On stage, 86-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller hugs a gorilla and rips off her clothes

The incomparable Lynn Ruth

Lynn Ruth lived in San Francisco for nearly 30 years. In her last blog, she mused on the changing face of the city. But she was really visiting there to perform…


My first real performance in San Francisco this time was a comedy gig at Ashkenaz in Berkeley. 

My favorite comedian of all time, Aundre the Wonderwoman, came on stage.

Besides being amazingly funny. Aundre Herron is my hero. During the day, she is a lawyer for the people on death row. She was one of the first black women accepted to Radcliffe College and has worked her way through undergraduate and graduate studies to become a first-rate lawyer and a top-notch comedian.  

She is highly political and a staunch defender of the underdog. One of my favorite of her succinct observations on current culture is when she says (I paraphrase):

“Kids these days murder their parents. I didn’t know it was an option.”

When you listen to her comedy, you cannot help but see the illogical injustice that permeates our world. Her comedy is what I think all stand-up should be: words that open a window to social issues that no-one else dares to discuss.

The headliner was a new breed of comedian who had no idea that she was supposed to tell jokes. She gave us lots of poses and contorted facial expressions and went on and on about her mother and her life for a very long time. I am not sure if this is the direction American comedy is going and if the old fashioned pattern of set up/punch has gone out of style.

The next night was my one-hour stand up show I Never Said I Was Nice at The Marsh Theater.

It was a huge privilege to perform at The Marsh. When I lived in San Francisco, I applied several times to perform my Edinburgh Fringe cabarets there and I was never accepted. Now, because they became aware of my UK and European successes, I was able to do I Love Men there last year. I filled the house thank goodness and the show was a success.

Will I ever be a confident performer? I was a nervous mess as I sat in the lovely spacious dressing room in The Marsh, but my delightful tech lady, Raye, was so encouraging that I finally relaxed and did my performance to a combination of friends old and new.

One woman in a wheelchair informed me that she had seen me ten years ago at Gazo’s Grill in Pescadero, California, and that I had not changed a bit. All I could think of was: Did I look this old and wasted at 76?

When I finished the Marsh show, my trusty driver Leo (who has traded babysitting my dogs for caring for me), drove me to the DNA Lounge for Hubba Hubba’s Murder Mansion Show 

Hubba Hubba was the first burlesque show that started booking me regularly in San Francisco. It was created and is now run by the delightful and very funny Jim Sweeney who MCs each event. He adds special comic touches that embody the original spirit of burlesque. In his bigger shows, there is a gorilla who welcomes each act and prances about when the going gets boring.  

I love that gorilla.  

Lynn Ruth was billed as “The Stripping Granny” at the Hubba Hubba this year

He is the sweetest living thing on the Hubba Hubba stage and we often have a quick cuddle during my act. But then I have always been a sucker for hairy men.  

There is always a scantily clad lady on the stage as well, waving a sign at the audience saying HOORAY! just in case they do not express their appreciation loudly enough.

When I first started performing at Hubba Hubba, the shows were in a tiny bar in Oakland where there were only a few seats along the side of the room. The majority of the audience stood to watch us all rip off our clothes on stage to a screaming, clapping, joyous audience. 

Burlesque is not just twirling tits and wiggling bums in Jim’s shows. I have never been in any production there that doesn’t have a great deal of tongue-in-cheek repartee. This time, I sang to a backing track while the gorilla helped me fiddle with my clothes but, sadly, I had sent the wrong version of the song to the sound engineer.  

We had had no time for a sound check and the result was that I was ripping off robes and chemises singing my heart out long after the music stopped.  

The gorilla didn’t care and thank God neither did the audience. They roared with delight.

I was a hit.

Saturday night was my big local show, Crazy Cabaret at A Grape in The Fog.

This place was one of my former stomping grounds.

I lived in Pacifica for almost thirty years and I never believed anyone knew who I was. My neighbors called me The Dog Lady. The rest of that world didn’t notice me at all.  

Although I had two Public Access TV shows that ran for almost 15 years, it wasn’t until about a year before I left town that someone stopped me while I was walking the dogs and said: “You are the TV Lady!”

Newspaper column spawned two books

Chris Hunter was the editor of the Pacifica Tribune while I was writing my column for that paper. He asked me to do a regular column. He had written a feature about me while he was just a reporter and when he was promoted to management, he decided he wanted to add a little oddball humor to the paper. This was the first real break I had in the newspaper world. I was paid $25 a column. I called it Thoughts While Walking The Dog and that is the title of two books that are compilations of those columns.  

I have never forgotten what Chris did for my ego and my writing career. To my utter joy, he and his daughter came to the show at A Grape in The Fog. It was his birthday and we celebrated with a drink and a lot of songs.

