Will – formerly Sarah, formerly Will – Franken on drugs and shooting himself

Will Franken outside King’s cross station

Will Franken outside King’s Cross… via the British Library

When I met American comic Will Franken at London’s King’s Cross station, he had come direct from the British Library where he had been reading original Elizabethan manuscripts. But his new passion is Sir Walter Scott.

“I’m reading the Waverley novels chronologically,” he told me.

“In order of publication?” I asked.

“In order of historical setting. His dialogue is wonderful. I always read them out loud. Even if I’m on a tube train, I’ll whisper softly to myself. It creates an oral-aural link. It comes out of your mouth, goes back to your ear and tricks you into thinking you wrote it, so brings it to life more. I’m going to mention that on the course.”

In a couple of weekends, on Sunday 21st February, Will is tutoring a 4-hour workshop for comedians: I’ll Be Your Mirror: Using the Layering Craft of Mimicry to Enhance Linear Stand-Up.

Last month, he ran one called: From The Classics To The Clubs: Bringing The Rebellion Of Satire Back To Comedy.

“Why are you doing these workshops?” I asked. “A desperate need for money?”

“Nah. I really enjoyed teaching, you know? It was years since I’d done it. I used to do a lot of teaching. We did a brief mimicry exercise in the Satire workshop, but I really want to flesh it out with a new four hours devoted to faces, voices, accents – telling people how to start big and scale backwards, when to go cartoonish, when to do nuance instead of cartoonish. Dialogue’s another important thing. A gruff voice and a sweet little voice and you can get a comic effect out of the juxtaposition of the two.

“I want to teach people how to take what I consider very dry, linear stand-up routines where it’s just set-up, set-up, punchline… and use what I call the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. If the audience is not going to laugh at the concept, they may laugh at the joke. If they don’t laugh at the joke, they may laugh at the face. If they don’t laugh at the face, they may laugh at the voice. Or they may laugh at all of them.”

“Are you hanging up your dress forever?” I asked.

Sarah Franken - “There was feeling like I was a poster child for transgenderism"

Sarah Franken, now hanging up her dress and wig

For six months last year, Will performed as Sarah Franken, in a dress and wig.

“Yes,” he replied. “Well, I haven’t got rid of the clothes. They’re still in my room.”

“The wig?” I asked.

“Yes, but I wouldn’t use that again. It’s all matted.”

“If you got a rocking chair,” I suggested, “you could perform the end of Psycho.

“I appreciate you treating this with such reverence,” Will told me.

“Have you seen The Danish Girl?” I asked. “Eddie Redmayne as a woman.”

“I wouldn’t see it,” Will replied. “It reeks of trying to get an Oscar.”

“He might get another one this year,” I said. “From cripple in The Theory of Everything to woman in The Danish Girl. That sounds Oscar-worthy. That could be the title of your autobiography: From Cripple to Woman. Have you ever been a cripple?”

“No. I’ve never broken anything. Not a single bone.”

“It might be worth breaking a bone just to get publicity,” I suggested.

“No. I hate pain. Though I shot myself in the toe with an air rifle one time.”

“Why?”

“To get attention. It didn’t work. I wanted pity. I think I was 11 years old.”

“What was the reaction?”

“I don’t know if I even told anybody. It hurt really bad. It really, really hurt and…”

“You say you think you may not have told anyone about it?” I asked.

“In my family,” explained Will, “if you’re not actually bleeding with a slit throat, nobody really gives a shit.”

“But you were bleeding with a hole in your toe,” I said.

Will Franken

“If you’re not bleeding with a slit throat, nobody gives a shit”

“No. There was no blood. It was a big purple bruise. I was barefoot. It was the summer. It was an air rifle. It was a bruise.”

“You missed,” I suggested, “the key to getting sympathy by not telling anyone.”

“I think I might have told my mom, but my mom was one of those people you could never tell anything bad to. I don’t want to hear anything bad! I just want to hear about good things! I think I might have told her: I shot myself in the toe. And she might have said: Well, that’s kinda silly.

“She might have a point.”

“She’s a great study in repression, my mother.”

“What did she tell you when you were a kid?”

“She used to tell me: Make sure you never drink, because your dad’s an alcoholic and you could end up like him. So, when I was 14, I couldn’t wait to drink, because I thought: Wow! I will get to be abusive to people and everybody will feel sorry for me cos I have a disease! Same thing when weed went around.”

“The only drugs I was ever attracted to,” I said, “were heroin and acid.”

“I was never attracted to heroin,” said Will, “though, when I was a kid, I saw the Sid & Nancy movie and I kinda liked the pity. It’s like that David Bowie line: It was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor. There’s something theatrical about it, you know?”

