Ban for life from massaging musicians at the Vancouver Folk Festival – Why?

Anna Smith – as ever, thinking blue sky (Photograph by Elaine Ayres)

I have said it before and I will say it again.

Yes I will.

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, leads an interesting life, sometimes on the boat where she lives in Vancouver.

Yesterday morning, I got this email from her:

“Guess what. I just got banned for life from massaging musicians at the Vancouver Folk Festival.”

“Why?” I asked.

This was her reply:


I applied for the volunteer massage work which I had happily done in 2112 and 2013. I enjoy giving massages and it is interesting meeting musicians, even the ones I already know. I have never had any complaint about my massages, ever.

This morning, I received a letter from one of the festival co-ordinators stating:

There is a lifetime ban on you volunteering for the festival from an incident that occurred in 2013. I trust you know what it is in regards to. I’m sorry for not communicating earlier, but the info has just caught up with me. Cheers.

In fact, I don’t know what it is in regards to. It is upsetting but also hysterically funny that this supposedly peaceable music festival has banned me for an incident that I am not even aware of.

I remember massaging a huge, very polite mariachi singer who kept his clean white underpants on and a guitarist whose back was fucked from too much driving.

I massaged the teenaged daughter of a protective blues singer and the daughter talked to me about her school.

I ran into violinist Ben Mink and Dennis Nichol, a bass player who had played at The Zanzibar in Toronto who remembered me as ‘Nurse Annie’ (Anna’s stage persona as an exotic dancer).

None of these people were unhappy to see me.

And I got to hear Lucinda Williams sing Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

It surely could not be because I took a photo of the lady with cucumber on her face or wrote about the hula hoop theft in a comedy blog, could it?

Dressed as a nurse, I stripped for lesbians, but my strip show at The Penthouse was just a month ago, so it could not have been that.

And (unlike Malcolm Hardee) I have never driven any tractors, naked, through any other performers’ tents.

I feel dissatisfied just being banned for life from volunteering at the Vancouver Folk Festival. I wish they could ban me for life from volunteering for anything.

Especially now that summer is here and soon men will be falling in the river again. And dogs.

I have just woken up. It is very peaceful on the river except for a couple of crows causing a little ruckus from the treetops.

Anna’s exotic dancer alter ego – ‘Nurse Annie’

Very late last night, when I was downtown, I met a little old lady as we were waiting for a streetlight to change. She was pushing a walker and was elegantly dressed in a light blue jacket with a long matching blue coloured scarf. She had curly white hair and I almost had to stop her from heading into a busy street before the lights changed to green.

“I’m 94 years old!” she cried cheerfully. “I would give you a hug but I’ve run out.”

She fumbled with a small green purse.

“I had a thousand when I set off this morning,” she told me, “but I’ve given them all away. I give them to everybody. They are only this big… about two inches…”

I heard a skateboarder rumbling towards us, so I stood closer to her.

“We have to be careful,” I said. “They don’t realise the damage they could cause to people our age.”

“It’s true,” said the old lady. “But they are nice, the young people. When I tell them to stop, they always do and they are so sweet about it.”

“I’m 94 years old,” she repeated. “I’m not supposed to be out this late, but I was giving out hugs. People need them, you know. They say Vancouver is the loneliest city in Canada. I’ve had grown men crying in my arms.”

I walked her to her bus stop and waited there with her.

A fire engine drove past and she waved excitedly to the firemen.

Firemen outside the Balmoral Hotel in Vancouver this week

“Oh,” I said. “You wave to firemen? I do that too. I waved to some this afternoon, outside the Balmoral Hotel.”

“I wave to firemen and to the police,” she told me. “And ambulances too.”

Then her bus arrived and she boarded it. She greeted its driver enthusiastically.

I plan on staying home today, thank goodness, so I don’t expect to face the cruel world of folk festivals or anything. I think I may do some gardening when it cools down.

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Award-winning UK comic to write play about Twin Peaks director David Lynch

Mr Twonkey promotes his Christmas in the Jungle in Brighton

So I had a chat with Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers at King’s Cross station in London.

He was on his way back home to Edinburgh. Last year, he won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“How were your Christmas in the Jungle shows at the Brighton Fringe?” I asked.

“It was so hot,” he told me. “I don’t think people were feeling… They were… It occurred to me that maybe doing a Christmas show in the middle of the summer isn’t such a great idea.”

“But surely,” I said, “with your act, to do a Christmas show at Christmas would be a silly idea.”

“Well,” he replied, “I was pitching it as The only Christmas show on at Brighton in June. Unfortunately, there was another one called The Grotto. And, when I was flyering for it in the street, people were asking me: What’s wrong with you?”

“You are,” I checked, “still doing Christmas in the Jungle at the Edinburgh Fringe this August?”

“Yes.”

“Have you seen the new Twin Peaks TV series yet?”

“No. But I am trying to write a play about David Lynch.”

“Your previous play was Jennifer’s Robot Arm,” I said.

“Yes. That was more kitchen sink drama/science fiction. This would be about people who actually exist.”

