Comedian Lewis Schaffer – now there is a book planned on his denuded selfhood

Lewis Schaffer: creating a cult

Lewis Schaffer: success is not an option

In the last couple of years, UK-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer has been the subject of at least two academic studies.

(It might be four).

One of those studies was authored by Liam Lonergan.

Liam got a 1st in his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth for a paper in which he declared Lewis Schaffer “has got that same metaphysical motive as Shakespeare’s characters”.

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from Liam. It said:


Liam Lonergan studies Schafferism

Liam Lonergan studies Schafferism

From September onwards, I have decided to start researching/writing a book about Lewis Schaffer.

The idea has been gestating for a while. It is a small, episodic book structured like a short story or a novella in the same vein as Julie Hecht’s book about Andy Kaufman – Was This Man a Genius? – or the stories of Belgian experimentalist Jean-Philippe Toussaint.

This is a summary of Toussaint’s The Bathroom (as described by Zadie Smith in her review of the movie The Social Network in the New York Review of Books):

“It’s a book about a man who decides to pass most of his time in his bathroom, yet to my students this novel feels perfectly realistic; an accurate portrait of their own denuded selfhood, or, to put it neutrally, a close analogue of the undeniable boredom of urban twenty-first-century existence.”

My idea in a nutshell: Lewis Schaffer and his denuded selfhood.

My reporting strategy is the same as the Participatory Journalists/New Journalists. It will be a humour piece and an extended profile like Tad Friend’s New Yorker profile of Steve Carrell or Kenneth Tynan’s article about Johnny Carson (also in the New Yorker).

I have told Lewis Schaffer but, unfortunately, I can’t make it to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. My girlfriend wanted us to go to Barcelona, so I have had to sacrifice my chance to go to Edinburgh for her happiness.


I feel we will hear more of this.

The Lewis Schaffer book; not the trip to Barcelona.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Psychology

The Edinburgh Fringe’s free festivals as seen by The Free Festival’s Alex Petty

GrouchyClub_MalcolmHardeeAwards2014

Blatant self interest at Edinburgh Fringe

I have to declare an interest. At the Edinburgh Fringe this year, the annual increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show AND the daily Grouchy Club which I am hosting with critic Kate Copstick are both being staged at The Counting House – a Laughing Horse Free Festival venue. The Edinburgh Fringe is strangely complicated. Pay attention. This year, the Fringe officially starts on Friday but, as always, actually starts this Wednesday. The Laughing Horse Free Festival and Bob Slayer’s Heroes of Fringe/Pay What You Want shows start on Thursday. The La Favorita Freestival starts on Friday. And the PBH Free Fringe starts on Saturday. There are two types of venues in Edinburgh. There are the traditional ‘pay’ venues. That means audiences pay in advance to see the shows and the performers pay large amounts to rent the rooms and facilities.

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

But there are now four organisations hosting ‘free’ shows. That means entry is free (though you are expected to donate money on the way out) and the performers pay nothing to perform in the venue. The original Free Fringe was started by Peter Buckley-Hill (known as PBH) in 1996. He was later joined by Alex Petty of Laughing Horse Comedy, but they split in 2004 and Alex started the (in Peter’s eyes) competing Free Festival. My understanding was that Peter did not agree with Alex’s view that they should charge the acts a small amount to cover the cost of appearing in the printed Free Fringe programme (although the PBH Free Fringe runs fund-raising pre-Fringe shows in London). Last year, Bob Slayer started his ‘Pay What You Want’ version of the free model which means you can either get in for free or guarantee a seat by buying a £5 ticket in advance. This year, there was another breakaway from PBH’s original Free Fringe organisation. The breakaway organisers – calling themselves The Freestival – have managed to get £25,000 sponsorship from local La Favorita pizza chain, matched by £25,000 sponsorship from Arts & Business Scotland.

Alex Petty talked to me at the Soho Theatre

Alex Petty talked to me at the Soho Theatre

“PBH seemed to feel threatened by your Free Festival,” I said to Alex Petty when we met at the Soho Theatre in London. “Do you feel threatened by the new Freestival this year?” “Not at all,” said Alex. “I think the more free organisations the better. And let’s not forget the Scottish Comedy Festival down at The Beehive, where they do a mixture of paid and free stuff.” “Would you take sponsorship like the Freestival?” I asked. “I think that’s given them a good foundation this year,” said Alex. “They’ve started as quite a large organisation with several venues and performance spaces, whereas we started with one venue and gradually grew and acquired equipment and things we needed over the course of eleven years. What they’ve managed to do is get the equipment and stuff in and pay for the set-up for their venues in one go.

The Laughing Horse Free Festival logo

The Laughing Horse Free Festival logo for this year

“The Free Festival gets sponsorship in little ways – Kopparberg sponsor various bits of The Counting House. The Three Sisters is sponsored. It tends to be the venues themselves in partnership with sponsors, not us. It pays for the stages. “And then a lot of the companies behind the venues put money in as well. Our three main venues – The Counting House, Three Sisters and Espionage – spend a lot of money on advertising themselves, supplying equipment and staff. “We’ve never got to the point of having a big headline sponsor for the Free Festival. A lot of companies who want to sponsor comedy are alcohol companies and they want to get their products into the venues, but we have 22 venues all tied to different breweries, different companies. Some are owned by bigger companies; some are independent; trying to get them all to sign up to the same thing is difficult.”

