Chris Dangerfield – ‘clean’ from heroin after brothel visit – but now called Nazi

Chris Dangerfield had afternoon tea with me

What do you do if people start calling you a Nazi?

Well, if you are Chris Dangerfield, you send me an email and suggest I write a blog about it.

What do you do if you have a heroin habit and want to stop?

Well, if you are Chris Dangerfield, you go to Thailand and live in a brothel for a while. He has done it before.

“So,” Chris told me when we met two days ago, “I went to Thailand for eight weeks and did my Thai brothel detox.”

“Is this the third time?” I asked.

“Well, I done it four times. First two times was mild: a little codeine, a little Valium problem. So I go out there, nip it in the bud. And I nipped a few in the bud while I was there, I can assure you. I deflowered many.”

“Well I can’t put that in the blog,” I said.

“No. You can,” Chris told me, “Use anything. I don’t give a fuck any more. I’m done with humans. This is ‘next stage’ Dangerfield… Second time I went out there, I had almost a proper mild smack habit…”

“Chris,” I told him, “you have never had a MILD smack habit.”

“No, no,” he insisted, “it takes a while for me to get back in properly. That second time I thought: Nip it in the bud again. But the third time, yes. Big smack habit. Wall climbing, black foam coming out of my arse, the full…”

I interrupted him: “Black foam coming out of your arse?”

“Yeah. Smack really fucks up your gastro intestinal tracts. Some literal and figurative and metaphorical dark stuff comes out. But this time, man, new level. I’d been using a lot for the last four years.”

“That’s as long as I’ve known you,” I said.

“No, John. It’s been eight years.”

“Oh God,” I said. “Anyway, you are now Mr Clean, are you? When did you get back?”

“About three weeks ago. But I’m going to go back out there in a couple of weeks.”

“To the brothel?”

“Well no, but yes. Not to stay.”

“The same brothel on all four occasions?” I asked.

“The same madam. Different locations, because her enterprise is growing. She was a streetwalker when I first met her.”

“So you,” I asked, “have made that woman the entrepreneurial success she is today?”

A Chris selfie taken in Thailand back in 2014

“A part of me likes to think that when, weirdly, the truth is she saved my life at least twice. An amazing woman. She instructs all her girls – about 40 of them spread over the three shops. All the working girls come from Isan, north east Thailand. They all speak Thai, but Lao is their first language. In Isan, they are working in fields or factories for 10-20 baht a day. In Patong, they’ll take 6,000 baht a day. What would you do?”

“So you are totally clean now?” I asked.

“Let’s not jump the gun,” said Chris. “I’m off smack.”

“So anyway,” I said, “why did you want to talk to me?”

“I like you, Fleming, because comedians read your stuff.”

“And?” I asked.

“People keep calling me a Nazi.”

“Well,” I said, “you do seem to have decided to go Breitbart and become a British Steve Bannon. Anti-Islamic and all those things.”

“I am 100% anti-Islamic, yeah. I’m anti-religion. I’m anti-theist.”

“You can’t attack Islam en masse,” I suggested. “For a start, there’s Sunni and Shi’ite.”

“There’s kind-of one set of books, though,” countered Chris. “The Hadith, the Sunnah and the Koran.”

“But,” I said, “there’s only one lot that want to chop our heads off.”

“Alright then, I’m anti-Sunni,” said Chris. “I’m anti-Sunni and I’m anti-Wahhabi. But, hold on, how does me being anti-theist make me a Nazi?”

“Who’s saying this anyway?” I asked.

“Comedians,” said Chris. “Where do they get that from? I went out to the French House (pub in Soho) the other night. People I’ve known for twenty years. Five of them called me a Nazi!”

“Why?”

“Well, this is my point. If you’re not sort of militant Left now, there’s only one option left for you. You get called a Nazi.”

“Your postings,” I said, “do sound like you’ve gone a bit Alt-Right, whatever that means.”

“It means white supremacist. You’ve just casually called me a supremacist, a separatist! I’m not!”

“So you are not Alt-Right,” I said. “What are you?”

“I’m a conservative Marxist.”

“What is a conservative Marxist?” I asked.

Christopher Hitchens: a Conservative Marxist? (Photo by Fri Tanke)

Christopher Hitchens?”

“What,” I said. “Not who. Define it.”

“I’m not a conservative Marxist. But I was Marxist for most of my adult life from about the age of 19.”

“Do you not think,” I asked, “that it’s a circle? If you take extreme Left wing and extreme Right wing, they end up in the same place?”

“Well, it’s not a circle, John, it’s a horseshoe.”

“So what happens,” I asked, “in the gap of the horseshoe?”

“I just think it’s strange I get this accusation. I get it a lot.”

“I have to admit,” I told him, “that I’ve not read the Koran. But most religions are OK. It’s organised religions – churches – that are often a bad thing, not religions.”

“You haven’t read the Koran,” said Chris. “You can’t go more than three pages without it telling you how to torture and kill infidels. It’s a vile, barbaric book.”

“What you are saying,” I told him, “is not going to look good in print.”

“I don’t give a fuck, John.”

“So how are you going to persuade people you are not an Alt-Right neo-Nazi?

