Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Comedians Annual (month late) Christmas Party

Many, many years ago some comedians in London decided to have a party in the upstairs room of The Comedy Cafe in mid January. The owner, Noel, was very obliging and enjoyed taking all the money they had made at Christmas parties. This became an annual event. I first went along in (I think) 1996. It was a bijou affair - maybe fifty of us max and what a roll call! Jo Brand, Jools Holland, Matt Lucas, Ed Byrne, Brendon Burns, Hattie Hayridge, Jeff Green, Alan Davies, Al Murray, Terry Alderton - the list goes on. My brother and I beat Ben Elton and Dave Thompson at table football. It was smashing and went on well into the early hours. Then for some reason or other I managed not to go for another eleven years. Things had changed. Now the upstairs of the comedy cafe was a huge sprawling bar and there weren't about fifty professional comedians there, oh no. They had been replaced by about three hundred and fifty "Open Spots" marching up to strangers with their CVs, reciting their achievements to anyone who would listen and handing out business cards. The smattering of old pros that were there were cowering in corners, desperately trying to have a good time in the midst of what had become some sort of sales conference. Over the last few years things finally came to a head and this year it was decided (reluctantly) to move the party from The Comedy Cafe and to try and get it back to what it had been before.

This inevitably has pissed a few people off and certainly it was a relief to be "on the list" when the invites went out. The conditions were quite clear this year - you are NOT invited unless you make a living out of stand up comedy, or words to that effect - and what a difference it made. I must apologise if this blog sounds a bit snooty (it won't for long - things always quickly fall apart where I'm concerned).

The party was last night. I got the train from Letchworth at 6.59pm, alighted at Finsbury Park, jumped straight on a Piccadilly Line train to Piccadilly Circus itself and then walked up and down Shaftesbury Avenue half a dozen times regularly walking past people who looked a bit like comedians until I eventually found the little doorway with "Century" above it and strolled in. (The people in the story from now on are all comedians or comedy promoters or the such like). I walked up the first flight of stairs behind Steve Best who said  "Hello mate! I must have walked up and down Shaftesbury Avenue half a dozen times trying to find this place". As we signed in, Wayne Saunders walked up behind us and said "Hello guys! I must have walked up and down Shaftesbury Avenue half a dozen times trying to find this place". The party was on the roof terrace (4th floor), we signed in and decided to walk it, rather than take the lift. By the top we were all out of breath and decided to take the lift in future. I'd figured showing up a couple of hours after the thing officially started should be ample time to not be the only one there. Oh no - we walked in to a sparsely populated "Outside" that was in fact "Inside". Susan Murray (organiser) had enlisted Wendy Wason (Mover and shaker) to find us a venue where smoking would be possible. She came up trumps. Century's roof terrace is built literally on its roof and you can sit next to the chimneys. It is walled on all sides, has heaters and a fantastic canvas "temporary" roof thus making it completely inside but also legally outside, which means there were ash trays in it. It was like being back at school. We sat grinning from ear to ear as various people who hadn't been able to have a fag inside for over three years lit up and loved it. I remarked that if the outside was really like this, I would be an "Outdoors" person. We weren't alone for long.

I shall briefly try and list the people I spoke to and my apologies to any I left out:

Neil Macfarlane
Steve Best
Paul Sinha (We talked about Biggleswade)
Wayne Saunders
Paul Rickets
Verity Welch
Dan Evans (Refreshingly clean-shaven)
Ian Moore
Miles Crawford (Who wears "Beckham" - pass it on)
A woman I don't know but everyone else did.
Jo Caulfield (We talked Psychobilly)
Marian Pashley (We talked Shakespeare)
An American woman that I managed to piss off within seconds of meeting her.
Simon Houlihan (Good friend) with his lovely girlfriend Trudi.
Katherine Webb (She informed me she had walked across half of Spain with one buttock)
Pierre Hollins
Jo Jo Smith
Pete Jonas (We talked about his Edinburgh infamy)
Ron Vaudry (Briefly)
Richard Herring (More briefly)
Peter Graham (Exceptionally briefly)
Hattie Hayridge (We had our annual hug)
George Egg (We talked beards, I think)
David Whitney (Who wasn't drinking but still sounded drunk)
A very nice man in a hat who is a mate of David Whitney
Timandra Harkness
Keith Dover
Rob Heeney (who wants to watch women undress in my flat in a couple of weeks)
Susan Murray (We swore at each other a lot)

