Waking up on Bank Holiday Monday after a week of frenetic activity for the Bath Comedy Festival has felt a little like being Wile E. Coyote several yards over a cliff edge, with no ground beneath. Back to the workaday author’s world, of staring at email Sent boxes lighting candles and praying to the God of Humanist Atheism and suchlike.
But, for all the dodgy gigs arranged by Somerset crazies with about six people in the crowd, for all the singing on stage with my band all night, my cold-wracked voice functioning at about 20% capacity, for all the wonderful fun of reuniting with some of the stalwart Unrelated Family members to do some of our filthy old sketches, it certainly does all feel bloomin’ well worth it, governor.
Like many a comedy geek, I had long looked forward to one day meeting the legendary Helen Lederer – but I never envisaged doing so after two hours of rolling around in a pub courtyard dressed in a frock switching between skullcap and roman helmet to portray numerous characters in a live rendition of Life of Brian. Nonetheless, it was probably the most successful Unrehearsed Theatre production to date, thanks to a wonderful ad hoc cast and a very willing crowd, happy to hold up shoes and join in the ‘He IS the messiah!’s and of course, the final singalong. It was about as perfect a text as we could have had for an Easter Saturday – and best of all, we raised £100 for Comic Relief, to make up for stealing the intellectual property of the Pythons.
Left to Right: Steph (Judith), Sam (Brian), Elizabeth (Mandy), Matt (Mainly Idle), Gavin (Mainly Palin), Gus (Jesus), Other Matt Inexplicably Dressed as Sherlock Holmes (Mainly Gilliam), Simon (Simon), and Jem (Mainly Cleese).
Nonetheless, it was a slightly glowing and dishevelled Roberts who greeted Lady Natasha Letitia Sarah Jane Wellesley Obstromsky Ponsonsky Smythe Smythe Smythe Smythe Smythe Oblomov Boblomov Dob at the Bath Cricket ground afterwards. Having been up and down the country doing author events for The Frood last autumn, I was well used to literary events, but this was my first ever experience as a host, so I’d had a nervous time, watching old episodes of ‘Hello Mum’ (I never did ask her how Clive Mantle is these days, let alone Nick Wilton), and hoping she would ease me into what I would like to think is a whole new line of work. I needn’t have worried, I couldn’t have had a better deflowerer as an on-stage interviewer, and each nudging question I asked Helen thankfully, wonderfully triggered a fountain of sparkling monologue from her, which had the crowds cackling throughout. She was as happy to talk about Rik and Ben as herself, and although her debut novel Losing It was well worth the read (and irresistible to mentally cast with the finest Ab Fab actors as I read), she wasn’t one of those authors who is constantly trying to refer back to it, in fact she wanted the crowd to buy it as unmarked by spoilers as possible. The hour just flashed by.
It was always very clear that my second go in the interviewer’s chair was going to present a different challenge, as I have known and interviewed Terry Jones in the past, and by his own admission, he’s not the easiest person to winkle anecdotes out of. When sat with his fellow Pythons, he throws in fascinating vignettes and jokes, but the idea of our Q&A for the Bath Plug Award, sandwiched neatly between a glorious showing of his 1996 underrated classic adaptation of Wind In The Willows, and the previously blogged-about Holy Grail, was that we were celebrating his own career away from the Pythons – Personal Services, Erik The Viking, and of course, Absolutely Anything. This time it was more my job to be there for Terry throughout, guiding him through his career, rather than just nudging him into monologue. I was well prepared, and although I may have ended up speaking ten words to Terry’s every one (which I truly hope wasn’t too onerous for the crowd), there were many happy faces there, just glad to be in the presence of a genuine comedy hero. And he was very pleased to have indirectly raised Comic Relief some cash, even if it was via a gang of pissed actors wrapped in curtains.
Muggins, Mandy Mother of Brian, BCF boss Nick Steel. We look like the poor chap’s minders.
As a patron of the festival, Terry’s acceptance of the inaugural Bath Plug above all opens the door for whole hosts of huge names to follow in his wake for years to come, which is incredibly kind of him. Having had such nightmares clearing WITW for viewing, we’re already well-immersed in a very exciting idea for the Bath Plug Award 2016, which will quite possibly be announced right here, when we know it’s definitely happening.
Huge congratulations to Nick Steel and everyone who made 2015’s Festival the biggest and best yet, and I will continue to do all I can to make 2016’s another step forward. But for now, it’s back to trying to find a safe home for a fourth book of comedy history, and my other manifold projects, and–
(Plunges down into an abyss. Road Runner passes by, goes “Meep meep!” over my pulverised body. That’s all, folks.)