Recorded on 10 March 2006 at Chapter Arts, Canton, Cardiff
PRE-SHOW MUSIC: MILES DAVIS’S KIND OF BLUE
VOICE OFF: Please, ladies and gentlemen, welcome onto the stage Mr Stewart Lee!
Thank you. Ah. It’s great to be back.
Um. Now, I’m going to, I’m going to tell you a story, right, it’ll take about, um, an hour and fifteen minutes, er, which is sort of a bit too long for a show without an interval. But it’s also not long enough to split into two halves. It’s kind of disappointing either way. But it is a little bit too long, so if you need to go for a wee during that, you can do that and I’m not the sort of person that picks on anyone. Also, if you become bored or irritated, er, you can also go. Likewise, if you’re watching this at home on a DVD and you need to go for a wee, you can just pause it and you can go and I’ll have no problem with that. I won’t even know that it’s happening, literally.
Um, so. This is a story about a load of stuff that happened to me last year. Now, on, um, Thursday 7th July – 7/7 – I woke up in London … at about midday, and already I can sense people going, yeah, course you did, Stew, you slept through that major news event because you are a lazy stand-up comedian, right, but that’s not strictly true. What happened was I didn’t get in till about half past three the night before because I’d been driving back from Lincoln, where I’d been doing what was optimistically billed as an Edinburgh Fringe warm-up gig, right? And what happened in Lincoln was I went out in this little club, about sixty people, and before I could say anything a guy down on my left had made the noise of an animal, which I correctly identified as being a sheep, right. To try and nip that in the bud, to try and stop it from building, I said, ‘A sheep there. And any other noises of any other animals you want to make, I will be able to identify correctly.’ But what happened was that the people of Lincoln took that as an invitation to spend the next thirty-five, forty minutes making the noises of increasingly complex and obscure animals, all of which I was able to identify correctly. Until, by about half past ten, I’d started to wonder if I’d perhaps been wrongly advertised as being a man that would come from London, the city, and correctly identify the animals of Lincolnshire from their sounds alone, in case the people of Lincoln didn’t know what we called them.
But eventually all that subsided, and I thought, ‘Right, I’ll get on with my ace new stuff now.’ But before I could do that, a guy down on the right with long curly hair and little round glasses, he started shouting out catchphrases from a television programme I did eleven years ago that as a rule most people have forgotten, right. So I had to explain to the other confused fifty-nine people in the room that I used to do this thing in 1995 that used to get two million viewers, and then they started to feel like they were watching a performer in decline. OK, so, that’s why I got in late on Wednesday the 6th of July, woke up late Thursday the 7th of July.
And the first thing I did on 7/7 when I woke up was I checked all my emails, right. And the first one in was from an American comic called Jackie Kashian that I’d worked with in Perth in June. And it was just one line, it just said, ‘Are you all right?’ So I emailed back, ‘Yes, fine thanks, how are you?’ And the next one was from a New Zealand comic called Ben Hurley who I’d worked with in Auckland in May, same thing, one line, ‘Are you all right?’ So I emailed back, ‘Yes, fine thanks, how are you?’ There was about fifteen more, all saying, ‘Are you all right?’ Then I checked my text messages, there was about twenty there, from all over Britain, all over the world, from Roger in Canada, Graham in the Philippines, Jess in New York, all saying ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you all right?’
Now, as you may or may not know, I did have quite a difficult year. Um. I had to go into hospital in February. I’ve also been going a bit deaf. And in January, because I was the director of the controversial theatre piece Jerry Springer: The Opera, I became the co-focus of a hate campaign led by 65,000 right-wing born-again Christians … resulting in the threat of prosecution in the High Court for blasphemy and the collapse of four years of work into financial non-viability. So it had been a difficult year. And while I was touched that all of my friends had chosen to enquire after my welfare, it did seem strange that they had all chosen the same morning to do that, right.
So like I said, I had to go into hospital in February, right. I had this thing called diverticulitis, right. That’s where your stomach starts to kind of poison you. Normally, only very old people get it, but if you’ve been a stand-up comedian for seventeen years, drinking heavily and eating mainly Ginsters pies in the night, erm, that can move it on, right. So I had to go into hospital in North London, and while I was in there, I had to have an endoscopy, right. That’s where they insert a camera on a fibre-optic tube into your anus. Now, on that occasion, Cardiff, it was my anus. But it would be your anus if it were you that were undergoing the endoscopy, right, because in medical science as a rule there’s a direct relation between who is the subject of a procedure and the information that the doctors are trying to find out. That’s why you can’t send a friend along instead. OK? Even if they really love investigative surgery, er, it has to be you. So … It’s frivolous, anything else …
So I was being wheeled in there, and I was lying on a slab, and I was naked except for this kind of third-length, floral-print hospital gown, right. Goes down to about there. Now, I’ve never understood the design of them, because as a man, right, I’m not ashamed of my breasts, OK? What I want concealed are my genitals: my penis, my two testicles. They’re the source of my shame. But the design of the third-length, floral-print hospital gown makes it look as if I’ve chosen to expose them. In a coquettish fashion. Which I would never do, I wouldn’t do that.
So I was being wheeled in there, I was lying on a slab, and I was naked except for this kind of third-length, floral-print hospital gown. And I had a fibre-optic tube inserted into my lubricated anus. And then suddenly out of nowhere, and this is true, the doctor said, ‘Oh, I see from your notes that you’re a famous comedian.’ And I said to him, ‘There’s a problem with that sentence, isn’t there, Doctor? Which is that if the phrase “You are a famous comedian” is preceded by the qualifying phrase, “I see from your notes …” then I’m not, and I’m not anyway, really.’ And then the nurse interrupted rather aggressively. She went, ‘Well, I’ve never heard of you,’ as if it were I that had arrogantly introduced this vain notion into the endoscopic procedure, which was not the case. I hadn’t done. So I said to her, ‘Well, I am a comedian.’ And she said, ‘Well, you don’t look like a comedian.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ And she said, ‘A comedian should look funny.’
