The decline of British television comedy. The elitist iceberg of Brexit and Trump.

The Grouchy Club Podcast

Below is a short extract from the 100th Grouchy Club Podcast in which the (yes she certainly is) controversial comedy critic Kate Copstick and I ramble on about anything that takes our fancy, occasionally stumbling into the subject of British comedy. Occasionally, too, we stumble into cyber-trouble.

This may be one such example.


JOHN: There is a sort of bizarre snootiness in comedy where the Oxbridge elite…

COPSTICK: Oh yes…

JOHN: …who, by-and-large, don’t get (big) ratings for their shows – are very snooty about people who do get ratings. For example, Benny Hill.

COPSTICK: Yep…

JOHN: …who at the height – the height – of his fame and his ratings success and his foreign sales for Thames Television – He must have been churning money out like nobody’s business for Thames Television – was dragged into – was it Brian Tesler’s office? Someone’s office… and told they were getting rid of him because he was in bad taste.

COPSTICK: Yes, yes.

JOHN: He was staggeringly popular. I heard that when he died – I dunno if this is an urban myth – Chinese television broke into their broadcasts to announce it as a newsflash.

COPSTICK: I’m sure that’s absolutely true.

JOHN: But I mean he was staggeringly popular. They didn’t like him because they said he was sexist.

COPSTICK: But I think that… I’m going to get a bit political here, John…

JOHN: Oh God! We’re going to be in trouble!

COPSTICK: Only mildly…

JOHN: Oh dear.

COPSTICK: …and fleetingly.

JOHN: Oh dear.

COPSTICK: Just fleetingly.

JOHN: That’s never stopped her before.

COPSTICK: I think that is exactly the same thing – talking about the Oxbridge elite and all that running TV, so they say what gets dumped because they don’t like it – They are the ones whose voices are out there but Benny Hill had gazillions of viewers – I think that’s exactly the same thing we got with Brexit and the Trump vote – because the people at the top…

JOHN: This is Copstick!

COPSTICK: …the people at the top are completely unrepresentative of the mass of the voting iceberg that is underwater. And somehow, when the bottom mass of the iceberg rises up and votes for Brexit or Trump, it’s all Oh! Shock! Horror! How can this have happened? Well, it happened because it was always there. You just weren’t listening to it.

JOHN: Also, I was talking to someone the other day and said that, in my erstwhile youth, when they had sitcoms, they used to have them on at 8 o’clock or 8.30 at night or 7.30 at night. Nowadays, sitcoms are on at 10.30 or 11.00…

COPSTICK: Yes, yes.

JOHN: … because, in my youth, the sitcoms got massive ratings and now the humour, the comedy is not getting big ratings because it’s being scheduled and programmed and decided on by people who don’t like what the public like.

COPSTICK: Which is why Mrs Brown’s Boys is the highest rated…

JOHN: Yes and that’s only on at 10.30 because he keeps saying Feckin’ or something, doesn’t he?

COPSTICK: People are very snotty about it: Ooh! Mrs Brown’s Boys!

JOHN: I saw one episode and thought: Oh, that’s not really for me. But, of its type, it’s well done. I mean, Mrs Brown’s Boys and My Family must be, recently, the biggest sitcoms on…

COPSTICK: Absolutely. And surely somebody somewhere in some television company must see that.

JOHN: There is a lot of Emperor’s New Clothes going around.

COPSTICK: Ooh!

JOHN: I have to say Vic & Bob – sorry – I never ever thought they were funny. There was one pilot for, I think, Granada, which I saw and liked: it never got made into a series because no-one else liked it, but I have never ever ever thought Vic & Bob were funny. They were always in minority slots and, when the BBC I think it was tried them at peak time on a Saturday night they came a phenomenal cropper. With good reason. Because they ain’t funny… (LAUGHS) …in my populist opinion! (LAUGHS) But what do I know?

COPSTICK: I have almost stopped watching comedy on TV because there is very little that appeals to me and makes me laugh.

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Flying toilets, taking new drugs and having a penis enlargement operation

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I record a weekly Grouchy Club Podcast. It covers more than gossip about the comedy industry as do the monthly, live Grouchy Club meetings. Inevitably, after this week’s was finished, the conversation carried on. Three main anecdotes cropped up…


Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo by Schreibkraft)

Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya (Photograph by Schreibkraft)

FLYING TOILETS

The podcast is recorded in Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherds Bush, London.

