Friday, May 15, 2009

The world's worst party piece

Over at Nige’s place Will admitted that his recitals of Shelley’s great short poem Ozymandias might now include some of his own freestyle improvisations.*

Since I too learnt Ozymandias as a child, Will’s confession had me worried that I might also be inadvertently including some idiosyncratic embellishments on the rare occasions that I give the sonnet a public airing.

So I checked and, sure enough, it turns out that Percy Bysshe’s pedestal did not in fact proclaim: “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and throw your hands in the air/Like you just don’t care.” Boy is my face red.

Anyway, as I was saying at Nigeness, in one of Michael Palin’s travel programmes the ex-Python is required to perform a party piece for some collection of foreigners or other, and he opts for a halting and (as I loudly and irritatingly pointed out to my fellow viewers at the time) error-strewn recital of Ozymandias. And it strikes me now that, for a professional entertainer and founding member of the most influential comedy team in television history, a halting and error-strewn recital of Ozymandias is a pretty damn feeble party piece.

But feeble as that may be, for entertainment value it knocks into a cocked hat a routine I witnessed in Turkey last week, which gets me at last to the point of this post.

The act in question was a fire-eater. He was supposed to perform in a sort of outdoor amphitheatre, but inclement weather forced all the resort entertainment into a small indoor theatre. But it turns out that, even in Turkey, health and safety laws prohibit indoor fire-eating.

So what did he do to adapt his performance, given that a key (you might say, critical) element of his act had been taken out of the equation? The answer is: absolutely nothing. He simply did a fire-eating act without any fire.

To the accompaniment of deafening dance music and sporting a wide grin, this almighty eejit pranced about waving two elongated cotton buds which were notably not on fire, rubbed them daringly up and down his arms, and then, the thrilling climax, poked them (obscenely) down his throat.

The audience was too nonplussed to boo when he eventually bounded beaming from the stage, but requests for an encore were thin on the ground. A fire-eater without any fire: has anyone ever been served up a more meagre feast of entertainment than that?

*I give that opening line a mark of 6/10.


will said...

Its the turkish firebreathing version of 'Waiting for Godot'

malty said...

Sounds like one of your average morris dancers, England's answer to the Whirling Dervishes (best spoken with a scouse accent)

Nige said...

Sounds like top entertainment to me - his fire-eating act was probably crap. And it gifted you a great post - there's always a silver lining...

Anonymous said...

In Italy back in 2003 i told some Italian friends that i try to avoid speaking Italian because my pronunciation is so bad. They asked me to speak some so they could hear - i couldn't think of anything so just recited what i'd memorised of Canto 27 of Inferno - about the first 100 lines, with great relish.

When i got as far as i'd memorised, which took several minutes, they applauded and exchanged "you see, he is English, this is how they are" kind of looks, and one girl said to me, beaming: "You are totally crazy! I mean that in a good way!"

Nice and smooth, that's the way i do it.

Stephen said...

When I lived in Ireland, 15 years ago, I used to delight my Irish friends by reciting passages from Viz Comic's "Biffa Bacon" in my broadest geordie accent.I'm actually northumbwian, but did they care about that? No.