The real highlight of the evening, though, was when Ruby Finklestein did her warm-up introduction for me. Ruby is ten years old. Her father Judd runs a winery in Napa. Ruby has always wanted to be a stand-up comedian – a profession I didn’t even know existed until I was 70 years old. I told her she could tell a few jokes to start the performance and, I assure you, she stole the show.

I also have a friend in Pacifica who was a student in one of my adult art classes. Her name is Ursula and she is from Germany. Her father was a Nazi. I am Jewish. She told me story after story of how the German people starved during World War II and how her father had to join the Party to save his family.

Ursula is an example of someone who takes her responsibility as an immigrant to a new country seriously. She has her citizenship; she speaks English beautifully; and she worked for years tutoring children in English grammar as a volunteer. She is a talented artist and has continued working in soft pastels long after I stopped teaching and turned my attention to comedy. We have continued our friendship and no visit to Pacifica world be complete without Ursula.

But she is currently facing what we all will have to face one day. Her husband Werner is finally succumbing to the multiple sclerosis he has had for years and years. Ursula was forced to put him in a care home because she could not possibly care for him at their home. She visits him every day. She is also dealing with the prospect of preparing to be alone without him.

She and Werner have been married for at least fifty years and now my dear friend realizes that she will have to explore new avenues to fill her life, once her beloved husband is gone. One of her granddaughters is living with her now to help her through this terrible, demanding and frightening transition. The granddaughter has a dog and that dog has been Ursula’s solace. We sometimes forget how comforting it is to sit with a dog in your lap stroking its fur and absorbing its calm.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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The decline and possible fall of San Francisco, as seen by Lynn Ruth Miller

Lynn Ruth Miller back where she once was

The uniquely-talented American comedian and writer Lynn Ruth Miller has been on her travels again. This time she returns (almost) home…


I finally arrived in San Francisco at 10:30 the ‘next’ morning. I had gone more than a day with no sleep but, somehow, as soon as I landed in that familiar airport, I felt in sync with my surroundings.

My first night in the Bay Area is always spent reminding lots of people that I have arrived in the place that was once my home. I never felt very important while I lived here and never believed I made any kind of an impact, even though I had two television shows on their public access TV station and wrote for the local newspaper and a regional magazine.  

California is one of the most liberal states in the Union, yet there is that American sub-context to all that we do: wealthy white men are in charge of us all. Everyone else is a lesser being and when any ordinary bloke earns a job promotion, accolades in his field or even a seat on the bus, he owes it to that hidden aristocracy that is in charge of all we receive and even what we dare to think.

That sense that no-one really matters in the bigger picture except those in the privileged class permeates the culture.  

But, at my friend Leo’s house, I was treated like the most important human being on the planet and, of course, I ate that up.  

Leo, his wife Carol and I always talk about the disintegration of San Francisco, because this once noble city filled with glamorous, sophisticated people has become a dumping ground for the homeless. Tents, sleeping bags, cardboard boxes and even RVs clutter the streets and empty lots. 

San Francisco is no longer a safe city. If you walk alone on its streets you are targets for robbery, bullying, even murder. People are hungry and desperate here. And conditions get worse every time I return.  

A homeless camp in Oakland in May 2017, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle (Photograph by Santiago Mejia)

According to Leo, the homeless have set up encampments and the city is doing nothing to help them. They have become a scourge on the population and people are moving out of the city in droves. That is hard to believe when I see the traffic that clogs the highways. It seems to be bumper-to-bumper traffic at every hour of the day. So SOME people are still here.

Whenever Leo discusses the multitude of freeloaders who do nothing but take as much as they can from the state and do not want to work or even seek proper shelter even if you offer it to them, I think of my dear friend Brett.  

Brett has miraculously reinvented himself. He has recovered from both drug and alcohol addiction, earned a degree in business in his forties and, with much perseverance, has climbed the employment ladder from the bottom. Now in his early fifties, he has qualified for a middle management job in San Francisco. His salary is right in line with what he should be earning. He had achieved his goal.

Yet he cannot afford to rent a flat of his own. He lives in a 10ft by 10ft room in a house he shares with two other men. The house is an hour’s commute from his work.

If people in well-paying jobs cannot afford decent housing, how on earth can we expect someone who is a clerk in a hardware store or who works in a bakery to be able to take care of his basic needs much less put a roof over his head?  

(Photo: Jp Valery, UnSplash)

Surely, a society as wealthy as this one can manage to give its citizens shelter, food, and a sense of dignity. To me, these are inalienable human rights.

The mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, has been trying to get legislation through that will create affordable housing but has failed. The city’s Board of Supervisors refuse to ease the antiquated regulations that make every building permit outrageously expensive and so complicated that nothing can get done. Hard-working people like Brett are destined to receive salaries that cannot possibly cover their basic cost of living.