By the time I had finished talking to them I had also consumed a very large amount of red wine at a fiver a glass (with tip) and knew that if I was going to get home on the train I would have to leave around midnight-ish. I bade my farewells, spoke at the top of the stairs to Ben Norris for quite a long time about I-know-not-what, descended the huge amount of steps, walked outside, realised I hadn't got my coat, ran (RAN!) back up the huge amount of steps, talked to Ben again, picked up my coat and then got persuaded not to go home at all but to go round to The Pheonix Arts Club with Susan and a few of the later-night revellers. Several of them all said I could stay at theirs (I was bound to miss the last train) but I took up Susan's offer of a couch I could sleep on as she's on the Victoria Line so I wouldn't find it too taxing to get home the next day.

We walked to The Phoenix. It was by now pissing down with rain. I bought Susan a drink by way of thanking her for the offer of the couch. She then promptly fucked off to God-only-knew-where. I hit the vodka and sodas and talked at greater length to those who had carried on the party - namely (I think)

Rob Heeney
David Whitney
Jo Caulfield
Neil Macfarlane
Pete Jonas
Some others

I think we left when it shut. The problem is, I don't know when it shut. What I do know is that several people offered me a couch for the night (In Susan's continued absence) but I had (by now) belligerently decided that I would get the first train home from Kings Cross as none of them were handily placed for me to get back there in the morning. They got in taxis and on night buses and I began walking in entirely the wrong direction in the deluge.

Kings Cross is not handily placed when you are absolutely sure you know where you are going but you are in fact wrong.

I walked for well over an hour, at one point stopping in a red phone box to get out of the rain. There were lots of prostitutes cards in there. I called one of them to see if she could help with directions. She couldn't. All she could tell me was where she was. Fat lot of good that was - I was trying to find Kings Cross, for crying out loud. I hung up. I carried on going wrong until I came to Chancery Lane tube station. Since it was a good distance due East of where I had begun and Kings Cross was a good distance due North from where I had begun, I cracked and hailed a black cab. I got to Kings Cross at 5.06am. The first train back was 5.45am. I got a coffee and spilt it all the way up and down platform 8 on my way to platform 10b and collapsed onto a surprisingly comfortable seat, waking up an hour and a quarter later at my stop - very fortunate indeed. It was still throwing it down so I got a cab home as well. To be honest with you, my legs had gone.

When I woke up today I had blisters on both heels and a nagging suspicion that I had probably upset a lot of people. I'll keep you posted*

* This from Rob Heeney in response to the above (it may be the first of several):
"Your memory is clearly letting you down, sir ....
I dragged you out of Balans ages before it closed. You were heading back to mine with me when you took a massive strop at the cab driver for charging £25 to Crouch End (which is actually a decent deal) and stormed off into the night"


  1. I imagine Karen O is the American you upset. Wayne's surname is Saunders. I don't remember offering you a sofa for the night, I must've been hammered. I vaguely remember feeling rather worse for wear outside after the bitch on the door wouldn't let people in, then I jumped a cab home. I think. So you let Rob pay the £25 all on his own, that's nice of you. Where the frig was Michael Legge?

  2. Saunders updated. Sofa offered at great length on understanding of not upsetting additional "Promise". Since you have no recollection of offering me accommodation (The whole reason for me being in The Pheonix), I think I am justified in not remembering the taxi with Rob, which I wouldn't have been getting in anyway, had you been true to your drunken word, Murray ;op


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