When most people pay to watch a show, they head straight home afterwards but a few head to the stage door instead and try to meet the stars.
I was one of those.
The first comedian I saw live was Kelly Monteith in 1980 at The Beck Theatre in Hayes. Kelly was from the USA and a huge star here. He’d had six series for the BBC and appeared many times on the Royal Variety Show.
My parents took me to the sold out show and I was transfixed. He is the reason I became involved with comedy.
I can’t remember if I wanted to meet him after the show or if it was my parents’ idea but we did meet him and our souvenir programme was autographed by him – concrete evidence that the encounter took place. It was brief and he was very friendly.
Many years later, in 1990, I performed for the first time in America at a show in Florida. The headliner was Drew Carey – someone I didn’t know at the time. The following week, however, the marquee outside boasted the name ‘Kelly Monteith’. I couldn’t believe it!
The club owner kindly arranged for me to see the show as his guest and I had the opportunity to tell Kelly what a significant role he had played in my life.
The week after that, Bill Hicks was booked to play the club. J Kelly had been my first comedy hero and Bill was my current one. Alas I would be back in England by then (I did try to change my flights).
I also remember my parents taking me backstage to meet Jackie Mason after a performance of his first West End show, ‘The World According to Me.’
We were led into his dressing room at The Playhouse Theatre and I mentioned that I’d enjoyed him on Gloria Hunniford’s chat show the previous day.
“Yes, I was a big hit on that show,” he responded, in typical Jackie fashion.
I never met Jackie again but twenty years later, again in Florida, I was headlining a weekend of shows at Orlando’s Universal Studios with an opening act who had spent a year opening for Jackie across America. After a particularly difficult show of our own (a School reunion of over 100 people who had zero interest in our show), the two of us ended up eating omlettes at ‘Waffle House’ and I probed him for his Jackie Mason stories.
He had been employed to drive Jackie around, do 7 minutes at the start of each show and then sell Jackie’s merchandise afterwards but, whilst Jackie would stay in 5 star hotels, he would drive himself to a budget motel, after he’d dropped the star off.
One night in Charlotte, North Carolina, they were eating at a diner and Jackie asked about his accommodation.
“Well, it’s not so great to be honest, Jackie. A bad location.”
“I’m curious. Take me,” replied the former Rabbi..
They drove to the motel, just south of Charlotte airport, and parked outside the door.
“I like this,” said the star, “You don’t have to schlep your bags for two miles.”
They opened the door and Jackie wandered around the room.
“It’s big room,” he said.
In the distance, a gunshot went off.
“But where I stay, from tomorrow, that’s where you’ll stay too from.”
He was true to his word.
Throughout my teens and college years, I went to loads of shows and loved meeting the stars afterwards. The evening never felt complete otherwise.
Childhood encounters with Roy Castle, Big Daddy and Bob Carolgees (Spit the Dog presumably in the suitcase he was pulling along) spring to mind.
In my college days, I met Jasper Carrott, Dave Allen, Roy Chubby Brown and Rik Mayall.
Then it got more serious!
I haven’t met ALL my heroes – but I’ve met more than most.
I never met Bill Hicks, for example, but I wrote to him twice and treasure his replies, the first a handwritten stream of consciousness over 2 sides of A4 and the second, shorter, more-measured and postmarked early in 1994, just weeks before he died.
I wish I had copies of the two letters I’d sent to him but, in those days, once you’d dropped them off in the post-box, the content wasn’t saved in a ‘sent folder.’ On the other hand, especially today, a handwritten letter is much more exciting than an email.
I never met Andy Kaufman either. He’d died long before I’d discovered how much I like him.
But, over time, most of my favourite performers – people I’ve paid to sit in a theatre and watch – often many times – have now entered my life beyond the stage.
If the opportunity exists, would you meet your heroes?
And should you?
This show is a collection of some of my favourite stories of spending time with my heroes – comedians and musicians, mainly. A more comprehensive collection will be published later this year (the book is over halfway from completion). I don’t want to spoil the show by revealing who the stories are about but the gallery section might provide clues as to some of the content.
Some of these stories involve very famous people, others might be less well known to you but I suspect it won’t matter. They are great little moments in their own right.