Back in the day I used to be a stand-up comic. The love affair lasted seven years. I performed around my home country of New Zealand, in London, and Johannesburg when I was backing packing and ran out of money.
Talk to any comic and the topic of worst gigs always comes up. Mine? Engelbert Humperdink at The Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington. It was so dire I wrote about it in my book UK on a G String.
Three of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do:
1. Do the opening act for Engelbert Humperdinck.
2. Sell my Mini even though I knew the lights weren’t working.
3. Door-to-door busk my way around the UK in the middle of winter.
THE FIRST HAPPENED on a cold night in Wellington, New Zealand. I had been asked to do 15 minutes of stand-up comedy before the great Engelbert came out on stage. This is my break, I thought. This is the big time. Just me and Engelbert. I’m even staying in the same hotel; only he’s on the eleventh floor and I’m on the first, looking at the back of a butcher’s shop.
But that doesn’t matter. I’ve got a mini bar and nice little chocolates on the bed, just like Engelbert. And I’ve got a room-service menu and Sky TV in my room, just like Engelbert.
Then the panic set in. All the material I normally use on stage is targeted at young, drunk people on a Thursday night. As I looked around the Michael Fowler Centre there wouldn’t have been a human under the age of 86; this was to be my downfall.
I was devastated when I found out they were sober.
Most were ladies with purple hair, their sons by their sides looking at me as if to say, ‘You’d better be funny and you better not offend my mum. I paid $80 for this ticket.’ After singing my first song, entitled ‘Kentucky Fried Kitten’, I could see that I had indeed offended his mum and most of the audience. I’m sure if they weren’t asleep the complaints desk would have been inundated.
Before the gig started I had great visions of Engelbert and me touring the country together, playing golf, drinking, and singing songs other than ‘Please Release Me’. Instead, I never met him. The next morning I was just glad to be alive. It was as if I had been thrown into the comedy equivalent of going over the top of the trenches. I lay in the bath, eating chocolates and watching ‘The Karate Kid’.
[Englerbert Humperdink. Without the author. Who he never met. Nor played golf with.]