Leo also is very disturbed by the deluge of illegal immigrants who come over here and claim medical and housing benefits for themselves and their children, when ordinary hard-working folk have to struggle just to keep a roof over their heads.  

Sound familiar to British readers? It doesn’t seem to be Eastern Europeans milking the system over here. It is Mexicans and pretty much all people of color.   

Leo is talking about a law passed in California that gives low-income adults between the ages of 19 and 25 living in California illegally the right to be included in California’s Medicaid program, the joint state and federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

However, these costs to the state are balanced by what is saved in police protection, medical emergencies and jail maintenance.  

Illegal immigrants are people who do work for far less than minimum wage and are excluded from nearly all social services. It is greedy employers who hire these people because they do not want to pay a fair salary for the jobs they want done. They are causing this exploitation of hungry, desperate people willing to work for any wage just to have money for food.

I get the sense that Californians are very angry, especially in the Bay Area.  

They see the prices of everything going up and up; wages going down and down; housing prices and rents soaring sky high; and their streets are littered with homeless colonies where people are defecating in the streets, belligerently demanding money from pedestrians and defacing the neighborhoods residents once all loved.

Those who are comfortably housed and comparatively well-to-do believe that homeless people are either drug addicts or lazy sloths who milk the welfare system when they could easily earn enough money to feed and house themselves.

San Francisco, city of unexpected contrasts (Photograph by Simon Zhu via UnSplash)

Yet every statistic insists that the majority of homeless people living in those tent cities on San Francisco’s streets are there because they lost their job and could not find another or the job they have does not give them enough money for both food and a roof over their heads.

Still, the city of San Francisco has a magic all is own.  

Now that I am a visitor, I do not feel the despair that longtime residents feel.

I understand why tourists love the place. The free jazz on North Beach; the charming cable cars; the ocean and the Bay; the beautiful Victorian homes…

All of it is but a thin façade that hides furious, disillusioned and hopeless people failing to make a comfortable life there.

For way too many of my friends, this magic isn’t enough to offset the cost of living.  So many of them are moving to places like Austin, Texas… Ashville, North Carolina… and even Boise Idaho.  

The beautiful weather and the gorgeous landscape is not enough to make up for the rampant crime on the streets and the outrageous cost of a loaf of bread.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Poverty, US

I mistook someone else for me in comic Janet Bettesworth’s pre-novel ‘doodles’

She studied Fine Art & Photography at Hornsey College of Art.

Everyone inevitably makes instant judgments on people’s characters at first sight: solely on their looks. But we seldom see ourselves as others see us.

Comedian, art connoisseur and Grouchy Club regular Janet Bettesworth recently announced: “I’m going to write a novel by doodling the characters first.” She studied Fine Art and Photography at Hornsey College of Art.

She is currently posting drawings – she calls them ‘doodles’ – on her Facebook page and asks three questions for Facebook Friends to answer about each unknown person sketched. For example:

  • What is his name?
  • The love of his life?
  • His taste in furniture?

I recognised the 25th sketch was of fellow Grouchy Club regular Peter Stanford. Janet’s questions were:

Peter Stanford – airlifted to safety after a farming incident?

  • What’s his name?
  • His most recent airborne experience?
  • Way of organising a picnic?

Answers included:

  • His name is Nils, he was airlifted to safety after a farming incident. Picnics for him are rye bread & herring & fermented ale.
  • He used to get gigs as a Brian Blessed looky-like until he accidentally boarded an EasyJet to Finland, where he found a lot more work playing Santa to tourists, and now he drinks mulled wine all year round.

And, from Peter Stanford himself:

  • Definitely one of the gods in your novel. Cranach looks down at the mortals giving the Deserving pieces of good luck and mugs of tea. He is rarely airborne as he can transport himself between the godly and earthly realms instantaneously. His worshippers organise ‘Picnics’ (feasts held indoors in the colder months and only outside in high summer) for the poor and homeless – and anyone else – in his honour as part of their devotions, instead of building temples. When he was appearing on earth, he drank mugs of tea, which he shared with other people. “Don’t build any temples”, he told them. “Just organise picnics and tea.” The cult is always in danger of dying out.

A few days later, Peter pointed out to me that No 30 in Janet’s series looked a lot like me, though with different-shaped spectacles. I had a look and thought: Well, bugger me, that does look like it’s me!

The three questions Janet asked of her Facebook Friends were:

Is this me? – or Piggott de Pfeffel-Partridge?

  • What is his name?
  • His opinion of Boris Johnson?
  • His chances of winning the Lottery?