“How are you getting the facts?” I asked. “From Wikipedia?”

“Various sources. There’s a few books about him. The trouble is none of them are any good apart from one which is not bad: Lynch On Lynch, which is a series of interviews with him.”

“Does he know anything about himself?” I asked.

“I would imagine there are a few gaps. But there’s also a good documentary online about someone following him around while he’s making Inland Empire.

“And there’s a book coming out in February 2018, published by Canongate Books which has his full support. I think it’s called Room To Dream.”

“So your play,” I asked, “is about… what?”

“I want to focus on is the time he spent in London. The early part of people’s careers is always the most interesting. He was living in a flat in Wimbledon, making a suit for The Elephant Man.

‘You know, in Eraserhead, there’s a little deformed baby. I think he kept it very damp. I think he used chicken and raw animal flesh, moulded it together and used maggots quite a lot – to eat away the face. And then he kept it damp. His daughter wanted to play with it and he told her: You can play with it as long as you don’t touch it.

“After Eraserhead, he was a cult figure – a young hotshot director – and he had a few films he was trying to pitch. One of them was called Gardenback, which was about a community of people who could only speak to each other by passing an insect between them, either through the ear or through the mouth.

“The studio kept pushing him to write dialogue for it and he couldn’t write any. He said: Well, that’s the whole point: that they don’t speak. They communicate by passing the insect. So that project was shelved.

“Then he had another project called Ronnie Rocket, which was for the actor of restricted height in the Black Lodge. It was like Rocket Man, but he was small and it was surreal and it had villains called The Donut Men. But no-one would pick it up.”

“Jam on the fingers?” I asked.

“Yeah. So then they just gave him a pile of scripts and he picked The Elephant Man without reading it. Mel Brooks was producing it.”

“Mel Brooks,” I said, “once told me that, whenever you get your photo taken, you should always open your mouth.”

“Did he? Anyway, Mel Books had had success with Young Frankenstein as a black & white film and I think he quite liked the idea of re-invigorating the genre and Eraserhead had been in black & white.

The Elephant Man was a big responsibility for David Lynch and apparently it was the closest he ever came to committing suicide. He almost put his head in the oven in Wimbledon during the development process. I was going to have a bit in my play where he puts his head in the oven and it turns round and Mel Brooks comes out from a theatre where he has been viewing Eraserhead.”

“This is live on stage?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Will the insects from Gardenback take part?”

“They could. But I was thinking focussing more around the fitting of the costume. They gave him six months to make a costume for The Elephant Man based on the fact he had done well with the baby in Eraserhead. And apparently what he created was horrendous. John Hurt came round for a fitting and he couldn’t hardly breathe or walk and certainly couldn’t act in the costume.

Mr Twonkey takes a train and a door north to Edinburgh

“So that process was unsuccessful and a lot of money had gone down the drain and I think that was when he thought about putting his head in the oven.”

“And the costume in the finished film?” I asked.

“I think, essentially, he got someone else to make it. There was a bit of controversy on the set because he was young but had experienced British thespians like Sir John Gielgud and Anthony Hopkins who had been round the block a few times. I think there was a friction with young David Lynch adapting to these older British actors.”

“Maybe they didn’t talk about it,” I suggested.

“What?”

“The elephant in the room.”

“That’s a good title.”

“You just have to make the play relevant to the title,” I suggested. “Would you perform in it?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re the wrong shape for David Lynch,” I suggested.

“I don’t think I could play him convincingly enough for more than 5 or 10 minutes; then I would run out of steam. It needs to be a proper actor.”

“The good news with a play about David Lynch,” I suggested, “is that there’s no limit to the possible surrealism.”

“It can be a BIT eccentric,” Paul agreed. “It can be a bit Lady in The Radiator in Eraserhead.”

“But it can’t all be that. What would give it real poignancy is revealing a bit of his history that people didn’t know about. The main scene would be the fitting, where it goes wrong.”

“Hold on,” I said, “If you are going to do a show about David Lynch making a costume he can’t make, you have to make the costume, don’t you?”

“That’s true.”

“Is that a problem?”

“It will have to be a good costume.”

“The one that isn’t successful…”

“Yes. But it can be really horrendously bad. That will be good.”

Mr Twonkey and Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Northern Railway (1911-1923) and the London & North Eastern Railway 1923-1941). He designed The Flying Scotsman train.

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Filed under Comedy, Movies, Surreal

How to write, structure and maintain a TV soap opera like Coronation Street

Many moons ago, I used to work a lot for Granada TV in Manchester, home of Coronation Street which, since its birth in 1960, has been the UK’s regular ratings-topper.

I never worked in the Drama Department at Granada – mostly I was in Promotions with slight forays into Children’s/Light Entertainment.

But I remember having conversations with two Coronation Street producers at different times about the structure of the soap and they both, pretty much, ran it along similar lines.

The first, crucial pillar to build a soap on is a central location.

In Coronation Street, the BBC’s EastEnders and ITV’s Emmerdale this is a pub – the Rover’s Return, the Queen Vic and The Woolpack.

