Letters To A Young Comedian

Monday 13 December 2004, The Stage

It is hard for me to imagine this but I’m sure it must be the case - there are some readers of The Stage who never read my column and others (even worse) who read the first couple of lines and lose interest. There are probably fewer of you reading this sentence than read my first one and fewer still will travel the whole journey to the final full stop.

Everyone has to learn to accept rejection but comedians have to learn it more than most. There are few rejections more painful than the one that involves standing on a raised platform being roundly booed by 300 people. Soldiers face the ultimate version of it - dealing with people who reject them so heavily that they kill them.

At the start of a career in showbiz you get it all the time. You fail auditions, have your ideas turned down by young men in jackets and have to endure successful friends looking down on you.

I learnt to cope with it as a young man haunting the discos of south-east London. For every girl who agreed to dance with me about 200 said no, causing my skin to become so tough that I could bang nails into it.

Performers and writers have to endure bad reviews. Other professions do not have this humiliation. Bank managers do not open their newspapers to find someone writing how useless they are at their job but by the same token they never get the opportunity to swan around in a frock on TV at awards ceremonies. Thus they are doubly lucky.

I bring this up, forlorn reader, because I sense that just recently, perhaps even yesterday, you received a slap in the professional face. Me too.

My idea had been to present one of my walking tours along London’s South Bank under the aegis of the National Theatre. I could use out of work actors favoured by the NT to act out my hilarious promenade spectacle. I outlined this marvellous idea to Nicholas Hytner in a rambling handwritten letter. By return of post (which these days means two months later) I received his bald reply: “We are unable to help you with your scheme.”

I came over all hissy for a while and stamped around before remembering Joe Pasquale’s remark that “despair and disillusion are essential moments in the progress of the intellectual soul”. We have been humbled and we must learn to benefit from it. Mind you, I reckon Hytner must be a bastard.

• When John Peel died, the BBC received an incredible 30,000 emails. Truly he was a popular man. Much, rightly, has been written about his passion, sensitivity, integrity and generosity. I’d take to endorse all that and add one small thing - he was a marvellous writer of links. It is not a much lauded skill but writing links that are succint, informative and witty is, I know, very hard. He raised it almost to an art form. The world is less interesting for his absence.

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