I first met Adam Taffler aka Adam Oliver at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago when I was organising – if that’s the word – spaghetti-juggling in the Grassmarket.
He was promoting his own show, but joined in. This impressed me.
But he is not only a performer. He is also a promoter. This weekend, he is staging a show and workshops by American act Red Bastard, who got a lot of attention and an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nomination at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Then, on 20th October, Adam’s Adamotions company – slogan: Cultivating Hilarity & Humanity – gets together with comedian Bob Slayer’s Heroes company – slogan: Let’s have another drink! – to stage a performance of Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Adrienne Truscott’s Fringe show Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!
Last night, though, Adam enticed me along to see one of his Shhh Dating events – which are basically speed dating but you are not allowed to talk. Last night it was for 35-45 year olds. I was way out of my age range.
“You’re putting on Red Bastard this Friday,” I said to Adam afterwards. “So you’re not just a performer. You’re an entrepreneur.”
“Well, if I really like an act,” he said, “then I want other people to see it. Originally, we were going to do one workshop and one show with Red Bastard, but the bookings went so well we’re doing two shows and three workshops now.
“It’s happened on the back of what I do with Phil Burgers – Dr Brown – I run these retreats with Phil – Clowning In Nature – one-week immersive events. The idea is it’s beyond a workshop. Instead of just going for one day and going home, you’re all there together, living in the same place for a week and Phil takes people out into the nature. It’s not all just in the classroom. It’s blindfolded running down the hill and feeling goats and…”
“Hold on,” I said. “Feeling goats?”
“Yeah,” said Adam. “At the last one, we did this blindfolded walk and I took the lovely Leanne Davis into this pen of goats and she was touching them but was so scared. Afterwards, she told me she’d had a phobia about goats since she was a kid (his words) but she got over it through doing that.
“After I’d done that with Phil, I wanted to do some work with Eric (Red Bastard) because I loved his act in Edinburgh.”
“He and Adrienne Truscott were the most talked-about people this year,” I said.
“And now I’m working with both of them!” said Adam.
“Do you come from a showbiz background?” I asked.
“My maternal grandfather Leo Indra was a lady lifter.”
“A lady lifter?” I asked.
“He travelled round Europe in the 1950s with water revues, painted in gold, lifting up women with gold loin cloths. This was quite risqué at the time.”
“Sounds fairly risqué any time,” I said. “And on your father’s side?”
“My father’s father was a real businessman. He was the 12th of 12 children and came from a family which was so poor that, if you looked away at dinner, someone would steal your food… My mum is the matriarch of a community called Spirit Horse, which she set up.”
“A hippie thing?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t say ‘hippie’ – I’d say they were really intelligent people who are trying to re-invent culture. And my dad is a hardcore academic: he doesn’t get me at all.”
“An academic of what?” I asked.
“Financial accounting. He’s a socialist academic who travels round the world giving papers about stuff. A lovely guy.”
“You started performing at hippie festivals,” I said.
“Well, I studied Media Studies and French at the University of East Anglia,” said Adam, “but, mostly, I was promoting events and did the radio station. Before I left UEA, I asked people what they were doing – Oh, I’m applying to be a manager at Boots The Chemist – Oh, I’m joining the Civil Service - and it made me cry and shrivel up.
“When I left university, with three of my best friends, I set up a nomadic naked sauna at festivals and we toured that for five years and it was one of the best times of my life. We had these beautiful hippie audiences who would do whatever we said and every single show I did at a festival ended at about one in the morning with everyone stripping naked and painting their nipples gold and running through the fields.”
“You can’t get a better job than that,” I said.
“It really turned me on,” said Adam. “That level of permission and permissiveness and freedom. But how do you give that level of permission to a mainstream audience? I think you have to re-train the audience. That’s why I’m experimenting with all these different formats.”
“Including this dating thing?” I asked. “How did it start?”
“I had a job looking after ‘blank canvas’ spaces in central London,” explained Adam. “We had things like Gucci comedy fashion shows and…”
“What are blank canvas spaces?” I asked.
“You hire a space,” explained Adam, “but all you have is electricity and maybe some house lights, so you have to bring everything in for yourself. You have to decorate it and… it was mostly for fashion events and a bit of film, which was more interesting for me. So I would sell Sony a £50,000 space for a month to have an electronics trade show and… Well, it wasn’t that exciting… The stuff I loved doing was… I was looking after The Sorting Office in Holborn and we had You Me Bum Bum Train and I managed to get them an extra month of shows because I was so into them. I loved that bit. But I left my job. I thought I can’t pretend any more. I can’t pretend to be a normal fucking person. I’ve got to be myself.”
“I like people coming together and experiencing each other. I like people being ‘real’ together.”
“That sounds a bit Californian,” I suggested.
“Well,” replied Adam, “this dating thing is my first attempt at doing it in a way that mainstream people can understand. When you take away words, you get to see people as they really are. That’s interesting. We’re all so protective. Which is OK. It’s OK. But I think, in these hippie festivals where I started painting everyone’s nipples gold and naked crowdsurfing and…”
I interrupted: “There seems to be a motif running through all this of nakedness.”
“It’s a metaphor,” said Adam.
“It’s a metaphor for psychological nakedness?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s the same thing; it’s like stripping away the stuff. If you can get an audience to act something out, then they become it. Audiences – at these hippie festivals especially – are all waiting to have permission to do the shit they want to do. In the festivals, I used to be able to give them that permission, to speak their exact language and it was incredible. Such fun.
“I’ve not yet found out how to do that with a really cynical, mainstream, alcoholic comedy audience, so I’ve decided to create my own audience now – and that’s what I’m doing with all these events.”
“How did you get the people who came to this silent speed dating thing tonight?”
“We’ve been in Time Out a couple of times, we’ve been in the Sun, we’ve been in the Daily Mail. Actually, the Daily Mail journalist really got this more than anyone else. We’ve been in the mainstream press and people from around the world have been contacting us wanting to set these things up.”
“So,” I asked, “the Shhh Dating is not just going to be in London? You’re going to expand into other places?”
“We’ve got people actively working on Brighton and Bristol. We’re going to do Cardiff; there’s someone in Berlin.”
“And,” I prompted, “as well as Red Bastard this week, you’re co-promoting Adrienne Truscott’s show in a few weeks with Bob Slayer. Will you do other things with him?”
“We might do,” said Adam, “What I like about Bob is he’s creating this stage where any art can happen. He’s opening it up for true art and creativity to come true and that’s what really excites me. I love the renegade nature of it.”
“So what are you?” I asked. “A performer? A promoter? An entrepreneur?”
“I feel I’m a showman. I like performing shows, I like putting on shows. I was at my happiest travelling round from place to place with that nomadic naked sauna.”
“Other people you want to work with?” I asked.
“There’s a friend of mine – Joanne Tremarco – we trained together with Jonathan Kaye at the Nomadic Academy For Fools and she did a show called Women Who Wank. You might have heard about her, because she was dressed up as a vagina and there was a guy dressed up as a penis at Glastonbury and someone ripped his hat off and punched him. It went round the world – Man Dressed As Penis Gets Attacked.”
“The penis head had a hat?” I asked.
“Yes, he had a proper bell end bit,” said Adam.
“I think attention to detail is important,” I said.