After some time as concert secretary at Meanwood Con Club my father got bored with the job being as it mainly consisted of a rotating diary of weekly “turns” who would come and do their stuff on the small stage in the small concert room, take their stipend with outstretched arm and then between them the turn and my dad would write a booking in the diary for the same time next year.
Occasionally there would be a space in the diary, usually caused by the turn on that date last year being rubbish and not re-booked and so a night at Jim Winsors club in Leeds would be called for – as well as having his own bar/concert room the eponymous Jim Winsor was also a booking agent and held auditions for new “turns” every Tuesday whereupon every concert secretary in the district would turn up to try and fill the gaps in their diaries.
Add to this the fact that every Sunday night he would get that months Leeds & District “club book” out to select a CIU club who had a turn on that he either hadn’t seen or had seen and thought was good, and you can see that over time my father reckoned to have seen every “turn” performing in the West Yorkshire district, and then some.
So he passed the job onto Don and went back to being an ordinary Trustee of the club again whilst shepherding Don through the arduous task of booking and then paying for the turns every Saturday night, it was an important job, well, it was important to them anyway.
And then one christmas eve the newly acquired wife and I ventured south from Newcastle to spend christmas with my parents in Leeds and my father insisted on us accompanying he and my mother to the Meanwood Con Club that evening for what he called “A bloody good night”.
Now I’d seen many nights in my fathers “Bloody good night” league, they generally consisted of drinking as much beer as you could force down your gullet in four hours, watching a “turn” who wasn’t good enough to get a booking at any of the bigger more popular clubs, having a game of bingo, listen to my own father get on stage and sing a round of Sinatra songs for the now-completely-blathered audience, and then spend an hour making your way to the car park and hence home, bidding every single person in the club a personal good night whilst doing so – whenever I got conned into going on one of these “Bloody good night” nights I was the idiot who drove the car home and so stayed completely stone cold sober throughout – I cannot begin to explain the complete exasperation involved in trying to get your completely blathered parents out of a club and into the car when they want to go back inside and say goodnight to EVERYONE for the fourth time.
SO I wasn’t keen on spending my christmas eve with my newly acquired wife in The Con Club, especially since my father had booked the turn and was assuring me with beseeching promises that this comedian that he had booked was one of the top comedians int he country, no of course you’ve never heard of him because he’s not been spotted by the TV talent spotters yet, but he will be, soon, and we’ve got him for a really cheap price for our little backstreet club, on christmas eve.
No neither was I, but wait, theres more, he’s been in the Guinness Book of World Records, he’s that good as an undiscovered top class comedian that he has an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the comedian who told the most jokes in five minutes – HA! – thats a clincher is that one, not.
So rather than spend christmas eve down the local pub where I wouldn’t have to drive and could get blathered with my old mates, I agreed to drive my parents and my newly acquired wife to the Meanwood Con Club to watch this soon-to-be star of the London Palladium and other good stuff, he was to do three 20 minute spots and then my father would be singing his own selection of Sinatra songs, to include “Send in the Clowns”, a song that Sinatra had recently recorded on “Old Blue Eyes Is Back” and which my father had learned by means of writing each line down on a piece of scrap paper, one line at a time, while lifting the record arm and restarting the song every time in order to get the next line, after two hours of listening to the bloody song I knew it better than Sinatra did.
An hour later the concert room was full and as per usual my fathers party had occupied the front centre tables and when I say “front” I really do mean that they were right at the front of the concert room, in fact you couldn’t move the table any further forward being as it was actually pushed right up to the edge of the stage, you’d sit there all night long with a crick in your neck from having to stare vertically at a “turn” who was performing a mere foot or so in front of you but also five feet above your head.
There was a huge buzz in the room, this was christmas eve, everyone had just finished work, they’d all just got their christmas bonuses, they were already most the way towards being blathered and were REALLY looking forward to seeing a Guinness Book of World Records comedian before going home and waiting for Santa to come, and then with a flourish the curtains were withdrawn and to a backing track the world record comedian trotted on stage and bid everyone a huge welcome, which always strikes me as being rather strange being as its them who is the stranger in the club and everyone else goes there every week … anyway,
He started by reminding everyone that he was an award winning Guinness Book of World Record comedian, there was no doubt in his mind that he had been cruelly overlooked in the TV schedules that winter, by now he should at the least have his own long running series and be hosting the Royal Variety Performance, reading the TV News, hosting Panorama and be starring in his own Hollywood blockbuster film, he was good, in his own mind he was good, certainly too good for this place…
His first joke wasn’t good, I can’t remember what it was but it was the sort of joke that you’d read out of a christmas cracker and no-one around the table would laugh, well, no-one in the concert room laughed either and when his second joke was just as bad then the pre-christmas buzz that had been int he room started to dissipate, by the time that his fifth and sixth joke had proven to be christmas cracker jokes too there was a general hub-hub of murmurs on the lines of “He’s bloody rubbsh”.
I looked at my father, he steadfastly kept his eyes glued on the stage and wouldn’t glance in my direction, it was his fault that I was sat in this morgue of a club on christmas eve and he had that look on his face that read “How do I explain this one…”
The comedian was dying horribly on stage, the crowd were now starting to become vocal, boos were following each joke, it was only a matter of time before things started to get thrown at the stage, and yet this idiot didn’t hear any of it, inside his head he was still the greatest comedian never to get his own show on the BBC and this crowd were loving him, he ploughed on through his act, none of the jokes got any funnier, that is on a scale of 0 to 10 where zero is as funny as hearing that your car has just been stolen, he was zero and sinking fast.
