EDIT: This was a blog post I originally wrote in July 2015, not long after the 'final' Pear-Shaped gig at the Fitzroy. At the time it looked possible that Pear-Shaped would return within a short time frame, so wasn't sure whether it would be appropriate to post it. Now it's October 2020 and I've seen a few nostalgic posts about Pear-Shaped, so thought I would throw my memories out too. Somewhere I have a nice video of the room, but can't find it at the moment. Hope you enjoy it.
A lot has changed in the comedy world since my first Pear-Shaped gig in 2003.
When I first started you needed to have a copy of Time Out by your side, and you had to actually pick up the phone and call people for a gig.
I had my copy of Time Out and dutifully went through the comedy listings looking for the classifieds that stated ‘Interested acts call….’.
Totally innocent in those days I called everyone, from the Comedy Store to Pear-Shaped – being as business-like and professional as I could be - I started my day early and got on the phone.
Then I spoke to Brian Damage – he gave me one of the most valuable pieces of information at the start of my career:
“Don’t call promoters up in the morning” he said.
And with that he hung up....
...Except that he didn’t hang up at all – he was helpful and friendly giving me the above advice and more about who else to call, how to get open spots and inviting me down to do a spot at the Fitzroy tavern – in the centre of London.
I was very excited at this prospect and had my best 5 minutes (alright it was probably 3 at that time) prepared for the comedy audience.
I can’t actually remember that first gig, although I probably have it on cassette recording somewhere – I used to record every gig I did at the beginning.
What I do remember is that over those first few years Pear Shaped was a comedian’s gig (often only attended by comedians) and that there was something special about it. Going to Pear Shaped was like being accepted into the comedy family, being greeted by Brian, Krysstal, El Nino (or, later, Al Mandolino) playing tunes on the banjo, and a completely weird and wonderful line up of comedians.
Some were rookies like me, some were ‘seasoned’ comedians, that seemed to keep coming back to pear-shaped week after week. It was these comedians, along with Brian and Krysstal that made Pear-Shaped the unique experience of being a fantastic gig, but still able to hold on to the mantle of ‘London’s second-worst comedy gig’.
To do this gig you had to enjoy comedy for the sake of comedy – no point in wanting audience adulation, no point in wanting to be a star, you just had to like getting up on stage (or floor) and telling jokes.
One of my favourite memories was the night that a very new comedian came along and got more and more wound up about the fact that Brian and the rest of the audience (which I believe that night consisted only of comedians) were not taking the night seriously. Unfortunately for him the angrier he became the funnier we found it, culminating in his storming off into the night with our laughter echoing down the corridor after him.
Some nights I’d go along and Brian and Krysstal were not there – I’d very much miss their presence as they made Pear Shaped what it was – towards the end it consisted of Anthony Miller compering – bringing his own form of Stockholm syndrome into play and literally captivating an audience. This is itself was a joy to watch for the objective observer.
I want to pay tribute to the stalwarts of the Pear-Shaped hall of fame as I remember them (apologies if any left off)
Jimbo (English version) Yes! There is often a Jimbo (or Tony Bournemouth) sized hole at Pear-Shaped these days, and it is very noticeable. Watching Jimbo being unleashed onto an audience is like watching a lion being released on unsuspecting Christians. The look on their faces is priceless.
John Sharp – the seasoning in a good Pear Shaped night – he will literally amaze you with his puns.
Comedy magician Ray Presto – ‘Good Evening Talent Lovers!’ he would exclaim at the beginning of his set and then bedazzle the audience with his charm, his jokes and his magic. In 2012 he did his final trick and then unfortunately ‘disappeared’.
Phil Klein - An often misunderstood comedian, I believe he had a talent, but sometimes he seemed to set out to alienate an audience, something that was very in keeping with a Pear Shaped show.
Norby West Often in a compere tag team with Paul Foot, and both brought a much needed surreal edge to the night. My favourite night with these two was the infamous ‘Comedy Terrorist’ show, in which Aaron Barschak (not sure if that’s correct spelling and I can’t be bothered to google it), not only stole the show, but broke it, and ended at least one person’s comedy career at Pear-Shaped.
Barschak turned up with long hair, a long beard and completely white suit – imagine a more run down John Lennon on the Abbey Road cover, and you’re more or less there. Most people (including me) didn’t recognise him, and he proceeded to act weird all evening, looking morose and getting in people’s way ‘accidently’. When it was his turn to go up, he took a guitar on stage and started to play what I’d describe as a dirge.
The Pear-shaped collective were collectively bemused.
At the point that this seemed to be going on for too long, his female accomplice stood up behind him and from a bag took a tub of chocolate ice cream, and proceeded to pour it over his head whilst he continued to play. The ice cream spilled down his head, onto his shoulders, down his white suit and then eventually great mounds of it collected on the floor. He then finished his act, leaving a very large puddle of chocolate ice cream all over the floor.
