New Statesman 2009
30 April 2009Recessions are the time when people have the most fun. A few days ago I got a call from a big TV company asking me if I would be so kind as to introduce a team of male strippers on stage at a theatre in Wolverhampton.
I have been asked to do many wacky things in the past. Like being sent to Kosovo to perform an hour of comedy in a cave to a hundred people who couldn't understand English. Or being photographed in a bathtub full of bubbles with all my clothes on and wearing a burqa. I almost got arrested in India for talking about sex on stage.
So, of course, I was suspicious. Why me? Do these people know that asking me to introduce strippers makes as much sense as a marriage between Mother Teresa and Peter Stringfellow?
I said: "What do I have to do?"
Then they explained that due to the recession, some men from the West Midlands had lost their jobs, and so, Full Monty-style, they had been trained up as strippers and were going to do their first performance in Wolverhampton. It would be filmed for TV. And would I do some comedy and introduce them on stage?
I knew it might be my only opportunity and, most of all, I knew it was what my parents would have wanted.
I arrived to three hundred screaming men and women and six strippers - a butcher, a plumber, a carpet fitter, a painter, and two others. I don't know what they did. I had lost concentration by that point.
The strippers did well. I saw things I should have seen when I was 15, and the people of Wolverhampton had the most fun they'd had for years. And like all great nights, it ended with a fight between two orange-coloured women with white hair, plastic nails on the floor and a hair extension which got caught in the fire exit. I haven't seen behaviour like that since I taught in an East End comprehensive. It was obviously eye-opening for some. The only two Asian women in the audience were taking photos of the fight as it unfolded, while everyone else tried to break it up.
Who on earth would want to see those photos?
The following night, I had to go to the TUC Congress Centre to perform for the "Hope not Hate" campaign.
As I walked in, I asked what the crowd were like. "Oh, don't worry," the organiser said. "They are all very PC." I couldn't have been more worried. PC crowds scare me. They don't laugh at anything, they are offended by everything, and if they don't like what you're saying they will not heckle you, but they will walk up to the stage and explain to you why you shouldn't be saying what you are saying. It is like performing to your mum and dad and your old headteacher.
I broke the ice with a couple of jokes with the word "cock" in them, then watched the melting faces of middle-aged men, indicating that this was not what they were expecting from a nice Asian woman like me, even if the room was full of people from trade unions.
As I stood there, I began to imagine that the strippers I had introduced the night before were in the audience. It changed the way I saw these union people. All of a sudden they were sexier, funnier, and much more entertaining.
I performed the same material to both audiences. At first, both were reluctant to laugh, but the Wolverhampton audience definitely came round quickest. And once they knew it was OK to laugh, there was no stopping them, and we all had great fun. At the Congress Centre, by the time they had finished analysing, feeling guilty about, and dissecting my jokes on anal sex, the moment had passed, and I was left wishing six amateur strippers had come to save my life.