Wally Meets... Mike Walters interviews Richard Lee, the Brentford keeper with a sideline in stand-up
Heard about the goalkeeper who saved money on his mortgage?
He went down in instalments.
“Doctor, doctor, what’s wrong with me?” asked the goalkeeper who lets in five every week.
“You’re too fat,” replied the doc.
“I would like a second opinion,” said the keeper.
“OK, you’re ugly too.”
Did you hear about the Scottish goalkeeper who tried to catch the last bus home?
The bus went under him.
None of these old gags – reprinted here under the Government directive which says all jokes must be recycled by 2013 – featured in Brentford keeper Richard Lee’s debut as a stand-up comic at the Empire casino in London’s Leicester Square.
And it’s probably just as well.
Lee had enrolled on a public speaking course at the City Academy, run by comedian Kate Smurthwaite, culminating in a live gig for “comedy virgins” in front of a critical West End audience.
He survived the ordeal – in fact, they were a good crowd and, although Saturday’s game at Preston is off, Lee is likely to get more hecklers on his travels as the Bees continue their unlikely play-offs challenge in League One.
Brentford for the Championship? You’re having a laugh.
And it’s their No.1 who is delivering the punchlines.
“After an eight-week course, the plan was to have three or four days’ preparation for the performance, which was on a Tuesday night,” said Lee, 29.
“But Brentford had a match on the Saturday, and there were a few things going on at the club on the Sunday and Monday, so by the time I had cleared the decks, I only had five hours to rehearse my act.
“It wasn’t short, sharp gags like ‘Knock, knock’ or ‘Doctor, doctor’ – my script was more narrative, in Michael McIntyre’s style, but obviously not as funny – and I tried to take the p*** out of things that happen in football.
“Thankfully they were quite a friendly audience and it was well-received, it went OK. I made a pact with the crowd that they wouldn’t discuss my performance with anyone outside the club.
“They gave me a DVD of my act, and I’ve only shown it to a handful of people, including my mum and dad, who said it was really good – even though they didn’t laugh once.
“I wouldn’t shy away from doing it again, and I haven’t got any plans for a 40-date UK tour or anything, but it feels like I have come through the ultimate challenge, the end game of a psychological process.”
Stand-up comedy is no mean feat for a keeper who was once so paralysed by panic attacks and crippling anxiety before matches he considered quitting football.
But Lee’s career turned a corner last season, when he became a regular penalty shoot-out hero in cup competitions after subscribing to hypnotherapy and studying for a diploma in neuro-linguistic programming – how the mind works.
As part of his studies, Lee recorded his thoughts for posterity on his BlackBerry. And 50,000 words later, he had not only the fittest thumbs in the League but the script for a cult best-seller, Graduation, which charts the year which changed his life.
In one of his sessions with hypnotist Dave Sabat, Lee had envisaged saving a Jermaine Beckford penalty and the Bees knocking Everton out of the Carling Cup.
Both premonitions proved stunningly prophetic.
“Better than sex? Most definitely,” said Lee of the adrenalin rush.
Better than getting a laugh in a Soho comedy club?
“It’s such a buzz when you come off stage, it’s like the final whistle going after you’ve played well and kept a clean sheet. When you build yourself up to be in a peak state mentally before a game, it can take hours to come back down. After a midweek match, I’m usually wide awake until four or five in the morning.”
Lee is one of football’s most fascinating chaps.
His baseball cap business once attracted a £150,000 investment from fiery entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne on TV’s Dragons’ Den and his GK Icon franchise – an X Factor for goalkeepers – could unearth England’s No.1 of the future.
But above all, he is game for a laugh.
Graduation: Life Lessons of a Professional Footballer, by Richard Lee, published by Bennion Kearny £9.99 paperback.