First Gig Worst Gig

Charlie George

Charlie George

Have you ever found yourself wandering around a carefully-curated museum, gallery or other grand institution and thought, 'lordy, this place could be a lot funnier'? Well good news, as a culture/comedy clash is exactly where we're heading this week.

Over the next two Fridays at London's Grant Museum, a couple of special instructors will be putting the LOLs into zoology. Zoolology? Probably. Next week it's Katie Pritchard - no mean artist herself - while tonight's show is officially entitled Charlie George is Your Tour Guide. Which is fairly self explanatory - but let's ask Charlie to elaborate anyway.

"Audiences can expect to uncover some hidden historical gems, fascinating and creepy artifacts and scintillating specimens from evolutionary history, all told through a very silly, fun and interactive comedic lens," she explains, "because instead of professional tour guides, they've let us comedians loose in the museum!"

Fear not though, as George is clearly a solid professional too, having written for everything from Have I Got News For You to various Charlie Brooker shows. How will she approach this novel mission?

"We have been briefed of course, but, hey, we can't be relied upon to not use our creative license. I think I'm going for Night At The Museum but funnier than Ben Stiller's face."

Now let's head back to another first - in front of four Gooners and a dog.

First gig?

It was a night called Famous First Words, a title somewhat overconfident. It was at an Arsenal pub in North London.

So immediately, my name being Charlie George - the name of a very sexy former blonde-mulleted Arsenal player who scored the winning goal in the FA Cup Final in the 70s - was going to come up when I rocked up, this weird mixed-raced riot grrrl and very disappointing Liverpool fan.

I drank a lukewarm sugary squash to stay awake as I was still working in the NHS at the time and was knackered after my shift. I performed after a series of men in black polo necks doing Stewart Lee impressions, where they got angry at the five audience members - including a pug - for not understanding their intellectual material.

I performed a set about being an ex-Jehovah's Witness and loving Kate Winslet. At one point I used the strangely-placed mid stage bollard as the bow of the Titanic; I remember the pug being quite vocal about that, though I couldn't be sure if he found it funny or was just struggling to breathe.

Favourite show, ever?

I did a gig at the Bush Theatre with this amazing troupe of award-winning burlesque performers Lolo Brow, Lily SnatchDragon and Scarlett O'Hora at their night called Lads. That was when I still started my stand-up set by coming on stage draped in a St. George's flag, wrestling my strap-on off from under my floral dress to Colours of the Wind from Pocohontas.

The audience were the rowdiest I've ever heard and at the end of your set if they like you they stamp their feet and chant LADS LADS LADS. Pure joy!

Charlie George

Worst gig?

Oh, the ones I find the hardest are with peers and brilliant people when you die and then go into a shame spiral, imagining yourself having to go into witness protection, changing your name and location so no one can ever find you again. There's been a few of those! Looking into the eyes of your heroes whilst you're failing is a deep dark pit of a sensation.

But also there used to be this gig called Rats in Kensal Rise that was horrendous, where you'd compete to be King Rat with a clap-off with the audience, which was always as small as they were mean. The whole thing was degrading.

Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?

There was this theatre company called Gonzo Moose who came to my secondary school in Swindon and in the cast there was this woman called Pascal who played an entire Greek senate, switching seats to embody all the characters and give them different features/mannerisms.

She had this really malleable face and she was just hilarious; with one look she could have an audience howling in recognition of who that was. I was mesmerized. I knew then that was exactly what I wanted to do. I had a roundabout way to it, but I'm getting there...

And who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?

Ha-ha, what a question. I've had a lot of mad jobs and experiences in my time so I'm not really shocked by anything... I probably should be more worried about that, but there was once this guy who ran a very odd night in Hampstead and I was concerned for his well-being when he showed me and the other acts his mother on a video call in a state of undress before the gig.

Also he had a uniquely brilliant ability to alienate an entire audience and upset most of the acts on the bill as well. I was never sure why he was allowed to do comedy or get the big names he did, then I realised, oh it's the wild west and there aren't any regulations.

Charlie George

Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?

I love telling this story about how I was sent to get drugs for my dance troupe so we could stay awake at a festival to perform in the early hours of the morning and I accidentally got ketamine and we all went into a K-hole live on stage.

It's a pretty stupid and long story and if you're with me it's fun for the pay off; if you're anti-drugs and pro common sense it's probably just infuriating?

I would like to express that I have never done drugs in a professional capacity since this fateful event!

How have your lockdowns been, creatively and generally?

I was on universal credit (a shit show) at the start after losing all comedy work and my day job working for a local charity, then I managed to adapt and pick up some writing commissions as well as doing podcasts and gigs from home, so that was lucky and it built back from there.

I've never spent so much time online before, learning new technologies and apologising for the background screams of my housemates on the phone to our landlord.

I've always been dangerously good at working through times of crisis but I did hit some walls, I found on my darker days listening to Iggy Pop and skyping my niece and nephew who have absolutely no interest in me reaching my career goals always sorted me right out.

Any reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions stick in the mind?

Men on the internet seem to enjoy telling me in list form who is funnier than me. Occasionally they ask me out afterwards!? I just laugh and find it baffling. It has never occurred to me to tell someone what I thought of them unless it was useful.

Also, slagging someone off ahead of asking them out feels counterintuitive, but it's been a while since I've been in the dating game, so maybe this is the everyday negging of modern love?

I always think the most vocal critics are the most stifled creators. If you're making things you have a tendency to understand how that process works, there's a lot of shit to shovel around the gold. It takes courage to stand knee deep in your own crap waiting for that glimmer.

Charlie George. Copyright: Rob Brazer

How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?

I've always been tenacious and a lucky c**t. I owe everything I am to a wing and a prayer, a supportive network and the creation of diversity schemes and bursaries for working class kids.

I've managed to make my way in the arts one way or another for years; I mean I didn't eat a lot at points, and it was a hard slog with lots of side-hustles thrown in and the odd bit of ketamine at 3am at a festival.

But now I'm starting to see the rewards of that hustle. I can make cool shit and pay my rent from my writing and comedy, if you'd told me I'd be doing that a few years back I would've pissed myself laughing. But here I am, still digging for gold to light up a room.

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