I’ve written for and with many comedians over the years. I like them. I like the meandering conversations, the what ifs, the arguments, the chronic insecurity and the immediacy; you say something here and it comes out there. Compared to writing plays or books it’s a joy.
In my teens, I ran comedy club in Shepherds Bush that was part of a left wing collective, set up by the Muldoons, to counter the racist, homophobic, misogynist, orthodoxy of the day. Amazingly, they secured Arts Council funding, which meant at Bush Fires the acts got PAID: £40 for 20 mins, no crappy door split.
Alongside Paul Merton, John Hegley, Jeremy Hardy, Julian Clary et al, I scored variety turns in The Stage; paper tearers, vent acts and an old man who did bird impressions. I warned him the audience might laugh AT him: “For forty quid, they can throw bottles at me” he said cheerfully. And lo they did laugh. But he also got a standing ovation. And forty quid.
It was there I met Arnold Brown, a legend of the original Comedy Store (“I’m Scottish and Jewish. Two stereotypes for the price of one”) and singer songwriters Jungr and Parker, whom I produced (it would be a push to say co-wrote or directed, more dabbled) in the hugely successful Brown Blues at the Edinburgh festival. Half stand-up, half song, it won the Perrier Award and, after a run at the Donmar Warehouse, we toured the country in Barb’s mini. (We also flat-shared with the lovely Julian and Fanny.)
Once, I booked the show into Bryanston ‘Arts Centre’, oblivious that it was actually in a public school. Arnold peered out at a packed audience of 200 public school-kids, six locals and a dog. “The sound system’s good” I said, by way of encouragement. “The sound system was good at Nuremberg” said Arnold. And died on his arse.
Later that night, Barb dropped us at Victoria station, and, if I’d been Arnold, I would’ve pushed me under a bus. But instead, he insisted I took the first cab, and waved me off with ne’er a cross word. Truly a prince among men.
I’ve written several one woman shows with the highly entertaining Helen Lederer, and many ads and two Secret Policeman’s Balls with the equally entertaining John Cleese.
We were introduced by writer/director Amanda Baker. The first show I had a hand in was Pride and Prejudice & Niggas, when I arrived in Edinburgh with the words every comic wants to hear: “Cut the puppet and the guitar”. With new material, decent lighting, Amanda’s brilliance and Reg’s talent, PP&N went on to win great reviews, the 2006 Writers’ Guild Award for Comedy, and all the free publicity that comes from having a poster banned on the London Underground.
Next came Fuck You In The Age Of Consequence, the title of which came from a conversation I had with Reggie the day Donald Rumsfeld was fired, where, gleefully, I quoted Churchill from 1936:
“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”
Of course it turned out to be optimistic re Rummy – he’s as old, rich, white and consequence-free as he ever was – and in the end, I wanted to call the show Through a Glass Darkie but it was too late, we’d gone to press.
My favourite joke I wrote for Reg was: “A class system is something you use to discriminate someone who looks like you”. And my favourite bit Amanda wrote was about Josef Fritzl. Taste was ever our watch word.
I stopped writing for Reg when he joined the rest of the illiterati in the comedy charnel house telling rape jokes. It wasn’t about censorship, it was about not phoning me up at 11pm to try out new material.
(Both Amanda and I are credited on In The Midst of Crackers DVD, because material we’d written was included.)
But he’s not a bad friend. If you scroll through part 2 here – the Reg mentioned is, well, Reg, who even came to court in a jacket and tie.
And my, we had us some fun.