River City in Scotland and Fair City in the Republic of Ireland have also taken the pub to their soapy hearts.

The pub allows you to have a central core cast – a small staff and ‘regulars’ who live locally – and a logical reason why new characters bringing new plots will enter and leave the ongoing storyline.

ATV’s ancient soap Crossroads used a variation of this by having the central setting as a motel.

In the case of Coronation Street, there was (certainly when I worked at Granada) a formula which went roughly like this…

DRAMATIC STORYLINES

  • one main storyline peaking
  • one main storyline winding down
  • one storyline building to be next main storyline
  • one subsidiary storyline peaking
  • one subsidiary storyline winding down
  • one storyline building to be next subsidiary storyline

COMIC STORYLINES (as with dramatic storylines)

  • one peaking
  • one winding down
  • one building

I have always thought that EastEnders fails in ignoring or vastly underplaying the possibility of comic storylines. When Coronation Street is on a roll, it can be one of the funniest shows on TV.

I confess shamefacedly that I have not actually watched Coronation Street lately (well, it HAS been going since 1960, now five times a week, and even I have a partial life).

But another interesting insight from one of the producers at Granada TV was that Coronation Street (certainly in its perceived golden era) was also slightly out-dated. It appeared to be a fairly socially-realistic tableau of life in a Northern English town, slightly dramatised. But it was always 10-20 years out-of-date. It showed what people (even people in the North) THOUGHT life was currently like, but it had an element of nostalgia.

This was in-built from the start. The initial ‘three old ladies in the snug’ of the 1960s – Era Sharples and her two cronies) is what people thought Northern life was like but, in fact, that was a vision from the early 1950s or 1940s or even 1930s. So modern storylines were being imposed on a slightly nostalgised (not quite romanticised!) vision of the North.

In other countries where pubs are not a tradition, of course, you have to find another central location.

But, in my opinion, if you lessen the humour and harden the gritty realism, you may maintain ratings figures in the short or medium term, but you are gambling. And if your spoken lines sound like written lines (as they often do in EastEnders) then you are a titanic success sailing close to an iceberg.

But what do I know?

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“Frenzied tit grabbing in Wetherspoons” after throat-slitting at the Grouchy Club

Yesterday, performer Samantha Pressdee posted in Facebook: “Frenzied tit grabbing in Wetherspoons, all in the name of feminism, is where last night’s Grouchy Club wound up.”

Critic Kate Copstick and I run The Grouchy Club. This was originally conceived by me as a one-hour chat show for the Edinburgh Fringe where I would not have to do any advance work – boring things like booking guests and thinking up subjects – and would not have to do anything on the day because the guests would be the audience and the audience would be comedy industry people self-obsessed enough to witter on for at least 55 minutes while I sat back and listened to the audience gossip and self-promote and Copstick got irate about something and ranted and raved.

It is the reverse of a normal show.

At the Grouchy Club, the audience performs and I do nothing.

Job done.

Copstick and I are back at the Edinburgh Fringe this year 14th-27th August with a daily 2.15pm Grouchy Club show. It is not listed in the main Fringe Programme because heaven forfend that I should have to fork out money or that ‘real people’ should turn up. It IS listed in the Laughing Horse Free Festival programme because that does not cost me money. Our shows are genuinely free – No collection bucket. Free to enter. Free to leave. Free to say what you like. May contain nuts.

It does not get vast audiences but does OK by Fringe standards and, as I said in a recent blog, at the Edinburgh Fringe, what is important is not the number of bums-on-seats you get but whose buttocks they are.

This original Fringe idea turned into a monthly Grouchy Club in London and a weekly podcast which I stopped in February this year after 100 editions but which may re-start around Fringe time, as Copstick likes to hear the sound of her own voice.

The latest monthly live London Grouchy Club was two days ago. It is always the second Tuesday of the month. Why? I have forgotten. I am old, bald and my grip on reality is loosening.

Anyway, semi-regular (in attendance, not in bowel movements) Siân Doughty observed yesterday on Facebook: “It was an eventful evening and the most fun I’ve had on a Tuesday in years”.

I billed it in advance as being about “the General Election; the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe; advice on writing, structure, performance and how to get publicity and reviews… Plus an insider’s description of the London Bridge terror attack… a 10 min excerpt from an upcoming Fringe show… and slanderous gossip.

Copstick – Her bark is worse than her bites

“Kate Copstick will be on painkillers,” I continued, “and have jet lag from Kenya. I will probably have had a tooth extracted a few brief hours before. Copstick will almost certainly be bad-tempered. I will gibber and dribble. Usually, we end up talking about dubious sexual practices and who the cunts are in comedy. And there are free biscuits.”

When it came to it, almost none of this happened except that Joe Palermo did describe being in the middle of the London Bridge terrorist attack (with a description of slit throats and all) Edinburgh Fringe/Eurovision Song Contest podcaster Ewan Spence had some unprintable gossip and there were free biscuits. Copstick was the healthiest I have seen her in about two years (but then, inevitably, she went in to hospital yesterday) and I still retain my tooth, at least for the moment.

