Drawing: Alexei Sayle

“Americans have different ways of saying things. They say ‘elevator’, we say ‘lift’ – they say ‘President’, we say ‘stupid, psychopathic git'”. One of comic legend’s Alexei Sayle’s infamous and now most apt one liners.

Voted 18th on Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Stand-up Comics in 2009, Alexei was a central figure in the alternative comedy movement of the 1980’s. His satirical style was based on cynicism and political awareness. The Emmy-winning British actor appeared in numerous TV shows but he was best known for his involvement in the iconic THE YOUNG ONES alongside Adrian Edmondson, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and Christopher Ryan. He played a many characters, but his main role was the apparently Russian landlord Jerzy Balowski.

Alexei was doing a few nights of ‘work in progress’ gigs at the Soho Theatre last week so I took the opportunity to meet him and get my drawing signed.

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Drawing: Wendy Wason

“She’s absolutely hysterical,” said Jimmy Carr about fellow comedian, Wendy Wason. The Sunday Times added “charming, clever and funny.’ The Edinburgh-raised actress and writer’s initial career was in film and TV, appearing in TAGGERT, SHERLOCK, MIDSOMMER MURDERS, THE IT CROWD and in feature films such as THE LIBERTINE with the three Johnnies, Depp, Malcovich and Vegas. She branched out into stand-up comedy in 2004 at Edinburgh’s Guided ballroom, followed by successful shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW I DIDN’T KNOW (2008), OTHER PEOPLES SECRETS (2010), FLASHBACKS (2011), HOTEL CALIFORNIA (2014) and last year, TINY ME, which she performed at the Soho Theatre in London for three nights last week. On one of those nights she signed this sketch for me.

Drawing: Milton Jones

Milton Jones? “Oh that’s the bloke with the shirts and sticky-up hair,” most people would probably say, according to the man himself, a regular panallist on BBC Two’s MOCK THE WEEK and one of the UK’s stand-out stand-up comedians. Known for his one-liners involving puns delivered in a deadpan and slightly neurotic style, his loud shirts and wild hair… and his sublimely surreal takes on the world. “I was walking along the other day and on the road I saw a small dead baby ghost. Although, thinking about it, it might have been a handkerchief.”

MOCK THE WEEK can be a hard show to do. It’s always seven people trying to fit through a door for two he said in a recent interview. But his advantage is his style. “Yes I win. I do short bits. I get in, chuck a grenade and get out quickly.” It’s a style The Guardian acknowledged, “No one can touch Jones when he’s in his stride.”

He did a couple of nights at the Soho Theatre in London last week trying out new material for his next tour and signed my sketch with a two-liner.

Drawing: Elf Lyons

Elf Lyons

“Enthusiastically peculiar” and “Endearingly essentric” are two labels attached to stand-up comic and writer Emily-Anne ‘Elf’ Lyons. The Latitude Festival blurb, where she performed this year was a tad more specific, calling her an “award-winning, immortal, red-hatted comedian and storyteller from London.”  She’s a mixture of the surreal, saucy and the strange covering everything from budget erotica to very physical impressions of a Dressage horse.

With two theatre degrees, Elf is a founder member of ‘The Secret Comedians’, a small comedy collective who perform satirical evenings in East London. She is also a recent alumni of the Paris-based clown school, L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier and wants to kill her mother….in a comedic way of course. Her current show PELICAN is being performed nightly at the VooDoo Rooms as part of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe (or if your savvy and lazy, the ‘Edfringe’). It’s based on her mother’s complaint that she didn’t feature prominently enough in her daughter’s comedy routines, so she was made the subject of a show, relishing the madness of mothers and the age-old fear of turning into your mum. “Lyons is endearingly awkward, sexually frank and delightfully silly” wrote Rowena McIntosh in The List review.

She signed my sketch at the Leicester Square theatre as part of her Edfringe foreplay.

Drawing: Nish Kumar

Nish Kumar

Nish Kumar is one of the funniest guys around. Even the Guardian… I think it was the Guardian, said he has sealed his place at the top table of UK comedy. His show LONG WORD …LONG WORD… BLAH BLAH BLAH … I’M SO CLEVER (yes that is the actual title) was the hottest ticket at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe and was nominated for the Best Show Award.

This month he’s taken up residency at London’s Soho Theatre. The publicity blurb describes the performance as “This is a stand-up comedy show for people who like stand-up comedy by a man that does stand-up comedy.” Succinct. It goes on to say the “depending on your opinion, the man is either ‘a comedian on the up (The Times), ‘a comedian I’ve never heard of’ (Audience Member) or ‘a very clever boy’ (Nish Kumar).

After last night’s show he was perched in the packed bar signing copies of his DVD and I was perched anywhere near him but was slowly wading through the throng and held my sharpie up indicating I was heading his way. When I showed him the sketch he probably thought ‘missed sale’ but politely said, “You’ve made me too handsome”. I apologised and he signed it.

