We had groupies – a right rough load of tarts, they were

Final extract from Simon Day's memoirs

In 1998 we performed The Fast Show live at Hammersmith Apollo: thirty nights sold out! This was the cherry on the cake for me personally. I was an experienced live performer, and was it was a relief to be doing sketches and characters with my friends in front of an audience hell-bent on laughing at things that weren’t even supposed to be funny. It was very different from doing my one-man show, where it was just me on stage for an hour and a half.

I think Charlie and Paul were a bit nervous. They’d done a tour with Harry Enfield years before but Paul especially was not a lover of live work. There was also no guarantee it would work.How would we get people on and off stage quickly enough? Would the characters work in a live format? Was it physically possible for Paul to do all his characters? We all gave advice to Paul and Charlie, some of which they listened to and some of which they ignored. But they left nothing to chance and hired a theatre director called Ros to help with staging it all. It must have been a shock dealing with us lot.

The set was huge, with numerous balconies and windows where people could pop out and shout their catchphrases. The set designer did a fantastic job and it looked brilliant. The whole thing really moved at pace. The show was a double-header with Shooting Stars and for some reason Bob Mortimer decided they’d go on first; it looked a bit like we were being supported by Shooting Stars, which gave us an edge. There was a friendly rivalry. I think it was most important to Paul to be the best but we were all aware of the need to grind our heroes and mentors into the dust.

In fact Shooting Stars did suffer in the live format: no one knew why and it never really took off. However, as I write this it’s once again the funniest show on TV, reaffirming the boys’ position as the twin kings of comedy they always were. At the time, though, I was delighted to be part of the show that was getting the good reviews and I didn’t spend any time worrying about how their quiz was faring with the paying punters.We sat around crowing about how much better than theirs our show was and how the audience had come to see us, not them.

One comedian who attended likened it to a Hitler Youth rally. Certainly as a performer you were carried along on a wave of love and bonhomie from the audience.You’d walk on stage and the whole place would erupt; by the time the cheering died down you were off stage again and someone else was in your place. From a performing point of view it really was like shooting fish in a barrel and I loved every minute of it. The only thing that didn’t work as well as I’d have liked was Competitive Dad, which seemed to elicit less laughter than everything else.

After the show we’d sit about as the great and the good came backstage to a little Portakabin in the car park to drink free beer and tell us how amazing we were. People would whisper to me, ‘You were the best thing in the show,’ while across the room someone else would be whispering to Paul, ‘You were the best thing in the show,’ and outside John would be smoking a fag and yet another person would be telling him, ‘You were the best thing in the show.’ If you saw it and bought this book in hardback you’ll probably agree when I whisper, ‘I was the best thing in it.’

It’s hard to remember it now, it passed by in such a blur. If ever my son or daughter are involved in something like that I’ll take them aside and say, ‘Make sure you enjoy every second of it. Be nice to everybody, write a diary of everything that happens and don’t buy cocaine off the stage hands – it’s always shit.’

There was some quality stuff in that live show. Paul doing Arthur Atkinson, the Ted and Ralph song at the end, Mark’s Drunken Man . . . It was an incredible thing to part of. One night we even got some groupies: they screamed and ran to the front of the stage, hopping up and down. A right rough load of tarts they were too – we refused them entry to the backstage area, a bit miffed they weren’t underwear models.

No one drank before the show, perhaps just one beer. Paul was very strict about that sort of thing. Of course as the dates wore on it became more difficult to police us, though. John and I were borderline alcoholics at that stage and I was a proper coke head too. I always waited until after the show, but after we had taken our bows (trying to gauge who was getting the loudest cheers) I’d really put my foot down on the gas. Why not? I was single, I didn’t drive and my septum seemed indestructible. I was the toast of the Portakabin and was often the last one there, down- ing beer after beer and snorting line after line. By the time I got back to South East London it would be three in the morning and I’d have a few more lines just to be sociable with myself. A few rum and Cokes then listen to classic rock on the headphones. I used to listen to a lot of hip-hop too, but one night I had the Wu Tang Clan on and the sound of a gunshot gave me such a shock I jumped out of my skin and farted uncontrollably, my drink cartwheeling through the air and landing on the stereo.