The new Freestival 2014 logo from sponsors La Favorita

The new Freestival 2014 logo from pizza sponsors La Favorita

“Now, with the Freestival,” I said, “there is even more competition.” “We’ve all got slightly different ideas,” said Alex. “It’s going to be a friendly rivalry.” “Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want shows are listed in your Free Festival brochure,” I said. “Can you see a joint Free brochure coming out?… Although presumably not with PBH Free Fringe shows in it.” “Peter can be very combative about stuff,” said Alex. “It’s his way or no way. He’s got a very set vision and sticking to that is good in many ways. You would think Peter would be happy and proud that there are so many people now doing free shows, but he’s not happy with other people doing similar things.” “The perceived problem with free shows,” I said, “is the quality.”

Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want hybrid of free and pay to book

Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want hybrid of both free & book

“Well,” said Alex, “there are good and bad free shows. There are good and bad paid shows. There used to be a lot of Oh. It’s free. It must be rubbish. But now people are just treating them as normal shows. Every individual show, free or paid, rests on its own laurels. “The more people put on serious free shows and set up decent venues, the more people will come across to the free shows. In the last eleven years, it’s grown ridiculously and we have not seen a dip in audiences even though, every year, there are more shows – We have grown; PBH has grown; Bob Slayer has come along and expanded things. I think, with bigger and better acts and more venues running for free, that is going to pull audiences away from paid to free venues rather than taking any numbers away from the existing free audience.” “But the quality of the free shows,” I persisted, “must be lower, because you haven’t got the technical back-up. You can’t do a 10-person musical.”

The cast of Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel (Image by Idil Sukan of Draw HQ)

The cast of Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel (Image by Idil Sukan of Draw HQ)

Austentatious was in The Counting House Ballroom last year,” Alex pointed out, “and this year we have Who Ya Gonna Call? (the Ghostbusters musical). In terms of putting on large, complex productions, it’s difficult. But the Ballroom at The Counting House means we can put on things which have 6-10 people on stage. It has programmable lights; we can do scene changes and lighting changes. The Three Sisters is getting there as well, with a couple of its bigger rooms.” “I understand,” I said, “that the Freestival have put soundproofing into the Cowgatehead. So things ARE looking up. But what do you get out of it? Not vast amounts of money.” “Sadly not,” said Alex. “Laughing Horse gets work and good PR. When performers go up to Edinburgh and then progress their career, we go on with them to other festivals where we do make money and we get a lot of good PR which pushes us up in the industry a bit for getting further work.

Janey Godley at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show last year (Photo by Stephen O’Donnell)

Janey Godley at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in the ballroom of The Counting House (Photograph by Stephen O’Donnell)

“We don’t run quite so many comedy clubs any more. We have 10 or 15 places where we do regular monthly gigs or on-and-off. But we do a lot of corporate bookings and one-offs. We have 22 venues in Edinburgh during the Fringe – about 35 performance spaces. We have four venues during the Brighton Fringe. This year we did the Perth Fringe in Australia for the first time. Our main one in Australia is still the Adelaide Fringe; we manage some spaces out there. And we’ve done the Melbourne Fringe for the last couple of years. The Singapore Comedy Festival we started doing this year: we actually run that festival with guys out in Singapore – we pay acts to come out and do the festival. So we run venues and promote and produce shows and make money throughout the year.” “So how can you expand in Edinburgh?” I asked. “We’re comfortable with where we are at the moment. We’re at a size which is manageable. We want to do better what we are doing now.” “Have you ever wanted to perform yourself?” I asked. “No,” said Alex,. “I see all the stresses and strains the acts go through. I like being in the back room, enjoying it and putting stuff together.” “How did you get into the business?”

Laughing Horse came out of the Black Horse

Laughing Horse Comedy originally came from a Black Horse

“I used to go to a comedy club in Richmond with a mate of mine, Rob Lee. He wanted to get into comedy. It ended up not being the thing for him. “But I had sat down with him and his brother and we wrote a bit of material for him and he did do a few gigs and one of the local pubs we drank in – The Black Horse – said You should run a comedy club. That’s where the name Laughing Horse comes from. A couple of the guys he’d done open spots for – Kevin McCarron and Fenton McCoot…” “Fenton McCoot?” I asked. “He was an ex-hairdresser who, about a year-and-a-half in, just vanished completely. I’ve not heard from him since. He moved back to Ireland, apparently. But he just vanished at one point and him vanishing was when I started booking the acts because no other bugger would do it. So we started running a comedy club and we fucked everything up as we went along but gradually got our thing together and we got a second comedy club and, over the course of two or three years, learnt what we were doing and started to go up to the Edinburgh Fringe. We just learnt as we went. Now I can book all the acts I want to see myself.” “I like comedy,” I said, “ because it gives me a chance to meet bizarre, mentally-deranged people.” “There’s certainly a few of those around,” said Alex, “But I think the one thing that’s lacking on the comedy circuit these days is there are not the good entertaining nutters around that there used to be. People who would go on and do bizarre acts and be great at what they did for five minutes. I miss that element of the comedy circuit. It has got blander.”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

Ian Hinchliffe in a Hammersmith hole was loudly building something dubious

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Lol Coxhill (Photo by Bill Smith)

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Lol Coxhill (Photo by Bill Smith)

As an antidote to news of the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe, another story about now-dead anarchic performance artist Ian Hinchliffe.

