If I ever put out a personal ad, I would only need one line: “Single girl in search of funny man.” And because I also like guys with British accents, the idea of a British comedian makes me weak in the knees.
The website, comedycafe.co.uk, boasts “19 years of funny business,” and has hosted the likes of Lee Evans, Ed Byrne and Ricky Grover. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of these comics — truth is neither had I, but the lure of a free comedy show and a chance to meet my future husband convinced me to make the trek across town.
Hidden off the corner of a rather dubious alleyway in Shoreditch, Comedy Café is one of the few purpose-built venues in London.
Every Wednesday night, Londoners have the chance to check out eight up-and-coming comedians starting their difficult climb to the top of the stand-up circuit. The chance of seeing the next Ricky Gervais makes this an event well worth a detour off the beaten path.
With the words “Comedy Café” superimposed onto a graphic resembling the “Pow!” explosions in a comic book marking the doorway, the venue could be easily spotted from down the street. The zany white lettering lit in neon and the psychedelic daisies adorning purple walls are enough to attract attention from even the casual passer-by.
I walked through the crimson doors, expecting to be immediately bombarded by hot men and laugh-out-loud shenanigans. Instead, all I got was a seat in the back of an empty room and an impatient waiter reminding me of the mandatory two-drink purchase — not exactly the greatest first impression.
At around 7 p.m., the suggested time of arrival, this comedy club that doubles as a restaurant was only beginning to fill up.
The waiter led my troupe to our seats, plopping the menus — as well as her unapologetic demeanor for the absence of people — in front of us.
With the tables squeezed close together to maximize seating in the small area, our “booth” turned out to be one large table shared with other guests, with our presence practically trapping our neighbors in their seats.
Though they didn’t complain about being cut off from the primary bathroom entrances, we could see them sneak sidelong glances in our direction, as if echoing our own thoughts as to why the rest of the room was empty while we were crammed in the back.
We ordered cheap pints of beer and nachos to tide us over while the room filled up, but before we could enjoy the social aspects of new arrivals the lights dimmed and the host comedian began the show.
Juliet Meyers — the spitting image of Barbara Streisand with ringlet curls — began her comedy career about seven years ago and has performed sets all over the United Kingdom, including the Leicester Comedy Festival.
At Comedy Café, her approach was interactive. She quickly connected with the largest groups — teachers and activists stage left, the pub-regular business executives stage right and a heckler named Flem in front — and got a few puns in before introducing the first act.
She tested the waters with a couple of mild jokes before slyly asking us for permission to say “the C word.” Before I could wonder what she meant, she had already yelled the offensive four-letter word.
“In London, I feel like nothing is off limits because everyone mixes together,” said Meyers, who claimed American audiences are more shockable.
This matter-of-fact, no-holds-barred comedic style reflects the differences between the British and American experiences more than it reflects differences in humor.
Throughout the night, the newbie comedians made fun of the same sensitive subjects American comedians take on sex, race, homosexuality and drugs. But while their deliveries were similar, the only noticeable difference was in the details.
Instead of jokes about Mexicans crossing borders to steal American jobs, they talked about Ethiopians crossing streets to steal purses from old British ladies. Instead of lazy teenagers smoking marijuana in the woods, they joked about underage ravers snorting horse tranquilizers at clubs.
At times, I had to turn to my British tablemate for a slang translation, winging is the same as whining and slag is a term used to describe a promiscuous girl, but overall the jokes made their points. Bad comics still struggled to eke a laugh while the good ones sparked laughter as explosive as the sign hanging outside.
Toward the end of the night I was beginning to think the two-drink minimum might have been a smart requirement after all, as it made sitting through the misses all the more bearable and snorting at the hits all the less embarrassing.
Despite all the comedians being male, except for the host, I found that I didn’t want to be any closer to the stage. From my seat, I could escape the heckler backlash and make all the googly eyes I wanted.
Too bad none were really my type.