Tim Key: I have met one of my comedy heroes. And I wish I hadn't...


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The Independent Online

Never meet your heroes. That's what they say. That's what you're warned. Well, I did this week. I clattered right into one and the results were devastating.

My hero in this case is a talented comedian. From afar he is funny, charming; a real gem. Then, last night, I met him. In real life he was a shell of a man, wearing two coats and eating cold meat straight out of the packet.

I had gone to a comedy club in north London to pay off a bar bill and to try and think of something for this week's column. I marched up to the bar and explained I owed them for some gin and beer and they agreed. But even as I waggled my debit card at the barman, the sound of laughter began to seep into the bar. A comedy night was afoot in the next room and, like a moth, I was immediately drawn to its flame. All thoughts of paying off debts fell away and I found myself sat in the dinge of a new-material night, chuckling away at a handsome comedian trying out new routines for the benefit of 50 Londoners, himself and, now, me.

Lee Franco. That was the guy's name. Tall and dark, this chap had the audience guzzling out of his palms. There was a confidence about him. The material he was presenting was new, but he delivered it with real poise. Occasionally he would glance down at his notebook before embarking on another flight of fancy about this or that. Audience members spluttered with delight. Occasionally I gripped my thighs. He was dashingly Mediterranean in appearance, sure, but more than that he had a winning, everyman quality, which had us all charmed into submission. Lee Franco. Excellent. His set ended and I went and got a beer on my tab.

And it was while I was suckling on my Asahi that I saw Lee Franco leave. Like a comet he fizzed into life at the opposite end of the bar and then was gone. I shrugged my shoulders and got back to scribbling column ideas. But could I concentrate? No, I could not. I kept on remembering bits of his bloody set. Chortling away, I drained my lager and left.

And it was then that I met Lee Franco in real life.

He was at a bus stop. I think I'd imagined he would have been gliding off to a nearby sushi bar. Hooking up with his equally beautiful wife and devouring raw salmons by candlelight. I imagined them necking hock, stroking each other's wrists. Laughing. But no. He was at the bus stop. My bus stop. So our encounter was now inevitable.

I've met other heroes in the past. David Jason, Daniel Radcliffe. I met Kriss Akabusi and he scored a perfect 10. Warm. Charismatic. Just perfect. Ken Doherty didn't exactly disappoint. That sense of focus mixed in with a self-assurance that comes from being at the top of your field. Yes. "Never meet your heroes" is too much. Sometimes meeting your heroes can be inspirational. Sometimes.

Lee Franco had used the time between the end of the gig and this chance encounter to go to a Tesco Metro and buy a bag full of reduced stuff. He looked quite feral as I approached. His head in the bag, munching and grunting. I sat with him. He recognised me from my cartoon-portrait in my column and we said hi to one another. And then we sat in the moonlight. I think he sensed he'd broken the spell.

He ate a berry medley with a spork and occasionally offered me a grape. I observed that, under his duffel coat he had on a fleece. He pulled some meat from his bag and offered that to me, too. I declined. Nothing he had was Tesco Finest*. We sat in silence as he folded salami into his mouth. I started to scribble and told him I had a deadline for my column.

"It'll be about me, won't it," he said, his mouth packed full of salami.

"Yes it will," I said. "It will be about you".