Sara Mason: How will she follow-up her banned “Beginner’s Guide to Bondage”?

Exactly one month ago, I posted a blog about how performer Sara Mason had lost her Leicester Comedy Festival venue next February because, after the programme had been printed, the venue owner decided he did not want her Beginner’s Guide to Bondage show to soil his floorboards.

I asked Sara this week about the effect of the blog.


SARA: It had a wonderful effect. First of all, I was interviewed in the Leicester Mercury. Then I got on BBC Radio Leicester. And then Big Difference managed to book me into Just The Tonic at The Shed for the same slot on the same night – Valentine’s Night at 9.30pm. Then another venue owner who had been ignoring all my emails rang me up and offered a venue – too late. So clearly notoriety in your blog had an effect. Meanwhile, this week, I am doing A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage at Kentish Town in London – this coming Friday and Sunday.

Sara’s show CAN be seen in Kentish Town in London on 14th and 16th December

JOHN: So people who don’t want to traipse to Leicester in February can see it in London this week.

SARA: Yes.

JOHN: Are you taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe again next August?

SARA: Yes.

JOHN: What are you doing with it between February in Leicester and August in Edinburgh?

SARA: I might do it again in Brighton in May. But I also have a new idea I would like to do.

JOHN: Oooh…

SARA: An Intermediate Guide to Bondage would be interesting, because then I could look at the oddities that people have, like mummification and the…

JOHN: Whoaa! What?

SARA: Mummification with cling film wrap. À chacun son goût.

JOHN: This is not for beginners?

SARA: Well, in A Beginner’s Guide, you would not really want to cover the more out-there fetishes. Even a Pony Boy or Pony Girl might be a bit too much.

JOHN: Whoaa! again.

SARA: A Pony Boy. You put a bridle on them and, hopefully, a butt-plug with a tail and then you ride around on them or make them pull your carriage.

JOHN: Why ‘hopefully’ a butt-plug?

SARA: Well, because not everyone wants a tail butt-plug. They have a bit in their teeth and they go Neeeiiiggghhh! Neeeiiiggghhh! You crack the whip as you ride them. Neeeiiiggghhh! Whinny! Whinny! all that sort of stuff. It’s hardcore. It’s a bit more than anything in The Beginner’s Guide to Bondage.

JOHN: If you are teaching people about bondage, should there be ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels? 

SARA: Possibly.

JOHN: Would there be a third show after A Beginner’s Guide and An Intermediate Guide?

SARA: An Advanced Guide? Well, some of these fetishes are more understandable and approachable than others. Some are more for the diehards. Mummification, I think, is quite funny. And then, of course, there are rubber fetishes.

Angelic Sara Mason at the Soho Theatre Bar

I told you about going to Torture Garden and a couple came in, both dressed up as frogmen or women. They were completely encased in rubber from head to toe. One was tall; one was short; but it was impossible to tell which was the man and which was the woman.

JOHN: With flippers?

SARA: Yes. And, after a moment, they opened a little zip in their crotch, mounted a stirrup table and began copulating. The noise was squeak-squeak squeak-squeak squeak-squeak squeak-squeak like a very squeaky bed. Not very frog-like. That would have been more…

JOHN: …riveting?

SARA: Yes. But the amazing thing was I still couldn’t tell which one was a boy. After a while, they climbed off and zipped themselves up. I had to stop and just laugh. It was one of the funniest things I had ever seen.

JOHN: Why have you got a bit of rubber on your finger? Is that a fetish?

SARA: No.I have a poorly finger. It is kinesiology tape. It has a stretch to it and is good for inflammation but I think I have arthritis, which is neither sexy nor mistressy, though luckily it is my left hand.

JOHN: A big relief for us all. In A Beginners Guide, you play the role of Mistress Venetia. Are you developing that character?

SARA: I am thinking of making her an agony aunt because, at the end of my show in Edinburgh this year, I did suggest that, if anyone wanted private lessons, I could oblige. And quite a number of girls did approach me to say they would like private lessons in domination. They wanted to learn to be a bit more ‘dom’. So that was intriguing because I had put it in as a bit of a joke but, in fact, I did have a few takers. There probably is a niche market out there for ladies who want to learn the business.

JOHN: Any other offers to audience members?

SARA: I have offered free fistings to any Brexiteers in the audience.

JOHN: So what is Mistress Venetia’s character?

Sara as “lovably dotty” Mistress Venetia

SARA: She is a ‘dotty’ dominatrix.

JOHN: How dotty?

SARA: Well, she’s lovably dotty.

JOHN: She dots the eyes and crosses the tease?

SARA: She’s a bit dotty because some of her ideas are really quite ‘out there’.

JOHN: The show is billed as comedy. Is it comedy because you put in lots of jokes or because what you are talking about is not quite as serious as the customers think?

SARA: I think what they do IS quite funny. A lot of it is very funny.

JOHN: But, in the real world, the men being dominated presumably don’t think of it as being humorous.

SARA: There can be a lot of laughter in the dungeons. If you don’t like laughing, you wouldn’t enjoy a session of domination with me.

JOHN: …if you were a real dominatrix and not a performer.

