I wasn’t a friend of his, just a massive fan who was utterly delighted, excited and in awe on the few occasions I got to work with him. I sat next to him on a panel show once, I was a bundle of nerves and told him so. He was very nice to me and gave me space and teased me afterwards for mumbling a funny answer to him instead of saying it out loud. “I mean did you know you were on telly? Did they tell you?” Having a laugh with him afterwards was the most fun part of that job.
He was on a whole other level of funny. We were with the same agency for many years and they adored him, not just as one of their acts, but as a person to hang out with. I was on the same bill as him for a few benefit shows. At the O2, in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital, our agent said: “He’s got nothing planned! He doesn’t know what he’s gonna do!” We all scrambled to the side of the stage to watch.
Out came Sean Lock to 20,000 people and divided them into two teams. What he did then was nothing short of magic. It was completely improvised game where the two halves competed with chants lead by Sean. I don’t recall the details of the game he made them play, I just remember 20,000 people absolutely locked onto him, led by him and then them dissolving into utterly helpless laughter. “He’s amazing! He’s amazing!” we shrieked at the sides.
The rest of us idiots had done carefully crafted material, but the size of the crowd made no odds to Sean. He improvised and had fun with them as easily as he would have done if it had only had been a couple of hundred folk.
Later, in the bar, I spotted a comedian, who was a very good friend of mine, in a conversation with Sean – hanging on to his every word. I sort of hovered around to join in but my friend blanked me. Actually blanked – so I’d go away. Now, I know that sounds awful, and it is. But I got it. Sometimes you want your heroes to yourself.
Sean was the guy everyone wanted to be friends with. He was cool. Sharp as a tack, with an extraordinary talent for the ridiculous.
Years ago, I gigged with him in an old, underground public toilet on Shepherd’s Bush Green that had been converted to a club. He was trying out new material and I was doing a set. Neither of us had a good time. The atmosphere in the audience was glum from the start and there was no shaking them up. Anyone would think people weren’t enjoying sitting in an old, underground toilet. Afterwards he sat with me for a bit and we had a drink in the side of the club curtained off for the comics. He said: “Why do we do this? It’s mental isn’t it?” I was very new back then and was quite shy around the “big boys” – but here was Sean Lock sat on a tatty old sofa, chatting to a much newer comedian on the same level, not making me conscious of a hierarchy. No matter how famous he got, he never seemed interested in stardust, just jokes and fun and joy.
Stand-up comedians tend to be massive fans of stand-up comedy. We all started, after all, as punters. However, we learn the tricks of the trade over time and no matter how brilliant a comic is, we get to a point when we nod and smile and mutter “That was a great line” to one another while the rest of the audience howls with laughter.
Sean was one of those rare comics though that would make comedians feel like punters again. Nothing about what he did was predictable. There was no way you could guess his punchline faster than he delivered it. It was delicious to see the twinkle in his eye on and off-stage then you knew you were about to double up laughing.
The comedy community is a bit like school, in that the people you started out with as an “open spot” will always be your “year” or “cohort” – whatever different directions your careers take you.
Of course one’s first thoughts are with the family of someone who has gone so soon. But also, my heart hurts for Sean’s “cohorts”, his friends, the comics who started out with him and spent those bonkers circuit and early Edinburgh festival summers with him. Those who worked with him for years, all of whom have protected his privacy and the privacy of his family so lovingly and faithfully during his illness.
And now all the shows must go on. We all step back on our stages stride around and make people laugh knowing our very finest is no longer here. This loss to the comedy world is colossal.