I remember being 18 when Jamie Andrew – the other Jamie Andrew – was in the papers following a mountaineering accident in France. Naturally, I cut the headlines from the front pages and selotaped them to my wall – as you would. Jamie lost his limbs – and his friend – when a snowstorm hit as he was scaling Mount Blanc He was lucky to survive, and paid a high price for it.
Many years later I set up a website to showcase various writing projects and found that I couldn’t use my own name as the domain for the site, because the rather more famous Jamie Andrew had nabbed it. Once everything was up and running I tried googling myself, only to find that I was probably somewhere on page 6,532,000 in the rankings thanks to my brave namesake. I called my website ‘The Magic Torch’ to get around the problem.
Another few years passed. I started playing on the Scottish stand-up circuit as an open spot, which I still am, and reflected on the impossibility of gaining recognition because of the Jamie Andrew situation. There was no malice in this, but I thought I could put together a darkly humorous set by acting like the kind of person who would personally and childishly object to finding his promise of ‘fame’ snatched away from him..
I’d hoped that my on-stage rant would be taken with a pinch of salt, given that it’s very over-the-top and cartoonish. I wanted the audience to realise that being jealous of a quadruple amputee and coveting his fame instantly turned me into an incredibly tragic figure, and certainly not one to be admired. I’d hoped that the laughter would ultimately come not at the other Jamie’s expense, but at mine. Because it was so blatantly pathetic and ridiculous. And because the set wouldn’t be funny at all if the other Jamie wasn’t braver, more noble, more decent and a stronger human being than me. Otherwise I really would just be having a pop at a disabled guy.
I’m not trying to claim that the jokes are somehow devilishly subtle and provide a profound statement on the human condition, or that I’m some angry genius savant, or any guff like that. I’m an amateur stand-up who does coarse and often sick jokes. Tongue-in-cheek, but hardly Hicks.
I only say all of this because tonight I performed my set to an audience which I later discovered included some of Jamie’s relatives. Statistically, it was inevitable that one day this would happen. I’ve always defended my set on the grounds outlined above, but this is harder to do when you’re faced with people who have been directly affected by the issues you’re joking about, and love the person around whom they revolve. I suppose it’s easy to think of a person in the abstract; not really existing outside of a comedy routine.
Well, there was nothing abstract about being advised to sit upstairs to ensure my physical safety after one of Jamie’s relatives became understandably angry. I felt like Salmand Rushdie.
I know I should probably stick with the old maxim, ‘Never complain, never explain,’ but I felt the need to explain that although I tread a fine line in my set I’ve never regarded the other Jamie with anything less than complete awe and respect. I’ve also read his book, which is both heart-wrenching and inspirational in equal measure.
And let’s not forget that – given the amount of time I’ve spent talking about him in my set, – without him: I’d be nothing.