Obituaries are a fickle sort, especially when written about someone you hardly, truely and deeply, know. Ray Presto (real name David Shaw), a retired magician and stalwart comedian on the London open-mic scene, passed away from the ranks of the down-trodden and frail, a small and weak man with all the characteristics of a downtrodden and beaten entertainer, but with the amazing twinkle of a professional who consistently plowed through to find his audience.
A lot of comedians and audiences recently remember him from his abnormal sets at the Comedy Store Gong Show, a gauntlet of boo’s and hisses from punters willing to give him the benefit of the doubt based solely on his own innocence and lack of self-awareness at his own fickle delivery.
What I didn’t know was his accomplishment as an author, publishing a book in 1972 called Choose Your Pleasure, a collection of essays of the pros and cons of hedonism and self-indulgence. You can find two more remaining books (I bought the cheapest as of writing this post) here.
Digressing back, my point is of my own meeting with him, my first and only time so far I’ve ever had to share the stage with such an amicable character. Above the Coach & Horses in Soho, prior to the Health & Safety incident with Laughing Horse beau Alex Petty (where a speaker fell on his head), we gathered in the upstairs room with a tiny group of audience members unaware of what self-destruction they’ve just got themselves in for after paying the admission fee, and us likely mirth-soldiers made awkward attempts at laughter while the survivors stood to the side pondering their failures.
And Ray, his trousers high above his waist, his spine impossibly bending to the will of the situation, went along with extremely bad puns, raising his arms in the air like Christ but with a joke, and painted everyone’s face in the room with looks of shock like a wall-painter with a brush.
I was not awed by his performance, but I was envious of his resolve. And I made the leap, which I hardly do, to ask his advice on stand-up.
Eyes as huge and reminiscint of the late Marty Feldman (Igor in “Young Frankenstein”) he glanced at me with what could only be described as incredulity at my question and then dashing his eyes left and right, responded:
“Young man, I don’t know.”