‘Booed off in 17 seconds’ comedians recall their first gigs
Shappi Khorsandi felt as if shed walked on the moon. Isy Suttie watched a man change a dressing on a wound as she spoke. Omid Djalili fell off the stage. So how did the first gigs of Paul Merton, Susan Calman and other top comics go?
I was on at midnight and did a show about a policeman giving evidence in court, after someone has given him a hallucinogenic drug. It was April 1982 and the venue was a bit of a bearpit: the original Soho Comedy Store in London. Id been working on my four-minute piece for about six weeks. It was full of surreal non-sequiturs, as the policeman describes his hallucinations in a straightforward, policeman-like manner. My favourite line was: I then saw Constable Parish approaching me, disguised as a fortnights holiday in Benidorm.
Id read about police busteding an LSD factory in Wales and ingesting some of the dust. One of them had said: I was sitting in the pub with Detective Inspector Norris when I noticed my pint of beer was getting bigger. But he said it in a matter-of-fact way, like it was: The Ford Cortina was parked outside for 25 minutes.
I bought a policemans helmet from a tourist shop and took along a notebook, in which I had written down the whole monologue. Knowing it was all there gave me tremendous confidence. I had no performance experience but I stormed it! The audience went wild. I walked all the way home, getting back to my bedsit in Streatham at 7am. It was something Id dreamed about doing since I was four. Id left the civil service in 1980 to do comedy. That routine got me through the next 18 months. Every time I had a mediocre gig, I thought back to that first night.
Paul Mertons Impro Chums is at the Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 11-21 August