It is 30 years since the London pub and club circuit saw the advent of The Joan Collins Fan Club, a one-man gay cabaret act supported by the faithful, and incredibly well trained, Fanny the Wonderdog. That act broke down so many barriers and, after gaining fame using his real name, Julian Clary paved the way for gay celebrities like Graham Norton, Dale Winton, Alan Carr, et al to appear on prime-time televisio and to be accepted as mainstream entertainment.
All these years later, and playing to another packed house on his mammoth UK tour, Clary is now older and wiser, a Celebrity Big Brother winner, a star of countless pantomimes (including this year’s offering at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton), a radio presenter, the author of four novels and, most of all, still an incredibly funny stand-up comedian.
He arrives on stage a full eight feet high, thanks to some of those power stilts, and, to rapturous applause, calmly announces that he is still Britain’s biggest homosexual. It is just a few seconds before he requests that the house lights are illuminated and, from his vantage point high above the crowd, the “insults” start flying. The front row make for easy targets with my partner’s stripy shirt described as “a cry for attention” and a lady’s very smart silver coat referred to as “Bacofoil”.
The first half is very much as one would expect a Clary show to be and is filled with jokes that would never be appropriate to repeat here. Latecomers are mercilessly chastised, various town and cities around the country are berated and, following his recent triumph, tales from the Big Brother house are shared. All too soon the interval approaches and we are led into it with Clary’s very “individual” version of Justin Beiber’s, “If I was your boyfriend”.
After the break the house lights are soon back up and Clary is doing what he does best, picking audience members to join him on stage for some fun and games or, as we all know it better, ritual humiliation. It is here that the title of the show is explained as the position that is vacant is that of his “husband” and the eight gentlemen who now stand in a “holding pen” on stage have been chosen as suitable candidates.
Through a series of hilarious questions and challenges the contestants are whittled down to the one successful candidate and the “wedding” takes place, with the unsuccessful candidates making up the wedding party. It is classic, and maybe even vintage, Clary stuff but why change a formula that has kept you at the very top of your game for a generation?
Having said that, the evening then ends with a twist. Clary, in his usual talking style, delivers a final song that explains, quite poignantly, that, in many countries around the world, it is still “not yet cool to be gay”.