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This is your life, p.16

This Is Your Life, page 16

 

This Is Your Life
 


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  I stepped up onto the podium. What could I possibly say? I recalled Gwyneth Paltrow’s speech when she won an Oscar. She said she would like to thank everyone she had ever met in her whole life. Maybe I could do that and then go one better and name them all? I wished I’d been prepared for this moment; had even half a witticism up my sleeve to throw to staring masses.

  ‘Well done,’ said the shadow chancellor, managing to sound patronizing in only two words.

  ‘Thanks,’ I said accepting his handshake. The host gestured to the microphone for my speech and I could feel my legs shaking behind the lectern. How I would have loved to ride that tiger and wow them all with hilarious in-jokes of the TV world and give little waves to familiar faces in the crowd as I thanked all my friends in the biz. I wished I could have fulfilled all their hopes for me. They were so ready to laugh, but I just didn’t have anything funny to say or even the air in my lungs to say them. All these thoughts raced through my head as I stared out at the ocean of smiling faces in front of me. I hadn’t said anything for several seconds now and my nervousness was clearly visible. If I’d been prepared I might have been able to sustain the deceit, but the way I was visibly cracking under this pressure left me only one way to go. Confession.

  ‘Look, there’s been a terrible mistake,’ I blurted out, my voice cracking like a teenage boy. ‘I’ve never done any stand-up in my life!’

  The anticipated collective gasp never materialized. Instead a huge wave of laughter swept across the hall, mutating into applause, and I saw guests turning to nod to each other about what a true comic genius they had anointed. ‘This is the first time I’ve even spoken in public,’ I went on. ‘I teach English as a foreign language in a small town in Sussex.’

  The laughter increased, and the host patted me on the back as he wiped away the tears of laughter. ‘Brilliant, Jimmy,’ he whispered. ‘Tell you what, that’ll probably happen for real before too long!’ and he indicated the route off the stage towards my table as the applause and cheers continued. One or two people were actually trying to lead a standing ovation.

  ‘Thanks, thanks a lot,’ I said as various portly television producers shook my hand on the way back to my table.

  ‘Well done, Jimmy,’ shouted across someone pretending to know me. And the people on my table who had earlier declared these awards to be of no value or significance now demonstrated this opinion by enthusiastically associating themselves with me and waving to friends at other tables who looked impressed to see them sitting with an award winner. A couple of them even picked up my statuette and used their free disposable cameras to have their pictures taken clutching it.

  The rest of the evening was a completely different experience. And obviously it was out of pure necessity that I walked around so much clutching my award. Suddenly I was everyone’s best friend. Well almost everyone’s. Towards the end of the evening Mike Mellor came over to say there were no hard feelings, and quickly demonstrated that in fact there were. I had my suspicions that he might have drunk slightly too much because he seemed to be struggling with the fairly minor challenge of leaning against a wall.

  ‘So you won then?’ he slurred.

  ‘Yes, thanks a lot.’ I don’t know why I was thanking him; because I’d been anticipating him saying congratulations, I suppose.

  ‘Pretty impressive considering I don’t know a single comic who’s ever seen you perform.’ He tried to stare at me but his eyes kept missing the target.

  ‘Oh well, you should get out of London a bit more,’ I said.

  ‘You know why they gave it to you, don’t you?’

  ‘Er, because they thought I was the best new stand-up?’

  ‘No, because that’s me,’ he said, as if this was generally accepted fact. ‘No, it’s all showbiz politics, innit? It’s like a warning shot to the agents – don’t price your guys out of the market because there’s always this new talent coming along.’

  It was true that the chair of the jury had been the BBC chief who had praised me in the Guardian. I attempted a wan smile as he continued.

  ‘Especially people who reckon they don’t even need agents, like Jimmy Fucking Conway.’

  ‘How did you know my middle name?’

  ‘I know a lot of things about you,’ he ploughed on. Although his aggression was alcohol-induced it still scared me that I might have been found out. What exactly did he know? What were people saying? A smug smile ran across his face as he prepared to lay down his ace of trumps.