“I’m not. I don’t give a fuck about what they think, really, I will carry on putting Pepe memes up so they think I am.”

“Pepe?” I asked.

“You seriously don’t know Pepe?”

“No.”

“You have got to include a picture of Pepe in the blog,”

“Pepe’ a green frog. It’s Lord Kek of Kekistan.”

“Are you sure you are off the smack?” I asked.

“Don’t you understand,” said Chris, “that Kekistani meme magic won Donald Trump the election? He was the chosen one of the Kekistani people.”

“I have no idea what you’re on about,” I said.

“Do you know about. 4Chan?”

“No.”

“4Chan invented the internet.”

“I thought that was Tim Berners-Lee. Or the Web, anyway. What is 4Chan?”

“It’s an image board. It’s very famous, John. Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet but these people invented the content. They weaponised autism.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s how people on 4Chan track people down.”

“What’s 4Chan?”

“What do you do all day, John?

“I fantasise about Lewis Schaffer becoming a mainstream success.”

“Well, there’s a militant anarcho-communist violent – I dunno what you’d call ‘em – gaggle of cunts? They protest anything that they think is Nazism and Fascism. They ‘bash Fash’. That’s why they call it. They bash Fash. They’re middle class idiots and they turn up with banners and sticks and they’ve been smashing up property in Berkeley, de-platforming speakers and all that. But the other day they got the shit kicked out of them at a Patriots’ Day Rally in Berkeley.”

“Are you trying to shut down Islamic free speech?” I asked.

“There is no Islamic free speech,” said Chris. “It’s a religion. Come on, I’m not trying to shut down anyone; I’m trying to keep free speech alive.”

“Who are you going to be voting for in the (UK) General Election?” I asked.

“Oh, Tory. I will be taking a photo of that ballot paper and sticking it on Facebook with a big Up Yours and a picture of Pepe.”

“Have you always voted Conservative?”

“No.”

“If you were a Marxist earlier in life, you couldn’t really vote Labour back then, could you?”

“Didn’t vote,” said Chris. “When you want an armed revolution, voting for Tony Blair doesn’t really cut it. I am not a Tory, though.”

“So why will you be voting Conservative?”

“I’ve probably made myself look a lot worse”

“I don’t want a Socialist in my fucking country. They’re incompetent. There are literal Rivers of Blood behind Communism that make the Nazis look like a flash in the pan. We are talking hundreds of millions of people die when inevitably Socialist/Communist states become dictatorships and then everyone gets murdered and starved.”

“It’s a horseshoe?” I asked.

“If they want to bash Fash,” suggested Chris, “they should be punching themselves in the face.”

“So,” I said, “you called me in to the middle of London to make yourself look better…”

“I think I’ve probably made myself look a lot worse, though, haven’t I?” Chris laughed.

“Well,” I said, “That’s a good blog ending, then.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Why audiences would rather pay than see free comedy shows in London

Martin Soan and Paul Vickers before a Pull The Other One

Martin and Vivienne Soan have been running Pull the Other One comedy nights in Nunhead, South London, for over ten years. The shows are monthly. You pay to enter; and, in my opinion, they are always value for money whoever is on the bill.

Relatively recently, they also started monthly sister shows – free to enter – called It’s Got Bells On.

These two monthly comedy shows mean Martin and Vivienne run shows roughly every fortnight.

Pull The Other One is at the Ivy House in Nunhead; It’s Got Bells On is at the Old Nun’s Head in – you guessed it – Nunhead.

Martin has always paid acts to perform at It’s Got Bells On, though entry has been free for audiences. From this Friday, though, Martin is going to charge £3 entry.

“Why?” I asked him a couple of weeks ago, before a Pull The Other One show.

Also sitting at the table, mute, was Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey.

“Do you want to say anything surreal?” I asked Paul.

“No,” he replied.

“So,” I said, turning back to Martin Soan, “why start charging entry?”

“Well,” said Martin, “I started It’s Got Bells On because I was getting a little tired of putting on stuff that sells. If I book a big name like Alan Davies or Omid Djalili or Stewart Lee at Pull The Other One, people will happily pay to come along.

Stewart Lee (left) behind-the-scenes with Martin Soan

“If I don’t have a big name, people won’t come along in such big numbers, Which is very frustrating because all the shows are always consistently good. (Martin tells the truth here.) It doesn’t matter who is on, the shows are worth the same ticket price. The fickle nature of the public, though, is that more will come along if they see a name they recognise. And, because the audience is paying, the acts feel they have to deliver risk-free performances.

“So I wanted to have a free-to-enter evening which would allow acts to be more anarchic and experiment more without worrying about the possibility of failing. I could also feed off It’s Got Bells On and transfer acts tried-out there into Pull The Other One.

“What happened was that the first few months of It’s Got Bells On were incredibly successful. I didn’t realise at the time why, but the (mostly South London) acts I was putting on were bringing along lots of friends. But then, when I started having acts on from North London, they didn’t bring friends and I had only 20-30 people coming in, which was disappointing.”

“Why,” I asked, “would charging get you bigger audiences?”

