Ray Presto dies at 74

Stalwart of the London open mic scene

Ray Presto, a distinctive stalwart of the London open mic circuit, has died at the age of of 74.

A magician and comedian, whose real name was David Shaw, Presto he was a regular at clubs including Pear Shaped and, most notably, the Comedy Store's King Gong show, where he would receive decidedly mixed reactions from audiences.

Nonetheless he returned time after time to the show – until 2009, when he was asked to stop, after a new booker took over.

Obituary by Harry Harry Deansway, who often booked Presto for the gigs he ran under The Fix banner:

Famed for his strange but smart appearance, unique delivery of out-of-date jokes and magic tricks, Ray Presto often left audiences baffled. Was this a well thought-out character act, or a delusional Seventies throwback? Was he in on the joke?

Off stage, Ray was a committed atheist and hedonist, having a book published in 1972 by Tandem called Choose Your Pleasure which was a collection of essays on the pros and cons of hedonism and self indulgence. Off the back of this, he landed regular writing work as a columnist in Penthouse magazine.  

In 2002 he moved to London from his home town of Hull with the aim of getting more writing work. But he did not have much luck with this and struggled as a writer throughout his life. One of the books he was working on was a commentary on the phone hacking scandal.

During this time in London he became one of the most recognisable faces at open mic shows, and a firm favourite of many of the acts and audiences who saw him. And although he will be remembered by many on the circuit, it will not be for what he wanted to be remembered for, as a serious writer. 

Shortly before his death, when he began to open up, I asked him what he did before he retired. His answer? 'I was unemployed.'

A classic Presto line delivered with the timing of someone who was definitely in on the joke. 

He is survived by his sister Ruth

Here is Ray surviving five minutes at the gong show…

Published: 29 Feb 2012

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.