Here at twickerati HQ we’re just too damned lazy to do proper in-depth features. But at the same time we’d kind of like to do it. It’s a real dilemma. Do it, don’t do it. We just can’t decide. The solution we’ve come up with is to put 15 questions to local people or things (yes, things; things like institutions) who are doing interesting stuff. Why just 15? Well, 15 questions, is just about 15 minutes with them. We’re hoping they won’t say no.
In the first of what we hope will become an occasional series we tracked down (by simply sending him an email) Mr James Punnett, one half of the duo running the Bearcat Comedy Club in St Margarets. It’s one of London’s longest running and best loved comedy nights and regularly books big name stand-ups as well as up and coming acts. We put our 15 crucial questions to James, who alongside Grahame Limmer, makes up the successful Bearcat team.
1. What was the inspiration for setting up the club?
A singer called Sarah Washington (chart success – look her up) and myself were asked to book some “Alternative Comedy” in the spring of 1984 for the launch of a band called Voices. We found most of the then nascent circuit – put them on in Stockwell, invited friends and family and thought – “this could work at the Turks Head!!”
2. What’s been the secret of its long running success?
Perfectly shaped room – good sound system – lights and stage facing the right way.
3. It’s very popular, ever thought of moving to a more capacious venue?
We don’t travel well.
4. How has stand up comedy changed over the last 25 years?
It’s gone from Alternative to Mainstream, from a Secret Pleasure to a widely chosen Saturday Night Out option.
5. Who’s been your funniest act?
Unfair to pick one out but Kevin McAleer made me fall off my chair laughing at his “Owls”!
6. Any disasters? Dish some dirt.
One act fell asleep in his car outside the club and missed the show! Lee Evans came all the way from Southend but arrived when the show was over! One act was once punched on stage by an angry Cornish farmer he was baiting!
7. So, who are your comedy idols?
Too many… Kenneth Williams. Paul Merton (or Martin as he was when he played the Bearcat). Milton Jones. Tim Vine. Harry Hill. Al Murray. Omid Djalili. Rich Hall. Bob Mills ….. and anyone who is on this week!
8. Have any of the ‘open mic’ battlers ever earned a proper gig at the club?
Quite often now – Laurence Tuck was the most recent – most open mic slots have usually been going for a year or two before they get to us – but we still have the occasional member of the audience who wants to have a go.
9. Does drawing an audience from leafy suburbia present any particular challenges?
No – most of them have electric lights and cutlery and know how to behave!
10. Have you ever done any stand up yourself?
11. Tell us something interesting about Grahame. He’ll probably never read this anyway.
He once played drums in a band with Brian May!
12. What else do you do with your time?
13. Is Punnett actually your real name?
It IS! (indignantly) – Why we even have our own village! http://punnettstown.org/html/history.html
14. Now for the real killer question… what… is… your…
… favourite colour?
15. Finally… ever been tempted to give it all up? What’s kept you at it? The money? The fame? The groupies?
And for a bonus point: Tell us a joke:
My dad’s favourite/only joke was about a tramp in the park by the duck pond who, clearly starving, had grabbed a duck and was frantically plucking its feathers in preparation for a feast.
The park-keeper spots him and runs over, and the tramp drops the duck and tries to look innocent.
“What are you doing?” demands the park-keeper.
“Watching the ducks swim” replies the tramp.
“So what about all these feathers then?”
“I’m minding their clothes” said the tramp!
And THAT’S why I don’t do stand-up!
I thank you!
James Punnett is co-founder of the Bearcat Comedy Club, based at The Turk’s Head, Winchester Road, St Margarets, TW1. It runs every Saturday night from September to June.