“People have been talking to me, saying: I didn’t want to come along because it was free so, obviously, it was not going to be very good. Which isn’t true, but that’s what they think. So I thought: Right, fuck it. We will charge the audience, but all the ticket money will go directly to the Clowns Without Borders charity. 

It’s Got Bells On – £3 this Friday in Nunhead

So the people who won’t come to free shows because they think they will be shit may come to this pay show because they assume it will be better. But we will keep the essential elements of It’s Got Bells On – freedom from having to do risk-free comedy and allowing people to experiment. And I will still (as before) pay everyone £20 to perform. So it’s good for the performers and hopefully now people will start taking it a bit more seriously because there’s an admission fee (which goes directly to Clowns Without Borders).

“I’m still gobsmacked by the attitude of audiences out there. People have got these boundaries of what they will allow themselves to experience. If the performers have been on television, then that’s OK. They will come. At Pull The Other One, invariably, when we have really big names on, we will put acts either side who are completely nuts and the audience will come out saying: I loved the Big Name but that guy who did the blah blah blah whatever – I REALLY, REALLY loved him!

“The whole idea of It’s Got Bells On was to be free so acts feel no pressure not to fail… but I have never known an act to fail there. Generally, if you get up and do something new, then your adrenaline and determination will carry the whole thing through.”

Martin smiled.

Martin Soan decided not to have bluetooth

“Why do you have a green tooth?” I asked. “That wasn’t there before.”

“I wanted bluetooth to communicate better but I got a green tooth instead.”

“Ah,” I said. I turned to Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey. “Do you want to say anything surreal?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

Paul lives in Edinburgh but had come to London to appear in various shows.

“Are you staying with Lewis Schaffer?” I asked.

“No. I’m staying with Martin here. That means I won’t have to do the book.”

“Do the book?” I asked.

“You remember I told you about the book?” Paul told me. “I Can Teach You How To Read Properly by Lewis Schaffer.

“Ah,” I said. “Do you have any books at your place?” I asked Martin.

“I do have a pop-up Kama Sutra,” he replied.

“A pop-up Kama Sutra?” I repeated.

“Yes. You open the pages and figures pop up fucking each other and, if you move the pages correctly, you get the penis going in and out.”

“How much did that cost?” I asked.

“It was 15p from a charity shop in Peckham.”

“That must be an interesting charity shop,” I said.

“It was in the children’s section.”

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” said Martin. “That’s the God’s honest truth.”

“Why?” I asked. “Just because it was a pop-up book and they assumed it was for children?”

“I suppose so,” said Martin. “I don’t think anyone had opened the book and looked inside.”

“Do you want to say anything surreal?” I asked Paul.

“No,” he replied.

“Ah,” I said.

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“All the London casinos were crooked” – gangsters, gambling and bullfighting

Micky Fawcett (left) with Michael at the May Fair hotel in 2014

“So how did your son Michael become a bullfighter in Spain?” I asked former Krays associate Micky Fawcett in the bar of the May Fair Hotel in London last week.

“Well, in the late 1970s,” Micky told me, “I was having a bit of trouble with the gendarmes in London so, around Christmastime, I got in a car to Spain with Michael, his mother and his mother’s sister. We got a flat out there. I had been in Spain before – with Billy Hill.”

“Why were you with Billy Hill?” I asked.

“He wanted to see me because he had pulled that masterstroke which I mention in the book.”

Micky’s autobiographical memoir Krayzy Days goes way beyond his days with the Kray Twins, Ronnie and Reggie.

Young Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray & Reggie’s wife

“I was out with Reggie in Mayfair one night,” Micky told me, “and we went to go in the 21 Club in Chesterfield Gardens and they wouldn’t let us in, so Reggie chinned the doorman and we went off to the Astor Club in a bad mood. The Astor was in an alley behind where we’re sitting now.

“Reggie owed lots of money in income tax at the time. He had just given me Esmerelda’s Barn (a Knightsbridge club) and said: You take it over. I dunno if you can do anything with it. Sell it to someone or something.

“And, down at the Astor, we saw this guy called Murphy. He was a rick.”

“A rick?” I asked.

“He sits in at the game in a casino but he’s working for the house. Cheating. All the cards are marked. And Reggie said to this guy: You might be able to do something with Mick here. And the guy said: I don’t do anything without I contact The Old Professor.”

“The Old Professor?” I asked.

“Billy Hill,” said Micky. “Anyway, Reggie was furious. It was another knock back to him that night. So we went in the office at The Astor and Reggie phoned Billy Hill and said: Listen. We’ve got somebody here who says he can’t do any business with us unless he gets the OK from you.

“And Bill said: Bring him round straight away.

“So we threw the guy in the car and took him round and Bill told the guy: Get in the kitchen, you. I’ll deal with you in a minute. Then Bill said to Reggie: Can I just throw him out? For old times, sake, eh, Reg?

Billy Hill at home. (Photo: Krayzy Days)

“And Reggie said: No, he’s going in the River.

“And Bill said: No, Reg, think about it. This will be the last place he’s ever been seen. Just for old times sake, eh? I’ll just throw him out.

“So Reggie said: Go on, then.

