Winning isn't easy...

Stephen Grant : The acceptance speech I should have given

Monday night was the Chortle awards, and I won best compere. Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy; disproportionately so on the basis of how important this actually is(n’t) outside of the comedy industry itself, but I’m also annoyed – mainly with myself. You see, those people who have known me since my teenage years, including (and especially) those who are close friends of mine, have always known me a bit of a bad loser. But as it turns out, I’m a fairly bad winner too. Let me qualify this.

If the seven deadly sins had a second-level set of offspring, one of them would certainly have to be ‘false modesty’; at best it’s misplaced politeness, at worst, narcissism. Anyway, it’s one of my bugbears and I have to bite my lip to stop myself from having a go at people who say things like ‘oh, it was nothing’ when you compliment them on something which was clearly far from nothing. If it’s a fish for further platitudes, it’s unnecessary, and if it’s a genuine dismissal of their achievements, it’s disingenuous. Either way it’s disrespectful.

So when I read on the Chortle news story that “many of those collecting accolades at the brisk ceremony took their honour with a pinch of salt” you would probably expect me to have been fairly disappointed with that, but I can see why that happened. As the award is nominated for by a highly decorated panel of comedy judges and voted for by a pretty comedy-savvy audience (certainly when compared to the quality of public voting for ITV’s British Comedy Awards) it should have a genuine sense of importance; but the problem lies in the fact that the people you are in front of at the time are not your fans; they are your colleagues. And any display of self-importance and self-congratulation in this environment would be a bit like ‘telling jokes to the other acts’ – in other words, social suicide in the world of backstage politics. These are the people you prove yourself to over the other 365 days of the year, and certainly they aren’t going to think you’ve suddenly become funnier when being presented with a swanky new paperweight. Clearly keeping things low key would be the safe way to go.

However, in the world of Stephen Grant, awards are bloody rare things. When you work your bits off six days a week doing the least glamorous aspect of the comedy world (compering), despite being passionate about the skill involved in it and how crucial it is to the success of the world of packaged stand-up comedy, you want to revel in the fact that there is a compering category at all, let alone the fact you have been nominated for it.

Every single jobbing comic who’s done an MC slot has been confronted by the classic back-handed compliment, “mate, you were brilliant! You should be a comedian!” from someone who genuinely thought that was a nice thing to say. And even within the comedy industry, compering hasn’t got the best rep. Most established comics who cut their teeth as a compere spend nearly as long trying to rid themselves of that moniker. It’s a ladder rung that appears, for some inexplicable reason, to have nothing above it.

Please don’t misunderstand me. When I won, I was ecstatic. But I really, genuinely, truly, did not expect to. Hence me being totally thrown at what to say off the top of my head; rather ironically, not evidence of good compering skills.

The comic part of me would have liked to have said, “great – now it’s going to be even harder getting sets out of Jongleurs”. But in the end, I babbled something dismissively low key, which I now hate myself for, as at the time I really was unbelievably happy – but paranoid as to how pompous that would have appeared.

And then, bizarrely, I followed it up with a small observation that it was good that someone from outside of London who does most of his work away from the capital was recognised – but in my flustered state that appeared to come out as “fuck off London” by how it was received. This was further confirmed when Mancunian Toby Hadoke (‘best offstage contribution’) congratulated me on what I said for that very reason, and Dara O’Briain (who excellently bucked the trend of low-energy acceptances by using his award speech to encourage the assembled comics to push on for the joy you receive from playing 2000 seaters – a monologue that I did not feel was in any way arrogant or misplaced), enquired (quite friendlily), ‘what was so wrong with London.’

This is exactly how I accepted my award:

I’m fully aware how insignificant both the award and the moment of receipt are in the grand scheme of things, but in retrospect, what I really should have done was use that little stage opportunity to extol the virtues of why ‘best compere’ is such an important category, and congratulate my fellow nominees, and all those other ‘resident comperes’ (a now dying breed) on how integral they are to the popularity of the UK comedy circuit.

But I didn’t, and I’m annoyed about that. Genuinely – I should be over the moon, yet I’m not. Fellow nominee in my category Greg Davies was utterly graceful in his congratulations to me, and Jarred Christmas sent a text saying how pleased he was it was me; someone who, like himself, is a massive enthusiast in the art of compering.

Both of those guys showed a whole bucket of class that I could have done with when it mattered; so well done both of you, and while I’m at it, to all other comperes out there too. You do a sterling job.

There. That’s what I should have said. Something pithy, modest, and from the heart. Clearly, as a compere, I’ve got loads to learn.

Published: 26 Feb 2008

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.