Let me start by reviewing the contributors, then I will get on to why the organisers are lucky no-one died. As it was, one guy was knocked out and other was splashing blood everywhere from a head/face wound.
Late’n’Live is supposed to be the bloody end of comedy. It starts at 1am, so the audience is drunk, and merciless. I love this about it, and have been a regular for years. It is great to see how comics old and new cope in an environment where nothing is going to go as rehearsed, and dignity depends on being able to deal with hecklers. The best, including a lot of young upcoming acts, are brilliant. All too often, more established acts are complacent and a bit pissed, mumble some material from their set without enthusiasm, and die on their feet.
Jarred Christmas was the compere for the evening. He’s an old pro at this sort of thing, and did a great job under what were, at times, difficult circumstances.
Chris Martin was up first and was really very good. I’m still chuckling at some of his material, and he dealt with occasional heckles very well.
Jessica Fostekew didn’t really light my lamp. She lost the interest of the room, but was so bland that most people just talked amongst themselves and ignored her rather than bothering to heckle.
Carl-Einar Häckner walked on to a room that was in desparate need of entertainment. His outrageous costume and style were the sort of thing that could render him instand crowd-bait but he was BRILLIANT. His act is a blend of magic and comedy, and is quite physical. In my head, it is perfect “clowning” – much cleverer than it appears at first glance. He held the room captivated and the only serious heckler was dealt with magnificently. He paused, asked the guy to repeat himself then replied in a heavy Swedish accent “Sorry, I don’t speak English” and carried on with the act. A perfect Late’n’Live moment. I really loved Carl, and may well go and see his own show.
Hannibal Buress. We had already seen his full set on Wednesday (review of Hannibal Bures: Still Staying Stuff) but he did a little bit of different material and was doing OK for a while. Not spectacular, but OK. Then he started trying to tell a story about using Scottish money in England, and he utterly self-destructed on stage. He died on his feet. It was horrible. He just kept walking into the trap of inciting the crowd to anti-English heckling, and dismissed that there was any basis for it “this is so sad – did they beat you at football or something”. I’m against anti-English racism, but I failing to acknowledge there is some complex history really wound the crowd up… Had he just moved on and told another story it would have been fine, but instead he was boo-ed off stage about half way through his set.
Jarred came back on and picked the crowd up again, and even got us chanting “Hannibal, Hannibal…” to try to get him back on stage to finish his set. I think Hannibal made a good choice here not to come back on – it was a crowd chanting for the return of a plaything rather than one that really wanted the rest of the set.
Now Hannibal had seriously wound up the crowd, Jarred filled for a bit while we waited for the band, and then it all went horribly, horribly wrong.
A DANGEROUS SHAMBLES
We were sitting on the aisle in the banked seating at the back of the debating hall, and a fight broke out behind us on the opposite side. 5 or 6 guys were really laying into each other, with other audience members fleeing out the way and drinks being spilled and sprayed everywhere. There was a fair bit of blood around, and one of the guys half landed on Ruth. She very wisely got out of the way. A few seconds later, blood was being splashed onto the seat she had just vacated from a face/head wound one of the guys had received.
The crowd were shouting, the lights went on, Jarred called for security, but the fight just kept going until one of the participants slumped to the ground unconscious, and some of the others fled. I was yelling for a first aider, a cry Jarred picked up on the microphone, but no-one came. Eventually the guy on the floor came round, and was helped out by a couple of audience members.
This is where I need to give you some context. I used to do security in the student union building where Late’n’Live is held, including for a comedy club there, and occasionally at other venues around Edinburgh and even Glasgow Barralands. For a year I ran the building as Convener of the committee, and part of the management group that hold the license for the premises. I have experience of running that venue for events ranging from comedy to club-nights, from balls to boxing matches, and for Royal and diplomatic visits.
Late’n’live is supposed to be edgy. There is supposed to be heckling – it is encouraged. It is known to be a rowdy audience. I have been going for years, and it has always been that way. Violence is not unheard of. Don’t just take my word for it – there was a recent TV series entitled The Late’n’Live Guide to Comedy which said all this. The organisers describe it as “anarchic” on their own website.
