Nobody died – and nobody left.
12 days ago I was sitting on a bench in Soho, London when I was plucked from obscurity and put on stage as a Stand-Up comedian in central London by the great man of comedy himself, Arthur Smith.
Here’s an excerpt from my debut performance
Arthur had been my unpredictable but hilarious teacher on the Greek island of Skyros a couple of months ago and we’d kept in touch.
We were sitting outside Cafe Boheme in Old Compton Street. He ordered a plate of snails and said,
“Oy Jeff” for that is what he calls me, “you’ve got a gig on November 20th if you want”.
“Really? Is that 2015 or 2016?” I ask nervously, never having performed Stand-Up comedy in my life
“It’s sometime next week” he replies between mouthfuls of garlicky molluscs and dropping coins into the stretched out hand of yet another passing beggar.
“Pe-lent-y of time” I heard myself say.
What I thought is unprintable.
After lunch, and having given what looked like his entire income to passing tramps, some of whom I suspected were on a repeat circuit, Arthur walked me to a famous dressing-up shop where I bought a ball and chain, handcuffs and a moustache/beard. Read on to find out why.
Fast forward 8 days to last Thursday, and I am waiting to go on stage upstairs at ‘The Camden Head’ in Islington. Angel Comedy is a very popular venue where leading lights such as Dara O Briain, Lucy Porter and Rob Newman play from time to time, as well as Arthur of course. I was very nervous but thought it would look more daft to run away across North London in my sparkly glad rags than face the crowd. Quite a big crowd. Also I didn’t want to let Arthur down. I was to be the third act out of six. Like Henry VIII’s Jane Seymour who did die but at least she didn’t get the chop. That would be something at least.
A few mates who turned up at very short notice were sitting bright eyed and squiffy in the front row. They are used to me making a fool of myself – now they were going to get to enjoy other people seeing the same thing. I got changed in the ‘Dressing Room’ where I narrowly avoided getting flattened against the wall every time someone came in to do a pee.
At 8.45pm I walked onto the stage into the spotlight wearing my mother’s old sequined jacket and my husband’s 1970’s hippy tie (if hippies had worn ties). My props were a portable easel and sketchpad as well as felt markers. I’d decided against the false beard and handcuffs. After all, they were only a pointer to another stage cartoonist – now behind bars. ROLF bad, ROFL good I thought.
My stepdaughter’s ex is an entertainer and advised me not to turn my back to the audience for long by drawing on stage. As a result, I’d prepared a few pictures earlier and the only drawing from scratch was done by the person I brought on stage who “couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler”. I proved to her that she actually could.
A young women agreed to film me with my iphone which ran out of memory two thirds of the way through my set. She filmed the rest with her phone so am hoping she sends it to me one day. Hello Becky, I hope you see this.
Barry Ferns, a Richard Branson lookalike with his own engaging act, is the resident MC and was very welcoming. He might have mistaken me for his gran, which is fine by me as I didn’t have to haul a barstool upstairs by myself to rest the easel on.
When it was all over, it was past my bedtime. The thrill of performing and getting a fantastic response from the audience and my friends as well as Arthur made it all worthwhile. I was covered in glory and a fine sweat smelling vaguely of rum and coke. My friend poured me into a taxi and we went the scenic route back to her place to crash.
£24 later, her husband made toast and marmite for us and in the morning they ran around in circles yelling and rushed out of the door trailing daughter, bag and games kit in time for school.
We dodged the traffic and I sprinted down the platform onto a train out of Paddington. (Never did see that bear though).
If you saw a bedraggled but happy looking woman holding a very large, black, scuffed portfolio with a broken handle and a big smile on her face last Friday morning, that was me.
Ah, out of the limelight and back to reality.
Isn’t life funny