At around 9.00pm, as often happens, everyone decamped to the nearby Wetherspoons pub and I went home, thus missing the bit Samantha Pressdee mentioned: “Frenzied tit grabbing in Wetherspoons, all in the name of feminism.”

Samantha is one of the studio psychics on and an occasional presenter for Psychic TV. Last night, she did a TED style talk on Maslow’s Pyramid and the Law of Attraction. But that is too up-market for this blog. I asked her to expand on the tit-grabbing. And she has:

“The tit-grabbing was a great relief to me,” she says, “as, earlier in the evening, I had found myself sandwiched between Noel Faulkner, former owner of the recently gazumped Comedy Cafe and David Gersch, new promoter of what was the Comedy Cafe. Noel (in effect) threatened he would set the comedy Illuminati onto Gersch.

“This time I had remembered to bring a bottle to the Grouchy Club. I was glad of a drink, having lugged my fat bin bags around London in the heat that day. The bin bags  contained some clothes and bedding that will shortly be off to Aleppo in Syria via the Mama Biashara collection point.

Samantha reads Gersch’s uncertain future in the cards

“With the threat of Illuminati forces in the air, I thought I should channel some positive energy so brought out my tarot cards. I began reading for Gersch who was wearing a a baseball cap backwards embroidered with his catchphrase CLASSIC GERSCH. Noel wished the death card on the 25 year old. And it was the first card to come up.

Are the Illuminati real? I wondered. Noel, as if psychic himself, nodded and explained they have a secret way of winking.

“He calmed down a bit after a beer and the angel cards brought some laughter to the room. The angels suggest Noel and Gersch take it outside when they both pulled the ‘fresh air’ card. They left the party early (but separately).

“Comedian Siân Doughty was given confirmation from the angels that her decision to opt out of our Prosecco drinking was the right one. Her calm energy had a taming affect on our debauchery but, still, she did not escape a tit grab later.

“Copstick is a well of a wisdom – we learned the most wonderful cure for a hangover. Which, like most of the best things in life, involves nudity.

Joe’s story, reported in the Evening Standard

“I made a new feminist friend called Sarah – on her arrival she lobbed a bag of bras across the room that are bound for Kenya, via Mama Biashara.

“She and I bonded over our mutual hatred of another feminist and found we both support The English Collective of Prostitutes in their bid to decriminalise sex work.

“When we went to Wetherspoons, we discussed the virtues of Chris Dangerfield and the problems with third-wave feminism before the conversation moved on to the wonders of tea tree oil. We shared our experience of using this magic potion as a natural cure for vaginal thrush.

“Socially conscious Sarah interjected: What if a woman is not privileged enough to own a douching kit?

“Copstick immediately swung in her seat, both legs erected up in the air, and jiggled. The Wetherspoon community, of course, did not bat an eyelid but it may have been too much for sweet Simba, a street musician I had befriended on my fag break. He was considering entertaining us at the next Grouchy Club on July 11th but, after the demonstration of how to achieve a healthy vagina using the upside-down method, he made his excuses and vanished into the night.

“What an adventure!

“Earlier, the angel cards had verified that John gives trustworthy guidance and Copstick is loved by many, bringing joy to those whose tits she touches.”

Samantha added to me:

“If the blog goes up, could you link to my Edinburgh Fringe crowdfunder at the end? I am offering my Tarot readings as a perk! Perhaps at the bottom it could say: Would you like a psychic reading from Sammie? As a mystic she regularly appears on Psychic TV, has featured in It’s Fate and has over 200 5 star ratings. For a £25 donation to her Edinburgh fund, you can get a 20-30 minute reading in person or on the phone.

The appealing Samantha’s Edinburgh crowdfunding video

I told her No – it is too blatantly commercial for this blog, because the whole point is to plug me and the Grouchy Club.

If she is psychic, I wouldn’t need to tell her this and she wouldn’t need to tell anyone anything.

I asked if she had any pictures of the tit-grabbing.

She said No.

Life is a never-ending frustration.

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Between the Sheets with Polly Rae, Entrepreneuress of Burlesque…

Polly Rae, entrepreneuress of burlesque

Tomorrow night, burlesque entrepreneur (entrepreneuress?) Polly Rae is fronting the first of seven summer shows called Between The Sheets at the Underbelly’s Spiegeltent on London’s South Bank. It is her fourth year there.

“Why that title?” I asked her.

“Because it’s a show about sex. I am the host and invite everyone into my boudoir to share my fantasies and sensualities.”

“Not a one-woman show?” I asked.

“No. There are eight of us. It’s a variety-cabaret-burlesque show. We perform as an ensemble but they also have individual acts. We have circus performers, male dancers, a clown-comedienne. We’ve been refining this show with various different casts for 4 or 5 years. This is our fourth season here at the Underbelly. The core cast has remained the same.