SARA: …if I were a real dominatrix and not a performer. (LAUGHS) I think you use your own personality no matter what you do. Mistress Venetia is dotty and quite funny. If you approach domination and say this is a very frightening, traumatic, torturous thing then, OK, I am not gonna wanna play with you. You are not my type of playmate. My type of playmate wants excitement, joy and doesn’t mind if I take the piss out of him.

JOHN: Sometimes literally.

SARA: Exactly. In the show, Mistress Venetia says she doesn’t mind the occasional golden shower. It can be quite refreshing. But scat is a kink too far from me. I don’t judge anybody for whatever their fetish is. Everybody has the right to whatever sexual expression they want and, certainly, if you’ve never tried something, you have no right to judge about it.

There are certain things that are not my cup of tea but good luck to the people who want to do them. Scat is not for me.

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Director/sales agent Julian Richards on film finance, sales and making a profit.

Julian: “The tail doesn’t necessarily wag the dog”

In yesterday’s blog, Julian Richards – part film director, part film sales businessman – talked about the two horror films he made this year – Daddy’s Girl and Reborn.

In today’s blog, he puts on his sales agent hat…


JOHN: You direct movies but you also work as a sales agent, through your company Jinga Films. Surely film-making and sales are two different mind-sets.

JULIAN: It’s full of contradictions: sales and production. But it does improve your skills in terms of film-making and the tail doesn’t necessarily wag the dog. Making decisions from a sales point of view can be creative.

JOHN: Directing is a vocation and sales is a profession.

JULIAN: But I enjoy it as well, maybe because I have achieved a certain level of success with it, which was kind of unexpected. Also it provides me with a regular income and quite a degree of autonomy.

JOHN: You have said that horror films are better money-makers than thrillers.

JULIAN: Absolutely. Horror has a very loyal fan base. People don’t go and see a horror film because of the cast. They go to see the core ingredients of the genre. Whereas a thriller needs a central cast member that is going to draw the audience in.

There are basically three niches in the mainstream movie market – there’s horror, Faith and sports documentaries.

JOHN: And sex.

JULIAN: And sex. Porn.

JOHN: Why Faith?

JULIAN: Because there’s an awful lot of Christians out there who will watch a film that is Faith based. And not just Christians. Other religions as well. A film like The Shack.

Prophets and profits are good bedfellows

JOHN: The Shack?

JULIAN: It is from a best-selling, Faith-based novel. I think it made something like $60 million in the US on something like a $20 million production.

JOHN: The rule-of-thumb used to be that the break-even point for a movie was 2½ times your negative cost.

JULIAN: Probably the same now. But another statistic is that it costs around $20 million to release a film theatrically in the US on 1,000 screens for the first week. So you can make a film for $100,000 but it is still going to cost $20 million to get it in theatres.

From a business and investment point of view, a lot of people talk about Box Office Gross… “Oh! I made a film for $100.000 and it made $25 million at the box office!” … But when you subtract $20 million for P&A – Prints and Advertising – then the whole idea of profit comes right down.

When somebody says to me: “The film made such-and-such, I am not interested in Box Office; I am interested in how much the film sold for to distributors via the sales agent. What really matters is the money that comes back to the sales agent from the distributor. That is the only money that ever comes back. The rest is consumed by marketing costs. What comes back is surprisingly small.

Right now, I think the sweet spot is around $300,000. That is what most horror films will sell for, outside of the studio system, no matter what the budget. So, if you make the film for $100,000, you are in profit. If you make it for $1 million, someone is losing a lot of money.

JOHN: There can be tax incentives.

JULIAN: Yes.. If you make a film in the UK, you make 25% back. If you shoot in Georgia in Eastern Europe, you get 25% back. But you can’t really make a film for $100,000 and expect it to compete in the market. What are you going to do? An anthology? A single location? It’s gonna look cheap and you are entering a very competitive market. There is too much product and the shelf space has shrunk enormously.

A few years ago, you might have been able to get a ‘found footage’ film or an anthology into that space. Now you maybe even need ‘cast’ because it’s become so competitive.

You need to find money that doesn’t need to be returned to the investor – which is usually some kind of tax deal or it’s…

JOHN: …money laundering.”

JULIAN: (LAUGHS) Well, there’s that and there’s a lot of that goes on.

JOHN: Can I print that?”

Julian Richards (right) directing

JULIAN: Yeah. I’ve been involved in a number of productions where that has been an issue. The question of it being ‘laundering’ or being ‘avoidance’ is another issue. There are a lot of grey areas with finance through the EIS and the SEIS and Sale & Leaseback. I have worked with producers who are now in prison, serving 9-year sentences for raising finance through tax incentive schemes that they thought were kosher but, retrospectively, ten years down the line, they have been the subject on an HMRC witch hunt. So it is scary.

JOHN: Elsewhere, you have said there is no real theatrical market for horror films in the UK, Germany and America. The market is really places like Vietnam.

JULIAN: Yeah. Latin America and South East Asia. The reason being that, in the past, these films never went to those territories, because the cost of a 35mm print was too expensive. Now that it has all been digitised, releasing a film theatrically in Vietnam or in Peru is achievable. It’s pretty cheap, apart from the licensing fee, which is a nightmare: they will charge a distributor $500 to use a digital projector which is really crushing for any independent film scenario.

JOHN: I’m surprised there is any theatrical distribution left. Surely everything gets pirated out of profit by Indonesian and Serbian and Western criminals?