The answers seemed to reflect more on the personality of the commentator rather than on me and tended to reflect British people’s somewhat unhealthy continuing obsession with Brexit and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

  • Glenn Thoresby. What he really thinks of Boris Johnson is unprintable here; enough to say he believes that the British people have been lied to mercilessly by this entitled upper-class toff who doesn’t give a monkey’s: a feckless, narcissistic, utterly irresponsible public school product, a marionette of Dominic-whom-nobody-voted-for-Cummings. Glenn’s chances of winning the Lottery are nil as he doesn’t buy the tickets. He believes they are an exploitative tax on the poor who, (like Brexit voters) think they have a chance to turn their fates around on a million to one statistical odds. This doesn’t stop him from buying raffle tickets occasionally, though, especially when the prize is a good bottle of plonk and/or the beneficiaries’ cause is a good one.
  • This is a cracking picture. I think his name is Peter Egg and he’s a foodie: a London restaurant critic who is zealous about plant-based foods to the extent that the smell of animal products cooking now makes him gag. Restaurants where he dines now have to put him in a separate room and block the doorframe with towels and wet loo paper to stop the offending molecules reaching his nose. He thinks Boris is an execrable pig or walking pork roast. He has no chance of winning the Lottery as he never enters. It only penetrates his consciousness when he goes to the theatre and sees its logo at the bottom of programmes for plays it has funded.

Janet Bettesworth – Edinburgh Fringe, 2012

  • Dimitri Dennis Zabaroski. He won’t win. He doesn’t do Lottery. Hates the foreign man who won up the road… they should fuck off back home. (Both parents immigrated to Luton in the ’50s.) He works at car plant locally and knows a lot of foreign people abuse the system. Likes Prince Andrew and his confidence. Likes Borris and wants to have a flag pole outside his house with Farage and Union flag. Council refused planning application. All foreign.
  • This is Piggott de Pfeffel-Partridge, known to his closest friends as 3Pee. He is a second cousin, once removed to Boris. He is immensely proud and fond of his childhood pal, with whom he roasted chestnuts and netted little jars of frogspawn when the families got together for camping trips. They frequently got their shorts mixed up, being almost identical in size and shape. They still swap Christmas jumpers, particularly the ones gifted by Rachel as she seems to find the ones with the rudest slogans… Piggott has enjoyed a varied career, which includes a brief spell as a fluffer in a Hollywood porn production company (he was sacked for making badly edited and shaky copies on his secret camera which discreetly attached to his paisley patterned cravat). He also worked as a rickshaw driver in Hong Kong, normally stationed outside the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon but few tourists engaged his services due to his extremely eccentric hats and comedy Chinese moustaches… He eventually made his fortune writing haiku messages predicting the purchasers’ marriage prospects onto extremely dark and gloomy canvases which sell for many dollars all over the USA. In his own way, therefore, he has already won the lottery so has no need to buy tickets on the weekly National Lottery, which he disdains with a passion – matched only by that of his antipathy to the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission.

I contacted Janet, because I thought it would make an interesting blog to run her drawing of me with strangers’ character assessments of what this unknown person might be like.

But there was a snag…

She told me it was NOT a sketch of me at all: in fact, it was a sketch of her husband! She said he found the comments amusing – He does despise Boris Johnson, but he does do the Lottery.

Now Janet HAS included a sketch of me. Sadly with less interesting comments/suggestions. 

Does this Jewish man appreciate a good, well-shaped calf?

Her questions were:

  • What is his name?
  • His over-riding passion in life?
  • Way of dealing with problems? 

The responses include:

  • Manny Silverman. Loves small investments. Still dining out on making £35,000 on ‘Britcoin’ a couple of years ago. Cigars and coffee are how he copes with life’s complexities. Don’t mention the time he passed on Apple shares, though.
  • Godfrey was a prostate specialist and his hands could reach parts that others… but now volunteers at his local city farm delivering calves – His approach to life? He always gets stuck in and is happy to get his hands dirty
  • This is Howard Silver. He’s a nice East End Jewish boy now living in Southgate. He’s a life-long socialist and lives in a rented housing association flat that he got through Rachel, one of his cousins who works there. He doesn’t own anything, aside from the clothes on his back and a few sticks of furniture, all the books on Communism he’s read were borrowed never bought. He’s lifelong Labour, red through and through but was recently upset by the growing anti-Semitism in the party so he voted green for the first time ever in protest. He’s what Yiddish speakers would term a poor old nebbish.
  • His name is Frank Gibbins. He thinks that the world has become strange, impersonal and unnecessarily complicated… He seeks solace in the simplicity of nature and its instinctive laws, eg. the way that the ducklings follow the mother duck, the unquestioned authority of the silverback gorilla in setting the direction of his troop and keeping it in order… He likes to sit in the park for hours, observing the behaviour of humans as they centre themselves in selfies against the backdrop of the beautiful autumnal leaves or wander around oblivious to the creatures of the forest…Sometimes he’ll draw them in his book and imagine their thoughts.
  • Constantine Gras – because he looks the spit of a friend of mine called Constantine Gras. Well, what he’d look like in about 30 years. He’s tall – maybe 6’2. He’s an artist/filmmaker.
  • Who are these people? (Photograph: Jez Timms via UnSplash)