“The main headliner is an artist called Kitty Bang Bang, a burlesque fire-breather. We call her The bad ass of burlesque, the wild child, the rocker, the whisky drinker, the whip cracker. Lilly SnatchDragon is our hilarious, glamorous clown-comedienne. And we have Beau Rocks. In her act, she explores the more erotic and sensual side of burlesque – a contemporary act with UV lighting and UV paint. Quite a saucy, futuristic act.”

“Burlesque is stripping,” I said.

“Yes,” agreed Polly. “It is absolutely stripping, pioneered in 1940s and 1950s America and, obviously, Dita Von Teese has popularised it for this generation. I’ve been doing it for about 12 years.”

“Do your parents have a problem with stripping?”

“If you define the physical act then, yes, of course, it’s stripping. But the context is different from stripping in a gentleman’s club. Burlesque is very much about theatre and old-school Variety. It has the combinations of dance, comedy, singing, dancing and the various skills we use.

“So my parents don’t mind at all; they’re very encouraging and they love it. They come to see my shows… My mum brought me up on Madonna… Madonna in the 1980s!… What kind of influence was that?

Ensemble assemble Between The Sheets

“I like to think this show is quite titillating. I like to think it is quite hot under the collar. But it’s not explicit. If there are any moments that are explicit, we soften it with humour. I think it’s very important to have humour in my shows. You’ve got to balance sexiness with wit.”

“Parents in show business?” I asked.

“Not at all. Really, my influence came from my mother bringing me up on Madonna. My dad was an architect. Being an architect was his profession but, as a hobby, he worked on Gerry Anderson TV programmes as a model maker. He worked on Stingray. One of his main shows was Terrahawks… There was a big spaceship; he designed and made that.”

“But not a performer…” I said.

“I grew up loving performance,” Polly told me, “but I didn’t go to stage school. I originally wanted to be a special effects make-up artist. That was my original dream. My dad and I used to watch horror movies – science fiction alien movies and Freddie Krueger and so on. My dad actually worked on the movie Alien.

“When I was born, he moved back up North to Preston and his movie career was over. He was supposed to go and do the second movie – Aliens – but then my mum got pregnant with me and he chose not to carry on, which I feel a bit guilty about: he might have been in Hollywood now.

“I was a beauty therapist out of school. Then I moved from Preston to London and met lots of performers and that changed my life. At 19 years old, I flew to New Orleans and worked on the cruise ships for a few years, in the Caribbean.”

“As a beautician?” I asked.

Polly Rae – “a culture-building exposure” – reddy for anything

“Yes. But what was great was I got to see performers’ lives. It was such a culture-building exposure, meeting people from all parts of the world. I made friends with a lot of the dancers and singers and started to think: Ah! This is quite interesting!

“I decided I wanted to be a Social Host – like MCs who run the games, host the karaoke or whatever – but I couldn’t get that job because I had no experience. So, long story short, I started training in dance and singing and, around 2005, I met Jo King who runs the London Academy of Burlesque.”

“2005,” I suggested, “is around the time burlesque became respectable? Stripping was seen as sleazy but burlesque was acceptable showbiz.”

“I didn’t know what burlesque was,” replied Polly. “That was in 2005. My first performance as a burlesque artist was 2006.”

“Which was,” I said, “roughly when it started to get profile in the UK.”

“Yes,” said Polly. “Dita Von Teese had started slowly, slowly chipping away at the mainstream in the 1990s but, come the early 2000s, that’s when London cabaret clubs started. Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club had a show called The Whoopee Club. Then there was a show at Cafe de Paris called The Flash Monkey and a show Lady Luck and a venue called Volupté opened.

“I started working at Volupté and at the Soho Revue Bar – formerly the Raymond Revue Bar. I jumped on the bandwagon at the perfect time. I was in there just BEFORE everyone wanted to go and see a burlesque show and I formulated a troupe of girls called The Hurly Burly Girlies.

Polly Rae and her Hurly Burly Girlies troupe went West End

“Being a burlesque artist, you have to have a gimmick and my thing was singing and I had my troupe of girls with me. There were no troupes at that time.”

“What sort of singing?” I asked. “Ethel Merman?”

“More of a pop ’80s route…”

“Madonna…?”

“Exactly! Exactly! And it worked a treat, John! I wanted to try to be different and to appeal to a wider audience. I figured: If my audience knows the music, I’m gonna get a wider crowd. We worked on musical arrangements of modern songs. We made modern songs sound old. And we did pop songs but we dressed vintage.”

“Post Busby Berkeley?”

If you got it, flaunt it!

“Yes, post Busby Berkeley, for sure. I took a lot of inspiration from Dita Von Teese in the beginning and I think her styling is late-1940s/early 1950s. I also did the whole 1950s bump ’n’ grind thing to classic music like Benny Goodman. We just sort-of mixed it all up, really.”

“So,” I said, “You developed this over time.”

“Yes. I met a gentleman called William Baker, who was Kylie Minogue’s artistic director/visual stylist for the last 25 years. I told him I wanted to make the biggest burlesque show the world – or maybe the UK and Europe – had ever seen. I wanted to create the Cirque du Soleil of burlesque shows.

