IT’S A FUNNY OLD BUSINESS SOMETIMES, being a comedy promoter. Yes, and last week there were some decidedly strange goings on at my club, Downstairs at the Drayton.

We’ve had many remarkable and memorable nights at the club in the last three and a half years, but this was a night unlike any other...

Ealing resident Tom Binns was booked both to open and close the night, (Also a first at the Drayton) playing two different characters, the headliner being his acclaimed and hilarious hospital radio DJ Ivan Brackenbury.

And this was the act that many of the audience had come to see, ignoring the lure of the nearby Ealing Comedy festival in Walpole park (who would want to go there?).

Binns’ first character was ‘Spirit medium’ Ian D Montford, the ‘Sunderland Psychic’, which is the new show he is taking to Edinburgh this year. And very impressive and entertaining it was... a kind of seance with jokes which left some members of the audience asking: “How does he do that?” And they weren’t talking about his Sunderland accent.

So far so good. Two more acts then went on while I had a chat with Tom outside and discussed how long he wanted to do in his Ivan spot. He then went off to get changed.

The audience went to the bar. Music played. More people went to the bar. A dog barked outside. Somewhere in the distance an owl swooped down on an unsuspecting mouse.. More music was played. The interval dragged on. And On...
 
Where was Ivan? Nowhere to be seen. And no reply from his ringing phone. It was definitely time for a firm stroke of the chin. So I gathered together a crack search party consisting of myself and we went out into the wild West Ealing streets to look for him.

I was concerned. Had he been mugged? Had he crossed over into the spirit world for good? No answer to these questions was forthcoming. And I had a room of expectant punters expecting to see Mr Brackenbury. This was West Ealing and a riot had to be averted at all costs.

So I returned to the comedy room in the basement where so recently Binns had been communing with the dead and where the interval was now stretching into epic proportions. Some people were getting up to leave as it was now almost breakfast time the next day.

It rather reminded me of the time that Harry Hill nearly failed to show up for his appearance at the club in 2008 after being unable to find West Ealing on the map, and I was preparing to send my brilliantly bald mate on stage as a replacement to see if they noticed. Fortunately it wasn’t necessary as Harry made it in the nick of time.

But where was Tom Binns? Answers on a postcard. The evening had now reached the point where I had to concede that he was not going to show. So I offered the audience free tickets for a future show of their choice. But that wasn’t enough.

No sir. By now they had the taste for laughter and they wanted more. What a lovely crowd they were too. But what to do? We had run out of comics. They shouted for the MC to continue. This meant the return of Phil Zimmerman, which is me. What could I do? I was left with no option but to run through my entire repertoire of bird and train impressions. Well, as you would expect, It went down a storm. By the time it finished the bar had shut and the staff were waiting to go home.  

But there is a postscript to this story. I finally got a mysterious text from Binns apologizing for his disappearance and saying he had been in “A world of my own” and had just “Gone home.”

He needn’t have worried. It was a great night and I think the format of the headliner disappearing into thin air worked so well that I may use it again in the future...

Phil Zimmerman is resident comic Downstairs at the Drayton. Tonight (Friday, July 30): Lee Nelson’s Well Good show, as seen on BBC3.Tickets from wegottickets.com . Info: 07853 664 877.