“What attracted me to LSD,” I said, “was the expansion of the mind, but what attracted me to heroin was the downer effect, not the upper.”

“I was a big fan of LSD,” said Will. “There was no future where I came from in the Midwest – Missouri – so you might as well drop acid. I did lots of LSD and peyote and…”

“Peyote?” I asked.

“That was a brilliant experience,” said Will.

“What is the difference in the experience,” I asked, “between peyote and LSD?”

Peyote cacti in the wild

Peyote cacti add that little something extra to a cup of coffee

“Well,” Will told me, “the LSD I took was blotter acid, so there was a lot of speed and strychnine in it. I think the peyote was much more vivid. Little cacti buttons; we put them in coffee.

“About four hours into the trip, at its climax, you vomit. That was actually the highlight. It felt so pure. Just opening your mouth and feeling it fall out but not feeling like vomit usually feels. It was like a great emptying and I had an actual out-of-body experience. I think I was 17 or 16 at the time.

“I was with some friends and not all of us were on it. We were all looking at some weird art book. I was there and I was also in the corner of the ceiling, looking down at me looking at the book with everybody else. A complete schism. But I couldn’t do peyote now even if I wanted to.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m an alcoholic and, if I had a trip, I would come out of the trip thinking: Hey! It would be nice to have some weed! Then, if there’s no weed around, I’d think: Well, I might as well get drunk because I can’t stand just naked emotions.”

“But you got wholeheartedly into the drugs,” I said.

”I’m one of those people who likes to get heavily into a lot of things. I was a woman for six months. For a year in 2009, I was a Catholic, but then I sobered up..”

“I was never interested in getting drunk,” I said. “I never wanted to drink to get drunk, which is what people do in Britain.”

“Did you ever drink AT somebody?” Will asked me. “I do that all the time. You think: Fuck her! and then you drink AT her.”

“No,” I told him, “I never did.”

Will Franken

“On some of them I was completely stoned out of my mind…”

“For me,” Will explained, “weed really freed-up some inhibitions. My iTunes are filled-up with recordings from way back when I was 14.

“I was into 4-track recording when I was a kid. I think one of the reasons I perform in the style I do is I learned how to speed up a pitch and slow it down and do three voices simultaneously when having a conversation.”

“So you have recordings of yourself on drugs as a kid?” I asked.

“Yeah. on some of them I was completely stoned out of my mind. And some of it’s really, really good.”

“There’s gold on those tapes,” I said. “Comedy, narrative and autobiographical gold… Is it OK to quote all this drug stuff?”

“Oh, I’m totally cool about it,” said Will. “All the trans activists who hate me for becoming Will again may go Hey! You know, I was disappointed when he stopped being Sarah and went back to being a man, but he does drugs! … You never know what people are going to like or dislike.”

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Memories of being a table dancer, a war between strippers and a Yiddish theatre

This morning, I received an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith.

She lives on a boat in Vancouver. She used to be a stripper. Her sister is a priest.

This is what her e-mail said…


The ever interesting Anna Smith

The ever interesting Anna Smith

GOD… It’s taking me forever to get Skype.

I tried to install it myself.

Maybe I have already… It says it’s not working at the moment or something equally annoying.

My priestly sister said she could help me. She is super competent. She can Skype, do funerals and drive like a Mexican. She said it would take two seconds, but sometimes it takes me two weeks to find her. She is going to Colombia next week on a three week pilgrimage walking uphill following some nun around the jungle.

I go on a pilgrimage every second day, to get off of my boat. Yesterday, I went to the drop-in center for street girls to get some technical support from a young lady named Kay.

But Kay was busy leading a tarot card session for a small group of older women who needed cheering up. Kay retrieved the main fortune-telling card and read aloud the message: “You will go somewhere you have never been before, somewhere no-one else has been either.”

“Well,” I said, “that’s gonna be a hard place to find.” They laughed.

I had a coffee and chatted with the receptionist who was a French lady from Quebec. Somehow we got on the subject of strippers. I told her that the only club I worked at in Quebec was Le Folichon, which was the best strip club in Canada. She gasped and said: “I don’t believe it! – I used to work there too!”

Le Folichon club in Quebec

Some shared memories of Le Folichon club in Quebec, Canada

I told her: “Wow! – That was a good club…  It was so good that they fired me on the third day because I wasn’t fancy enough… It was the only time I was ever sent home… It was at Hallowe’en and they had some great acts. The star was a guy who entered the stage like a wicked witch, a drag witch. He had a broom and a cauldron with dry ice. He made all these scary gestures and explosions till the stage was blanketed in fog. When the fog cleared there was a four poster bed and Sleeping Beauty was in it. And he was Sleeping Beauty and he woke up!”

