Opinion: Small is Beautiful

It started, appropriately enough, as a joke. In autumn 2007 I was writing a review for the Evening Standard and I moaned about how difficult it was becoming to find a parking space in the centre of London. I concluded by suggesting that soon the closest space I might get would be outside my house in South London. A few days later I received a cheeky email from promoter Tom Searle, the bowl-haired whizzkid behind an organisation called Laughter in Odd Places. They had put on quirky, intimate gigs in launderettes and museums and Tom playfully suggested that if I was having so much trouble getting to gigs the mountain would come to Muhammed and he would put on a gig in my lounge.

And so, on the afternoon of Sunday, November 18th 2007 the furniture was pushed to the back of the lounge and a small, well-behaved crowd of people, quite a lot dressed like traditional indie kids in vintage clothing who had won tickets via Tom's website, started arriving at my front door. Most brought cake, some brought chocolate. I seem to remember there was a lot of marshmallow. 

There was also a lot of acts, who all performed in the front of my living room, making the windows steam up and passers-by wonder if I was having an afternoon orgy. You can read a review of the gig here. Jo Neary presented a quirky sex education lesson, Pappy's - still called Pappy's Fun Club back then – did a few of their best sketches. Richard Herring made typically inappropriate remarks to one of my daughter's friends and criticised the state of my curtains. My girlfriend still brings up his curtains jibe to this day. Compere Terry Saunders was the perfect genial host, making the crowd laugh constantly, but in a polite way that did not disturb the neighbours.

The reason I have been thinking about this gig is that in recent weeks it has been reported that both Louis CK and Miranda Hart are going to play the 16,000 capacity O2 Arena. I can't help but think that it is a pity comedy has become so big that successful acts have to play such anonymous enormodomes. I have had some quite good nights at the O2. I've liked Lee Evans there. And Eddie Izzard. Even Ricky Gervais. But I have never been at an O2 show where I've been glad I was at such a big venue. All of the good shows would all have been better if they had taken place in my lounge. 

The acts that appeared that day have mostly gone on to bigger things themselves, if not quite O2 level. Although Terry Saunders does not seem to gig much these days, Jo Neary is always good fun and recently played the incredibly irritating all-singing playgroup leader in Miranda, while curtain-abusing Richard Herring has become the king of internet comedy with more podcasts than you can shake a cyberstick at. As for Pappy's, as they became after Brendon Dodds left, they had a brilliant Edinburgh in 2012 and are now developing a sitcom for BBC3. Though the last time I saw the group's shortest member, Matthew Crosby, he was dressed as a hound and appearing alongside Tim Brooke-Taylor on BBC1's Animal Antics. I expect he only did it so that the edition of Before They Were Famous in 2025 will have something of him to screen.

So without me cursing the parking situation in London's West End I wouldn't have had one of the best comedy experiences of my life. And I didn't even have to leave my lounge to have it. Every time I've been at a big gig since I've looked back on that marshmallow-packed Sunday afternoon and got a little wistful. It was nice to hear that the performers enjoyed the gig too. You can read Richard Herring's blog on the gig here.

 

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