One morning when I emerged blinking like a mole from my rented one-bedroom hovel my next-door neighbour congratulated me on my performance in the sack the night before.

‘You were at it for about six hours! Blimey, she was certainly enjoying herself – she screamed the house down!’ I was too hungover to tell him that what he’d heard was a porn film playing over and over again.

Some days I’d get up just in time for my car to take me back to the theatre. It’s tiring being a coke head and having another job too. The addiction’s a job in itself and becomes your whole life. A lot of people take drugs a lot then stop but there are lots of others, like me, who just carry on regardless, bobbing and weaving, rolling with the punches, limping on and never getting so bad they have to stop.

But how bad is bad? Driving from Lewisham to Wembley at five in the morning to buy something you know won’t work? Seeing bloodstains on your tenners when you buy your morning paper? Having a long conversation with Tony Slattery and telling him you think he’s brilliant? I mean come on: that is the lowest of the low.

In the Groucho I used to see people in their forties taking drugs when I was in my thirties and I’d think, How awful. I’ll have stopped by the time I’m that old. But of course it’s not that simple. Christmas comes and a big New Year’s Eve mash-up. ‘Never again,’ you say and by February you’re back at work, unwrapping little white packets, smoking fags and talking rubbish to people who don’t care about you, blowing out dates with girls who do.

A great thing about our residency at the Hammersmith Apollo was that I had my name in lights – at the front of the building, up high, which was incredible really. As I’ve said before, I’m not wildly ambitious; I didn’t think, I’ll come back and fill this place on my own – and then Hollywood. The annoying thing was that you couldn’t see your name properly without standing in the middle of the one-way system, where you might get run over. I used to like lying on the stage in the afternoons, looking up the ceiling of the auditorium, with the faded red seats fading away into darkness and the sound desk glowing.

We owned the place for a month and everyone was nice to us because we were making them money, but the people who were most nice to us were the ones paying the money. In the evenings we ate pie and chips or sandwiches and worried about our weight.

Obviously my cocaine intake meant it could prove difficult to stay sober for the show. One night I fetched up in London’s fashionable Notting Hill and managed to stay up all night. The next day (surprise, surprise) I couldn’t sleep and sat head in hands watching the clock tick round till show time. My only companion was Madonna’s silver book, Sex, which people always used as a cocaine table. It kept me occupied for hours, like that bloke in the Carry On films. (‘Phwar!’ ‘Wahey!’ ‘Ooh blimey: you don’t get many of them to the pound!’) I was convinced in my paranoia that I’d be denounced by Charlie or Paul, like a Jew in the Reichstag building, pushed and pulled apart by my comrades for being so stupid.

I arrived at the venue twitching and jittery, my pupils enormous, and stole up the dark twisting stairs to the dressing room where I hid my face from my accusers. I expected Paul to grab me and stare into my eyes like Larry David in CurbYour Enthusiasm. I tried to eat a banana to give me energy, so drenched in paranoia it was hideous. Suddenly the door burst open and my saviour arrived: little John Thomson, pissed out of his mind. He’d spent the preceding 36 hours in much the same way as I had, minus the Charlie, and was like a clockwork pirate, all unintelligible growls and bawdy remarks.

‘For fuck’s sake!’ said Paul. ‘Look at the sate of him.’

My paranoia vanished and I shook my head. ‘Silly cunt,’ I said, feeling my wits returning relatively intact. As I write John Thomson is four years clean and sober, by the way, which is more than me.

  • From Comedy and Error: They Really Were Marvellous Times by Simon Day, published by Simon & Schuster priced £18.99. Click here to order from Amazon for £9.50.

Published: 29 Jun 2011

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