Chantelle, the French lady, sighed: “Yes, that was a nice club all right – all pink and white… and it had lace curtains. That place had class. I was a house girl there for years. I was the owner’s girlfriend.”

“Wow!” I said. ” That’s incredible.”

“Not really,” Chantelle told me. “He dated all the girls who worked there.”

“Oh,” I said, “maybe that’s why he sent me home…”

“He was a nice guy though,” she told me. “When he went to Europe he used to send me jewelry and roses every day. He was like that. His father used to be the mayor of Quebec a long time ago. His dad had wanted him to be a lawyer, but he had wanted something different… And then I was one of the first table dancers to work in Ontario. They sent a group of us out.”

“Oh! We hated the French girls,” I told her. “They ruined the business. Undercutting everyone.”

“For sure,” Chantelle agreed. “The English dancers didn’t like it. There was a war on.”

“I know,” I said. “I was in it!”

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna Smith remembers when girls kicked out the light bulbs

“The English girls didn’t know how to table dance,” she continued. “They just ripped their clothes off on the first song. You have to drag it out to make your money.”

“Table dancing destroyed stripping,” I said. “I hated it.”

“You did it then?”

“Only when there was no choice. When it first started, before they started doing blow jobs in the corners. Then the girls used to kick out the light bulbs.”

I waited around the reception area, sipping my coffee and, when the place closed, I walked with Chantelle for  a few blocks.

“I can’t believe you were at the Folichon,” she told me. “You really made my day.”

Then I went into a community cafeteria where it is pretty rough but they serve really good food. My tray was loaded with what seemed like an impossibly huge pile of vegan stuff. I found a small round table to sit at. A volunteer helped an elderly lady to get from her walker to a chair, asking: “Is it OK if she sits here?”

Anna in the dressing room at The Flamingo Motor Inn on August 3 2014 Ian Breslin generously allowed me to dance to his music in order to raise money for children of dancers orphaned by cancer

Anna in the dressing room at The Flamingo Motor Inn, Vancouver, on 3rd August 2014

“Sure,” I said, putting away my phone and rearranging my bags a bit.

The other lady only had a soup and a cookie.

I started into my meal and, after a while, we started talking. She looked elderly and odd, with frizzy black hair and theatrically painted eyeliner. She started talking about her walker. She had only started using it recently. She had had a fall in September and another before Christmas.

“It’s strange that I fell,” she told me. “I’m normally pretty limber.”

She gave a little laugh, which made her pretty for a moment.

I don’t remember what I said next but, somehow, it came up that she too had been a dancer.

“What kind of a dancer?” I asked.

“A stripper,” she said quietly.

“Really?”

“Well, I was a ballet dancer and I learned jazz.”

“That’s crazy,” I said. “You’re the second stripper I’ve met in the last hour. Did you work in Toronto?”

“Yes. At Starvin’ Marvin’s,” she said.

Starving’ Marvin’s club in Toronto

“Places she’d danced & girls she knew. She was 72 years old.”

“That’s unbelievable,” I told her. “I was just writing about that place.”

I grilled her about the places she’d danced and the girls she knew.

She was 72 years old, so she had worked at some famous theaters that had closed just before I started.

She had worked at the Zanzibar, Le Strip and The Victory, a theater which had been North America’s first purpose-built Yiddish Theater – before it became a burlesque palace.

She knew some of the dancers I had worked with. It was hit and miss. Her name was Nina and she had to apologise because she sometimes forgot what she was talking about.

“Did you know Fantasia?” I asked.

“She was beautiful,” said Nina. “But then she couldn’t work. Her boyfriend.”

“What about Mary Lou?” I asked.

“She was a go-getter. She opened a store.”

“I used to do a nurse show,” I told her. “Nurse Annie.”

“Nurse Annie!” said Nina. “She had a good act.”

She smiled at the memory, forgetting it was me who had said it.

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Filed under Canada, Nostalgia, Sex

Steve Best – Comedy Snapshots of jokey big-time publishing in the 21st century

Back in March 2014, I wrote a blog about comedian Steve Best’s book Comedy Snapshot – a collection of his photos of comedians. Now he is planning a second book titled Comedy Snapshots (See what he did there?)

“The first book acted like a calling card,” he tells me. “It was a good success in the comedy community. Foyles and lots of independent bookshops took it, but not nationwide.”

“There were a lot of comics in it,” I said. “You must have almost run out of comedians by now.”

I would not dare use my own photo – A selfie by Steve.

I would not dare use my own photo – A selfie by Steve.

“Well,” he told me, “the first book had 426 comedians. I’m just below 500 comedians for the new book. I’ve got Jimmy Carr, John Bishop, Julian Clary, Alan Davies, Stewart Lee, Al Murray, Alexei Sayle, Rich Hall, Rob Newman and people like that.”

