From scissor attacks to diabetes improv: comedians' weirdest gigs

Lucy Porter caused a breakup. Romesh Ranganathan did a diabetes panel show. And Alexei Sayle survived a skinhead invasion. Comics relive their worst moments on stage

The 10 best jokes from the Edinburgh fringe

Lucy Porter

A guy in the crowd had been drunkenly obnoxious all evening so I got everyone to chant “out, out, out” until he got up to go. He gestured to his girlfriend to join him but – with my encouragement – she refused and told him he was dumped. He shuffled out and she got the biggest cheer of the night. Years later she emailed to thank me. She was now engaged to a nice man who wouldn’t dream of heckling.
Lucy Porter is at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

Sofie Hagen

In the UK, I think in English. In Denmark, I think in Danish. I flew from Denmark to the UK for a show, the flight was delayed and I rushed straight to the venue. Despite being flustered, it went well until the audience suddenly stopped laughing. I tried some other material but nothing. They were all staring. Then I realised: I’d switched to Danish without noticing. My brain was still in Denmark. So I had to apologise. In English.
Sofie Hagen is at Bedlam theatre

Sam Simmons

Sam Simmons
‘I berated him for being a handsome bore’ … Sam Simmons. Photograph: PR

I once bullied a young man on to the stage. There were gasps from the audience and phones came out. I assumed it was because he was really good looking. He was reluctant to participate so I banished him back to his chair, berating him for being a handsome bore. After the show, I found out it was Kit Harington from Game of Thrones and he understandably didn’t want footage of him being molested by a bald man with a moustache in the basement of a club in Soho.
Sam Simmons is at the Assembly George Square Studios

Clive Anderson

Someone threw a pair of scissors at my face. Oddly enough this was not in a rough bit of Soho or Malcolm Hardee’s famously scary Tunnel Club. I was doing well enough in a genteel Islington pub. I think I provoked the attack by praising my warm, supportive audience. I responded as I might to any other pointed heckle and carried on. The scissor-hurler hung around later. “It gave you something to react to, I think it helped,” he said. “You should be grateful!”
Whose Line Is It Anyway? is at the Assembly Rooms

Rachel Parris

Punch and Judy … Rachel Parris.
Trumped by Punch and Judy … Rachel Parris. Photograph: Publicity image

At the Old Market in Brighton, the studio stage has a small window opening on to the street. A man outside started shouting into the window, saying “Do you wanna hear my jokes?” He started yelling a story about his day then it went quiet. We thought he’d gone away but two furry toy animals appeared in the window and he started doing a Punch and Judy show. The audience and I ended up just watching him instead.
Rachel Parris is at Pleasance Dome

Cally Beaton

I was playing a festival and some teenagers were hanging out on a walkway above the stage. They kept sending down paper planes with heckles/messages, which I would get the audience to read out. One plane came down saying: “Don’t give up!”, followed by another saying “... your day job”.
Cally Beaton is at Just the Tonic at the Community Project

Ed Byrne

Mid-set in, I think, Darlington, I turned around and some combination of my own hair and my shadow against the back of the stage made me think somebody was coming towards me. I jumped, as if being attacked, and had to admit to the audience what had just happened. I didn’t have the improv skills to pass it off. We had a bit of a laugh but I’d lost their respect, never to recover. “Really? Is that what you think about the world? Who cares? You’re scared of your own shadow.”
Ed Byrne is at Assembly George Square theatre

Sarah Kendall

Sarah Kendall.
Haters … Sarah Kendall. Photograph: Rosalind Furlong

The audience had all filed out, except for two ladies in their 70s. When people mill about like that, they usually just want to say something nice. I came out with a big dumb smile and said hello. One of the women said, “I just wanted to tell you how much I hated your show.” Pause. “I really hated it.” There was a weird silence where I tried to adapt my face to what was happening. The woman’s friend said, “I’m sorry. I asked her not to do this.” Then we all waited for one of us to talk. After about 30 seconds I said, “Oh, fuck off.” As they both made their way out, I qualified it: “I don’t mean you – the nice one. You don’t have to.” And she said, “Thank you. It was a lovely show.”
Sarah Kendall is at Assembly George Square Studios