The charity works in Kenya, helping small business start-ups.

When over in Nairobi, Copstick lives in slum areas and had this description of the ‘flying toilets’ in Kibera, Nairobi, said to be the largest urban slum in Africa. 

* * * * *

The houses are incredibly close together – you can’t really extend your arms in the little rat runs between the houses. It is much better now but originally there was allegedly 2,000 people to every one long-drop toilet.

Now the government have put in some standpipes and there are public toilets but you are still sharing a toilet with a helluva lot more people than you would like to. If you go out into the darkness of the night – and you really can’t see in front of your face – you have no idea what you are stepping on, you creak open the door of the long-drop toilet and have no idea what state it’s in. It’s a bit Russian Rouletty. You may also get killed or attacked on your way there or back.

So, if you wake up in the middle of the dark night and think: “God! I desperately need a shit!” – which people do a lot because there is a lot of diarrhea around – what you do is go outside and take a shit into a plastic carrier bag, then tie the top of the carrier bag and take the little butterfly bit at the top and whirl it round your head like a Scotsman flinging the hammer. When it gets to peak velocity, you let go and it flies away into the night as far as it can.

Obviously, in an ideal world, you aim high and generally what will happen is that somebody a couple of streets or houses away will hear a SPLATT! on their corrugated iron roof and they will think: Oh fuck! Somebody’s flying toilet! I must remember to go up and scrape it off in the morning!

The shit is in a plastic bag but, when the plastic bag lands, it generally splits open. Also, if you are in a big family – my mate Sylverster has a one-bedroom house for seven of them – as the children get older, when it’s not raining, the girls sleep inside the house but the boys sleep on the roof. So that can get messy.


Kate Copstick prepares for a Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick prepares for a Grouchy Club

WHITE BLOOD CELLS

For many years, Copstick has suffered from the painful and debilitating disease lupus. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in many parts of the body.

Until 2½ months ago she was in agony most of the time…

* * * * *

Since the lupus struck, I have always had a low white blood cell count – neutropenia. The white cells are the fighter cells and scavenger cells. When you get a bruise, the neutrophils go in and clear away all the damaged blood.

Last June, they put me on this new medication – methotrexate – which I injected into the flub on my stomach. It is a kick-ass drug. It’s used in chemotherapy – for leukaemia and other cancers. Then they found out it really worked for rheumatoid arthritis and, through that, they found it worked for other auto-immune diseases like lupus.

I got put on methotrexate last June/July. Then in August in Edinburgh I got bacterial pneumonia and they thought it might be the methotrexate and I kept taking it and they said: “Oh, your white blood cell count keeps going down.”

Then suddenly, 2½ months ago, I felt great; I felt fantastic. Nothing had been changed in the drugs but I suddenly felt physically great. And the best I’ve felt psychologically for years. I was actually happy. I felt happy. Just wonderful. No pain; no headaches; no tinnitus; no cold sweats; and the white blood cell count had gone down even more.

Then, two weeks ago, the doctors said the white blood cell count had become very dangerously low.

I said: “I’m feeling fine!”

They said: “No no no no no. You’re very dangerously low.”

They kept asking me if I had temperatures and beadaches.

I said: “No! I feel wonderful!”

So, last week, they told me to stop taking the methotrexate because they thought that was lowering the white blood cells. I stopped taking it and I feel like shit this week. As soon as I stopped the injections, I got the pain back – tiredness, pain, headache, dizziness – all the lupus shit.

I mean, everything you take, every normal mainstream medication that you take does something bad to you. I think it should be about what makes you feel good. I’m fucking fed up feeling like shit. I’ve felt like shit for a lot of years, a lot.

Nothing bad seemed to be happening with the low white blood cells and I was feeling great and I reckon for me that’s better than being like this and taking handfuls of tramadol and dihydrocodeine and anything else I can lay my hands on just so I can be functional.


Devils on Horseback

“A bit like Devils on Horseback” which is dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon

PENIS ENLARGEMENT

In her TV production hat, a few years ago, Copstick developed, wrote and produced a series for the Bravo TV channel called World of Pain.

* * * * *

It was about things like pain for pleasure, sporting pain, all different things. And one episode was called Suffer To Be Beautiful which was about people having plastic surgery and all the crazy shit they do.