Now, at the time I was lying naked on a slab in a thirdlength, floral-print hospital gown, with a fibre-optic tube inserted into my lubricated anus. If I’d seen that, I would have laughed. But I suppose if you work in endoscopy, you run the risk of becoming jaded.
So I said to her, ‘What do you mean, a comedian should look funny?’ And she said, ‘A comedian’, she said, ‘should be the sort of person’, she said, ‘that as soon as you look at them,’ she said, ‘it makes you want to laugh,’ she said, ‘like Joe Pasquale.’ So as I lay there naked on a slab, in a thirdlength floral-print hospital gown, with a fibre-optic tube inserted into my anus, looking at live video-footage relay of my own rotting and bleeding internal organs, I thought about Joe Pasquale. And I’ve thought about Joe Pasquale once before in my life. They say that you think about Joe Pasquale twice in your career: once on the way up …
And here’s why I first thought about Joe Pasquale, right. It was in 1995 … and when I started doing the, er, comedy circuit in, in London in about 1989, there used to be this Irish comic on the circuit called Michael Redmond. He was great. He lives in Glasgow now. But he had big bushy hair and a kind of long, droopy moustache, and deep-set bloodhound eyes. And he always used to wear a long brown mac and carry a little plastic bag. And what he used to do was he’d walk out onstage and he’d stand still in silence for about a minute and a half looking weird, and then he would say, ‘A lot of people say to me, “Get out of my garden!”’
Now I think that is the greatest opening line ever. Um … not just for a comedy set either, for anything. I don’t think there’s a book or a film or a poem or a play that couldn’t be improved by having ‘A lot of people say to me, “Get out of my garden!”’ as … The Book of Genesis would be a lot better … You feel it would, it would kind of cut to the chase of what it was really … It would save a lot of faff if you went straight in there.
And it always used to get a good laugh, that line. But it got a much better laugh, Michael’s joke, in 1995, when Joe Pasquale did it as one of his jokes in his Royal Variety Performance set of that year. And there’s always been a kind of tradition of the mainstream acts stealing our jokes. In fact, you might remember at the end of 2004, er, Jimmy Carr had to take Jim Davidson to task for stealing some of his material, right, although to be honest, if Jim Davidson can steal your material, maybe it’s time to think about dropping it. Although to be fair to Jimmy Carr, it was kind of a sexist, woman-hating bit that he’d written with a sense of irony that Jim Davidson was able to appropriate at face value. One of the kindest things you can say about Jim Davidson as a fellow comic is he’s not a writer-performer who’s troubled by the notion of duality of meaning.
There’s always been this kind of material-theft tradition. So I rang him up. I did an article for a Sunday newspaper in 1995, and I rang up Joe Pasquale about this idea of stealing material. And I said to him, ‘Joe, how did you think up that joke about the garden?’ And Joe Pasquale said, and this is true, he said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I thought if someone looked out of their window and they saw me in their garden, they would say “Get out of my garden!”’ Now, that’s not quite right, is it? Because if you looked out of your window and you saw Joe Pasquale in the garden, you’d just go, ‘Is that … Joe Pasquale in the garden? What can he possibly want?’ You might even be frightened, right. ’Cause that joke only works if a kind of anonymous weirdo is saying it. As soon as you introduce a celebrity into it, it’s kind of structurally compromised, so … I said to him, ‘Well, are you sure you thought that joke up?’ And he said he couldn’t remember if, if it was his idea. And it is sometimes difficult to remember if you’ve had an idea, especially when they occur as thick and fast as they must do in the mind of Joe Pasquale. And under duress, he admitted one of his writers might have written it. Turned out what he meant by writers was not so much people that wrote for him, as people that went around writing things down that other comedians had thought of. So I said to him, ‘The thing is, it’s Michael Redmond’s joke, you shouldn’t be doing it.’ And he said what a lot of the mainstream acts say. They say that they don’t think it’s possible to own a joke. They say they don’t think you can copyright a joke. So bearing that in mind, I’ve tried to write a joke that Joe Pasquale won’t be able to steal. And it goes like this.
[reading] ‘Joe Pasquale goes into a bar. He says to the barman, “I’d like a pint of beer please.” And the barman says, “Why don’t you just come around the bar, help yourself to the beer, and then walk off without paying for it? After all, you are Joe Pasquale. Or perhaps send in someone else to steal the beer for you and then deny that beer can actually be owned. Say that you find the very concept of the ownership of beer hard to understand. Or better still, insist that it’s your beer and that you brewed it at home. In your house. Even though your home lacks the most rudimentary of brewing facilities.”’
Ah, someone nearly clapped alone there. But then they stopped, because of course for a comedian the only thing worse than the sound of no one clapping is the sound of one person clapping alone, as it indicates that what you have is a very specialised appeal and no commercial future. As if I didn’t know that.
Right, um … So … I got home late on, er, the 6th, woke up late on the 7th of July, got all these emails, text messages, I thought, ‘Something’s up,’ right. So I put the television on. And by now, it was about three hours after the London al-Qaeda bombings. And on TV news, there was all these kind of insensitive news journalists running around trying to get statements out of bomb survivors that weren’t really in a fit state to give statements. And I started writing them down, right. This was, um, a guy that had survived the King’s Cross bomb and he said to camera, he said, ‘The rescue workers have been amazing, really amazing, I mean I take my hat off to them. I’m not wearing a hat, obviously, but if I was, I would take it off.’ And laughs over here, a smattering of applause, and then doubt spreading towards the back corner.
Now. Don’t judge me for this, OK? Don’t be uncomfortable, I am a human being like you, I am a member of society. I watched that news report, I thought, ‘I hope these people are OK and things don’t pan out too badly, er, for the world situation.’ But on the other hand, I’m also a comedian, so I was thinking, ‘Mind you, it’s quite funny, I should write it down.’