“I thought at the time I just wanted a stylist: someone to help me on my way a little bit and help me improve the production values. But William said: If I’m going to come and work with you, I want to direct it and bring in my entire creative team.

“And so we created The Hurly Burly Show. It started in 2010 at the Leicester Square Theatre, then we did a season the following year at the Garrick Theatre and, the following year, a season at the Duchess Theatre. After that, we did it in Australia and South Africa. We had a good 3 or 4 years of wonderful madness.”

“Cabaret and burlesque,” I said, “are colourful, kitsch, camp and…”

“Exactly,” said Polly. “It’s diverse, it’s innovative, it’s creative and it’s so unbelievably individual. That’s what I especially love about it.”

“So where can you go now?” I asked. “You have peaked.”

“Being on a West End stage was amazing,” said Polly, “and I won’t stop saying it was the most incredible experience of my life. However, as a burlesque/cabaret artist, when you’re in the Garrick Theatre, there are two balconies and you can’t see anything because the spotlight is blinding you and I can’t connect with the audience in the same way.

Between The Sheets – summer shows

“The intimacy in the Spiegeltent is amazing. You can connect with the audience. In Between The Sheets, we are walking in the aisles, physically sitting on people, stealing their drinks. It’s almost immersive. You can see everybody’s face. I can connect.

“It’s not a West End theatre, but I’m much happier in the Spiegeltent. I feel much more at home and stronger as an artist. My goal is I want to see people react, whether I make them laugh, cry, feel turned-on. The satisfaction of seeing that achieved is amazing.”

“If you have the house lights full up, though,” I suggested, “the audience can feel threatened.”

“Yes, you have to get the balance right. It’s not about having lights up; it’s the proximity. And choosing the right people in the audience.”

“So,” I said, “upcoming, you have…?”

Between the Sheets is my summer project and I like to think we might get picked up and do other little tours here and there. But I also have a residency at The Hippodrome every Saturday night. I also manage the dancers there and do some MCing for corporate parties. And I’m getting married next year.”

“Is he is showbusiness?”

“He’s in hospitality. His name is Eric; he’s from the United States; he’s been here for five years.”

“He’s a lucky man,” I told her.

Polly and Eric

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Filed under Burlesque, Performance, Sex, Theatre

How to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award…

Comic legend Malcolm Hardee knew a little bit about Africa. (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe are all about originality. This blog is a lazy re-hash of a piece I wrote last year.

But, as Malcolm would have said – indeed, often did say – “Fuck it! It don’t matter. There are people starving in Africa. Not all over. Round the edge… fish.”

The best way to win an Award and to honour Malcolm’s memory would be to either steal one or to  ‘lend’ me £500 and not expect to get it back but, whatever your angle, the first thing is to know is what the awards actually are.

The three Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards await collection

There are three and they are given in memory of the late Malcolm Hardee.

Obviously.

Who he?

He was, according to The Guardian, the “patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts”.

The Daily Telegraph called him “godfather to a generation of comic talent” and, in their 2005 obituary, the Independent said he was “the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years”.

The last quote must be totally true because I wrote the obituary myself and included that phrase on the basis that future lazy journalists would simply blindly copy it.

Several have.

But it is arguably entirely true.

The current three annual, increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are:

THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award with Edinburgh Castle behind

Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality

Basically, the judges have no idea what we are looking for. If we did know what we were looking for, we would be able to define it and it would not be original. The award is for a performer not for a show and anyone who approaches me touting a “family friendly” children’s show is way wide-of-the-mark. Malcolm was known for having the biggest bollocks in show business and for showing them to everyone. On stage, his habit of getting his knob out at the drop of a testicle was not ideal BBC1 primetime material.

If you are family friendly and mainstream, don’t even think of trying for the award.

If your act is literally incomparable – i.e. it is impossible to compare it with anyone else’s – then you could be onto a winner.

This automatically means that someone standing at a microphone telling brilliant gags has no chance unless there is something odd in the characterisation or delivery – simultaneously juggling a mixture of babies, kittens and blancmange might give you a chance. But it’s still basically stand-up comedy. I have seen it before. Likewise most sketch comedy (which also has the disadvantage of multiple performers).

Past winners of the award have been Reggie Watts, Doktor Cocacolamcdonalds, Edward Aczel, Otto Kuhnle, Robert White, Johnny Sorrow, The Rubberbandits, Adrienne Truscott, Candy Gigi, Michael Brunström and, last year, Mr Twonkey.

THE ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD

The Act Most Likely Award awaits its fate in Edinburgh this morning

For Act Most Likely To Make A Million Quid

The title says it all, really.

The judges have to take a wild punt on who may survive the vagaries of – and triumph over the good and bad luck inherent in – a comedy career to attain seldom-attained financial success.

There is no point anyone approaching us to suggest themselves. If we think you are likely to fulfil the future requirement and win it, that’s our call, not yours.

Past winners have been Bo Burnham, Benet Brandreth, Trevor Noah, Luisa Omielan, Laurence Owen and ’The Baby’.

I voted against the last one. The others argued that, by the time he was grown up and died, due to inflation, £1 million would be equivalent to £10 today.