JULIAN: Erm… You can buy yourself what they call a ‘black window’. In China, the Chinese distributors have to pay the pirates a sum of money to hold back the piracy of the film so they have a ‘black window’ to release their film.

JOHN: How long is the black window?

JULIAN: I don’t know. Probably about three months.

JOHN: I’m surprised the Chinese government tolerates piracy in such a sensitive cultural area as movies.

JULIAN: If you do it legitimately in China, you run into all sorts of problems: to do with censorship and the quota. You CAN get independent films through, but you are up against all the Hollywood studio films. If you are just doing transactional VOD, though, then all of those rules and regulations don’t apply in the same way, so it is possible to get a small, independent horror movie released in China.

The anti-hero of Julian’s latest film as director – Reborn

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Julian Richards: horror, Brookside and Carrie Reborn for the Z Generation?

Julian Richards is an interesting Welshman.

Part film director and part film sales businessman through his company Jinga Films. He has made two horror films this year.

I was invited (not by him) to see his movie Daddy’s Girl at the recent Raindance festival in London. When I saw it, I had reservations about it.

So I was interested to see his even newer movie Reborn, the pitch for which is: “A stillborn baby girl is abducted by a morgue attendant and brought back to life by electrokinetic power. On her sixteenth birthday she escapes captivity and sets out to find her birth mother leaving a trail of destruction behind her.”

The poster pitch is: CARRIE FOR THE Z GENERATION.

Yesterday, Reborn had its North American premiere at the Another Hole in the Head festival in San Francisco.

So I had a chat with Julian Richards.


JOHN: Daddy’s Girl… The first half or so was torture porn, which I disliked, then the female central character looks in a mirror and the whole film changes – it turns on a sixpence – and becomes totally different.

JULIAN: Well… Daddy’s Girl was an interesting journey… I first came across the script 12 years ago and to get to make it 12 years later was a bit of a challenge. There were several characters in a story and the big twist at the end is you discover they are all the same character. When we got to make it, after 12 years, the first thing the producer said to me was: We were not going to do that.

He was right, because, under the circumstances, we would have needed an enormous amount of control with the casting, which we didn’t have working in Tbilisi in Georgia and on the budget we had. We had a deadline to start shooting which was four weeks away and, even shifting the story in a different direction, the whole casting and crewing experience was a… a game of musical chairs. It really was.

Daddy’s Girl starts as ‘torture porn’, ends somewhere different

JOHN: It’s set in the US. Why shoot in Georgia – the Eastern European country not the US state?

JULIAN: Because there was a tax incentive to shoot there and, in terms of labour costs, it’s probably the cheapest place in Europe at the moment

JOHN: The producers were Indians based in Dubai.

JULIAN: Yes. They had been shooting Bollywood films in Georgia and now they wanted to make horror films.

JOHN: So, in the original, the central girl had multiple personalities who were on screen as different people?

JULIAN: When all the characters in the story were her, it was part of her fractured view of the world. And her mother as well. There was a lot more of her almost being haunted. Haunted by the suicide of her mother. It was supernatural but actually more psychological.

JOHN: We can’t really talk about the very end of the film. But it ends up in a totally different place from where you might assume it would from the beginning.

JULIAN: That was actually the producer’s idea. And it was what we needed because, if you take out all of those elements – about all the characters being the same character – she becomes two separate characters and so I think the end worked for what we needed to do with that kind of film.

Reborn poster: Carrie for the Z Generation

JOHN: We can’t really talk about the end of Reborn either because of the multiple twists. But I think you have some sort of writer’s gene in you, as well as director’s. The end of Reborn is a writer’s ending. And, earlier in your career, you wrote something for Stephen Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

JULIAN: When I graduated from film school, I went to LA for a year and my first job was writing a screenplay for Amblin, based on a novel Chris Westwood, a friend of mine, had written: Calling All Monsters. It was very much an In The Mouth of Madness kind of story, about an author haunted by his own creations. But, when Amblin turned into Dreamworks, new people came in, looked at all the old projects and it got caught in turnaround and never happened.

JOHN: So then you came back to the UK to…

JULIAN: …direct on the TV series Brookside and to get my first movie Darklands off the ground.

Darklands was screened at a film festival in Korea and (movie producer/director) Roger Corman was on the jury. He released The Wicker Man in the US and he came up to me after Darklands was screened and said: “I’d like to release Darklands in the US.” 

“I was jumping for joy. Corman was a god.”

So I was jumping for joy. Corman was a god to me. I introduced him to the producer of the film, but they couldn’t work out a deal so it never got released there. The producer’s company went bust and it took me 16 years to get the rights back. I eventually got it released in the US a couple of years ago.

JOHN: You seem to be attracted to horror. You directed the body-under-the-patio plot on Brookside. So you brought horror into TV soaps?

JULIAN: No. That was just the timing. I was there when they happened to be doing the body under the patio, the lesbian kiss and the plague that wiped out half the cast. I did episodes in each of those storylines. 

JOHN: What is the attraction of horror? Just that it sells? Why are you not making RomCom movies? They sell. 

JULIAN: I’m not driven to horror by money. It was a boyhood fascination and passion I had. I started making films on super 8 when I was 13.

JOHN: What was the 13-year-old you’s first film?

JULIAN: The Curse of Cormac, based on a graphic story strip in a House of Hammer magazine.