So I went to New York to film a penis enlargement operation. It was around the year 2000 and there was nobody in Britain who would allow me to film them. Those who go for penis enlargement tend to want people to imagine that’s how they always have been naturally.

I filmed the entire operation. It was absolutely fascinating. I was the cameraperson. When we sent it to the compliance lawyers, most of it ended up on the cutting room floor not because it was erotic but because there was just so much blood. Somebody was having the shaft of his penis split open with a scalpel and the skin peeled…

What I did not realise was that every man is born with as much penis length as anyone can give you. It just depends if you are a show-er or a grow-er.

If you are a show-er, even when you are flaccid, it is all hanging out there.

If you are a grow-er, there is more to come from inside.

So what they do, when somebody wants more length, is make two cuts in the inguinal area – just above the pubic bone – one on either side – and in there are the ligaments that hold the penis in place and they snip those.

Then – this is true – one doctor or a very strong nurse holds the patient on the operating table while the other doctor grabs the penis and pulls. And I am talking PULLS. We are talking like tug-of-war. And they yank out as much of the penis as they can.

Then they stitch up the little incisions and you are now a show-er.

What surprised me is that men who want more length want it for the locker room. They want it for that moment when the Calvin Kleins hit the carpet and another person – male or female – gets their first look at what you are packing.

This guy I was filming wanted more length. So they did that. But he also wanted more girth.

Enhancement can help a bit on girth with what they call ‘harvested tissue’. Have you ever larded a joint of meat? Where you take strips of fat…

Anyway, what they do is get the penis and slit open the skin down the length of it and then… Have you ever buttered the breast of a chicken before you roasted it?

What you do is you ease your hands in between the flesh and the skin of the chicken and you open it up so the skin separates from the flesh.

So, with penis enhancement, they get little rectangles of harvested tissue, lift the skin of the penis away from the shaft and wrap these bits of tissue around the shaft. Then they sew that bit up and do another bit until… It’s a bit like Devils on Horseback or a beef olive.

Then they stitch the skin back into place and wrap it all in very tight elastic bandage. Then the person goes away with lots of painkillers and hopes that they only think clean thoughts.

Because the single biggest problem with the process is guys who go away from the hospital, take their painkillers and, after a day or so, wake up with a bit of morning glory and burst all their stitches.

As for pee-ing, initially you are catheterised but the answer after that is to pee very very carefully.

How do you get harvested tissue? With a scalpel and a dead body.

So be careful when you sign your organ donor card. You may think you will be giving sight to the blind, but you could end up giving girth to the under-endowed and find yourself wrapped around some tiny-dicked guy’s enlarged penis.

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Sexual perversion or just healthy living? Mud marching in bare feet outdoors…

Anna Smith ignores the BBC in Canada

Anna Smith has her own healthy interests

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, who lives in Vancouver, has sent me a plea from the heart which she found online in the local Craigslist.

I can only presume she was diligently looking there on behalf you, our dear reader.

The listing says, under its headline:

MUD MARCHING IN BAREFEET

hi

i am looking for a mud marching partner who would love to march in the mud in our barefeet every saturday starting in march to the fall. i love mud and i love marching in the mud in my barefeet!! this job is for fun!! we will be marching in the mud in parks in langley and whiterock! you must love mud and you must love marching in the mud in your barefeet!!! serious inquries only as i am serious about this! anyone can apply!! you will be paid $30.00 dollars an hour!

Craigslist adds:

Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.

Anna says: "Right now there is only snow marching going on here."

Anna tells me: “Right now there is only snow marching going on here.”

So one presumes the demand is so great for barefoot mud marching partners that employment agencies are getting involved.

Anna asks me: “Is this a trend in Britain too? Or is it a colonial perversion?”

I cannot help her. I am a simple soul, raised a Presbyterian.

If you can help, do get in touch privately.

Anna tells me, to add to the advertiser’s woes, there is precious little mud in Vancouver at the moment – just snow.

But maybe cold feet are ever hotter.

 

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The wreck of the Wibbley Wobbley

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock in February 2014

As a sad PS to several recent blogs about the removal and rumoured scrapping of comedian Malcolm Hardee’s floating pub venue The Wibbley Wobbley, below is a photo taken by Stephen Mccreadie.

