I heard about the story just over a year ago, as it was debated on BBC Radio Five Live at length, one evening over a weekend. I am sure it would have featured in numerous phone in shows and television discussions (The Wright Stuff anyone?) which I did not catch. In February, Michelle sent me a group e-mail, to all her friends regarding the trip to Bloomsbury Theatre to see a host of stars perform for The Twitter Joke Trail. I replied with a yes immediately, before going onto the website to view the complete lineup. This was indeed an A-List selection with Stephen Fry, Al Murray and David Schneider among a host of other stand up comedians (some of which I had never heard of). I was really looking forward to the night but as there were several months to go, I thought very little of it. I duly booked the time off work and remember sharing the line up link with my colleague Rich, who was very jealous. He believed the cost per ticket for such a glittering lineup was well worth the venture into the capital.
I have been using Twitter since May 2008, considering myself an early adopter (as I am with most technologies). I enjoy the ability to rant to the world in a separate world to Facebook. Generally my tweets tend to be of a more geeky nature, if compared to my Facebook status updates (which are far less frequent). I am trying to think of perhaps my most stupid tweet, which would be in the same vain of PaulJChambers, but can only find no worthy examples. However, I can understand why it is very important to respect our freedom of speech. Paul was using tweeter to vent his frustrations, it was not (as I would learn later this evening) a ‘credible’ threat. I also realise that this could have happened to anybody (famous celebrity or not) and the fact that Paul has lost two jobs and is facing a very expensive legal bill among other things made the event, a very worthwhile and noble cause.
Michelle and I headed into London on the delayed 15:58 from Langley to Paddington. From here, we grabbed a quick Starbucks from the food court (I have become rather partial to a Signature Hazelnut Hot Chocolate. I am sure it does little to help reduce my waist line!). We then crossed the platform of the grand train terminal, looking magnificent in the sunshine with one roof restored. We caught the Circle line, but were heading in the wrong direction. Stupidly I just followed Michelle onto the first train that was on the platform, rather than checking myself. We were too busy nattering for three stops to notice that we had gone passed Ladbroke Grove (we were going the wrong way!). We got off at Wood Lane and headed down the stairs and across to the opposite platform to catch the first train back and then finally come out above ground at Euston Square. Here we met up with Magda and Steve. Some fifteen minutes late, but I was very quick to blame Michelle. Magda I had not seen since Christmas Eve (112 days ago) and it was great to catch up after over four months (three months and twenty two days) apart. We headed to lunch at Zeen, a local Indian restaurant, but as it did not open until 5:30pm, we were looking like rather eager punters, waiting outside the door. Just as Steve called the restaurant, the door was unlocked and we were allowed inside. A mellow but very contemporary affair, in the far corner of the basement restaurant, a widescreen plasma television was showing the DFL IPL on ITV4.
We were hoping to be joined by Aminee and her boyfriend but they were unable to make such an early evening dinner, so it was just a double rather than a triple date. The food was good and given we were the only customers for a good thirty minutes or so, meant the service was exceptionally quick, just what we needed. After dinner, we walked the five minutes to Bloomsbury Theatre. It was my first time at this venue, but for Magda, this was her old patch, the theatre is part of UCL. Her medical school building was just around the corner. The venue was busy as we made our way up the stairs to the box office to collect our tickets. Jack Whitehall walked in and created a buzz among some of the audience queuing for their tickets or just chewing the fat before the start. Jack was not someone I recognised by name but having seen him in the flesh so to speak, I realised who this up and coming young comedian was. I use the term young relatively, he is 22, so a good eight years younger than me. It was at this point that Steve pointed out he had seen Jack Whitehall three times in the past week. We now waited for Aminee and Saard to arrive, which they did duly a few minutes later. While we waited, I switched on my mobile internet and uploaded a fresh photo to my HTC Desire FlickR set. (Hand modelling courtesy of Dr. Magda)
It was then pretty much a time to take our seats, Michelle had explained that this was a very intimate venue and that with our seats in the stalls we would be right up close to the performers. She was of course, right! We were in row H, towards the left of the stage but sitting directly behind the benefactor of the gig, Paul Chambers. The hashtag #twitterjoketrail was being used on Twitter (where else would it be used?) and I tried to send a tweet but my net connection was poor in the auditorium. Saard must have thought I was socially inept (probably not a bad conclusion to come to) as I was meeting him for the first time but instead of having a proper conversation, my eyes were firmly on the phone trying to get my tweet to be displayed on the big screen. I did apologise, “I will be a prober human in a second, just want to send this tweet”. Aminee had mentioned a free public wireless network but I had not been able to find it, let alone connect. In the end, I gave up and would catch up again at the interval. I had however, at least been able to update my Facebook status and drop a rather general tweet about my location while we had been waiting outside in the foyer. That would have to do, at least for the time being.
The show started, slightly later than billed, opened by national treasure Stephen Fry. We were in for an excellent evening of entertainment. Al Murray was second to appear, in character as the pub landlord. He would then be comperé for the rest of the evening, introducing the subsequent comedians and whipping up the crowd in a frenzy. Stephen Managan would appear camera in hand (pretty sure it was an actual digital camera rather than a mobile camera but it is very hard to tell these days) with each act and take a photograph of them on stage with the audience as the back drop. These were being tweeted live during the course of the show and it is only now a few days afterwards that I am able to catch up with these twitpics. Each act had about a twenty minute slot, some focused on twitter, although of course it is difficult to refer to an active case. Most carried out their standard performance. For example, Katy Brand performed the Single Ladies dance as seen on Dance for Comic Relief in 2009. Personal highlights included Rufus Hound playing via an iPad his heated discussions with Edwina Currie on BBC Radio Five Live from last year. Something I had missed both on the radio and in the seven days hence on iPlayer. the best comedian for me though was David Schneider, whom I have admired from his early days in the mid 1990s on BBC Children’s show Hangar 17 (anybody out there remember it?). Not only does he just look funny the moment you see him, his performance was hilarious, particularly with engaged audience member Emily (picked on throughout the show) was asked to come on stage for a impromptu performance. This started with David wooing Emily with a variety of songs (including Take On Me – which was too high for Dave’s vocal range). He ended his skit with a embarrassing Dad dance megamix. (Indeed very similar to a performance on Britain’s Got Talent less than twenty four hours later). While the words would do little to reflect the performance, all I can say to describe this dance is that Schneider takes the key elements of signature dance moves (Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Beat It) and puts on his own comical twist. The result is a musical montage you will rarely ever see again. Plus, the guy is rather buff, if I must say so myself for someone pushing fifty! To read a more detailed review of the evening, including the full lineup of comedians, check the review from UK Comedy Guide – Chortle.
On the way home, I contemplated on such a great evening and how sorry I felt for Paul and his family. Steve, Magda and I had wished him all the best for his appeal later in the year, as we had left the theatre. His counsel had appeared on stage briefly after the interval to explain important aspects of the case. This was not someone used to such an atmosphere (or is that audience outside the court room), papers quivering in his hand, but he over came his nerves to explain some of the rather ridiculous chain of events that would lead to Paul’s arrest and prosecution. Never has the phrase, “You cannot make this up” come to mind more often. I will do my best to keep an eye on the case in the media, but I am sure it will be on Twitter, that some of the news will be broken first. Afterall, this is where the story begins and it is where the solidarity was also shown. Remember when IAmSparticus was a trending topic for the UK (or perhaps even the world) when millions of users of the social network retweeted Paul’s now infamous tweet. The powers that be cannot lock us all up and I would dredd to think of the day when they put Mr. Fry under lock and key at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.