Special ReporT: My Trip to The Secret Policeman’s Ball

Before I get into the joy that was “The Secret Policeman’s Ball,” I would be remiss in mentioning that fabulous Hubster grace was kind enough to not only be an excellent NYC tour guide, but also surprise me with an impromptu trip to Tea and Sympathy, the (in)famous location of Stephen’s “My Fair Colbert” field pieces. I was initially shocked to discover that the restaurant was no larger than the interior of a mid-size sedan, with about ten tables scrunched together, and customers attempting to hem in their elbows to the best of one’s ability.

We met a tall British gentleman who drives a Tea and Sympathy-mobile, (I am chastising myself for not getting a pic of the car), and of course I was asking for Mr. Hugo Vickers. Unfortunately, he was not there, but the man talked to us a bit about having Stephen at the restaurant for the shoot. He indicated that filming was done early in the morning before the store’s opening, and that he was quite amiable of course with the staff, as per his usual. He mentioned that Stephen said he doesn’t like tea “because of the tannins.” He also brandished a nice phone pic of he and Stephen in his riding costume, reminding me once again why New Yorkers are so gosh darn lucky. You guys get to have stuff like this happen to you! In any event, do go to Tea and Sympathy if you are in the Village, and have the roast beef sandwich. But be prepared to scrunch.

On Sunday, I had the great pleasure of meeting the Dame of our Better Know A Guest blogpost-dom, karenatasha. Just prior to the show, I also met several illustrious fangirls, including Susan, who kindly escorted my out-of-towner self to Radio City. The pilgrimage to the Britishy cafe and fangirl meeting was a great warm up for the main event, that of comedy legend and Briton Mr. John Cleese’s comedy gala and charity event, held since 1976 for Amnesty international.

The goal of the charity organization is to foster and encourage efforts at freeing political activists in repressed regimes all over the world. From the moment Archbishop Desmond Tutu appeared on the screen, stating that trying to help the oppressed is noble but “comedy is hard,” we knew we were in for quite a ride.

In focusing so much on getting to NYC for the show I sort of had forgotten I was attending a live, televised event, my very first; the main floor seats were mostly empty minutes before going live, and the announcer kept exhorting the fashionable event-goers to get in their seats. Indeed, they kept streaming in throughout the first hour, eventually filling the floor. I felt like I was at a Greek Orthodox mass or something.

Once the crew struggled to get the set pieces set up and in place, it seemed that spontaneously a television program occurred. It was then I realized there was no reason for concern about the show’s scattered start: you could see that the event was well produced and organized, particularly, I am sure, with Stephen’s friend and the Ball’s Supervising Producer DJ Javerbaum contributing his services.

Eddie Izzard opened the event, heralding the Britishness to come. I had heard a lot about him, and he was quite funny. He reminded me a bit of an English Bill Cosby. Really, we were exposed to some of the best comedic talent in the world, in redux form. For a comedy nerd such as myself, it’s as good as it gets.

For the first time, I saw Jon Stewart in person, this time next to a be-podiumed “Kim Jong Un.” Watching him on the TV for so many years, it was strange to see him in person, but kind of comforting. I had already seen that Stephen’s name wasn’t in the program, so I surmised that he wasn’t going to be able to make it- but one out of two is good! Jon also used the “Uzbeki-beki-stan-stan” joke, so I felt even more at home. He seemed a bit lonely up there without Stephen; they give each other so much energy, and Jon had no one to swear at him and kick him off the stage.

Also fantastic to see John Oliver, who did many spots on the floor, and several funny pieces with the Muppets’ Statler & Waldorf (you must always refer to them with ampersand).

Then, it seemed, an almost endless array of dazzling standup comedians, famous funny people, SNL cast members in abundance and a lot more British accents than I have ever heard outside of the U.K. It was a veritable comedy invasion, and Russell Brand was…surprisingly good. I liked that each comic had material that was attacked you at a different angle, and sometimes, with unexpected tactics. Like Reggie Watts, who combined a unique musical performance with his comedy (with “Paul Mccartney,” who was suffering from a bad case of songwriter’s block), or Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, who revived their “Mr. Show” antics. Brit comedian Jack Whitehall did a great treatise on the vapidity of Tyra Banks. We had running commentary from Statler & Waldorf throughout the show, and they became further engrossed in their twittering as the show progressed, but always in curmudgeonly fashion.