Wibbley Wobbley wreck

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Wish you were here: Memories of the Canadian stripper who met a Norse God

Continuing the memories of this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith…

She writes:

The Coronet Motor Hotel in its prime

A postcard from the Coronet Motor Hotel in its heyday

The only person whose tyres I ever wanted to slash was my agent Jules Rabkin, because he overbooked girls all the time. He would send eight girls to a bar in the middle of nowhere that needed only six and the last two to arrive would get bumped and be out of work for a week.

He ripped off my friend Tiffany for $300 and she did something better than slashing his tyres. She marched into his office and set his desk on fire.

“How did he react?” I asked her, full of admiration.

“He handed over my money through the flames,” she said. “After that, he never dared fuck me over again.”

But we also knew how to be discrete back then …yes we were so discrete.

I can’t  imagine why all those motels had to give us all those ridiculous lists of the rules… like we weren’t supposed to walk through the lobbies naked or tie up the switchboard phoning each other’s rooms and we weren’t supposed to lie down inside the club either. And there was a $20 fine if you got caught ‘taking a man in the ladies room’ at one club. So, obviously, it must have been a terrible problem there. And we weren’t allowed to smoke or drink on stage. One really terrible place said that ‘horseplay’ wasn’t allowed. Anyone would have thought it was a building site.

We were in motels for the same reason rock bands were in motels. Touring.

Did I mention the time I met Thor at the Coronet Motor Inn, in Ontario?

Nothing happened between me and Thor. I don’t really go for the God type. I just crossed paths with him in the hallway and felt a bit sorry for him that he had to dress like that. It seemed like even more work than dressing up as a stripper.

We were often in motels. We were often on the road. We could make more money out of town (Toronto).

The furthest north I went was Elliott Lake, a uranium mining town. I was scared travelling alone to such an isolated place. At the time, the ratio of males to females was 10 to 1, so that in itself was scary, plus I was afraid to drink the water so I only drank juice.

The bustling centre of Elliot Lake seen from the Fire Tower Lookout

The centre of Elliot Lake seen from the Fire Tower Lookout

The motel was on the outskirts of town – strip clubs usually were.

The owner was a really nice woman so I didn’t have to deal with the usual come on we always got from the male managers. And there was a nice painting over the front desk .

It was a landscape, done locally and given to the owner’s father by the artist.

There was another dancer working there the same week as me: a friendly young Jewish guitarist and songwriter from Ottawa. So we spent time in each other’s rooms, watching television in bed, sharing our plans for the future. She wanted to be a famous singer and I wanted to be a famous comedienne in movies. This was in about 1980.

We went for meals together. I remember she was the first person to introduce me to Caesar salad, prepared by the chef at our table in the traditional manner.

The audience was made up of uranium miners who were very rowdy, enthusiastic but not obnoxious. I had so much fun doing my show that I flew off the stage and landed in the audience and broke my foot – luckily it was a Saturday so I only missed one show. I think I was spinning around semi-blindfolded when I went off the stage… I used to often break my feet in those days, but that was the first time I did it while performing.

I met one of the uranium miners years later. He was a little guy from Chile known as ‘Loco Misissauga’. I was surprised he would be in Elliott Lake which is such a remote place, but then he had been a miner in Chile.

Missisauga today

Missisauga today – once a godforsaken suburb of Toronto.

Missisauga was a godforsaken suburb of Toronto. It was one of the places I went to for work. It was where Jules Rabkin, my agent, would send us. I worked there in 1977 when I was just starting out. As I became more experienced I worked in better, more central clubs

The bars in Missisauga were awful, usually run by Greeks. I remember one club called The Oasis which was anything but an Oasis. The small stage was covered in orange shag carpet, with the ceiling done the same. Can you imagine trying to dance in stilettos on that?  Another club out there used to ask the dancers for a $50 deposit to rent a locker for the week. There was no dressing room, just a narrow hallway. So most of the dancers went to sit with the customers between shows and the waitress would take their keys off the table so they would lose their key deposit. Eventually the owner was shot dead, which was hardly surprising.

I don’t have any photos of that time, though I was one of the first adapters of the selfie with my Olympus OM 10 which I bought from a hunky Italian boy stripper I met in a Belgian porno cinema. We had to do a show together because his girlfriend was ill. I became quite close to them and bought the camera and we stayed in touch.

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984. She borrowed the cat

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984. She borrowed the cat

The last time I ever saw them was in about 1985. They were doing a sex show in Soho, London. They invited me upstairs. They were living above a sex shop, with its lights flashing LIVE SHOW. I went upstairs, and was surprised to see the mother of the Italian boy was up there too.