JOHN: You used to read House of Hammer?

JULIAN:
I did. And Monster Mag and Fangoria magazine.

JOHN: So an early fascination with horror.

JULIAN: Yes. Stephen King’s book Danse Macabre was very interesting: defining the key ingredients of horror as suspense, surprise and gross-out. If you are going to make a successful horror film, it is going to have all those three ingredients.

JOHN: Reborn is difficult to categorise. It is not in one little box.

“You are sympathetic with the monster. Tess appealed to me.”

JULIAN: What attracted me was it was a classic horror story. I love monster movies where you are sympathetic with the monster and Tess (the ‘reborn’ daughter) appealed to me. When I read the story, I was torn between whether it was Tess’ story or Lena’s (her mother) and I decided the story was actually Lena’s. Tess is an anti-hero. Lena’s objective is to get back into her career as an actress and that’s how I came up with the ending.

JOHN: Which we can’t talk about.

JULIAN: No… But, from a meta point of view, I wanted it to have a new, contemporary twist at the end. Let’s have fun with it.

JOHN: You are involved in an upcoming anthology film called Deathcember.

JULIAN: Yes. It’s based round the idea of an advent calendar and every time you open up a window, that opens up a new story. The German producers have chosen 24 directors and I am one of them.

JOHN: How long is your section?

JULIAN: Five minutes. We will probably be shooting it in February/March next year, ready for the Sitges festival in September.

JOHN: And you are possibly making Rabies.

JULIAN: I am in talks with the Israeli producers about possibly shooting that in Wales. Based on my experience of shooting Reborn in Tbilisi, Georgia, as America, I could probably shoot in Wales for the US too. A tree is a tree. As long as the cars and costumes look American, then it feels American.

JOHN: There must be a more personal film you really want to make.

JULIAN: I would love to make a film in Brazil.

JOHN: Your wife is Brazilian.

JULIAN: Yes. I have this idea which is basically Elite Squad meets Cannibal Holocaust – about a crack force of urban cops who fight the cartels. It’s political theatre… My idea is that they are sent into the jungle to fight the indigenous… It is illogical to take urban fighters to the jungle, but the politicians do it to make a statement. They take them out of the favelas of Rio and put them into the jungle of Manaus.

JOHN: Sounds like a thriller.

JULIAN: It’s action and it’s political. They will fight tribes that have had little contact with humanity and maybe they will be cannibals and all kinds of things as well. I am taking it down the horror route.

JOHN: You want to do something serious but mask it with genre elements?

JULIAN: A little bit of both. I always like to do that. I did that with Darklands with Welsh nationalism.

… TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW …

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Michael Livesley: The Bonzo Dog’s Viv Stanshall & understanding masculinity

Michael Livesley has been reviving the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s Vivian Stanshall’s iconic show Sir Henry at Rawlinson’s End  for nine years with sundry Stanshall-related co-stars.

Now, he is doing two final shows – on December 7th (next Friday) at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London and on December 12th at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool.

The Daily Telegraph described the show as “a combination of Downton Abbey and Gormenghast set to music”.

We had a chat in a Wetherspoons pub in London.

Why is he doing two more shows? 

Why is he stopping?


MICHAEL: I can’t do any more. Nine years of having someone else in yer head is enough – especially when that person is Vivian Stanshall.

Viv Stanshall: the original Sir Henry

It’s a lot of work and it has kicked open a lot of doors for me and it’s great fun but it’s enough. We did the album with Rick Wakeman and Neil Innes. We did the Bristol Old Vic with Stephen Fry. We’ve done the London Palladium, the Glastonbury Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. We’ve done the Millenium/O2 Dome in London. A lot of other stuff. And we will be filming this one at the Bloomsbury Theatre for a Sky Arts thing.

JOHN: So why?

MICHAEL: In March this year, I was living in a village between Winchester and Andover in Hampshire – which is where we recorded the album in the shed – and it was great. But ultimately you run out of road in these places. There was nothing happening, so it was time to move back to Liverpool and I thought: Let’s put something in the work diary – and it’s the 40th anniversary of Sir Henry.

JOHN: And what happens after these two shows?

MICHAEL: There’s a Rodney Slater’s Parrots gig at the Zanzibar Club in Liverpool on 14th December. And I am doing the Edinburgh Fringe myself next year.

JOHN: Doing what?

MICHAEL: A show called Half the Man because I’ve lost five stone in three months and I intend to be half the man by the time that happens and my stand-up, when I do it, is all about my observations of being brought up by a single mother and a grandmother: the challenges of establishing your manhood within that female environment.

That’s why I hang out in Wetherspoons: so I can hang out amongst real men. These places are almost like social breweries, because they filter out the impurities in society like me and give us somewhere to reside for a while. It’s a place that’s essentially filled with wounded gazelles: divorced men, single men, who salt their wounds with warm lager. I fit right in here.

JOHN: By drinking?

Michael, in Wetherspoons, has given up drink

MICHAEL:  I am treating myself to beer today because it was my birthday last week. But, other than this, I’ve not drunk beer since August.

JOHN: And you are giving up Sir Henry too…

MICHAEL: I’m not denigrating it in any way – it’s fucking genius, but it’s not mine. It’s a bit of imposter syndrome. But, paradoxically, doing it has enabled me to find my own voice in a strange way: it gave me the vehicle to get on stage in front of people.

