For the first time in a while I've been moved to write a blog that wasn't taking the piss out of the news and may not be packed full of funnies.
I did a gig for the RAF last night that, whilst not necessarily surprising in its rampant machismo, blinkered prejudice and debauched drunkenness, was also extremely depressing precisely because of these three elements.
Describing this gig requires a bit of background. I've done two RAF gigs before - one at Brize Norton, which is to all intents and purposes a military airport and at Cranwell, the most elite pilot training school in the country. These gigs can safely be said to have been at opposite ends of the spectrum - Brize Norton full of Johnny Bravo lookalikes shouting for me to get my cock out (more of which later), Cranwell brimming with supersmart young men and women who were experts in engineering, mathematics, combined with whipsharp reflexes, tremendous courage and a hint of 1940s dashing good looks. They also had an attention span markedly longer than the 7 seconds of Brize Norton and 0.14 seconds of Leeming. I enjoyed both of these gigs, relying, as they did on two completely different skill sets: Brize Norton quick wit and balls-out bravery, Cranwell crafted humour and writing with a bit of banter thrown in for good measure. Not only did I enjoy them, both of them can be said to have been pretty successful.
Last night, however, was a different and throughly depressing kettle of drunken testosterone. Let's get the obvious out of the way first: it was a bad gig and myself (and the other comics) did not do well. This would be the fate of an awful lot of acts going all the way up the ladder of comedy because of the near impossible mountain we were left to climb thanks to the environment and the 'organisation'.
When we arrived at seven o'clock the 200 audience members had been drinking since four in the afternoon. Not ideal, but to be expected in the brief. Frankly if you're intimidated by drunken members of the armed forces, don't take the gig. They were all dressed as varying degrees of Santa Claus. Hugley ideal for lashings of banter, but utterly immaterial since there were no chairs to help focus them and, in the classic example of how to kill comedy stone dead, we were sandwiched inbetween virtual horse-racing and a band. The final nail in the coffin of the night was an amplification system that was inaudible three rows back, which showed a worrying level of technical ability for a group of people who were meant to be experts at communucations and electronics. Not that anyone three rows back would want to listen to us as they had the bar to hammer away at, two FHM hotties to ogle or (and I'm not making this up) a hired midget dressed as an elf to entertain them. Safe to say, all the acts suffered varying degrees of difficulty and death.
Now this almost unplayable gig is not going to scar me as a performer. All comics have serious horror stories they like to share and, who knows, some material might appear out of nowhere from it. What depressed me utterly was the behaviour and attitude of people who, if we are to follow the prevailing wind of public opinion and our political leaders, should be unimpeachably respected and revered for being 'Our Boys' and defend these shores from untold threats. That may be so, and I'm not a naive hippy who thinks that if we just made a human chain around the circumference of the UK singing 'Kumbaya' out to sea we could stave off any attack. But it really disturbed me that the people responsible for my freedom, the people who fly aid out to the world's poor and needy and the people who attack our nation's enemies (and often, by mistake, the world's poor and needy) are people who think it's the height of hilarity to shout "get your cock out" at anyone who clambers onstage, who invade the stage when a female comic goes on and back her into a corner that concludes with one of them trying to make her finger their arsehole and generally to behave in a manner that would make the average Neanderthal pull a disapproving face and write a stern letter to the 'Ug Times'.
Those are just two examples of behaviour that also included mad, homoerotic howling, chest-thumping and chanting that wouldn't have looked out of place in the gorilla enclosure at London zoo. Add in the fact that these men were all dressed as Kris Kringle it looked like the Nuremberg rallies re-enacted in Lapland. What so angered and disturbed me about this is that these are the very men that are fetishised when the media (and the public and politicians) talk about "Our Boys", our unimpeachable overseas representatives. I do not want anything to do with this behaviour. I do not want to be represented by men like this. I'm frankly ashamed to be paddling in the same gene pool as them. Now I appreciate that to many this could be the insecure ramblings of an atrophied, over-intellectual gamma-male (and those last five words don't exactly help my case) who doesn't understand the visceral nature of male (and female) bonding in the military. It could be that it is essential for men and woman who live and work in such a high pressure, highly disciplined environment and face the very real prospect of death and loss of themselves and their cohorts to blow of steam and that that blowing off of steam could manifest itself in extreme ways. But I don't think the freedom they are fighting for should be the freedom to behave like a drunken knucklehead who finds amusement in gambling, boozing, objectifying women, belittling the disabled (although to be fair the midget was perfectly happy with his £300 pay packet) and revelling in decadent behaviour.
I'm not so stupid as to expect these people to relax with a nice sherry and cross-table discussion of Proust, but this sort of party lacked any shreds of dignity, decency or class. Now I appreciate that in Christma parties up and down our nation such behaviour will be reproduced in ever more excessive and tawdry manner, but the difference is that Jim from Accounts or Julie from HR are not held up as paragons of virtue, people who simply cannot be criticised no matter what, whereas the members of our armed forces are. I do respect their need to exist, I do respect the hardship of their work, I do even respect the fact that they may have to kill other human beings to maintain the safety of the UK in a dangerous world. I don't like it, but I'm not so stupid as to think we don't live in a violent world. I just worry that just because these people do a brave and difficult job, they are allowed to behave like world championship arseholes. And then be fingered.
There's a famous story told of Winston Churchill being told of two Horse Guards being found fornicating in the bushes of a London Park in mid-winter. The PM's brilliant reply to someone clearly trying to create a homophobic scandal: "Makes you proud to be British!"
That humour does, Churchill, for all his faults does, but these partying yahoos and drunken buffoons who are apparently beyond public reproach sadly do not.