We're delighted to present an extract from 58% Cabbage, the new comic novel by Karl MacDermott, published by The Black Spring Press.
58% Cabbage is about a sit-down nobody who tries stand-up comedy.
Roddy Bodkin is forty-three. He has recently lost his job. His long-term girlfriend is tiring of him. He feels he is getting old and life is passing him by.
Can things get any worse? Oh boy. Definitely. Yes. Because now, he thinks he can become a successful stand-up comedian.
'The thing with somebody heckling you is you can't ignore it but you shouldn't burst out crying either. I used to cry a lot in the very early days when I was heckled. I don’t know. I guess I’m just a sensitive person. As time went on, I learned to compose myself more on stage but to be honest I was never great with hecklers heckling my act. As a comedian there is that three-second time frame that needs to be adhered to stringently when responding to a heckle, but sometimes sadly I fell outside that time frame. On occasions, it was minutes. Once, during a gig in Letterkenny, I think I clocked up an hour and three-quarters; everyone had gone home, bar staff were cleaning the glasses and I was still on stage pondering a witty comeback.’
Roddy Bodkin is admiring comedian Cormac Creedon’s honesty. He spotted the upcoming Comedy Workshop poster just inside the door of Charlie Byrne’s bookshop the previous week. Nun’s Island Arts Centre. Wednesday the 12th. 11pm to 4pm. Fifty euro. Facilitator Cormac Creedon. Bit steep, he thought. But he really did have to start putting some sort of structure to those comedy dreams.
But Roddy’s natural propensity for negativity started kicking in almost immediately. What could he learn from this comedy has-been? A has-been? Not even a has-been. A permanent never was! Like a lot of people who are not completely successful in their chosen creative area, veteran comedian Cormac Creedon had branched out into the 'mentoring’ arena over the last few years. A frank admission of moribund career and complete irrelevance. Cormac had achieved a speck of notoriety in the 1980s as Ireland’s only home-based anti-Irish comedian. Spent a lot of time in hospital in that period also after being regularly assaulted after gigs but he’d largely recovered by now apart from some ongoing mobility issues. Roddy remembered seeing Cormac on The Late Late Show in the early 1990s. The audience didn’t really ‘get it’. Roddy didn’t really ‘get it’ either but recalled one joke that received a puzzled groan – ‘The Irish are fierce thick, aren’t they? I met this fella in a pub in Thurles once, thought The Gaza Strip was Paul Gascoigne with no clothes on.’
But forthright farmer scribbler poet Ambrose Hegarty, best friend of Roddy Bodkin, persuaded Roddy to go to the workshop. He’d go along too if Roddy wanted some moral support.
‘Roddy, I’m a big fan of the comedy as well, like. Anyway, I’ve written some hard-edged comic verse over the years. Sort of like John Cooper Clarke meets uh… Pam Ayres. Wouldn’t mind trying to rework it a bit. Also, I want to ask Cormac about my theory.’
‘What theory, Ambrose?’
‘The one about the sinister correlation between the growth in the number of coffee shops and the growth in the number of comedians in Ireland. Before 1995 there were hardly any coffee shops or comedians in this country. But suddenly within the last two decades, or so, both sectors have proliferated like the Gremlins having fertility treatment. I wonder, will Cormac agree that there could be a connection? Even some kind of conspiracy? Think about it. The government wants the public to laugh more. When they’re laughing they’re not thinking about all that is going wrong with the country. So I believe what happens is, the government is in cahoots with the coffee manufacturers and coffee shops, something is put in the coffee, making more of us turn into comedians. More comedians, more comedy clubs. More comedy clubs, more laughter. More laughter, more distraction and people stop thinking about the day-to-day problems in our society. Call me a far-fetched borderline unhinged conspiracy theorist Roddy, but I smell something fishy and it’s not just coffee beans!’
‘I think you’re online too much and are developing a paranoid mindset.’
‘Look it, Roddy, I just want to ask him the question. Does he think the exponential increase of caffeine intake in countless coffee shops over the last two decades has fuelled the thousandfold increase of nascent local mirth-makers – who aren’t that fuckin’ funny, I might add!’
‘I agree with that, wholeheartedly.’
‘Just too many of them. Monaghan poet and misanthrope Paddy Kavanagh said in the 1950s that you could have a standing army of 100,000 poets in Ireland. Nowadays, it’s a standing army of 100,000 stand-up comedians.’
‘You know the fuckers I really hate, Roddy. The ones I call ballpark impressionists. There’s too many of them in this country. The sort of impressionists who do ballpark impersonations of various local politicians and sports personalities. The impersonation is sort of like the guy they’re trying to do but it’s not really like the guy. Fuck off ballpark impressionist, that’s not Willie O’Dea, that’s you with a moustache standing in a hole in the ground! Fuck off ballpark impressionist that’s not Mary
O’Rourke, that you in a bad wig doing an over-the-top lisp. Fuck off ballpark impressionist that’s not Roy Keane, that’s you just looking a bit deranged while doing a generic Cork accent! Do you get what I’m talking about?’
‘Time to conclude rant?’
So, a hundred euro the poorer, on the day of the comedy workshop, Roddy and Ambrose sit in a modestly attended space, as Cormac Creedon covers many areas in navigating a working life in comedy. He offers some career advice.
‘When you are starting off, take every gig offered. I was doing this gig once and I was getting no laughs. Nothing. It was awful. Like playing a day room in a hospice. Actually it was a day room in a hospice. It was my agent Sisyphus’ idea, the near legendary – for all the wrong reasons – Sisyphus O’Shea of SOS Management. He’d say ‘No matter where, you have to get up there and perform. You must learn your craft.’ I said to him, ‘But Sisyphus, a hospice?’ He’d say ‘Sure what are you moaning about? They’re not dead yet. They’re still breathing. Anyway, think of the upside, they probably won’t heckle you. They’ve got bigger things on their mind than your act, more important issues to mull over like fatal diseases and encroaching mortality or whatever.’
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Former stand-up comedian Karl MacDermott, once described as 'the Gummo Marx of Irish comedy', is an Irish comedy writer. He has written for television and radio in both Ireland and the UK and is the author of two books of comic fiction. He is currently writer-in-residence in his home in Dublin. Find out more about him and 58% Cabbage here.