Four days ago, I posted a memory by Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent – a story of Ian Hinchliffe performing at a Matchbox Purveyors’ gig in Toronto around 1985/1986.

Bill’s memoir Rant & Dawdle

Bill’s personal memoir of England and Canada and more – Rant & Dawdle

Musicians Lol Coxhill and Bill Smith (no relation of Anna) were members of The Matchbox Purveyors. Bill, in his book Rant and Dawdle: The Fictional Memoir of Colston Willmott calls them “a pocket-sized back-up band for the English lunatic humorist Ian Hinchliffe”.

Bill now lives on one of the Gulf Islands near Vancouver. He remembers one incident with Ian Hinchliffe in London. “I probably have more Hinchliffe stories,” he says, “but it is so very long ago it would take a while to bring them into focus.”

This is the story he remembers:


Bill Smith

Bill Smith remembers Ian in a hole outside an arts centre

I don’t remember the year. Ten or more years ago, I reckon.

The gig with Ian was at an arts centre in Hammersmith (possibly Riverside Studios).

He was dressed in inflated clothing inside of which was red-dyed porridge. The sketch was about being left in the lurch by a promised loved one. The set was a room with pictures on the wall of the bride that had fled. This may have been based on a real incident. I was behind a curtain playing an improvised saxophone to the melodrama. At one point, Ian stabbed himself in the stomach with a knife and the red-dyed porridge began to seep out of the hole.

Very dramatic.

We then left the building to continue the performance outside.

The road adjoining the arts centre was under construction, a deep muddy trench lining the side of the road which was overlooked by a block of fairly modern flats. I was concerned for my saxophone because of the rain, so it stayed in its box while Ian started the second half of the show – or perhaps it was his idea of an encore.

Shouting incoherently in that terrible Yorkshire dialect of his, he proceeded to remove all his clothes, jump into the trench and begin to build a giant penis with the mud.

Across the street, one of the residents of the apartments, alarmed at the gathering, hooting, noisy crowd, called the police, who arrived some twenty minutes later in a Panda car. Ian was well into building his giant penis by then.

Two officers, one a woman, attempted to persuade him to get out of the trench, unknowingly becoming part of the performance.

Eventually, after much drama, out he came, covered from-head-to-toe in slimy mud. He linked his arm in mine and we returned to the arts centre and headed for the bar.

The doorman, of course, attempted to stop us going in but, when I produced our two performers passes which included free drinks and snacks, he had no choice but to stand aside.

In the Green Room, everyone moved away from us as we entered and the barman refused to serve us even though we insisted this was still an ongoing performance.

In the end, after collecting Ian’s clothes together, they simply threw us out.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sean Nolan’s Joke Manifesto: Ideals & Systems of Value for Stand Up Comedy

The Edinburgh Fringe starts officially in six – actually in four – days time. Comedians are desperate for attention. I received an e-mail this morning. It read:


Sean Nolan, young Irish comedian

Sean Nolan, young Irish comedian

Hi John, this is Sean Nolan I’m a comedian performing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, my show is entitled and informed by THE JOKE MANIFESTO a document I wrote over the past year outlining logical and universally applicable ideals and systems of value for stand up comedy.

I just thought since reviewers and judges of stand up don’t possess or make evident a consistent and transparent criteria for quality, I might propose to you my model as a solution.


Sean is Irish and last year won RTE’s New Comedy Awards (You can see a clip on YouTube.)

Sean’s agent’s website says “his first gig was on January the 27th of 2012 at the age of 23”.

On 8th July this year, Sean posted on his Facebook page:

BBC and all the papers keep going on about how it’s been 77 years since a British man won Wimbledon so I wanted to find out when one would win it again, so I wrote down all the years a British man had won Wimbledon and then changed the years to sequential numbers like the first British player won it in 1877 so that’s number 1 then again in 1878 that’s number 2 and then after 30 straight wins there was a few years gap so 33 and so on anyway Murray ended up being 137, and then I put the sequence into an online sequence calculator to see what the next number in the sequence would be and in what year the next British winner would be, after like a half a second it came up my sequence then a few dots while it calculated what the next number would be, more dots then it just flashed up FALSE!
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,33,58,59,60,137,……FALSE
I can only assume this means there will be no more British champions, sorry GB enjoy this while it lasts.

Sean has posted his Joke Manifesto online. I re-post it in its entirety below, even though there is no mention of knob gags nor of Asperger’s Syndrome, surely two comedy ‘bankers’.


