Opinion: Fans – A Constant Source of Irritation

I don't know how many comedy gigs i've been too. Let's just say it's a lot more than the number of people who voted for the Lib Dems in South Shields yesterday. Over the years I've seen some pretty strange behaviour from audience members, but last night at Omid Djalili there was a first.

Admittedly this was during the interval but it was still pretty strange. There was an empty seat next to me and when Djalili went off for his half-time oranges the man who had been in the seat in front of me walked round, stood where the empty seat was, and spent the interval giving a back massage to the woman in the seat in front. Who, I assume was his girlfriend.

At least this wasn't during the actual show and they did keep their clothes on, but it was still strangely inappropriate behaviour, rather like when you see people on trains painting their nails or eating KFC or both at the same time. It's the sort of thing that should be done in private. Maybe she had a particularly bad back, maybe he was just a particularly considerate lover. i just thought it was weirdly out of context.

This got me thinking about the various types of audience behaviour that get on my nerves. When I realised how many things there were I began to wonder how I ever manage to sit through a show without having a meltdown or a breakdown. I know some of these are common problems, but do they all bother others? Does everybody get wound up by all of these things? Here is my Top Six Comedy Gig Irritants. More will follow, please let me know if I've left anything out that particularly gets your goat.


1. Phones. Obviously. But these divide into different sub-categories – there are the people who have them in their hand all the time either to text or live tweet and the people who have them in their bag but repeatedly get them out to check if they've received a text. The second category is actually worse if they are directly in front of you, because it involves their head and shoulders going up and down. Unless you are a heart surgeon waiting to hear if a donor heart has been delivered for an emergency transplant keep it turned off.

2. The Leg Man. Way, way worse than people who hog the arm rests. These are men – always men and often found at Lee Evans gigs when he used to do West End theatres I noticed – who insist on sitting with their legs splayed apart. I presume this is some kind of testosterone-induced throwback to an ancient animal display of the genitals. Thankfully these days the genitals tend to be hidden under stone-washed denim and Lee Evans tends to play arenas with more leg room. The nightmare scenario is having a Leg Man on either side of you.

3. The Shoulder Leaner – this is the phenomena of a woman going to a comedy gig with her boyfriend and gradually during the gig spending more and more time with her head on his shoulder, entirely obscuring your view if you are watching the show through the gap between them. This seems to occur particularly when the comedian is something of a meandering "ideas" stand-up such as Dylan Moran in his early days, when there are not wall-to-wall punchlines to make you sit up and laugh. 

4. The Rustler – Related to but not to be confused with the Lesser Spotted Clicker who picks their fingernails during gigs, or the Fidget who simply can't sit still. The Rustler arrives at their seat with the Full Monty – programme, sweets and drinks and attempts to juggle these on their lap for the duration of the performance.

5. The Sniffer – another sub-species, this time of the genus Cougher. If you've got a cough you have my sympathy, but please sit as far away from me as possible. If you have a sniff though, for God's sake just blow your nose and get it over with or stick some cotton wool up it. See also The Throat-Clearer.

6. The Agreer – A problem mainly linked to observational comedians so an increasingly common phenomenon. When Michael McIntyre mentions the giant pepper grinders in Italian restaurants you turn to your partner, nudge them and go – "oh, I've noticed those too". When Micky Flanagan talks about going out out, you turn to your partner and say "that's just like you." The idea of stand-up is for you to laugh and then listen to the next joke and laugh again, not engage in your own breakaway discussion about the punchline.

To be continued...


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