Glasgow Comedy Festival

Will Franken: Scotland the Brave. Glasgow the Bravest.

“I kicked a terrorist so hard in the balls that I broke a tendon in my foot.” – Alex McIlveen 

It’s been nearly nine years since that statement was first reported in The Daily Record and it’s still just as funny and, dare I say, encouraging today as it was back then.

Scotland the Brave. Glasgow the Bravest. Thank the Almighty we have you.

I love Glasgow, which is why I wanted to write something about her in advance of my one-man show there this coming Saturday. Last year, in preparation for performing at the International Comedy Festival, I had a bit more downtime in the weeks beforehand to write a very considered piece on what I saw as the beautiful dichotomy of the Glaswegian psyche. That is to say, a propensity towards violence, as both the stereotypes and the statistics indicate, nevertheless belies an equal propensity towards great love. In so many words, I posited in my previous essay that the Glaswegians were the embodiment of a Taoist psychological framework, in both theory and in practice. Thus, I am drawn spiritually to Glasgow in the same way I am drawn spiritually towards Hegel’s triad of thesis-antithesis-synthesis as the template by which one authentically creates. True art is born out of conflict and resolution. Or, if I may condescend to bring in the historic words of a Londoner to augment this claim:

“Without contraries is no progression” – William Blake

I would have very much liked to have written something along those lines again. However, unlike last year, in the months leading up to the 2016 Glasgow International Comedy Festival, I’ve found myself ridiculously busy. As of this writing, I’m in Stavanger, Norway, awaiting a ride to the airport, having finally secured a brief window of solitude by which to compose something.

But what would be my angle? Initially, I attempted to approach this piece with humorous irreverence, for no other reason than a mish-mash of schizophrenic word salad and surreal linguistics would be the quickest way to get a piece written. But I discarded my attempt after a few hastily written paragraphs. I was composing in a state of panic, which is not the way one should write about Glasgow.

So after a black coffee and a few cigarettes, I decided I would briefly relate what it means to be accepted, that is to say, appreciated by a Glaswegian audience. In order to do so, I must first take the reader back to my youth.

Where I grew up in the rural Midwest was a quarter of a mile down the road from the Missouri State Fairgrounds. Throughout the year, the grounds were used for livestock exhibitions and occasional school outings. By and large, though, it was mostly deserted with the exception of the last two weeks in August, when the fair came to town. Rides of dubious construction were hastily assembled, farmers brought their fattest sows to market, and scraggly carnies in Led Zeppelin T-shirts arrived to sell both methamphetamine and three chances to knock over the bottles and win a stuffed bear. It was a gloriously trashy time.

The greatest attraction was, of course, the music. It was a yearly custom that country and western star Hank Williams, Jr. was the fair’s regular closer. But throughout the first part of the festival, bands and solo artists whose stars had long since been eclipsed came out to perform in nightly retrospective revues at the grandstand.

Already a die-hard classic rock anorak at the age of fourteen, I managed one summer to procure the envious part-time job of waving celebrity automobiles into the backstage area before shows. In the process, I was able to meet such fixtures as Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits), Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (The Turtles), and the legendary Chuck Berry himself – to whom I presented a hand-drawn poster of him singing “Maybelline”.

I must mention that at the concert that night, a very drunk Berry angrily hurled profanity at his drummer before launching into “Johnny B. Goode”, dedicating that song – believe it or not – to the “boy at Gate 14”.  

Now at this stage in my adolescence, in addition to classic rock, I was also becoming quite enamoured with alcohol, marijuana, pills, and hallucinogens. Therefore, it was inevitable that one of the concerts I was most looking forward to that particular summer was the double-header of Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night.

I arrived at the grandstand that evening, not only completely stoned out of my gourd, but having just dropped two tabs of blotter acid. I took my place in the third row, very much sticking out like a sore thumb as a scrawny fourteen-year old in my ill-fitting work uniform -- surrounded on all sides by grey-haired, leather-clad, tattooed bikers of considerable muscle.

Steppenwolf opened the show, bringing down the house with their hits, most notably “Born To Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” (with extended organ solo). But the highlight was when lead singer John Kay retook the stage by himself for the encore, strumming on an acoustic guitar those inimitable chords to “The Pusher” --  the very song, you might remember, that opens Easy Rider. When the first words came out over the PA, the audience erupted in a bacchanalian frenzy.  

“You know, I’ve smoked a lot of grass/Oh, lord, I’ve popped a lot of pills. . .”

So creatively enthused and chemically empowered was I that during the interval, I audaciously took the opportunity to approach the toughest looking batch of Harley-riders, perched on their bikes outside the beer tent, and launch into a full-blown manic assessment of the show thus far.

“Fucking-A! Now that’s fucking good music! What a fucking show! That’s the fucking music we should be hearing now! See, I’m young, but I hate that shit they’re playing now! This is the shit I like! That’s fucking-A rock-and-roll! That’s fucking music! That’s fucking real rock-n-roll! I was born in the wrong time, cause that’s fucking the fucking music I fucking like!”

At length, I finally paused, anxiously awaiting approval. Fantasising the grizzled leader, perched on his imposing chopper, with slutty biker babes on either arm, would say something like, “Hey, what a cool kid! Wow, you like the music we like? That’s really awesome! How’d you like to hang out with us and ride our bikes and do drugs with us?”

But he was considerably terse. In actuality, he jabbed a finger at my chest and snarled, “Shut the fuck up and get the fuck out of here.”

I was mortified. I was cripplingly embarrassed. I slithered away, my face glowing red. I had tried to belong and had failed unutterably. Although thank goodness I had -- otherwise I might now be running a meth lab in the Midwest.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: The feeling I get when a show goes well for a Glaswegian audience is probably the feeling I would have gotten if those bikers had initiated me into their gang that evening.

It’s that feeling of being cool.

And for all the admonitions against giving in to peer pressure and for all the new-age psychobabble about learning to love yourself, it’s still pretty cool to feel cool.

One day, I want to kick a terrorist so hard in the balls it breaks a tendon in my foot.

Will is performing at Blackfriars Bar on Saturday 19th March, 9.15pm. Tickets HERE