Next Monday, the movie Huge premieres in London, with a general release on 8th July. It is directed by comedy actor Ben Miller and co-scripted by Simon Godley.
Simon Godley is interesting because he used to play the stand-up comedy circuit but is now a dentist to many top British comedians. Well, he was always a dentist when he himself was a comedian, but now he has a trendy Notting Hill surgery, also runs an art gallery at the same address and acts occasionally.
Huge first premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June. It is about a struggling comedy double act and their ambitions to be the new Morecambe and Wise. Written (in alphabetical order) by Jez Butterworth, Simon Godley and Ben Miller, it was originally a stage play at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1993 and seen as an in-joke about the Fringe but it has also been called “a more universal meditation on the dark heart of comedy”,
The stage play was set in a squat and had only two characters, played by Ben Miller and Simon Godley.
“The most appealing thing about it first of all,” says Ben Miller, “was that it had two characters and one setting. It seemed a cheap film to make. But, of course, by the time we started filming it had fifty actors and umpteen locations and wasn’t cheap at all.”
In the movie, the roles that Ben Miller and Simon Godley played on stage are now taken by Johnny Harris and Noel Clarke.
Simon Godley suggested that every other comic in the film should be played by a real one. So, for one scene set at a comedy awards (surprisingly not the Malcolm Hardee Awards), Jo Brand, Alan Davies, Harry Hill, Eddie Izzard and Frank Skinner play themselves.
“If your dentist asked a favour, would you dare turn him down?” Ben Miller says.
And then there’s also Stephen K Amos, Ronni Ancona, David Baddiel, Ninia Benjamin, Kevin Bishop, Jack Dee, Hattie Hayridge, Mark Lamarr, Rory McGrath, Sean Mayo, Alistair McGowan, Sally Phillips and Nick Revell all playing themselves plus Simon Day playing a character strangely called Noel Faulkner.
Simon Godley’s celebrity dentist status brought to my mind what happened to Jonathan Meres after he left stand-up comedy.
He used to play the comedy circuit under the name Johnny Immaterial. His opening line was:
“Hello. The name’s immaterial,.. Johnny Immaterial.”
He used to make me laugh mightily though, it has to be said, often more from his charisma and delivery than from the material. It was an act without its own catchphrase but, when Johnny Immaterial intoned “Ooooh, nooo, matron!” in Kenneth Williams‘ unmistakable nasal twang, you could forgive him anything.
He disappeared from the circuit, as I heard it at the time, when he found a good woman in Edinburgh. Anything is possible in Edinburgh.
He was Perrier Award-nominated in 1993 for a show called My Booze Hell By Little Johnny Cartilage, the same year Simon Godley and Ben Miller performed Huge at the Edinburgh Fringe but he played his last stand-up gig in 1994 after, as I understand it, he became disenchanted with the business.
Johnny Immaterial reverted to being Jonathan Meres and became a very highly successful children’s author, publishing his first book in 1998; he has also written extensively for children’s television and, like Simon Godley, kept his performing skills up-to-scratch with various acting roles.
So, yes, there is life after stand-up comedy – it generally pays better and it may lead on to even better things.