It’s Thursday, I’m on my way out after work, and Leon catches me at the door and he goes, “Are you coming to Rodney Rude tonight? He’s on at the Bowlo!” Leon looks excited. I look at him as though I’m considering it but in my head I’m like “No fucking way”.
And yet, and yet … When will I ever be in Lightning Ridge when Rodney Rude plays again? He is, as Leon says, an Australian legend. Sure, he’s a lot older than the picture on his Facebook page, which was probably drawn about forty years ago when he last rooted his way across the western districts (his words). But, aw, what the hell. I’m in.
I get to the Bowlo and the first surprise is the ticket: fifty-two bucks fifty. I’d kind of expected it to be about twenty dollars, so maybe I’m living further in the past than Rodney. Okay, deep breath and I’m in.
There are about a hundred of us. The stage by the dance floor is curtained off and a littler stage has been set up just in front. A pre-recorded message warns us not to take photos or videos, so there won’t be any from here on in. But I do wish I’d thrown caution to the wind and snapped Rodney when he was wearing his gigantic purple foam cardinal’s hat during his “Catholic priest” set. It was strangely mesmerising.
Unlike the show itself, which is, frankly, awful. Leon claimed that I didn’t get it, something to do with my being a Pommie and drinking exotic beers (i.e. not Fourex Gold). He’s right: I don’t get it. The funniest parts are (a) when Rude forgets what he’s talking about and (b) when, midway through yet another rambling set-piece, the Bowlo tannoy barks an announcement to members and guests that the nine o’clock courtesy bus is due to depart. The look on Rude’s face. Now that makes me laugh.
He has quite a show, does Rude. (That’s what he calls himself. I’m not being overly formal.) He has an unfeasibly large number of daft props, some of which must have taken hours to make but only have one gag in them – such as the big mechanical puppet contraption of Rude rooting Pauline Hanson. And there are lots of jokes about people rooting each other, as you’d expect.
I suppose I must be a snob. When did that happen? I used to like those comedians that showed up on British telly in the Seventies. They didn’t swear as much as Rude but they were 11 out of 10 on the scale for racism, sexism, everyism. We’re supposed to feel embarrassed by them but Bernard Manning is still funny. I guess it was drinking all that fancy beer that made me middle class.
The place empties pretty quickly after the end of the show; the words “unseemly haste” spring to mind. There’s something poignant about the rows of grey plastic chairs, scattered where their patrons have fled the room before Rude has a chance to emerge from behind the purple curtain and charge them ten bucks for a selfie.
But do I regret it? Not a jot. When, in years to come, folk talk about the night that Rodney Rude played the Bowlo in Lightning Ridge I’ll be able to hold my head high, pull back my shoulders and say, “Trendsetters: I was there.”