Opinion: How Long Can You Last Without A Drink?

gina yashere

I went to see Gina Yashere at the Udderbelly last night. Good fun, never less then entertaining, discussing everything from the Woolwich killing and the Ohio hostages to needing reading glasses and hovering above the toilet seat to avoid nasty germs. But being the pedant that I am I had one major gripe. The programme said that the show started at 9pm and the running time was 60 minutes.

The trouble was I had to be somewhere by 10.10pm and unfortunately the show lasted closer to 90 minutes and finished around 10.30pm. Yashere was on a bit of a roll and lost track of time and most of the audience was loving it, so who can blame her for going on a bit? The only people that were having difficulties apart from me were the ones with weak bladders and little will power when it came to alcohol. By 10ish there was a slow, no pun intended, trickle, of audience members trying to sneak out. Mostly for the toilet, but some to get another drink. But you could see they were conflicted. Would they be allowed back in? Would the show be over by the time they got back?

Everyone must have assumed that the show would last an hour. Or, if it was much longer, there would be an interval. A lot of upper-middle-ranking shows such as Richard Herring's Talking Cock, which is currently on tour and gets a big outing at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre this Sunday, start off as one hour Edinburgh shows but then loosen their belts a little on the road to include an interval. This gives prolific performers such as Herring a chance to breathe – metaphorically and verbally – and it also gives the bar a chance to flog some more booze and for fans to go to the toilet without interrupting the, as it were, flow.

I guess Yashere could not have unilaterally decided to have an interval, although I have seen this done in the past. Ever the democrat Mark Thomas once took a vote during a Soho Theatre gig on whether he should include a bar break. When the ayes had it he then exercised his democratic right by advising us to avoid a certain bar and use a different one, but that's another blog.

Nothing, of course, matches up to Mark Watson and his epic day-long non-stop mirth marathons. But Yashere's spontaneous stand-up extension without a break was an interesting development. I'm sure there have been long shows in the past, but the standard format is either one hour straight through, or 55ish minutes either side of a break if in a big theatre or an arena. I was just a little surprised that, of all people, Yashere went over time, as in America where she is based, it is unusual for comedians to do over an hour.

In the US live sets are often geared to either a tight short club set to land a spot on the likes of Letterman or a longer set of maybe up to an hour max to gear up for a TV Comedy Special. Sarah Silverman famously shocked her Hammersmith Apollo audience in 2008 not with her taboo-busting edgy comedy but by barely doing 45 minutes. As American comedians such as Hannibal Buress have often noted when over here, the English drink a heck of a lot more than Americans at shows, so we clearly crave a break where they don't. And of course, getting up for a drink and getting up for a leak are intrinsically linked.

Maybe we are about to go through a period of gig-without-a-break inflation. Or will mass audience walk-outs to the bar mid-joke stop comedians outstaying their welcome? Last week I went to see Robert Newman at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington. His show was also football match length without a pause and very few people tried to escape. But then Newman's show, complete with references to Darwin and Dawkins, was more like a lecture than a stand-up gig. And I guess you don't have a break to get tanked up when you are at a lecture.




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