The thrills of fame and glory may have faded with time, but within the nebulous mind of an old-timer comedian named Bob, the “show” still goes on…
by: Mike Hickman
“Oi, you. You, there. Blazer boy.”
Bob knew that fame and recognition was as much a finger up the prostate as a night at the Palladium, and the lads at the stage door tonight had him thinking more than a little of the snap of rubber gloves and the whiff of talcum as they showed off to their fellows.
“What’s that you’re wearing, eh? School blazer is it?”
Bob stood firm, precisely as he would when the teleprompter failed, or the director’s squawking into his earpiece went ominously silent, and he was left alone on the studio floor with just the audience – and the millions watching at home.
The lead tracksuit, no more than nineteen and with a lean, raddled look to him that suggested a desperation best viewed from a distance, leaned into Bob’s face. His breath reeked of cigarettes and he smelled of Polo. Bob filed the detail away for future reference. It would go under — what, precisely? Hoodie? Was that slang even acceptable as a label now? That prime minister fellow had been quite keen on embracing the Hoodies, hadn’t he? And that led to a thought, a very good thought.
The lead hoodie tracksuit nudged his nearest sportswear-attired friend. “Got a mute one here,” he said before turning back to Bob. “Did you ‘ear me? Blazer boy, I said.”
None of the others had spoken yet. They were just enjoying the show, and they enjoyed it all the more when the lead hoodie tracksuit reached out and touched Bob’s blazer. He grasped the lapel, twisted it, waiting for some kind of response, before waiting some more.
“Bloody hell, this one’s off the planet,” he said, and the others sniggered. No sophistication, some of these youngsters, Bob thought to himself, before slapping the thought back. That wasn’t how Bob comported himself. Bob was one of the good guys. All the younger comedians said he was generous in his praise, keen to support the up-and-coming. An old timer only in the sense that he’d been around on television nearly as long as his gags had.
Oh, now that was a good one. Bob began to regret not having his joke book with him.
“You gonna say anything, then, Blazer boy?” Lead hoodie tracksuit rapped Bob on the cranium and he could have responded, of course, but he had not yet been given his ‘in’.
“Nothing,” said hoodie tracksuit.
Bob simply smiled.
Then, because Bob had given them the Smile, the lead hoodie tracksuit said the thing. Not the ‘in’ Bob required. Not yet. But what he said next gave Bob permission .
“Think you’re funny, do you? Think you’re funny? Go on, make us laugh, then.”
“People always say,” Bob replied, ignoring the tugging on his lapels, “you’re a comedian — go on, tell us a joke.”
“They don’t say to a politician, you’re a politician, go on, tell us a lie.”
There was a moment as the words were given rather less than their due consideration. Blinks were blinked, brows were furrowed, saggy crotches were hitched.
“Ha ha ha,” said lead tracksuit. “Oh, my sides. Go on, give us another, Mister Comedian.”
Oh, if only he knew what he’d done there.
So Bob gave them the one about the florist. What do you give a florist when he’s sick? He gave them the one about retired gardeners (what do they do with themselves?). He gave them the growing old being compulsory, growing up being optional routine, too.
It was only to be expected that an onslaught of comedy gold like this would have an effect. At least two of the lads were now backing away, looking over their shoulders down the alley to the street beyond. Maybe they were thinking of cutting their losses and, yes, Bob had a joke on cutting losses, too, didn’t he?
The lead hoodie tracksuit boy took the departure of his fellows as a double blow to his authority. His hands were back out, pulling at Bob’s blazer, shirt and club tie. But Bob’s hands were busy, too. They always were when he was performing, and the pair of them wound up slapping each other like Laurel and Hardy before hoodie tracksuit decided to go for the shoulders instead. He laid both hands on Bob’s shoulders, trying to pull him forward, and Bob knew, in that instant, where that knee of his was aiming, just as he knew, too, how to deal with it.
He had been given his ‘in’ to the gag he had thought of first. His woofer. His answer to “what do you do with a Hoodie”?
Bob stepped forward, not back.
He gave him the full ‘won the family car’ thing.
He – now, get this – he hugged the hoodie.
The knife clattered to the kebab wrapper and vomit spattered tarmac between them.
“You…you…you’re nuts, you are,” the lead hoodie tracksuit said, scamper-scrabbling backwards, nearly forgetting to scoop up his dropped prize from the ground. “You need help, you do.”
Then he was gone. Back to the green room, no doubt, Bob thought, as the credits rolled, as he watched Colin step away from the announcer’s microphone, as he waved to the studio audience and then stage management with their headphones and their kit came over to unclip his radio mic and take the earpiece out.
“You alright there, son?” asked one of the floor assistants. Very formally attired, Bob thought. Logos and patches and a really very loud walkie talkie quite unsuited to the studio floor. They could do with dialling the flashing lights down now, too.
“Fine, fine. Copacetic,” Bob said, shooting his cuffs and running a hand through his hair.
“You really shouldn’t be out here on your own at this time, you know,” the floor assistant said while his colleagues went off after the departing hoodie tracksuits. But you couldn’t keep an audience happy the whole time, Bob could tell them. That’s what the joke book was for. If you didn’t get a laugh with your first gag, there’d always be the opportunity to tell them another.
Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including 2018’s “Not So Funny Now” about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. He has recently been published in the Daily Drunk, EllipsisZine, Dwelling Literary, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, Flash Fiction Magazine, Brown Bag, and Safe and Sound Press.