So (Ho Ho Ho) if you’re in need of some festive cheer, pop along and catch Nish… oh and buy his DVD. Say Mark sent you.

Drawing: Holly Walsh

holly walsh

Acclaimed English comedian, comedy writer and Chortle Award winner Holly Walsh performed her new show Never Had It this week at London’s Soho Theatre after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe last year.

“It” in the show’s title refers to the “je ne sais quoi” – that elusive combination of charisma and insouciance possessed by people who make life look easy. Holly’s self confessed ‘lack of cool’ has, however, become an advantage, turning it into a successful comedy career which began in 2005 when she took an evening class in standup to escape being an art gallery assistant.

The rest, as they say, is ‘herstory’. Within a year she found an agent, made the final of several nationwide new act competitions and began writing for comedy shows, including Radio 4. Since then she has appeared on Mock the Week, Would I Lie to You, and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. As the blurb on the Soho Theatre site says “Some people have got ‘it’. Holly most definitely does not. But who needs ‘it’ when you’ve got a Gold Duke Of Edinburgh Award and nearly two thousand Nectar points?”

‘Graphing at the Soho requires a bit of strategic management i.e. purchase a pilsner and position oneself at the ideal interception point. At the Soho that’s usually at the table adjacent to the door between the foyer and the hospitality area. This is usually a bottleneck akin to the Northern Line at 8am. Mind the Gap.

On Thursday evening I got lucky. There was a gap between shows so the flow of pedestrians was manageable for me to identify the target… I mean talent.

The norm – and I use the term very lightly – is that the performers appear after the audience and this duly happened. This sequence can be crucial, and avoids one asking a number of look-alikes and impostors to sign your sketch before you stop the real one. I speak from experience here, they don’t have their name stamped on their foreheads.

Holy conformed to the norm and moments later appeared from the downstairs stage in clear view. I immediately recognised her distinctive big, bright eyes and smile and she recognised herself in the sketch (always a bonus) and happily signed it.

I still had time to finish my ale in a relaxed fashion and no longer looking like a stalker before assuming the position at a West End stage door later in the evening.

Sketch: Frankie Boyle

Frankie Boyle

Scottish comedian Francis Martin Patrick Boyle, known to all as Frankie, is one of the UK’s most popular and most controversial comics.

His genres are listed as one-liners, black comedy, blue comedy, surreal humour, improvisational comedy, insult comedy, pessimistic humour and political satire and he is exceptional at all of them, if not everyone’s cup of tea.

He once said he planned to quit stand up before he turned 40, but thankfully that age has passed and he’s still performing live. Frankie’s currently doing ‘work in progress’ shows around London. He did a short run at The Phoenix near Oxford Circus, where I caught up with him… with some trepidation, given his stage persona.

But I needn’t have worried, he was extremely pleasant as he arrived and headed to the basement performance area, in spite being interrupted by a ‘grapher wanting his pencil scribble signed at the precise moment his pen decided to slip through the hole in his jacket pock and lodge in the lining…

I quickly grabbed another pen from my bag and thanked Frankie for his patience and for his ‘graph and dedication. Sigh of comic relief… reminding myself of the first rule of autograph collecting, make sure you give them something to sign with!

Sketch: Susie Essman, Soho Theatre

Susie Essman

The Bronx-born American stand up comedian, writer and television producer Susan ‘Susie’ Essman was back by popular demand at London’s Soho Theatre following her smash hit sell out run in 2013.

She is no shrinking violet and is liberal with the vernacular invectives on stage and screen. The LA Times said Susie is “The most lyrical purveyor of profanity on television. She makes the entire cast of The Sopranos look like rank amateurs. It is really a gift.”

Susie is best known for her role as the Sassy Susie Green on the groundbreaking critically acclaimed HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm and the character’s hilarious bouts of withering sarcasm and uninhibited insults, including her catchphrase, “you fat f*ck!”

British critic Dominic Cavendish said Susie is “funny, frank and fearless”. She described Downton Abbey as “a piece of sh*t”.

It was great to meet Susie and her husband Jim after the first of her three night gigs at the Soho Theatre where she signed this sketch. I am pleased to say that in person she is the exact opposite of her TV namesake and stand up persona.

Sketch: Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran

English broadcaster and writer Caitlin Moran is the bestselling author of How To Be A Woman. She’s an award winning columnist and critic for The Times in London and was named the Observer’s Young Reporter of the Year aged 15.

Caitlin’s upbringing in Wolverhampton inspired her TV drama comedy series Raised By Wolves, which she wrote with her sister Caroline. The main character is Germaine – a “gobby, vaginally-focussed, horny, 16 year old extrovert”.

I met Caitlin at the stage door (or as they call it, The Artist’s Entrance) of the Royal Festival Hall last week when she joined Bridget Christie and Shazia Mirza as the “Three titans of comedy and thinking” for the WOW – Women of the World Festival and she signed my sketch.