Beyond A Joke

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Tony Slater was a funny guy, everyone said so. When his friends hear of an open mic comedy night, they insist he puts his name down. Would he be the next big name in comedy or would he fall flat on his face?

‘And I think it’s Colin.’ said Tony.

His friends guffawed at the punch-line to his latest joke. Even the people on the next table in the pub burst out laughing. Tony beamed and enjoyed the moment. There was just something magical about making people laugh. As the laughter died down, one of his friends said something Tony had been hearing for years.

‘You should do stand-up, mate.’

‘Yeah,’ Tony shrugged. ‘whatever.’

‘I’m serious. You’re a funny guy. You really should do stand-up comedy.’

‘Cheers.’ Tony managed, his cheeks burning red.

He had always enjoyed making people laugh. He had progressed from being the class clown in his school-days, to being the ‘funny one’ in his circle of friends and at also at the office. He just couldn’t help himself. He liked a laugh and a joke, random things just tickled him. If he was told a funny joke he couldn’t wait to tell people. For Tony the highlight of a night out or a day at work, was regaling people with jokes and one-liners.

 

One evening he was in the Boat House, his local pub, with a few of his friends. He returned from the bar, took a swig of his pint, and noticed everyone was staring at him.

‘What?’ he asked.

His first thought was that perhaps he had spilled something down his shirt or that his flies were down. They all pointed to the chalk-board sign on the wall.

Open Mic Comedy Night, Every Thursday at 9pm.

The pub would be holding their comedy night, apparently, and wanted people to put their names down.

‘You’re not suggesting-’

‘Come on, Tony. You’ll be great.’

‘No way.’ he said.

‘Mate, you’re hilarious.’

‘I like a laugh, but so does everyone. I am not a stand-up comedian.’

His friends insisted this was the big chance he had been waiting for.

‘As Bob Monkhouse once said, they laughed when they said I was going to be a comedian, they’re not laughing now.’

The group burst into laughter. Tony took a long gulp of his pint. Maybe his friends were right. Perhaps he could pull this off. He did like a laugh and people did seem to find him amusing. Maybe he could get up and tell his jokes to a crowd. What was the difference between telling jokes to his friends and standing on a stage telling gags? Surely it was the same thing in theory?

‘So,’ one of his friends asked. ‘can I put your name down?’

‘Yeah, looks like it.’

His friend clapped her hands in delight and dashed to the bar to give them Tony’s details.

That evening as he lay in bed trying to sleep all he could think of was the Open Mic Night. Should he do it? Could he do it? He was always ready with a quip, a joke or a one-liner. Everyone said he was a funny guy. No matter what the circumstances, Tony had a habit of making people laugh and finding the humour in a situation. A few years ago during Jury Service, while they had been deliberating the case and discussing the key evidence, Tony had managed to have the room in stitches.

But was that the same thing as standing up on stage telling jokes to a waiting audience? Did being a bit of a joker lend itself to being a professional stand up comedian?

As he drifted off to sleep Tony still wasn’t sure of the answer.

 

The following evening he called round to his parents for a brew and a catch up. Tony drank tea, munched on digestive biscuits and made small-talk with his mum and dad. Tony went into too much detail about a problem he had at work and his mother explained how her elderly relatives were doing back in Ireland. Finally Tony cleared his throat and told them he had other news.

‘Oh yes?’ said his dad, looking up from his crossword puzzle.

‘The Boat House pub near me is having an Open Mic comedy night on Thursday.’

‘You thinking of going along?’

‘I’ve put my name down to perform.’

‘Really?’ said his mother. ‘But you’re not a comedian.’

‘I’m funny, though, aren’t I? Everyone says so.’

‘You’re funny, but you are no Ken Goodwin.’ said his father.

‘You could always come along and watch.’ Tony replied.

‘We can’t do Thursday. It’s Trophy Night at darts. Biggest night of the Salford darts league.’

‘Oh yeah, of course.’

Tony nodded, unsure if his parents being unable to make it made him feel better or not. His dad had been playing darts for the Ship Canal pub for years. The Trophy Night was the end of the season and the bash was held for players and their partners. The climax of the evening was a party with presentation of trophies.

‘Let’s hope we both do well on Thursday, eh?’ said his dad.

Tony laughed and nodded in agreement.

 

In the run up to the big night Tony practised his routine. He paced up and down his living room, rehearsing his delivery of each gag, each punch-line, going over his delivery and his mannerisms. He wondered if professional comics were so meticulous with their delivery. Maybe even those who came across as so natural, like they were telling gags to their pals, rehearsed every line, every phrase, every wave of the hand, as he was now doing. Perhaps it took a lot of work to come across as so effortlessly funny.

By Thursday morning he had it nailed. He knew every gag and the order he’d tell them in. He knew when he would shrug, point and wave, as the routine went on.

His parents sent him text messages early that evening to wish him good luck. He replied with what he hoped was false modesty. Thanks, I think I’ll need it.

And so, it was with more nerves and anxiety that he entered the pub that evening. A couple of his mates waved from the far corner of the pub. Tony managed a nod and headed straight for the bar. He took a long gulp of lager and told himself that he could do this. Focusing on his memorised routine, Tony tried to contain the panic in his chest.

