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Lembit Opik: Stand up if you're funny

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Will Gompertz | 10:43 UK time, Thursday, 3 June 2010

Stand-up comedy is enjoying a boom along with the rest of the live entertainment sector. New festivals, clubs, awards and open-mic nights are springing up faster than... a lot.

Lembit OpikThey are hungry beasts that need vast quantities of comedian-fuel to keep them going. Which means just about anybody is welcome to give it a go, even former Lib Dem MPs for Montgomeryshire. Stand up Lembit Opik.

Last night, in front of a small but supportive audience in a subterranean central London bar, Lembit gave it a go. Not for him some low-key rural outpost where he could hone his skills in relative obscurity. No, he went straight into the West End as the headline act with cameras rolling and a dozen journalists (me included) with pens poised.

Politicians have a reputation for being cleverly cunning, all meticulous planning and elaborate strategies. I suspect Lembit handed in his cunning chip along with his desk keys and Parliamentary pass when he recently left the House of Commons.

Why else would he make such a schoolboy error as to appear on the same bill with not one, but two outstanding professional comedy acts? A wise man would have rounded up his five least funny friends and paid them all handsomely to go on before him.

OK, he might not have known quite how funny Josh Widdicombe would be (very), but a quick glance at his CV would have told Lembit that here was a young pro with a big future. But to allow an act as funny, polished and professional as Nina Conti to immediately precede you is simply silly.

She was good and finished her act with a new puppet / mask which she strapped around the face of a poor unsuspecting audience member who then found himself possessed by a demonic Jack Nicholsonesque hedonist determined to show the audience his best dance moves.

And then Lembit came on. Here's a review of his show. Sitting down with the other comedians afterwards, it was clear they all admired him for giving it a go. The word brave was used frequently. And they all genuinely felt that he could make the grade if he really worked on his set.

But as one said, if he was going to build his show around his own story - perfectly reasonable in the circumstances - he'd need to make a bit more out of the whole Cheeky Girls episode. Not doing so was like "Neil Armstrong doing stand-up and not mentioning the Moon."

From Parliament to stand-up; it's a funny old world.

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  • Comment number 1.

    The successful stand-up comedian/ienne quite often chooses to expose their own failing and foibles to comic effect/public ridicule. Lembit Opik looks the part and is well known, but from what you are saying he hasn't yet realised the need to fully expose the tragedies in his life to the full glare of the audience. The audience laughs when it sees and hears its own private condition exposed by the performer. The inner tragedy of the brunette with dyed blond hair. The short man who stands on a box to see over the crowd. The prematurely bald man with an odd accent (incidentally is this why you like William Hague as a comic performer?)

    Most people who understand the rules (see Bergson) could do stand up if they had the bottle, were desperate enough or were willing to appear pathetic enough in public. Most stand-up I have seen is not brilliant witty repartee (some is) but generally the slightly intoxicated audience helps a lot by heckling - every comic has ways of dealing with hecklers the trick appear to me to get the sympathy for the performer but not to put the whole audience against you. It helps to look a bit odd, but not too much of a freak (was that where Lembit Opik failed - did he look just too pathetic, just too needy?)

  • Comment number 2.

    If you look at the photos above, both men are touching their glasses. They almost look like they are trying to be each other.

  • Comment number 3.

    Sadly, the photo of Will touching his glasses has now changed, but he really was touching them previously, just like Lembit, above.


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