So, the story goes like this…
On Monday night, I went to the New Act of the Year auditions at the Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch, one of the jolliest and most brightly-coloured comedy clubs in Britain. A film crew was coincidentally filming scenes for an upcoming movie called The Comedian.
The Comedy Cafe’s owner, Noel Faulkner, has had a ‘colourful’ past which he revealed in his astonishing 2005 Edinburgh Fringe show Shake, Rattle & Noel. I first met him when we were both helping-out our mutual chum Ricky Grover by appearing in an early pilot/showreel for his planned movie Bulla, which Ricky has recently completed as a ‘pucka’ feature film with Steven Berkoff, Omid Djalili, Peter Capaldi etc.
Noel has Tourette’s Syndrome which doesn’t mean he swears uncontrollably but does mean he occasionally twitches uncontrollably… except, oddly, he doesn’t do it when he’s performing on stage or on film. This non-twitching while performing caused surreal problems during the autobiographical Shake, Rattle and Noel show, as he was talking about how he twitched uncontrollably without actually twitching uncontrollably.
Noel has lived a life-and-a-half and he isn’t through with it yet.
After being brought up in Ireland by the Christian Brothers and working on fishing trawlers and having some peripheral encounters with the IRA, he was in Swinging London at its height where he got involved with the young Malcolm McLaren & Vivienne Westwood and sold Gary Glitter his first glitter suit. Noel’s twitching made him a wow in discos – people thought he was a great disco dancer – and it was assumed to be drug-induced, so he fitted perfectly into the very Swinging London scene.
Then he went to hippie San Francisco before Haight Ashbury turned into Hate Ashbury and became a friend of the young, before-he-was-famous Robin Williams. Noel ended up on the run from the FBI, went to New York as an actor and comic, dealt directly with and smuggled dope for the early Colombian drug cartels, was caught and deported from the US, returned to London and set up the Comedy Cafe, one of the few purpose-built comedy venues in the capital.
So this – the Comedy Cafe – was where I found myself on Monday night for the New Act of the Year comedy auditions, the 28th year of the contest – it used to be called the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year (Eddie Izzard came 12th one year). The final used to be held a the Hackney Empire, which organisers Roland & Claire Muldoon ran. This year, the final takes place at The Barbican on Saturday 19th March.
It was well worth going because I saw for a second time the promising up-and-coming stand-up Pat Cahill and, for the first time, the very interesting indeed Duncan Hart who had a dark and very well-crafted set about a heart problem in a hospital, a drug overdose, a mugging at gunpoint and much more. Not obvious comedy subjects and potentially difficult to tailor for comedy in a 5-minute spot, but he performed it flawlessly.
The only downside was that, looking around the Comedy Cafe’s full room, I was, as usual, almost certainly the oldest punter in the room. This depressing scenario is even more depressing when I am up at the Edinburgh Fringe and street flyerers ignore me without a second glance because – clearly, at my age – I can’t possibly be interested in comedy.
Ricky Grover cast me as a bank manager in his Bulla showreel because he has always said I look like a banker (and I don’t think he was using Cockney rhyming slang). After the financial meltdown, I should take this as an insult. And I will. But I won’t tell him.
It would be far too dangerous.
It will be our little secret.
Just you and me.