There aren’t enough nicknames in comedy. Musicians have got all the good nicknames locked up.
Elvis is The King. Beyoncé’s The Queen. Prince is self-explanatory. Aretha Franklin is the Godmother of Soul. Sinatra is the Chairman of the Board. Bruce Springsteen’s The Boss.
If I got into rock’n’roll now, I’d be lucky to end up with the nickname ‘The Assistant Regional Manager’. I’m here to rock, roll, and make sure we hit those KPIs.
There’s an idea in comedy that performers are only good when they’re hungry. Once they hit a level of success and comfort, they plateau and become Russell Bland. I don’t know if people feel the same way about rock stars, but if that’s the case, nobody told Bruce Springsteen. I saw The Boss at that big arena in Homebush that has changed names 50 times the other week, and the guy sweats more than the entire Sydney Kings team (Apparently they’re a basketball team that play in that arena? I saw the signs there, but I don’t know anything about them. I did drama in high school).
The guy is 67 years old, but he has the energy of 60 seven-year-olds. He runs around the stage like a man half my age. He climbs the barricades. He did laps of the entire arena. He crowd-surfed for almost all of ‘Hungry Heart’, while singing. Then two-and-a-half hours into his three-hour show, he asked the crowd, “Are you guys doin’ OK?” 20,000 people were like, “Yeah, are you OK, Bruce?” I mean, I know he’s The Boss, but surely he can delegate some of that running around to The Intern or something.
Whenever you go see these older legends, you get to witness the ageing process – not just onstage, but in the crowd as well. When Jurassic 5 came out here a few years back, about 30 per cent of their crowd was filming it on their iPhones, while the other 70 per cent were around when phones had curly chords.
One kid had his phone up above his head for the whole show, filming above the crowd, and at one point I reached up and changed it to selfie mode so he’ll have great footage of all the angry Gen Xers behind him.
A fun game to play is placing bets on the standing stamina of the old fans in the house. At some point, without fail, Springsteen will call out for everyone to get on their feet and clap along. Some people last a verse and chorus, some make it to the guitar solo, and the most determined older fan will make it to the end of the song, but they won’t be playing mixed tennis with the other couples on Wednesday.
I don’t know what it is about seeing a musician live that makes you want to touch them. I’m a normal person. I don’t see photos of Kanye or Dune Rats and think, ‘Man, I’d love to touch that person’s hands.’ But three songs into a set, when the singer approaches the edge of the stage and holds their hands out over the crowd, I’m like, “I’ll hold your hand, Yeezy! Sing the croissant line to me!” I still don’t know what comes over me.
The last time Iggy Pop (The Godfather of Punk) came out with The Stooges, I was right on the barrier and Iggy grabbed me by the shoulders and sang the first chorus of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ right into my face. It was such a rush. As he left, I remember thinking, “That was a special connection between a fan and a performer, and I am so grateful that in that split second he decided to choose me to bond with.” His touch felt inclusive and fleeting and like something I’d never forget.
An hour and a half later, after pushing Iggy’s sweaty dong off my head for the 15th time while he was crowd-surfing, I was like, “Iggy, please give me some space.”
What’s funny this week?
Friday February 24:
Green Lights Comedy at The Gaelic Club. One of Sydney’s best comedy nights hosted by my podcast co-host Alexei Toliopoulos, headlined by club favourite Justin Hamilton.
Sunday February 26:
The John Conway Tonight Show at Cafe Lounge. Conway is Australia’s funniest, weirdest late-night host who doesn’t have a TV show. Yet. This show has great guests, music, sketches and lots of insanity.
Tuesday February 28:
Macquarie University‘s Ubar Comedy. This show always packs out with huge guests and a wild vibe. I’m MCing this one, so come and buy me a beer.
[Bruce Springsteen live in Sydney photo by Ashley Mar]
Cameron James is a stand-up comedian.
You can follow him on Twitter at @iamcameronjames, or in the streets.