THE CUNNING STUNT AWARD

Desperate pose with Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

I pose with the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

This is the one the press like. It is for the best CUNNING stunt promoting a Fringe performer or act or show.

Pay close attention to the inclusion of the word ‘cunning’.

Riding an elephant painted pink down Princes Street and inviting the press to see it is a stunt but it is not a cunning stunt.

This award was started when comic Gill Smith sent me an email saying she was nominating herself for the Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that her email to me allowed her to legitimately put on her posters and flyers MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE. She said she thought Malcolm would have approved. I thought he would too and started the award.

The winners have been:

GILL SMITH – for that initial piece of chutzpah.

LEWIS SCHAFFER – for convincing several publications that he was the new sponsor of the (formerly Perrier) Edinburgh Comedy Awards for £99 and that his mother and agent would be on the judging panel.

STEWART LEE – for successfully encouraging people to vote for little-known Japanese act Frank Chickens in a poll for Best Fringe Performer despite the fact they were not performing at the Fringe. (As a result of the publicity, ironically, they did end up performing at that year’s Fringe.)

KUNT & THE GANG/BOB SLAYER – for getting fans to put stickers depicting penises on the posters of rival acts to promote Kunt & The Gang’s show. Personally, I never liked the original stunt but Bob Slayer, Kunt’s promoter, kept the publicity stoked-up and refreshed for so long in so many ways it became a work of PR art.

STUART GOLDSMITH – for a series of YouTube videos about Fringe censorship of the title of his show Prick.

BARRY FERNS – for printing and distributing around Edinburgh fake copies of Broadway Baby which gave his show 6-out-of-5 star reviews and reported that his show had been nominated for the Fosters Comedy Awards, in both the main category and the newcomer category.

CHRISTIAN TALBOT – for using his 12-year-old daughter Kate to go up to strangers in the street, looking sad, ask them “Have you seen my daddy?” and, when they said “No”, handing out flyers to them.

MATT ROPER – for hacking into the Facebook account of Malcolm Hardee judge & Scotsman reviewer Kate Copstick and posting fake messages – purportedly from her – “bigging himself up”.

BECKY FURY –  for putting on Tinder her Fringe flyer in an attempt to lure lustful males to her show… and claiming on her publicity that she was a ‘Last Minute Comedy finalist’ – implying it was for the Lastminute.com Comedy Awards (the former Perrier Awards) when, in fact, it was for a little-known Hertfordshire comedy club contest


John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

John Ward, designer and manufacturer of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards

The judges for this year’s Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are:

MARISSA BURGESS
Freelance arts journalist/comedy critic for The List, Fest, Chortle etc.

KATE COPSTICK
Chief Comedy Critic of The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday.

BRUCE DESSAU
Comedy Critic of London Evening Standard; editor of beyondthejoke.co.uk.

JOHN FLEMING
Co-host (with Kate Copstick) of the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club.

JAY RICHARDSON
Freelance journalist for Scotsman, Guardian, Sunday Times, Channel 4 etc.

CLAIRE SMITH
Freelance journalist, reviewer and feature writer for The Scotsman.


Malcolm Hardee – a new meaning to stand-up

The Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show takes place in the ballroom of The Counting House in Edinburgh on Friday 25th August as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival.

The two-hour bizarre variety show will include the announcement and presentation of this year’s awards and the annual Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette contest.

The show is free. You cannot buy tickets in advance. You have to queue. Life is a bitch. Live with it.

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick in Kenya: charity, child rape, schools, tribalism

Continuing on from yesterday’s blog, more edited diary extracts from Kate Copstick in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity… The full diaries are on her Facebook page.


Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

WEDNESDAY

Doris is in the High Court this morning, taking her rat of an ex-husband for some support for the kids. He has never given a penny. David is both disapproving and skeptical: “This is Kenya. This cannot happen.”

I have finally reached Jayne in Awendo. I get a texted wish list that includes nail polishes, sanitary pads, perm curlers, school shoes and sundry other needs. She also, she says, ‘needs to talk’ about my finding her a sponsor for the school. This is such old ground. She knows I was against the school in the first place.

Schools are simply unsustainable without a hugely and eternally generous donor. She educates the poorest and the neediest in mud huts her husband built and it is all great but then she also insists on a Graduation Day for the tinies where they spend money they do not have on bloody mini mortarboards and diddy gowns.

Mama Biashara just cannot get involved in schooling.

However anyone out there who would like to take one on…

I get the same from Felista.

Actually my very dear old (not that old) school friend Rachel has just sent Felista a wedge of money to help pay for the teachers in her school at DECIP. Felista was ecstatic. I don’t think either Jayne or Felista has ever met a child she couldn’t love. Having said which, Felista is currently struggling with some of the kids brought to her from Awendo.

“Eh, the Ruos!” she says. “Crazy people!”

The Luo tribe and the Kikkuyu are a bit like Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs in Glasgow.

“We have a beeeeeg girl at DECIP, and she is a Rrrruo and she dances nikid. NIKID! And she is beeeeeg!”

