Just when I thought I had cracked the awkward cheek-kiss greeting which is so de rigueur these days, I've recently noticed an even more disturbing trend on the UK comedy circuit: casual hugging. All I can say is, WTF, Britain? I moved here to get AWAY from invasions of personal space, and you're letting me down big time.
Alright, I didn't move here for that, but it seemed a fringe benefit. I've never been a casual hugger. I'm not an emotional stone, mind you; I cry at Warburton bread ads like everyone else. But unless I really know you, I've just never gotten the purpose of lining up my whole person with, and squashing against, just anybody. When hugging is unwanted, it makes cheek kissing seem as innocent as texting. It's the "NO, BAD TOUCH!" manoeuvre of the greeting world.
This all came to light recently when I noticed that a good handful of (male) comedy promoters and MCs like to hug (female) comics. Not just in greeting, which is embarrassing enough (not to mention a bit on the pervy side of awkward), but when we EXIT THE STAGE AFTER A SET. This has now happened to me four times, by three different people.
Let's step aside from the argument that (male) promoters are using the hug as a way of getting away with touching (female) comics, and assume intentions are innocent. Affectionate. Congratulatory. Friendly. I don't fucking care, Armsy McWraparound! Because even if you aren't being a Chester the Molester in hugging me after I've finished my set, you ARE making me look like a complete douche in front of my audience. Especially if you're not hugging the other acts.
To give a comparison, Oprah used to hug some of her guests who had been through terrible trials, like peer taunting and torturing cruelty. When she did this, it was a moment to showcase great pity and comforting mothering to the victim. Oprah can get away with that shit, she's a talk show host. This is comedy. Don't make me look like I've just survived the school bully by giving me a yoga-retreat embrace before I've even put the mic in the damn stand.
The problem with not liking hugging is that if I declare that I don't like it, I look like an asshole. A standoffish cold fish of a lady who probably wasn't given enough affection as a child and who can't hack a good hug as a grownup. I was a licensed psychotherapist in my former life, but I've still never found a way to say "I'm sorry, can we skip the hugs?" without inducing a look of shock and - I daresay - pity - on the hugger's face. "Poor gal," they seem to be thinking. "She can't HANDLE the hugs."
Lately I've been trying my hand at physical blocks instead. Kind of American football style, arms straight out, palms flat. This gets an even weirder response. I look like I'm trying to be Neo from the Matrix, training in some sort of agent hugging rebellion programme. And if I did this after a set to an MC or promoter, what sort of message does this send to my audience. HANDS OFF PEOPLE! LOOK AND LAUGH, BUT DON'T TOUCH, MOTHERFUCKERS!
Sigh. There's just no easy way out for the hug averse. We end up just grinning and bearing the bear hugs which are thrown upon us without mercy. It's almost like huggers SENSE our discomfort and think they can squeeze it the hell out of our beings.
So what's the answer? I remember an old Friends episode where Chandler finally confronts his boss about slapping him on the ass, then gets jealous when he stops and sees his co-workers getting slapped instead. Maybe if I actually set the boundary and stopped the hugs I'd get sad and miss them. Maybe I should learn to like it and just take it for what it is: casual affection.
Or maybe, the next time I get an unwanted hug, I should lick your face and see how you like THAT.