Specialist Subject

March 2, 2013

Last Wednesday I did Specialist Subject at The Black Heart in Camden. Specialist Subject is the brainchild of @NoJokeTooNiche (itself the brainchild of Steve Cross and Marc Burrows). It’s the chance for comedians to come along and do ten minutes on their specialist subject.

11 comedians did their thing. They were all excellent (well, at least 10). Here’s a Twitter list of them – “Tonight’s niche geniuses include @20thcenturymarc @simonmhickson @JozNorris @HeyJackDeAth @Angela_Barnesy @IvoGraham @helenarney @natluurtsema @IChrisBoyd @PhilNWang @steve_x” 

I’d like to tell you more about them but my memory has gone. Before I went on I was not myself and after I went on I needed a drink.

Yes, I’ve done comedy before, but almost always in a double act, almost almost always on TV, and, when live, almost always to people who have paid to come and see Trev and Simon.

Stand up comedy is a different beast (most definitely a beast) and I had no reason to think I could deal with it, but hey, 40 quid is 40 quid and a man has to eat.

So, preparing for my (effectively) first ever stand up gig, I picked my specialist subject and wrote my 10 minute routine. I went over it a few times in my head in the bath but that was tricky:

In the guardian’s G2 a week or so ago there was an interview with Dinos Chapman (one half of Jake and Dinos Chapman). He’s done a solo project, an LP, Luftbobler, and in the interview he says “I can’t figure out why people don’t work with other people – because on your own, you have this kind of weird conversation with this person in your head who agrees with everything you say.”:

I wish! On my own the person in my head disagrees with me constantly. In the bath, I was heckled from the opening. And the heckles would be harsh. And the responses in my head stretched from getting involved in a long-winded argument over the meaning of the word synecdoche, to punching members of the audience, to giving them Chupa Chups to shut them up.

In absolute truth, I never got to the end of my routine in the bath, and, before performing it on stage that night, not a word of it was said out loud.

Here’s the routine. This is the written version. On the night I forgot bits, I added bits, I rushed bits, I messed up bits. But I got through it and I wasn’t heckled.


Hello. My specialist subject was going to be “The catchphrases of Trev and Simon from Going Live! and Live and Kicking, 1987 to 1997” but Trev… (a pause and a sigh)… sorry, the artist formerly known as Trev, has taken out an injunction against me. And so I am not allowed to come within 100 words of one of our catchphrases.

So, no swinging of my pants… Oh shit.

My specialist subject is mugging.

Sorry, no, not mugging, not the act of mugging someone, which is… well… that would be a horrible specialist subject wouldn’t it? Physically assaulting people and robbing them?

And I’d be no good at it… I wish I could be good at it. (to audience member) Give me your money. (audience member says no) See?

No. My specialist subject isn’t mugging. My speciality is being mugged. Being a muggee.

It’s a double act, you’ve got to work together to have a successful mugging. A mugger without a muggee is like Robson without Jerome. Or cigarettes without alcohol. Or Seth McFarlane without hate.

I’ve been mugged five times in my life. For a 50 year old that’s, on average, once every ten years. The last time was in 2010 so… I’m pretty relaxed at the moment. i should get home safely tonight.

I’ve been mugged through the decades too. in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, noughties, and whatever this is called.

The first type of mugging, and the most pedestrian, the most boring, the most mundane of mugging styles, is the rush and push mug. You feel the gust of a teenager behind you (ideally, as in my case, from Crumpsall in Manchester… Crumpsall… the only suburb of Manchester that, like Michelle Pfeiffer, has a silent P)… you feel, you sense, the gust of a teenager behind you and the next thing is your hands bleeding from crashing into the asphalt as some child, some opalescent ghost boy, fades into the distance with your bag, or your hat, or your sweets.

It’s a feeble mugging. It lacks flair. It lacks style. it lacks innovation. It’s the Daniel O’Donnell of mugging. If there was an X factor for muggers they just about manage to wheeze a Snow Patrol ‘B’ side before Louis Walsh would say ‘you remind of a young Daniel O’Donnell’.

That’s just how feeble they are; that I’ve had to resort to comparing them to Daniel O’Donnell, twice.