THE JOKE MANIFESTO
IDEALS AND SYSTEMS OF VALUE FOR STAND UP COMEDY

But will he be wearing a beard at the Fringe?

But will Sean have a beard at the Fringe?

1 How to value stand up comedy?

1.1 The function of the stand up comedian is to make the audience laugh.

1.2 But laughter is subjective and conditional and such an inaccurate measure of value.

1.3 Laughter is only the final measure of value and must be considered on an average of performances.

1.4 If laughter is the last measure of value, how to value stand up before it is performed? What is the first measure of value?

2 When the comedian first writes or thinks of an idea, the first measure of value is originality. Is the idea new? (new at the time of writing at least – it is impossible for the comedian to be aware of every joke previously written, although it is ultimately beneficial to strive for this.)

2.1 If Originality is the first measure of value, everything new has value at the moment of writing, and so everything of no value i.e. everything unoriginal, must be removed from the writing – obviously jokes that already exist, which should also include all old hat comedic tricks and mechanics. i.e. the rule of 3, exaggeration, repetition, juxtaposition etc. (It is understood that a comedian has a knowledge of these almost universally repeated mechanisms.)  As such no improvisation should be planned or performed if the comedian can at all help it; in the moment of improvised performance it is impossible to always come up with original ideas.

2.2 Once everything unoriginal has been removed the comedian is left with new ideas, new potential jokes (bearing in mind the end goal of making the audience laugh).

3 So now the question changes from how to value stand up comedy to how to value these new ideas (potential jokes )

3.1 To measure the true value of a joke, all embellishments on the joke (anything that would alter the value of the joke later on) must be removed – i.e. unnecessary language or performative elements.

3.12 Language should remain simple and efficient whenever possible, unless the rhythm or specificity of the joke demands it. The cleverness should be in the idea of the joke not in the words used to describe it. Sometimes the most efficient or immediate way of communicating the idea will not be words at all i.e. drawing or prop.

3.13 Performative elements can only be added if they are specifically relevant to the individual joke.

3.4 If the comedian continues to remove all unnecessary performative elements, ultimately the comedian may disappear from the performance, his/her jokes presented with less and less of the writer present.

4 But they are his/her jokes and as such there is an honesty, an honest pride or at least an honest ownership. The comedian wants to stand in front of his/her jokes and receive the response from the audience. This prevents the comedian from disappearing.

4.1 Unless the comedian is performing jokes they did not write themselves, then there is no honesty of pride or ownership and they should disappear

4.2 Now established that honesty is key, it should come into all aspects of the performance i.e. the comedian should deliver the jokes in an honest way i.e. not with a false enthusiasm or faux conversational style or as if the jokes were somehow coming off the top of his/her head and the performance wasn’t a highly written considered recital. As such the comedian can read his/her jokes off a piece of paper, notebook, hand etc if they choose. The comedian should not be judged on his/her lack of memory.

4.3 With an honest delivery a joke will develop a natural unforced rhythm and cadence, depending on how many times it has been performed, from the nervy first tellings, to the peak of its value when the comedian has organically and perhaps subconsciously figured out the best way to tell it, and finally to the decline and ultimate death of a joke when the comedian has told it too many times and is tired of saying it and this comes across in the delivery. This honesty in the delivery shows the audience the natural lifespan of jokes, the comedian’s feelings towards each one at a given time, and creates a more honest connection with the audience. The comedian is showing each performance can and will be slightly different, not just tricking them into thinking so.

4.4 With the comedian on stage in front of his/her jokes there is now an internal discourse concerning which jokes the comedian is comfortable telling – i.e. potentially offensive, sexual or self deprecating – which would not be present if the jokes were presented with no trail back to their creator. The comedian should not be trying to offend anyone although that can be an acceptable byproduct of a successful joke. In terms of ironically offensive jokes, some members of the audience may not perceive it ironically and get offended or laugh cause they are prejudiced in some way. The comedian cannot be responsible for how his/her jokes are perceived, as long as there is an honest attempt to be funny first.

5 Now the Ideal for stand up comedy is established: the honest delivery of original unembellished ideas or (potential jokes).

5.1 But how to value the individual joke? Again originality is used as the initial measure of value. Ideas that are more original are valued higher i.e. ideas that if given the object (the thing the joke is about) of the joke the least amount of comedic writers (with Twitter, the audience is now a potential comedic writer) would come up with.

5.2 I have created a 3-tiered system of value based on the uniqueness of view needed to write a successful joke (meaning the set up and punchline are as intrinsically linked as they can be i.e. the joke is truly about the object of the joke).

5.3 System of value for jokes

5.3.1 (the lowest tier)  The word based joke. The hinge of the joke is based around the words or name of the object of the joke. i.e. if you were to write a joke about an arm, arm being the object of the joke, the word and sound arm is the first thing that comes to mind.

5.3.1.1 The lowest form of word based joke (again requiring the least thought) is the pun. The word has two meanings. As such you already have the hinge and just have to contrive a way to utilize both.

5.3.1.2 The next level of word based joke is the rhyme (or similar sounding words). A slight increase in thought is needed to get a possible hinge for a joke.