The first two acts on stage were naturally funny people who, Tony sensed, had done this kind of thing before. One guy had a hilarious routine about phoning a delivery company about a missing parcel. Tony smiled, the guy’s delivery was much better than the courier he was ranting about.

Finally it was his turn. The compere told everyone to put their hands together for the next comedian, Tony Slater. Feeling sick and unable to believe this was actually happening, Tony stepped onto the stage and into the glare of the spotlight.

Tony bid the audience good evening and was met by a murmur of replies. He took a deep breath. This was it. It was the same in theory as his driving test. He just had to do the same as he’d done in practise. As his mother always told him before an important exam, he knew his stuff, he had done his homework.

And so he opened with his favourite gag.

‘And I think it’s Colin!’

The punchline drew a low ripple of laughter from the crowd. Tony took a deep breath. Well, he was here now, nothing else for it but to carry on through his set. Every joke he told flopped. At best the crowd groaned in displeasure, at worse they merely stared back in unamused silence.

‘That’s all from me for this evening.’ He said at last.

He fumbled the microphone back in the stand and hurried from the stage. The compere appeared in the spotlight and thanked Tony for his efforts.

His cheeks burning red, Tony went straight for the bar. As he took a sip of much-needed beer the barmaid gave him a sympathetic smile.

‘Never mind, love. You’ll do better next week.’

‘I am not doing that again.’ Tony replied.

‘Yes, you are. First-timers have to do two turns. Jerry says it helps with the stage fright.’

Before he could protest any further, she turned away to serve another customer.

Tony went over to his friends.

‘Well, I tried.’ he muttered.

He was expecting his mates to put a brave face on things and insist that it hadn’t gone that badly and that he was brave for having done it in the first place. Instead his friends told him at least nobody threw anything or heckled him.

The next evening he called round to his parents’ house. Once he had been ushered into the living room and given a cup of tea, his mother gave him a look, arms folded, an excited glint in her eye.

‘Well, Anthony, how did it go?’ she asked.

Tony sighed and shook his head. He couldn’t look at his parents as he spoke. He stared at his shoes and explained.

‘It was awful. I was awful. I don’t know what happened. I told them my best jokes and they groaned. By the end they were just staring back at me in silence. Nobody laughed. I felt like a defendant in front of a jury. It was so embarrassing.’

He had a lump in his throat as the emotions from the previous evening washed over him.

His mother’s giggle made him look up accusingly. Was she really laughing at his downfall? He had tried something and failed, and his mother thought it was funny?

‘I’m sorry, love.’ she giggled, her hand over her mouth. ‘It’s just the way you put things.’

‘What? I’m being serious. I flopped. I was standing in the spotlight like an idiot.’

‘You must have been devastated.’ She laughed.

His mother’s shoulders shook as she guffawed at his misfortune. Tony finished his cup of tea.

‘Yeah, thanks for that.’ he said.

‘Don’t worry son,’ his dad said. ‘it’s not all bad.’

‘How’s that?

‘I got player of the tournament at my darts presentation.’

‘Congratulations.’ He said and left.

 

A few days later something occurred to him. The pub was expecting him to return for a second performance the following Thursday. Surely one embarrassing incident was enough? He could just not show up. No, that wouldn’t work. The pub was his local. He was always in there. He would get collared about it the next time he called in for a pint. He swore and shook his head. Unless he could think of something, he would have to give a repeat of the awful performance.

 

And so, just wanting to get the second routine out of the way, and put the whole thing behind him, Tony arrived at the busy pub. Again he made straight for the bar. Tonight’s performance felt different. Last time there had been nerves but also excitement and anticipation. This evening’s routine was like a dental appointment. It was something he had to endure, to get through and then he could get on with his life.

He shuffled onto the stage reluctantly, wincing in the glare of the spotlight. He told his opening gag with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.

There was silence. Someone coughed at the back of the room. He heard the clink of glasses as bar staff cleared the tables of empties. Tony launched into the next part of his routine.

Again no response. He sighed. This was awful. He would rather be heckled, he decided, or even boo’d. At least there would be some reaction at least.

After his next gag flopped he shook his head.

‘I was here last week, you know? It was awful. A complete disaster. I told my mother the next day. I explained how it was the most embarrassing evening of my life. She laughed. She actually laughed in my face. She thought it was hilarious.’ He ranted.

The audience laughed. Tony paused in confusion. They were actually laughing at what he was saying. He breathed in and out slowly. He continued.

‘Honestly, my mum laughed more at that than she ever does at my jokes!’

Again the crowd erupted into laughter. Tony chuckled to himself.

‘That’s nothing. When I had to have my prostate checked, she couldn’t breathe for laughing. A mother’s love, eh?’

He looked out at the audience. People were bent double in fits of laughter and wiping tears from their eyes. As he stepped off the small stage the compere patted him on the back.

‘Well done, Tony, see you next Thursday.’


Submitted: June 15, 2020

© Copyright 2021 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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hullabaloo22

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at this, CT. Well done to Tony for having the guts to stand out there in the first place.

Mon, June 15th, 2020 7:37pm

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Thanks as always for your comments. It’s based on my mother who aside from her caring side has a wicked sense of humour.

Mon, June 15th, 2020 12:41pm

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