Stand up and be counted out

Long long time ago, I worked Saturday nights on the sports desk of the People newspaper. The shift was always great fun and I was honoured to work alongside some very talented sports subs who had in their younger days been at the very top of football reporting and editing.

The work was intensive as we edited copy that came in from the country’s finest drinkers (particularly the Scottish match reports) and we had little time for the nuances of the English language. After knocking the reports into shape we then had playtime – coming up with pun headlines and that was when the real creative juices were flowing.

My dear mate Andy Cooper (now editor of Devon Life) came up with the best football headline of all time; around 1997 Chelsea had a goalkeeper from Moscow called Dimitri Kharin and he saved a penalty late in one game to win the match. Andy’s headline From Russia with glove deserves to hang in the National Gallery.

I came up with plenty myself of course; Niall Quinn missing a late penalty (Death on the Niall) and QPR losing 4-0 at home under manager Stewart Houston (Houston, we have a problem). These Saturday night frolics spilled into the day job as I persuaded a Christmas cracker company to buy some generic puns (I’ve written an opera about the economics of Cornish pasties…the pie rates of Penzance.)

Around three years ago I started writing generic one liners and put them before a quality control committee of my elder son Tom and three mates, David, Tony and Dan. When a new pun came to me in the middle of the night I’d send it to myself through my smartphone and the QC people kept the better ones for a short list.

And after scything the short list of around 300 down to 50 I decided that at my age I am not going to get too many chances to see if they work and after friends persuaded me that my material is good enough for a live audience, I took the plunge on London’s Open Mic circuit.

To date I have done seven gigs, each one of which I have thoroughly enjoyed. The way it works is that there are around 20 people doing a five-minute slot each and you are expected to take a friend so there will be at least 40 people in the audience. It is rare to find people doing the one-liner routines, most of the stuff people churn out is observational comedy (finding a girlfriend/boyfriend, job and flat) along with totally ‘left field’ stuff like the guy who spend his routine setting up the stage like the start of a 100m race.

The most interesting thing for me is the different reaction to the same joke in two different venues – from laughter to silence. And it has taken me a few gigs to realise that presentation is far more important than quality of material. So there is plenty to work on.

Here are a few from the collection:

I auditioned for one of the support roles in Snow White….I didn’t even make the short list.

I lost my temper with the boss at the aircraft repair centre….so they sent me on a hangar management course.

I got a part-time job in a bowling alley….I’m tenpin.

I was gutted not to make the pole vault team at university…..never got over it.









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