“And Bill went in the kitchen. A bit of noise. – Oh! Agh! Ugh! Ah! – All over the top. And Hillsy came out and said: I just kicked him up the arse and threw him out. Here you are Reg. And he gave Reggie a brown envelope. Wot’s this? says Reggie.

There’s a monkey in there, said Hillsy.”

“£500?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Micky. “And Billy told Reggie: It’s a gift. It ain’t nothing. We’ll be friends.

“So Reggie said: OK. And he took it because he didn’t have any money at all. He was skint.

“Anyway, about 48 hours later, I’m round Vallance Road (where the Krays lived) and Hillsy phones up. He says: Reg, I’ve got a problem. Can you get me some help?

“So Reggie gets a few of the more fierce-looking characters around. He didn’t give me nothing. I’d had nothing out of the £500. He said to me: Mick, you stay here and man the phone in case anything goes wrong. And away they go.

“A couple of hours later, he comes back and he ain’t saying very much. Eventually, I ask him what happened and he says: It was a false alarm, really. He was up there playing cards with some of his mates – the waiters out of the local restaurant. Foreigners.”

“So what was the problem?” I asked.

Teddy Machin (Photograph from Krayzy Days)

“Well, I’m going to tell you,” said Micky. “I tell Teddy Machin about it and he tells Hillsy who says: Oh yeah. I know Mick. He came round here with Reggie. Bring him out here. I’d like to meet him. He was in Spain by then. He used to be back and forward to Spain. He used to get about. He’d been to South Africa. So I got on the plane and went out to Spain.

“And it turned out they hadn’t been waiters. They had been alarmed at the Twins moving in to the 21 Club and chinning the doorman.

“The 21 Club was one of the top casinos in the country. They were a bit concerned cos they were running the gambling in London. Someone wrote a book about it. (The Hustlers: Gambling, Greed and The Perfect Con and there was a 2009 TV documentary titled The Real Casino Royale and a Daily Telegraph article.) One of their customers was George Osborne’s uncle.”

“The recent Chancellor of the Exchequer?”

“Yeah. At Aspinall’s, above the Clermont Club, just round the corner from here. They was all crooked. At some point, Billy Hill had said to John Aspinall: You can either blow the whistle and ruin your business or you can include us in it. And Aspinall said: Well, I’ve got no choice, have I? You’re in it.

More on the Unione Corse in the book

“The ‘waiters’ who were with Billy Hill when Reggie went round were the Unione Corse who were running the gambling in Mayfair.”

“They were running all the casinos?”

“Yeah. All the casinos were crooked, near enough. They had a system where they could mark the cards. I don’t know how. Nobody did. But they did. And Billy Hill did.

“So, when I went out to Spain, he told me all the story about how it was the Unione Corse. He wined me and dined me a bit. He took me to the Marbella Club and he said: Come over to Tangier. He had a club there as well and they were in Tangier as well. So I went there with him. Boulevard Hassan II was his address there.

“Anyway, that’s how I got the flavour for Spain. And, when I was in Spain, he took me to bullfights.”

“So,” I asked, “when you later went out to Spain with your son Michael and his mother, how old was Michael?”

Micky Fawcett chatted in Mayfair last week

“Nine. And I said to Michael: I’ll take you to a bullfight. And we did. Then, a few days later, we were on the beach and Michael was messing around with the muleta – the red flag – and he’s playing bullfighters.

“And the fellah who had the concession for that part of the beach was an ex-bullfighter who fought as El Solo. He introduced Michael to other bullfighters. All of a sudden, we were catapulted right into the middle of that sort of thing. The man who ran the bullring had been written about by Hemingway.

“So they have to test the little baby bulls and they see which ones are brave. And Michael was just playing at fighting with the little bulls.”

“There was,” I asked, “no sticking swords or anything else into them?”

“Oh no, no,” said Micky. “Baby bulls. But, while we were there, doing all that, an English woman who was a journalist started making enquiries about Michael and, next thing you know, there’s a picture of Michael in the bullfighting magazine El Ruedo with writing underneath in Spanish all about him. He was 10 years old by then.

“And I didn’t know at the time, but it was also in the Evening Standard in London. So there I am out in Spain trying to keep a low profile and Michael’s got a big picture and article in the big bullfighting magazine and in the Evening Standard back in London – and it was even in the local paper The Stratford Express.”

Young Michael Fawcett got publicity

“He must have been proud,” I said, “aged ten.”

“Nah,” said Micky. “He didn’t care. He said: Oh no! It’ll spoil my image! Cos he was into music.”

“How long did this go on for?” I asked.

“A few months, I suppose. What happened was I then ran out of money.”

“So you had to come back to Britain?”

“Well, no. Not quite.”

“Is this,” I asked, “when you ended up in jail in Belgium or somewhere?”

“Worse,” said Micky.

 

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I ask about Musical Comedy Awards but get sidetracked by exploding intestines

Tamara Cowan was the one who brought up the intestines

“So,” I said, “he now lives in Austria or wherever, but you are his representative here on earth.”

“I think my official title is Creative Director,” Tamara Cowan told me, “but it’s sort-of producing and being The Man on The Ground. I am The Man on The Ground. We do it together.”

