The Lives of a Showman-Second Excerpt


I duly showed up ready to do the 10:00 p.m. show, and Mr.
Mustapha was there as expected. There were only about five
people in the audience and they were at fairly close quarters to the
performing area, which was not on a stage but on the nightclub
floor itself. There were tables all around the room, and I remember
a little balcony area with even more tables and chairs.
Because of the sparse number of audience members, I decided
not to use the microphone. I did a fifteen-minute act and it seemed
to go reasonably well considering the fact that there were few
spectators, some of whom were eating and one of whom I inveigled
on to the nightclub floor to help me.
I approached Mr. Mustapha for his verdict; he looked
undecided. He asked me why I hadn’t used the microphone and I
replied that I didn’t think I needed it because there were so few
people in the audience. He said, “Next time use the microphone.”
I seized on this and said, “Is there going to be a next time?”
He answered, “I’m not sure. There were too few people in the
audience for me to judge. I would like you to come back at one
a.m. and do another show for the later crowd. There will be many
more people by then and I will be able to see your act and judge it
under more normal conditions. If you do this I will pay you a fee
of five pounds.” In those days five pounds wasn’t bad money, so I
naturally accepted.

I left the club and wandered the streets of the West End of
London and came back in time for the 1:00 a.m. show. I was in
for an unpleasant surprise. The club was full and the audience
was indeed more plentiful. However, they were also extremely
intoxicated. I could see this was going to be a difficult show.
The compere (emcee to North American readers) was a singer
named Johnny Lee. He was at the club on a semi-permanent
basis and had signed a long contract with them. He introduced
me and I went on to inattentive indifference. I tried to gain the attention of the audience to no avail, and had to put up with quite
a lot of heckling. Somehow, I got someone up to help me with the
card tricks and he proved to be quite obnoxious. All in all, the act
died a complete and utter death.

I walked off stage knowing that I would have to face Mr.
Mustapha and I was in fear and dread of it. I waited in the dressing
room for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. I then ventured forth
into the club to find him, but he seemed to have vanished into thin
air. Just then, the head waiter approached me and said, “I have a
message for you from Mr. Mustapha. He had to leave early and
wasn’t able to watch your act. He wants you to come in tomorrow
night and do both the 10:00 p.m. and 1.00 a.m. shows. He will pay
you five pounds for the two performances.”

I was quite relieved that he hadn’t seen my awful show and
resolved that I would do better the next time. I duly showed up
the next evening ready to do battle again. I performed at the first
show to a reasonably-sized crowd. The act went over quite well
and everyone was relatively sober. However, I could see no sign
of Mr. Mustapha.

The later show died an even bigger death than it had done the
night before and the audience was even more intoxicated. I was
beginning to learn that doing an act consisting of card tricks at
one o’clock in the morning to an audience of drunks was not an
effective proposition. Of course, the later the hour, the more time
the audience had to get inebriated.

I came off stage resigned to be told by Mr. Mustapha not to
come back. However, that didn’t happen, since there was no Mr.
Mustapha to be found. In fact, I had not seen him all evening.
Lo and behold, the head waiter approached me and repeated
essentially the same story as the night before. He told me that
Mr. Mustapha had not been able to get to the club that night but
had left a message that I was to appear again the next evening
and again do two shows. Again I would be paid five pounds. I
did notice  that so far there had been no attempt to pay me the
ten pounds already owed to me for my previous performances. I
broached the subject, only to be told to ask Mr. Mustapha about it.
I then said, “I will be happy to perform tomorrow night, but
will Mr. Mustapha definitely be in attendance this time?” I was
told that he had to audition another act the next night and he would
do so at the 1:00 a.m. show. For this reason he would definitely be
And that is the story so far. On my next entry I will explain what happened at the following two performances on the second night. Did I die any more deaths?  Tune in and find out on the next entry!


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