Then on the radio I heard a woman, I heard a woman who’d survived the number 30 bus bomb, and she said, ‘After the bus blew up, I saw people lying outside the British Medical Association headquarters. Ironic,’ she said, ‘but if you’re going to do this kind of thing, that’s the place to do it, I suppose.’
But, Cardiff, who are these inhuman bombers that strike, they strike at the very heart of our society with no respect for human life, without even the courtesy of a perfunctory warning? It makes you nostalgic, doesn’t it, for the good old days of the IRA. ’Cause they gave warnings, didn’t they? They were gentlemen bombers, the finest terrorists this country’s ever had. We’ll not see their like again. Let’s … let’s have a little clap for the IRA. Come on, give them a little clap. Give them a clap, right? ’Cause the IRA, they were decent British terrorists. They didn’t want to be British. But they were. And as such, they couldn’t help but embody some fundamentally decent British values. We’ll miss them now they’re gone.
And another great thing about the IRA, I always think, apart from the warnings – and the uniforms, which were stylish but also practical – is that they had achievable aims, didn’t they? What do they want? Er, a united Ireland. And of course it’s possible to imagine getting round the table and negotiating towards that. What do al-Qaeda want? Al-Qaeda want to see the destruction of Western Judaeo-Christian civilisation in its entirety. And it’s harder to imagine getting round the table and negotiating towards that, isn’t it? ‘Obviously, you’ll appreciate we’re unable to meet all your demands. But here are some areas of Western Judaeo-Christian civilisation that we’d be happy to let go.’ Like Splott. I don’t even know what that is, I just saw it on a map. Splott and Joe Pasquale, he could be sent out as well.
But there’s lots of good stories from the war against terror, though. I mean, I was reading this, um … I hate it when comedians do that as a kind of intro, ’cause basically the link between what I’ve just said and this bit is a bit contrived. So I go, ‘Yeah, there’s a lot of good stories from the war against terror, though, but I wasn’t actually talking about that then, was I, no.’ But I would have got away with it, no one would have noticed. But. There are a lot of good stories from the war against terror, apropos of nothing.
And, um … I was reading this great book of, of trial transcripts, of American soldiers accused of human-rights abuses in, in Abu Ghraib, which was of course closed today. And, um … I don’t know if you remember Charles Graner, he was a fat American soldier but he had a moustache, so you could identify him. And he was the guy that organised the photographing of a naked, hooded, bound Iraqi civilian being dragged out of a cell, er, on his hands and knees, er, on a dog’s lead. And, um, in his defence, er, his lawyer, Charles Graner’s lawyer said that the naked, hooded, bound Iraqi civilian wasn’t being dragged out of the cell but was actually crawling of his own free will. And I just wondered how many other lines of defence they rejected before they settled on that one. And also what the naked, hooded, bound Iraqi civilian might have been crawling of his own free will towards? And I like to think he was crawling towards the notion of Western democracy. But obviously he was having some difficulty knowing which way to crawl, er, because of the hood, er, and because of the fact that he was approaching a palpably abstract concept.
OK? And so there’s good laughs for that over here in this area, and those tail away towards that corner there. When it’s late at night, there’s a long set to get through, as I said, there isn’t going to be time for me to work a mixedability room tonight. No offence, right, but time’s money, you know. Now. So. Everybody over here, for the rest of the night, you’re on board, you’re going to be Team A, OK? And you won’t mind if I don’t play over here too much, I’m going to be mainly concentrating on Team F in that corner. Don’t cheer that you are better than them, right, Team A, for some of you it’s just the luck of random seating, isn’t it, right? I don’t want you … Don’t laugh at them or cheer yourselves, right, we must do everything we can to make them feel comfortable and we will bring them along with us. Don’t laugh at them, don’t even look at them, right? Look at me, Team A. But if you’re sitting next to an F and they laugh at a clever bit, right, you can just reach over and give their hand a little squeeze, and we will bring you along. I will not leave anyone behind, I swear. All these jokes have worked before at some stage, they are about things in the news and people who exist, so you have … Don’t laugh at them, Team A. There’s Team … you are … right? And I know it’s weird, what’s happening now, ’cause you’ve thought, ‘Ooh, let’s go out and sit in the dark and judge someone,’ right? But now you’re being judged and it feels strange, right, but don’t worry, you will … I will … you will not be … look, it’s fine, OK? You’ll be all right. There’ll be a point in about eight minutes when you’ll be … when you’ll laugh at something. You won’t know why. But you will laugh. And it will all be fine, right? Sometime … I’ve, I’ve done this before when there’s been a kind of split in the room. Usually it creates an atmosphere of bonhomie. But tonight, it’s made it worse, hasn’t it? It’s made it worse. There’s a tension in the room that’s now ‘the gig is lost’, right? It’s lost.
OK, Team F, I’m going to put you at your ease, right? It’s OK to not like all of this. It has sometimes happened before. Will that relax you, madam? Good. Um. It’s OK to not like some of this, right? People have not … I’ve done this show about ninety times. I did it for three weeks in a little theatre in London and I had some walk-outs. And one of the walk-outs was the pop star Robbie Williams, who left about halfway through. Yeah. And on the way out, the woman from the Soho Theatre said to him, ‘Oh, are you not enjoying it?’ And he said he was, but that he had just remembered that he had to go to a wedding in the morning. Do you think that’s true? Do you think that’s true? If it was true, I hope he’d already bought them a present, and he didn’t just get something from a garage on the way … And then he said that he thought that I was all right, but that my voice – and this is true – Robbie Williams said my voice would be better suited to meditational relaxation tapes. That’s what he said. And the weird thing was that when I saw him in there, I thought, ‘Oh, I hope he doesn’t come backstage afterwards, I won’t know what to say.’ What positive thing could you say, you know? But, like … ‘I liked it when you dressed as that skeleton,’ you could say it was good. But I didn’t know when he’d gone, right?
