Letters To A Young Comedian

Monday 8 March 2004, The Stage

Nick Hancock - TV host, comedian and useful inside left - told me that he was once at an airport check-in with a pushy TV producer who was determined to get the pair of them an upgrade on the grounds of Nick’s fame. Alas, the check-in lady was not familiar with They Think It’s All Over or indeed any of Nick’s oeuvre. “Have you got a card to prove this?” she asked the producer. Nick, who was of course squirming in embarrassment, nevertheless found time to be amused by the notion of a celebrity card. This would presumably be like a flashy credit card with an airbrushed mug shot issued by a sort of showbiz civil service on the occasion of your diagnosis as a celebrity.

If you have starred in a big film or a hit TV show the card need not be renewed for a year. If, however, you have put in a comically dismal performance in the early rounds of Pop Idol, then the card would only be valid for a month. The chances of being issued with another would probably be slim.

The celebrity card would permit you to walk to the front of queues, wear dark glasses at night, give access to trendy bars and a free consultation with a therapist who works at the Priory. You would also be given the phone number of an emergency PR service for when you are found in bed with a crack dealer and a Blue Peter presenter.

I worry for the word ‘celebrity’. It is now used so often in so many places that I fear for its health. A third of all TV shows have it as the first word of the title, it is splattered over every page of every publication and is spoken by the average Briton every eight seconds. Twenty years ago, in its youth, ‘celebrity’ worked hard but now it is insanely busy at a time when it might be nice to start thinking about retirement.

The celebrity card does not exist yet but in the minds of journalists there is, somewhere, a series of lists marked with different letters. I can’t tell you how annoyed I get by this. Oh yes, actually I can.

Every tired hack talks about ‘A-list celebrities’, who are internationally famous, actors, musicians etc. But what they really prefer is all the letters after ‘A’ which they can use to sneer at the primped up individuals, who are not Clint Eastwood.

One journalist refers to someone as a D-list celeb but the next hack, spurred on to a new level of wit, talks about ‘F-list’. After this even the worst cliche-monger realises they’re flogging a dead joke until - wait! - you can write ‘Z-list’! Brilliant!

Looking back on these last paragraphs I see that I have become insane and must take my medication immediately.

One or two of my readers may have come across my father Syd and, if you did, you will certainly remember him. He died last week. He had an Olympian lack of interest in the world of celebrity but he was the warmest, funniest man I ever knew.

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