“And you are crowdfunding it?” I asked.

“Yes. Unbound is a crowdfunding publisher – the main guy used to work for Waterstones – and I went and saw the guy and he offered me a two-book deal.

“Unbound have really good links and a relationship with Penguin/Random House. So you produce the book, Penguin have an option to publish it as well and whoever has pledged money gets an exclusive copy slightly different to the one Penguin might create. There are different pledges where you get an e-book, a signed book or whatever.”

“Sounds like you’re on a roll,” I said.

“And I’ve now got some links with galleries,” Steve told me, “so it’s become a much bigger project.”

“I suppose,” I said, “it’s a specialist book and…”

“It’s not really a specialist book,” Steve corrected me. “Penguin look on it as a joke book as far as marketing is concerned. It’s a joke book with a few facts and the photographs. Everyone has given me a one-liner joke. That’s how Penguin perceive it, though I didn’t quite want to go down that route.”

“I had forgotten the jokes,” I said. “I remember the quirky facts and stories.”

“Some of the bigger comedians,” Steve told me, “got a bit tetchy about it, thinking I was going to be using their material but, once I explained what the whole thing was, then they said: That’s great.”

“Is there going to be a third book?” I asked.

On sale from this week

The first book: a successful calling card needing distribution

“Yes, Unbound have an option on the next book – it’s a two-book deal. The third one is the book I really, really want to do. It would come out in the summer of 2017, ready for the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017. So I would do a gallery show in Edinburgh – an exhibition and stand-up, which no-one has done – as a photographer-comedian. After that the plan would be, rather than tour arts centres and theatres with a comedy show, I would tour galleries. The idea of touring galleries as a stand-up really appeals to me. You can sell the prints, you can sell the books and do the stand-up.”

“The third book,” I asked. “Would that be the same format?”

“No,” said Steve. “A coffee-table format. Because I’m being sponsored-ish by Fuji – they’ve given me a top-of-the-range camera – my pictures in this new book and the third one will look that much better.”

“So,” I asked, “they liked your first book so much they decided to throw cameras at you?”

“They sent me a top-of-the-range camera and a couple of lenses. I have two bodies and about six different lenses. There is also a possibility I may be going to Mount Everest. There’s a Guinness world record attempt in April for the highest comedy show in the world – at Base Camp, Everest. I might be going out as a photographer-cum-stand-up. In that case, Fuji would supply me with even more stuff. The problem might be it clashes with this new book. I have to design and get this new book out and it clashes. If Penguin really do take it on, I want to get the book out for Christmas.”

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Beth Vyse – How breast cancer turned her from an actress into a comedian

Beth Vyse, eating daffodils

Beth Vyse – showing her animal side earlier this week in Soho

When I met Beth Vyse in London’s Soho Theatre this week, she had come straight from lecturing drama students in acting at the University of Rochester in Kent.

“I didn’t know you lectured,” I said.

I think research can be over-rated.

“Oh yes,” she told me. “I teach at LAMDA. I’ve worked at Rose Bruford, the Manchester Met – all the big Uni colleges.”

“Worked at?” I asked.

“Taught at. Directed at,” said Beth.

“You know a bit about drama, then?” I asked.

“I know a lot about Chekhov and Ibsen and Shakespeare and that kind of stuff. I performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company a few times when I first left drama school – small parts in three Shakespeares and then I understudied the leads. I was in Taming of The Shrew, The Tamer Tamed, Measure For Measure and…”

The Tamer Tamed?” I asked.

“It’s the sequel to Taming of the Shrew,” Beth told me. “By John Fletcher.”

“Were you teaching Jacobean stuff in Rochester today?” I asked.

“I was doing animal studies with them. They study animals and the physiology of animals and how they’re weighted and how they walk and communicate and eat. They find the characters within the movement of animals.”

“Surely,” I said, “there are a limited number of roles to play in Planet of the Apes and Star Wars?”

“You can use it in anything,” Beth told me. “My comedy career, perchance.”

“When were you last a camel?” I asked.

A golden-headed tamarin (Photograph by Hans Hillewaert)

A golden-headed tamarin – it screeches (Photograph by Hans Hillewaert)

“I haven’t done a camel,” admitted Beth, “but I’ve done a golden-headed tamarin many a time. Facial expressions. Eating.”

She started making screeching noises like a small monkey.

“I also teach at Soho Theatre,” Beth said. “I teach at the Comedy Lab Plus. I work with people who are already on the circuit, sketch performers, some performance artists, some cabaret performers, some normal stand-ups. I help them to try different things, shape their sets, make them more theatrical, use the audience, eye contact, that sort of thing.”