But it is … But there are people in Team F – there’s A people are … Team F are going, ‘Yes, Stew, that’s very funny isn’t it? But in Cardiff Robbie Williams plays in the stadium, not in this small room, like you. So maybe you should look at him and learn something about what entertainment means. And what it means is not talking in a monotonous voice, dressing as a luminous skeleton. That is what people want.’
So all I’m saying is, if you’re … It’s OK to not like this, but if you don’t like it, that means that you are the same as Robbie Williams.
Lynndie England was a female American soldier and she was photographed pointing and laughing at the naked genitals of hooded, bound Iraqis. And in her trial the judge actually intervened, rather unusually, and he said that he wasn’t convinced that Lynndie England knew what she was doing. Now, I don’t believe that, ’cause in my experience, when a woman points and laughs at a man’s genitals, she’s normally fully aware of the effect that will have. In my experience. Especially if he’s hooded and bound. In my experience.
The laugh spreading into the, the Team F region for that, because it’s a kind of bit of satire about the news, but it’s got cocks in it as well. So that helps to bring the whole room onside. Come on, come on in, Team F, come on. It’s a bit like, kind of, at the moment, I feel like we can get there, and I know it’s a bit early in the evening but … At the moment, it feels like over here, there’s loads of nineteen-fifties American teenagers splashing around in a lake in little shorts. And there’s some other nineteen-fifties American teenagers, and they’re going, ‘Oh, that looks fun. I wish we could go in that lake. But we can’t. ’Cause we’ve got orthopaedic shoes.’ But you can! Throw them off! Take them off, throw them away, you will float in this lake. You will float.
And there was another story from that war, it was, er, it was discredited but it was true. Which was, apparently in Guantanamo Bay, um, the Americans threw a copy of a Koran into a toilet. Now, I’m not a religious person, but I don’t like the idea of a Koran being thrown into a toilet. Especially when bookshops and libraries are full of millions of pristine copies of Dan Brown’s new novel. Which you have to stop reading, right, because … You have to stop reading, because Dan Brown is not … It’s not literature, right? And you should know this in the land of bards, right? Um … Dan Brown writes sentences like, ‘The famous man looked at the red cup.’ OK? It’s not … And intellectuals like me have tried to explain to you why Dan Brown is a bad … and it’s not working. So I’m going to have a big poster campaign, a big, anti-Dan Brown poster campaign. It’s going to be a massive picture of a toilet, right? And there’ll be all pieces of shit floating in the toilet. And in the middle of the pieces of shit, there’ll be a copy of The Da Vinci Code, with a speech balloon coming out of one of the pieces of shit, saying, ‘Ah, there goes the neighbourhood.’
And I don’t know if you know, but the Catholic Church are very worried about you all reading The Da Vinci Code. And in fact, in January last year, the Vatican actually issued an official statement reminding Dan Brown readers that the books are largely fictional and full of historically unverifiable information.
Six minutes’ time, I tell you, you’ll be fine, right? But you’re right not to laugh at that, it’s not a proper joke, right, it’s just based on a shared set of assumptions, it doesn’t work.
Um … Now I was talking about the Vatican there. I don’t want anyone to think, anyone to think I’m, I’m anti-Catholic. I’m not. I actually love Catholicism. It’s my favourite form of clandestine global evil.
What I really like about Catholicism, my favourite thing about it, is the way that it combines a search for profound spiritual meaning in the universe with a love of kind of inane seaside tat. And you don’t often see those two things working as a team, do you?
I’ll give you an example of what I mean, right? I was in the Vatican at the start of last year. And outside the big church there, in the square, there were these little carts selling souvenirs, little souvenir stands. And outside the Vatican at the start of last year, you could buy – and this is true – you could buy lollipops about that big, with the face of Pope John Paul II on them, you could buy Pope John Paul II’s face loll– … I bought about ten and brought them home, right? And I was just wondering if, in the light of his death early last year, whether sales of those lollipops went up or whether they went down, you know. Whether good Catholics thought, ‘Ah, the Pope’s just died, it would now seem inappropriate to lick a sugar effigy of his face.’ Or whether they’d go, ‘Ah, the Pope’s just died, but what better way to pay tribute to his memory than by licking a sugar effigy of his face.’ To eat that, swallow it, digest it, shit out a kind of enchanted papal shit. I don’t know if whatever spiritual properties those lollipops have would survive the digestive process. I’m neither theologically nor medically qualified to do anything other than speculate on that, right? We can’t know.
But I did ask my girlfriend, she’s Catholic. I said to her, ‘If you drink holy water and then you do a wee, is the wee then magic?’ And she said, ‘No, that would be ridiculous.’ And it would, wouldn’t it? It’d be stupid.
Now, I don’t know if you remember, when the Pope died, the Catholic Church put out this story about his last words. They said that the Pope’s last words on his deathbed were addressed to God. Apparently, in his closing moments, the Pope said to God, ‘I searched for you, you found me, I thank you.’ That’s the story they put out. Let’s call it what it is, an obvious, made-up lie. ’Cause even the cardinals in the Vatican admitted that the Pope was in a coma for the last two weeks of his life. And that does seem to me like a very eloquent and profound statement to make in a coma.
And I’m suspicious of that story for personal reasons as well, right? Because I actually nursed two friends, right, um, an elderly relative and someone I’d known from school. And they were both people that I loved. And I nursed them both, and I visited them both through very long illnesses, not dissimilar to the late Pope’s. And I can assure you that in their closing moments, neither of them were in a fit state to say anything as eloquent or profound as that. Although admittedly I was holding pillows over their faces at the time.
But, you know, it was an act of love, right? It was an act of love. The first one was, the second one in retrospect I feel ambivalent about. But you’re in the moment, aren’t you? You have to act in the moment. It’s the kind of split-second decision London anti-terrorist officers have to make every day.
