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Having A Laugh

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Paul Mayhew-Archer talks about his life in comedy with the BBC

It was a cold night on Saturday, with snow just beginning to fall in Abingdon as we got to the Amey Hall. Nevertheless, it was a welcoming venue, and packed out at that. The night was being put on by Gobo Theatre, a local organisation which aims to help young performers reach their goal of stardom.

The first act up were ex-Cambridge footlights Frimston & Rowett. The young act proved to be a smart and funny warm-up, with punch lines coming thick and fast, sometimes doubling up on previous jokes. Channelling acts like Armstrong & Miller, they have a gift for interesting material which is new, but still familiar. They managed to work a hell of a lot of jokes from the ‘dead bird birthday present’ sketches (‘it’s like owl-schwitz in there’), and then they managed to tie it in with the ‘penguin bar puns’ sketch – cunning.

Other highlights included the ‘every breath you take’ Sting stalker sketch, and one where they are flying a shuttle into the sun, and decide to put their iPod on shuffle… The funeral stripper sketch was possibly a bit near the bone for the mature audience, but it showed a willingness to push the boundaries.

After the interval we were treated to a talk by Mayhew-Archer himself, a mainstay of the British comedy scene for thirty years. Here he was playing to his home crowd, having started off his career as a teacher at John Mason School, just down the road. The talk covered everything from the highlights of his career to where it all began, and what he is up to now. He started off by talking about the time he was asked to open something, only to find out that it was his neighbour’s granny annexe.

He was by turns both hilarious and touchingly poignant. Take for example the time when his company were performing in a mental home. ‘I don’t know whether any of you have been heckled by an acute mental patient…’ he concluded, letting the audience come to the punch line themselves.

The talk was largely a look to the past, but Mayhew-Archer proved he still had his finger on the pulse with topical references to certain Liberal Democrat Minister’s driving habits. He concluded the talk with what was arguably the peak of his writing career to date, the wedding of the Vicar of Dibley. Richard Curtis told him they would include all the wedding jokes not included in Four Weddings and a Funeral, which has quite a lot of weddings in it, and quite a lot of jokes.

Ross Wittenham (DI Reviewer), 07/02/12

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