  ‘If you’re such a great stand-up comic, come down and close the store, right now.’

  ‘I beg your pardon?’

  ‘Come and do the last set at the Comedy Store tonight. Then we’ll see how good you really are.’

  ‘Ah no, not possible I’m afraid. I have to stay for the winners’ photo call. Another time maybe?’

  ‘Yeah, right!’ And he weaved across the room delighted that I’d been unable to rise to his challenge.

  I probably would never have stood up to Mike Mellor if I’d been completely sober, but by the end of the evening I was only slightly less drunk than him. With over a dozen other awards to sit through after mine I had found myself excitedly glugging back the wine and then overemphatically applauding every winner in order to demonstrate just how extremely worthwhile I considered these awards to be. I smoked one of the free cigars from my goody bag and every time I emptied a bottle of Chardonnay the wine fairy would magically replace it with a full one. By the end of the night, I think they must have changed the angle of the floor or something, because it never seemed to be under your feet when you expected. I seemed to have lost Stella, but at least I was still looking where I was going, unlike that big pillar with the plant on top that just stepped out in front of me. I went and sat down in the toilets once more and this time closed my eyes for a moment or two. When I came out again it was very confusing because everyone had gone home and the cleaners were sweeping up broken glass in the enormous empty hall. I vaguely remember asking an elderly Asian lady if she had seen a goody bag hanging on the back of a chair at table number 97, but her English was poor and I suddenly felt a little embarrassed to be describing all the luxury gifts the privileged guests had received earlier.

  And then I remember wandering through central London to get the night bus back to my parents’ house, my bow tie suitably wonky as I clutched this metal figurine as though it were my drunken pal. The night bus was parked up at the bus stop, but the driver wouldn’t open up the doors just yet. ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ I thought momentarily. Only when he was ready to set off did he finally press his magic button and I stepped up and announced my destination with the confident air of Mr Success.

  ‘One ninety,’ he grunted. I reached into my pocket for the two-pound coin, but then realized that I had rather unwisely invested half of it in a tip for the man who’d passed me a flannel. With people waiting behind me I went through the motions of searching through my pockets knowing full well that I didn’t have any other change. I made what I thought was a constructive enquiry, but the driver just looked at me and said, ‘Of course we don’t take fucking MasterCard.’ You would have thought that on seeing my award he would have been so delighted to have me on board that he would have let me travel for free; that he might have even made an announcement to all the other passengers telling them about the special guest who was sharing his journey home with them that night. But apparently not. In today’s Britain if you haven’t got the bus fare you are not allowed on the bus. Really! You try to brighten up people’s lives, to bring a little laughter into this troubled world, and that’s all the thanks you get.

  And so with a refreshing drizzle fizzing in my face, I began the three-mile walk back to my parents’ house. Perhaps it was my guardian angel’s way of making sure I didn’t leave my award on the bus or fall asleep and wake up in Zone 7, but anyway I didn’t care, because my head was still spinning with all the excitement of the night that had just been. It was without doubt the greatest evening
of my life. I felt a sensation so alien and so intoxicating, a feeling of being someone special and interesting, someone people wanted to know and talk to.

  About a mile from home a police car slowed right down beside me, coming rather dangerously close, I thought, and the officers peered through their windscreen at this strange lonely figure walking through the night.

  ‘Excuse me there,’ said the police officer through the car window. ‘Could you walk on the pavement, please, not down the middle of the road?’

  ‘Oh sorry, I didn’t realize,’ I said, hoping they would ask me about the unusual object I was carrying.

  ‘And where’ve you been this evening then?’

  ‘I’ve been to the British ‘Biz Awards at Grosvenor House in Park Lane,’ I said, which I thought was guaranteed to prompt more interested questions.

  ‘OK, sir, take care now.’

  What? Were they going to leave it at that? I was shocked at the lazy inadequacy of their detective work and felt obliged to provide answers to the sort of enquiries I felt it their duty to make.

