“Uberstardom” – Life Imitating Art
In 2008, I was working on a pantomime in Glasgow. One of the actors, a well-known face from our national soap, had previously done a panto there in 2006, the year I started. There was a great cameraderie between cast and crew, and the pair of us got on well together. I would tell him as many deliberately shite jokes as I could remember, and he would groan and take the piss out me for it. It was good fun.
Meeting again, after this gap of two years, he asked what I had been up to. As it happened, I had just written a pantomime of my own, which was being performed locally. I told him as much, and we slipped easily into the mutual joshing that characterised our friendship.
“You sold a pantomime?” he asked, immediately discrediting the notion with “Who to? You’re not funny!”
“I’ll write you a script, and get you off that shitey soap,” I told him.
That was how it started. My off-the-cuff riposte had potential, and it interested me to explore it. I spent that run working on ideas for a screenplay that was titled “Uberstardom” – a film about a soap star who decides to pursue his lifelong ambition of stand-up comedy, which then backfires catastrophically and with grisly, blackly-satirical results. I pitched it partly as a combination of Shaun Of The Dead, The King Of Comedy, and The Running Man.
To make a long story very short, after several years of writing in inspired bursts I eventually produced seven drafts and redrafts of the screenplay. This actor read one of them, and enjoyed it (phoning me up to tell me it was “mental”, which I took as a compliment), but although he promised to pass it to a producer, nothing ever happened with it. I then sent a later draft to a Hollywood actor with whom I have a passing family connection, and never received acknowledgement or reply.
Later, I lengthened it and turned it into a 70,000-word novel. The first draft got some pretty decent praise, including from one publisher who said they would have been interested except for the fact they only publish three books a year and so have to be fully committed to each. I have yet to revise it and produce a second draft, which it definitely needs, but every so often I read over the manuscript and find ideas, jokes, images, and turns of phrase that I enjoy and am proud of. There is room for improvement, of course, though I wrote the book that I wanted to read, based on the script for a film I would dearly love to see. All of this is, however, merely background information.
Today, I saw a headline about somebody pelting raw eggs at the judges of a TV talent show. Three years ago, I imagined and wrote in detail about exactly that event. It was a scene whose setting closely resembled a number of high-profile “talent” shows, and their judges. One of the reasons that I need to write a second draft is to eliminate anything potentially defamatory. In any future reworking, I will also need to seriously reconsider this scene in light of it being something that has now happened.
Whatever the facts of the case, here is an excerpt from the unpublished novel, in which I tried to blend satire with slapstick and farce. The judges are returning their verdict to a lone, unnamed singer-songwriter. His three friends are in the audience, armed with eggs. The protagonist, Stevie, is in the wings, nervously waiting for his own chance to shine.
“What can I tell you,” Jetty Mappendage began, treading the fine line between smug and cunt and broadly straddling both, “I personally don’t enjoy your style of music, it doesn’t speak to me. You’ve clearly got ability, I just think it could be better spent – I don’t know, washing cars maybe.” The audience booed him, but the singer tried to take it on the chin, knowing you couldn’t please all the people all the time. He turned slightly, and focused on Felicity Penn, sitting in the centre.
“I liked it, I really did,” she gushed, genuinely touched by his heartfelt lyrics and style of playing. “I just thought it was a bit – you know – lacking in originality” she said, feeling bad about having to criticise him, and feeling worse when the room booed at her too. “No, no – I did like it!” she reaffirmed, trying to redress the balance by offering words of encouragement. “I think you’ll go far, but just – just not on this show, sorry.” This got a smattering of applause; at least she had offered hope rather than just dismissing him out of hand. All that was left was Jonathon Kecks’ opinion – a man renowned for his snide asides and punishing put-downs, as much as for the height of his waistband. He waited for silence, and it came fast as the hall eagerly sat on tenterhooks.
“That was shite,” he summed up succinctly, not an aficionado of Oscar Wilde’s wit. “Fuck off,” he hinted maliciously. The singer picked up his guitar and trudged offstage, trying to retain what little dignity he could. He was met halfway by the host, who was coming on to console him before introducing the next act, more fresh meat to be thrown to the lions. They met and shook hands, which was when the voice of dissension rang out, loud, proud, and distinctly Glaswegian.
