Welcome to Ella Mag’s new blogger Bill Kay. Bill and his partner swapped life in the UK for LA back in 2006. A former national newspaper editor, Bill is now a movie scriptwriter and a stand-up comic.
The dazzling lights blinded me. I couldn’t see a thing, but I knew they were there – and they were all looking at me.
I was on stage at the Ice House comedy club in Pasadena, ten miles north-east of Los Angeles. For the next eight minutes I was going to try to make a bunch of strangers laugh, without taking my clothes off, getting them drunk or tickling them.
It’s not the weirdest thing I have found myself doing since I landed in America five years, eight months ago: the bizarre process of officially becoming a US citizen probably takes the prize for that.
Comedy was something I had no wish to do when I lived in London. I had never even been to a comedy club there until a couple of years back.
But that’s what LA is like. An enormous holiday camp reminiscent of the old Hi-de-hi! TV series, where there is always someone coming up to you and trying to persuade you to take part in the west coast equivalent of the knobbly knees competition. You don’t have to join in, but if you’re going to emigrate 5,000 miles, what’s the point of sitting indoors?
They don’t see it like a holiday camp, of course. Los Angelenos take themselves very seriously, reckoning they are part of a world-class city that leads the world in one industry – the movies – and is decorated with a coronet of glittering mini-cities that includes Beverly Hills, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Marina Del Rey, Manhattan Beach, Laguna Beach, Palm Springs and Pasadena.
And the movie business is similarly decorated with a string of satellite trades, from scriptwriters, mobile caterers and make-up artists to a vast army of wannabee comedians.
How did I come to get dragged into that raggle-taggle band of brothers?
Precisely three years ago I was getting ready to hop in the car to see my friend Will Ryan present his Cactus County Cowboys, a wild west singing show, in the shabbier end of Hollywood when the phone rang.
It was Will himself. “It’s nearly tax deadline day,” he reminded me. “So would you like to come on the show and tell some tax jokes?”
Of course I said yes, having all of an hour to put an act together. I was terrible but got the odd laugh and caught the show-biz bug.
After a couple of months of classes that summer I was launched onto the stand-up circuit. That October I played the historic Comedy Store on Sunset Strip, which has hosted Richard Prior, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Eddie Murphy and just about every other big name in the laughter business.
Does that mean it’s only a matter of time before I’m on TV and playing the London Palladium? No. LA is crammed with so many comedians fighting to grab a few minutes of stage time in the nearest coffee bar that none of us gets paid.
Agents and TV producers rarely turn up to scout the latest talent, so I’m under no illusion. For me, comedy is a fun hobby that gets me to write a few jokes and spend time with the craziest but warmest bunch of people in LA – my fellow comics.
If you want to see some of my efforts, look me up on YouTube. One Bill Kay there is a car dealer in the mid-west. The other is me.