“You always wanted to study drama at university?” I asked.

“I applied to five universities. I wanted to be a town planner. But I thought: Why not apply to one drama school? So I did. And I got an audition at Rose Bruford, got in and the rest is history.”

“Why town planning?” I asked. “That says to me: a mind that wants to organise.

“I’m quite organised when it comes to certain things,” Beth agreed. “Not with some others.”

“You want,” I asked, “to make sense of the anarchy of life?”

“Yeah… Well, that’s why I teach as well. It helps me make sense of things.”

“You want,” I suggested, “to have control – not in a bad way – over the anarchy?”

“Yeah,” said Beth. “I’m always in control. It might look like I’m completely not, but I think I am. I never let it go too much.”

“So your show scripts are very tight?” I asked.

Poster image for Beth Vyse Going Dark!

Poster image for one of Beth’s earlier shows – Going Dark!

Going Dark! was really scripted. Get Up With Hands! was scripted. As Funny As Cancer is the least scripted. I wrote lots of it, but I’ve also left room for audience members to come and play the different parts in the story – to play the Chinese doctor, to play Michael Jackson, my mum, my dad. They have to read my cancer diagnosis and that’s pretty hard for anyone. It’s funny but dark and dangerous and weird.”

“And you are a Weirdo,” I said. “I missed the Weirdos Christmas Panto AND your Edinburgh show As Funny As Cancer last year. I’m embarrassed.”

“We had a chat in the street in Edinburgh,” Beth reminded me.

“Oh God, did we?” I asked.

“It was when the Guardian article about me came out.”

The Guardian piece was headlined:

FAKE BREASTS, PING-PONG BALLS AND TEARS IN A COMIC EXPLORATION OF CANCER

Beth Vyse - As funny As Cancer

Beth Vyse – the poster for As Funny As Cancer

Beth told me: “You said I had a bigger picture than the Queen of Spain got when she died.”

“I think there was about two-thirds of a page on you,” I said.

“We have gone off course,” Beth mused.

“It happens,” I said. “When is your show next week?”

“On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Proud Archivist in Haggerston.”

“This is your Edinburgh Fringe show As Funny As Cancer…”

“Yes.”

“You started as an actress and then became a comedian.”

“I was always an actor and then I got breast cancer when I was 28 and everything got kind-of thrown up in the air, really, and the acting kind-of dried up because I didn’t really care and then… Well, I always wanted to be a comedian. I wanted to be the David Bowie of comedy or the Kate Bush of comedy – Someone who is kind of weird and experimental and changes themselves each time. I mean, I’m nowhere near doing that. I’m teaching animal studies in Rochester!”

“Well,” I said, “David Bowie and Kate Bush’s early performances were both influenced by mime. I saw David Bowie when he was a mime and…”

“I always wanted to do comedy,” said Beth, trying to get me back on track, “but I was never brave enough. So, when I got breast cancer at 28, I decided I was going to write some comedy and get up and perform it. I thought: You don’t know how long life is and you don’t know how long you’ve got. Why don’t I just try it? What have I got to lose?

“So I started writing with a friend of mine and we took a show to Edinburgh. I really enjoyed it and I’ve just been doing more comedy ever since. My comedy is big and grotesque and raw and it’s all to do with me having breast cancer. Everything I do is, really. Once it happens to you, you can’t really change that.”

“But you didn’t talk,” I said, “about breast cancer in your shows before this one.”

Beth Vyse as Olive Hands

Olive Hands: “No-one would have known what it was about.”

“I didn’t talk about it until the five-years all-clear. Before this show, no-one would have known it had anything to do with me having cancer. I played this woman Olive Hands who was a big, grotesque, daytime TV presenter. All she wanted was fame and she had a really nice family at home but never went. A constant want for something. But why? Why would anyone want this type of thing? It was all to do with that theme of wanting something you couldn’t have. In one show, Olive Hands is ill and this is where it all came from. It seemed mental and silly; no-one would have known what it was about.”

“You got the all-clear after five years?”

“Yes. I hadn’t really let anyone know except my close family and got the five-years all-clear and decided last year was the right year to do As Funny As Cancer. I’m taking the show to Leicester, Manchester, Exeter and, in April, New Zealand and I might be going to Los Angeles later in the year.”

“And the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I might take As Funny As Cancer up again, but also a new show. I want to have Gareth Morinan in it, playing Noel Edmonds. I’m quite obsessed with Deal or No Deal. It makes me cry!”

“Why?” I asked.

“People just suddenly win £40,000. I find it very emotional and it’s all done on complete chance. The idea is so stupid and ridiculous, but I find it very emotional and I’m interested in why it gets me like that. It is just boxes with numbers on them. It’s all complete chance.”