5.3.1.3 The highest level of a word based joke is a rearrangement of letters. Again there is less immediacy and it requires more thought to come up with a possible hinge.

5.3.2 (The middle tier) The sensual joke. After the word the next type of information that would come to the comedic writer would be sensual: what the object looks like, sounds like, feels like etc. (There is an overlap with tier one in terms of what the word looks like i.e. the word shark looks like a shark, onomatopoeia etc.)

5.3.3 (The highest tier) The functional joke, observing and studying how the object works, what it does and how it interacts with other objects, successful jokes created at this level can be aphorisms or truisms. The level of thought needed in order come up with a hinge for a joke is at it’s highest.


That is Sean’s Joke Manifesto and self-evidently (even with the absence of knob gags) how you successfully publicise an Edinburgh Fringe show.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

The newish comic most likely to become successful? I get sidetracked by Chaucer

Archie at Soho Theatre this week

Archie at the Soho Theatre in London this week

You can never tell who is going to succeed. Some extremely talented performers crash and burn. Some with minimal talent strike it lucky. (See vast swathes of BBC3.)

So who do I guess is the current reasonably-new comedian most likely to succeed…?

Archie Maddocks.

Maybe as a comedian.

Maybe as something else.

I blogged about him back in October last year.

I saw him recently in the Amused Moose Laugh Off Awards semi-finals. He got through to the final at the Edinburgh Fringe on 3rd August.

And I was one of the judges at the English Comedian of The Year a couple of weeks ago. Archie was competing but was not in the first three.

“What about talent contests?” I asked him when we met at Soho Theatre this week.

“I completely understand why they’re there,” he told me. “But I really don’t like them. The judging panel could love someone on one night then see them another night and think they’re shit. There’s so many different things go into that one night.

“My ideal way to do it would be to have a final every night for a week and put the comedians in different places on the bill, then take an average score. That would make sense for me in terms of comedy.”

“You’re at the Edinburgh Fringe this year,” I said, “but not in a solo show.”

Edinburgh Fringe show 2014

Maddocks’ & Oliphant’s Fringe show 2014

“I’m not going to do a solo show,” said Archie, “until 2016 at the earliest. At the Fringe this year, I’m one of the acts in Just The Tonic’s Big Value Showcase. And I’m doing a free show called Cookies & Cream with Jamie Oliphant who, surprisingly, doesn’t have a joke about his name. And I’m doing lots of other little things. But not a solo show. I’m not ready.”

“What’s your Unique Selling Proposition?” I asked.

“Probably confidence,” said Archie. “Everyone seems to say I’m stupidly confident for my position. But I’m very at home on stage. Some people have said that to me as a criticism, but how can that be a criticism?”

“I guess,” I said, “you feel comfortable because you grew up in a theatrical family where it was not abnormal to stand up in front of people and do strange things. Do you get stage fright?””

“No, but you can tell I’m nervous if I speak faster. I used to do this pacing thing just cos I wasn’t comfortable standing still and talking. But now I am. I only move when it makes sense to move. Coming to stand-up from an acting background is weird. I think there’s more recognition for acting. When an audience watches an actor, they recognise what that person’s job is. Whereas, with comedy, they’re not quite clear what job the comic is doing.”

“If you’re an actor,” I suggested, “the audience knows you have artificially created that atmosphere in the room but, with a good comic, it feels like they are just chatting to you in a non-artificial way so it feels like they are not performing, just being themselves.”

“I guess,” said Archie.

“You’ve probably,” I joked, “written 15 plays since the last time I chatted to you.”

Archie’s Compulsion at the Fringe

Fringe Compulsion: self-punishment & flagellation

“I’ve written a few plays,” laughed Archie. “One is going to be at the Fringe. It’s my first Edinburgh play. It’s called Compulsion and it’s about self-punishment and self-flagellation.”

“Sounds like comedians,” I said.

“Sort of,” laughed Archie. “It’s set in the minds of this one man and it’s him compulsively going over whether or not he has been a good person, looking back at memories of when he found himself being ashamed of something. It’s about him kind of descending into insanity.”

“You’re not performing in that?”

“No. I’ve written and directed it.”

“And a ‘serious’ actor plays the part of the man?”

“There’s several of them.”

“Different facets of the mind?”

“Exactly. They are called The Facets. Four of them altogether; one playing the same character throughout; the other three switching between facets and memories.”

“Directing is dead easy, isn’t it?” I said. “You just tell ‘em to stand over there and put more emphasis on a couple of words.”

Archie at the Comedy Cafe Theatre

Archie straddling comedy and theatre at the Shoreditch venue

“It is much harder work than I anticipated,” replied Archie. “It’s the first time I’ve directed a proper production; I’ve directed youth theatre before, but that’s very different. I think it’s something I’d like to do more of later on. It’s interesting to be so much more immersed into a text – moreso than when you are just acting. I feel I am the eyes of the audience and I’m conducting how I want them to see it.”

“It’s like writing,” I suggested. “The way to write is not to think of yourself as the writer but to go round 180% and look on what you are writing as if you are the reader, seeing the words for the first time as they appear on the page.”

