Three evenings ago I went with friend K--- to the Brighton Komedia in North Laine. It was another of those Charity Comedy Nights that the North Laine Community Association (referred to as the NLCA below) regularly put on in the Studio auditorium. One of the residents, Kathy Spencer (herself one half of a two-girl comedy act with Katie Field called the Old Spice Girls, and appearing in the upcoming Brighton Festival) knows a lot of fringe comedians and gets them to do their current act for free. The audience pays £5 to get in, and a decent surplus therefore goes to local charitable causes. K--- was staffing the ticket table just inside the Studio entrance, and had asked me whether I could help. Of course!
I should tell you, or remind you, that 'it's 'North Laine' and not 'North Lanes'. The locals, whether desperately young or astonishingly old, absolutely insist on non-residents getting the name of their part of Brighton correct. 'The Lanes' - that nationally famous maze of narrow streets, further down towards the sea front - are strictly for tourists, and may God forgive them; 'North Laine' is for residents and local shopkeepers, who snap their fingers at the day-tripping visitors, and uphold High Standards. The word 'laine' is apparently French for 'field'. So it's really 'north field' - if you can imagine a time long past when Brighton (then Brighthelmstone) was but a fishing hamlet backed by agricultural holdings and open downland. No, I can't either.
Anyway, after a spot of setting-up, K--- and I installed ourselves by the entrance to the Studio, and got into the swing of exchanging tickets for fivers. My role (apart from getting drinks at the bar) was vague and nebulous; basically to keep K--- company really. But I sipped my wine, beamed, laughed a lot, and did my bit to remind incoming members of the public that they must have their tickets stamped. Not because it served any purpose, but because this was The System on Comedy Nights, and could not be flouted. In fact, part of the Comedy. Nobody rebelled. A good crowd, then. Here's K--- doing her stuff:
The Running Order went as follows. An Introduction from Compere Laura Lexx - here she is, posing for my camera:
She was going to warm the audience up, and keep them panting. Then before the first interval, four comedians: Dan Fardell, Drew Cameron, David Garratt and Katie Field. After the first interval: Rob Dumbrell, Charmaine Davies and James McDonnell. Then after the second interval, second billing Phil Lucas and headliner Phil Jerrod. That's a lot of humour to take in. And although I was there to sweat at the ticket table, I was seeing it all for nothing. So a decent evening's entertainment for me.
It was very nearly sold out, not bad at all for a Tuesday evening. The atmosphere was convivial and easy-going, just as you might expect for a charity event like this. Many regulars turned up, and indeed there was a good turnout of North Laine Residents - including one high-minded old chap who had the prim, saintly air of a retired vicar. K--- (who was on the NLCA Committee) appreciated his making this gallant effort to come, but wondered how he might react to the - er - robust and modern humour on offer. He was probably way out of his comfort zone, but he didn't make a fuss.
Here's a view of the crowd as the auditorium began to fill up:
K--- and I had an OK view from the back, safely out of sight:
Well, you can picture how it went. I have to say, Kathy had selected some good acts. They were smooth and funny and very professional. Here for instance is Laura Lexx introducing Phil Lucas:
And here's Phil Lucas himself, wearing a scampy mitten (don't ask) and using slick Powerpoint slides in his act:
It looked beguilingly easy, this kind of wear-what-you-feel-comfortable-in, speak-conversationally-to-the-audience type of performance. Phil Lucas offered to take some snaps with my camera, and so I got up on stage and into the spotlight, at first wearing my bag, then nudging it into the shadows as I got into my stride:
The audience were stunned. I could tell. Complete silence, nary a whisper.
Oh! What was that, whizzing past my ear? And again.
Oh! Why are the lights being turned down on me?
Well! Fancy the lights failing, just when I was getting to the really funny bits of my act! Then the light went on again.
Everyone had gone! My brand of whimsical wit and cutting-edge comedy had proved too strong for them. They must have stampeded as one while the lights were out. Next time, I'll tone my act down slightly. Make it more accessible. And acceptable. It's meant to be Alternative Comedy. (Or should that be, An Alternative To Comedy? Yes, I like the sound of that! London's West End beckons. New York's Broadway...a season at Las Vegas...)
K--- and I found everyone at the Waggon & Horses pub, sitting outside. I was still in a trance, but I recovered.
Oh, I forgot to tell you that I didn't come away empty-handed. I won twice in the raffle! The first time it was a book donated by a local bookshop. The second time it was a bottle of whisky, but as I didn't like whisky I asked Kathy to put it back into the draw for somebody else to win. I'm told it was good stuff, the proper Red-Eye, and so I hope they enjoyed it very much.