Former MP Lembit Opik begins comedy career in London

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Lembit Opik comedy act
Image caption,
Lembit Opik entertains the audience in his comedy debut

For many people, there's nothing new about laughing at Lembit Opik.

This is, after all, the MP who wanted public funds to hunt planet-destroying asteroids. The man whose, shall we say, complicated personal life got him many more headlines than his Commons speeches ever did. The only difference this time was that he actually wanted us to laugh.

Was it really so surprising that the former MP for Montgomeryshire might see a future career in comedy? He seemed to take a cab straight from his election night declaration to the Have I Got News For You studio.

The venue for his stand-up debut was the Backstage Comedy Club, a modest-sized L-shaped venue near the theatres and cinemas of London's West End.

The organisers suddenly found themselves setting up photocalls, while politely declining requests from TV crews - The One Show were already in, any more cameramen, and there would be little room for paying punters.

The size of the audience was not lost on comedy's newest star: "I'm launching my new career six feet under, in the comedy equivalent of an overcrowded coffin."

In many ways, it's not that different from a maiden speech in the Commons. A nervous newcomer takes the stage in front of a crowd teetering on outright hostility.

Among that crowd, a handful of Lembit's former political colleagues, including Labour MP Stephen Pound, who proved to be the most vocal of the night's hecklers.

The audience had been nicely warmed for his debut, with a couple of very good acts. And when Lembit took to the stage (I say stage, I mean slightly raised platform) he certainly looked nervous.

Image caption,
Comedy gold? Lembit Opik does ventriloquism with a shoe

Actually, he looked like he was canvassing, in a suit and tie, complete with Lib Dem rosette.

An early gag, about Nick Clegg ignoring him in a lift, belied the rather bitter truth about his new status.

"I'm earning a hundred quid for this," he told the 70-strong crowd, though claimed the associated costs meant it was actually costing him £37 to perform.

There were many people to thank - the comedy promoters, his political team, and of course the voters of Montgomeryshire, without whose waning enthusiasm he wouldn't be contemplating a career change.

And it's clear that, in many ways, Lembit's heart is still in Westminster, less than a mile from the comedy basement in which he stood.

His name, he reminded us, is almost an anagram of "I like to be MP". His promoter had said it would be a good night if he wasn't bottled off the stage. A modest aspiration.

Did he manage it? He didn't hang around to find out. Within five seconds of saying his goodbyes he was out of the door. The woman next to me described his set as "not fantastic, but not completely awful".

His brief ventriloquism with a shoe, cunningly titled "Mr Shoe", wasn't really comedy gold. But then much truly golden comedy is rooted in misfortune. Lembit should do alright then.

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