“See youse, ya fannies, youse wouldnae recognise real talent if it battered aff yer napper like a raw egg!” screamed the hippie chick, on her feet in the balcony and directing her tirade at the judges table. The hippie guy and the young man in the stalls rose to their feet too, each armed with several boxes of eggs. They began pelting the judges, who cowered in their seats as their table exploded with the gloop of albumen and the shrapnel of shattered eggshells. Felicity screamed as raw egg trickled down her carefully-coiffed hair and onto her face. Kecks attempted to raise his waistband over his head, trying to cower inside his trousers, and Mappendage leapt from his chair, sprawling to the floor then crawling behind the bingo brigade in the front stalls, using the old women as a wall of defence. The rain of avian missiles continued, erratically now all three wayward punters were being wrestled by security guards and stewards, who tried to pin their throwing arms to their sides as well as manhandle them out of the rows they sat in. The audience were torn, some shielding themselves from accidental fallout, others smiling or laughing at the spectacle of it all, and a few were booing – though the object of their disapproval remained unclear. Some shouted encouragement to the protagonists.
“Gaun yersel’,” they cheered, “Gie it laldy! Get tore intae him, big yin! Tan his jaw! Ram the nut oan him! Gie ‘im the Glesga nod!
For their part, the three protestors had run out of ammunition and were now engaged in verbal warfare with the human gorillas dragging them towards the auditorium exits. “Sniff ma gusset!” the hippie guy invited, belligerently, as he was forcibly removed from his seat.
“Your tea’s oot, ya muppet” the leather-jacketed man in the stalls shouted, trying to take an indiscriminate swing at the three man-mountains heaving him down the aisle. “I’ll set aboot ye!” he screamed, unable to even set foot on the floor at that point as he was carried outside. The girl was unleashing a torrent of abuse at her would-be captors.
“Get yer paws aff me, ya durty perv, or ah’ll gie ye a sore face! Rape!” she yelled, despite the fact it was three female stewards who had tackled her. “’at’s it, the rattle’s oot the pram!” she cried, writhing in their grip and trying to get a punch in. “Ah’ll toe yer hole,” she promised, trying to swing a kick up too. They had her too firmly, though, and she was ushered out the door. The two guys were still hurling abuse as they were huckled out, engaged solely in their own private worlds and oblivious to the fate of their friends.
The host had moved quickly when things kicked off, forcing the singer into a half-nelson and marching him into the wings where security took him away while their colleagues dealt with the troublemakers. He returned to help the judges, who struggled to their feet, a bedraggled dripping mess. Mappendage clutched himself, bent double in agony, after one of the pensioners he had used as a human shield took umbrage and whacked her walking stick squarely into his balls. Kecks had taken refuge under the table, and despite the persistent barrage of abuse and missiles, had managed to avoid getting egg on his face, although his trousers would need a good cleaning. He stood up, slipped on eggshell, and fell back down on his arse, knocking into Penn as she rose and sending her careering into Mappendage, who plunged forehead-first into the third step and fell back, stunned. The audience convulsed with laughter.
From his vantage point in the wings, Stevie saw the whole travesty unfold and watched transfixed. Mappendage rose, trying to cradle both balls and forehead simultaneously, and stumbled up the steps onto the stage and off into the opposite wing. Penn followed, breaking one of her heels off in the commotion and pitching sideways off the steps to land in the lap of a grateful old man. He helped her back onto the stage, using his hands more than was strictly necessary. She limped off, in tears. Kecks crawled on hands and knees to the foot of the steps, where the host lifted him up and hoisted him over his shoulder, carrying him off like a hero fireman – right up to the point he slid on some yolk and sent both hurtling to the floor like an enormous sack of spuds. A security guard who had returned from handing over the singer walked on and took hold of their legs, dragging them offstage as the host – professional to the last – raised the cordless microphone to his lips and apologised.
“Sorry about this, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, flat on his back as he was pulled across the stage. “We will be back just as soon as the judges are cleaned up.” He sounded exhausted, but geared himself up to deliver his payload – “Remember, we have yet to find our Uberstar!” The audience weren’t even listening though, caught up in the excited hullabaloo as the curtain fell.