  ‘Yes, so if you’re wondering what this is in my hand, it’s an award. My award, which I won. At the awards ceremony.’

  The driver leaned across. ‘Was that the thing on the telly this evening?’

  ‘That’s right. BBC1.’

  ‘I watched most of that before I came on duty. What did you win then?’

  ‘Best New Stand-up.’

  ‘Oh yeah, I recognize you now,’ he said, seeming more impressed. ‘Well, why don’t you hop in the back? We’ll give you a lift home.’

  ‘VIP in the car – let’s give it some blue!’ said the driver and they put on their flashing light and sped me through the empty streets. ‘Tell me,’ he said as he pulled up outside my parents’ house, ‘where do you get your ideas from?’

  ‘Oh, there’s a little shop in North London called Just Ideas of Hampstead. I buy them all there.’

  They had a good laugh at that. In fact, they laughed at everything I said. And as the car pulled away and they waved goodbye, I imagined the chat in the police canteen the next day. ‘Yeah, we gave that Jimmy Conway a lift home last night. You know, that comic who won the award on the telly last night. Yes, very funny bloke he was. Very funny bloke.’

  8

  27 Elms Crescent,

  East Grinstead,

  West Sussex,

  England

  Dear James,

  It is important to remember that being a star is not all having fun and going to parties. It is also a great deal of jolly hard work. That’s partly the reason why I’m quietly confident that I will make it. Hard work is something I have never been afraid of. As long as the work is not too difficult and I really enjoy doing it, then I’m prepared to do whatever it takes. As long as it’s not too physical and it’s indoors and in the dry and it’s not algebra or clause analysis or anything, then I’ll just stick with it and keep on going until the job’s done. Like when I start my summer project on the History of the Tudors, I’ll probably end up going mad and doing a whole page on Elizabeth alone!

  But although you work hard, Jimmy, you play hard too. I mean, it wouldn’t look too good on This Is Your Life if everyone said, ‘Well, we never saw much of him – he was always at home working.’ So you should work hard, but not so hard that you just want to go to sleep when you have finished working. You should leave some energy for playing hard afterwards. I’m not actually sure what ‘playing hard’ really means, but I’m sure you will by the time you read this. I think it involves going to a lot of parties and things and sometimes staying up till one in the morning. If it means heavy drinking remember that it’s not actually very clever or grown-up to get drunk and lose control. In fact, it’s rather pathetic (e.g. Dad at Midnight Mass). And if there are any people on drugs at these parties, well then you just say, ‘I’m sorry, there are drugs here, I’m leaving.’ And then you leave. But apart from that, you will probably have developed a reputation as a bit of a wild one! Like at midnight or whatever you might suddenly suggest that everyone just runs out and jumps in the swimming pool! Obviously having checked that the pool area is well lit and that everyone is a competent-to-strong swimmer, say up to Bronze Award standard.

  If you are going to be on This Is Your Life, it will of course be totally unexpected, but that doesn’t mean you can’t practise your surprised look in the years running up to it. It might be worth working out exactly what you are going to say when they jump out at you as well, because if you start off by going ‘Oh Bl**dy H*ll!’ or something unbroadcastable like that, they might decide to stop there and then and go and do a lady sports star or something instead and that would be a disaster. I mean, it would be such a shame for all your fans who would have so liked to hear all about your early life and how hard you had to work to make it to the top.

  I think I shouldn’t start my project on the Tudors until I’ve done a proper study plan. I’ve discovered that Henry VIII only had two of his wives beheaded, although that’s still too many. In fact, it is actually ‘sexist’, but they didn’t think about things like that in history.

  I’ll write again soon,

  Jimmy

  ‘Award-winning stand-up Jimmy Conway and Stella Scrivens share a joke with camp comic Graham Norton and his mystery companion.’ This was the caption beneath the photo in You magazine the following week. There I was, holding up my award for the camera while Graham Norton looked at it rather suggestively. I was interesting and famous enough to feature in the Party People section of You magazine. I had really arrived: I was an official Party Person. Which is more than can be said for the shadow chancellor. You had to feel sorry for him, really: twenty years as a member of Parliament, working his way up to become a leading opposition spokesman who might soon be running the national economy. It was quite an achievement when you thought about it and, all right, so he wasn’t as well known as some politicians, but you would have thought that You magazine would have checked before describing him as camp comic Graham Norton’s mystery companion.

