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22 February 2007


On meeting Madonna and touching Ben Elton's shoe

By Simon Munnery

Recently I’ve been thinking about stars. They’re so far away. Perhaps that’s part of their appeal. To view one properly you have to use a telescope – or a newspaper. Celebrity is a misnomer. They are not celebrated but castigated. You never read about an ex- Big Brother contestant who is doing something good – nursing for example. It’s always fights in nightclubs. Perhaps castigees might be a better description. How strange of newspapers to point at someone and then deride them. Why not point at someone doing something good?

I met Madonna once. It took some effort. I’d been doing some shows at the ICA, the run had finished, I’d got to know the staff. Several of them said: “Are you coming down tomorrow night for the party? Madonna’s going to be here.”

I said “Yeah, and? Anyway I’ve got a gig.”

At this stage I had no interest in meeting Madonna. But on the way back from Brighton the next night I was passing through central London so I dropped in. I was given a pass. It was a private do, a record company launch/party. In the foyer I watched people being removed from the toilets because Madonna was about to come down the stairs and no one was allowed to bump into her accidentally.

She was accompanied by six fearsome security men. I followed them into the auditorium. Bands were playing but half the audience were turned the other way watching Madonna sitting in the balcony. I could see the sound man up there, who’d done my shows, but even he – despite being less than nine feet away – could not meet Madonna; she was surrounded by minders. At that moment it became a challenge. How do I meet Madonna?

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My solution was simple. She and her entourage had come down the stairs. Surely they would go back up there once the show was over. I ascended. At the top I found the green room and walked in. There was a solitary waitress, who I knew, and I explained that I wanted to meet Madonna. She was fine about it, so I took a bottle of wine and hid behind a sofa, drinking. Pretty soon the room started filling up and I was able to stand up without causing a commotion.

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Madonna sat in the middle chatting, while the rest of us orbited her like planets. No one talked about her. It turned out I even knew vaguely a couple of people in the room. At one point I bent down to tie my shoe laces, and on the way up my nose brushed Natalie Imbruglia’s arse. Nothing to report, and anyway I wasn’t interested. By then my only aim was to meet Madonna. I was getting drunk now, and my window of opportunity was narrowing. Eventually I plucked up my courage and leaned over the coffee table where she sat and said “hello”. Unfortunately not loudly enough. In for a penny, I thought, and had another crack at it.

This time it worked; she broke off from the conversation she was having, turned to me and said hello back. Then there was a lull. In all the excitement and scheming to meet her I’d completely forgotten to think of anything to say.

After a couple of seconds that seemed like eternity she asked: “Do I know you?”

“No,” I replied, honestly but unimaginatively, and after another brief lull she calmly turned back to resume her previous conversation. I was left bent over the coffee table. “Next,” I said to no one in particular and left the room utterly ashamed. And that was it. I’ve been dining out on that anecdote ever since. Chips mainly.

Worse still perhaps was the time I touched Ben Elton’s shoe. It was at the end of a BBC TV Christmas party – quite rightly the first and last time I was invited. Drunk as a skunk and skunked as well I lay sprawled accross the floor when I looked up and saw him. He was busy conversing with other vertical people and it occured to me that from my current position I need only stretch out my arm and I could touch his shoe probably without him even noticing. I was wrong though. He glanced down and saw me do it. No words were exchanged but I think it counts as a meeting. Oh the shame of it.

Many moons ago I nearly got beaten up for being famous, but escaped the beating because I wasn’t. I was in a club in Camden town, queuing for the toilets. Some fools were smoking a joint in there not realising that toilets were for snorting. The man behind me had seen me performing at Glastonbury and we chatted for a bit. Our conversation ended when it was my turn for the closet. When I came out that man had gone, but the bloke behind him – who had overheard our conversation – grabbed me by the neck and shoving me against the wall exclaimed “Are you famous? Cos if you are I’ll kick your fucking head in”.

I explained that if I was famous he would probably know who I was and wouldn’t have to ask. He saw the logic of this and calmed down a bit, releasing my neck. Then I lost my temper, grabbed him by the neck and said: “And what if I was famous eh? Why does that give you the right to kick my head in?”

Nearly everyone is born famous. Adults surround babies, fascinated by them, delighted by their every gurgle. It’s downhill from then on.

Reviewers/critics review performers, but really the odd thing is not that someone should be standing on a stage talking but that large numbers should be sitting there listening. Review the audiences!

I’ve noted that performers tend to attract audiences a bit like themselves. Recently I did a gig for Daniel Kitson, who I define thus: “Most comedians come on and defend themselves with jokes, Kitson walks on and draws the audience onto his well honed spikes.” Almost everyone in the crowd, it seemed, was bearded with a chubby angelic face. Similarly at John Hegley gigs you’ll see a high proportion of spectacle wearers.

John Lennon was a star. He wrote: “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try,” which I disagree with. In order to imagine there’s no heaven one must first know what the word heaven means, and strictly speaking – mmm just the thought of it – that is impossible. Since you cannot know heaven directly you must imagine it in some way, and then try and wipe what you have imagined from your mind. Very difficult, even if you try.

Which brings me on to Jesus. Recently I wrote a new joke – it’s been a good year – and told it to a friend who said you’ve been going on about that for years. I said yes, but now I’ve got the words right. And they are these:

The difference between Jesus and the Church is this: Jesus said give your money to the poor and follow me; the Church says – to the poor – give your money to me and follow Jesus.

Strange that so many hymns implore the listener to praise God. Isn’t that odd, even blasphemous? You praise a child when they’ve done something good. The act of praising implies some superiority, some ability to judge. Who are we to praise God? Shouldn’t we be asking God to praise us?

Just a thought. Ta ra.