Monkey Business

Gig no: 65

Where I perform in a FREEZER, create the Apocalypse and commit the ultimate stand-up crime of telling the audience off for NOT LAUGHING.

Where? Monkey Business above Cafe Rouge, Hampstead.

Why? Asked innit.

Who Held My Hand? No one thank god. I’m shite at comedy right now.

What Happened? After turning up at the Camden Eye by mistake coz I’m an ARSE, I get all excited for some reason about Hampstead. First time for everything.

The booking email mentioned ticket prices and a “decent sized crowd” and there are signs with monkeys faces everywhere. People in Hampstead can afford tickets can’t they? Don’t proper actual comedians live here? And everyone’s heard of Cafe Rouge even if it’s a little dead right now, maybe everyone’s upstairs… 

Nah. They’re not. There’s 2 comedians upstairs and a man in a hat.

The man in the hat is Martin Besserman, the face behind Monkey Business, a venture of open mic and pro act nights that’s just lost one of its’ venues. That’s a shame. Something to do with some Americans taking offence and walking out but I might be understanding it wrong. Let’s face it, if every comedy club had to close coz the comics took the piss out of Americans, today’s scene would be a Gig Desert.

Martin Besserman. And hat.

Besserman reminds me of the late Ken Campbell, a mobile face and cockney twang and clearly a deep care for stand-up and a wealth of experience.

Tonight however, is not his night. We may only have 2 people in the audience he tells me due to some footie match, a cancelled tube strike and the various alignment of the stars – I dunno, I stopped listening at football.

Still, he hates cancelling gigs so we’re battling on.

Leighton Roff is here again, as is Ali Woods who I’ve seen twice now, once beating the Gong at King Gong and who is very funny. And me makes three. I put my name second on the list and this becomes the running order.

A handful of other people scuttle in. Comics or audience? Whatever. They’re all acting like big insects wishing they were smaller and on a less conspicuous dung heap.

What follows is the longest night of the shortest line-up I’ve ever had.

Ali Woods is up first. Funny, assured, strong, ginger. The audience is utterly silent. Admittedly there are 6 of them but I know at least half are comedians. So this is MEAN.

Ali Woods. Funny man in a Freezer.

One guy in the back row looks like he’s died. He looks like someone stuffed and embalmed a human. And we’ve only just started.

Ali makes a few comments about a cold room. After continued silence, he grades it up to a fridge, then a freezer. He’s genuinely funny – I’ve seen this guy beat KING GONG – but tonight I’m the only one laughing. Like a lonesome tit.

It’s true that comics make a silent audience coz they’re going through their gig, not paying attention to you. It’s hard to remember that when you’re onstage.

It is also true that some comics are c*nts.

Ali ends by wishing us yet-to-perform luck and f*cks off home early. When my name gets called, the pallid applause is over before I LEAVE MY CHAIR.

The spotlight is so bright it burns my retinas. I can see dust motes and the vague outline of a hat. As far I can tell, I’m gigging to a vast chasm of the apocalypse.

I can hear one lady’s mortified desperate laughter. Someone is aware. Someone is trying. As the night goes on my heart goes out to her. These people paid a fiver to get in. To watch 7 comedians die. Yes there are 7 of us in total. I don’t remember them coming in. I think they materialised out of dark matter.

Look at that face. Spitting “We are not amused” whilst staring into the ABYSS.

I continue to utter unfunny things to silence and start to lose sense of what’s happening – am I killing them or they killing me? It’s tiredness that makes me do what I end up doing next. Coz I know better.

Wow, he wasn’t kidding,” I say. “You are cold. Especially you…” I point into the darkness at Mr Embalmed. “You’ve looked dead since you came in.”

You know those chambers that swallow echoes. An anechoic chamber. I’ve created one of those. And at the back of my mind I’m thinking ‘what if he has actually died?’ ‘What if he’s deaf?’ ‘Or with his carer.’

I once accused an audience member of being asleep in the middle of a theatre show. Seconds later, I saw the blind man’s cane. It made the show report.

Turns out Mr Embalmed is alive. In fact he’s one of the comedians. His set is about depression and death. He’s actually quite funny. At least he’s doing something different. And doesn’t tell us off. I hate myself.

One girl who’s very new breaks the set but improvises around this admirably. She is sure to survive. Another girl shouts at us in a foreign accent and gives away her laminated prop. She’ll learn.

It’s important to affirm that Martin Besserman has run this club for years. Every comic of note has played here. This is not the finest open mic hour of the Monkey Business legacy.


What is it? An over-competative London comedy scene? Football?

Last up is President Obonjo, a character comedian who dresses as a Nigerian Dictator. Now people are laughing. Admittedly out of white confusion and fear but also coz he’s seriously funny.

President Obonjo (of the Lafta Republic)

He addresses the comics in the audience and says a lot about being brave and sticking with it. He only arrived for his set. How does he know what we’ve been through? He must be able to smell our suicidal thoughts.

I hug Martin Besserman as I leave. I feel we both need it.

What I Have Learned?

1. If they ain’t laughing, DO NOT TELL THEM OFF.
2. Ever.
3. Coz they’ll only hate you MORE.