    Clive Earnshaw. Son of a bookkeeper and an apiarist, he has inherited a calm demeanour in all kinds of crisis situations, which served him well in his job as an emergency medical technician. His overriding passions in life are his sibling’s children, for whom he would do anything. His search for meaning led him to a retreat in the North African desert and he converted to the Sufic branch of Islam. His way of dealing with problems (apart from whirling) is to quote soothing aphorisms such as: This too will pass. He is deeply peaceful.

The trite lesson to be learned from all this?

People see totally different characters and backgrounds in exactly the same faces. Initial assumptions about people can – and very often are – wrong.

Peter Stanford’s view my sketch was:

  • This is Derek Milchman, a friend of No 30: that one which looks like him. They sometimes swap glasses and pretend to be each other. If this is a humorous book, with hilarious results; if a grim book, this leads to a tragedy which ruins everyone’s lives.

Janet replied: “I am not entirely in agreement. For students of phrenology and physiognomy, it may be observed that No. 30 has a receding jawline, whereas No. 39 has a protruding one. I do like the idea of a tragedy which ruins everyone’s lives.”

Comedy critic Kate Copstick, recognised me: “This is John Fleming!!!” And Peter Stanford asked Janet: “So what role are you going to give him in the novel?”

A “slightly caricatured” very loose self-portrait

She replied: “If you’re referring to the author of the Malcolm Hardee biography, the hands are too big and seem to be coated with some kind of white substance.”

Janet also told me that she had included a “slightly caricatured” very loose self-portrait – No 31 in the bunch.

And below are three more of her drawings.

Janet tells me: “I do two types of doodles – one where I’m basing it on a real person, and the other where I do random scribbles with my eyes closed, then a face gradually emerges out of the chaos, like seeing faces in the fire – that way is by far my favourite…”

One final comment and query from one of Janet’s Facebook Friends sums it all up, though: “I keep wondering why you’re writing a novel when you’re so ‘geniusly’ good at drawing – Or are you even better at writing?”

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What it’s like to be gay in Kenya today…

The below is from journalist Kate Copstick‘s ongoing diary in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based…

Cologne Pride, 2015… a banner with the flags of 72 countries where homosexuality is illegal


I need to tell you about the latest ghastliness to blight the land of happy safaris and dancing with Maasai.

A short while ago, the Kenyan government had a chance to behave like decent human beings and revoke laws criminalising homosexuality, in line with pretty much exactly what their own 2010 Constitution says. But no. They went with the old Colonial Penal Code forbidding “carnal knowledge contrary to the laws of nature” – which, according to people who obviously know bugger all about nature, means homosexuality.

They also refused to stop forced anal examinations by police (which are supposed to be a sure way of telling if you are a friend of Phillip). And, of course, the bigoted, the ignorant, the religious and the bastards rejoiced and began a happily homophobic spree.

Today I met up with Vicky for her beverage of choice – Cafe Latte – and a catch-up and planning meeting for Mama Biashara.

Vicky is straight, but a greater ally than could possibly be imagined in a country like Kenya. I ask her about the situation and she sighs the Vicky sigh that says things are not good.

Of course, there are beatings and killings (there always have been, but now the government has decreed they are probably for the best) and, of course, no one in a job is safe from being outed and immediately fired. Ditto people in rented accommodation.

60% of gay people (it is reckoned) have been or are still married with children here. And that means when they are outed very often those around them evince displeasure with their lifestyle choices by sexually abusing their children.

But the worst thing is that gay guys are frequently being denied access to AntiRetroViral drugs in government hospitals. And not just ARVs but all manner of medical treatment.

The gay community is fast disappearing underground, says Vicky. She has hundreds of people wanting help from Mama Biashara. So, this time, we are going to help a load of gay (and lesbian) groups to get to a safe place (few and far between) and start a business and a new life.

This will almost certainly be outside big towns, because even Mombasa – once very gay-friendly – has become ‘hot’.

Our big challenge will be finding safe places to meet them. But that is where our Mama Biashara network comes into play.

One group who is particularly desperate is, she tells me – wide-eyed – a group of gay Maasai men.

I cannot begin to imagine how tough it must be to be a gay Maasai.

