IT HAPPENED TO ME: I told off a group of patrons for being assholes… and I’m not sorry
It was gonna happen here at some point, and it happened last night: a group of lads came out to slut (r)evolution, on the strength of my massive rack and 30 seconds of interaction out on the smut stand. These were not the sort of guys whom I would normally have told about my shows out there, but one of them snagged a brochure from under my typewriter, so I had to give them my full pitch (which basically boils down to "I DON'T DO STAND-UP, THIS IS DRAMA/STORYTELLING WITH FUNNY BITS").
Honestly, I didn't think they'd come out. My encounter with them was down on Cowgate, near Free Sisters; why would they stray way from booze and free comedy and sports on the huge outdoor movie screen and hundreds of drunk women, to buy tickets to a storytelling show with an earnest, butch, middle-aged fat lady? (Tits. It's the tits.)
When I came in from my warm-up for slut (r)evolution, Annie (one of the venue managers) tracked me down and warned me that the lads were there. "They don't look like your crowd, but one of them said he knows you." (He had told me out on the smut stand that he had seen me back in May on Brick Lane in London. I don't think that counts as knowing me, but whatever.) And when I rushed into the performance space at the top of the show and sat down, my line of sight was directly between the shoulders of two of these lads. They thought I was talking to them, of course, and tried to interact with me for at least a minute there at the beginning. When the fourth wall finally materialized for them, they shifted their energy to laughing and snorting and squirming and putting their heads in their hands and whispering to each other every time I said something sexual. Which in slut (r)ev is a lot. I have to say, even the crowd of 16- and 17-year-olds who came in a couple of weeks ago, they were so much better behaved about their discomfort. These lads were acting like 11-year-olds.
In the sex club scene, I was able to scan the room to see who else was there: three other people, all of whom had purchased smut from me at some point during the fringe. They were firmly on the sex-positive, kink-positive side, in other words; I knew this both from having written smut for them and from their reactions to the play. But their obvious enjoyment was being heavily battered by the lads' juvenile and disruptive assholery, and there was nothing I could do. In Phone Whore, at least I could have talked to them directly; in slut (r)ev I just had to keep going in my own little world, which meant completely ignoring the lads (they were right in front of me!) and still pouring in everything for the non-lad portion of my audience. It was one of the hardest performances I've ever done, but one of the other patrons afterward, a theatre student from the states, told me that I didn't break character for a moment.
About 40 minutes into it, during the second-to-last flashback scene, three of the lads got up to leave, kind of skittering toward the door with lots of snickering. I wondered why the fourth guy didn't go, and really wished he had; during the last flashback, the Burning Man scene, he was plainly texting them. That was around the time when I could hear his friends, right outside the door, laughing and talking. Please don't let them come back in, I prayed silently to whatever front-of-house people were hopefully out there. They did not come back in, but they just kept being lads right there.
All while I was acting like clothes pins were being attached to my tits, my mind was whirring. I was incredibly angry, and wasn't sure what to do. But when the lights dropped at the end and I could still hear the lads outside laughing, I sucked in my breath and decided. As the lights came back up and "my people" were applauding, I gestured to them and said, "please, stay there for a moment." I tapped the remaining lad on the shoulder and said, "come here," and then strode over to the door and flung it open. Annie was there, plainly in the middle of keeping the three other lads away from the door. They were all standing there grinning, with fresh drinks in their hands.
And I said it. "You were all being super assholes in there. SUPER ASSHOLES." I turned to Annie and said something about them being douchebags throughout, and then said to them, "No, really, you were really assholes in there. You should leave."
I then went back in to talk to the remaining three audience members, who had witnessed my umbrage, and I apologized to them and said that my post-show spiel doesn't normally go like that, and the theatre student said no, they needed that, they were totally being assholes. I was still a little embarrassed, like, maybe there was a more professional way to challenge them? Whatever. I invited "my people" to wait for me downstairs while I packed up, we could have a quick drink, if they wanted. They all agreed and left the room, and then Jenessa (my tech) and I hustled to clear out the space.
Jenessa said she understood why I did it—she just was sorry that I didn't get to do the usual awesome post-show speech—and so did the rest of the FOH staff. I wondered if any of the lads would be civilized enough to come back and apologize; I didn't think so. We were standing there in the hallway talking quietly about it, when Annie looked over my shoulder and said, "Oh! They're back." All four of them were standing behind me, loud and still with beers in their hands and talking loudly over each other with words of apology. Annie asked us all to step out into the mezzanine of the foyer, where the lads just kept going, going on about "unreserved apologies" and "we've never been to a fringe show" and "we didn't know about the etiquette" and "we didn't know it wasn't a comedy" and "we talked to the other audience members and apologized and they all loved the show." They really wanted absolution, and I really couldn't give it to them, although I did listen, and then basically said thank you for coming back to apologize, told them that there were any number of shows down in Cowgate that would be more to their taste, and left to go change.
As it turns out, the American theatre student had kinda ripped them a new one (a third one?), and I think the lads had been shamed by that, because she's quite pretty and young, and as UK Muse said, when I told him about the incident, "young men don't like to look stupid in front of pretty young women." Whatever the cause, the lads had left by the time I had changed out of my costume and came downstairs. All three of the other audience members had stuck around, though. We had a lovely drink and wide-ranging conversation out on the terrace; it was a good ending to a very weird night.
I'm glad that the other audience members had my back; if they had not been so invested, by virtue of being smut customers and obvious fans already, that could have ended differently and the show would have felt much worse. I think I did the right thing, in any case; as the American theatre student said, "People like that never get called out. They always get away with it."
Last night, they didn't.
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