Posts Tagged ‘the Comedy Store’

My other favourite Comedy Store open spot moment.

25,August, 2009

My other favourite Comedy Store open spot moment happened the very next weekend after the standing O night.  A man, who was older than the normal want-a-bees, spoke to me before I went up to introduce him.  He told me that he had some things to set up and that I was going to have to cover while he prepared the stage behind me.

“How long?” I asked.

“About 15 minutes.”

It was pushing 3 am and I had been on stage between every act since 8 – I told him that he had three minutes and that was being generous.

I jumped on stage and heard the sound behind me of big things being dragged and nails being driven in with a hammer.  I didn’t turn around.  The crowd started laughing and I had fun asking audience members to describe what could possibly be going on behind me.  The whole thing must have lasted for almost ten minutes before he whispered in my ear that he was ready.

I turned and was completely shocked to see that he had built an entire New York City skyline out of plywood – complete with windows and a five foot tall Empire State Building.  I turned around and said “F*%# me!”  I couldn’t help it I was that surprised.

I introduced him (sorry I can’t remember his name) and he stomped onto the stage to the soundtrack of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York.  I say stomped because on his feet he was wearing three foot long rectangular wooden boxes painted to look like Cadillacs.  While Frank crooned he hopped around doing a ridiculous straight legged dance that the audience seemed to enjoy.  Just as the choreography was getting, old the lights dimmed and all of the windows in the New York skyline – lit up.  The crowd loved it.  As the song reached its famous crescendo, “If I can make it there…” the lights dimmed even more and the headlights of the Cadillacs lit and started spinning – disco style – in the front of his box shoes.  The audience went absolutely wild.

After the show the Comedy Store manager Kim Kinny said to the guy, “This is not really our kind of act but I can’t ignore that response.  Call me and I’ll book you in for a regular spot.”

The guy replied, “No thanks, I’m not interested.  I just wanted to see if I could do it.”

A legendary act – then poof – he’s gone.

The Comedy Store’s Only Standing O

11,August, 2009

I did a gig this weekend at the 99 Club in Leicester Square.  As soon as I walked down the stairs into what was once described as an “underground car park,” the memories flooded back – and not all of them were pleasant ones.  The 99 Club is in the same venue as the legendary Comedy Store.  In the 80’s and 90’s The Leicester Square Store was London’s top comedy club and as The Store’s biographer pointed out to me, I compered (MC-ed for you yanks) there more than anyone.

All of the comics for this weekend’s show were young pups in their 20s.  When they finally figured out who I was, I regaled them with old stories about The Store in its heyday.   Now you have to realize that I worked there with almost every great comedian that that generation produced in the UK.  Eddy Izard, Robin Williams, Jack Dee, Julian Clary, Jo brand, Mark Thomas, Charles Flitcher, Bill Hicks, Emo Phillips, Denis Leary, Mike Myers, Harry Hill,  Bob Mills, Bill Bayley,  and a zillion other great comics that you may not have heard of.  But in all of that time, I told them, I only ever saw one standing ovation.

Compering a weekend at the Store was a grind.  One show on Thursday and two shows on Friday and Saturday.  By the time the proper Saturday night midnight set was finished, it was 2:30 in the morning – but the show was not over.  That was when the Open Spots started.  Anybody could then get on stage and try-out a five minute set – anybody.  It was a snake pit.  In those days The Store was one of the few places in the West End to have a late liquor licence.  Most of the audience was there just for the drinking.  And since the Tube shut down at midnight, they were drunks that didn’t care how they got home.  Almost every comic of my age will tell you a tale of the crucifixion that they received in front of an audience that 300 years earlier would have been called a lynch mob.

One night a short young man with a mop of sandy hear waited in the dressing room.  He stood out from all of the other soon to be slaughtered hopefuls because he wasn’t at all nervous – he almost seemed sedated.  When you spoke to him his eyes focused through you at something behind your head.  His name, I remember, was Tony he said he was an impressionist.  His only request was that there was a chair on the stage.

I introduced him and the audience, upon seeing him, actually settled down a bit – so un-human was his countenance. He placed on the chair a piece of paper that had his act written on it (that’s why he wanted the chair) and did his first impression.

“Nice to see you, nice to see you nice,” he said doing a god awful impression of a famous old school British TV host.  (For you Americans it was the equivalent of someone saying “We have a really good shew,” badly impersonating Ed Sullivan.)  The audience at once realized two things: first that this guy was really, really bad and secondly he didn’t know he was bad.  It had been a long ,rough night.  Even the professional acts had had a tough time with this audience.  The crowd was drunk and tired and they did something that I never saw an audience do before – they instantly and collectively – took the piss.  They broke into a round of cheering and applause that was louder and more enthusiastic than any of the paid acts had previously received on the night.  It went on for so long that Tony had to hold his hands up to quiet them down.  His next impression (and I kid you not) was Jimmy Cagey.  “You dirty rat.”  The crowd went wild!  He continued with about five more really horrible three word impressions of mostly dead celebrities like, Tommy Cooper,  “Juzt like that.” And when he finished the audience – as one –stood and started chanting his name.  It was the cruellest and funniest thing I had ever seen.

I got on stage and tried to introduce the next open spot but the audience wouldn’t sit down.  They continued to clap and chant, Tony, Tony!”  I finally had no choice but to bring him on for an encore.  Tony wandered back on stage, with his rabbit in the headlights stare, placed his piece of paper back on the chair and… he started over again with the same impressions. The crowd went absolutely berserk!  He went through his entire set again and I had no choice but to bring him on a third time.  He would have gotten another encore if I hadn’t stepped on stage (tears where now on my cheeks from laughing so hard) and told the audience that they “should be ashamed of themselves.”  We cancelled all the rest of the open spots and ended the show – there was no following that.

Afterwards Tony seemed completely unaware that anything unusual had happened.  He was as blank as he had been before he stepped on stage.  Kim, who was the manager of The Store back then, spoke to him and said, “I have no idea what just happened up there but I’ve never seen a reaction like it, so I have to book you – call me.”

Tony left and never did call.

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