“Exactly,” said Archie.

“As a director,” I asked, “did you change any of the pearls of wisdom you wrote as a writer?”

“Yes. Cut words. Cut entire scenes. Added in new scenes.”

“Was that,” I asked, “because you changed your mind or because the actors played it differently to the way you had imagined?”

“A combination of things,” explained Archie. “And we have no budget, so there were some scenes I thought we would be able to pull them off and we couldn’t.”

“Because of scenery and effects?” I asked.

“Scenery and time constraints, because it’s only a 50-minute play. There was originally a scene where they were going to be talking in metaphor about how a man has to use his tools in order to be a good craftsman and how that translates into actually being a good man. It was a nice scene but, in the whole dynamic and rhetoric of the play, it didn’t add anything. I would have had to dress them up in high-visibility building gear. That’s an expense we don’t need. We would have had to build a soundscape for the builders’ yard. So I threw that out. Now we have people in parks, people in showers. Very easy to do just with subtle lighting changes.

Archie Maddocks

Archie – stories not words are precious

“Obviously I found it hard directing my own writing because I’m so close to it – It’s hard to cut certain things and, if the actors dropped a line, at first I would get a bit precious. Oh no – I wrote that for a reason! But, if rhythmically the actors are not getting what I saw and it’s coming out not as I thought it would come out, then I’ll change it around to make it make sense. The exact words are not that important. The story is still being told.”

“It’s like spelling,” I said. “Correct spelling is much over-rated. Shakespeare couldn’t even spell his own name.”

“And he made up words,” said Archie, “No-one complained about that.”

“Did he?” I asked.

“I think he made up the word ‘swagger’ and made up the phrase ‘heart on your sleeve’. Something like 500 words and phrases have been attributed to Shakespeare.”

“I think Roald Dahl invented the word ‘gremlin’,” I said. “You could die happy if you got a new word in the Oxford English Dictionary.”

“This is why,” said Archie, “I get really annoyed with people who don’t like kids who talk in slang. It’s their own language. You can’t be annoyed at that. If you don’t understand it, don’t say You must talk like I talk.”

“Chaucer is unintelligible,” I said. “Have you read Chaucer?”

“Yeah. I love Chaucer. But it’s hard to get through.”

“I couldn’t cope with Chaucer,” I said. “Shakespeare’s within bounds, but Middle English is another language.”

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight

Seer Gahwayn and Te Green Kennihte or however it was pronounced in the far-off Middle English days

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight,” said Archie. “Great story, but its readability… phwoah!

“I remember,” I said, “reading some Edgar Wallace novel which was written maybe around the 1910s or 1920s and thinking it was written in a slightly different language from the 1960s and 1970s.”

“Yeah,” said Archie, “Language evolves and people should accept the evolution of it, rather than try to kill it.”

“Presumably,” I said, “English will develop into the world language, but there will be Indian English and Chinese English as well as American English. I mean, Yorkshire English and Glasgow English and Kerry English are all slightly different.”

“There will,” said Archie, “be just be loads of different versions of pidgin English.”

“Which is why it’s a great language,” I said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Theatre

Margaret Thatcher, Queen of gay Soho, and Princess Margaret late of the aisles

The Margaret Thatcher - Queen of Soho poster

Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Edinburgh?

I posted a blog in December last year about the stage show Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, which next week starts a run at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Matt Tedford plays the former British Prime Minister and co-wrote the ‘drag comedy musical extravaganza’ with Jon Brittain.

“The show I saw at Theatre 503 last year was so complicated and so slick with such high production values – it was a fully-realised West End production – the lighting, the sound, the props – I remember thinking: They are never gonna want to take this show to the Edinburgh Fringe because it is so complicated they could never do it up there. Then I realised: Hold on! I’m sitting watching it in an Edinburgh Fringe-type venue here and they’ve done it brilliantly.

“That’s the thing about Jon as a director: props and sound and lighting cues,” Matt Tedford told me this week. “I’ve never known anybody to use so many props. He’s very dedicated. He has a writer’s mind. I faff about a bit. We complement each other very well. I’ve learned so much from him about how writing works. He says: I like the characters to all have an ending.”

Matt Tedford in Soho Theatre this week

Matt at the Soho Theatre this week

Matt studied drama with Jon and (last year’s used-to-be-called-Perrier Best Newcomer Award winner) John Kearns at UEA (the University of East Anglia). Comedian Pat Cahill was in the year above them. But, until Margaret Thatcher, Matt had not performed for five years – not since he graduated from UEA.

“I went into jobs,” he told me.

“Jobs?” I asked.

“Well, I worked for the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. Now that Labour has gone, it’s just called the Department of Education.”

Bizarrely, comedian Gareth Morinan also worked there at around the same time although they seem not to have met.

“And then I worked for an alcohol training company,” Matt said.

“Eh?”

“Training bar staff,” he explained.

“Had you ever been a barman?” I asked.

“No. I used to sit in bars at 11 o’clock in the morning and make them do tests on laptops.”