She was tiny and dressed like a stereotypical Sicilian old lady: all in black, with the headscarf and the gold earings.

I asked the boy: “But your mother? Doesn’t she mind that you are doing a sex show?”

He introduced us and the mother was all smiles.

“She doesn’t have a clue,” he told me. “She never leaves the flat. She’s actually a complete moron.”

The mother kept nodding, smiling away cheerfully, thrilled to meet me, but I must have looked worried, because her son then reassured me: “Don’t worry, she doesn’t speak English.”

I thought about my mother. I didn’t tell her everything I did but no way could I have deposited her above a sex shop in Soho for a couple of weeks.

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The difference between comics and comedians. Some are born; some made.

Penny Dreadfuls audio book

Penny Dreadfuls’ audio book

This week’s guest on the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast was comedy performer Thom Tuck, whose idea was to come on and plug the two new Penny Dreadfulsaudio book releases. This seemed perfectly simple.

But, as always, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I got sidetracked. For example, in this section…


Kate Copstick and Thom Tuck at the Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick & Thom Tuck eat at the Grouchy Club in London

JOHN: What did you want to be when you were 16? Did you want to be a stand-up comedian and Doctor Who acolyte?

THOM: I’m pretty sure I wanted to be funny. I was always a performer and, in school plays, it was always: Well, you be the funny one.

COPSTICK: Oh good! Well, that’s a good sign! The great Mark Steel said to me that the great comics are the ones who could never have been anything else.

THOM: Yes.

COPSTICK: You say to them: So, what did you want to be?… Comic!… What would you have been if you hadn’t been a comic?… I’ve absolutely no idea. I couldn’t NOT be a comic.

THOM: With people like (Doug) Stanhope and Patrice O’Neal, that’s unavoidable. You ARE a comedian. There’s no…

COPSTICK: Michael McIntyre.

THOM: I think Michael McIntyre is born to be a light entertainer.

JOHN: Ah well, yes…

COPSTICK: (GROWLS)

JOHN (TO COPSTICK): That’s OK.

THOM: He’s very good. He’s a very good comedian, but he’s not a ‘comic’ in the same way. I think there’s a distinction.

JOHN: You mean stand-up…

THOM: Yes, a stand-up comic on the road. Inescapable. There’s no destiny beyond the road.

COPSTICK: Oh, I see what you mean. So, once you’re on telly doing a ‘shiny floor’ show, you are no longer a stand-up comic…

THOM: No, not necessarily. But I don’t think he’s…

COPSTICK: What about John Bishop?… Oh… He obviously wasn’t born to be a comic, because he spent most of his life not being a comic but…

THOM: He was in marketing, wasn’t he?

COPSTICK: Correct.

JOHN: Or whatsisname…

COPSTICK:Jimmy Carr.

JOHN: Yes.

THOM: Well, Jimmy Carr is classically not a born comedian. Not a born comedian in any way.

JOHN: He is a made comedian.

THOM: Yeah.

COPSTICK: He’s a brilliant…

JOHN: …brilliant…

COPSTICK: … a brilliantly made comedian, yes.

THOM: There are people who, if they hadn’t found work being stand-ups would have been just drunks in a corner.

COPSTICK: Exactly. Stanhope would have been an ugly drunk and drug addict.

JOHN: You can be both, Thom. You can be both.

THOM: Yes… I mean, I don’t think Stewart Lee is a natural comic.

COPSTICK: No.

THOM: He’s a comedian and he has made himself a comedian and he has made himself battle-hardened, but he’s not a natural… If he had ended-up not finding stand-up and becoming a writer, a novelist…

COPSTICK: Well, that is what he wanted to do. He wanted to be a writer.

THOM: I don’t think I am a natural comic either.

JOHN: Actually, I suppose Stewart Lee is a writer who performs, isn’t he?

COPSTICK: Yes, I think Richard Lee is a more natural.

THOM: Richard Lee?

COPSTICK: Not Richard Lee – Richard Herring. Oh my God! I’ve just come up with the perfect comedian! We are going to put them both in test tubes and meld them!

JOHN: Richard Lee and Stewart Herring.

COPSTICK: That sounds like a job for Doctor Who.

THOM: Fist of Fun crossed with The Fly.

