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What a Nightmare

Literally. I am a stand up comedian with a recurring anxiety-dream which I don't think I'll have again, because on Saturday it came true.
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Literally. I am a stand up comedian with a recurring anxiety-dream which I don't think I'll have again, because on Saturday it came true.

If I'm fretting about something proper, like hospital results or if I'll ever see Sarah Lund again, I sometimes have this nightmare, I get it a couple of times a year.

It's been set in various places over my life, depending on where I'm up to, the playground; University; the dole queue. These days it's always at a gig. It's big and lovely and all going well. I'll be mid-joke and someone will shout out, clearly and pointedly "you're fat". " You are too fat". Often they will keep shouting it. And I won't know what to do about it. They're not drunk. They're not trying to be funny. They are just saying it, because it's what they think. And it breaks my heart.

I'm a size 14. I drink too many pints but I eat healthily, I do loads of exercise and I'm genuinely happy in my shell. I've grown out of wishing I was a waif and I'm no supermodel but I'd totally still do me.

The nightmare comes from the fact that in my late teens I was massive, then I lost five stone in a year. Also, my Dad brought me up by obsessively encouraging snacks and seconds, whilst simultaneously making it very clear that he found fat people repulsive. So this dream comes out when I'm scared because for me personally, it's the most humiliating thing that could ever happen.

On Saturday night it happened.

I'm MCing a lovely gig to a few hundred people. We're getting on really well but one lady is strange. When I'd asked them anything, collectively or individually like "are we up for a fun night?" or "what's your favourite piece of stationary?" this lady keeps shouting "NO."

I said she sounded a bit negative, so I did some jokes just for her (not about her, not cruel in any way, just one-liners) to cheer her up, she was clearly keen for some attention. She said she didn't like jokes. I checked she knew where she was. She seemed to laugh then.

We moved on. The first act did great.

I came back on for the second section and a few minutes into a fun conversation with a chap called Paul about melting ice she, Sonia was her name, out of nowhere, clearly shouted "you're too fat."

I caught my breath. I must have misheard it. But from the audience gasps, I knew I hadn't.

"What did you say?"

"You're too fat"

"What? What. Why would you say that?"

"Because you're fat"

Oh. God. I felt my eyes burning. It kicked me in the stomach and up between my ribs, and right there left a mango sized ball of pain. The sort you get when you're unexpectedly dumped by someone you're in love with. The sort that makes you wretch. The sort you know is going to be really hard to gets the knots out of and it's going to sit there, a lump of hatred, hurting, for much longer than that moment.

In my stunned silence, with no prompting from me the audience began to chant at her "out out" and worse, much worse. In hindsight, I think that's what she'd wanted. She was sober, calm and not trying to be funny. No-one who liked themselves could be that randomly cruel, unprovoked. And hundreds of people chanting abuse at her, me, to my shame, eventually included, was no doubt the masochistic affirmation she'd craved. Who knows.

Now, unlike the dream, I did deal with it. Not perfectly. But I didn't walk off. I didn't give up. Instead I admitted it was the most unpleasant thing I'd ever heard. This bits a blur but I swore at her too, horribly, I lost it, I asked her to leave. She didn't. Realising she was about to be thrown out, she began apologising, but still incredulous. I'm a human before I'm a comedian. I still feel sick.

Then I appeared to get myself together, it was all very quick. I reassured her that the next two acts were quite thin. Later I came back on carrying a giant billboard I'd found backstage, so that "Sonia can concentrate on what I'm saying". But in those first moments after she said it, I certainly could have been more nuanced but it was my specific nightmare, coming true, verbatim. And I doesn't make me 'not strong enough to be a comedian', I'm a human, and it really, really hurt.

The rest of the audience, the staff and the booker were shocked and very kind to me.

Here's the thing, should I have been so surprised? I'm far from thin, I know that. And I know that I do a job where I'm asking to be looked at, if not as much as listened to. And I know that some audiences still think that shouting abuse at comedians is helpful, as thankfully rare as they're becoming. Should I have had a bit of material ready for exactly this occasion? No. Even if I was still massive, no. Even if I was the actual elephant in the room, no.

Short of having grown a carrot out of your forehead or looking so much like a celebrity that people might be confusing you with that actual celebrity, it is boring to hear comedians addressing their appearance. Especially in a self-deprecating way. It's done and it's dull and it only encourages audiences to care more about your figure or your face than your jokes.

I'm not a comedian to abuse people, or to get laid, I want to make people laugh. I'm there to be judged on my jokes. I work in clubs full of stags and hens that are notoriously riotous, I've everything shouted at me from "my tits are better than yours" to "whens the raffle?" but it's never been meant to hurt me. This was a freak occurrence of genuine cruelty from an obviously damaged woman and comedically preparing for it to happen again would be a rookie waste of my time, and more broadly, would only incite it.

The day a size 14 woman needs to have material about how grotesque she is, before she's heckled about it, that's the day I will give up. And I don't believe that is this day.

Unless this is the start of a pattern, and it turns out that all of my recurring nightmares are going to come true now. In which case you best start getting tooled up, because there's also a zombie apocalypse coming.

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