For the second year running I helped organise the Ha-Ha-Hammersmith benefit for the Lyric Theatre, along with (amongst others) the beautiful and wonderful Janet Ellis, whose influence on my life has been well documented
. This year was bigger and better than last and I think we managed to sell the whole theatre out and raised over Â£11,000, so thanks to all those of you who made it along. Even those in the cheap seats at the top of the theatre.
I was compering the event, the first time I have done anything like this on any major scale and was quite nervous about it. But in the autumn I am hosting some Sunday night comedy shows at the Lyric (full details to follow, but weÂ’ve got some amazing line-ups with acts including Harry Hill, Phill Jupitus, Chris Addison and Lee Mack), so I thought I could do with the practice. Though I have always thought that hosting a comedy night was beyond my capabilities, a few years ago I thought that I couldnÂ’t do stand-up, so I was glad to be pushing myself and forcing myself outside of my comfort zone and it couldnÂ’t be that hardÂ…right?
It was actually a lot of fun and my job was made easier by there being a 12 year old boy on the front row, who I could ask to be my myspace friend and then question whether it was appropriate and try to make laugh by falling over and suggest that he might have an I-Spy book of swear words to fill in Â“Ah tit-wank! ThatÂ’s a rare one!Â” Soon I had settled into it and it was progressing reasonably well and I was getting ruder and more edgy. There were a couple of acts that I hadnÂ’t seen before and I was terrified about forgetting their names when I introduced them. One an annoyingly young and handsome comic called Alfie Brown (which youÂ’d think would be easy to remember, but my brain kept confusing him with another comedian) and a Muslim comedian called Ayesha Hazarika
, which obviously presented more opportunity for fuck-ups. And I didnÂ’t want to appear like the stupid Englishman, unable to cope or comprehend foreign names in this multi-cultural age, so I practised saying it over and over again (because I am a stupid Englishman unable to cope or comprehend with foreign names) and (as with Alfie- proving I am not racist) I also wrote the name on my hand so I had a back up if my mental faculties deserted me. I also double-checked with Ayesha that I was pronouncing it correctly and she lightly mocked me for my concern Â– why should her name be any more difficult to remember? But she did say that one compere had asked her why she didnÂ’t change her name to something more readily identifiable, which made me feel less bad and comparatively unracist.
The intros all went fine and the show was bouncing along with some great performances from all the acts, who were Robin Ince, Russell Howard and Mitch Benn. Then I came on to herald in the interval, feeling relaxed because I had got half-way through this tough assignment without any cock ups. I had drunk most of a bottle of beer to celebrate and swaggered on with the bottle and a bottle for my young friend in the front row, who I reasoned had already seen enough to become a man and so might as well start drinking. I was slightly faltering, the beer kicking into my system rather quickly and then I came to thank everyone who had appeared so far. Â“Please give it up for Robin Ince, AlfieÂ…. BrownÂ”- I had almost forgotten his name which I had now rubbed off my hand and had to think hard to remember it, but of course all that effort and the fear of making a mistake then made me say, Â“AyeshaÂ…Â” and then freeze in fear as I realised I didnÂ’t know what I had to say next. I believe I may have then attempted to make up my own surname with a series of Bub-a-dub-ahs, which clearly did not help rectify my forgetfulness. Luckily, of course everyone laughed, including Ayesha who I could see in the wings, who shouted Â“YouÂ’re a racist!Â”.
Â“I am a racist!Â” I admitted to more laughter and the audience guffawed as I squirmed with middle-class embarrassment and tried to get my way out of this hole I had dug for myself. It was amusing for everyone else and then thankfully the correct surname came back to me and I was able to name check her properly and the whole thing looked like it might have been a skilfully engineered routine. So letÂ’s say that that was what it was.
The second half went better still, with the formidable line-up of Stewart Lee, Jan Ravens and Al Murray. The entertainment was going to be rounded off by Sophie Ellis-Bextor, the equally beautiful off-spring of my teenage crush, Janet. I explained to a slightly uncomfortable audience how much Janet had meant to me as a young man and how she had awakened my sexual awareness, adding that maybe tonight after sheÂ’d seen my filthy comedy act, might be something that she regretted (not that it was exactly her fault, unless she had selected that Nell Gwynne costume with the express purpose of sending my hormones into a spin that they have never managed to escape from). I also went on to do my usual shtick about how the baton had (so to speak) now passed on to Sophie, who was getting me through my mid-life crisis, mother and daughter book-ending the story of my unrequited desire (If I was going to be romantic I would say that this was like the medieval concept of courtly love, but then I donÂ’t think the knights who loved from afar then did embarrassing comedy routines in front of the objects of their affections Â– and they probably stuck to loving one person rather than going for the mother-daughter combo). I also expressed my hope that Sophie might soon have a daughter, who I could fancy when I was 70. The patrons of the Lyric were aghast, but Sophie took it in her stride when she came on and although I didnÂ’t quite hear what she said, someone later told me she had commented that I was Â“small, but mightyÂ” which is good enough for me. I am an inspiration to stalkers everywhere. However unlikely it might seem you can become friends with the celebrities you covert. So never give up with following them around and saying inappropriate things to them. They love it really.
It was a great night. Hope the ones in the autumn are half as much fun.