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“A Ghost Waits”: How singer Tom Waits inspired a romcom (?) horror movie…

This is not my blog. It is a syndicated piece sent out by a PR company to plug the world premiere of new movie A Ghost Waits at the Arrow Video Frightfest event in Glasgow next month. I have not seen the movie, but the interview is interesting…

It is an interview (slightly edited by me) with first-time director Adam Stovall, who describes himself on Twitter: “I direct audio books. I write things. I really like hot wings and Kentucky basketball.”

The film’s blurb reads: “Jack’s job is to fix up the house. Spectral agent Muriel’s eternal task is to haunt it. They should be enemies, but they become fascinated by one another and eventually smitten, leading them to question everything about their work, lives and decisions. But as duty calls for both, something’s got to give for them to have the time together they so desperately want.”

The PR billing for this interview piece is: “Director Adam Stovall reflects on getting through depression,  creating paranormal romance and the influence of Tom Waits…”


You have an interesting CV – from comedy theatre and film journalism to writing for the Hollywood Reporter and 2nd Assistant Directing. Was all this a game plan to becoming a fully-fledged director?

Adam Stovall: “Movies meant more to me…”

I’ve known since I was a little kid sitting in the basement watching the network TV premiere of Back To The Future while holding my Back To The Future storybook and waiting for them to premiere the first footage from Back To The Future 2 during a commercial break that movies meant more to me than they did to those around me. And that’s not a low bar – my dad worked as a projectionist all through his college years, and my mom takes my aunt to see at least one movie a week. I remember seeing Pulp Fiction in the autumn of 1994 and suddenly realizing that a) cinema was far more elastic than I had previously thought, and b) it helped the world make sense in a way nothing else could. That was when I knew this was my path.

But I grew up in Northern Kentucky, which felt like the furthest you could possibly get from Hollywood. I spent my 20s trying to do anything else and be happy, to no avail. Towards the end of my 20s, I was mired in a severe depression, getting wine drunk and writing scripts on the weekends. Then, my dog died, and it put into stark relief just how alone I was. So I sold as much of my stuff as I could and moved the rest to L.A. so I could pursue film.

Quickly I had the thought that I’d feel pretty stupid if I moved 2,000 miles and just sat in my room, so I started volunteering in the Creative Screenwriting screening series. After eight months of that, I wrote for a magazine, which closed down, then a friend asked me to work on his movie. I was not supposed to be the 2nd Assistant Director, but they ended up with a budget far smaller than they thought they’d get so, as people left the production for higher-paying gigs, I kept getting promoted. It was an incredible experience and the best education I could have asked for in terms of no-budget filmmaking. It clarified for me where money needed to go, and where money went out of habit.

So yeah, that’s a game plan…

Did the story of A Ghost Waits come as a sudden flash; were you inspired by the likes of Ghost and Beetlejuice?

Playstation video game P.T. was one inspiration for the film

The idea for A Ghost Waits came from a video game and a web comic. I am not a gamer, but I was visiting some friends and they told me I needed to play a game called P.T. which was designed by Guillermo Del Toro and Hideo Kojima. It’s a first person puzzle game where you have to walk through an L-shaped hallway in a haunted house, doing specific things in time in order to open the door at the end of the hallway, which then puts you back at the beginning of the hallway.

At some point, it occurred to me that there might be a movie in someone like me having to deal with a haunted house. While I was working on that, I saw a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic where a man asks a woman what she thinks is the most American film. She answers, “Ghostbusters,” and he asks why. She explains that people get demonstrable proof of an afterlife, but the whole thing is about growing a small business and navigating government bureaucracy. I thought, “That’s hilarious and also I want to see that movie.” So I wrote it!

How long was the development process and where did you obtain financing?

Development on A Ghost Waits moved irresponsibly fast, haha. I had the idea in November 2015 and we shot in August 2016. Normally I have all the time in the world to write, since nobody cares about a spec script being written by a no-name, so the process of writing with so many eyes on me was equally exciting and daunting. Fun fact: I usually name characters and title the piece late in the process, but I wasn’t able to do that here since we needed to create documents for casting and whatnot. So I went home, opened up my Tom Waits discography and named every character after a Tom Waits song. And then named the movie after him, because he is one of my creative north stars…

(Actor) MacLeod Andrews and I had spent the previous year trying to get another movie made, but just weren’t able to raise enough money. One of the investors we met in that time remained very excited to make something so, when I had the idea for A Ghost Waits, he immediately said he’d invest half the production budget. My mom had told me to let her know when we had a firm budget number so, once we had half the budget, she invested the other half. That covered principal photography and then MacLeod and I put in our own money to cover pickups and post-production.

How do you describe the movie? A supernatural comedy? A paranormal romance? What?

I’ve been referring to it as a haunted house love story, but paranormal romance is good – maybe I’ll start using that!

Was the choice to shoot in black-and-white more an artistic or budgetary consideration?

