Jo Caulfield shares her tales of being a travelling comedian. In this first episode, there’s a bit of a kerfuffle caused when she takes a table for one.
Life on the road isn’t all glamour for the touring comedian. I’m often on my own for three or four days at a time. But being alone is not necessarily lonely; this isn’t going to be a piece about ‘the tears of a clown’.
I love being a comedian. I get paid for doing things that in most jobs you’d get fired for: making smart-arse remarks, insulting strangers and, hopefully, encouraging people to forget their responsibilities. I’m also allowed to drink at work and get a round of applause just for showing up. And it’s not the sarcastic round of applause your boss might give you. At least I don’t think it is.
Recently in Norwich I experienced something more than the average ‘woman eating alone’ humiliation. Having survived on Tesco Metro sandwiches for three days I asked the staff at the theatre if there was somewhere I could go to get something hot to eat before the show. Turned out there was a Pizza Express right next door to the venue.
It was just after 6.30pm so the Pizza Express was empty, and the waiter did that thing they always do in empty restaurants – he sat me right in the window. It’s a cheap manipulation trick designed to make the restaurant look busy. As if passersby will say, “I probably can’t see all the other diners behind that one single woman in the window. Let’s go there.”
I am actually getting used to the fact that the staff will think it’s a bit strange a woman eating on her own, and may even have a little gossip about me. I would if I was them: “Look at her: 6.30pm on a Saturday night and she’s sitting there all alone; that’s a bit tragic.”
Still I ploughed on. I even decided to treat myself and ordered a glass of wine. Straight away I realised that doesn’t help my situation. Now the staff are probably thinking, “Look at her: tragic lush; Saturday night all alone.”
I ordered and was waiting quite happily for my four seasons pizza when I heard someone knock on the window. I’ll admit it gave me a bit of a scare. I looked up and there was a young man and a young woman standing outside, waving at me. I thought, “That’s strange. I don’t know anyone here,” so I ignored them. Seconds later they knocked again, and this time when I looked up another couple had joined them and one of the men was beckoning other people to the window.
Then it clicked: these are the people coming to my show. The audience are all going to come by this window on the way in to the theatre. And this man had made it his job to tell everyone. He was pointing and waving: “Here she is – look.”
To make matters worse, they were all staring at me expectantly and (I don’t know why I did this) I thought, “Mmm, I do look a bit tragic. I better do something funny.” So I picked up my wine glass and started waving it at them pretending I was really drunk. They seemed to enjoy that and all started laughing.
Then I did the physical trick where you mime going down some stairs. Yes, I did that. Even though I’ve never done it before and know nothing about mime. I got out of my seat and mimed going down a set of stairs.
By now there were at least 20 people crammed around the window watching me. I was on a roll. But how do you top the ‘drunk woman going down the stairs’ routine?
My memory muscle kicked in and I remembered a trick I learnt when I was a waitress. I was taught how to fold a napkin into the shape of a hat. It looks like a bishop’s mitre.
“I love being a comedian. I get paid for doing things that in most jobs you’d get fired for: making smart-arse remarks, insulting strangers and, hopefully, encouraging people to forget their responsibilities.”
I quickly folded my napkin, put on my bishop’s hat, did my drunk mime and proceeded to pretend I was going down stairs. I acted out the full drunk at a party scenario. I was on fire – then I turned around and realised the restaurant was now half full.
Yet because of the way the lighting was set up, the other diners couldn’t see the people outside the window. All they could see was a single woman, pretending to have a party, in a hat she’d clearly made out of a paper napkin.
I was flustered. I panicked. I don’t know why I said it – maybe my subconscious thought this would make things better – I blurted out, “It’s my birthday!”
The restaurant went quiet. They all stared at me. I was just starting to turn away and get back into my seat when I heard one very well-meaning woman start to sing. “Happy Birthday to you…”
Very slowly and begrudgingly the rest of the restaurant joined in. I had to sit through the whole of Happy Birthday. I’d never realised what a long song it is.
When they finally finished I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I went up to the counter to get the bill and seeing a kind face just started babbling. “That was embarrassing! It’s not really my birthday, I’m doing a show at the theatre next door, yes, I’m a comedian…”
The look on her face said, “Yeah, of course you are. No, no you’re not; you’re a crazy lady.” Then she put her hand on my arm, leaned in and whispered, “Don’t worry dear; I’m sure you’ll have a better birthday next year.”
That is why I won’t be going back to Pizza Express any time soon. The same goes for Norwich.
Spot Jo in a Pizza Express near you. Her latest tour dates can be found at www.jocaulfield.com
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Standup comedian. Comedy writer. Crime fighter. Happy drunk.