Last night (Monday) I had the pleasure of appearing (in the guise of the Socks) at a comedy gig, launching the revamped Colston Hall in Bristol, organised by the man who has, for the last half dozen years, been Bristol's comedy curator, Mark Olver.
I have long had a cultural cringe when working with comedians. A feeling that I may not be either as famous or, more importantly, as funny as them. There is a pecking order in comedy, regularly refreshed and competed for, and one I've frequently felt out of place in. Especially in Bristol where, from 1994, I was the compere of the Comedy Box and the man who had the privilege of, firstly, being introduced for the first time by Simon Pegg, then having the pleasure of being the first person to welcome to the stage such would-be luminaries as Marcus Brigstocke, Stephen Merchant and the line-up of tonight's show.
Tonight was to be a celebration of Bristol comedy, and Mark had drawn together the best of the last decade's comics to have sprung from this city. Having felt like the Godfather of many of these artists comedy careers I should feel okay in being there, but I'd be the first to say that, on merit, I as a solo artist wouldn't have deserved a place on the bill. But two things won me a slot. My Michael Jackson routine, which anyone who's seen me solo has seen, and the Scottish Falsetto Socks who have not only eclipsed any of my prior work as a comic, but who have also appropriated the aforementioned MJ routine, so Mark knew he could happily have them on the bill, knowing they brought with them my good comedy guise and my one good banker of a routine. That said, we merited 5 minutes on the bill, a brevity of slot matched only by the headliner. (As David Brent would point out, as we were being paid irrelevant of the length of the slot.. well, you do the maths).
What a bill. First act, after a blinding warm up by Mark, was Russell Howard. No one would dare to deny Russell (of whom I was first to say "ladies and gentlemen" etc) is the most successful of our generation. Okay, Russell and Marcus, but actually two critical years separate them. Marcus won the BBC New Comedian Award in 1996, two years before both Russell and Mark emerged, so he's really Bristol pre-history, along with Pegg, Matt Lucas and David Walliams.
Russell opening a night's stand up is a rare thing and by god a hard act to follow. The Colston Hall is also not the easiest room to play. 2000 punters and an indomitable echo stand in comedy's path, but Russell trumped it and rocked the house valiantly.
And that was the start of the night. And no one but no one let the side down from then on. Tom Craine, Sally Ann Hayward, James Dowdeswell, Wil Hodgson, John Robins, Dan Atkinson, the brilliant band Bucky, Ian Cognito, Jared Hardy (and I'm bound to have forgotten someone totally marvellous, sorry) so many acts so good I forgot they even had a Bristol connection. For me the funniest most laugh out loud act was Richard Herring, who I also had the chance to talk comedy with backstage, which very sadly I counted as a much greater privilege than I'm sure he did.
The Socks got away with their set, introduced via video by Mark Watson (who, I didn't hear, but I'm pretty sure didn't mention that the last time I MC'ed for him in Bristol I introduced as Dave Watson). And there was another video piece by another CPF (close personal friend) Stephen Merchant.
The show was closed by a very special appearance by VIP Justin Lee Collins, who was the first to admit his stand-up was not his best feature. Instead of trying comedy he gave us a brilliant karaoke rendition of It's Not Unusual. So, after 4 hours (and 8 costume changes by Mark Olver) an audience went home very happy.
I came away feeling I, and the Socks, had just about held our own with the big boys. Funny that I should feel so much more famous outside of the town where my comedy first flourished. Bristol has a fantastic comedy heritage, heaven knows what the new wave holds.