I don’t know if you remember, but the Pope’s … The scheduling of the Pope’s funeral actually caused some problems for the royal family because it ended up being arranged for the same weekend as the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Camilla Parker Bowles. So they actually ended up moving that wedding to avoid a clash of interests. Now, I don’t think they should have done that, right, they should have left that wedding where it was. ’Cause for me, that’s what split-screen television technology was invented for. Although it is hard, isn’t it, to imagine which one of those two events would have been the most distressing to watch, you know? The public veneration of a wrinkled old corpse …
You all right now?
OK, the problem we’ve got now, right, is that there are … There’s a section of the room are ahead of the punchlines. You have to be up to speed now. ’Cause the first half of the show, this is the kind of fun bit. And the second half is awful. Right? So you have to … And if you, if anyone had anticipated that joke and was holding back from laughing out of kind of politeness to me – thinking, ‘Oh, he won’t like it if we guess his jokes,’ right – I don’t care. I would welcome it. I think it’s good, right. ’Cause if you think about it, I have to write about an hour and a half of jokes every year, that’s quite hard, right? But what’s just happened suggests that with the correct encouragement of audiences, I wouldn’t have to write any jokes. I could just come out with a list of topics and read them out. And you could think of something amusing about them in your own heads. Then if you didn’t like the show, that would be your fault, ’cause you hadn’t been very funny. It’s about the apportioning of blame, I think.
Now I was talking about religion there. Um … And it wasn’t something I really wanted to talk about, ’cause I was one of a bunch of people that got in trouble with religious people, er, last year. Er, but I am going to talk about religion for about twenty minutes and then I’m going to run away. Um, but before I do that, I’m going to draw a little circle on here in chalk, right. People are going, ‘Oh, why are you doing that?’, right. OK, what this is, is …
About four years ago, I went to, er, Languedoc in the south of France, right. Because I wanted to see this week when they recreate medieval clowning techniques, the ‘bouffons’ they were called. And what they do is they, they run through all these French mountaintop villages. And outside the baker’s, they make fun of the baker. And outside the town hall, they’ll take the piss out of the mayor or whatever. But before they did stuff about the church, right, outside the church they drew this kind of shape round them in the dirt, so they were kind of protected from prosecution, if you like, under the kind of magic spell of comedy. So that’s what I’ve done here. Now, it doesn’t work at all, OK? But it is a kind of concession to theatre, and this building receives some arts subsidy, so I have to do this. Otherwise you’d be just watching a piece of stand-up comedy, which is of course of no value.
So, um … So, yeah, like I say, I, I worked on this opera about Jerry Springer. And, um, we got accused of being blasphemous, which was, came as a genuine surprise, ’cause it honestly had had really good reviews in the Church Times and the Catholic Herald when it first went out in the theatre. So it was kind of weird, it all came a bit out of nowhere. We got 65,000 complaints when it went on television. The BBC executives that commissioned it had to go into hiding, with police protection. And me and the composer were going to be taken to court and charged with blasphemy. But at the end of June, the High Court threw the case out on the grounds that it isn’t 1508.
But … It is … Hey, and before you all write in, I know that the first blasphemy prosecution was 1628, right, but there’s something rhythmically pleasing about 1508.
So, um … But it was kind of weird. ’Cause I’ve got a website and whatever, so I was getting all this kind of hate mail all the time. And, er, it was – it still goes on now – it was quite distressing. But there was … I did get one funny one in March last year where someone wrote to me and they said, ‘I enjoyed listening to you defend your work on Radio 5 yesterday. You seem like a very intelligent and thoughtful young man. What a pity you’ll be going to hell.’
And you have to admire that, don’t you, the kind of construct of it, you know, it’s beaut– … It takes you one way, and then it goes the other. It’s a classic Pasquale move. We thought he was at home in his bedroom, naked. Turned out he was on a bus. So … That’s how that works. We got to the end of the sentence, we found out he was on a bus. We thought he was in his house, naked – he’d given us no reason to believe he was on a bus till he got to the end of the sentence. Then we realised the nudity was amusing.
So … But it is weird, getting accused of blasphemy. I don’t know if any of you have ever been formally accused of blasphemy … but … And I’m always relieved when people laugh at that idea, because everywhere round the country … when I say … ‘Hey, I don’t know if any of you have ever been accused of blasphemy,’ people go, ‘Ha ha, no, it would be ridiculous.’ Except in, er, in Builth Wells, I don’t know if you know that. It’s kind of … I said that, there was kind of silence of people going, ‘What have you heard about here? What have you heard about this apparently normal market town with a stone circle on the rugby pitch? What have you heard?’ But it is, it is weird, right, joking apart, to be accused of blasphemy, right, because I’m … I don’t, I don’t … I don’t believe in God, thousands of people do, they might be right. OK? But even if you don’t believe in God, the idea that you have offended a super-being is quite intimidating, right. It makes the idea of having made Robbie Williams bored seem inconsequential. Do you know …? That’s, that’s water off a duck’s back to me. ‘Oh, were you bored? Oh, are you God? No.’ Right, so …
But also I’m not a religious person but loads of people are, and they might be right. And even if you aren’t religious, I suspect like me you entertain the fact that it’s your right to change your mind, and you might want to go back towards faith. But the idea that you’ve been cut off kind of legally is quite a frightening idea. So that, and the threat of prosecution and the threats and whatever, it did kind of really stress me out, this idea of being cut off …
And so in February, I … I left London where I live and I went to stay with my mum, where she lives, in a little village in Worcestershire, right. This is the kind of little village it is. I got there early to see her once and she wasn’t in. So I walked round to the village shop and I bought a muesli bar and I ate it in a lay-by, right. And about four hours later, my mum said, ‘Oh, the woman next door said she saw you eating a muesli bar in a lay-by earlier.’ That’s the kind of little village … This is the kind of little village it is, right. The house opposite my mum’s, on the lawn the guy’s got a white flagpole and occasionally he runs the Union Jack up it. And if he does, you know that British troops have committed an atrocity abroad, OK? That’s … that’s the kind of little village it is, right.
