UPDATE: This was originally published as part one of a two part series, but I decided that I wanted it all in one piece.
I got very drunk last night. Very, very drunk. It would have been hard for me not to. The atmosphere was not conducive to staying sober. Luckily my wife was there to make sure it didn't get too far out of hand. From today, I am on the proverbial wagon. It's not that I'm ashamed of anything I got up to last night. I'm not. It was a blast and fortunately I have retained the memory of it. The truth is that I had already given up. It was the first drinking I'd done in nearly three weeks. Call it a temporary suspension of the wagon. I won't really get into why I've decided to quit except to say that this is the third time in my life that I've done this. I've gone years without drinking and I've felt that my life generally runs better in that mode. Drinking doesn't really go well with my depression. When I've come off the wagon after these experiences it has always been in a conscious and controlled manner. I'd felt more mature, as though I'd turned a corner and things would be different. Somehow though I always seem to end up back here. Excess. So here we go again.
Anyway, enough about that. That's not really what this piece is about. This is about a very special night and some very special people. The Twitter Joke Trial gig was a comedy event hosted by the very slick Al Murray, a.k.a. the Pub Landlord. Before the gig a bunch of us met up in a pub not far from the venue. Bee got to meet Paul and Sarah for the first time and we also met Martin, Danny, Louise, Helen, Maria, Clive, Emi and many others. I'm sorry I didn't get to meet Gavin. Maybe next time. I got to meet up again with David and Mo and Vanessa, who have become friends. All great tweeps. All lovely people. I drank a lot of beer. Paul's mum and a bunch of her family turned up and it was really delightful to see the support from that quarter. I think they were a bit in awe of what this has turned into. Who could blame them? Stephen Fry, Al Murray, Jack Whitehall, Graham Linehan, Rufus Hound, David Schneider, Robert Popper, Stephen Grant, Gary Delaney, Susan Calman, Katy Brand. All these excellent people of comedy came out to do this benefit gig in support of the cause that Paul Chambers has become identified with. And they all felt honoured to be a part of it. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy really. I suppose that's the point. If Paul were a jerk this would still be important, but it wouldn't be quite so apt. The willingness (perhaps eagerness) of the police, the Crown and the courts to make criminals out of decent people in order to show that the criminal justice system is vigilant on our behalves is frightening. We are letting them know that this is not acceptable - that they have overreached the set of responsibilities that our consent endows upon them. The ordinary person test that judge Jacqueline Davies concocted in her ridiculous judgement to deny appeal cannot possibly stand up in court now. Not after all this welcome attention. As we head into a possible summertime High Court appeal, let's hope it's third time lucky.
I digress. Back to the gig and the people. That's what this is really about. Bee and I were pleased to discover another friend, Ashley, sitting in the row behind us. We also met Audrey and Liam. There were many highlights to the show. My personal favourite was a bit where Rufus Hound played an audio clip of an argument he'd had on Radio 5 Live with Edwina Currie. It's a must listen. Stephen Fry made headlines by declaring that he'd be prepared to go to prison in order to ensure that the verdict is not allowed to stand in law. Robert Popper showed some of his zany call in pranks that are the hallmark of his comedy. Emi (@krunchie_frog) got called up on stage with David Schneider, who was on great form. Gary Delaney dazzled with his superb puns. Paul's solicitor David Allen Green made a terrific speech after the interval in which he expressed how the decisions in this case have made him feel as an officer of the court. I'm not so coy as to fail to mention that I was pleased for the name check he gave me on account of my campaigning work. He didn't have to do that. It was nice of him. Well, we are mates after all. Because of this. All because some guy got annoyed in January 2010 and blew off a little steam. All because we are apparently not allowed to make jokes about terrorism in public.
I remember the second time I met David. It was at the second meeting I attended of Westminster Skeptics in the Pub, which he convenes. It just happened to be the evening of the day when Paul lost his case in the magistrates court. We both wore the same wounded, incredulous expression. It was something nearing shell shock. He shook my hand and said "this was a terrible, terrible decision today." So strongly did he feel about that decision that he took the step of organizing Paul's appeal, which he undertook pro-bono. Nearly a year on, I find myself sitting in the audience of a comedy concert in which the fabulous Graham Linehan shows off some of his favourite corners of the web. Funny stuff, whether or not that was the creators' intentions. Two video clips in particular are worth a mention. UGLY FURNITURE and the Super Broker Shuffle. I briefly met Graham at the after show party and had a nice chat with his wife Helen. Of all the performers at this gig, Graham is the one whom I most wanted to meet. He has been a very active and eager supporter of Paul since quite early on.
The rest of the night is a blur. Bee and I stayed at the party until quarter to 2. I consumed a lot of alchohol. I got very silly. There was a lot of karaoke singing and I did a bit of what some have described as interpretive dance to some of the other performances. It was that kind of night, folks. David Allen Green and former Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris sang a duet together while Al Murray looked on in quiet amusement. I can't remember what they did. If anyone has a video of this, please come forward ;-). Alex and I did a duet with Under Pressure. We flipped a coin to decide who got to be Bowie. I won the coin toss but chose Freddie if you can believe it. I didn't realize it at the time, but Alex is Emi's other half and he was splendidly picked on by Al Murray at the beginning of the gig. It was around this time that I met Mike and Chris in person. Mike is often very jokey on Twitter, but he was very serious as we spoke about the absurdities of the Twitter Joke Trial. As we were getting ready to go, I spotted James and Liz who do The POD Delusion podcast. Check out the Twitter Joke Trial special edition, where they were backstage interviewing Paul, Stephen Fry, Graham Linehan and a few of the other performers. They had to miss out on the gig itself, but I rather think it was probably worth it, don't you? I'm in danger of going on and on, so I think I'll wrap it up here. In summary, I'm a drunk. I had a great time. It was an amazing night and it is a great and important movement of which I am proud to be a part. I look forward with some measure of apprehension but a larger portion of hope to the next leg of the appeal, which will probably happen in the late summer or early autumn. I will be there. I moved a pre-booked holiday to be at the gig. I'm not going to miss the trial. If you're anywhere near London, then I hope you'll join me. Whatever the outcome, it will be historic. And you might get to meet some of the special people I've mentioned. The many ordinary people who like myself do not fit the profile described by Judge Davies. People who when the chips are down are prepared to stand up and shout "I am Spartacus!" Ordinary people can make a difference if enough of them get together. Just occasionally, ordinary can become extraordinary. I am Spartacus!