The Hardening Of Pharaoh's Heart by Cathy Bryant

Ceri Shaw
02/13/16 01:37:37AM
565 posts

We had been looking forward to it for weeks. The comedian's tour had been getting great reviews, and we had tickets for the final night.

We dressed casually. Money was too tight to run to new, smart outfits and we'd had to save up for the tickets, but we really needed a night out.

"Listen to these quotes, Shelley," said my husband, Will, holding the local paper. "He's described as 'edgy', 'laugh-out-loud funny', 'dangerously, daringly hilarious', 'fresh and exciting' and 'the most powerful comic of his generation'."

"There are some odd adjectives in there," I murmured, clipping on my earrings. "Does 'funny' really go with 'dangerous'?"

Will shrugged, and carried on reading about Jed Hooke until it was time for us to get ready. Will is the kind of person who can look effortlessly smart in the most unassuming clothes - tonight, a collarless blue linen shirt and fawn trousers, whereas I can look messy in high-end haute couture.

I mention the clothes because otherwise what happened later might be attributed to some accident of dress or demeanour.

At the Victoria Arena we sat in our red plush seats, clutching our programmes and trying not to get too excited about the evening ahead. With work commitments and financial constraints we weren't going out much, and it was hard not to go overboard into a feeling of jubilee.

The warm-up act consisted of a rather nervous young woman telling some quite astute political jokes. Clever and funny, she just lacked a little aplomb. Next there was a P.A. announcement of the 'Laydeez and-ah Gentlemen' variety, and Jed Hooke came on.

The audience went crazy, hooting and shouting affirmations, whistling and clapping like a thunderstorm.

Jed walked up to the mike and looked round uncertainly.

"This is Alcoholics Anonymous, right?" he asked earnestly, and the audience roared appreciatively. The evening was off and running.

I hadn't liked the opener much, but we settled comfortably back in our seats - third row from the front with an excellent view of the stage - and prepared to enjoy ourselves.

There were several long narrative arcs, peppered with jokes, and referring back to previous themes. It was neatly and professionally tied together.

The serious problems started during the second segment. Jed was telling a story about touring abroad, and was talking about Africa. First he made a joke about starving children, and then he made a joke about starving children with AIDS. Will and I looked at each other in consternation, and whether or not Jed Hooke caught the movement, he was alerted and looked at us directly.

"Too close to home, eh?" he grinned, raising an eyebrow at Will. "Though you needn't worry about starving, eh?"

Will is a heavily built man.

He is also black.

The laughter hit me in a wave, and threatened to drown me in panic. Why were they laughing? Jed was now doing a mock Jamaican accent and enquiring about Will's sexual prowess.

"Come on," whispered Will, taking my shaking hand, and we squeezed past the others on our row. It seemed to take forever to leave the arena, and despite the fact that I hadn't done anything wrong I felt hot with humiliation.

As we made our way to the doors, I could hear Jed say, "If they think that's offensive, then it's a good job they pissed off before hearing the next joke - it's about a crippled Welsh Jew and a gay Paki."

The audience was in fits.

Outside in the foyer were five other people who, like us, had left.

"That was totally out of order," one woman was saying, while her companion kept repeating, "It's just a joke. Postmodern irony. Just a joke," and looking as if he wanted to go back and listen to the rest.

"Postmodern irony, eh? Funny how it sounds exactly like the same old shit," said Will bitterly, fixing the man with a steely glance.

"God, I thought we'd got rid of all that in the eighties," sighed one of the other people who had left.

"We did. And now it's back. That's fashion for you," I put in, my voice as bitter as Will's.

On the way home we were silent. Will kept looking at me, though, and was obviously concerned.

"It's ok, Shelley," he said gently. "I'm ok."

"Why are you ok?" I asked, taking a corner too quickly and angrily.

"Because I'm used to it," he said, even more gently. I began to cry again.

As soon as we were home I hugged him for a long time, had another damn good cry, and then started ranting.

"Seven of us, including you and me. That's all, out of two thousand, who left. A pretty tiny exodus, isn't it? Pathetic. Why not more? Why don't they care? Just imagine if his entire audience had walked away, in silence, with dignity. God, can't they hear the hatred?"

Will shrugged. "It's the old story. Hate people who are different, feel better about yourself." He paused. "And presumably many of the people there knew about him, so knew what they were getting and are happy with it. What worries me is the number of our friends who said he was great."

"I'm going to ring them all, right now," I snarled, and stomped furiously to the phone, which made Will chuckle.

"That's my Amazon warrior," he said.

"Oh hello Jo," I said into the phone. "You recommended Jed Hooke to us. So tell us, what exactly do you find so funny about racism, sexism, anti-semitism and weight jokes?"

An hour and several phone calls later, Will brought me in a small brandy.

"We shouldn't," I mumbled. "We're saving to sponsor another child."

Will pressed the brandy on me anyway, and looked at my subdued face.

"Let me guess," he said softly. "They didn't know, they were shocked to hear it, were you sure, probably he was mocking racism itself, he was being ironic?"

I nodded.

"They were only following orders," I said sarcastically.

And we fell silent in our home, listening sadly to the distant wail of sirens, the shrieks of drunken laughter, and the sound of hearts hardening.

“What do we do?” I asked.

“We keep on,” said Will. “We pick our battles and stand up to injustice, keeping our dignity and principles. We ride the bad wave and wait for the next good one. And for now, we hold each other and sleep. Love survives.”

There is great joy in a soft, loving heart. I fell asleep in his warm arms.