“How,” I asked, “did the annual Musical Comedy Awards start?”

“Ed Chappel set it up on his own nine years ago, when he was at Warwick University as part of an Events Management thing. He started it with online entries then hired out the Pleasance, Islington, for the final. The first one was won by Adams & Rea (no longer together as an act).

“The next year, Ed and I were both flyering for Bound & Gagged (comedy promoters) up at the Edinburgh Fringe and he thought it would be really fun to have live heats the next year. I had just had half my intestines chopped out and I was at home recuperating. I was lying there thinking: I don’t really know what I’m going to do when I get back to London. And he texted me saying: Oh, you seem to be good at comedy/chat stuff. Do you want to come and help me with it next time? In fact, I didn’t know anything about comedy.”

“Why,” I asked, “did you need to have half your intestines out?”

“Well, it was actually only a third. I exaggerated.”

“Even so,” I said, “it still begs the question Why?

“They had twisted.”

“Isn’t that what intestines do?” I asked. “Why had they twisted?”

“I don’t know. They twisted and then they got a bit infected and the doctors had to lop a bit off. Apparently it only happens to very young babies and very old people.”

“How old were you?”

“I was 25.”

It was this or a picture of intestines – Ed Chappel publicising the Musical Comedy Awards in 2009.

“The doctors,” I asked, “never mentioned why?”

“I did loads of research and it didn’t really explain it.”

“The doctors never said exactly why they wanted to chop bits out of you?”

“They had done scans and seen it had twisted and exploded.”

“Exploded?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have trouble digesting things now?”

“No. I have to eat quite a lot of fibre to make sure I ‘go’ regularly but, basically, it holds as much as it holds and, if it has less room to hold it, it will just push it out quicker. Tell me you are not going to write about this.”

“Probably.”

“Oh dear.”

“You were in hospital…”

“Yes. As the NHS was a bit overstretched at the time, I ended up updating my own chart sometimes because no-one else was.”

“The chart thing hanging on the end of your bed?”

“Yes.”

“You updated your own chart?”

“Yes. I opened it up and saw all the pictures and it was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Your own intestines?“

“Yes. Open. Urghh! That near-death experience put me off acting.”

“Acting?”

“I did an MA at Mountview.”

“So you were an aspiring actress?”

“I was. But that near-death experience put me off. I thought I don’t want to be an actress and then I found comedy and thought This is more fun.”

“So you had a third of your intestines out then decided to move into comedy? There’s a pun there somewhere. We just have to find it.”

“Belly laughs?”

“Mmmm…”

“Gut instinct?”

“Could be.”

“So you moved into comedy but not as a performer, despite the fact you had wanted to act.”

“Well, going to drama school put me right off wanting to go on stage. Then having a near-death experience made me want more of a tangible career.”

“Why did learning to be an actress put you off being an actress?”

“It made me quite self-conscious because you over-thought everything. And, after the near-death experience, I wanted to actually do things rather than rely on people employing me. Rather than have casting directors decide if I was going to do something, I wanted to decide myself to create stuff and do things. And I found the Musical Comedy Awards at that point. It meant I could be in charge of making something actually happen and putting on productions.”

“You wanted to be in control of your own destiny?”

“Yes.”

“So, you organise the Musical Comedy Awards annually but, the rest of the time, you are…?”

“An assistant agent. I’ve been with Hollie Ebdon for almost two years now. I used to work in corporate property, but I gave that up because it was horrible. Have you ever worked in corporate property?

“No…. Anyway, you decided you wanted to be master or mistress of your own destiny so, after having a third of your intestines out and deciding not to be an actress, you went into corporate property?”

“No. I went into theatre administration and then got accidentally found and offered a job by a cool and fun property company but then they got capital investment and it all started turning a bit horrible. Then Hollie’s thing came up and she was the first person who had given the MCAs an opportunity because she had been doing the booking for the Wilmington Arms in Rosebery Avenue where we did jam-packed musical comedy days with people like Abandoman. That was in 2010.”

“You said earlier that, when you started, you knew nothing about comedy.”

“Well, when I finished at London Metropolitan University, I went to the Edinburgh Fringe and worked with Bound & Gagged for the summer, like I said, and someone had to explain to me who Stewart Lee and Nicholas Parsons were. I really didn’t know anything about comedy.

“Then I went and got a job at the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, tearing tickets. Through that, I met Tracey Collins – Tina Turner, Tea Lady – and Charlie, who helps with the MCAs.  And this year we are magically ending up back there because there was a delay with the Underbelly. So, after ten years of not working at the Lyric, we’ve all ended up doing the Musical Comedy Awards Finals there this coming Monday.”

Everyone’s back at the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue, this year

“That is fairly weird,” I said.

“Yes. And then Ed Chappel found this bit of paper – an obituary for his great-great uncle, who was a famous actor in the early 20th century – and his great-great uncle’s first West End production was Of Mice and Men at the Lyric Theatre.”

“So you’ve been doing the Musical Comedy Awards for eight years. Getting bored?”

“I love the variety. Musical comedians are a mixture. You get people who are basically comedians but who can play a bit of music. Then you’ve got cabaret people. Then actors who are all-rounder triple-threats: acting/singing/dancing.”