A bit of both, to be honest. I love the B&W aesthetic, so it was always a possibility in my mind. I mentioned my idea to my Unit Production Manager during prep while we were on a location scout and she told me not to do that. We shot in colour with the intention of staying that way, but we also shot with two different cameras – the Blackmagic Ursa Mini and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema – which yielded slightly different looks. I drove myself crazy trying to match the images in colour-correction and, one day, MacLeod said, “Have you thought about just making it B&W?” Because MacLeod is the best person ever. Once we used a B&W LUT (a colour-grading file) on it, it felt right, tonally and aesthetically. Would we have gone with B&W even if we had more money? Who knows! Just another possibility for the pile…

When did you first meet MacLeod Andrews? Did you write the part of Jack with him in mind?

MacLeod and I met on the set of a film called Split, a bowling rom-com, which filmed in Louisville, Kentucky. I met the filmmaker on a panel, and he asked if I’d be down to come work on his movie. MacLeod is a native of Louisville, and had worked with one of the producers on the film before. We instantly hit it off and I was struck by his obvious talent and charisma, so I sent him a script I’d recently written. He dug it and we decided we wanted to work together.

I absolutely wrote the part of Jack for MacLeod. To the extent that, if he’d said no, the movie would not exist. Fortunately, our brains function on similarly weird frequencies, so we’re usually intrigued and excited by similar ideas.

What about Natalie Walker? How did you come to cast her as Muriel?

I’d been following Natalie on Twitter for a while and was impressed by her humour and brilliance. I had a feeling that casting her in a role that demanded she sublimate her energy would yield a similar result as when Robin Williams was asked to do the same for dramatic roles. I emailed and told her about the project and offered to send over the script so she could check it out and see if it interested her. She responded that she was very interested, so we talked and she did a self-tape, which was perfect. We hopped on FaceTime and I offered her the role.

The chemistry between MacLeod and Natalie is wonderful. Was that instant or did it need nurturing?

Instant! We never even had a table read, much less any rehearsals, so the first time they met was on set. Since we had such a small crew, I was always doing a multitude of jobs, which limited how much time I was able to spend with them. A lot of their dynamic is due to the work they did on their own.

Where did you film and for how long?

We filmed in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Lakeside Park, Kentucky. Principal photography was 12 days in August 2016 and then we did the first set of pickups over four days in April 2017 and the last set over a week in February 2018.

What does having the World Premiere at FrightFest Glasgow mean to you?

Cesar A. Cruz once said, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” At my lowest, movies have made me feel less alone, and I wanted to make something that could do that for someone else. We made a small, personal, weird film, and it means the absolute world to know it means something to others and is finding its place in the world.

Finally, what’s next for you?

We’re working with a couple producers on two films, which we’re obviously hoping to make soon. One is an existential horror drama, and the other is a coming-of-age comedy-drama. In the meantime, just writing a few things and hoping for the best.

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Filed under Horror, Movies

My friend Lynn has just faced death from a falling iguana in Costa Rica

Last week, I was watching the BBC News Channel, like I do.

The BBC weatherman came up on screen, as he does.

He started talking about the unusually low temperatures in Florida and how the National Weather Service there had issued a warning about the dangers to the public from iguanas falling out of the trees.

Specifically, the National Weather Service in Miami warned residents:

“Don’t be surprised if you see iguanas falling from the trees tonight as lows drop into the 30s and 40s.” 

When temperatures drop, apparently iguanas tend to become immobile.

As a result, they lose their grip and fall out of the trees, remaining stunned on the ground until they thaw out.

Male iguanas can be up to five feet long and weigh 20 pounds. You do not want your loved ones to be hit by a falling iguana and there are a lot of them about: female iguanas can lay around 80 eggs per year.

The Associated Press reported that the number of iguanas in South Florida has “increased dramatically in recent years,” so death by iguana is an increasing danger.

The BBC News weatherman last week had done additional research. He said that apparently, in these low temperatures, iguanas have trouble mating. He said (and you have to say it out loud) that this was known as a reptile dysfunction.

This is why I pay my TV Licence in the UK: to be simultaneously and succinctly informed, educated and entertained.

Today, a week later, I received an email from my friend Lynn (not to be confused with comic performer Lynn Ruth Miller), currently in Costa Rica. It reads: 

“Waiting for rain to stop. We had a massive iguana thud from a tree onto a table where we were eating.”

So the danger continues, increases and may spread further.

You have been warned.

