“Chase me” star Duncan Norvelle, 64, veteran comedian Jimmy Jones, 84, and Liverpool-born master of one-liner Mick Miller, 72, were among a nine-person cast offering an old school tsunami. laughs to grateful full of people.
West Country stand-up Cerys Nelmes, 44 and relatively young, quipped: “It’s an honor to be in this lineup with all these comedy legends. To be honest, I thought most of them were dead.”
A joke with a sting of truth. When producer Jim Davidson had the idea of making a show in the fast-paced spirit of ITV’s long-running hit The Comedians, one of the first comedians he asked was Duggie Brown, who died weeks later aged 82.
“I was going to make them go older first, just in case,” joked Jim, 69.
The project has been plagued with problems. Aging stars Roy Walker, Johnnie Casson and Jimmy Cricket were too ill to appear, a cameraman crashed, and there were unfulfilled threats to picket the show.
But the public loved it. 1,000 people, a capacity crowd, attended over two nights. People had come from Wales, Windsor, Essex, Lancashire and beyond. Why? “It’s an event,” Simon, 38, from west London, told me. “I have come because it could be my last chance to see these legends live.”
On the first night, the cockney comedian Jones, a favorite of the late Duke of Edinburgh, looked frail, but the years slipped away as he began his performance.
“No overdubbed laugh track will be required,” said film director and producer Robert Garofalo.
Other comedians on the bill included Bobby Davro, 64, in manic form, Mike Osman, 63, who appeared as Trump (“wouldn’t it be great if he could do the voice?”), and Northern club Clive Cooper, whose TV roles include Brassic, Shameless and Coronation Street.
Norwich-born comedian Justin Panks, 47, told me: “I’m not sure if they wanted me here to perform or to harvest my organs.”
And he added: “Cancel culture is corrosive. People like my parents like joke-based comedy. My parents are not bad people. Are they not allowed to laugh?
“I’m on what’s called the alternative circuit but if I’m in a heavy metal band it doesn’t mean we should ban country. It seems that this comedy is too blue-collar for television. It’s all about Oxbridge now.”
London comedian Nik Coppin said: “It’s great to work with legends. Mick Miller was a master class and the crowd was fantastic. They call me ‘young Nik’, I’m fifty years old!”
Davidson, who is filming the show for his channel Ustreme, said: “We just want to make people laugh like before. It’s about giving people the best night they’ve had in a long time.
“The jokes are great. People like to go to work the next day and tell him. You can’t do that if you’re looking at Nish Kumar.”
Duncan, a stroke survivor, calls himself “a special needs guest star.” Said Jim: “He is the bravest of all of us: on stage in a wheelchair to face a tough audience, he did very well.
“Her catchphrase used to be ‘Chase me, chase me,’ now it’s ‘Push me, push me.’
“How do you know if Duncan is having an affair with your wife? Tire tracks on the duvet…”
ITV’s The Comedians made stars out of dozens of stand-ups, including Mike Reid, Russ Abbot, Frank Carson, Jim Bowen, Ken Goodwin and Stan Boardman.
Born on the workers’ club circuit, it ran for eleven series between 1971 and 1992, spawning Christmas specials, a traveling seaside show and a hit album.
Cerys said: “There is a real sense of solidarity tonight. We all traveled here together and they had so many interesting stories. I mean, of course, it was about colostomy bags, pacemakers and hip replacements…
“As the token woman in the lineup, I thought she at least had the biggest breasts, but no, Clive took that mantle.”
The audience included professional wrestlers, Status Quo manager and indie pop singer, Joe Ward, 30, of Southampton, who found the evening “refreshing” and told Jim: “I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. Thank you , this is just what we need.”
- Proper Comedians starts on the Ustreme streaming channel later this month
- Ustreme was plagued with abusive phone calls in the lead up to filming. Spokeswoman Victoria Nash told the Daily Express [in November]: “He is really unhinged. We had people saying it was ‘disgusting’ that we were putting on a show full of ‘old white men making racist and homophobic jokes’ even before the series was filmed! There were no jokes like that. They are the ones with the prejudice.”
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