Would-be comedy gods Warren and Clark expect to go super nova any day now. But for the moment they can't even land a credit on Radio 4's Week Ending, the half-decent comedy writer's gag disposal unit. Holed up in a Hendon bedsit, the deluded duo's marriage grows ever rockier as they toil pathetically over their desperately unfunny material.
But the fact that they don't know they're hopeless doesn't stop them from dreaming. They'll be so funny, says Warren, they'll invent a new emotion, beyond laughter. They won't stop until they can say, 'Tommy Cooper. . . Who?'. And the day will come when Warren will be so intergalactically renowned, he'll be able to call up Brucie and Tarbie 'to come round and wrestle naked in front of my kids as a favour'.
Behind this fictional tragi-comic duo, opening in Huge at the King's Head in Islington, London, next week, lies a real-life comedy trio. And just as Warren and Clark squabble over who wrote which feeble gag, so their inventors, Ben Miller, Simon Godley and Jez Butterworth, have found themselves caught in the same creative back-draught over which of them wrote exactly what.
It started when posters sprang up all over town during the Edinburgh Festival declaring 'BEN MILLER'S HUGE'. Then Time Out listed the play as 'written, produced and directed by Ben Miller'. The List, Edinburgh's listings magazine, responded with a 'written, produced and directed by Simon Godley. . . Ben Miller plays the bed- maker'. Finally, Godley and Butterworth took matters into their own hands, engineering a late rewrite of the play to enable Godley's Clark to tell Miller's Warren, 'I can't actually remember you writing any of it.'
Was life imitating art or vice versa? 'It's a horrible, vicious closed loop,' says Godley. 'The play is about all these petty arguments, so when we're discussing the plot I can't say, 'Ben, you've never done a gig so what would you know?' We have to talk things through. So we've got a superb working relationship because we're both paranoid about becoming Warren and Clark.'
In a previous life, Simon Godley was one half of a double act for six long years. 'It became very weird when my old partner came to watch me doing this play. The funny thing is, his second name is Clark, so of course the paranoia started straight away. We had gone through such similar things as an act together. I remember one time he went off and did a gig on his own without telling me. Actually, it wasn't even a gig, it was just a stand-up comedy workshop. I never told him at the time but I felt very betrayed. I've had to wait years before I could vent some of it in this play. It's pathetic.'
Butterworth, who insists that the original idea for the play was his, recognises the dangers. 'You could imagine, in a slightly more cartoony version, if events went hideously wrong, that Simon would turn into Clark and Ben would turn into Warren at some point down the line. The truth of the matter is that I originally modelled Warren and Clark on both of them anyway.'
Huge, King's Head, 115 Upper St, London N1 (071-226 1916), 19-31 Oct (8pm Tue- Sat, 3.30pm Sat-Sun)
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