Norby erupted in anger, even Paul was very miffed. Barschak beat a hasty retreat to the toilets to clean himself up and quickly after that, left the building, not before being berated once again by Norby. I accompanied Paul and Norby into the toilet to survey the mess. It looked like someone had had a very bad toilet accident everywhere. We spent a good twenty minutes clearing this mess up, and I thought that, although the night ended badly, at least I was helping out, and they may start to grow to like me and remember me in future.
I think that may have been the last night they did.
I hear that Pear-shaped may be back – in a new room, and in a different pub, and that after the refurb at the Fitzroy it may even be back in its natural home, and I sincerely hope so.
However, Pear shaped was Pear Shaped for me, because it was in that room with the curtain half-hanging up, and the wooden benches and the wooden floor – if they change it, it may not be the same.
Wherever it ends up, and whatever the décor, I hope it still feels like Pear Shaped.
Thank you Pear Shaped for getting me started in Comedy, and I hope to see you again soon.
Christmas for Adults is a Bit Rubbish
There – I’ve said it.
Deep down we all know it’s true.
When you’re a child you get excited about a month before. You’re looking forward to all the wonderful presents that Santa is going to bring you - wonders await, loads of presents, exciting toys that you can’t wait to show to your friends, games, books, electronic devices.
Fast forward a few decades.
The month of December flies by. The nights draw in to the point that you get 15 minutes of daylight on the way to work.
Christmas looms. The pressure is on.
Are you going to have a brilliant Christmas?
Then the day comes. You’re an adult. Half of what you are getting, you already know about.
Relatives and friends buy you ‘ironic’ gifts. Yes that plastic spanner with a feather on it is going to be put to excellent use.
Oh, something ‘fun’ to go onto my desk? Fantastic.
So it’s no surprise to learn that come Christmas morning, after the ‘excitement’ of opening my presents I fancied a long walk in the countryside with my girlfriend, Claire.
Those of you that have read my previous blog, will be aware of the personal hell I have been through in recent months, in my battle to have my PCN (or Parking Ticket) overturned.
At times I have felt that I could not go on. Sleepless nights, cold sweats nightmares about shared use parking bays and traffic wardens (sorry Civil enforcement officers) chasing me down the street.
I have seriously considered just paying the fine and getting on with my life. But your messages of encouragement [and my pedantic nature] are what kept me going.
Your support gave me the strength to carry on my brave fight against a £40 fine and the possibility of a ruined reputation and career.
So it is with extreme jubilation that I write to you today with the news that Camden Council have cancelled the PCN!
I received the following email:
“Dear Mr Lewis
Thank you for your correspondence received… Having reviewed the matter, I am not satisfied that the Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) was correctly issued and I have therefore cancelled the Notice and no further action is required.
Our records confirm that your vehicle was parked within a shared use bay where payment for parking can be made and you have provided a record of your phone parking session which was valid at the time the PCN was issued.
It is to be regretted that your phone parking session was not verified by the Civil Enforcement Officer (CEO) who issued the PCN; this error has been taken up with our enforcement contractor. I note that you subsequently showed the CEO the telephone parking confirmation text, however once a Notice is issued by the Officer on street, they are unable to rescind it.
Instead they should explain how a challenge can be made [they did – that’s what started all of this in the first place].
I apologise that your original challenge was not correctly investigated. The Council sets high standards of quality and customer care and in this instance these standards have not been met. For training purposes, this matter has been raised with the officer concerned [Sorry Roland - you really should have looked at the photographs more closely].
In closing, I would like to offer my sincere apologies and trust that the cancellation of this Notice brings the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.
Customer Support Officer
[and then they let themselves down a little with….]
If you would like to respond directly to this email then please go to www.camden.gov.uk/contactparking and complete an e-form to challenge the PCN.”
[why would I be challenging this? It seems The Council has not met its own high standards of quality and customer care in this instance. Hopefully for training purposes this matter they will be raised with themselves]
I do wonder how many times Roland has sent out letters in this way, seemingly failing to look at or consider the evidence in front of his eyes (Still I think he was better when he was in Grange Hill). Maybe his motto when it comes to appeals is still ‘Just say no.’
So, how to get a PCN overturned?
I’m a comedian.
There seem to be a lot of them about these days.
Everyone seems to think they are funny.
I do not have sticky up hair. I am not young and trendy. I am not tall and do not wear skinny jeans.
Maybe I’m not a comedian and this is a social experiment gone terribly wrong.
Most people think I am a bit weird to be honest.
I've stood in front of audiences and they have laughed.
This leads me to believe I am a comedian, and I’m going to proceed on that basis until someone tells me to stop.
I did have a glass smashed over my head at a gig once, and I hadn't even gone on stage.
Maybe the person had a premonition.
I was sat in the ambulance, paramedics doing all sorts of tests on me when I received a text, from comedy legend Sion James who was compering the gig. The text read " Are you still ok to Headline? "