Dane Baptiste

It was my third ever gig – a mixed bill at a university, running way behind schedule. I was appearing after all the other acts, in the same way oil goes with water. There was an after party that was supposedly going to be “rammed with girls”. I was holding up the party. The guys booed. The girls took pity and encouraged me. So the booing increased tenfold. Then a green mist formed: I was getting booed so hard, I could actually see it. The MC had to escort me out. I was too ashamed to ask for my money.
Dane Baptiste is at Pleasance Courtyard

Phil Wang

A week into my first fringe run I heard whispers that Jimmy Carr was coming. I watch the audience file (well, trickle) in. No sign of Carr. After my opening five minutes, the door creaks open. I see the unmistakable (and uniquely luminous) face of Jimmy Carr. Everyone watches him sit down, and they continue to watch as he stares like a stoic owl for the remaining 55 minutes. I hadn’t yet the skill or confidence to address the owl in the room. Gradually the tension became too much for the audience, who turned swiftly into a parliament of silence.
Phil Wang is at Pleasance Beneath

Gráinne Maguire

I did a gig at Edinburgh’s notorious Late’n’Live where a guy jumped on stage, pulled his pants down and tried to grab the mic. The worse thing about it was that the gig was going so badly the crowd was on his side.
Gráinne Maguire is at the Gilded Balloon Teviot

Dan Antopolski

Years ago a student at Birmingham University rugby-tackled me off the stage – I had playfully teased his friend. I think he was as surprised by his own impetus as I was. His T-shirt was orange and to my lasting regret when I returned shakily to the microphone I lacked the presence of mind to resume the performance with the words: “You know when you’ve been Tangoed” – a contemporary reference that would have been absolutely le mot juste in the circs.
Dan Antopolski is at Assembly George Square Studios

Aatif Nawaz

Aatif Nawaz.
Split decision … Aatif Nawaz. Photograph: PR IMAGE

One of the joys of being a Muslim comedian is getting to play the most unusual corporate shows imaginable. On one occasion, I was flown out to Glasgow to perform in front of a segregated audience. Women on the left; men on the right. A giant screen between the two. Aside from making crowd play particularly difficult, it’s essentially like doing two gigs at once. I stormed on one side and died on the other.
Aatif Nawaz is at Laughing Horse @ The Newsroom

Katy Brand

I recently toured a show about my teenage years as a fundamentalist, happy-clappy Christian. It was candid, frank and rather rude about that world, and I would often get Christians wanting to chat with / pray for me afterwards. Towards the end of the tour I was pretty knackered. One night as I walked off stage the security guard told me in a portentous tone: “There’s a man here who wants to talk to you, says he’s Paul from the Old Testament.” In my befuddled state, I had a genuine trepidation. Was this the moment of reckoning at last? Turned out it was my former theology tutor, Paul, who taught me the Old Testament at college.
Katy Brand is at the Pleasance Above

Mark Thomas

I was performing at Glastonbury’s cabaret tent and a bloke jumped on stage in a pair of green Speedos, waving a stick and an orange, shouting: “When the sun shines upon the earth, it is Planet Sex.” Everyone in the audience suddenly goes full Glastonbury, shouting: “Let him be! Let him express himself!” Then he dropped the orange and the stick and pulled out a knife. I asked him: “What are you going to do, butter me to death?” Then he skipped off stage and into the fields.
Mark Thomas is at Summerhall

Urzila Carlson

A local weather girl stood up 10 minutes into my set and asked me to leave.
Urzila Carlson is at Assembly George Square Studios

