YOU don’t know me, but I’ve spent the last 24 hours thinking about you. I clocked you early when we were in the holding area, waiting to go into the venue. An odd crowd, I thought. A strange cross-section of the population, my partner remarked. He was right. It’s the sort of crowd you find after a show gets a nomination for a prestigious award. People see a name, and popping along to see what all the fuss is about is a far easier way to make a decision about a show than wading through several hundred pages of the Fringe programme.

So there you were, a man in your 50s, but dressing older. You had the air of someone’s grandfather, I thought. You reminded me of my own grandfather. You were not the sort of person I expected to see there. I raised an eyebrow, and then I checked myself. I was buoyed to see someone like you at a comedy show about intersectional feminism. Zoe Coombs Marr’s show, Trigger Warning. I only realise just how appropriate this name is now.

It was actually the second time I’d been to see the show. I caught it early in the Fringe run and was so wowed by it – by the gravity of the subject matter and its artful execution – that I bought another ticket.

I used to be the comedy editor of an arts magazine, so I’ve seen more shows than I care to count. You probably don’t realise this, but in a festival and an industry where almost every act is a man between 20 and 40 standing on the stage telling jokes, a woman finding a space to call attention to the darker side of that is a rarity. As a woman and a comedy fan, it’s rare that you can directly transpose yourself into the material – so often we’re still the butt of the joke. It was only 20 minutes into my first show of the Fringe that I grimaced through another poorly executed rape joke. It was refreshing to find a show that made those sorts of jokes well – calling attention to the problem rather than making fun of the victims. That’s why I went a second time.

There was an odd vibe in the room from the word go. I could see you, pursed lipped, arms folded, grumbling to who I can only presume was your wife. You didn’t seem to get what was funny about a queer female comedian, dressed as a man, delivering chauvinist lines and bemoaning the silencing of male voices by internet feminists – and that’s okay. You don’t have to find that funny – but you were still an audience member. When you buy a ticket and turn up to a show, you enter into an agreement with the act. You will sit, and you will listen, and if you don’t like it, you don’t clap. That’s it.

You don’t talk through the show. You don’t be rude to the act. You don’t wilfully derail someone else’s art just because it’s not to your taste. A man of your age should have the self-awareness to realise you are just one person in a room with 70 others who paid to see that show, without your input. You were not the act who was nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award. No matter how witty your comeback seemed in your head, it would never compare to a year of writing, practice and skilful execution.

This wasn’t a straight stand-up show either. It was a surreal non-linear performance piece that required all of our concentration to follow. It’s not the sort of thing you could zone out of and come back to without missing something essential to the narrative. That’s why I thought it was exceptionally brave that Zoe momentarily broke character for a little bit of crowd work during a costume change. That tiny feedback window could make or break the hour.

“What do you do for a living?”

The first guy she spoke to wasn’t up for participating. Tough crowd, I thought. Some nights are just like that. And then she spoke to you. Unhappy audience member number two, one row in, right of the aisle. We all looked at you, jaw set, arms clenched around yourself, visibly irked.

“What do you do, sir?”

You bristled. Out of the whole room, she’d picked you. This was your moment to shine. This was your opportunity to show everyone else in the room how unfunny this sort of feminist comedy about lazy gendered jokes, sexism and working in a male-dominated industry really was. This was your opportunity to kill the atmosphere with a bullet of truth that would snatch back some of the power you’d ceded when you, a man, walked through the door of that show and found yourself on the receiving end of the critique for once.

You said it, and it worked. There was an audible, collective intake of breath, and then a stunned silence. Did you really say that? Here? My heart thrummed, because you didn’t stop, and every fibre of my being wanted to tell you how awful what you said was. You were going to say more – but she outwitted you. In a single beat she’d caught you out, and took the room with her. She used that spiteful, violent thing you said as fuel for the remainder of the show, skilfully weaving three call-backs into her material.

Your words are a reminder of why we need more women’s voices in comedy. Why we need more shows like this that draw attention to the imbalance and the ever-present threat of gendered aggression when you dare to point out a problem – and not just in comedy.

It was a simple question. A cliched filler piece for a bit of comic relief, and you blew it. You could have ruined the night for everyone, wasting their time and their money, if it wasn’t for Zoe’s skill. You didn’t think about that, and that is exactly what the show was about.

It was a simple question.

“What do you do, sir?”

“If I told you, I would have to slit your throat.”