Sunday, 23 January 2011

...And as usual the funniest comedian was the bloke running the club...

I can't remember the last time I played The Comedy Cafe. it has to be at least three years, maybe four. It's a shame. I've always enjoyed getting on stage there, even though I never know what I'm going to get from one of London's most unpredictable audiences. It's also one of the city's most iconic venues and is for, me, what a proper alternative comedy club was always supposed to be. It was built down a side street in an unfashionable part (And entrance to) The East End. That the street later gentrified has taken nothing from it. It looks great from the outside, particularly when it's raining, the bright cartoon-style logo a warm welcome on a dreary night.

The Comedy Cafe - please not clearly marked double yellow lines.
Customers are welcomed on arrival, there is a roaring fire in the bar area, a free cloakroom (Well it's a coat rail) and the enormous portions of food that are served represent decent value for money. The stage is well lit and the audience are sat depending on the size of their group at rectangular tables, cafe style. The promoter, Noel, is a legend within the London Circuit for being brash, quirky, short-tempered, flamboyant and often hilarious. He has as many enemies as friends and I don't think he'd have it any other way.

Just like any other old-fashioned comedy club from the "old days" it is also renowned for being "lively".

Thursday night certainly was. I parked up in the demarcated space by the kitchens and went in to be confronted by a near-empty room. Eventually enough tables were filled for us to start and a small audience of not more than forty people began chatting happily to myself (compere for the weekend) and my three partners in crime: Matt Rudge, Geoff Boyz and Rudi Lickwood. Hardly anybody got any material out and it descended into a Jeremy Kyle - like experience where every attempted joke was met with a drunken but happy comment from some table or other. Nobody wants a gig like this every night and it's not what comedy's about but on this occasion it was terrific and everyone left happy. I got in my car and drove home a happy and somewhat relieved man.

Friday was very different. I parked up in my demarcated spot by the kitchens and faced an audience of more like a hundred. The same bill awaited and there was a general air of excitement in the room. I think we all looked forward to getting on stage but it was definitely me first. Just as I was about to start Noel made an announcement from the off-stage microphone "Will the person parked outside the front of the building please come to the bar immediately".

Well that person was me. Rather sheepishly I approached the bar, declared my guilt and he went absolutely spare "Quick! Move it! There's a tow truck outside! You can't park anywhere on the street in Hackney before midnight!". How the bloody hell I had got away with it the night before is beyond me. Fortune would have it that they hadn't got the clamp on when I got there and as I got in the car to move it they simply drove off. I was whisked into a space marked "Private" and ushered back in to start the show.

My opening "set" was a joy. There were comedy gifts all over the front tables, almost to the point of cliche and it seemed like I could do no wrong. I couldn't really - I just had another fabulously enjoyable night. It wasn't perfect and I got a little too comfortable on a couple of occasions and had to to "Get them back" but on the whole, compere and audience were one and for the second night running, everyone had a thoroughly nice time. I backed the car out of my private space a tad gingerly and drove home.

Two down, one to go.

I showed up nice and early on the Saturday and parked in the space marked "Private", feeling rather smug that I effectively had parked illegally on Thursday and got away with it and then for the last two nights had my own special space bang smack in the middle of the city. I swaggered in to shake hands with staff and comedians alike - this was my gig this weekend and I was glad to be alive. The intro music began, I strode on to the stage and got nothing. Nothing. No round of applause, nothing. No cheer. Nothing. It was a capacity crowd. Nothing. Suddenly I was working again, suddenly I really was at The Comedy Cafe. Suddenly I was going to have to prove myself all over again. Suddenly there was heckling - not the nice sort of the first two nights, but the drunken, lascivious, aggressive heckling that only the combination of bastards and alcohol can provide. I quietened them down and got them focussed but it took at least ten minutes and I hardly got a laugh during the whole time I was up there. I put Geoff on. He worked really hard. They liked him but he came off sweating. There was an edge to the room that I had seen so many times before but thought I had left behind. I knew I was going to have to re-invent myself in the next section.

Fortunately, I did. I went on stage with my guitar, didn't bother really engaging the audience and just banged out material as quickly, clearly and efficiently as I could. They talked through the first number, listened to the second then laughed at the third. I'd got them. I'd fucking got them. I didn't waste time. I shot through another couple of gag-heavy ditties and got Matt on. He had to work hard, but he got away with it.

Another break. I walked outside just in time to catch Noel running down the street after a woman who had deposited a bottle on the ground in his view. He was apoplectic. She was to say the least, shocked. He screamed "Lady! Hey Lady!" and bolted after her, blocked her path and shouted into her face "Go back and pick that f***ing bottle up! Don't you f***ing dare drop litter like this. I should call the f***ing police!". Stunned, she walked back to the scene of her enviro-crime, picked up the bottle and as she walked away, attempted a defiant "F*** you!". Big mistake. In front of a now amassed crowd he screamed back "I wouldn't f*** you if you the last f***ing woman on this God-forsaken planet". Men began cheering. He was high-fived. She was a nubile twenty-something in high heels, mini skirt and boob tube. He was a fifty-something gnarled man sporting a fedora and a bad case of bile. It was beautiful and he was completely justified. Then a drunk bloke staggered past and dropped an open two-litre bottle of cider right in front of us. Noel looked round at me, smiled and said "I'm not shouting at him - he's f***ing massive".

Noel Faulkner - on a one-man mission to clean up Rivington Street...
I went back on stage, told one joke and put Rudi on. He had a fantastic gig. Of course he did - the rest of us had done all the hard work earlier on...

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