This is very reminiscent of a scene in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 movie Magnolia

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Filed under Humor, Humour, weather

Comic Njambi McGrath’s autobiography

I had a chat with comedy performer Njambi McGrath at the Museum of Comedy in London. Her autobiographical memoir Through the Leopard’s Gaze is published today in print and as an audio book. The blurb reads:

“Beaten to pulp and left for dead, 13 year old Njambi found the courage to escape, fearing her assailant would return to finish her. She walked all night risking wild animals, robbers and murderers in the Kenyan countryside, before being picked up by two shabbily dressed men. She spent her life burying memories of that fateful day and night…”


JOHN: So you’ve written your autobiography and it’s all about your appalling family life back in Kenya.

NJAMBI: Basically, it’s a journey back into my life, triggered by the death of my father in 2014. A few things had happened before that. My brother was getting married just before, which threw things into chaos.

JOHN: In Kenya.

NJAMBI: Yes. My father and I had been estranged for a very long time. The last time I had seen him was when he beat me and left me to die… Fast forward… My brother was getting married and my father was invited and I went into complete meltdown. All I could think about was everything that happened to me when I was 13 years old.

“…and then it ended up opening a whole Pandora’s Box…”

So I wanted to talk to my father about it before the wedding, because I felt like I was going to explode – and that meeting was disastrous because he brought his entire family and I wasn’t able to speak to him.

Then, after the wedding – It had brought up all the trauma in me – I rang him and we organised a meeting. But he didn’t turn up to that meeting because he died.

I completely lost my mind. So I decided to write a book. It started off as a journey to tell the world what a horrible man my father was and then it ended up opening a whole Pandora’s Box: all the evils of the world.

So it is a journey back into my childhood and into my parents’ childhood, to try and discover why they were so messed up. And it seems like History plays a major role.

JOHN: Blame the British?

NJAMBI: I cannot do a show about my life without mentioning the British. That is an important point, because my parents grew up at a horrible, horrible time: they grew up during the Mau Mau Uprising in the 1950s. 

They were children then. So you can imagine my father, as a young boy, seeing women brutalised every single day of their lives… You would grow up thinking that was normal. They had grown up at a horrible time. But I didn’t know that.

When people are traumatised by a major event, once they are free from it, they tend to want to forget about it. They don’t pass it on to their children but maybe not realising they have been traumatised and can’t face up to it and, if it’s not addressed, their children will be traumatised. It’s called Generational Trauma.

JOHN: Your book is called Through the Leopard’s Gaze. Why that title?

NJAMBI: Because, when I was a child, we lived in a beautiful area called The White Highlands. When the British arrived, they took it for themselves. They kicked out my tribe – the Kikuyu farmers – and took the land for themselves. They put the Kikuyu people in ‘reservations’.

JOHN: When did you come to Britain?

NJAMBI: When I was just coming up to 19.

JOHN: I only spent the first 8 years of my life in Scotland; the rest mostly in London. But I feel Scottish not English. You spent the first 18 years of your life in Kenya…

NJAMBI: We are so confused! My husband is English. My two daughters are British. I have two sisters and two brothers. We all came over, but my brothers moved back to Kenya.

JOHN: And your mother is…

NJAMBI: She died just over a month ago – in December – on Friday the 13th. 

JOHN: Your book will also be your Edinburgh Fringe show in August?

“At least you’re not black black”

NJAMBI: The show will be called Black Black because, the night before I got married, my husband’s mother said: “When I found out that David was marrying a woman from Africa, I was horrified. But at least you’re not black black.”

My mother was very black; my grandmother was very black. So it is a show where I am paying homage to the blackest people I know. It is a comparison between me and my life now and my grandmother. She lived through the Nazi era. She and I were put into institutions. I went to boarding school in Kenya; my grandmother was put in a British ‘concentration’ camp in Kenya. We were both controlled by the British.

JOHN: This is going to be billed as Comedy in Edinburgh?

NJAMBI: (LAUGHING) Yes. You can talk about something serious, but find the funny in it. In a comedy show, I would like to make people think as well as laugh. 

JOHN: Politics as well?

NJAMBI: Like I said, I cannot do a show about my life without mentioning the British. It has led some people to say I’m racist. But how can I be racist if everything is affected by everything that the British did to us? My education. I speak English. Everything. The land that we lived in. The coffee that was introduced by the British. I cannot not talk about the British.

JOHN: Anything else on the horizon?

NJAMBI: I wrote a sitcom – I have a writing partner. We finished writing it just before the Edinburgh Fringe last year. It’s with a production house. Someone once said to me: “Write about what you know.” Well, I’m an immigrant and there are issues surrounding immigration… And we are currently writing a feature film – well, you gotta try! In it, I am a black African woman with an Austrian lesbian and a Jamaican woman.

JOHN: You are busy…

NJAMBI: And I’m writing my first novel. I’m past halfway. And, out of this one, I think I could write a children’s book – using an element of it.

JOHN: Very busy!

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Filed under Africa, Kenya, Psychology, Racism, Writing