I sort of made a compromise when I was 16 to be a musician rather than a performer and this gave me the excuse to take it on. That’s partly what I want to explore with Half The Man. There’s a conversation to be had about what masculinity is and isn’t.

JOHN: You are gonna talk about ‘Northern folk’?

MICHAEL: Well, talk about growing up in the 1980s, growing up in the North without a dad in a very small village in Lancashire where it was all Catholic and shit… it was no picnic… Some people have a really tough life. This was NOT a really tough life.

JOHN: But…?

MICHAEL: But because me mum weren’t married, it used to rile the teachers in this Catholic school. Our side of the street were Catholic and the other side were Protestant; and we’re only talking about the 1980s. I remember standing in the front room with the curtains shut when the Protestants were on their Walk.

JOHN: The Catholics had a walk too?

MICHAEL: It was kind of like a Virgin Mary thing with a cart with stuff on it.

The teachers at my school had also taught me mum and all me uncles and aunties. I would get a school book and there would be me auntie’s name in it from 30 years back. The teachers were all long past retirement. There was a guy who taught me in the 1980s and he had been in the First World War! Fuck knows how old he was! He had a yellow streak in his hair because he always had a fag in his mouth. He reeked of whisky and had yellow teeth and used to beat the shit out of us.

I saw him take a little girl who sat next to me out to the front of the class and he pulled her knickers down and bare-bottomed smacked her. She was a 5-year-old! Real men don’t beat children. That ain’t masculine! That’s just complete and utter barbarism.

There is a whole confusion about what masculinity really is. The sort-of imposition of masculinity in those communities was completely at odds with what I believe masculinity is.

There was one murder in the village where I grew up. 

JOHN: How many people in the village?

MICHAEL: About 300 or 400. It was a mining village.

JOHN: What was the murder?

MICHAEL: This guy – Mulligan – murdered his girlfriend in the local woods. His dad was the village wife-beater. This sounds like bullshit but there WAS a village wife-beater. Everyone knew he did it. He was the guy whose wife had a black eye going for the bread on a Sunday morning. Everybody knew it and everybody tolerated it.

My mum used to say that men love women but they don’t like them. That ain’t true in general but in that village – that little place – I think it was.

Anyway, so when Mulligan stood up in court and they asked him why he’d murdered his girlfriend, he said: “I thought that’s what you did.”

That is true.

And you can buy into that, because all he had seen all his life was his dad knocking bloody hell out of his mum.

And that is quite incongruous because, in the world I grew up in, the women were in charge. Everyone colluded in the illusion that men were in charge but they were not and I don’t think that’s a peculiarly Northern industrial thing. I think that goes across the animal kingdom. And the frustration and anger that that situation brings about with the section of the population that are physically stronger is… Well, that’s the kind of world I grew up in. 

When I was 16, I started working in a pub and, on a Sunday morning, they would put trays on the bar with black pudding and tripe and cheese – a peculiarly Northern Catholic thing which I had not been aware of at home, because alcohol played no part in my upbringing. 

Until I started work, I was not aware of 50% of life, because I was brought up in a 100% female household. It was a male thing. On a Sunday, men went to the pub, ate meat and left the women at home.

In my home, we had a half-bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky that me grandad won in the Catholic club in the 1970s that remained untouched until me mum met the man they called Barry and then it went within a week. 

JOHN: The man they called Barry?

MICHAEL: Her boyfriend. My mam met the man they called Barry when I was 13. He was just a fucking alcoholic wanker. 

JOHN: Is he still alive?

MICHAEL: No. Everyone’s dead. That’s the crazy thing about the North. Within about 20 years, every fucker’s dead. There’s no longevity.

JOHN: So this is your next year’s Edinburgh Fringe show – with a few laughs thrown in.

MICHAEL: In one of your blogs, you said every successful Edinburgh comedy show needs a dead dad story!

JOHN: Yes, at about 40 minutes into the hour…

MICHAEL: I’ve got nothing BUT dead dads, not that I’ve ever met me dad.

JOHN: I saw a show the other day and the comic wasn’t good enough to sustain 60 minutes. The show sagged at about 32 minutes and I thought: You need a dead dad story in there…

MICHAEL:  After nine years of doing someone else’s work, you end up with this big backlog of things you wanna say yourself.

JOHN: And you now have nine years’ experience of how to say things.

MICHAEL: Yes. I had no father figure to explain where I should fit in… it’s all that stuff I want to explore… and doing Sir Henry has given me the legs to realise how to do that.

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Lynn Ruth Miller in Dublin – on Irish comedy, Ryanair & middle-aged women

Lynn Ruth – Where will she turn up next?

Lynn Ruth Miller, itinerant American comic based in London, has blogged here about her gigging jaunts to exotic locations in the last few months. She spent last week gigging in Dublin. She writes…


I have been headlining at Anseo, this lovely small room on Camden Street, for at least four years. It is run by a prince of a man named Jonathan Hughes who has built the club up from nothing into a comedy staple on the Dublin scene.  

I did a 40-minute set for him and discovered that the Irish are still squeamish about some of the landmark decisions that have come down from their higher courts.  

I made a reference to the woman whose rapist was not convicted because she was wearing a lace thong. Either they didn’t get it or didn’t want to.  