“Is it easier,” I asked, “to hide weak material if you are a musical comedian? Take (I named an act). Their material is OK but their personality is so overwhelming you almost don’t notice some of their material is weak.”

“But isn’t that the same with stand-up comics?” Tamara suggested. “It’s all in the balance. If you had someone else doing Stewart Lee’s material, it wouldn’t be as good without his stage charisma and timing. In some ways, yes, musical comedy is easier because you do have a kind of energy level that comes with playing the musical instrument, but it is harder as well because you have a lot more balls to juggle and make it click and work and get the audience to buy it.”

“There are no real musical comedy shows on TV,” I prompted.

“I think,” Tamara responded, “that a musical comedy show would work well on TV, but I don’t think they want to take a risk.”

“Maybe because it sounds expensive ,” I suggested. “Like putting on 42nd Street.”

“But,” said Tamara, “it can be very cheap. It’s usually just a… well, a white guy in his early 30s with a guitar. People get musical comedy and musicals mixed up.”

“You still have no urge to pluck a ukulele yourself?”

“No. I’m almost tone deaf. I can’t sing in tune. I can appreciate music but I can’t do it myself. I used to play the saxophone. I wasn’t too bad but it did give me an awful rash on my bottom lip and you don’t want a rash on your lips when you’re a teenager. And it is almost impossible to do musical comedy if you have something in your mouth.”

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A meeting in a sex shop led me to tea with actor William Sebag-Montefiore.

Hell and a meeting in a sex shop brought me together with William Sebag-Montefiore.

In January last year, I wrote a blog about the shooting of a sitcom pilot called Hell, set in a sex shop.

Well, OK, it was a film set pretending to be a sex shop.

The would-be TV sitcom pilot was eventually re-titled Whipped, posted on YouTube and, at the time of writing this, has had over 365,000 hits. Another result was that, last week, I had tea at the Soho Theatre Bar with William Sebag-Montefiore. He had acted in the film.

I figured: He must be related to British historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore. How many Sebag-Montefiores can there be around? And Wikipedia said Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s great-great-uncle was an international financier who worked with the Rothschild family.

I thought: I might get a free cup of tea out of this.

And I did… but…

William told me: “We’re not really that related. Simon Sebag-Montefiore is my cousin twice removed. I have a name that sounds like I have connections but, in reality, I don’t. I was brought up in Leeds. My mum is Scottish; my dad is Canadian. My grandma is from Inchinnan in Glasgow.”

“Have you got siblings?” I asked.

“Two younger sisters. One’s at the University of Essex studying International Relations. The other is a nurse. So she saves people’s lives and I run around pretending to be someone else.”

“Are there other thespians in the family?”

“My dad’s a clinical oncologist and my mum is a Special Needs Assistant.”

“So no thespian tendencies?” I asked.

“When dad was at medical school,” William proffered, “he did all the comedy revues and used to sing a song called Praise The Colo-rectal Surgeon. And mum loved Billy Connolly.”

“Do you have any medical tendencies?” I asked.

“Well, when I was 17 and started working in a bar, I thought about being a paramedic. It might have been because I watched Casualty on TV when I was a kid. Maybe I just want to be in Casualty. In fact, I still do.”

“You wanted to be an actor?” I asked.

“I am an actor,” William said. “I did a year’s Masters at the Central School of Speech and Drama.”

“Acting is easy, isn’t it?” I asked. “You just have to pretend to be somebody else.”

“I was doing an hour-long one-man show,” said William, “which was a terrifying experience. An hour of me talking and it was not comedy. It was a play about a man made out of newspaper: The Inevitable Disappearance of Edward J Neverwhere, written by a gentleman called Igor Memic.”

“Surely,” I suggested, “doing an hour acting as someone else is not as terrifying as doing an hour of stand-up comedy as yourself?”

William with a hot tea sheath and a crushed Kit-Kat wrapper in London’s Soho Theatre Bar

“I haven’t done stand-up,” said William, “because of the autobiographical angle. I can’t find a way of expressing myself through it, because I would be doing an imitation of someone like Stewart Lee – and a poor one.”

“But you could always be a character comedian?” I suggested.

“I think the problem,” said William, “is more that there’s an hour of responsibility on me. The reason I like acting is because I like listening and responding. When I like watching actors on stage, it’s when they’re listening and reacting. When it’s live, it has to change all the time and, when there is another person there, if you lose focus for a second, the likelihood is they will stay focussed and bring you back in. But, if you are on your own…

“We were doing that terrifying one-man show in a listed building in Peckham – as part of The BasicSpace Festival – and somebody with four dogs knocked on the door saying: Someone told me I could watch the show.

Somebody with four dogs knocked…

“He was just a bit of a local oddball. I stood there, looked at him and thought: I have to acknowledge it. So I looked over at the door, looked back and had no idea where I was in the script. There is that responsibility of focus and continuation…”

“Now you are doing sketch comedy,” I said. “You seem very trendy. Sketch comedy is out of fashion, isn’t it? What’s the attraction?”

