Cluub Zarathustra was a fringe comedy night that highlighted the more unusual acts of the time, running from 1994 to 1997. Set up by Simon Munnery and Roger Mann it featured the talents of the likes of Kevin Eldon, Sally Phillips, the now mysteriously awol Jason Freeman, Johnny Vegas, Stewart Lee and Julian Barratt among others, and in the year of our lord 1996 a tv pilot was made based on the night, directed by Steve “The League Of Gentlemen / The Harry Hill Movie / Lots of Other Great Stuff” Bendelack.
Though the likes of Eldon, Lee, Phillips and Mann do appear in it, it’s more of a vehicle for Simon Munnery as the League Against Tedium, as the majority of the show is made up of his unique style of stand up. Looking extremely dandy-ish he trots out a mixture of one liners like “What was the greatest crime of the 20th Century? It was Birmingham, and it’s spreading” and strange observations about how he’s not afraid of women’s knickers, it’s odd but extremely funny, and Munnery’s delivery is masterful throughout.
As well as Munnery’s studio based stand up he also features in a couple of filmed sketches with Roger Mann, all of which revolve around his giant hat in a variety of daft but funny situations, and he also interacts with Kevin Eldon’s medieval messenger, who pops up a couple of times to deliver lines like how he has news from the Holy Land that “Cannabis is Legal”, only for Munnery to correct him “You mean Holland”.
Eldon also appears in filmed segment featuring his long standing poet character Paul Hamilton, where he reads one of his poems, it’s equally as strong as Munnery’s material and the line “And when you touched me in Highgate you left a piece of spinach on my thumb knuckle, green and dead like your daughter Belinda” made me laugh hard, if only because of Eldon’s impish charm as he delivers the dialogue. Another part with Roger Mann as “Edgar”, a weird vaguely Gothic storyteller, is equally fantastic as he tells an unusual tale about the death of his family and Terrence Trent Derby, and like Eldon its mixture of the absurd and the mundane makes it very funny throughout.
On the downside there’s a poor parody of an arthouse film which we see snippets of throughout the episode that has a very weak pay off, and Sally Phillips turns up incredibly briefly to claim that due to Cluub Zarathustra “I was bald, now I can see”, while Stewart Lee also makes a couple of appearances, but all are far too brief given how great both are. With Lee it feels a bit odd too as this was made after the first series of Fist Of Fun so his admittedly minor but still notable star power could have led to this being commissioned.
Given the talent involved this of course should have been given a full series, all have gone on to become mainstays of the alternative comedy world and have received an enormous amount of critical acclaim. My only suggestion would be that it featured slightly less of Munnery (only slightly, mind) and more of Lee, Phillips and other Zarathrustra regulars, but hopefully that would have been the case if it had been given a full series, and then this would have been an extremely memorable series indeed.