Milton Jones

It was going so well. A corporate gig for 250 brewery staff. “Bit odd this,” I quip. “Here you are on your night off with free food and drink. Surely you get that every night of the week?” “We don’t get free food and drink,” a female voice pipes up. “Then how come you’re all so fat?” I ask. There’s an audible gasp. It seems Margaret from Accounts has battled for years with her weight. She leaves the room in tears. Tuts and booing. I desperately try and win them back. People begin to leave, like ice breaking off a melting iceberg. I make my excuses and exit quietly. Another time in the moment I might have come up with something else equally audacious but a lot funnier, and been carried shoulder high from the room.
Milton Jones is at Assembly Hall

Gein’s Family Giftshop

We did a show in the Blind Poet pub and learned that the most devastating heckle you can receive while expressing your “art” (throwing fake blood around and shouting profanities) is the one delivered by someone winning the jackpot on the quizzie. We had to yell and sweat over the sound of the fruit machine whirring and flashing, knowing we were no match for a cascade of pound coins.
Gein’s Family Giftshop are at Pleasance Courtyard

Kat Bond

There will be blood … Kat Bond.
Off the rails … Kat Bond. Photograph: Julian Hall

During my big opening number I managed to knock into one of the side lights. I spent the rest of the gig wiping blood from my nose. The character I was playing was slightly off the rails and the audience seemed genuinely unsure as to whether it was meant to happen. I was asked at the end where I got the fake blood from.
Kat Bond is at Pleasance Courtyard

Jarlath Regan

An audience member arrived late during my show. I asked what had taken him so long, and he said: “I’ve been in the bar, I spotted Jeremy Paxman.” So I went into a bit of banter about Paxman. The room fell deathly silent then it dawned on me. There he was in row two, with arms folded as if listening to an interviewee and not buying it.
Jarlath Regan is in Organ Freeman at Just the Tonic at the Tron

Mob rule … Alexei Sayle.
Mob rule … Alexei Sayle. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

Alexei Sayle

In my early days as a double act, I appeared at an event my friend was putting on at Hornsey College of Art. He had been one of the best dancers at Wigan Casino and thought it would be a good idea to mount an evening that began with a male and female avant-garde dance duo, continued with our act, and ended with a northern soul disco. Unfortunately the only ones interested in the event, in their hundreds, were local skinheads attracted by the disco. My friend managed to lock the mob out for the dance duo but they forced their way in for our show. I started my usual aggressive patter which caused one of them to try and attack me. My wife Linda was manning the bar and managed to catch my assailant forcefully on the head with three full cans of lager thrown from a distance of 50ft. We left with all our friends surrounding us like a phalanx of security guards.
Alexei Sayle appeared at Underbelly Med Quad

Steven Wright

I pace back and forth onstage during my act. I had walked towards the left of the stage, and when I turned around, there was a woman standing in the middle of the stage. She had long hair, kind of hippyish-looking. I didn’t feel she was going to do me any harm, she was very calm, but I’d had no warning, no unusual reaction from the audience. I eventually said: “What are you doing here?” And she started walking towards me. The stage people quickly came on and ushered her off. Did I see her afterwards? Oh yes, we dated for four years. (No, I never saw her.)

Romesh Ranganathan

I had just started doing corporate gigs which combine great pay with your self-esteem dissolving like a Berocca. My agent phoned me and said: “It’s a weird one.” The gig was for a pharmaceutical company launching a new drug; they wanted me to host a panel of experts and turn their answers about the medication into comedy. It was also to take place in the morning. Comedy about pharmaceuticals at 9.30am is what I find most artistically rewarding, so I agreed to take part before I even knew what the fee was. That is how I ended up hosting “Have I Got Diabetes News for You”. The gig went better than expected, mainly because any attempt at humour will be well received against the backdrop of the latest alternative to insulin. I’ve had gigs since so bad I’ve attempted to steer the topic on to diabetes to once again crack open some of the gold from that morning in High Wycombe.
Romesh Ranganathan and Friends: In Aid of Home-Start is at Brighton Dome on 31 August

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