The first time I met Ian Cognito was in January 1995.
It was in Eastcote, Middlesex at the first regular comedy gig I set up, the slightly scary Clay Pigeon pub on Field End Road.
I called the club ‘Stop the Pigeon’ and, from November 1994 to July 1996, every Wednesday at 8.30 pm, the MC would walk onstage to the ‘Dastardly & Mutley’ theme tune.
Ian Cognito was “the best thing on the circuit.” In 1994, this was a given in the comedy world.
I’d booked him through his then manager, Nigel Klarfeld, to do a full show who, during the expensive negotiation process, did not forget to remind me that I was getting “the best thing on the circuit.” The fee eventually reached an Eastcote record breaking £200.
The plan was as follows. Cog would do 15 minutes, bring on a newer act and then do an hour after the interval.
The newer act that night was a young, local performer called Matthew Lucas. He did characters and would be performing as Sir Bernard Chumley. It was the first time I’d met him too.
During Cognito’s explosive opening section, I was standing at the back with a very nervous Matt Lucas who, open-mouthed, turned to me and and pined,”NOBODY can follow this!”
As it happened, he did follow it.
Two months later, he was on ‘Vic & Bob.’
In the second half, Cognito performed an extraordinary set. To this day, those who witnessed it still remind me of that night.
Two months later, Cognito was back at ‘Stop the Pigeon.’
On the strength of that first show, the place was heaving.
For the next 15 years, I ran weekly shows in nearby Ruislip which Cognito performed at many times. He would hammer nails into the wall to hang up his coat, bring his dog along to run rampant amongst the crowd and, one night, he turned up at 5pm to set up nine instruments and then performed for two hours without playing any of them.
In 2012, I passed the Ruislip ‘Comedy Bunker’ reigns onto Phil Smith.
On my last night, I hosted a chat show with Matt Lucas.
In this brief clip, Matt and I reflect on our January 1995 evening with Mr Cognito.
Like Cognito, I also live on a narrowboat.
When asked, I’ve often said that a visit to the barge of another comedy friend – Jim Tavare – was what planted the seed but my visit to Cognito’s little ship in Bristol pre-dated that. Until this week, I’d forgotten about it.
It was around 1998 and I was on a show with Cognito in Exeter. Afterwards, I dropped him back.
I remember that he stormed the gig. I also remember that he hated what I had been wearing on stage (a blue tie-die-esque number I was fond of at the time). On the ride back, he told me that he hated it, why he hated it and then got so enraged about something in the news (and my shirt) that I pulled the car onto the hard shoulder until he calmed down.
Once we got to Bristol, he invited me on board. It was winter and his boat was freezing but he lit the fire and it soon got cozy.
In recent years, I’d discussed taking my boat west along the Kennett & Avon to visit Cog but it didn’t happen. It’s a long way on a boat and life got in the way. I did make a half-hearted effort about three years ago, got as far as Reading and then turned round and went back to London. It’s a regret now, of course, but, if you’ve ever lived on a boat too, you’ll understand.
Cognito was the real Angry Boater and he was one of the best comics I ever saw do it. I loved him.