COPSTICK: Stewart Lee will just get progressively hairier and hairier and hairier. That’s a recipe for some very interesting…

JOHN: …composite comedians.

Thom Tuck

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Mr Twonkey on the Chicken Church cult and being hit by Lewis Schaffer’s spoon

twonkey_malcolmhardeeaward

Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey

Paul Vickers/Mr Twonkey had forgotten too

“Why are we meeting?” I asked Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey, surrealist performer and winner of the 2016 increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

“I have forgotten,” he told me.

“Me too,” I said. “Are you doing the Leicester Comedy Festival?”

“I am. On 9th and 10th of February. And the Museum of Comedy in London on the 15th of April.”

“Maybe that’s why,” I suggested. “What else have you been doing?”

“I have been taking advice on relationships from Lewis Schaffer.”

“Are you mad?” I asked

“He has algorithms,” Paul told me, “and he is trying to teach me how to read. He says I haven’t learnt how to read properly. I am dyslexic, but he is convinced that it is not a real disease. He thinks I am not trying hard enough.”

“He is teaching you too read?” I asked.

“He has a book,” Paul explained, “and I have to read words that have similar sounds and get used to reading and recognising them.”

“What is the book called?” I asked.

Lewis Schaffer’s book

Lewis Schaffer’s book without wooden spoon

“This Simple Book Will Let You Teach Anyone to Read by Lewis Schaffer. When I mess up, he hits me with a wooden spoon. It is based on a similar thing to Dr Seuss. It does actually work. But it is tedious and unpleasant. I think Lewis Schaffer finds it funny – and I did to start with, but then it became tiring…

“…and painful,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” Paul agreed. “Lewis Schaffer was upset because I didn’t take the book with me last time. He said they had printed it out specially for me.”

“There is,” I asked, “only one copy of This Simple Book Will Let You Teach Anyone to Read by Lewis Schaffer?”

“I think there may be 3 or 4 copies. But he has got a copy that is specifically for me. It is signed at the front and  it is my copy. We have had two sessions so far.”

“When was the previous one?” I asked.

“In May last year, I think.”

“Have you progressed?”

“Not as much as I thought. He showed me the page where we left off last time, and it was only halfway through the first page. But I think he may be cheating; I am sure I did more than just that page.”

“Is it enjoyable?” I asked.

“No,” said Paul. “It is not a fun activity and, last time, I did it before and after a gig so I was quite tired. But that doesn’t stop him. He’s relentless.”

A page from Lewis Schaffer’s book

A page from Lewis Schaffer’s relentless book

“Relentless in what?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Just relentlessly… erm… cruel, I suppose. It seems a bit cruel.”

“I thought you were seeing him for relationship counselling?”

“Well, there is that as well, but he has not written a book about relationships. He just has an algorithm that he feels will work.”

“An algorithm on relationships?”

“Yes.”

“What’s the algorithm?”

“It is based on the fact that all people are fundamentally selfish.”

“Lewis Schaffer thinks other people are too inward-looking?” I asked.

Paul laughed: “I am not sure I can repeat a lot of what was said.”

“Are you going to follow his advice?”

“It is always good to get the Lewis Schaffer’s perspective on a situation.”

“No it isn’t,” I said. “On relationships??? That seems like a very bad idea. You are going to end up an emotional wreck with no self confidence and speaking with a fake American accent.”

A selfie by Paul Vickers/Mr Twonkey

A Soho selfie by Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey

“That is true,” Paul agreed.

“Who first suggested,” I asked, “that you should go to Lewis Schaffer for reading lessons and relationship counselling?”

“That’s just what he sees as necessary when I turn up,” Paul replied. “That’s his idea of passing time with me.”

“Better than conversing…?” I asked.

“Well,” mused Paul, “he made me a chicken sandwich and then he took the book out… and the wooden spoon.”

I asked: “Does he keep a special wooden spoon for lessons?”

“Yeah,” said Paul. “That’s the one he beats you with.”

“This should be a show at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested.

“It’s quite tedious, though,” Paul told me. “It really is quite tedious. It’s like blog – slob – cog – mob – gob – hob – lob. Quite tedious.”

“What does this supposedly teach you?” I asked.

