Can’t get arrested…

Gig no 19. Where? Criminal Intent Comedy, Willhoughby Arms, Kingston
Why? Booked it before I remembered how far away Kingston was.
Who Held My Hand? My lovely brother-in-law. Who will NEVER do this again.

What Happened? The Willhoughby Arms is a working man’s pub in my now FAVOURITE part of London. COZ I STORMED KINGSTON recently and will not stop mentioning it. I arrive super early and tell the bar staff I am there for the comedy. “I’m one of the acts,” I declare proudly. “Tell us a joke,” she demands. The line up of men at the bar turn expectantly. I DIE INSIDE. I have been called out by an 18 year-old. “You have to pay for that kind of thing”, I manage feebly. Sounding like a tit AND a prostitute simultaneously. One of the men instantly recites 3 jokes involving nuns and Myra Hindley (not in the same joke). They are funny. He is funny. “Funnier than YOU” say all the faces in the Willhoughby Arms. My return to Kingston is looking less triumphant than expected.

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Willhoughby Arms. Funnier than me.


Still, I like a working man’s pub. I’ve worked in loads, feel at home in them and I prefer them to gastro-pubs any day. I make friends with the man’s dog, even though I have a GERM-PHOBIA and sit it out. I’m expecting to do this gig alone but brother-in-law lives nearby and I get a surprise text. The last time he saw me do comedy, I was gonged off at Up the Creek after 2 minutes of shite. No pressure.

Odd-looking people dribble upstairs. They look like comics so I follow. “Remember my nun joke!” shouts the man at the bar. I assure him I will. I’ve forgotten it already. I’m shit at remembering jokes.

Upstairs is sizeable and hung with flags and football stuff. I feel very female. There’s a small stage and a shy group of boy/men who seem to be the acts. I hear mention of this year’s So You Think You’re Funny Competition, everyone’s done it/doing it. I get nervous. I meet a nice lady who I’ve seen before at the Blackout. Her act is about filling in for her stand-up son who has failed to turn up. She’s lovely.

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Alex Martini. Starring in The Usual Suspects.

And then Alex Martini arrives. I’ve been interested in meeting him. One of the most colourful people on the circuit, Alex runs the We Are Funny Project, is a promoter and a comic and MC in his own right. He is also a mental Italian who shows his belly at my brother-in-law (let’s call him BILL for his own security) more times than he’s ever seen an Italian man’s belly (I HOPE) and tells him in no uncertain terms what he wants to do to him.

My brother-in-law is one of TWO audience members and clearly wants to DIE but is far too polite to say. Alex is a master at igniting a dead room and asks BILL so many questions, it sounds like an interrogation. BILL gets through it admirably and surprisingly honestly, then confesses to me afterwards he was trying to think of funny answers but was so nervous, he just stalled, then told the truth.

He and my sister are very well-matched. My sister cannot lie. EVER. I told her once in Starbucks that I always made up a name for them to put on the cup. My favourite being Keith. Mary at Christmas. The Barrista asked her, she went BRIGHT RED, hyperventilated, then said her ACTUAL NAME as if it was a lie. The Barrista gave her a look as if she’d obviously lied but just not very well and accepted my perfectly mendacious Clarrissa without question. They are the most perfectly suited couple I know.

Back to the Willoughby Arms. The first comic talks about the vasectomy he’s getting tomorrow. No jokes, he’s just feeling down and wants to talk. It’s an odd start. I’m on after the interval. By now, two more audience members have been coaxed upstairs, making a total of 4. Alex Martini announces how many gigs we’ve all done, like badges we should be proud of. I do like him. Then I get called up…

Empty chairs and empty tables…

I ably get through my 5 minutes but am embarrassed throughout, facing silence all round and the desperate supportive smile of my lovely brother-in-law.

And all the time, I’m thinking: “This is not what I want to do. This is NOT what I do. I want a crowd and an atmosphere and to make jokes happen. I want to flyyyyy way up in the skyyyyyy..” But I can’t. I’m on the bottom rung of comedy.  Here for a while.

Finally, Alex Martini announces our headline act as: “A Masterclass in how to write jokes”. And a baldy man I’ve never heard of, Lenny Sherman, takes the stage and BLOWS THE UTTER FRIGGIN ROOF OFF THE BUILDING.

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Lenny Sherman. Working Class Master. 

I watch open mouthed as this man builds from brilliant to superlative. The 4 members of the audience are laughing OUT LOUD, heads thrown back and everything. Proper laughter. We’re all loving it and it doesn’t stop for 20 minutes. Each joke is so well-crafted and has actual sweeping arcs in it, one-liners, story-telling, call-backs – all the things you hear about and presumably study if you do a course in stand-up. Lenny Sherman is indeed a MASTER. I’ve seen comics storm it. We’ve all seen it. But not in a room like this. He has brought a small, embarrassed, largely dead gig to life as if it were Wembley Arena. And it puts me to shame.

This is what a Pro Act looks like. This guy has been doing it for YEARS. He is making a living from it. I am NO-WHERE NEAR THIS. It’s not something you can learn overnight. Or after one good student gig in Kingston. This is yeeeeaaaars of craft and graft.

Sherman talks about how there are no working class comics on TV. I grew up with working class comics on TV. But suddenly, I’m thinking: “hmmm?” There are plenty of middle class comedians playing working class characters. His material on this is GREAT. He makes his point strongly but not bitterly.

Afterwards, Lenny Sherman congratulates one lad for a TV joke he made which was very good. He doesn’t look at me. I haven’t really existed in this room. But Alex is nice. “You have only just started,” he says when I tell him I should retire. “Don’t be stupid.” He is a blunt-talking Italian and I instantly want to get good so he and Lenny think I’m good too.

Afterwards I think of Kevin Bridges. He’s one of my very very favourites. And he’s working class. So. One. John Bishop is on TV… But I’m struggling for more.

Things I Have Learned:

  1. NEVER tell anyone EVER you are one of the acts.
  2. Lenny Sherman should be on TV.
  3. How to draw hearts round photos of Kevin Bridges.
Kevin Bridges. Adoooooore the Bridges.