The problem with politeness, the maddening thing about manners, the quandary you can get into with kindness is that you may be left wanting to eat your own head.
To be fair, facebook now acts as a reliable dumping ground for much of the mundane detritus of people’s lives and delusions. This can save the frozen grin we used to suffer when being told details of someone’s last meal out or what they enjoyed about East Enders last night.
But we seem to have our when-to-be-polite radars turned off.
What part does politeness have to play in the area of public performance? I don’t mean not shuffling your programme while watching a live show or unwrapping sweeties during the quiet bit of a film (or answering texts or phone messages etc). I am talking about the politeness that leads to audiences sitting passively while someone serves up a massive heap of crap.
The crazy part is that people are prepared to be rude in almost every other arena these days. From social media to politics, from shops and buses to the people in your own street - foul language, lack of consideration and abuse are a la mode. Bigotry is in vogue (thanks Nigel). Callous attitudes are no longer something to be frowned upon (thanks Dave). Even dishonesty (Nick) and lack of principles (Ed) are nowt to be ashamed of. So why the sudden politeness when we find ourselves at a live performance?
A while ago (I won’t be too specific because this is a general point [see I am doing it now...]) I was at a live performance. There was open mic stuff which is always a mixed bag and all the more entertaining for it. Usually there will be a good tumble of newbies, experienced and/or talented and the hacks who've been doing the same stuff for two decades but we love anyway. There can often be a wildcard surprise that seems to make the whole night glow. But then there is the feature slot; the performer who anchors the night and is supposedly relied on to provide at least the level of quality or freshness and originality which makes leaving the sofa worthwhile. Clearly the feature slot cannot be expected to suit every taste.
Now if you are filling a night on a monthly basis or more frequently, you can get sold a pup. It happens to the best. But what I have noticed in recent times is the audience’s unwillingness to trust its gut instinct (or act on it) and show this person what they think.
So on this night the feature turned up late but the promoter was relieved he’d arrived at all and we all settled. He was worse than awful. He was ghastly and gauche. Clearly he loved himself immensely and that made his lack of talent, stage presence, audience connection, disastrously miss-aimed attempts at humour - worse. What began masquerading as wacky ran on and on and on revealing itself as self indulgent pap. The initial thin titters died out. Soon it was left to the drunks to emit the occasional fneeer while everyone else – including me – stared in cold disbelief at the stage. My friend left but I did not want to seem rude. Why? Why was I worried about making a bad impression? Plenty of times in the past I have had to rush off at inopportune moments because of childcare issues. But without that imperative my conscience forced me to stay. Why wasn't he booed off the stage? Why wasn't he pelted with rotten vegetables? Why didn't people just start talking among themselves? Time is so precious. And he abused and wasted and stomped all over the time we had on that night to forget the shitty state of the world (see last week's blog).
In the end as Mr Ilovemyself wittered on and on over his allotted time, I eventually snuck out only to find a gaggle of performance refugees huddled in the cold. One approached me,
“Has he finished yet?” he begged hopefully.
“No” I said in funereal tones.
And none of us stormed the stage or tarred and feathered him or phoned his mother and demanded that she come take him home.
But – though it was torture for us – maybe he went home and had a really, really good laugh.