Hot on the heels of Teutonic comic Henning Wehn came a comedy night courtesy of Shaft of Wit and hosted by our very own village watering hole, the White Horse. It’s a regular gig but we were comedy night virgins, drawn by another big name off the telly box – Arthur Smith, the original grumpy old man, a tribe I’ve recently joined. He was top billing for a quartet of stand-ups – him, John Mann, Pam Ford and Earl Okin. They were funny and original – more a pit of wit than a shaft of laughs. But, for me, the stand out stand-up was Aussie Pam (or rather Brit-Aussie-Brit Pam). Comedy-wise, I tend to go for the female of the species and Pam Ford is right up there.
Change channels now if you’re easily offended by the lewd and the rude!
It’s been a comedy season of fun and laughter, despite the COVID blues and the hit and miss weather. After drag gags from the extraordinary La Voix a couple of weeks ago, we were back at Interlude in the Close for another comic treat – Henning Wehn, the self-styled ‘German Comedy Ambassador for Teutonic jolliness’.
A regular on many a TV panel show, Henning has been living and working in Britain for twenty years and provides a ballsy view of the life on these islands from a continental perspective, always delivered with wit, insight and affection.
His was a show in preview called Das Neuen Materialen Nachten (The New Materials Night) – a brand new routine, testing the water before a big tour. And there was plenty of water to go round – our bottom halves were soaked through as we rushed along Cathedral Close and squelched across the sodden playing fields of the lower school. Liam was wearing trainers – well you can imagine.
What Henning ambitiously called a masterpiece under construction was more a work in progress but there was plenty of witty banter, and the jokes old and new made sure the angry clouds didn’t dampen our spirits. The wine helped, of course.
Was it? Well… yes and no. Naturally, we had to see it and naturally it was accompanied by a glass of fizz (that would be Prosecco – our austerity-era budget doesn’t quite stretch to Bolli). The history of transferring much-revered TV sitcoms to the big screen is littered with ignoble defeat. For me, the Ab Fab experience was more of an inconclusive skirmish. The plot was paper thin, just a flimsy device for the outrageous antics of Edina and Patsy. But then, the strength of Ab Fab was always in the characters rather than the storyline. I did find the endless rollcall of celebrity cameos a bit wearing and the humour, though funny in parts, more miss than hit.
But I couldn’t help empathising with poor Eddy, way past her dump-by date and hopelessly floundering in a multi-media world she no longer understood. Maybe she should have sold the big house in Holland Park and retired to a converted cowshed in the French hills? A few years in Provence? There’s no story in that, is there?
Thirty years ago, the National Union of Miners (NUM) was in a desperate battle with the Thatcher Government to save their livelihoods and their communities. It was a war of attrition that went on for twelve long months. It was also during the dark days of the gay ‘plague’ with John Hurt scaring the life out of OAPs with crashing tombstones every night on national TV and a certain fire and brimstone chief constable saying that gay people were ‘swirling in a human cesspit of their own making.’ Believe me, it was no fun on the picket line or the dance floor. The Police had a habit of raiding both. At the time, I was living with a quantity surveyor who was neither ‘out’ at work or to his family. What sexuality has to do with counting bricks I shall never know but that was the way back then – most closets were firmly locked from the inside. Society had a habit of making hypocrites of us all. I was his guilty secret (needless to say, he wasn’t mine).
So what do striking miners have in common with dancing queens? Not very much you might think. I didn’t think so either until I saw Pride, a new BBC Film by Marcus Warchus, the new Creative Director at the Old Vic. On general release today, this funny and illuminating movie is based on the true story of a small group of London activists who raised money to help the families of the strikers. They called themselves ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ and they did exactly what it said on the collecting tin. Officially, the über-straight, blue collar, backs-to-the-wall-lads NUM weren’t too keen on accepting the support of a gaggle of dirty pervs, even during the worst of times. So the brave pervs took their cause direct to the coal face by sprinkling a little fairy dust (and quite a lot of cash) on a small Welsh mining village. Cue the considerable talents of some seasoned pros (Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy) who know how to deliver a line or two and some gifted fresh faces to inject a dash of youthful angst and exuberance. The clash of cultures is pure magic. Moving without being sugary, political without being preachy, candid without being gratuitous and clever without being patronising, the film is a joy to watch and one of the best British films I’ve ever seen. Really, it’s that good.
I was really saddened to hear about the death of Joan Rivers. She was a one-off, a no nonsense, shoot from the hip, tell it as she saw it kind of gal who fought hard against massive odds to crawl her way to the top at a time when a woman’s place was either in the kitchen or the bedroom. And she was a great supporter of gay rights long before it was a trendy bandwagon. Many years ago, I saw Ms Rivers in concert in the West End. Her Gatling Gun wit left the audience shell-shocked. I laughed so much, I hyperventilated. During her untouchable years as the elder stateswoman of American comedy, the great and the good queued up to be insulted by her because if you hadn’t been dressed down by Joan, you were a no-body. Her very last public rant was about the recent upsurge in violence between Israel and Palestine. It was not her finest hour. Joan Rivers deserves to be remembered for more than that.