"There's a Lot of Wit About" may seem like a terrible punning title for a benefit gig on behalf of Young Minds, the children's mental health charity. But, as its producer/director Joanna Hole explains, there is a point to it. "What I've tried to do is make sure there's a connection between the content of the show and the charity it's for. Often benefits just seem like cynical exercises in extracting pence from purses. The word `wit' sprang to mind because that says something about the relationship between a healthy mind and one that is not so well. I hope there's nobody appearing who isn't witty." A bill topped by Spike Milligan, making a rare stage appearance, and featuring John Bird and John Fortune, Nick Hornby, John Hegley, Helen Lederer, Julian Barnes and Fran Landesmann should ensure that Hole's hope is borne out.
"Spike Milligan is someone who epitomises wit," Hole continues. "He speaks to people of all ages with no trouble. He first spoke to me through a book of poems when I was very small. I found him hilarious and profound - as only a child can. Like many children, I thought I was the odd one out. But reading his stuff, I realised I wasn't."
Hole also admires the two Johns, Bird and Fortune. "They tread the path between pleasure and pain that I call wit," she claims. "Their conversations are planned but not scripted, and they rely on self-doubt and fear."
But why is wit such an important part of the British psyche? "It's embedded in our consciousness," she argues. "It's just there, we don't have to talk about it. There's no word for it in French. It suits the British way of expression because it's half-way between cruelty and kindness. Wit gives us an oblique way of expressing our deepest feelings."
Hole sums up her approach to the evening by quoting from one of Landesmann's songs, "Scars": "Don't be afraid/ everybody's got scars on the way to the stars/ that's the way we keep score/ so I'll show you my scars, if you show me yours."
EYE ON THE NEW
Whatever you think of his schmaltzy TV show, Bill Cosby is still a big draw live, but he'll be hoping for better reviews of his anecdotal show than he got last year. He plays the unusual comedy venue of the Odeon Leicester Sq, London, WC2 (0171-416 6008) Fri 27 & Sat 28 JuneReuse content