But they did love the one about all the pipes leaking in Dublin’s ancient buildings. They also got the one about how my generation killed their roaches and now their young people smoke them.  

Thursday night was my first night at The International Comedy Club: the reason I return every six months to do comedy in Dublin. It is run by Aidan Bishop.

All comedians complain about the glass walls we need to break: the unsaid prejudice toward women, minorities, disabilities and age.  

Aidan gives everyone an opportunity at his club and, not only that, he always pays his comedians fairly. To make the experience even nicer, there is always a good audience at The International. That means everything to a performer. It is a lot easier to tell your jokes to 100 people than it is to 20, no matter how badly those 20 want to laugh.

Friday night was my big night. I was booked in three comedy clubs.

I left the International (it was packed with standing room only) to get to Anseo’s new Friday night where twenty people were waiting for me (the headliner) and then off to Comedy Gold, Emily O’Callaghan’s’ new room, where there were a dozen people remaining to see me, the late night headliner.  

The interesting thing about all these rooms is that I arrived ten minutes late to every one of them and I still had plenty of time to unwind before I went on stage. Evidently, Irish time is like Jewish time… very flexible. This rarely happens in London. You almost always go on very close to the time you are scheduled. The English pay attention to time.

The Irish comedy scene is growing and very solid yet everyone I talk to there wants to come to London where they think the action is. I certainly felt that way in San Francisco… but now that I am back home IN London I wonder whether wherever you are doing whatever you do, you always think the market is more open somewhere else.

One of the things that makes my Dublin trips so marvellous is that I stay with this magic family that reminds me of an episode of Leave it to Beaver: a happily married couple with three amazing sons and a tight, loving family unit with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents all intricately woven into their lives.  

When I am there, I am treated like another granny: fed, pampered and transported to my gigs.

This is an immense novelty for me as I have lived a very long time and usually make all my arrangements, get myself to wherever I am going and make sure I am properly fed.  

For these short periods in Dublin, I get all the rewards of being a grandparent in a large functional family without having done any of the groundwork.  

I never fool myself however.  

If I had had my own family, my children would have been so over-indulged, they would have become psychopaths and serial killers.

Judging by the caliber of the men I fall in love with, my husband would  have been a conscienceless misogynist with a whip and a gun in the closet to keep me in line and I would have spent my days scrubbing toilets and ironing shirts, never dreaming I could live a life without a dust mop and a sponge.

On Saturday night in Dublin, there are two shows at The International and both are always filled. This time there were two new comedians. One was Robbie Bonham, who is in his forties and has that wry Irish wit that always amazes me.  

I am convinced that a great deal of comedic ability cannot be learned.  

It was Bonham’s very Irish-ness that made his jokes even funnier.  

I know that being Jewish has always given me an edge – and black comedians usually have a dimension to their delivery that adds to every joke they tell.

As our world becomes more diverse and television and the internet reduce our differences, I suspect this will not always be so. The more we assimilate, the more we lose those special ethnic characteristics that add flavor to our jokes and our conversation.  

Much as I applaud universal acceptance of everyone everywhere, I think this loss of ethnic identity is a loss for us all in so many ways. I know we are all alike essentially, but there are attitudes and mannerisms that are handed down generation to generation that I hate to see homogenized.

This intense week in Dublin convinced me that I love the performing life. It does not tire me. Instead, each show I do inspires me to go further and do better.  

Is that what being professional is all about?  

Or is it the stuff of a nervous breakdown?

Sunday was my last performance at The International and it was wonderful.  

Sunday night is normally a slow night but this night it was very crowded.  

I was in the first section and David McSavage was the headliner because he is on TV and is very famous in Dublin. The interesting thing about this night was how diverse the audience was. We had a huge segment from France, so English was their second language… and a girl from Lithuania who had no idea what was going on. But we all managed to hit a responsive chord and the evening was a success despite the immense cultural diversity of the audience.

The Irish have a way of taking you into their hearts and the family I stay with make me feel very loved and important. However, I was brought back to reality sharply when I approached Ryanair on the flight back. Rules are rules and, by God, you are going to pay if you don’t follow them.

I saw a man who could barely speak English (and obviously did not understand the regulations), gulp down a huge bottle of tea as fast as he could. The poor fellow gurgled as he sloshed through the line and I couldn’t help thinking: How on earth would that container of tea with all the tea bags in it have endangered anyone but the poor guy who had to drink it so he wouldn’t have to pitch the container?

I have seen the personnel at Ryanair pat down a tiny baby and all I can say is I hope the kid had a giant poop as the inspector checked out his diaper.

The other interesting thing about this trip was the number of single women in their late forties and fifties who are feeling unfulfilled. They are at that “Is this all there is?” stage of their lives. 

Do men get that feeling? Or do they just put another porn film on the computer and wank off?

These women I met in Dublin were all earning good livings, but still feel they want more than coming home to an empty house with perhaps a dog or a cat to greet them.  

There is no way I can explain to them that these are normal clouds before the rainbow splashes gorgeous color on a grey sky. It is very much like what Winston Churchill said: “When you are in hell, keep going.”  

Middle aged femininity is not hell at all, but it often feels very bland.

For some reason, none of us realize that the best is yet to come.

But it is.