“Like life,” I said.

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Jody Kamali on what happened at the “Britain’s Got Talent” audition

Jody Kamali

Jody Kamali – a performer with bags of talent, taken aback

Yesterday, comic Jody Kamali was auditioned for TV series Britain’s Got Talent. Here is his description of what happened:


It was an experience I’ll never forget, but hope to forget.

It has never been my life’s ambition to audition for Britain’s Got Talent. I have always groaned at the format, the treatment of acts and choice of acts they put through.

So why did I do it? I really don’t know. And I still don’t. Occasionally I get these Fuck it! moments in life and, when the producer of BGT asked if I would do it, after a lot of persuading, I squirmed and said: “Er… OK then”.

My plastic bag act has always been a winner. It impresses quickly and can really win over an audience. Even Steve Bennett liked it in his 2-star scathing review on Chortle back in 2014. Harry Hill saw me do the act and, as a result, cast me in his TV pilot. The only time it flopped was in front of an audience of pensioners aged 65+ in Bristol, who stared at me blankly while I whizzed around the small stage joyously flinging plastic bags in the air.

“You do get the act, right?” I said to the producer. “Even though I am flinging those bags in the air as serious as I am… it’s supposed to be daft and silly, right? I don’t want you making me out to be a weirdo and edited to make out that I really believe I think my bag act is genuinely amazing… Please put across the irony?”

“Yes, yes, Jody. We totally get it. We love that act and think you’ll do great.”

Of course, I didn’t believe him.

I had my doubts.

I saw on Facebook that many comedians had been contacted but refused in fear they would be mocked on stage. It seems the producers were targeting the alternative acts. Really? So they can champion alternative comedian acts? Or to mock them for entertainment purposes? But maybe they really did want to find new talent other than the usual dog, dance, old folks rapping and 5-year-olds doing stand up.

Maybe – just maybe – the cards have turned.

“Do it, do it,” said blogger John Fleming. “It’s exposure. You never know who might see it.”

So I officially committed.

I arrived at the Dominion Theatre at 3:30pm, an hour late as I forgotten my passport.

I immediately got into costume and began tons of tons of non-stop interviews for BGT and BGT Extra – two different shows. There were your usual BGT wannabes there. The dance troupe featuring at least one guy with a huge Afro and also a young boy. A choir. An old couple in their 80s who do rap. A man in a lederhosen who plays an electronic accordion to rock music. An operatic transgender Filipino. And ME. Amongst others. What a bunch of oddballs we all were.

There were cameras everywhere. Hundreds of crew. I felt like I was in The Truman Show or something.

“Let’s film your entrance and exits,” said the production assistant. “Let’s have you walk in the theatre and you fall onto the BGT sign and it falls over… cos you do comedy.”

“Ah, yes. That’s comedy, of course, yes,” I said.

“Actually, let’s first film you walking up to the BGT sign there and wave ecstatically,” she said.

“Erm… That’s not really me. Can I do my own thing?”

So I settle for the ‘comedy fall’ on to the sign.

“Let’s not make it look set up,” I said. “You know, it will look cheesy otherwise?”

“Oh, we love set ups on BGT,” said the young Scottish camera girl.

So I enter the theatre, walk up the stairs and turn back and fall on the BGT sign. I actually lost control and crashed onto the sign and tumbled down the stairs, ripping my trousers, right in my crotch.

“Ahhhhh!” screamed a bunch of elderly ladies. “Help him! Help him!”

A paramedic runs over, who happens to be in the foyer.

I’m fine, I’m fine… but I need a new pair of trousers ASAP,” I groaned, covering the hole in my crotch, while the elderly ladies stood over me, concerned.

After finishing off my ‘set up’ entrances and exits, I’m whizzed up several flights of stairs to do an interview with Stephen Mulhern for BGT Extra for ITV2.

BGT Extra is fun; we can have a laugh,” said a production assistant.

After a slightly awkward interview with Mulhern, messing about with my bags, I head to do my ‘pre-interview’.

“Is this the biggest gig of your life?” asked the presenter.

“No, it’s not. When you spend thousands of pounds and work year round on a solo show, then present it at the Edinburgh Fringe in front of critics, producers etc… That is the biggest gig,” I said.

“Oh no no, like um, the biggest crowd,” she replied.

“Well, yeah,” I said.

“Well say that you do small gigs to a tiny crowd and then here you are… the biggest gig of your life,” said the girl, goading me into saying what she wanted.

It was a long interview and strange in the way that they kinda manipulate your words into creating a story that they want. I didn’t bring any family or friends with me or give them a sob story which, as we all know, they love so much.