The only moment with real gravitas when Mr. Liam Neeson appeared to honor Maung Thura Zarganar, a Burmese comedian and satirist who had spent many years in prison as a result of his profession.

Many of the Monty Pythons appeared in pre-taped segments, but no John Cleese anywhere to be found, something I found truly disappointing.

The music acts were very well placed in the show, and powerful. I liked the simplicity and passion of Mumford and Sons. For some reason, they reminded me a little of one of my favorite bands, Moxy Fruvous, with their quartet style singing. At the show’s end, everyone around me went nuts with Coldplay. Coldplay performances are good, but not for those with pre-existing heart conditions or epilepsy. The colorful laser beams, neon, 50 ft. backdrop shifting with images of hearts, etc. (sort of like a giant trapper-keeper cover), and cheerful band members, lead by a teal-shirted Chris Martin, have cemented my impression that they are the anti-Radiohead. Although they were fun and terrific, I couldn’t help thinking that Thom Yorke would never run across the theatre, blasting off canons of confetti in the shape of butterflies. Their performance, nevertheless, concluded a fantastic night of truly talented comedians.

Even if Stephen wasn’t there, the spirit of the event and the company of folks involved in the event were very much him. The very best in the business were all there, and I am sure the comedy gods (and John Cleese) were pleased.

Overall, a beautiful evening packed with amazing comedic superpower that supported a great cause. Also a great weekend to be in New York, and get to know you fabulous Hubsters – thank you for your hospitality. Yes, I did use “New York” and “hospitality” in the same sentence – it can be done.

Susan and I were sad in our departing the theatre not to have seen Stephen, but the show was definitely worth the effort, and the goals of Amnesty International certainly worth supporting. Not a bad way to spend a chilly Sunday night in NYC. We’ll catch you next time, Stephen.

To learn more about Amnesty International, please visit their website here.

  • susan209

    Great ReporT, CN Helper! You really were taking notes! All the details were just right. Let me know the next time you’re in New York again, and we can arrange another fangirl roundup. (And that’s always a standing invitation for other Hubsters as well!)

    • CN Helper

      Thank you, Susan, it was great meeting you as well. You start to feel like you know people from all the wonderful banter we have on this site, and it is largely true. I actually, literally did take notes. The frat guy sitting next to me thought I was insane, but I have a blog post to write, gosh darn it! Must be accurate. I am certainly glad to have gone and been able to see it all first hand.

  • Katt

    Thanks for the awesome ReporT CN Helper!! I was a bit surprised that John Cleese didn’t appear either. When Michael Palin first started talking about his leg troubles, and Eric Idle continued in the same fashion, I thought they must have been havig a stab at John’s recent leg troubles, but it just sort of ended with a pint sized Terry Jones.

    John is currently on tour in Australia, so maybe that is why he was a no show. Though, I don’t see how that stops him from filming a bit, we do have video camera’s here!

    • CN Helper

      Thanks, Katt. The Pythons were great to see, even in pre-taped form, but Cleese would have been the Cleesiest. We were seriously deprived of him. I wish I could see him perform sometime, I am not familiar with what he is doing right now, but we are big fans of his in my family.

  • Kris

    Thanks for the awesome report!! Very cool of Grace to think of taking you to Tea and Sympathy:) You did an awesome job capturing the detail and feeling of being there. I laughed at your description of Coldplay. Glad you had such a good time!

  • SazzrahUK

    Great ReporT! Thanks! I was waiting for the channel 4 (UK) broadcast of the show, before I read this. Seems like they cut out quite a bit, No sign of Liam Neeson on the version I watched, and Jon barely spoke at all. Still a great show though, it was very strange for me as a Brit to see all of the British comedians collaborating with some of my favourite American comedians, awesome though! I thought John Oliver was really great. Anyway, I’m very jealous of you! but happy because I got to read a true account of what the show was like!

    • CN Helper

      Thanks, Sazzrah, I am glad I get an actual Briton’s seal of approval. The whole event merely convinced me that in addition to having some of the best actors on the planet, the UK can also boast of some of the best comedians as well. That’s not even including musicians. So much creativity on that island. Maybe it’s from maintaining a stiff upper lip?