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Amanda Fleming on concussion and stitches and the serial killer Countess

Amanda: Originally, we were going to talk about The Countess

So I arranged to chat via Skype with my namesake but non-relation actress Amanda Fleming in Manchester. She has not been heard of in this blog since May 2015.

We were going to talk about her play The Countess, which we last talked about in February 2015.

But we got sidetracked…


JOHN: So, your vampire Countess woman…

AMANDA: She wasn’t a vampire; she was a serial killer.

JOHN: Well, she was Countess Dracula, in the Hammer horror film.

AMANDA: Yes. Ingrid Pitt. She’s still alive, isn’t she?

JOHN: Of course; she is one of the undead.

AMANDA: No, Ingrid Pitt… Well, the… I… Oh… Someone here wants to say hello… (A WHITE CAT APPEARS ON SKYPE AND SNIFFS THE SCREEN)… I have two cats now. This is Misty.

JOHN: Hello Misty. Lovely pink ears. Not the cat, of course. You.

AMANDA: Pink ears. But no earlobes.

JOHN: You or the cat?

AMANDA: Me… Look.

JOHN: No earlobes.You must be Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

AMANDA: What?

JOHN: From the James Bond films… You have no earlobes.

AMANDA: The Plantagenets didn’t have earlobes.

JOHN: You are a Plantagenet?

AMANDA: According to ancestry.com I am.

JOHN: Related to whom? Not Richard III, I hope.

AMANDA: Edward I… Longshanks.

JOHN: The Hammer of the Scots? I am Scottish. I am shocked and saddened.

AMANDA: Well, I have my Celtic side. My bloodline from about 1500 upwards is a bastardisation of the Tudors and the Plantagenets and then they married into Irish aristocracy from Wexford.

Forget the Planagenets and James Bond – clock the pink ears

JOHN: Accidents of birth.

AMANDA: I had an accident.

JOHN: You had an accident?

AMANDA: I had an accident. A window fell on me on 5th May this year. I finished work and went to the theatre pub where we were doing a show to do a bit of work on the synopsis. I was sitting in the beer garden, typing away on my laptop computer. I had had literally two sips out of a glass of Chardoney and I heard this crack and the edge of a pane of glass from an upstairs window hit me on the head.

JOHN: The pane or the frame?

AMANDA: The whole section of the middle part of the glass.

JOHN: It hit you flat or the edge hit you?

AMANDA: The edge. Luckily it was not two floors above me or I would have had time to look up and I would have been a goner. It was excruciating pain. I didn’t even know it had cut all down my face. The shock.

Apparently there was an improvisation performance going on upstairs and there was only a very thin wood panelling covering the window and blacking out the room and a guy bumped into the wood panelling. That loosened the centre part of the window which broke loose and fell down on me – about this size.

JOHN: Bloody hell! That’s about what? Two feet wide?

AMANDA: The circular centre with a jagged edge broke loose and fell and just thank God the jagged edge didn’t hit me or I would be dead. It hit the corner of my skull and slit down off the side of my face and that is why I have a big gash there.

JOHN: It was mostly impact damage?

AMANDA: Yes. It smashed on the floor. The police who came said: “Amanda, you’re very lucky. It would have been a lot worse if it had smashed on your head.”

You know when you bang your head sometimes? You come up too quickly and you hit your head on something? Imagine that, but five times more painful. I thought a piece of metal had hit me on the head. I didn’t realise it was glass. I got up and went: “Oh! What was… Aaaargghh!” and then it all went Boooofff! – There was blood everywhere.

The guys in the beer garden were going: “Shit!! Shit!!!” and all running round.

Amanda Fleming’s head cut – in May 2018

I had no idea of the extent of it. There was a 9 cm gash and I had to have two lots of stitches. I had them under, because it had cut an artery – That was why were was so much blood. Apparently I had lost half my body weight in blood by the time I got to the hospital.

It was a surreal experience, because I was talking and trying to crack jokes, but I could hear my voice slurring.

JOHN: Because of the impact; because of the concussion.

AMANDA: Yeah. I tried to do yoga breathing to keep myself calm, because I could feel myself… you know… the adrenaline. I was telling everyone else: “It’s OK! It’s OK, yes…” Crack a joke, crack a joke, crack a joke. But, inside, I was thinking: KEEP ALERT! KEEP ALERT! KEEP ALERT!

JOHN: You were trying to crack jokes?

AMANDA: I think it’s just a kind of survival instinct thing with me. To not think about what is actually happening.

By the time I got in, the surgeon realised the secondary artery – not the main carotid artery – the one next to it that goes down – had been sliced and that was why I had lost so much blood. So he had to do two lots of stitches: one lot to secure underneath and then on the top of the head as well.

There was a lot of work I had to cancel. I had about £2,500 of work booked in for the next six weeks and I had to cancel it all.

For the first couple of weeks afterwards, I was just numb everywhere. Now, near where the scar is, it’s like a weird kind of tingling. And, if I touch the right side of my head here, I feel it on the left side. It’s the weirdest thing ever.

JOHN: I was hit by a truck in 1991 and the back of my head hit the corner – the edge – of a low brick wall as I fell – My brain wasn’t even remotely right for about nine months with concussion coming and going. You must have had problems with the concussion.

