The good, bad and completely out of touch
Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash
When I was single and living in London, if you can call New Barnet, London, I used to enjoy comedy nights out. A friend in Chiswick, not single, used me as his Saturday night ticket occasionally, for beer and laughter. He/they are still together and I haven’t watched live comedy in years.
Strange therefore, to be sitting here, reflecting on my last two Saturday evenings, which featured a bevy of professional comedians.
Last Saturday was organised by one of Mrs H’s bezzie mates. It turned out to be an extraordinary, smorgasbord of comedy talent at The Bearcat Comedy Club in St Margarets, near Twickenham. Our friends, regular imbibers, said we’d hit a rich vein with the polished performances of the five acts on the bill. Even Paul Merryck, a 50 something year old man from Essex, with a love for beer, football and sex, was finding success in the open mic spot. And all for no pay.
It’s a tough business
In some respects, Paul spoilt what I remember as one of the highlights of every comedy evening. The open mic spot is the opportunity for someone new to see whether their material, hilarious when they wrote it at the kitchen table, really does tickle the funny bone of a live audience. An audience, which typically becomes less tolerant as the evening progresses. Awkward, uncomfortable silences rarely go unpunished, often followed quickly with a heckle. If the newbie doesn’t destroy the heckler with some aplomb, accompanied by laughter, the end of the gig and possibly a career in comedy has suddenly come a lot closer.
One night at the Comedy Store in central London, I witnessed a comedian getting his first big break, open with a joke in a Geordie accent which was worse than mine. I’m still confused as to why he thought it was a good idea? The heckler was of the same opinion. He started to argue which is never smart. And in less than a minute he was gone to huge cheers from the baying crowd, his only reward the ringing in his ears from a delighted audience reminding him not to come back anytime soon.
The next up, a regular seasoned professional, couldn’t believe his luck. He waited until he had complete silence, looked quizzically at the audience for a few more seconds, before delivering the immortal words, “I don’t know about you, but I thought that last act was fxxxxxx shit.”
The crowd loved it and cheered with delight at this obvious fact. He had them eating out of his hand from there on. His cruel, unnecessary, stating of the obvious, had given him a leg-up to demonstrate what was needed. The audience at least deserved someone who could make them laugh and he was it.
Visits to the Comedy Store or Jongleurs were rare. We preferred the less well trodden boards of the Cartoon in Clapham (no more) and other smaller pub venues, north and south of the river.
Standards varied and it was commonly expected, that you would experience one or two poor performances. Hence my surprise, when the 4 pros last Saturday, all delivered very funny sets, with such ease.
Topping the bill was Seann Walsh, the now infamous Strictly celebrity, caught kissing his married dance partner, while also in a relationship. He apparently, managed to keep Brexit off the front page of The Sun for 11 days. It’s only recently, three years after all the unwanted exposure, that he’s returned to the comedy circuit, to start rebuilding.
He was good, but I preferred the two earlier acts, slightly older, at least in outlook, who both explored lockdown, work drying up overnight, only to find they’d been drafted as house husbands, while partners focused on the breadwinning. It probably kept them sane through some of the darker times, that the antics with their toddlers, would at some point in the future, pay dividends again.
The common theme for all, was funniness through observation and experience.
Let’s do the time warp again
Two Saturdays ago, Mrs H and I, found ourselves at the Copthorne Tara in Kensington, for the Middlesex Golf Dinner and Awards. I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond dressing up in black tie, only to find out on arrival that it wasn’t anymore. Not to worry. Mrs H looked gorgeous and I happily sported my fuchsia bow tie and velvet jacket like a proper dandy.
Perhaps the change of dress code was a reflection of more modern times in county golfing circles? Part of me wouldn’t have been surprised to see prawn cocktail, overcooked steak and Black Forest gateau washed down with a discerning glass of Blue Nun (a Liebfraumilch, a little on the sweet side, made popular in the 1970s). Not a bit of it. The dinner, including my vegetarian option, had been updated but there was alas, no dance to follow.
Bob The Cat Bevan
Instead we were invited to enjoy the witty repartee of Bob The Cat Bevan, our host, after dinner speaker and MBE, who intervened with alarming regularity in-between the awards. The organiser, poor man, who must have booked Bob, was presumably delighted to be the butt of his ramblings.
I’d heard his gravelly tones years ago on Radio 5 Live’s, 606 phone in, discussing the results from the afternoon’s football programme. His love and knowledge of the sport, not a reflection of any professional duties as a goalkeeper, but his ability to present, and more youthful times spent in amateur football.
His act might have stuck to more asides like the one I found on his web site.
I have a golf handicap of 27, but have often been mistaken for a 28.
Instead, he reminded me more of early stand-up. Not quite The Comedians, a 1971, ITV show featuring funny men in dickie bows, who relied on sexist and racist gags for their laughs, but a repertoire which finds humour at home with the hypothetical long suffering wife, mother-in-law and everyone’s failing health. It’s a style of manufactured, insincere, misogynistic nonsense, designed to grab laughs, which should be long forgotten.
Whenever he entered the bedroom, which he insisted on doing several times, there were noticeable groans and palpable wincing as we waited long-sufferingly to be let down gently. Can we just get this over and done with, please.
We needn’t have worried. He’s an affable old gentleman with the loveable, long face of a bloodhound, whose act remains unchanged since the 1980’s and will no doubt continue as is, while events insist on hiring him.
His life expectancy performing at a comedy club, would be short. But in fairness to Bob, why would he want to perform in the scout hut behind the pub, with a bunch of other comedians?
He’s more comfortable, grasping at straws, performing to a narrowing minority. A harmless homage to the good old days, where punchlines like, ….so I hired a little Kenyan, used to bring the house down.
It still got more than it deserved.