For our final splurge on Comedy Saturday we thought we’d go for broke and see Johnny Vegas fronting a Comedy Club special, with him as the compere and three or four acts all doing their own thing. None of us had ever seen Johnny Vegas live before and didn’t know quite what to expect. I’d seen him on TV of course – guesting on panel shows, being one of the best things about Benidorm, and playing a surprisingly effective self-combustible Krook in the BBC’s Bleak House 12 years ago. I don’t think I was prepared for someone so eloquent, creative, unpredictable and thoroughly naughty as he proved himself to be on Saturday night!
He told us that he’d already done an earlier show – not compering but proper stand-up – which had gone off at a tangent because of one particular audience member, but which hadn’t really gone well because the audience didn’t come with him on his flights of fancy. That must be a really awkward situation; because just ten minutes in the company of Mr Vegas tells you that flights of fancy are the order of the day, and any pre-prepared material is probably there just as a backup if all else fails. He’d barely been on a few seconds when he started picking his way through the front row looking for suitable quarry – and there were two guys. The first guy started to bat back the questions in that semi-confident, taciturn but I can handle this way; and then he caught sight of his mate. 99% of the audience didn’t get a look at this guy because we were all sitting behind him. But he obviously appealed to Mr Vegas’ sense of nurturing the oppressed, because this guy had obviously allowed himself to grow the most appalling, all-over-the-place apology for a beard, so that he looked a disgrace and Mr Vegas was not going to let him get away with it.
Whilst this was not Mr Vegas’ only comic tack of the evening, everything did seem to revolve around Useless Beardy Guy. There was no end to the gentle humiliation heading his way during the course of the night, which grew in complexity and status as Mr Vegas ended up encouraging a member of the audience – a rather mouthy lady (perhaps not inappropriately) – to (and I quote) w*nk him off for £500. Others, not all of them with female voices, attempted to undercut this offer, but Mr Vegas wasn’t holding a Dutch Auction. After the next act, the original volunteer had slumped forward in her seat in a paralytic stupor** but Mr Vegas had made an onstage promise that the w*nking would take place. Naturally troubled by this, it culminated in Mr Vegas holding an uncomfortable phone call with his late-night lawyer, where he was concerned that he might now be contractually obliged to cause Beardy Guy to climax in his (Mr Vegas’) hand, in a council-run property (and he admitted sotto voce that he didn’t really want to) and would he need a licence for this? The whole thing was absolutely hilarious and I was shaking with laughter.
In amongst all that shenanigans Johnny Vegas introduced three special guests, all of whom were on absolutely top form. First up was Kevin Dewsbury, whom we have seen many times before, most recently about four hours earlier as the TV chef-cum-walking disaster in Kev’s Komedy Kitchen. Mr Dewsbury took us through his embarrassing St Patrick’s Day moment and his marvellous routine about enunciating foreign words perfectly – I’m so guilty of that myself. He had a whole load of new material as well, perfectly suiting his matey, blokey persona and he got a great reception from the audience. Our second guest was new to us, Guz Khan, still a teacher until two years ago. He is a real find, with a superbly confident stage presence (I bet his kids paid attention to his lessons) and great material that didn’t shy away from the tough subjects like ISIS and Morning Assembly. He absolutely aced the crowd. Our final act, also new to us, was Paul McCaffrey, with some great observations on the wisdom of the fitness guru who recommends replacing chocolate with raw veg, and, whilst on holiday, eschewing licking shots from a nymphette’s belly button in Ibiza in preference to playing cards on the balcony with the wife (“after all, we went to the pub last night…”)
But it really was Mr Vegas’ night. He has such a quick mind and the ability to winkle something humorously ridiculous from the most banal of situations. He’d have you believe he was raising money for some spurious charity, or that he needed to quickly nip backstage to check he hadn’t left a camp stove on whilst leaving Useless Beardy Guy singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for our amusement. He created a wonderful visual image of applying his backside to the TV screen during This Morning so that it looked like Piers Morgan was rimming him; and he had a battle with his braces, before the third act, causing slowly descending trousers, from which he produced tons of hilarious physical comedy. The next morning all six of us kept on remembering varied elements of his reckless night’s entertainment; it was officially fabulous. As was our entire Leicester Comedy Festival experience, and we’re hoping to make it an annual event, when we all return and throw ourselves at the festival for an entire weekend. Here’s to 2018!
**She said she was a teacher so Mr Vegas wondered if it was the SATs and not the alcohol that had sent her off to sleep.
P. S. I discovered later that Mr Vegas doesn’t really have a late-night lawyer with whom he can discuss such delicate topics – it was Kevin Dewsbury on the other end of the phone. I’m embarrassed to say though that it didn’t occur to me that this was a stunt; if anyone is going to have resort to a late-night Comedy Lawyers 4U contact it would be Johnny Vegas. He must need this kind of advice all the time.
P. P. S. The show started at 8.30pm and was due to finish at 10.30pm. Shortly before midnight you could see the promoter agitatedly standing near the stage trying to get Johnny Vegas’ attention so that he would wrap it all up. I did tell you he was unpredictable.