  Nancy wasn’t as pleased for me as I’d hoped. ‘You looked like you were enjoying yourself on the television,’ she said curtly.

  ‘Er, well, it was quite an exciting evening.’

  ‘Did Stella Scrivens kiss all the award winners or just you?’

  ‘She was just pleased that I’d won. It was a showbiz party, everyone kisses everyone.’

  ‘Yes, she seemed to be squeezing your arm or laughing at your jokes all evening.’

  ‘Nancy, you and I split up nearly a decade ago. Why should it concern you that Stella Scrivens or any other girl should happen to kiss me?’

  ‘Yes, but we’re still friends, remember?’ she said. ‘And as your friend, I just don’t think you should be flirting with that bloody walking Barbie doll. It’s only six months since her husband died.’

  ‘I wasn’t flirting with her. I was “comforting” her. It said so in the Sun.’

  ‘I just think you could do a lot better than her, that’s all. Speaking as a friend?

  I had wanted to buy all my old mates a drink to celebrate the award but the whole evening fell a bit flat. When Dave said, ‘Statistically speaking, there are not very many people in China,’ everyone just nodded and agreed with him. An hour later Norman said to me: ‘I lost my air guitar final, in case you were going to ask.’

  ‘Oh sorry, Norman. God, it had completely slipped my mind.’

  ‘It doesn’t matter,’ he mumbled, though clearly it did.

  ‘I bet you were the best.’

  ‘No, it was my fault. I just went to pieces under the pressure. I must have looked ridiculous.’

  Apparently Panda had thought Norman deserved a second chance and asked the judges for a viva. Chris laughed and said, ‘What does he want one of them for? They were crappy cars.’

  After I won the award all kinds of exciting new things started happening for me but now I felt increasingly unable to tell any of my friends. There were more interviews
, more photo sessions and more features. The papers didn’t just want to know what was in my fridge; they wanted to know where I ate, to see a room of my own and hear about my kind of day. TV producers all simultaneously had the same original idea of putting Jimmy Conway’s name on the proposed cast list for their sketch-show pilots. Various heads of development invited me out to have lunch with them. If nothing else I saved a fortune in food bills and put on about eight pounds in a couple of weeks. None of them could understand why I would not make one exception just for them and secretly reveal where I would be performing my next stand-up set. I was quite principled about this and nobody was ever informed; such was my determination to uphold the principles of guerrilla comedy. The result was that a number of TV executives were forced to start regularly going to comedy clubs in the hope of finally seeing my celebrated act. Unfortunately it seemed they just weren’t going to the right venues; on the plus side, several other promising young comics got noticed and were offered their first break in television.

  One or two of the producers tentatively raised my resolution not to do television, and I explained that this only referred to my stand-up material. If they wanted me to appear on a make-over show or a celebrity survival challenge then I would be more than happy to oblige. I was interviewed for a nostalgia clips show called Weren’t The Old Days Like, Soooo Embarrassing? and after some footage of David Soul singing ‘Don’t Give Up On Us Baby’ there I was telling a nostalgic anecdote about the summer of punk. As it happens I was too young to remember punk rock but they still wanted me on because the people who really could remember it turned out to be too old to appeal to their target audience. So I sat in front of the camera and trotted out a prepared line I had thought was quite funny. ‘Pop music today . . .’ I sighed. ‘It’s not like the punk rock we used to listen to. I mean, these days, well, you can hear the words. And the songs do have a proper tune . . .’

  The producer, who was interviewing me from behind the camera, didn’t react to this joke at all and just glanced at her clipboard and said, ‘Erm, yeah, Jimmy, when you look back at that time, would you say it was almost as if there were no more heroes?’

 
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