself down the river to the lowest common denominator and is contributing to a cultural dumbing down of what’s become acceptable. Sadly other sports also seem to be following darts’ lead. The word “sport” will soon be a misnomer, unless preceded by the word “blood” as any sense of “sporting” behaviour and respect dies a very ugly death.

Elsewhere, ITV’s X Factor has provided some of the most uncomfortable viewing seen on British television since Keith Chegwin stripped off in “Naked Jungle”. The “Six Chair Challenge” section of the auditions process has been just short of a scene from the Hunger Games. It has been brutal. Again, a hyped up crowd seemingly completely comfortable to take part in a collective blood-letting, screaming abuse at contestants for telly ratings.

Is it any wonder that in Great Britain in 2015 someone can feel completely comfortable, on a packed bus, to scream racist abuse at an elderly man with a walking frame or a woman on an equally crowded bus feels equally as comfortable racially abusing a pregnant woman?

You may sneer at the link I’ve suggested, just then, between comedy shows, sport, television and two criminal instances of racist abuse. The point I’m making though is that in our daily lives, the line about what we deem as acceptable through our popular cultural influences is being degraded. What was once rude, unsporting or vulgar is beginning to become almost normal. Check out social media. Facebook and Twitter regularly indicates what a growing minority deem as an acceptable way to engage with others. It’s often not very pretty.

More “out of order” than “best of order” you might say.

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Jo Brand and the Art of Celebrity Discomfort

Forget selfies! Selfies are so last week! Trends change quicker than opposition teams scoring at Old Trafford. (#MoyesIn) Whilst selfies have been everywhere recently, such as at award ceremonies, second-rate talent shows and clogging up your social media feeds for days on end, the new selfie is the craze for celebrity discomfort.

In the age of multi-channel TV, social media and rolling news you might well be thinking that celebrity discomfort is not an entirely new thing and you would be right of course. The media and the viewing public love to see celebrities squirm. Celebrity Big Brother, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Celebrity Love Island, Hole in the Wall and of course that one where David Beckham’s kiss and tell whats-her-face got a bit too intimate with a pig.

Things have moved on though since these halcyon days of reality celebrity squirmathons. Recently a whole new level of celebrity discomfort has been reached as anyone who sat through Jo Brand trying to present BBC One’s The One Show will testify. Last week for two agonisingly long half-hours Jo brought all the warmth, charm and traditional sofa-driven, teatime faux chumsiness of a piranah in a packed swimming pool having not eaten for a month. She couldn’t have looked more uncomfortable on the One Show’s gaudy sofa if she had been asked to complete the whole show stark naked whilst the smiling assassin himself, Matt Baker, constantly threw itching powder at her. I haven’t seen someone look so miserable, irritated and less pleased to be somewhere than when Gordon Brown had to apologise to “that bigoted woman”. She made Jeff Brazier look like TV gold. Yes it was that bad! Never before has a nation breathed such a collective sigh of relief when Gabby Logan appeared to take over the guest host role.

Jo Brand however, isn’t exactly my point. The reason she was there in the first place was because Matt Baker’s usual TV wife, (do people still use that phrase?) Alex Jones was crying her way up an “impossible climb” in aid of Sport Relief. Here’s where the trend I’m talking about kicks in. We’ve always had a tradition of celebrity fundraising and in itself this is no bad thing, but recently the fundraising efforts have become centred all around “the challenge”. That challenge has to be immense too. Gone are the days when a marathon would do! If you’re a celebrity and you want to raise money nowadays we need to see a journey. It can’t be any old journey either, it has to involve one or more of the following:

  1. Months of tough preparation with a trainer who will push the celebrity to the limit whilst also being available to be a shoulder to cry on.
  2. A complete pre-challenge wobble, culminating in a breakdown with lots of tears and repeated use of the phrase “I can’t do this!”
  3. A pre-challenge injury or injuries which are extremely painful, involve tears and preferably even more painful treatment which is just serious enough to add some jeopardy to the challenge without being so serious the challenge can’t be started in the first place.
  4. Some sort of mental stress that causes the celebrity to reveal personal information about their lives whilst in a vulnerable state leading to more tears.
  5. The celebrity is close to breaking point and quitting the challenge mid-way through only to be comforted and refocused by a celebrity friend or random well-wisher, leading to more tears and the repeated use of the phrase, “I can do this!”
  6. An injury during the challenge creating heightened jeopardy but still just not quite enough for the challenge to be abandoned.
  7. The moment of sheer joy at the completion of the challenge, leading to uncontrollable tears, partial collapse or mental breakdown and the all important “big cheque” moment.

In recent weeks we’ve had Alex Jones’ journey of sobbing up a mountain and Davina McCall’s week long pain induced, hypothermia fueled sob-athon cycling, swimming and running across the UK. Ordinarily, I like a bit of celebrity suffering as much as the next person but I’m just a little uncomfortable with just how far people will expect celebrities to go before they decide to part with their hard earned cash in the name of charity. No doubt the bar will be raised higher next time around, but just what will we be forced to watch? Mel and Sue spending a week in a lion enclosure with only a toothbrush to help them? Andrew Neil jumping over 43 parked double-decker buses on a motorbike whilst being shot at by the SAS? Claudia Winkleman locked in a perspex box for a month without access to any eye-liner?

Whatever the next big challenge is, I just hope Jo Brand isn’t called upon to fulfill the guest host duties.