Letters To A Young Comedian

Monday 7 November 2005, The Stage

When I interviewed the poet Roger McGough during a three-day trip to Italy, I observed that he had a notebook with him at all times and on several occasions he spotted something which caused him to fish it out and write in it a few words as an aide memoire for later. He told me he was surprised that I wasn’t doing the same and I changed the subject. In fact, I do have a similar regime but felt a bit embarrassed to produce my own scruffy little book because it felt like I was competing with the nearly Poet Laureate.

Every comedian is to one degree or another a writer and every writer should always have a pen and a piece of paper to hand because when a comic thought arises from a situation you are in or a joke - oh joy! - arrives unbidden from the ether, then you must make a note of it immediately because you will sure as hell fail to recollect it in tranquillity if you don’t.

Most comics have a tale of a world-savingly brilliant routine they once thought up but forgot on the bus home. If I don’t have a notebook, I usually ask the waiter of the restaurant, bar or coffee shop I am probably in to furnish me with something, which is why my house is littered with napkins and receipts all splattered with scrawlings .

I make it sound like I am in a constantly receptive state, merely noting thoughts despatched straight from God. However, a cursory look at one of my jotters shows that most of what I write down is incomprehensible or a more prosaic ‘to do’ list.

One page is given over entirely to “ring Dan”. Another states “world-famous palm reader”, a phrase whose significance is now lost to me. Below this, the word “discharge”. But hang on, what is this? I see I have written “Are you thinking what I’m thinking? After I’ve introduced the next act I’ll nip backstage and have a smoke?” This obviously dates from the last election and I recall using it with some success at the Hackney Empire. Good job, I thought, to write it down.

Some of the stuff in this small rectangular register of dreams - I’m trying hard not to use ‘notebook’ again - is of an embarrassingly low standard, such that I will vouchsafe only one example:

“Corps de ballet”, I write, followed by what I must have thought was the funny coda, “Cor! Da ballet!”

Let us move on. Past another page - big field… dead tree… two kissing gates… rosedale (illegible)… stone hut - and past the green folder, home of the scribbles that are worth keeping for a while. Let us finally land and bid farewell to the little notepad, for I fear they won’t bother to manufacture them in ten years’ time.

Even I, a man whose expertise in technology is more Meccano than modem, find my files are not all cardboard any more and have even put a thought down on my mobile when I didn’t have a pen.

Time’s winged chariot is blowing the leaves from the trees and also from the books.

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