“I just think it’s silly and it’s fun. The thing that really made me love it was radio sketch comedy –  John Finnemore and his Souvenir radio programme.

“I tried to write a sketch when I was about 10 or 11 which was directly copied from a Harry Enfield sketch about someone coming round to rob a house but they were like a door-to-door salesman.

“And I did a lot of improvisation and sketch comedy at Newcastle University. I studied English Literature, then graduated from Central and went into this industry where I thought: Everyone will want me for everything and I’ll be in a Hollywood film in a year… But people soon told me: Ah! That’s not how it works and now TV only makes sitcoms with established comedians.”

“Do you consider yourself,” I asked, “to be an actor or a comedy performer?”

“I am an actor who does comedy. People have put me more in the comedy bracket which is great, because that’s the stuff I like to create.”

“And.” I said, “you are now forced to have tea with me to plug the show you are doing at the Canal Cafe Theatre in London on 7th and 8th April – Just These, Please. Will it make your fortune?”

Just These, Please foursome together – (L-R) Georgie Jones, William Sebag-Montefiore, Philippa Carson & Tom Dickson

“We won’t make money out of the show. It’s for love of the form and wanting to get our name out there. We are a comedy sketch group, but we are all writing sitcoms and stuff and having pipedreams. There’s this hope that we will be so endearing and hilarious that people will think: We need to put these guys everywhere.”

“You’re a foursome.”

“Yes. Tom Dickson and I met at Newcastle University, in a play where we were brothers with exceptionally questionable Irish accents. Now he is a trainee lawyer, so he has a real career in him. It was revealed to us that our Irish accents were questionable by one of the girls in our troupe: Philippa Carson, who’s intimidatingly talented – an award-winning film editor and actress. She went to film school; she’s an improviser. And Georgie Jones is our other member – she’s a member of the National Youth Theatre and in the poetry collective at the Roundhouse Theatre. Fundamentally, they’re just hilarious women and very talented actresses.

Just These, Please at Canal Cafe Theatre

“The group has, technically, been going for about two years. We did one show with about 30 sketches about two years ago but then did nothing. We filmed some sketches but haven’t yet released them. Since last October, we’ve written 60 new sketches for this one.”

“So is the future going to be YouTube?” I asked.

“I think so. We have about four sketches – our longest one runs maybe 5 or 6 minutes – filmed and we are waiting to find the right time to release them.”

“Which is?”

“Exactly. This is the problem with a bunch of creatives trying to do the business side of it. I would say around the summer time.

“I’m also a member of an improv group called Very Serious People who have a monthly residency at the Bridewell Theatre near Blackfriars. Maybe I like doing too many things.”

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Advice if you are a stripper or burlesque dancer: DO NOT GET ON THE FLOOR

John! There’s a new psychedelic from Brazil, but it’s not a plant! She’s an enormous naked fat lady – well she wears only tiny silver pasties and a matching tiny G-string so she seems naked – and she dances tango solo while delicately removing invisible clothing to rapturous applause which was – when I saw it – interspersed with moments of awed silence. All this concluded with a standing ovation.

(That was the start of another missive from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. She continued…)

I saw her – Delirious Fenix – yesterday at the Burlesque Festival in Vancouver Playhouse, the municipal theater, which used to show plays and employ actors. I was very sad when the municipal theater company was disbanded a few years ago. I thought it was a sign of the end of the world, but I had not foreseen that Delirious Fenix would perform there.

There is a clip on YouTube of her appearance on the Ferdinando TV show in Brazil.

Babe Camille 2000’s earlier ‘ass dress’

Delirious Fenix and the Emperor of Fabulous were very good, And I stood up and yelled for Camille 2000… She deserves it just for being alive, for having played a dominatrix to Iggy Pop in Miami Vice and also for wearing the costume that displayed her ass so hilariously when she was a babe!

Then there were many beautiful solo lady dancers… But WHY did almost all of them rip their gloves off in the first two seconds and end their acts humping the floor? I always used to leave my gloves on as long as possible. Otherwise you just look like an ordinary naked girl in no time.

Each act at Vancouver Playhouse had four assistants to pick up their clothing which was strewn all over the huge stage. I could tell the more professional ones because their clothes landed in the same general area…

A tables-and-tassles intermission

During the intermission, there were tables selling pasties, hair ornaments and hand-made panties. At one table, volunteers were selling courses on how to do burlesque. A young volunteer lady told me I should take an introductory course in burlesque.

“You would like it,” she told me. “It’s  for all ages.” She brandished a brochure outlining the classes available at The Vancouver Burlesque Center. The classes had titles like Discovering the Sexy You and How to Own The Stage.

I glanced at the brochure. The room was full of excited people wearing bright silly costumes and talking loudly.

“You really should try it,” the young lady said perkily. “It’s more fun than you might think.”

Camille treats Anna like Iggy (Photograph by Bazuka Joe)

I wasn’t in the mood to say that I used to be a headline act or to start explaining that I had spent fifteen solid years dancing on four continents so I didn’t really need an introduction to Stripping For Fun classes.

