What I love about my life is that after a very dull week, where I hardly stepped out of the house and could think of nothing to write about apart from a herbal tea that looks like wee, suddenly I get to do something extraordinary.
Tonight I was booked to do an extract from Talking Cock
at the Theo Fennel Christmas Party. No, I'd never heard of him either, but it turns out he is a swanky jeweller with posh premises on the Fulham Road. Each year he throws a bash for a select group of customers. I knew Elton John was going to be there.
Now, I would usually have turned a gig like this down, because it was extremely unlikely to work - come on and do 20 to a group of people who are in the middle of dinner and have no idea who I am. It was really bound to fail. It was bound to be embarrassing.
But recently I have started to think I should say yes to stuff that I would usually turn down. Just for the experience. If nothing else it will give me something to write about in Warming Up
I have to say that I am delighted I agreed to do it, though, at the same time, all my expectations of failure were confirmed.
I arrived early for my sound check. My fear was that I would offend people with my cock talk, but Theo and his wife Louise ( who proudly showed me her - I think fake- diamond encrusted earrings. The one on her right lobe said "RICH" and the one on the left read "CUNT") and they both encouraged me to be as outrageous as possible. They'd had Puppetry of the Penis
a couple of years ago. So I thought that maybe it would be OK.
That afternoon they had belatedly invited me to the actual party. I had considered going in what I was wearing (jeans and a crappy shirt), thankfully I dressed up a bit, because it was all very showy. I had been waiting upstairs for the party to start and when I came down nearly everyone was there. It was a fairly intimidating room of people to be in. The first person I saw was Posh Spice. Also there was Tim Rice, Lulu and Elaine Stritch. I had met Lulu before on the Steve Wright show, so tried to talk to her, but although she was polite enough it was clear she had better people to talk to. So for a while I was just standing alone on my own, not really knowing what to do. It was weird on a number of levels, mainly from a performance point of view, because you don't generally meet the audience before the gig, or have dinner with them. Elaine Stritch noticed me on my own and said I could chat to her and Janet Street Porter and another woman.
Then one of the women from the shop grabbed me and said "Have you met Lulu?" I could see Lulu's heart sink as she said "Yes!" She was forced to talk to me again. Her and some other lady draped in jewels started discussing the trinkets in the cabinets. The other lady pointed out two earrings which were essentially just two enormous diamonds. She pointed out that they were different shapes, one slightly squarer, one more rectangular. I said, "So if I bought you those as a present you'd be annoyed by the shape differential?" and she said she might be. I later found out the ear-rings cost £120,000. I was feeling more and more out of place, but it was all making me laugh to myself. It was such an alien experience. One week a Dr Who signing, the next hob-nobbing with the posh nobs. Tim Rice was nice enough to talk to me and introduced me to a bloke who said, "I'm Maurice
.. Saatchi." And so it was.
We got called over to dine. Luckily I was sitting next to Elaine Stritch who had already been friendly and Emma Freud, who I have met before. Also on my table were Elton and his partner David Furnish, Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Hurley (not together) and turning up a bit late Sarah Fergusson. I know this sounds like name-dropping, but really it wasn't something that greatly excited me to be in the same room as these people. It was just surreal and frightening to think I would shortly be talking about men sucking their own cocks to them all. Plus there were only 30 people there, a very difficult number to perform to (especially in a well-lit room) as everyone is worried about being the only one laughing at the rude stuff.
Talking to Elaine Stritch was fantastic though. She is a very ballsy and eccentric lady, but I think she warmed to me (although she said she didn't like the sound of my show and that she was going to leave before I went on). She asked me what I thought had happened to Robin Williams, and we exchanged theories on comedy. She was very modest about her recent West End success and clearly vulnerable in the way that most comedians are.
Emma Freud was also extremely pleasant and somehow I was telling her about my whole life and past and present girlfriends within seconds of the conversation starting. But then I was nervous and had drunk champagne.
As pudding was being served, I waited to go on and talked to some of the staff. They asked me if I was nervous. I said I couldn't really lose, because even if all that happened was that I managed to appal Posh Spice then I had achieved something.
The gig, as predicted, went tits up. They weren't really up for it at all, got a few laughs early on, but it wasn't really working. I shuffled around from foot to foot (always a bad sign) and looked round the room at the slightly uncomfortable faces of some of our best loved actors and musicians. After talking about erectile dysfunction I said "You're still standing aren't you Elton? Better than you ever did. Well that's Viagra for you." It didn't go down especially well. People made little appalled noises. It felt very like doing a speech at a wedding. In fact it felt like doing a speech at the wrong wedding, to a group of strangers. Elton started talking in the middle. That was the signal to everyone else that I had failed.
Afterwards the staff tried to comfort me, in the way that people do when a gig has gone badly, saying that it was funny and sorry that people didn't laugh much. It was embarrassing. One guy told me Elaine Stritch had hung around at the back and listened to some of it and had clearly been appalled. That was a shame. Richard Curtis came up and said some nice things to me, and when I went back to the table Emma Freud said it had been great. But she was just being nice. I sat there for a bit, feeling doubly out of place now, with a few nods and acknowledgments from the others, but mainly being ignored. I thought I'd better leave.
I was laughing to myself all the way home in the cab, feeling a mixture of humiliation and pride and also "what the hell was that all about?!" Posh Spice had stared at me blankly, yet astonished all the way through (which Emma Freud has noted as quite an achievement). And though I really had expected it to be like that and though I outwardly didn't care (it certainly didn't make me think that the material wasn't funny. After all 700 people in the Bloomsbury had liked nearly exactly the same thing just last week) it is interesting that it still kind of got to me. Dying isn't very nice and being a comedian there's no way round it really. You're meant to make people laugh. If they don't, then you have failed. It was in a way like some of those early gigs I was talking about the other day. You go home, alone and have to deal with it. Which is one of the points that Elaine Stritch had been making.
I couldn't get to sleep.
It was fascinating though to see how the other half live and to meet the kind of people who will readily spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on some ear-rings. I felt very out of place. I didn't belong. It was probably the nearest I have come to being a jester in the royal court. And Elton John was the Queen.