There are parts of Cowgate, a dark and gloomy alley of a thoroughfare in the Old Town, that could be from a bleak science fiction film, with its stone steampunk walls funnelling drunks like a sluice. Something akin to Logan’s Run with inarticulate swearing, in which contestants too often tearily confess their love for one another, spill their loose change into drains, and with scant regard for plotted action, wander into a sidealley to sway and urinate over their shoes.
The Three Sisters, resembles a gated compound from the outside, fences surround enormous umbrellas in a booze quad the size of a small prison yard. The tone was set by the bouncers at the gate who, upon checking a female friend’s bag joked about conducting a “strip-search”. I’m not sure we knew, but we certainly suspected, that this was going to be about as funny as it got, as we walked into the grim venue – and this is the kind of detail best left out, had it not acted as a profound colourant on the evening – to be greeted not just by the expected notes of damp and keen testosterone, but by the stench of someone’s loosened bowels.
Swaggering onstage wearing a t-shirt of an adapted WWF logo in which two pandas were engaged in monochrome coitus, our compere’s opening gambit was not exactly charm personified. Or charm in any other guise for that matter: a tale of his efforts to convince his wife that, while the other “sluts” and “slags” he chatted up in bars were merely “hamburgers”, she was a classy “steak”. In a novel twist it turned out that his wife was vegetarian: cause for a perfunctory reference to “meat”, and a reformulation – “why would I try it on with a sprout when I have a cabbage at home? Needless to say, ladies and gentlemen, I didn’t get a fuck that night.” A weak laugh, like rupturing liver tissue.
The benthic, basal level of his material was not entirely helped by the fact that he was drunk. Not happily or loosely drunk, but at soggy angles to himself. Legs all over the stool like crushed spider limbs; he looked somehow apologetic, sober enough to be embarrassed, and to transmit that embarrassment through glances of sticky fear around the dark room. Punchlines bled into build-ups, contextual material was forgotten then stabbed in post-fact; slow, slurred and arrhythmic, it was as if he was deconstructing comic timing, in an underwater cave, on the moon – the bleakest and most lonely moon in the universe, one that used to orbit Bernard Manning’s enlarged gall bladder before he imploded, and was cast off into deep nothing, the profound silence of the stiff and coldly-lagered men, who stared on grimly as if all the oxygen was draining from the earth’s atmosphere over the course of one lonely evening.
The first act resembled the one time comedian Aaron Barschack, who went down in comedy history as the performer to make headlines by crashing into Prince Harry’s birthday party dressed as Osama Bin Laden, before going on to be so awful at the actual practice of comedy that it was impossible to launch, let alone sustain, a career of any kind. Even his own agent saw fit to predict as much in interview shortly after the “comedy terrorist’s” stunt. The most succinct thing that could be said about the evasive, bearded man on stage last night, was that he didn’t even break into the palace and he is in no danger of acquiring an agent. The second act was a pummellingly obese man with a ukulele, wearing one of “kunt’s cocks” (the phallus stickers that have appeared in various penetrative positions on posters around town this year) on his groin. He burbled about being fat, before being replaced with a Danish man no-one could understand, or could conceivably want to make the effort to, as he barked something about pre-cum.
We left the venue as fast as our legs would carry us, past the man with the gluey fringe slumped at the bar in a t-shirt bearing the words “beyond help”, and towards the sweet release of our pints of 12% ABV and quid doubles. Outside, on the winding pullulating Cowgate, I saw a man vomit on himself. He did so without care, not finding a drain or kerb nor bending down or trying to save his shoes – he vomited as if it were a fleeting emotion, a tiny pause and flicker as liquid burped from his mouth and off his chin. After a sobering night at Shaggers it was hard to say who was left with the fouler taste.