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Sunday 16th November 2008

Lee and Herring performed on stage together tonight for only the second time in the last nine and a half years. It was quite a nerve-wracking day. Neither of us were on top physical form. I was still vertiginous and Stew showed me (and later the audience) the impressive infection on his leg, which although much better than it had been was still quite nasty. As I later said at the end of the first half of the show, "Coming Up, the 1990s double act, Dizzy and Scabby!" Had we tried to invent something to symbolise the passage time and the transience of youth then we couldn't have done much better.
I have to say that it was amazing for Stew to do this gig. Not only due to being ill and a bit befuddled by his medication, but also because he starts filming his new TV series first thing on Monday morning. I had given him the opportunity to pull out and reschedule, but he had insisted on doing it, not wanting to let people down.
Due to our busy schedules we only had today to put our act together, which was somewhat nerve-wracking and even though this had been the case when we did Tedstock, but there was possibly more pressure on us today, as that was not ostensibly a Lee and Herring gig. I was worried that despite constantly stating that this was not the case, that people would be expecting us to do all the TMWRNJ characters. Were people going to be disappointed, some of whom had paid over £100 for a pair of tickets on ebay?
But we'd had a few ideas to add to the few routines that we remember from 10 years ago. I came up with an opening where I would look at Stew and say "Old Mr Lee, Old Mr Lee, can Stewart come out to play?" I wasn't sure if Stew would be up for this, but he went for it and it got a huge laugh on the night, Stew able to stand looking at me, befuddled and bemused before explaining that he was Stewart. "You're not Stewart Lee," I was to continue, "Stewart Lee was young and handsome and thin and brown haired. He had the body of an ox and the face of a Sphinx! You have the body of a Sphinx and the face of an ox!"
The Lee and Herring Herring clearly thought that only a day had passed since we'd been on TV, but then Stew led me to a mirror and allowed me to see that I too was ravaged by age and I fell to my knees cursing God for making me this way.
The other new idea, was for me to encourage Stew to try and be outrageous as possible, like Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross so that we could get suspended and get on TV. Though this made no logical sense I managed to adlib a justification by saying given that we had been suspended from being on TV before, if we were suspended again then two negatives would make a positive and we'd get back on.
I also pointed out how outrageous we had been on live TV a decade ago, much more outrageous than Ross and Brand. I had talked about having sex with owls, drinking the milk of Jesus and encouraged the nation to bully an actual 3 year old child, Morris Mitchener, because he was scared of Peter Pan. Which, I think in some ways might be on a par with Manuelgate. I then told the audience to look him up on Facebook and carry on the bullying (but don't do that). We really did get away with some amazing stuff, mainly, I think, because no one at the BBC was really aware that we existed.
Anyway, we got a rough script together and then had to head down to the Lyric to rehearse and sort out the unusually complex show. TV's Emma Kennedy had put together a band, with a mystery celebrity dancing gimp, whose identity has already caused much speculation, but which can never be revealed. She is like Kendo Nagasaki. It wasn't Kendo Nagasaki though. Or was it?
Although I was going to insist at the top of the show that there would be no crows and no oranges (the original Curious Orange head having been thrown away by the BBC), Paul Putner had spent his entire fee putting together an amazing Davros/Orange costume and had brought a smoke machine and CD mixing the Dr Who and Curious Orange music and had written a script about what the strange fruit had been up to since. Stew and me didn't get to hear any of that until the actual performance though.
Trevor Lock with his tiny face and his impossible youthful looks (he must have a portrait in his attic as he looks identical to the small-faced boy of ten years ago) was also doing some stand up. Richard Thomas had had to drop out due to a commitment in Los Angeles and the actor Kevin Eldon had decided he didn't want to come and do any new stuff, for fear that people would shout out old catchphrases at him. It's a shame as I don't think this would have happened, but can understand the fear about going back. It was a fear that Stew and me were also experiencing in slightly different measures. But we decided to keep it loose and mess about and try and trip each other up. The rehearsal on stage though felt a bit light and empty and again we worried that we would be a disappointment to the 550 people who had rushed to buy tickets four months ago.
But the Lyric gigs, this season especially, have all been amazing and this was no exception. The crowd were almost salivating with expectation and we didn't end up doing a Sarah Silverman. In fact given that most of the audience had paid only ten or fifteen pounds, they did get a lot of value for money. The first half was around 70 minutes and the second half stretched to more like 90, as what we had anticipated would be a ten to fifteen minute double act segment, stretched to over thirty. It was maybe not quite as exciting for us as Tedstock had been, partly because we didn't have the novelty we had had then, plus the burden of expectation, plus it had been a long and tiring day and both of us were a little under the weather. But what is astonishing is how easily we slipped back into the dynamic and how even though 50% of what we said was made up we still understood instinctively when one of us was going to say something and allowed each other space to do it. We had enormous fun and it felt good to be making Lee laugh with my cheeky asides, just as he was making me laugh with his sarcastic deconstructions of our surprisingly bestiality obsessed act. I believe that a shaky camcorder version of the act will be appearing on YouTube at some point in the future. The return of the Davros/Curious Orange made a very fitting finale.
The audience certainly seemed to be satisfied that we hadn't short-changed them. There was a massive round of applause for us as we staggered off, dazed and shell-shocked.
I agreed to store Paul's Davros body (made out of some kind of painted bin) in my house, just in case we were going to do something with all this again. So I ended up walking home, carrying this light, but cumbersome object with me. It certainly seemed to sum up show business. One minute you're up there with people laughing and applauding and the next you're carrying a big plastic bin sideways on your head whilst walking down the dark lonely streets of Hammersmith.
It's lovely to know that the double act can still work and it's still there, but it's also rather lovely that it's almost a secret thing, something that neither of us are desperate to resuscitate on a major scale, but that can bring such pleasure to 550 nerds who are in on the secret. We were really good. Better than some of the people who have done better than us. Unlucky in some ways that that wasn't ever really acknowledged, but also lucky in a way. Five years ago I was angry that something with so much potential had been stymied by circumstance and misfortune, but nowadays I realise that all that matters is that we were good and we know that we were good and so do a select group of supporters. We could always come back to do the double act through necessity or choice, but it's actually slightly cooler that we probably aren't going to, but can return to it and have a laugh as an when we feel like it.
Nice to step back to the 90s for a few minutes. It was, I have to say, very weird waiting in the wings as Emma and the band played the TMWRNJ theme tune...
And looking at our audience, largely of people in their mid to late 20s I did comment that we could turn this into a kind of stage version of that 7 Up documentary, just getting together once every decade and seeing each other age.

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