You can’t even go to the police. They laugh at you. “Ooh, I was pushed over. I hurt my hands. He took my Curly Wurly.”

Don’t become a muggee to a rush and pusher. You can do better than that.

Guns and knives. That’s what’s needed to gain kudos as a muggee.

I was mugged at knifepoint in 1981, Manchester, again. It’s fun up North. I was a useless 19 year old drama student. My mugger got away with a one pound note and a copy of The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim. Well done mugger. Good work. I like to think that now, 30 odd years on, he’s comfortable with the symbolism of a glass slipper.

Guns are better. I became a gun muggee in San Francisco in 1994. having a gun, some kind of semi-automatic handgun, pushed into your belly is fun. It’s good for the adrenaline. I remember looking down and going “oh”.

He did well. He was a good mugger and I was a good muggee. He got my sunglasses, my passport, my wallet. As he and his partner… a mugger’s apprentice? The Andrew Ridgeley of the mugging world?… as they ran away I shouted after him to chuck my passport away. That’s the word I used; chuck. Something that meant no more to him than the last Chuck Norris film he didn’t watch. Chuck my passport away. Charles my passport away young man.

He was a kind mugger. We worked together. I gave him my things, and, in return, he didn’t shoot me.

There is though, a form of mugging that transcends the rush and push, that makes the knife, and the gun, redundant.

Has anyone ever been mugged by the piccolo nomadi?

Rome, 1991. I’m a well-travelled muggee at least.

Piccollo nomadi. It’s Italian. Nomadi as in no fixed abode, and piccolo as in a small flute. Or as in child. The piccolo nomadi are small street urchins, about this high. They work in gangs of about five or six. Maybe seven. I didn’t count.

They don’t have guns. They don’t have knives. They don’t rush and push.

Their weapon of choice is newspapers. Or rather, crumpled up pages from the newspapers. They run up to you proffering sheets from La Repubblica, and they’re crying, weeping, sobbing. And the first thing you think is; they’ve lost their chips.*

I search for my phrase book to look up “have you lost your chips?” but before you know it, they’re gone. And so is your wallet. Your passport. Your camera.

The piccolo nomadi.

They sound sweet. They’re not. they’re just weeping little fuckers.

No wonder the Catholic Church hates children. No sorry, I’ve got that wrong haven’t I? the Catholic Church loves children, just not in the right way. **

I hope my experiences can help you to become a better, more proficient, muggee. Just remember, give it all you’ve got. Or rather, give the mugger all you’ve got. Who knows, perhaps we can make it from this Black Heart tonight without being stabbed in Camden. Or down in the tube.

I’d like to end on a piece of poetry. This comes from someone whom I’m sure must have been influenced by my all true stories of being a muggee.

I say all true… I told one lie. The lad in Manchester didn’t take my copy of Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment. I just wish he had. ***

A poem to end:

The last thing that I saw As I lay there on the floor
Was “Jesus Saves” painted by an atheist nutter
And a British Rail poster read “Have an Awayday – a cheap holiday –
Do it today!”
I glanced back on my life
And thought about my wife
’cause they took the keys and she’ll think it’s me

And I’m down in the tube station at midnight

The wine will be flat and the curry’s gone cold

Yes. I am Paul Weller’s muse.

What was he thinking?… Sparkling wine with curry?

Take care. Goodnight.

* Thanks to Ben Norris for the chips joke.

** I forgot to say this bit. And thanks to Ben again for pointing out the mistake in saying that the Catholic Church hates children (hence the extra loves ‘joke’). This was also the point, in my inner head rehearsals in the bath, where I would get heckled by an imagined Catholic in the audience. They would, quite rightly and properly, make the point that it’s not everyone in the Catholic Church that abuses children. And I would get all arsey pointing out that the phrase is a synedcdoche, where the whole is used to represent a part (or vice versa). Then I’d give them a Chupa Chup.

*** I forgot to say this too. For those who went away thinking the lad took the book, I’m sorry for misleading you. I just wanted to make sure I mentioned the symbolism of a glass slipper in my first ever stand up routine. He did take a pound though. And my mate, Joe, who ran, returned about a minute too late, armed with a baseball bat.