“Don’t say you’re a comedian; say your are going to do something amazing,” said the interviewer. “We don’t want to give it away.”

I got so bored of the interview and felt the girl wasn’t even listening as her gaze drifted to the left every time I spoke. I could have literally said I suck cows’ udders for a living and she would’ve nodded with her fixed grin. I started to entertain myself by being extremely confident – “I’m definitely going to win BGT”… “I’m going to get a golden buzzer”… “The judges will be blown away”… “It’s THE most original act ever seen.”

After the interview, I started to have cold feet. I had this intense feeling come over me – like a warning sign or something. They are going to make a mockery of me, I know they are. They are not going to get it. I considered just walking out. I rang my wife, concerned, and she recommended I call my best buddy who is ‘in the business’.

After a pep talk from Andy and the fact that his friend ‘Keith Teeth’ auditioned once and didn’t get shown, I got my confidence back, knowing full well this could go either way. FUCK IT. I am going to do it. And do it with full confidence! 

Down I went to the backstage area for… yes… more interviews.

They filmed me ‘warming up’ – I was playing up to it but warming up like I meant business, doing cheesy poses, dancing, boxing – like I was about to have a bout with Tyson. I had my final interview with Ant and Dec who were lovely. And off I went….

The stage was huge – 3,000 people in the audience. A family audience. Like an audience you might see at a panto.

“Hello!” I yelled.

“Hello,” says Amanda Holden.

“What’s your name?” says Cowell.

“Jody”

“What’s your day job? Says Amanda.

“I work part time at the Royal Academy of Art.”

“Whoooooooooooo!” whooped the audience, assuming I was some hot shot impressionist or the next Damien Hirst.

“No, no I’m not an artist… I just charm affluent people into signing up to their membership scheme, where they get to see unlimited exhibitions,” I said in a cheesy ‘salesman’ voice. The audience laughed. The judges didn’t.

“What are ya gonna do?” asked Aysha Dixon.

“Something amazing and unique,” I said.

I said this because the producers told me to beforehand.

“Don’t say you’re a comedian, otherwise it will give it away,” said a producer, moments before I went on.

Alarm bells rang but I trusted them. Ah, I thought, the judges will get the irony and stupidity of the act and will get that I’m obviously taking the piss.

The music kicks in.

I run to the left and right waving my arms to get the audience to cheer. They did. 3,000. The sound was electric. Cowell looked at Amanda with a Look at this prick! expression.

I pulled out a bag.

I threw it in the air.

I could see Cowell in the corner of my eye looking at the judges unimpressed.

BUZZ.

Cowell had buzzed. No surprise there.

5 seconds later

BUZZ.

1 second later

BUZZ.

5 seconds later

BUZZ.

I lasted 25 secs, if that! I was shocked. I couldn’t believe they didn’t let me at least do one minute! I walked off stage thinking that’s what I had to do. Ant and Dec were waving at me saying “No, no” and pointing. I thought that they meant I should exit stage right, not stage left… So I did. I walked over to stage right, straight into cables and a tight corner.

“Fuck!” I muttered.

“Not that way” barked the sound guy.

I walked out from stage right and went upper stage right to another exit.

“No, no, no!” cried a production assistant. “Go back to the centre on the cross. The judges want to talk to you!”

“Ohhh… OK. Shit.”

The audience started to boo me a little bit but stopped.

Cowell was shaking his head with a Who is this idiot? expression. Even David Walliams looked unimpressed. I was surprised as I actually thought David would like my act.

“Jody, are you serious?” said Cowell.

“Nooooo!” I cried. “It’s meant to be daft. It’s meant to be so serious, it’s funny!”

All the judges faces had dropped. They ACTUALLY believed I genuinely thought that my act WAS amazing with NO irony.

“But I fought ya went to Academy Royal.. Art or summink,” said Alesha Dixon.

“That’s just a job. I’m a comedian. I’ve performed many times at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

David Walliams shuffled.

“It’s not good, Jody,” barked Cowell in way that reminded me of doing a clown workshop where the teacher would say you are awful.

“How can you not like it? Floating bags are amazing,”  I said sarcastically. “Look…”

I floated a bag. The audience cheered. I pulled another bag out of my pocket. The audience roared. I pulled another out. They roared loudly. And another. And Another. The audience were going nuts, cheering me. The judges looked stony faced.

“You see,” I said, “the audience like it!”

“Well I don’t,” said Cowell. “It’s a No.”

The rest followed suit. Four Nos. I left the stage to big applause.

I was gutted. I wasn’t given the chance to do the full act but was pissed off that I was told not to say I was a comedian. I felt set up. I believe the producers knew the judges would smash me down. If I had said I was a comedian, it might have been different.