“So why did they employ you?” I asked.

Matt has arms strong enough for computers

Matt’s strong arms – much in demand in the catering world

“No idea. I think because I have very strong arms and could carry eight laptops at once. Also I have a bit of a schoolmasterish thing about me: No talking! Now I work for an accounting body.”

“Do you know a lot about accountancy?” I asked.

“No.”

“So,” I asked, “after UEA, you were a frustrated thespian?”

“Yes,” said Matt. “Then, two years ago, I went to Jon Brittain’s Hallowe’en party dressed as Margaret Thatcher. Then she died and Theatre 503 asked Jon if he wanted to write a rapid-response piece for their Thatcherwrite night. That was this time last year. And it just spiralled from there.”

“For the last few months,” I said, “I’ve seen posters in the tube for another Maggie show in the West End – Handbagged. Does that mean you’re screwed for a West End run?”

“I think we’re very different types of show,” said Matt. “I’ve not seen Handbagged, but theirs is about Maggie’s relationship with the Queen.”

“Whereas your one is…?”

“About Section 28.”

Putting the hate into Section 28...

Matt & Co put the hate into Section 28…

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

“When I went to see the play,” I said, “I thought it would be a hatchet job on Maggie Thatcher and, in fact, it was a hatchet job on the MP Jill Knight (who ‘introduced’ Section 28 to Parliament). Maggie came out of it OK.”

“We didn’t set out to make Margaret Thatcher likeable,” said Matt, “but, at the end of the play, people come up and (amiably) tell us: You made her a likeable person. I hate you for doing that!

When Jon and I sat down to write a play, I said: The weird thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she has all the makings of a gay icon – the power dressing, the androgynous voice; she’s a strong woman. But, because of Section 28, she’s a very hated figure. If she’d put out an album singing a few Cher songs, she could have made it.”

“She had gays in her Cabinet,” I said, “though, admittedly, they were not out.”

“She actually voted in favour of legalising homosexuality,” said Matt. “The only thing she ever said about homosexuality was that children as young as five were being taught they had an inalienable right to be gay. That was the only thing she said. And then they all clapped at the Party Conference and said: Oh, this is terrible. We need to sort this out.”

An inspiration: Margaret Thatcher

Loveable icon: Margaret Thatcher

“So how come,” I asked, “you sat down, decided to skewer Margaret Thatcher for Section 28 and ended up making her a loveable icon?”

“I don’t know. I don’t like any of her politics at all. But she’s a really interesting character. Every now and then in the show, we’ve had a heckler and it’s just so good to shout them down as Margaret Thatcher.”

“I never want to meet people I admire,” I said. “People who seem admirable turn out to be shits and people who seem awful turn out to be nice.”

“My aunt did meet Margaret Thatcher quite a few times,” said Matt, “and had dinner with her and said she was just crazy.”

“In what way?”

“There was something just a bit unbalanced about her. So focussed on stuff without any human side. I don’t think there was any sort of empathy there. Eleven years at the top, with no-one really around you saying No. A very interesting person. But thank god she died, otherwise I would still be sat working in the office.”

“Why did your aunt meet Margaret Thatcher?” I asked.

“She worked high up in the Civil Service. It wasn’t anything personal. My aunt met people as part of her job. She met Princess Margaret, who would open supermarkets and they’d have to be careful which aisle they walked her down because you couldn’t have her walk past the tobacco or the drink. They would have someone pushing the trolley for her.”

“The thought of Princess Margaret opening supermarkets,” I said, “had never crossed my mind.”

“If they were trying to encourage job creation in an area, they would sometimes wheel out Princess Margaret.”

“Is your aunt still in government?”

“Oh yes. She likes Prince Charles.”

“Anyone who talks to plants is OK with me,” I said. “Did your aunt hate Margaret Thatcher?”

Matthew Tedford as Margaret Thatcher

Matt makes Maggie the gay icon she always deserved to be

“Oh yes,” said Matt. “We’ve always been a very political family. A family of civil servants.

“My parents are very much left wing Socialists, but my granddad is a really staunch Conservative. I used to do the voice just to wind him up.”

“Did he enjoy being wound up?”

“Yeah. He’s very open-minded.”

“Are you going to walk up and down the High Street in Edinburgh in character to publicise the show?” I asked.

“Oh yeah.”

“That sounds dangerous,” I said. “You could get stoned.”

“If I’m lucky,” said Matt. “Actually, I’m going up to Edinburgh in the train dressed as Margaret Thatcher.”

I must have looked surprised.

Matt had a kebab in Soho

Matt/Maggie roamed Soho for a kebab

“Why not?” asked Matt. “I’ve been out in Soho dressed as Margaret Thatcher. I’m not a cross-dresser but, at every opportunity at the Fringe…”

“Three-and-a-half weeks dressed as Margaret Thatcher?” I asked.

“If I have to walk around supermarkets dressed as Margaret Thatcher to publicise the show, I will do it.”

“What’s it like to have people think of you as Margaret Thatcher?”

