First and Worst by Laurence Clark
My first show at Edinburgh Fringe was called ‘The All-Star Charity Show’ in 2003, which basically sent up the old-fashioned telethons for disabled people. As a disabled comic, I presented appeals on behalf of the celebrities who used to front them, in the same patronising, sentimental way that they’d used when doing disability charity appeals.
You see whenever I watch stuff like Children In Need; despite it being for charity and all that, I just can’t escape that gut feeling that I’m watching utter shite! But the people I really feel sorry for in this tragedy aren’t the disabled children, after all I was one myself once. No, the real victims here are those poor, sad, has-been celebrities. Every year they’re forced to degrade themselves in this out-dated spectacle in an attempt to revive their dying careers. I was so moved by their predicament that I decide to do something, as a form of repayment for all of their years of hard work on behalf of people like me.
So I started Stars in Need as a way of giving something back to the people who need help the most! I mean, you’ve probably never thought about the issues, but what happens when your TV series ends, your material’s out-of-date, or you just start talking bollocks. Throughout my show I’d pass around collection tins with Terry Wogan’s face on them and encourage audiences to search their hearts and give generously, as every penny raised went to help underprivileged stars. You’d be astounded at the number of people who’d instinctively put coins in, despite the show obviously being a send-up. I could always tell at the end whether people had got the show by how much was in the tins; the lower the total, the more they’d got it.
The show made critic Kate Copstick’s comedy ‘Best of’ review at the end of the fringe that year which made me want to come back and have another go. It also proved that charity really is one of the last taboos in comedy, something I later exploited with my charity bucket sketches on Youtube (www.youtube.com/laurenceclark).
One particular performance of this same show was met with stone-cold silence for the entire hour, punctuated only by polite applause every so often. Maybe they thought they were watching a piece of performance art or something? I was absolutely perplexed, as the show had gone down exceedingly well up until this point. By the end I was so distraught that I was just about ready to quit comedy for good. Then I took a peek at my departing audience, discovering that every single person there had been from overseas – French, Japanese, Italian etc. As I eavesdropped on their conversations, not one of them was speaking a word of English. They probably hadn’t laughed because they’d never even heard of the likes of Terry Wogan, Esther Rantzen and Gaby Roslin. I felt envious! A few weeks later I was sent a copy of a French disability magazine with a review of that night’s show in it. I dread to think what it said – I never bothered getting it translated!