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Wednesday 9th April 2014

4154/17073

I was at Broadcasting House at 10am to record an interview for a show about the history of radio comedy. This week host Grace Dent was looking at the 1990s and I was joined by the producer we worked with on most of our early shows, Scary Sarah Smith (she's not that scary, that's a reference to one of the Lionel Nimrod credits). I haven't seen Sarah for a few years and I think we were both mildly terrified and depressed to realise that the work we'd done was now part of history and that we had first worked together 24 years ago. It's almost to the day, in fact, something I know because just before I left I burrowed down into a box in the attic and discovered my old scrapbook of scripts, stand up flyers, tickets and reviews that I had kept diligantly for the first few months of my career and then less diligantly for the next few and then pretty much stopped. It's a sweet, though mildly tragic document that bears witness to my self-regard and insecurity all at the same time. Mainly littered with brief descriptions of gigs that have gone badly or that I am trying to convine myself went well. Here's a random example from April 12th 1990 "Mackenzies - Twickenham. Got 20 minutes because Stu couldn't do it and gave it to me. The audience was a bit thick and rowdy and started heckling after about 5 minutes I quelled them a bit but barely lasted 15 minutes in all. Not really my fault and I got £50 so not so bad. Everyone struggled. May get another one there, but I'm not sure."

But on April 20th after a couple of weeks of going into the Weekending open writers' meeting (and for the first time with Stew) we got a sketch on, thanks to the assistant producer Sarah Smith who I say "is keen to use us". The topical sketch is fairl incomprehensible now, but consists of an advert for Lithuania (had they just joined the EU? Are they part of it now?) and involved jokes about the national dish being potato and the national sport being potato and manufacturers of novelty car stickers (eg "My other car is a Lada also") Not great stuff, but possibly our first paid comedy writing work.

And here 24 years later, those fresh-faced your idiots sat battered by time and having had the hope knocked out of them, trying to remember details of meetings and shows they had mainly forgotten. We worked so hard back then and it all seemed so important. That comedy corridor fizzed with ideas and rivalries and secret trysts and trysts that people thought were secret, but weren't and crazy old BBC characters like Jonathan James Moore and Harry Thompson, both sadly dead now. I talked about hiding in crates to escape Weekending and how we ended up writing for On The Hour and that lost classic "That's Wiggins Yard". It's bitter sweet to remember it all. We were such young idiots and things moved at a bewildering pace and we had a lot of fun. But I was sad a lot of that time too. I described the mixed emotions of realising that 16 Langham St and the old LE dept had been demolished. It was nice to see Sarah again and we had a coffee, with no real need to talk about old times as we'd just done that in a recording studio, but looking forward to what we might do next. Her, Stewart and me had all been quite cock sure about comedy and had discussed things into the ground and she had been a hard task master, but she was passionate and supportive and Lionel Nimrod was only made into a series because she threatened to resign if it wasn't.

I wonder where we'll be in another 24 years. I have a good idea where I'll be after the 24 years after that.

The 1990s were amazing times for comedy... we have become what we once parodied. And we've become old. But we are still here, even if the Weekending writer's room has been smashed to bits and crushed into dust and those crates I once hid in are consigned to land-fill.

Was the prize we fought for even worth the winning?

Ultimately I think it probably was. I am very proud that we're all still making our way in this business. Older, but maybe not much wiser.



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My new stand up show, Lord of the Dance Settee will be touring from October 2014 to May 2015 All details here.
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