Me & Arnold Brown


When I started doing stand-up (in 1972) I didn’t know anyone else who did it. When I stopped (in 1990) I didn’t know anyone who didn’t. Not that I’m complaining. Since the arrival of “alternative comedy”, I have made many friends in the comedy world (some of whom still speak with me). Not the least of these friends is that much loved and singular performer Arnold Brown, a comedian for whom the term “sui generis” might have been invented.

I first met Arnold in the early 1980’s, at Peter Richardson’s club, The Comic Strip. I’m not sure if it was Arnold’s debut gig, but he certainly hadn’t been doing it for long, as was made clear by his sui generis comedy technique: cue cards clutched in one hand, microphone in the other (held nowhere near his mouth), inching across the stage, finding the one place where the spotlight operator could no longer follow, and then telling his jokes in the dark.

I became friends with Arnold and saw a lot of him and his partner, Liz Kneen over the years. Liz, alas, is no longer with us, but she proved to be a loving and supportive companion to Arnold, with a dry, cutting wit of her own. This wit only deserted her once – when I was going out with one of her friends.

That friend and I, not long into our short-lived relationship, had arranged to meet Liz and Arnold for lunch. Arnold was his usual sanguine self, but Liz (I learned later) was close to panic. “How should we act?” she apparently said. “We know them as individuals, not as a couple. They’ve probably been having sex and everything. I won’t know where to look. What should we do? How should we behave?”

To which Arnold said, “Let’s just treat it as a death in the family.”

The Freewheeling book is here © John Dowie 2013