Last night, I logged onto Facebook at around midnight and the first thing I saw was a status update on John Simmit’s timeline that read “I knew I’d be writing this soon, but it doesn’t make it any easier. RIP Mr Dexter, you talented & very private man. Sleep well bro. Nothing more to say”.
I sat there, still, unable to believe what I was reading. I frantically checked the internet for news. There was nothing. I checked Felix’s Wikipedia entry and someone had updated it but there was still no news.
I saw a later update that had a link from The Voice and it confirmed that Felix had died from multiple myeloma; the same cancer that had killed my mother in 1996.
I first saw Felix (he didn’t have a surname back then) in the summer of 1986 but I don’t remember the name of the club. My ex-girlfriend and I were avid fans of alternative cabaret and we used to look out for two names: Felix and Two Fingers Cabaret (Martin Soan). We liked his smooth style and his wit.
I didn’t really know Felix that well and if we appeared on the same bill, we’d chat… but that was a long time ago. I once remember phoning him up in the early 90s to ask him if he’d had any experiences of racism on the circuit. He was very polite but said very little in response to my question. Yes, people, there was racism on the circuit. Though ‘white’ performers generally can’t see it.
Here’s what Felix told Time Out’s Malcolm Hay in January 1988:
Even ‘alternative’ audiences can be racist and heterosexist. One recent heckle went “Did you come over here on an oil slick”? Alternative comedy is very much a white middle class world.
Issue 908: 20
Personally I felt that Felix should have been bigger than the rather passé Lenny Henry, but the industry being what it is in this country is generally incapable of anything other than tokenism.
Here’s a clip of Felix from The Fast Show.
Rest in peace, Felix Dexter, the first black male stand-up on the alternative cabaret circuit. You were a true star.