But as it turned out, running away to Worcestershire was a mistake. What I didn’t know was that the New Labour MP for Worcester was one of the New Labour MPs that was calling for our opera to be banned and for us to be prosecuted, so it was in all the local papers. My mum’s friends would keep coming round with clippings of me and the composer, with a thing saying ‘BAD MEN DUE TO GO TO HELL’ or something … And my mum would go, ‘Oh, you look a bit fat in that one. Never mind, I’ll put it in the scrapbook. With all the other clippings of people calling you a cunt. Going right back to your school reports. And your adoption certificate.’ [turns back on audience] ‘Reason for abandonment of infant.’ ‘Infant is a cunt, clearly.’ ‘I expect this early childhood rejection will lead to him spending most of his adult life travelling the country in search of the approval of ever-dwindling groups of strangers.’ [turning back] Yeah, laugh it up. Um …
But those women in that shop … The women in the shop that I mentioned, right, they really like me in the village shop. And from what I can work out, it’s ’cause I’ve got a long black coat that I sometimes wear. And that’s kind of enough, you know. They go, ‘Ooh, he came in, Mrs Lee, in his coat.’ Whatever next. It’s like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. It’s like Gary Numan had come round. Batman.
And so they really like me. So they used to cut these things out of the newspaper slagging me off, laminate them, stick them on the wall in the shop and get me to sign them, right. Like I’m an outlaw, you know. So if you ever go past there, you’ll know what that is.
But again, joking apart, the blasphemy things did your head in, the legal threats, the collapse of the work and every thing, it did kind of stress me out. So I did what anyone would do under the circumstances, which was to drink heavily every day. Um. But it’s difficult to drink in the countryside, right. It’s not like here in Cardiff where the streets are thronged with revellers all the time. Nothing going on, you know. I used to have to walk about two miles to the nearest pub. And I’d get in there and there’d just be the same three old blokes every night. And they’d go, ‘Ooh the blasphemer’s arrived, cross yourselves lads,’ you know. And they’d make me drink stuff without telling me what it was. They’d go, ‘Have some of this.’ And I go, ‘All right, I’ll have a pint of that.’ ‘A pint?’ ‘Yeah.’ I’d have about four pints of this stuff. I thought it was real ale, it turns out it’s this thing called barley wine, right. And you’re only, you’re only supposed to have an egg cup of it, basically. But no one told me that, ’cause I wasn’t from there. I was from a town, right.
So I went out at about half – I was trashed – about half eleven at night. I could hardly stand. I was mad anyway, and paranoid ’cause of all this blasphemy stuff. Stressed out. And I was scared about how I was going to get home, in the dark. But I set off along the road. And after about two minutes, exactly what I was worried about happened. A big lorry came round, I thought it was going to hit me. I had to jump into this kind of agricultural drainage ditch. I, I came out all covered in water and mud and animal excrement and stuff. Carried on walking along the road. And then about four minutes later, about three hundred yards ahead of me on the right, I saw this kind of white figure, like a, like a ghost, right.
Now. I’m not superstitious, I was drunk, and I was under a lot of stress, and paranoid. So I thought, ‘I’m imagining this.’ I ignored it, right. And I tried to walk past it. When I got about ten, fifteen feet away from this thing, I recognised it as being Jesus, right? But even so, I still thought it was my imagination, OK? Because we all know that Jesus should be black or Arabic or Jewish or whatever. I had given Him the face of Robert Powell – the nineteen-seventies television Jesus. So I thought it was my subconscious. Or Jesus was real and He had chosen to appear to me in a form that I would recognise. ’Cause He would know that I also used to watch The Detectives. Mm? He could have come as Jasper Carrott, which is the same initials, right, but Robert Powell is a more holy kind of figure, isn’t he?
So … But even so, I thought, ‘This is my subconscious, I’m going nuts.’ I tried to walk on past it, but as I got level with Jesus, He took my hand and He started to lead me along the lane. Even then, I thought, ‘This is still my subconscious.’ What do I want? (a) I want to get home safely, and (b) I have this anxiety about reconnecting with faith. And He’s taking my hand, in my imagination that’s what that is, right? It’s not real.
But then He started talking to me, Jesus. He said to me, ‘Stew’ – that kind of swung it – He said to me, ‘Stew, I know that my representatives on Earth have come out against you and your co-workers and loved ones and accused you of blasphemy,’ He said. ‘But I forgive you,’ He said. ‘And I want you, if you can, to find it in your heart to forgive me.’ And I said to Him, ‘What do you mean, Jesus?’ And He said, ‘Well, Stew,’ He said, ‘there was another man, wasn’t there, two thousand years ago, who annoyed the religious establishment of his time. In fact, a lot of people didn’t like some of the true things that he had to say. And … in fact, they crucified him for it, Stew, and … maybe, just maybe, you are the rightful inheritor of his crown.’
Now can I just make clear at this point, right, I am not saying that I’m Jesus, OK? I’m not saying that I am Jesus. That’s for you to think about at the … I’m not saying I’m Jesus, right, I’m not. But if I was Him – I’m not – but if I was Him, this – not – but if I was Him – I’m not – but if I was Him – I’m not Him, I’m not Him, right, I know you think I am but I’m not. You’re going, ‘Yeah, but if you were, you would say you weren’t, wouldn’t you? To trick us.’ I’m not. I’m not Him, right? I’m not Jesus, I’m not Him, come on. That would be ridiculous. That’s the … I’m the last person that He would come as. It definitely wouldn’t be me. Oh, maybe He would … I’m not, right. I’m not Jesus, right.