He had balls I’ll say that, or maybe he was a genuine idiot, I know that we bandy the word “idiot” around too much these days but maybe this guy was the real deal, a 100% genuine idiot who simply did not comprehend that the cries of “Gerroff” and “Bloody rubbish” and “Tell us a joke” were directed at him and not the bar staff.
Not that I am naturally critical of the world of the comedian for I have stepped into the world of the comedian, just the once, just once did I step up onto a stage, drunk, with the intention of filling a ten minute break during a popular beat combo act with my own wonderful world of comedy, let me tell you now, if you are ever tempted, if you ever think you are funny enough, then its a nailed on certainty that you aren’t for standing on a stage and trying to fill for ten minutes is just plain awful especially when your first joke doesn’t get a laugh, when your first joke is your best joke and it was supposed to have them rolling in the aisles by now and yet they are not even tittering, then your mouth and your brain become unconnected and the second joke often comes out in the wrong order, punchline first, that sort of thing, and from there on you are dead meat – this was at a holiday camp in Devon and after just three jokes and barely more than one minute I ran from that stage all the way back to the chalet and never again did I show my face in that holiday camp, it was awful.
But this comedian was just an idiot, and he didn’t know any jokes, but he thought he was great, which is probably the worst combination of circumstances with which to ply a trade as a professional comedian, he finished his 20 minute first spot to a tirade of abuse, he waved a jaunty wave and strolled off oblivious to the fact that during those 20 minutes not one person had laughed, not even one, not a titter or a chortle, not even a smile or a turned up corner of a mouth, unless it was wind.
My father stood and walked out of the concert room without saying a word, this was his ritual for inbetween the turns the womenfolk would play bingo and the men would retire to the bar to talk and drink more beer, the menfolk arose and left the room, so I did too.
The talk in the bar was of the comedian and of how awful he was and the brunt of all of the criticism was for Don for Don was now the concert secretary, it didn’t matter that Don hadn’t booked this comedian for it was my father who had booked him, but Don was the concert secretary and so it was his fault and my father wasn’t about to put his hand up and accept his part of the blame, “What the hell did you book this bloody rubbish for Don ?” my father exclaimed in a loud voice so that no-one in the bar would be under any misapprehension that it was anything to do with him.
“I didn’t book him, you did” pointed out Don
“Well you should bloody well pay him off then” replied my father conveniently side-stepping the blame issue.
“I’ll give him another five minutes” said Don, “If he’s not funny after five minutes then he’s out”
We returned to our table right at the front of the room for the second spot and if we thought that it was impossible to be even less funny then we were wrong, these one-line things that he was saying didn’t have punch lines which is a pretty fundamental requirement for a joke, even a one line joke, you describe something and the last few words of the one line are the funny words, thats the joke, that bit right at the end, thats what makes people laugh – this idiot had sat down one night and copied hundreds of jokes out of christmas crackers and then edited the punch line out of each one, he wasn’t telling jokes anymore he was just speaking random sentences, a bit like a Tom Wait song.
After five minutes my father glanced across the table at Don and nodded his head in the direction of the stage whilst simultaneously drawing one finger across his throat, the secret, ok not so secret signal to “Get rid”, to pay off the comedian, and lets just underline this last bit, on christmas eve.
Don stood up, “Alright lad” he said, “you’ve had long enough, just get your things and bugger off”
The comedian stood on the stage frozen in mid-sentence, “Eh?” he said
“Get your things and bugger off” said Don
“You can’t do that” said the comedian
“Yes I can” said Don, “I’m the concert secretary”
“You can’t pay ME off, I’m in the Guinness Book of World records”
“…for being the worlds least funny comedian” Don finished the sentence, “now get your things and bugger off”
“Its christmas eve”
“Yes, we know, and thats why we thought you’d be funny, but you’re not, now bugger off”
“I need paying”
“Are you still here, I thought I told you to bugger off”
He wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry, in his own mind this was a mere misunderstanding and if he told some more jokes he’d win the audience around again, after all until this concert secretary bloke had stood up they’d been eating out of his hands.
And while he pondered on this turn of events some other blokes out of the audience, much bigger blokes, machinists from the Yorkshire Switchgear Company came up on stage and “assisted” the comedian into the small dressing room at the side of the stage and then not ten seconds later out of the door marked “dressing room, acts only” carrying a very hastily packed suitcase out of which his “normal” clothing was still poking, and hence through the concert room to loud cheers to the fire escape door at the back where he was “assisted” into the car park and hence home, without his money.
The atmosphere in the concert room picked up immediately, there were cheers and loud laughter, its was christmas eve and they’d just paid the turn off and thrown him out of the fire escape door, and better still, they were nearly completely blathered by now.
“Lets have some music Frank” someone shouted and my father needed no further encouragement, with one bound he was up on the stage with the microphone in hand and ready with his compilation of Sinatra songs, he turned and nodded towards the organist to start up the opening number then stopped – where was the organist ?
“Wheres the bloody organist Don ?” my father shouted from the stage.
“Oh, err, he wanted the night off, its christmas you know, and what with us having a comedian and all…”
“I know where he lives” someone shouted
“Well go bloody fetch him then” shouted everyone else, “Don” they all shouted in unison, “You’re bloody rubbish at this job”
And thats why, ten minutes later my father was well into his rendition of “Lady Is A Tramp” being accompanied by an organist clad in his dressing gown and slippers who thought that he was in for a long bath and a quite night in front of the telly on a christmas eve.
Worst. Christmas. Eve. Ever.