I was rushed up stairs for more interviews. I sat down in a bit of a daze.

“What’s your name?” said the presenter.

I had repeatedly said my name and occupation, where I lived so many times… I’d had enough.

“Sorry, but I have had enough now. I’m leaving. I am fed up. I’m so tired. I’m done.”

I packed up and left, being chased by the crew, trying to persuade me to have my ‘final say’ so that I could say: “The judges were wrong.”

“No no no…” I said in a huff, “cos it will only mean I would criticise the producers for building me for up for the judges to bash me down… and you’ll edit it the way you want.”

And off I went… crew still trying everything they could to get my ‘final reaction’.

I was so happy to leave.

It was a bizarre experience.

It wasn’t me at all.

I did chuckle to myself on the way home though.

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Dr Human, the exotic dancer & the nuns

Anna Smith hospital 2013 - CUT!

A couple of days ago, I got an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. She lives in Vancouver. The e-mail read:

Oooohhhh… being injected with radioactive metal makes me feel all warm and tingly inside… but so very sleepy. I don’t recommend it… I think acid is probably better for you but I did get a little buzz.

I asked her what on earth she was going on about.

Yesterday, she answered:

I was in the hospital for tests and scanning, as a follow up to my heart surgery, as it is still a mystery why my aorta ripped. The are looking for genetic markers.

I had to fill out lengthy questionnaires at the Aortopathies Clinic. They asked strange, inappropriate questions like whether I had children and how old they were when they died.

A photograph by but not of Anna Smith

Photo by – not of – Anna

On the next form, they asked if I am planning on starting a family so, on the line where I was supposed to write the answer, I wrote: “You must be joking.”

The doctor was laughing by the time he saw me.

When I saw they were going to scan my head I thought: Wait a minute! Isn’t that taking things too far? I know it’s a university hospital, but it’s my heart not my brain that has the problem. I didn’t want to get injected with metal flakes for nothing. They’re not supposed to do that unless it’s necessary.

But my doctor – Dr Derek Human – told me sometimes there can be concurrent artery weakness in the heart and the brain, so they wanted to make sure nothing was going on in my brain. Those might not have been his exact words.

I had so many tests over the last two days that they had to give me a schedule and a map for it all.

Dr Human’s conclusion is that I am perfectly fine and there will be no problem if I want to indulge in activities such as unloading lorries or performing striptease for dykes.

Anna used to be an exotic dancer. Sometimes, on special occasions, she still is. With her message, she attached a link to a YouTube video:

She continued:

This is relevant. I used to have sparkly jeans and the stages in Soho, London, were the size of those cubes they are dancing on.

Anna Smith cutting

Memories of ‘Nurse Annie’

I found this article an hour ago from the Ottawa Citizen in 1980. It is a review of the movie The Tin Drum.

In passing, it promotes me as ‘Nurse Annie’ with ‘The Hottest Operation in Town’. At the time, I was topping the bill at The Zanzibar Circus Tavern in Toronto. I had forgotten till today that I was mentioned in a review of The Tin Drum, along with the films Midnight Desires and The Waitress

The latter two movies were filmed in ‘Eroticolor’,  a process I had also forgotten till just now. I guess David McGillivray must know all about it.

I probably saw it, without realizing what it was, in Belgium.

The Zanzibar in Toronto

The Zanzibar Circus Tavern in Toronto

At the hospital this week, I ran into my hairdresser. Unfortunately he didn’t have his scissors with him. 

I had a couple of hours to wait till my next invasive procedure, so I walked around and waited while he had his blood drawn and he explained to me where all the secret pharmacies and drinking water dispensers were.   

The hospital is owned by some extraordinarily wealthy nuns. I believe they came here to Canada from France hundreds of years ago and the first time they tried to get here they ended up in Chile by accident.

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Filed under Canada, Health, Sex

I am very grateful to be even belatedly appreciated in Peru and Milton Keynes

Since I stopped writing a daily blog at New Year, surrealism has taken over.

Yesterday, rather belatedly, an online paper based in Puno, Peru, posted a link in their Adult section to my December 2010 blog Killer Bitch and the ‘F’ word and the ‘C’ word.

PunoPeru_paper.li

Today, slightly closer to home but still more than a little surreal, an online page called Hello Milton Keynes, Here’s Your Daily News published by Atkinson Forestry (“the premier specialists in providing a wide range of quality tree surgery services, at highly competitive prices) has picked up on another December 2010 blog I wrote titled: Spending Christmas 1998 with Malcolm Hardee in Sarf Eest London.

MiltonKeynes_paper.li

It is good to be appreciated in both Puno, Peru and in Milton Keynes, England.

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Filed under Humor, Humour