But if I was Him, this is the kind of place I would come and speak, isn’t it? Yeah. Not in the vain, arrogant Millennium Centre. I would come here, to this humble place, and I would speak to people like you – to drunks and whores – I would come here. I would come here. I would come here. In Canton. To this simple, humble place with adequate but ultimately limited wheelchair access. ’Cause I would know from the first time around they will come, clamouring, ‘Heal me, Jesus, heal me.’ There’s only so much one man can do. You can’t have a quota system. So it’s better to just speak in a place where they can’t get in. With the best will in the world, with the best will in the world, with the best will in the world. We mean nothing by it.
So He was leading me along the road, Jesus. And within about a minute the same thing had happened again. Another big lorry came round, I was scared. But He seemed to do something to either slow it down, or we became immaterial. It passed through us, we weren’t hurt. But that panicked me, and the alcohol kicked in, I started stumbling around. What He did, Jesus, was He grabbed my right arm and He hooked it over His shoulder, like that, and He started carrying me along, like you would a drunk mate, you know. Now initially I thought this was a bit of an imposition but then I realised He did have some previous experience of carrying a heavy burden in that way. And to be honest, under more difficult circumstances. And He seemed to like the warmth, the human contact. And in that way, we finally got to my mum’s front door.
And I started trying to get the key in and fumbling around. And then I thought, ‘This is a bit weird. Jesus is here. What’s the correct etiquette? Am I supposed to ask Him in for a coffee? You know, and hope He doesn’t read anything into that.’ OK, I’m not saying that Jesus is gay. That’s part of what caused the problems last year. But one in ten people are and you can’t – especially in a port town – you can’t make assumptions. And while I was thinking about this, He disappeared. And I felt bad because I was, I was grateful that He’d helped me home. But I was relieved that I didn’t have to deal with what to do. And I, and I felt like I’d betrayed Him, but He’d gone and I was relieved.
And I let myself into the house, and as soon as I got in I realised I was going to be sick. But I didn’t want to go upstairs where my mum was asleep and wake her up. So I ran round to this little room my mum’s got by the back door. Your mum’s probably got a room like this, OK? It’s about as big as the front of this stage, OK? And there’s a little hand basin here, and there’s a toilet here, and here there’s a towel rail. And in the towel rail is a little hand towel. That hand towel isn’t to be used for hands, OK? That hand towel is only to be used for wiping the cat’s feet when the cat comes in wet from
So I ran round to this little room. But before I could get a grip, I was immediately sick all over the floor, right, all over my mum’s floor. So I bent down – I wasn’t myself, remember, I was mad. And I tried to scoop up the sick. But doing that made me be sick again. And I was sick all down my clothes, until my clothes had become covered in, in sick. And I groped around and I ended up grabbing the cat’s-feet towel. And I used that to try and wipe it up, but there was too much and the cat’s-feet towel became overwhelmed, saturated with sick. If the cat had come in now, with wet feet, they would have had to stay wet. Or have sick put on them. Which would leave worse footprints.
And looking at that cat’s-feet towel, that made me be sick again. And I was sick into the, to the basin, until the hand basin was overflowing with sick. So I tried to scoop the sick out of the hand basin and fling it into the toilet. But doing that made me be sick again, and I was sick on top of that sick in there, until the toilet was blocked up with sick. And I stepped back and I shut my eyes and I thought, ‘That’s it now, surely. No more.’
But then I felt the sick rising in me again, and I thought, ‘What am I supposed to do? The floor’s covered in sick. My clothes are covered in sick. The cat’s-feet towel is a writeoff. Frankly. The hand basin’s overflowing with sick. The toilet’s overflowing with sick. What am I supposed to do?’
And I opened my eyes and I looked down, and on my left, on the floor, kneeling down, smiling, looking up at me, was Jesus. And He was pointing at His open mouth, as if what He wanted was for me to vomit into the open mouth of Christ. And I looked down and I thought, ‘This can’t be right.’ But He was pointing and laughing and smiling, and encouraging me. And then I remembered He did have some history of sacrifice. So against, against my better judgement, at his apparent insistence, I did it – I vomited into the open mouth of Christ, until the mouth of Christ was overflowing with my sick.
Now, right. I’ve been doing stand-up for seventeen years, OK? And I can sense when there’s tension in a room. And I know why it is and I un–, I understand it. Basically there’s a performer–audience bond of trust built up. We have worked on that together over the last hour. And, and, and you think, ‘Yes, there is, Stew, but you’ve broken that bond of trust. Because we weren’t expecting to be made to visualise this image. There was no warning of this, it wasn’t flagged up. There was no indication that you would do something like this, especially when you opened with all that light-hearted material about the bombings.’ And if you feel betrayed, I am … You have my sympathies, I’m sorry, right, there’s … But I’m just trying to understand this. And there is a performer–audience relationship, and there are probably people here thinking, ‘Yes, there is, Stew, and you have presumed upon that relationship. This is inappropriate, it’s too much too soon. It’s gone too far. It’s presumptuous to do this. It’s like fingering someone on a first date, you wouldn’t do it. Even at arm’s length, wearing a mitten, through the shattered window of a rural bus shelter, at the end of an otherwise pleasant evening, as an in appropriate gesture of thanks. You wouldn’t do that, Stew, so why are you doing this? Why? Why?’
And there are probably other people here going, ‘Yeah, it is like a relationship, Stew, the performer–audience relationship. But tonight, with what you’ve done, you’ve made it feel like a marriage, and it feels like a marriage that’s gone on for too long and is in its death throes.’ And if you feel like that, if you feel like this is a marriage that’s gone on too long, right, then maybe it’s time for you to start seeing other comedians. Right? And I can’t pretend that I’d be happy about that, right, I wouldn’t be, OK? But if that would help to keep the spark of this alive, then you should do it. You should go and see them. Go and see them. And I will wait for you to come back to me because I love you.
