Leroy was the first to arrive in the pub’s upstairs room. He was lanky, awkward. Johnny, the compere and organiser, was busy putting out chairs. Leroy shuffled from foot to foot, and spoke in a kind of anxious mumble. ‘Uh... I was looking on the internet, and saw this, and here I am... Is this an open mic? Can I have a go?’
Johnny said: ‘Have you done this before?’
Leroy’s expression tightened. ‘No, I haven’t. But my friends say I’m funny, so... I’m just looking for closure. It’s a different thing if a roomful of strangers say so. I just want to find out, then I’ll move on.’
Johnny looked concerned. ‘You know it’s a comedy gig, right?’
For the next hour and a half, Leroy sat in the corner, his shoulders hunched, staring down into his lap as the room filled with people. He looked anxious, pinioned, as if a flash mob had arrived in his bedroom. When he finally got behind the mic, his posture didn’t change. He couldn’t seem to bring himself to look at the audience. He stammered. As he spoke, he grimaced, as if at some hidden pain. Except for nervous titters, the audience was silent.
‘So I went to a supermarket. That was a mistake. Modern supermarkets, they’re like a military concentration camp or something. They try to put the code in your brain. It’s not good... Like this.’ He flinched, then lifted his head, peering into the darkness behind the audience, looking for Johnny. ‘I’m sorry. I can’t do this. I thought I could do it but I can’t.’ Johnny didn’t answer. ‘I’m sorry. I can’t do this.’
Then came the shouting.
‘C’mon Leroy!’ yelled a guy from the back.
‘C’mon Leroy!’ yelled a girl.
Soon everyone was yelling. ‘C’mon Leroy!’ ‘Go on, mate!’
As their cheers reached a crescendo, Leroy dipped his head, took a deep breath, and balled his fists.
The room exploded with applause.