First Night: Lembit Opik, Backstage Comedy Club, London
Thursday 03 June 2010
There was a kind of bittersweet irony that, on the day of the first Prime Minister's Question Time of the coalition government, the former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik was performing an open-spot stand-up gig in a tiny basement comedy club. Opik, it could be argued, has performed comedy in a niche environment on both sides of the election.
Formerly engaged to one of the pop duo The Cheeky Girls, and one of the more flamboyant MPs of the last parliament, Opik's celebrity lifestyle seemed to have caught up with him last month when he lost one of the Liberal Democrat's safest seats, Montgomeryshire.
Not a man to be deterred – he once cheated death after a paragliding accident – Opik wasted little time in arranging this stand-up spot after the election, though the brouhaha that has surrounded it suggests it is a conduit to further celebrity activity rather than a career in comedy.
Sporting a suit and a Liberal Democrat rosette, as to canvass for our laughter, Opik seemed to acknowledge his career intentions when he said early into his 15-minute set: "Thanks to 13,976 Tory voters for kick-starting a career I didn't even know I wanted." He also joked that last night was proof to those who say that he is a self-seeking publicist that they are wrong.
Around a third of his act consisted of similar introductory remarks, also thanking his comedy agent (club host Robert Meakin, who also writes for this newspaper) who apparently texted him after the general election with the message "based on the result your best bet is stand-up comedy".
More a self-referential discourse than a club set, and therefore an act that invited few heckles, anyone hoping for some political knockabout of the kind Opik has been subjected on during Have I Got News for You would be disappointed. Among the few insights into one of our new governing parties there was a weak gag about Nick Clegg ignoring him as the two men moved in and out of power, although Opik recovered this with a line about Clegg starting his new career "ten feet tall" while Opik started his "six feet under in the equivalent of the comedy coffin".
Meanwhile, the ex-politician, placed at the top of the bill after established acts like Nina Conti, respected the wishes of his former pop-star girlfriend, Gabriela Irimia, not to talk about their relationship, dismissing that as "far too cheeky" and left his personal life, other than his political misfortune, well alone.
Ultimately the evening was a moderately amusing jolly, and much less of a disaster than many a debut open spot. If the former politician is serious about stand-up, he definitely has the tenacity and fearlessness that is required if not yet the material or the right stylistic approach.
Comedically the big winners of Lembit's night were Steven Pound MP, a known parliamentary wit who heckled other acts genially and ably from the audience, and the award-winning young comedian Josh Widdecombe who had more media in for this gig than he bargained for (a situation rightly described by a fellow comedian as "quite a coup") and shrugged off the weirder than normal atmosphere to win new friends and influence people, something that Opik will be hoping to do whatever he may do next. One thing is for certain, criticism won't bother him. "I don't worry about what people say about me any more" he said at his press conference before the gig, "I've been putting up with that for five years."
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