My brother today informed me that our mutual friend, Mum, was deeply upset and frustrated by my recent "spat" with the regions. "What on earth was he thinking?" She spat, apparently. "I brought him up so well and now he's gone and spaffed all the goodwill he worked on creating among the comedy circuit by being rude to Northerners! He's no son of mine, the Southern prick." Upon being told about my mother's irate disappointment in my behaviour, I hung my head and openly wept, which was awkward because we were in a library at the time and it's a very uncomfortable position to be put in as a librarian when you suddenly find yourself shushing someone in the midst of a nervous breakdown (only my second this year, thankfully).
Mother's disappointment prompted me to reflect on my wrongdoing, and I thought I would try to document some of my experiences of Being Unpopular here, as it should prove a cathartic way of working through the pain. Never mind the fact that the small handful of people who were genuinely upset by my article have probably either a) forgotten about it and stopped caring or b) realised that it was just a case of misunderstanding and of my making a couple of lazy generalisations while trying to make a more specific point nobody picked up on. Never mind any of that. I'm going to talk about this as if it were still an ongoing Issue, because on those rare occasions when somebody you haven't met decides to discuss something you've done, be it with hatred or with love, it's worth milking it as much as possible.
Last night I arrived to MC at the Freedom Fridge in Kentish Town and was surprised to find all the other comics already present and sat in a semi-circle in the Torriano's terrifying basement, as if staging an intervention. "Hi, guys," I said, somewhat bemused.
"Hi, Joz," said Rufus and Howard of ManBuyCow in unison. "We hope you're ok. We heard about what happened."
"Oh, that. Don't worry, guys, it's all blown over now I think." I replied with characteristic jollity.
"Far from it," intoned Andy Storey, shaking his head (which, because of his beard, looks the same upside-down as it does right-way-up). "I've just come back from a Summit in the North," (apparently they have these, I'm reliably informed by Andy, who is himself a Northerner. Needless to say, I've never been invited to one), "and they're still very much out for your blood. We're here for you, Joz. We know you didn't mean any harm, and we want to support you through this difficult time."
"Yeah, that's right," said William Lee, who is in my bad books at the moment for not bothering to come all the way to Leicester at the weekend to play the one-line part of Winston Churchill in the Colonel. Where's that guy's commitment, honestly? "You're a good guy, and you don't deserve all this hostility. So we're gonna help clear it up. You just need to respond to these guys' demands and..."
"I WILL NOT RESPOND TO ANY DEMANDS!" I bellowed fiercely, an act so out of character that Rufus raised an eyebrow. "This has all got completely out of hand. I write one little article trying to publicise my show in Leicester, I make one tiny generalisation that's misinterpreted as me saying all comedy outside of London is shit..."
"Which you definitely, definitely don't think," piped up Howard.
"Yeah, whatever," I snapped, "and now everyone's biting my head off for it! It's all got too much! Can't they all forgive me for being a bit thoughtless and move on? It's absurd that people are still coming up with ways to stretch out this joke for longer and longer! Why can't comedians just let an issue lie?"
"They want a formal apology, Joz." Said Andy, reading through a hefy document detailing their demands. "They'd also like you to come and perform at the Frog & Bucket in Manchester so they can make you understand how it feels for your comedy work to not be appreciated by someone."
"I'm more than aware how that feels, thank you, Andy," I said, my feathers ruffled. "There was that time I accidentally got a teste out in Edinburgh and everybody shouted out, in unison, that I was mad and had ruined the gig."
"What about flowers?" Said William Lee. "Maybe a nice bunch of flowers for everybody who was upset with you wouldn't go amiss?"
"Pfft." I snorted. "I haven't got that kind of money. Including the people who Liked the angry comments, I upset about twenty-four people. I'm happy to send one big bunch of flowers to the countrytside that'll cater to all of them, although they'll probably take that as another lazy generalisation."
"Exactly," said Rufus. "It's that kind of thoughtlessness that got you into trouble in the first place. A bit more thought and a bit more care, that's what's needed."
"Do you know what, I blame that photo." I said, thoughtfully. "If they'd run that story using the picture of me looking surprised in a green top I doubt I'd have had any hostility because I look sweet in that one. But the one in the black top is a bit smug-looking."
"It'd look great in a theatre programme, but not attached to an article as poorly written and ill-informed as that." Said another comedian whose name I've forgotten.
"Thanks, mate. I'll remember that," I promised.
"Look, time's getting on. We need to get the night started," said Rufus. "But just promise us you'll think about the consequences of your actions in future, and be a bit more careful about doing something stupid."
"Ok, ok." I said. "I promise to be more careful in future. Now let's have ourselves a night of comedy!"
The comedy goes well. But even as I set off home, I pass a sober-looking gentleman stood at the back of the room wearing a flatcap and wellies, and holding a piece of string that's tied loosely around the neck of a whippet. He shakes his head sombrely and says "You did good tonight, lad. But if you think the comedians from outside London will forgive you so easily, you're much mistaken. You've got to face them head-on, son. Make amends for what you did." And without another word, he slowly melts into thin air. It looks like, far from being flogged to death already, this story has only just begun...