She looked hopelessly fresh-faced and anxious to convert me to this fun new hobby and smiled hopefully. I found myself having to shout over the surrounding conversations which were punctuated with the squealing sounds of friends admiring each other’s outfits.

“Its ALRIGHT,” I shouted. “THANK YOU BUT I DON’T NEED a brochure. I CAN’T HEAR YOU! I’M SORRY! I HAVE DIFFICULTY HEARING!”

I tried to smile kindly, waving my arms around and escaped.

The poor young girl. She had been so nice. I hope she didn’t feel too badly that she couldn’t convince the poor old deaf lady to try out a strip class.

Did I tell you that Camille 2000’s pet peeve about young strippers is when they do a ‘floor act’. She tells them in her workshops: “Do NOT get on the FLOOR!!! Get a chair. Get a prop. Get ANYTHING. But DO NOT GET ON THE FLOOR!… A STAR does not get on the floor!”

Camille 2000 is from Alabama. The way she says “on” has two syllables and sounds very pretty to me.

Oh, great… A conveyor belt broke at the airport and my flight will be delayed.

I am going to Montreal for six days. I wish it was for longer. Montreal is probably the most culturally ‘happening’ city in Canada… possibly because the rent is cheaper than any of the other major cities here – plus the immigrant mixture, good food and being a major port.

Anna Smith (left) and her group have written a book

I am going for the annual Canadian HIV/AIDS research conference. We (Dr.Dan Allman from the University of Toronto’s Della Lana School of Public Health and the Triple X Workers Solidarity Society – represented by my friends Andrew Sorfleet, Will Pritchard and me) are holding an ancillary event to premiere the short film about our ‘groundbreaking consultation’ with 50 diverse sex worker organisations from across Canada about PrEP and our various concerns about its promotion and use.

It is the project we did for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

The sponsors of the conference are mainly big drug companies like Gilead but I noticed that one of the sponsors bears the hipster-sounding name ‘Tweed’. I wondered what Tweed does so I looked it up and it is one if Canada’s largest marijuana facilities. I don’t suppose they will be giving out samples.

Seattle’s Emperor of Fabulous

I did meet the Emperor of Fabulous last night. He is from Seattle and he is a very nice man.

He took my email address and gave me his business card and said we could take a photo together but then he scampered off because the lady ushers at the municipal theater are very fierce. I imagine most of them worked as prison guards before they were drafted into the theater.

I looked up the Emperor of Fabulous on Facebook later and saw that he did a benefit for the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP).

In the United States many sex workers, mostly women, are serving long prison sentences. Conditions are very harsh.

In Arizona a woman was left for four hours in a cage in the sun and she died of dehydration, ignored by 14 guards while she begged for water. A documentary about this incident was made, with the help of SWOP Behind Bars instigated by sex worker activists Carol Leigh and Christina Sardinia. The documentary is called No Human Involved and it was released in July 2016. It has won several awards.

The incident that prompted the film was back in 2009 but I think, if anything, the situation is now worse in the United States.

There is a trailer for the documentary online.

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April Fools jokes can rebound on jokers

I am doubtful I would make a good woman.

It is April 1st today and yesterday I thought about planting a story I was changing gender and wanted, from now on, to be known as Jean Fleming.

But, frankly, I couldn’t be bothered setting it all up believably and the self-publicity was not necessarily all positive.

April Fool jokes can turn and bite the begetter.

As I write this, it is 09.30am and already April 1st stories have appeared, a couple good, one bad.

At 00.25am this morning, comedy club-runner Martin Besserman posted a Facebook message saying:

An excellent idea, because it is just about believable, especially at 00.25am in the morning. I almost fell for it, because Martin is an increasingly prestigious man, or so he tells me. In any case, what you remember longer-term is Monkey Business being associated with some sort of up-market area.

That man in the white suit on the left is a hologram. Or not.

When I woke up an hour ago, I had a Facebook message from Dan Berg of go-getting comedy streaming company NextUp saying:

Hey John, Hope all’s well! I remember you sat in the front row for our gigs so thought you might like this – a lil bit of NextUp technology which launched today so the front row is never too far away… http://lologram.co.uk

It was touting a new concept in which you can project video holograms of comedians in any location.

Exactly the sort of thing he and NextUp might do and it projected a PR image of a futuristic forward-thinking company. A comedy hologram called Lologram sounds like a great name. Good PR for NextUp.

Detailed but backfiring?

I also received an email from the Edinburgh Fringe which announced that they are building a roof to cover the area of the Royal Mile sponsored by Virgin Money… and they want you to fork out money to crowdfund it… So they have a financial sponsor (Virgin Money) and they want punters to help finance the financial sponsor.

A good April Fools joke – maybe – but one which rebounds as bad PR for the Fringe, given that it makes you wonder yet again what Virgin is actually sponsoring. Not the Fringe Programme, where a 40-word entry costs £300-£400 for 40 words and costs an arm-and-a-leg for a quarter page ad.

The seed is also planted in your brain (even though you know it is not true) that Virgin Money are calling themselves sponsors but do not have enough money and are asking ordinary people for crowdfunding to make what they do seem better.

April Fools jokes should be jolly, but not leave a funny PR taste in the mouth or egg on the face.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Marketing, PR