And I will come here, come here when you’re all laughing at something else, when you’re laughing at Nicko and Joe’s Bad Film Club, I will come here and I’ll be behind those railings up there. And I’ll be watching you giving them the laughs that you owe to me. And I’ll be crying. But because it’s you, because it’s you and I love you, I won’t be able to stop myself from becoming aroused. Behind the fence thing. And I’ll be crouching down. And I’ll be watching you all laughing – ‘ha ha ha’ – and I’ll be crying, right, but I will also be masturbating. Right? And I will be enjoying that unique fusion of profound grief and violent sexual arousal. And that’s the most profound feeling anyone can ever have. And if you have never had that feeling, you won’t understand me. And if you don’t understand me, how do you expect this to work out, right? So you have to understand that feeling. If you’ve never experienced that, then … If someone that you love has, has died, right, don’t take flowers to the grave, take whatever apparatus you need to achieve a state of mind whereby you can pay them the highest tribute of all.
[back on mic] So I’d vomited into the open mouth of Christ. And I stepped back and I shut my eyes and I thought, ‘That’s it now surely, no more.’ But then I felt the sick rising in me again, and I thought, ‘What am I supposed to do now? The floor is covered in sick, my clothes are covered in sick, the cat’s-feet towel is covered in sick, the sink’s overflowing with sick, the toilet’s overflowing, the open mouth of Christ is overflowing with sick. What …? What …?’ And then I opened my eyes and I looked down, and He was there again, Jesus, on my right. But this time He had His back to me and He was doing a kind of handstand by the sink. And His raiment had slipped down, it looked like a kind of thirdlength, floral-print hospital gown. And He had His right hand on the floor to, to balance Him upside down, and with His left hand He was using the fingers to kind of splay open His anus. As if what He … As if what He wanted was for me to vomit into the gaping anus of Christ.
[off-mic, shouting] And don’t imagine, Cardiff, that I come here and talk about this lightly, OK? I thought about it, I asked around – well, I know it’s a bit much but I asked around, I said to – oh look, I asked Tony Law, he’s a Canadian stand-up comedian, he’s the most reasonable man I know. I said to him, ‘Tony, do you honestly think I can go round the country in front of people and use the phrase, “I vomited into the gaping anus of Christ”?’ And he said, ‘Well, possibly, if it’s in context. But’, he said, ‘you won’t be able to use it as the title of a live DVD.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to do that, Tony, I’m not insane.’
But imagine this situation, it is impossible. There is no right way out of it. I bent down, I said to Jesus, ‘Are you sure this is what you want?’ And He said to me, ‘Look, you’re going to be taken to court for blasphemy for doing nothing, I feel like I owe you one, knock yourself out.’
So against my better judgement, ’cause He told me to, I did it. I vomited into the gaping anus of Christ till the gaping anus of Christ was overflowing with my sick. I did that. Are you happy now?
[back on-mic] And then I stepped back, and I shut my eyes, and I thought, ‘That’s it now surely, no more.’ But then I felt the sick rising in me again. And I thought, ‘What am I supposed to do? The floor is covered in sick, my clothes are covered in sick, the cat’s-feet towel is ruined, the sink’s overflowing with sick, the toilet, the anus of Chr– …’
Then I remembered, lads, you know when you’re doing a wee in the toilet, right? And there’s a bit of poo on the back of the bowl. And you think, ‘Ooh, I’ll hose that off. That’s my cleaning done for the week.’ So what I did was I got my penis out and as, as respectfully and tenderly and accurately as I could, I urinated into the gaping anus of Christ so that all the vomit there kind of foamed up and went on the floor, leaving just enough room for me to vomit one second and final time into the gaping anus of Christ, which I then did.
And then my mum came in. She looked at the sick on the floor. She looked at the sick all down my clothes, she looked at the cat’s-feet towel, all covered in sick, she was irritated by that. She looked at the sink overflowing with sick, the toilet overflowing with sick, the gaping anus of Christ overflowing with my sick. And she said to me, ‘Have you been sick? Into the gaping anus of Christ?’ And I said, ‘No, this was like this when I got here, the cat must have done it.’ And she said, ‘The cat’s in the garden and his feet are wet. And I’d like to know what you propose to do about that, given the current state of the cat’s-feet towel.’
And then she said to me, ‘It was you, wasn’t it?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘Let me give you some advice.’ And I listened because I love her and she tends to be right. She said, ‘Given your current situation,’ she said, ‘and the state of the world as it is,’ she said, ‘under no circumstances can you ever consider talking about this incident onstage.’ And I said to her, ‘Well, I might have to.’ And she said, ‘Well, I can’t stop you, but’, she said – that’s what she always used to do when I was a kid, ‘I can’t stop you, but’, it’s like putting the ball in your court – she said, ‘I can’t stop you, but’, she said, ‘if you are going to talk about this, you have to know why you’re doing it, what kind of point you’re trying to make.’
And I said to her, ‘Well, three things, Mother. Firstly, to make the point that a symbol, be it an icon or a flag or whatever, is only as worthy of respect as the values of the people that appropriate it. Secondly, that if a symbol goes out into the world, into places where it’s perhaps not understood or wanted or valued, you shouldn’t be too upset if it then takes on a shape you don’t recognise as your own. And thirdly, that if you attempt to apply limits to freedom of expression, either through legislation or intimidation or threats, what will then happen is that reasonable people, often against their own better judgement, will feel obliged to test those limits, er, by going into areas they don’t feel entirely comfortable with.’ I personally haven’t enjoyed the last half hour at all, I do it only to safeguard your liberty. And …
Ah. That’s never had a clap before, which probably means it is time to stop doing this show.
And then she said to me, ‘That’s very interesting, Stew, but I don’t believe you. Why would you really be telling that story?’ And I said to her, ‘All I want, Mother, is just once in my life to be able to put my hand on my heart and say in all honesty that I’ve written a joke that Joe Pasquale won’t be able to steal.’