In that sort of environment, with drunk people everywhere, it is not possibe to prevent fights breaking out. I know this from my own experience. However, the response to a fight breaking out is seriously important. The sooner security staff can intervene, the less likely it is for fighting to spread or for serious injuries to occur.
THERE WERE NO SECURITY STAFF IN THE ROOM. For an event like Late’n’Live, I would expect security in the room. In previous years, they have always been a visible presence at the stage-side fire doors at the front, and at the back of the room. They should be in a position to see any trouble and get to it quickly. When I have run events in there, I have sometimes put spotters on the balconies with big torches to help direct the guys on the ground to any trouble. On this evening however, I didn’t notice any security staff in the room, and when the fight broke out there were none visible. Even minutes later when it was all over, with the lights on, with the compere on stage shouting through the microphone for security and first aid, the only staff visible in the room were production staff. Eventually one member of venue staff turned up, but by then the fight was over and she didn’t manage to clear away a crowd of concerned punters or help the unconscious guy – in fact I’m not sure if she achieved anything useful.
I have tried to separate fact from opinion above – for the sake of clarity what follows is opinion. I believe that Guilded Balloon fundamentally failed in their duty of care to their customers. It was a SHAMBLES, with security failing to do its job.
I hope no-one involved in the fight was seriously injured, and that security caught the brawlers leaving the builders and held them for the police – I don’t know if they did or didn’t.
I will be writing to Guilded Balloon (and I will happily publish their response here) and depending on their response I may complain to the Licensing people at the council too. I know from personal experience how tightly they regulate venues and how unacceptable they would find this.
I will not be back at Late’n’Live until I am convinced that basic measures for public safety are in place.
Where to start with this? My God, the crowd was baying from the start. It was awkward. Which is usually part of the fun. The compareJarred Christmas got everyone on side and invited a heckler on stage for a dance off, which started things off quite well. The first act, Chris Martin, was a gentle guy but pretty funny (enjoyed his stuff about flamingos) and he dealt with the hecklers excellently, so props to him. Next was some tedious woman (Jessica Fostekew) who just ignored some extremely vulgar heckling and ploughed on through. Not the way to do it, made her look even more crap, but at least she finished her slot. Next act Carl-Einar Häckner could have gone either way, he was dressed in an Abba suit and did magic, but he was great and the crowd loved him. So far so good, we got to around 2.30am and the last act was Hannibal Buress who we had seen already. He started on some material about London and got a lot of anti-English boos, which he responded to by riling the crowd up and basically inciting as much xenophobic rivalry as possible. He pushed on with it, but couldn’t get past the racism stuff. But he just kept banging on with it. Eventually he walked off ten minutes early. No payment for you Buress. Lose. At least the crap girl will have been paid. So Jarred Christmas came on to fill for ten minutes. I don’t think it was his fault, or indeed if it was anything to do with the previous act, but two guys started a fight in the audience. Unfortunately I was very near the fight and on the aisle, and so noticed it pretty early on when scattering people fell onto me and beer was spraying everywhere. I jumped up and ran down the aisle and people were brawling in the aisle with people and beer still flying. I had to keep moving back as it was just flaily and expanding. You could hear the sound of people hitting other people and there were people with blood pouring out of them. E told me later the seat I had been in was covered in blood. After a few minutes one guy went down in the aisle and had passed out in a sickening position. People were shouting ‘get first aid’ and ‘get security’ but none came. It could have been five minutes before Jarred Christmas on the stage realised quite how serious the fight was and something got done. Honestly, it was awful, it was very very frightening to be there and I would be scared to go back because I wouldn’t feel safe knowing how slow the venue were to deal with a serious situation like that. I’ve worked in the venue and been to Late and Live before and seen what 300 wound up drunk people can be like, I know you can’t stop a fight starting but you can have security on hand to break it up, you can radio for first aid, you can put the lights up, you can clear the venue out the fire doors, you can reassure the rest of the audience that things will be ok. Not good enough Gilded Balloon. An awful end to the evening, one of the most frightening things that has happened to me.