Tom Wrigglesworth - my stand up gig on the base camp of Mount Everest
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 May 2016
Our star columnist prepares to hit the heights and wonders whether saying no might have been a better idea
As a comedian, I believe it’s law that I have to start at least one column with ‘My mother-in-law’, so here we go. My mother-in-law is awesome; at once clever and kind, appreciative and knowledgeable. Above anything else though, she’s Danish. Many moons ago, before my first trip to Denmark, the mother-in-law gave me a book as a way of introducing me to the idiosyncrasies of her homeland. The book was titled ‘Jeg ku ikke sige nej’, translated it means ‘I couldn’t say no, a first timer’s guide to Denmark’ and, alongside other things, illuminated the Danes shy politeness.
I’ve often thought of this lack of entitlement as a decidedly Northern or Yorkshire trait, although us Yorkshire types get tarred with the brush of straight-talking bluffness, a big part of the county’s personality stoicly hides behind the polite use of the double negative. We would never be so crass or emotionally open to say ‘yes’ to a simple question. We much prefer to return the question with a bit of cryptic backspin. For example, when asked ‘would you like a cup of tea’ and say ‘Well, I wouldn’t say no’. ‘Biscuit with that?’ ‘Oh you’ve twisted my arm’. We might be famously blunt and forward thinking but at the same time we cling to the rule that saying yes is a certifiable sign of weakness.
I was pondering this duality in Grindleford cafe, an old station house turned food outlet situated somewhere between the edge of the Peak District, the edge of Sheffield and the edge of reason. It’s as famous for its pints of tea as it is for it handwritten signs that lay down ground rules like a passive aggressive flat mate trying to work out who’s using their milk.
I was there on one of my training hikes because, for reasons still unclear, I have agreed to hike to Mount Everest base camp. This sort of thing has never appealed to me, it’s never been on my wish list even in my most intoxicated states, but then I received a text from a comedy promoter that said, ‘Tom, I’m putting on a gig at base camp, it’s a nine day hike up Everest, and it’ll be a world record for the highest gig ever done’.
It must be said that although this is a genuine world record attempt, it is not a title I’ve ever heard of, nor is it hotly-contested record on the UK comedy circuit. The green rooms I usually sit in are alive with boastful comics outdoing each other on biggest audiences played to, rowdiest audience played to, or most gigs done in a night, but I’ve yet to see a comedian pull out from his bag a barometer and shout ‘Gentlemen, I have some exciting news’.
In all honesty, my training has consisted of three parts reading horror stories about people to one part actually exercising. Altitude sickness seems to be the most toxic of enemy, although it is refreshingly unprejudiced in who it strikes down. From recently reformed smoker to triathlon junkie, the fickle finger of this fate doesn’t discriminate when it induces headaches, bloody coughing, or death.
It’s clearly something not to be taken lightly and as much as I feel smug sitting in Grindleford cafe having just scaled Win Hill and felt fine at the top, I’m haunted by the fact that whatever I do, it can never really be enough. Essentially, I’m doing the equivalent of training for a marathon by jogging to the loo.
Still, it’s got to be doing some good, but when I tell people I’m heading to base camp, most of them simply stare back and ask why. I’ve had similar reactions when I’ve dabbled in vegetarianism or announced I’m moving to London. And it’s not a question I feel I can answer, raising money for charity always leaves behind a warm feeling, I’m sure being the owner of a Guinness World record makes you feel pretty awesome, but at the end of the day, it all came down to the nature of Yorkshire or the nurture of Denmark because when I tackled the question ‘Do you what to do a gig half way up base camp?’ I ummed and ahhed for a couple of days, and decided that I just couldn’t say no.
Tom performed the record breaking gig as this issue of Yorkshire Life went to print. Stand up on Everest was staged to raise money for Save the Children, to donate go to standuponeverest.co.uk