AMANDA: It was weird. I had never had concussion before. I have noticed some of my words I have to think about a bit more now. And, when I’m typing fast, some of the letters go wrong… not all of them… just like, for example, if I mean to type WEAR it sometimes comes out as WAER.

As directed and produced by Amanda – The Countess in Salford, Manchester

JOHN: It hasn’t affected your acting?

AMANDA: Well, I think I’m going to go fully into directing now. It has changed my life – the way I look at my life now. Definitely.

JOHN: You look up a lot more?

AMANDA: Don’t even get me started on that… That’s still an anxiety I’m trying to get over… When I see scaffolding ahead of me, I have to cross the road.

JOHN: But it’s changed your life more fundamentally?

AMANDA: Yes. I used to over-think things all the time. Things I could not really do anything about. It would frustrate me and get me angry and make me bitter about things. But, since this happened – even though lots of negative stuff came with it – the sensations and shooting pains and things – on a personal level, it has made me realise that, right now I should be doing everything to enjoy myself and do what I love rather than worrying about what could have been or what people think or whatever.

JOHN: And why has that happened? Because you could have been killed?

AMANDA: That’s it, yes.

JOHN: Why have you decided not to act?

AMANDA: I haven’t decided I’m not going to act – if something comes up in films or commercials or voice-over or whatever, I will still do it, but I’m not going to act in theatre any more: I’m going to direct theatre and I’m getting a strong passion for film-making and directing.

JOHN: Why?

AMANDA: I think because I have more scope and creativity there. When you’re an actor, you only have a specific area where you can create. Having been in acting for like 30 years, I can bring my actor’s side to directing. You are in charge of your own creativity.

JOHN: Anyway, we are supposed to be talking about your Countess woman thing.

The Countess was a success in Todmorden’s Gothic church

AMANDA: I wanted to make it historical but with a supernatural twist. We put it on for three performances at Todmorden, because they have an amazing Gothic church there. Ideally, we would like to tour round the country in those types of venues. We did two performances in Manchester last month, because people who saw it in Todmorden told people in Manchester and there was a demand… It sold out in Manchester.

We cant afford to stage it in Edinburgh, but we are trying to get the funding together to take it to the festivals at what they call The Three Bs – Brighton, Buxton and Bath. But we would like to tour it round rural venues like barns and village halls.

JOHN: Or castles?

AMANDA: We’d like to! We are going to get a video – a 60 second ‘taster’ – and press pack together.

JOHN: Sounds like it has movie potential, too.

AMANDA: Yes. Or maybe an amazing Gothic opera.

JOHN: And it’s the Countess Dracula woman?

AMANDA: Well, she wasn’t a vampire, though some sources say she was somehow distantly related to Vlad the Impaler.

JOHN: Blood relatives.

AMANDA: Maybe. Might not be true. 

JOHN: But she was for real.

AMANDA: Yes. Countess Elizabeth Báthory. She was a Hungarian aristocrat in the 1500s who murdered at least 650 people – 90% women plus some men – probably more than 650, but those were only the bodies they found. 

JOHN: 650 is going it some… Was there a ‘trigger’?

AMANDA: She started by knocking off peasant girls and bathing in their blood. She didn’t want to grow old. Blood is kind of soft and moisturising – it’s the plasma in it. She must have thought: Ooooh! It makes yer skin go really soft! That was the trigger.

The Countess – by Amanda Fleming – “Historical but with a supernatural twist”

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Filed under Acting, Drama, Horror

An inconsequential and pointless blog… on an itchy nose and a pigeon’s hiccups

I remember thinking once that, perhaps – on one morning in the Middle Ages – perhaps in the middle of the 14th century – perhaps just before lunch on a Monday – a man in a field in England – or some other country in Britain – got an itch on the side of his nose. And the itch was so insistent that he, automatically, without thinking about it, scratched the itch – perhaps it took less than two seconds – and then he carried on with his life.

Later – perhaps only 10 minutes later in his life – he would have totally forgotten that the itch ever existed.

But, at the time – for those few seconds – perhaps less than two seconds – it was the overwhelming physical fact in his life.

No-one now – perhaps six centuries later – remembers that the man himself even existed, let alone knows about the itch.

Those two seconds – when the itch was the most overwhelmingly insistent thing in his life – were infinitely less than the tip of a needle in eternity.

But they existed for that lost pin tip in eternity.

A pigeon eating a crisp… well, part of a crisp… today

I was sitting on the platform at Cricklewood station in London this afternoon, when a pigeon walked up to my feet and started eating a discarded crisp (not mine) on the ground.

The pigeon had five pecks then got hiccups.

It had 16 little hiccups (I counted), looked as startled as I was and then recovered its composure.

I think they were hiccups.

A pigeon having hiccups… or perhaps coughing… today

They may have been little coughs.

It is difficult to tell with pigeons and I had never before heard nor seen a pigeon with hiccups – nor coughing.

Then the pigeon walked away, looking for other discarded or random foodstuffs.

I do not know how long pigeons remember things.

Probably not very long.

But this incident did happen…

…for infinitely less than the tip of a needle in eternity

… like everything else I blog about here.

Tempus fugit et nunquam redit

…as long-dead people used to say

… or maybe Tempus fugit et nunquam reddit

… or Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

It has all been said before

…by those who said it better.

It doesn’t matter.

Best forgotten.

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Filed under Philosophy, time