We like the Fortnight Club. It takes place in the Camden Head in Angel at 8.45pm on every other Monday and is usually a bill of ten or so professional circuit comedians test driving brand new material that they wouldn't necessarily want to throw straight into their set. Proceedings are greased by Logan Murray's hilarious Ronnie Rigsby character, a pervy "50 years in showbiz" style entertainer, as MC. It's a mere £4 to get in, or £2.50 for concessions.
Last night we bumbled along, not really knowing who to expect. There were good sets from Johnny Candon and Scott Capurro and a decidedly ropey seven minutes of material from Never Mind the Buzzcocks presenter Simon Amstell. It was about half way through the night that we began to hear whisperings,
"Is that Stephen Merchant?"
Sure enough, there he was, sitting amongst the other comedians. The comedy fanboy within us ejaculated all over himself.
We're pretty sure that this must have been one of his first stand up sets in years. Merchant began his career as a stand up comedian and was a finalist at the 1998 Daily Telegraph Open Mic awards before getting into radio, later meeting Ricky Gervais at Xfm. The rest, as they say, is history. As far as we know, he hasn't done any stand up since.
It was funny, easily the funniest set of the night. Despite his recent British comedy award for best comedy performance, we've always thought that he looked a bit uncomfortable on Extras but behind the microphone in front of a small audience of about thirty he was relaxed, if a little rusty, and obviously relishing the experience. The short set mainly dealt with his celebrity status and much was made of the fact that his co-writer Ricky Gervais was, as he spoke, performing to thousands at the Manchester Apollo. He feigned that he was seriously pissed off. Well, he should be. Despite recently being voted the 11th best stand up of all time, Gervais is not a good stand up. From what we saw last night, Merchant might well be. The only disappointment was that his set dwelled on the issue of his fame, a subject that has been done to death recently by Gervais. It would have been nice to see him try and tackle a different topic. Fingers crossed for a full show!