The great thing/problem with being an out gay man in 2013 is that, comparatively speaking, social acceptance has resulted in frequently getting away with saying all sorts of rude and risque things to work colleagues and straight friends; thanks, in some small part, to gayers being portrayed in almost every soap opera in the country, hosting celebrity-stuffed chat shows, civil partnering our loved ones, and generally just being out there.
So I found myself at the beautiful and historic Richmond Theatre one sultry Sunday night in May being serenaded by Julian Clary, British television’s self-styled commodore of camp, meat and two veg of innuendo. And what seemed shocking or slightly outré to an audience made of 90% heterosexualists in this safe Surrey segment of South West London is, in the brash reality of 21st Century Britain, somehow kind of tame compared to the rude and riotous ranting you often eavesdrop on for shits and giggles in the workplace, your local public watering hole or a regional branch of Mothercare.
Having said that, Clary the fairy live in the flesh is certainly an entertaining evening. Slightly short on originality but long on ad libs and a quick witted repartee as sharp as the cheekbones on his remarkably preserved face.
The premise of his provincial touring show is a crudely simple one. To bag himself a husband for the night. Position Vacant, Apply Within, and thus comes into the audience to find some potential sparring partners for an hour or two.
As luck, fate or just giving off a vibe that said ‘I’m just here to review the show, please don’t make me part of it’ would have it, Clary paused in my direction but thought better of it. However, my guest – let’s call him Twickenham Tony – had no such lucky escape, and the unpaid performing seal act was about to begin.
“Who are you here with tonight, Tony?”
“My friend Steve. Sitting right there.” Julian could have told him it was rude to point, but at least he still had his trousers on. For now.
“Oh yes… the one with the waistcoat,” said Julian. Before I knew it, Tony was of course being dragged out of his seat. Over to Tony….
Tony: Being pulled up on stage to potentially ‘marry’ Julian Clary brings up a whole different kettle of fish. Do I have to say I’m gay? Should I pretend I’m straight to raise more laughs? What do I actually have to do here?
With what felt like about a million mega-watt bulbs shining directly into my eyes and my hay-fever kicking in I could barely see any of the audience, which made me panic and sweat like the bitch Clary wanted me to be. And after seeing the preceding potential suitor having to sing Nessun Dorma as his ‘task’ I resigned myself to having to do the same, and even started to prepare my vocal chords to do a semi-decent job (I can sing – but Nessun Dorma?!). (Un)luckily my task was different. Also instead of creating a wildly humorous lie as to what my job was, I found myself confessing that not only do I work for the local council (Boo! from the audience), but that I also work in the council tax department (even more boos). Why was I so bloody honest? This must be what being interrogated feels like, albeit the gayest interrogation that’s ever going to happen to me.
I was surprised that my task was to simply drop my trousers. Now I’m no prude, I am one of those drunks that has no problems flashing bodily parts on a night out – but the lights! The pressure! Julian whispering ‘Just to your ankles and they’ll love it’ to me – GARRRR I so didn’t want to do it. But remembering the chorus of boos earlier I had a sudden flash of ‘fuck it’ and for some reason unbeknownst to me I really wanted to win back the favour of the audience. So I whipped open my belt buckle and flies and stood there all proud with a smirk on my face. Until I remembered that that morning I chose to wear my bright pink boxer trunks that are one size too big for me, complete with one leg rolled right up into my crotch and the other leg almost touching my knee. If ever I needed a bumper Bridget Jones moment in my life – that was it.’
In the end, Tony & Julian it was not to be, and he was fortunate enough to be eliminated from the next round of queries, which he wasn’t too distressed about, especially as the next round of the camp contest involved having to prance around the stage to the dulcet bones of the All Blacks rugby war ‘dance’, which the Twickers twit admitted he was far too sober to tackle. Maybe some gay men are not quite as brave with their ‘shits and giggles’ as we’re led to believe.
Julian Clary: Position Vacant, Apply Within is across the UK til June 2.