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Reform Magazine | November 20, 2018

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Do stay for tea and coffee: Please welcome

Do stay for tea and coffee: Please welcome

A new column from Paul Kerensa

I’ve hung around after enough church services to know you’ll be waiting a long time for hot chocolate. Tea and coffee is standard – maybe a chocolate biscuit if the children haven’t all thieved them. (I witnessed one child tip the entire plate into his paper bag, where a dozen biscuits mingled with the craft he’d made in Junior Church. I thought of tipping them back again but didn’t fancy a Hobnob that had grazed Pritt Stick.)

As a jobbing nomadic comedian – and Christian – I’ve wound up in unfamiliar churches in all corners of the country. Far from home, it’s the Sunday morning after the stand-up gig the Saturday night before. Alas, it goes with the job that my weekends are often away – but the chance to experience church with a new congregation is… well, frankly terrifying to be honest. Of course, whatever our accent or postcode, we worship the same God. We probably drink the same tea too: that extra milky variant that I think Dulux call ‘Almond Beige’.

Such post-service welcomes are reassuring and familiar – just what I need when feeling such a newcomer. Because yes, I’m dwelling on hospitality because I’m new round here. This is column number one from me for this fine mag, so thanks for having me; thanks for staying behind for this attempt at pale refreshment.

Just like at the refreshment hatch, where we’d refer back to the marvellous service we’ve just enjoyed, let’s hark back too, and say: ‘Didn’t he do well?’ to the previous incumbent of this non-parish: Simon Jenkins. For many issues (and who among us doesn’t have many issues), Simon has informed and delighted and generally preached a storm. Now that he’s off seeking pastures new, I’ve taken over the leasehold of these pastures. Let’s see how the land lies.

I’ll try not to outstay my welcome. I know what it’s like at the après-church refreshments. You turn around to see everyone’s gone and you’re alone holding a cold mug.

Here’s some advice I was told 15 years ago when I ‘won’ an agent in a stand-up comedy competition. His first (and almost only) nugget of wisdom was: ‘At meetings, don’t overstay. Leave before they ask you to.’ The other part of my prize was a meeting with the then head of BBC Comedy – where we seemingly got on so well that I completely forgot my agent’s advice. Mr Comedy Boss had to awkwardly end the meeting by saying: ‘Well I really must be getting on. Do finish your coffee out in the corridor if you like…’

I’m still waiting for that sitcom commission – and I left the agent soon after. Thought I’d better leave before he asked me to. So I’ll learn from that experience and not loiter here longer than wanted either.

I should add, the comedy industry isn’t all glamour and agents and big-shot BBC meetings that I utterly misread. Most of the time it’s simply life on the road, which comes with another form of hospitality: the Saturday night accommodation tombola. It’s a tombola because about one in five lucks out.

In my early stand-up days, one gig promoter offered me his sofa (someone was sleeping in his spare room) – except we got to his home to find another house guest had beaten me to it. I couldn’t even have the living room floor because yet another guest was there too. So I was offered the kitchen floor.

If you’ve never slept on lino, it’s an acquired sleeping texture. Just when I finally dozed off, the promoter’s wife returned from night-shift and made herself something from the freezer. Once you’ve been woken at 4am by a nurse banging a freezer door into your head, you start thinking of sofas as a minimum requirement.

The gig promoter seemingly couldn’t stop inviting in house-guests. His wife’s gift was at the hospital; his was at hospitality (maybe this was his solution to her bed shortages.) ‘My Father’s house has many rooms,’ said Jesus. I used to wonder if that was Jesus making a pointed comment years after finding no room at the inn. Either way, God’s hospitality is a model for the rest of us.

They say hospitality is a gift – though that implies that those of us without that gift needn’t try harder to host better. No one’s ever slept on my kitchen floor. Maybe my doors are closed too often.

It’s a long way of saying, thanks for having me. I appreciate you fitting me in. I’ll try not to outstay my welcome, and if there’s a chocolate biscuit going, I don’t mind brushing off the Pritt Stick.

Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and broadcaster

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This article was published in the September 2018 edition of  Reform

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