Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Bugging People Can Be So Much Fun.

I’m not often given to cross-posting from my stand-up comedy blog, but this anecdote fits here too.

I went to The Halt Bar last night to watch some new comedians. The joke competition was held for the first time this year, having been jettisoned for adversely impacting on the show’s running time. It ran to the usual format – any topical celebrity, any inanimate object, both volunteered by the audience. What’s the difference between them? Best answer wins, judged by laughter and/or cheering.

The chosen opening line was: what’s the difference between John Travolta and a daisy?

Travolta has (allegedly) been in the news for some misdemeanour involving his masseuse. Rumours of homosexuality, I think, but as someone pointed out there is an important distinction to be made in the French grammar – a masseuse is female, the male being a masseur. Judging this assumption on his personal life to be the basis of the humour, I disregarded a shit first attempt grounded in facts about both subjects and came up with “bees like one, the other likes boa-bees.” Not a particularly clever line, and one totally unfounded in my knowledge of the man, but it does contain a play on the word “boabies” – plural slang for the male member – and I was sufficiently confident in its appeal that I handed it to compere Tony Hilton with the words “that’s the winner.”

To my surprise, and despite some stiff competition (“one comes out in the summer, the other comes out in the papers”), audience reaction and resultant voting proved me right. The prize was an “Insectinator” – a tennis racquet-shaped bug swatter, the strings electrified via a battery in the handle. I didn’t know what it was initially, but Tony recognised it straight off and enthusiastically removed it from its cover.

“Do you know what this is, do you remember them from school?” he asked, discarding the packaging on the floor.
“Touch this,” he said, gesturing to the strings. I could tell what the joke was, but duly stuck my hand out, playing along.

He swung the bat into my outstretched finger, it poking through the strings, and nothing happened. He turned away, did some jiggery-pokery with the handle (there is an on switch, and another button to press to activate it), and tested it by touching it. It gave him an electric shock, and he recoiled.

“Touch it now,” he said, turning back to me.
“No!” I’m not daft, and it was now blatantly obvious what the outcome would be for me. I knew that would get a laugh too.

He leapt into the audience, trying to get anyone in the front row to touch it. People sat back, folding their arms and shying away from him. I picked the instructions up from the floor, leaned forward and read into the microphone “warning: this is not a toy.” A cheap laugh, and he came back onstage. He spat on his fingers, touched it again, and gave himself another electric shock, one that seemed more intense this time. I took the racquet from him and left the stage, him following as soon as he’d brought the headliner on. He stood at the end of the bar.

His bare elbow hung over the edge of the bar, and so – being a mischievous kind of guy – I charged the thing up, stepped forward, and gently batted him on the elbow. He jerked upright and backed away, four of us (now co-conspirators) standing against the back wall convulsing with laughter. I waited until he returned to that position, and did it again. His reaction was as good as the first time, and all four of us had stomachs sore with the repeated contraction and release of muscles as we laughed, tears streaming. I got him a third time in the same spot, and he could smell the hair burning. “Smell my elbow!” he demanded, thrusting it into my face, but it was an invitation I declined.

After he had returned to the end of the bar, I discovered I could elicit a Pavlovian response – simply stepping forward made him instantly back away, and when I approached another act – sitting to my right and witness to everything previous – he rapidly thrust his hands deeply into his pockets. I toyed with touching a bald guy in front of me on the head with it, but reasoned that he would most likely reciprocate by punching me – which would be fully deserved. Instead, I entertained myself by poking my head round from behind the pillar, staring at Tony until he noticed, and then deliberately ducking back out of sight. It doesn’t sound like much now, but at the time, jesus! Crying and hurting, unable to breathe. So funny.

Tony took the racquet from me, wondering if he could lick the thing. Literally lick it, with his tongue. As he psyched himself up to do so, I read the instructions, or at least step 7: do not use the racket to hit people or touch people’s skin. Despite this, Tony decided to end the night by touching it to his tongue while wrapping up, provided one of us would film it. Andy Campbell remembered he had an HD camera in his car, and headed out to fetch it.

Back on stage, having announced his intention to the audience, Tony licked the electrified bug swatter, the sensation causing him to spin around in pain.

“I never got it,” Andy said, “do it again.”

I bought into that lie, and so did Tony. When I realised afterwards that it had been a ruse, that’s a stroke of genius right there. On the second go, he panicked too early, recoiling without making contact. When he did make contact, there was a huge blue spark that arced onto his tongue and there wasn’t a person in the room didn’t instinctively wince in sympathy.

All of which has been the background story to this video:

After the bar had largely emptied, I also managed to sneak up behind the promoter and get him on the elbow too – the same cameraman capturing his brilliant reaction as he pulled away and then quickly pivoted to find the source of the pain.

In the meantime, don’t try this at home – but if you do see someone do it at a comedy night, it’s fucking funny as fuck. 😀




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