“People come up and talk to me after the show and it’s almost like therapy for them. People come up and say: I didn’t like you, I didn’t vote for you, but I really enjoyed the show. It’s just weird. In Ireland, they went mad for the fact they could meet me after the show, dressed as Margaret Thatcher, and shake my hand.

“Have you ever been curtsied at?”

“Yes. In Ireland. And people do kiss your hand every now and then, which is weird.”

“After a while,” I said, “the Thatcher voice must do your throat in.”

“Yes it does,” said Matt, “and I have had a lot of conversations with my mother about tights.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Gay, Politics, Theatre, Uncategorized

Tales of British Council performer Ian Hinchliffe: blood, bites and beer glasses

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green)

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Tony Green, in London in 1990

Performance artist Ian Hinchliffe drowned while fishing on a lake in Arkansas on 3rd December 2010.

So it goes.

In a blog earlier this month, I chatted to writer/performer Mark Kelly. We were both surprised that the British Council used to send the almost-always-utterly-drunk Hinchliffe abroad as an example of British culture.

That reminded Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, about Ian Hichcliffe’s visit to Toronto around 1985/1986.

“It was a show by The Matchbox Purveyors (in this case Ian Hinchliffe and Kevin O’Connor),” Anna remembers. “It was at The Rivoli on Queen Street and was what the British Council was fuelling… a fascinating display of filth and abuse.

“For the set, Ian had strung a clothesline across the stage and hung LP records from it which he lit with a blue light – he was very particular about his lighting.

“The show opened with Kevin O’Connor (who was also a painter) tied to a chair, holding a full egg carton, with a sack over his head. Hinchliffe came out cheerful, dressed in light trousers, a red and blue vest, black spectacles, a white bowler hat, pushing an archaic pram… greeting and shaking hands with audience members. Of course, before long, he was undressing and staggering around smeared with egg and mud, a fur stole tied horribly around his waist.

Ian Hinchliffe (left) and Kevin O’Connor in Toronto c 1985 (Photograph by Anna Smith)

Ian Hinchliffe and Kevin O’Connor in Toronto (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“The show had not been properly advertised, so the audience was a small collection of British jazz musicians and a group of artsy cinema-loving intellectuals.

“Earlier that night, I had been out on Queen Street, imploring passers-by not to miss the show. Nobody was interested. They said: We don’t care. We don’t need British comedy. We have our own Canadian comedians. And I thought: You idiots! You don’t have this. Nobody has this.

“Hinchliffe had his own language and it was often impossible to follow. The guy who bought London Bridge and put it in Arizona tried to hire Ian as a permanent fixture in the pub that they put beside it. They offered him a ton of money. I asked: Why didn’t you do it? He answered What would I have done… there… in a desert….? and, of course, he was right.

“He often mentioned ‘Tut Morris’ which I assumed was a car. He would say things like I left Tut Morris in a field… or I owe Tut Morris a payment… and I’ve got to get back to me Morris. Then I realized he was referring to a woman.

“He had been a laminator. Glue and alcohol. He was a jazz pianist. An amazing player.”

When I mentioned this to Ian’s old comedy friend Tony Green, he said:

“I wouldn’t have called him an amazing player. He could play a bit. But the problem with Ian was he had tiny hands and, when he spread his fingers for an octave span, the skin between the fingers would crack and there would usually be blood all over the keys.

“On one occasion, he was playing a white piano in a pub and there was blood all over the keys, pouring down the piano. You’ve never seen anything like it. Like something out of a horror film. When he did an octave span, the skin would just crack open and start bleeding.”

“And,” I said, “he had a habit of bleeding from his mouth when he ate glass.”

IanHinchliffe_1980s

Ian Hinchliffe in the 1980s (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“Oh yes,” said Tony, “he was always eating glass, wasn’t he? Mind you, he came a cropper at one of Malcolm Hardee’s gigs when he tried it. He actually did two gigs for Malcolm. The first one was OK and Malcolm thought it was weird enough to book him again. The second one didn’t work too well. When he was good, he could be inspiring, but that was maybe only one in twenty gigs because he got so pissed.

“He had to end his act by eating a beer glass – obviously. So he’s on stage trying to bite the edge off the pint glass and Malcolm said to me: He can’t fuckin’ do it. Has he got new false teeth or something? I said: Give him a few more minutes.

“Eventually Malcolm goes on stage: Here we are, then. Ian Hinchliffe. And Ian’s still on stage trying to bite a chunk out of the beer glass.

“He came off stage and told me: I couldn’t fookin’ do it! They must’ve fookin’ reinforced the fookin glasses! It’s never happened before, Tony! It’s never fookin’ happened before!

“I told him: That’s it, Ian. Your career’s had it. What are you going to do now?

“I had seen him do it lots of times before. On one occasion, he was being heckled, munched the glass down to the handle and said to the bloke: You finish the fookin’ ‘andle!

“God knows what his insides must have been like.

“He put a glass in his own face. You know that, don’t you?”

“No,” I said. “So he smashed a glass on the edge of a table and then…”

“Stabbed it into his own face. Yes. He had a little scar. He told me: I didn’t twist it, like, so it was no big thing.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Performance