The man at the front, ill content with being torn apart in front of the room, had chosen challenge, and his insolence impassioned the rancorous ire of the old comedian. But something in Dougie was different that night. He did not tackle the challenge with his usual controlled passion, instead, he let slip the reins of mental restraint and allowed anger to guide his retort – maybe it was that small audience – maybe it was looming end of his career, and maybe was the insolence of this nobody, rebuking his fame, that drove him to frenzy.
Dougie dismissed his usual haughty manner and turned stern, snap frozen in rage. He channelled a lifetime of well practised ire at the man, shaking a strict finger in his fire, like a damning father, no longer willing to joust with wit and jest or entertain good humour, he decided to teach his critic his place and delivered a wrought iron rebuttal.
I’ll tell you what, mate, if you – if fucken anyone – in here, has an opinion about my act, feel free to raise ya arm.
(The man at the front raises his one arm. Dougie smirks down at him.)
Right, good. Now keep it there – well done. Now, raise the other arm if ya reckon I give a shit about that opinion.
With a surgical indifference he plunged his jarring steel into his victim, with a relish few others had. The look in the man’s eyes told Dougie he’d hit the nerve and he’d hit it precise – and how he loved to twist the blade. It may not of been his funniest line, or even his most creative, but that didn’t matter to him. All tones of light heartedness and pretences of whimsy were shed from his manner. The man at the front’s defiance had lit the primal urges in the old comic’s heart. Like a woken predator, his nostrils flexed with the hunger of fresh reprisal, the old bear’s energy reared by combat – Dougie Style was alive once more.
What’s that mate? You can’t put both your hands up? Ya know why? Ya can’t because I don’t give a shit about your fucken opinion.
A blanket of silence was cast over the room, yet Sandy smiled, pleased with his barrage and went on with his routine. His first joke failed, the second one too, the next three couldn’t lift the heavy cover of quiet. He’d had jokes fail before, of course, he’d bombed and tanked and gone down in flames, but that night had a different texture to it, like hospital ward or retirement home, the stink of impending doom filled those empty chairs. He’d spent a career studying the faces that looked up at him, and not one of those faces that night were smiling.