Geoff Whiting, Mr Comedy
A significant number of years ago, I and WoSblog associate J Nash used to be regular attenders of the weekly Comedy Cavern comedy club in Bath. Located in the tiny cellar of a popular studenty pub on Sunday nights and able to seat maybe 30 people and cram in another 30 or so standing up, it featured both up-and-coming and established acts at abnormally low prices. Robin Ince, Ross Noble, Brendon Burns and an astonishing, paint-blistering set from Jerry Sadowitz were just a few of the highlights from tickets costing just £3 or £4.
The club kept putting on good acts, but after a few months we both had to stop going, and the reason was the compere. Agonisingly, murderously awful, he would systematically annihilate every last scintilla of atmosphere with dreadful audience “banter” and reading out headlines from the local newspaper for what felt like hours at a time. Combined with the hard wooden seats and the endless intervals (compere-interval-compere-support-interval-compere-interval-headliner wasn’t an uncommon running order), by the time the main act finally went onstage you’d be in such an abysmal mood of barely-suppressed rage that almost nobody could be funny enough to compensate for the previous two hours of torture.
(Turning up late wasn’t a great option either, as in addition to missing potentially good support acts you’d have to stand. That’s an uncivilised way to watch comedy at the best of times, and the cellar is laid out in such a way that you’d have no chance of seeing the stage, but would spend all night getting your feet stood on by people who’d inexplicably failed to buy their drinks or go to the toilet during one of the many intervals and felt that a better time would be in the middle of the main set.)
So regretfully we stayed away, but last night I was tempted back for the first time in the best part of a decade. Walking past the venue earlier in the day, I noticed that Phil Nichol was playing that very evening. I’d seen him at the same venue years before, with an incredible and unforgettable performance that instantly made him one of my all-time favourite comics, which he still is. Over the years the pain of the Cavern’s compere had subsided a bit, so even when I noticed he was still doing MC duties I resolved to go along.
I’d had a very late Saturday, though, and by 6.45pm – just 15 minutes before doors-open time – lack of sleep had caught up with me and I felt terrible. So I had a bit of a nap instead, but woke up around 8.50 feeling much better and realised that as the show wasn’t billed to start until 8pm, Phil almost certainly wouldn’t have gone on yet, and with the club only a five-minute walk away I could still catch the show. I made enquiries and discovered that he wasn’t actually due onstage until 10pm, so I had a further little snooze and then braved the icy roads to get to the club for 9.55.
I arrived with perfect timing, just as they were about to play the intro music for the final part of the show. This meant that I only had to endure five minutes of the dreadful compere, but mitigated by the fact that he’d had several years to hone his act since we used to go there, and would presumably be less appalling.
They may have been the longest five minutes of my life. To my uncomprehending horror, he’d gotten LESS funny. The audience “banter” was even more toe-curlingly ghastly – somehow bullying and desperately needy at the same time – and there were now no actual jokes interspersed with it at all, not even the “funny” stories from the local papers. You know those hideous, interminable “meet the contestants” bits on Bullseye or Strike It Lucky? Think those, but hosted by a recently-divorced car-clamper, and all gabbled out so quickly and nervously that half of the crowd had to ask for things to be repeated so they could understand them.
After two gruesome minutes, knowing there were still probably three to go, I honestly seriously contemplated leaving, standing outside in the freezing cold among the smokers and coming back again, but I figured I’d only attract his attention while I put my coat on, and then either have to participate in the miserable debacle that was his “banter” or actually just launch into a stream of foul-mouthed invective that might be enough to put him off, but would probably also put a bit of a downer on the atmosphere just before the headline act.
So I grimaced and thought about bunny rabbits and ice-cream and somehow made it through to the headline set, which turned out to be 25 minutes long and made up of material up to 17 years old, 95% of which I’d heard before, performed by someone losing his voice who was probably too ill to have been on stage, and which was still roughly seventeen thousand times more entertaining than five minutes of the idiot host.
Comrade Nash and I had previously, with our trademark wit and wordplay, dubbed the compere Geoff Unfunny. But we were wrong. It’s much worse than that, and it wasn’t until last night that I saw the true form of the dread. He isn’t just unfunny. HE IS THE ANTIFUNNY.
HE WILL DESTROY ALL COMEDY. FEAR HIM.