Felista, stalwart Mama Biashara co-worker with Copstick

Felista doing an impression of a naked, plump, large-breasted Luo sixteen year old “dancing nikid” is something that will live with me for a long time.

“She says it is her culture,” Felista tells me, screwing up her face. “THIS is not culture. To dance nikid.”

We head out and plunge into the gooey, smelly, crazy mess that is Gikomba market. I get a load of sanitary towels at a wee wholesalers and we decide to make for River Road to get started on Jayne’s list. It does not go particularly well. The traffic is solid. When the jams are like this, there are small crashes and broken down cars and trucks every few hundred yards, creating a jam within a jam. It takes an hour and a quarter to make what should be a ten minute journey.

I hurtle up and down River Road (on foot. There is no hurtling anywhere in a car). The big cosmetic wholesaler is rammed. I am all for physical contact but this is crazy. Sweaty. And deeply unpleasant.

As I fight my way up to the back where the nail polishes are stacked I am horrified to see two fully armed soldiers: flack jackets, helmets and AK47s. It is a bloody cosmetic shop!! Maybe they are expecting a jihad against vain, non-burka-wearing women? But with the push and pull of the crowd we are one wrong finger away from nastiness.

I get Jayne’s stuff and leave. Next, I search for wool. Nada. I give up and we go back to Gikomba where, as darkness falls, we get school shoes for Jayne’s orphans, some great scarves, I have a spirited conversation in German with a Kenyan lady ‘ho’ who had lived in Stuttgart for fifteen years. We drew quite the crowd. My giving her my phone number in German practically gets an applause break.

I buy a great watch for £1 and we eat absolutely the finest and most delicious chicken innards ever, grilled to crispy on the outside and served with a red hot salsa from some boys with a grill in the middle of the mud patch that is now New Pumwani Road.

Sorry veggies and vegans, the sight would have appalled you, but at least the Kenyans eat everything from a dead animal. On the grill were liver and heart combos, neck, gizzard, wiggly intestiney bits, feet…

The man from the little kiosk where I sometimes buy milk greets me like a long lost friend. I told him my Kikkuyu name (Nyaguthie, whch means ‘Let’s go’ or ‘Keep going’) and he uses it at every opportunity. He introduces me to his mates and I am almost immediately proposed to. I politely decline. They want to know if I have a husband at home.

“No,” I say. “No husband.”

“Eh! Unachelewa!” exclaims my wannabe hubby. “You are late !!”

Copstick (left) working for her Mama Biashara in Kenya

THURSDAY

I may have mentioned that the ‘roadworks’ have made the journey to and from home an absolute nightmare. With a vast detour necessary through the grimier parts of Gikomba and surrounding areas.

I had noticed, as we squeezed the car through a gap, a young girl selling sugar cane juice so, as we pass this morning, I tell David to stop while I buy some.

As I leave the car I feel the front wheel of a pikipiki collide with my leg. This particular tiny rat run is beloved of the pikipiki boys.

I turn and rip into him, channeling Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, I roar: “I’m walking here!!”

The pikipiki boy is so gobsmacked he apologises while his colleagues hoot with laughter.

I am meeting Joan to give her a bag of sunscreen for her albino group in Kibera and a load of HTC’s Cod Liver Oil and Kids’ Fish Oil.

“This is life” nods Felista, who has joined us for lunch.

“It is” agrees Joan.

The little hut we built for Dan and Joan’s disabled therapy group has been demolished to make way for more soldiers to camp out at the Kibera DC’s office. There is an election looming and Kibera is always a hotspot. But Joan has all the stuff with her at her new house. So it will be built again. She had to move because a lot of the work she and Dan do is with sexually abused children.

The men, generally, are immediately released on police bail (if caught). And the Kibera courts are notorious for saying “Men will be men” and letting perpetrators off with a small fine to rape again.

So Joan and Dan get a LOT of threats.

Dan gives me their current file which includes a girl, now in Nairobi Women’s Hospital with seventeen stitches holding her together, raped by her stepfather… a trio of three and four year olds, one of whom cannot leave her room because, if she sees a man, she just starts screaming “No! No! No! No! No!”… some six and seven year olds raped by uncles… and a girl of twelve who is six months pregnant by her next door neighbour.

Child rape is endemic here, with Kibera and Kawangware seeming to be particularly bad.

“Luhya and Kisii men,” says Joan.

“Luo men,” says Felista.

Joan says nothing, Joan is Luo. She currently has four raped girls staying with her because they are not safe around their own families and there is nowhere else for them to go.

At Corner we meet Andy again. He has been chasing green stone for building and has just returned from Juja. We drink beer, eat stewed goat and then politics rears its ugly head.

David is 100% Kikkuyu. If a pile of shit in a bag stood for president, as long as it was Kikkuyu shit, he would vote for it.

Andy is so horrified by David’s refusal to acknowledge that President Uhuru Kenyatta has basically sold Kenya to the Chinese to get a railway and some decent roads to his credit that he will not even shake hands with him as we part.

David hoots with laughter.

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