“It teaches you how to recognise how certain things sound, because he says I get my Bs and Ds mixed up, which is true. And that I have difficulty recognising sounds and words. When I look at a page, I do sometimes have that thing where I can see words backwards. It’s partly why I ended up going down the road I’ve gone down. Apparently dyslexic people either turn to crime  or art… I could be in prison…

A selfie by Paul Vickers/Mr Twonkey

Another selfie by Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey

“…instead of being hit by a wooden spoon?” I asked.

“The dyslexia has actually affected my life,” Paul continued. “If only Lewis Schaffer had got to me sooner, then maybe I would have turned into an upstanding member of society.”

“I am not convinced,” I told him, “that you are learning to read. You are just getting bruised.”

“He sees it as doing a good thing,” Paul countered.

Then there was a long pause.

“Well, I don’t know if he does,” he added thoughtfully.

“Anyway,” I said, “what is this new show you are taking to Leicester, the Museum of Comedy and the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“If you could push my Museum of Comedy show on the 15th of April that would be cool,” said Paul.

“And the new show is…?” I prompted.

“It is called Twonkey’s Christmas in the Jungle.”

Mr Twonkey’s Christmas in The Jungle

Mr Twonkey’s Christmas in The Jungle – is not in a jungle

“Is it going o be performed at Christmas in a jungle?”

“No. At the Museum of Comedy in London on 15th April.”

“Have you written it all?”

“More or less.”

“Which?” I asked. “More or less?”

“Well, I have a beginning and an end but, because it has never been performed in front of an audience, I don’t entirely know how much of it works. I have a rough story.”

“Which is?”

“My manager – I don’t have a manager but, in Twonkey World I do – he sends me to do the Iquitos Fringe in the Hallucinogenic Peruvian jungle. The idea is he is trying to get rid of me, cos he has other acts who are more prestigious and exciting to manage.”

“Are you,” I asked, “going to have a jungle in the venue?”

“Yeah. My long-suffering other half, Mary, has made a jungle for me and some of my puppets have turned to a religious cult called The Chieftains of Paradise Who Welcome Evil.

“They wear a lot of rosettes and they believe that Jesus, when he rested, actually went to Hawaii and, when he was in Hawaii, he came up with some ideas like the Solomon Islands and Canada and the piña colada.

“I am trying to wean the puppets off the religious cult and the only way to be rescued from the jungle is for someone to go to the Chicken Church – which actually exists. It is not in the Peruvian jungle, but it’s a massive church that looks like a chicken. Well, it is not supposed to be a chicken: it’s supposed to be a dove but it looks more like a chicken. It has become a tourist attraction.

The Chicken Church in the Indonesian jungle

The real Chicken Church is actually in the Indonesian jungle

“The idea is that, if the puppets get to the Chicken Church and ring the bells, then the rescue helicopters will come and lift us all to safety.

“There is a song about the Chicken Church in Twonkey’s Christmas in the Jungle.”

“That would be,” I said, “the show which is going to be at London’s Museum of Comedy on 15th April?”

“Yes. The song is from a new album by Paul Vickers & The Leg with the working title Sherbert and Chilli – but that’s a long way from finished. We have about twelve tracks written and demo-ed. Christmas in The Jungle is another of the songs. It takes a while to finish these things… and there is always the temptation to try and get it right this time.”

“Do you,” I asked, “resist that temptation?”

“Well, I think I sometimes get it right accidentally. I do know how to persist and I know when something has gathered a certain amount of mass and it may be worth presenting to people, but it’s difficult to know when anything is ever really truly finished. It’s quite tricky to constantly mine the human consciousness for those gems or whatever they are.”

“Have you thought of doing something completely different – like not being Mr Twonkey?”

“I could have gone into advertising, but I didn’t. I could have gone any number of ways.”

“You still can,” I suggested.

“Yeah. That’s the thing. You feel you are in a very small, tight little room but, when you find those little doors it can take the roof off and it becomes expansive again. When people talk about writers’ block it’s really that they don’t have the keys to a door yet.

Paul Vickers tries a new look after our chat

Paul Vickers tried a new look for Mr Twonkey after our chat

David Lynch explains it really well. He says that sometimes you get little bits of ideas but you can’t work out what to do with them or how they connect and everything you need is in one room but it is a room you are not allowed access to yet.

“I think the ideas I have are not necessarily always fully explored. Jennifer’s Robot Arm – the play that I did – was originally just a 500-word story but I realised I could expand it out. There’s a lot of things I have like that; they could be expanded out. I would like to write more plays.”

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