Dragos, “the David Jason of Romania”, on comedy styles and the revolution…

Dragoş Moştenescu first appeared in this blog back in 2017 and in 2018,

When I try to explain who Dragos is, I tend to say he is the Romanian equivalent of UK TV star David Jason with a touch of Elton John. In other words, he is indescribable – in a good sense! We are talking an international level of top entertainer here.

On Sunday (15th December) he is performing his full-length stage show All Aboard for Christmas! in London, so we met up at the Soho Theatre Bar for a chat. Towards the end, we got interrupted by another performer…


JOHN: You’ve already performed All Aboard! at the Leicester Square Theatre in London and at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. So now you are going to stage it…

DRAGOS: …every three or four months. My next aim – which turns out to be not that easy – is to find an agent – I don’t expect to be ‘big overnight’! – Someone to provide work at least constantly. Perhaps not daily but maybe weekly. What I do is very suitable for let’s say private parties – playing the piano; my Elton John thing. ..

JOHN: Corporate gigs you would be ideal for.

DRAGOS: Exactly. I am realistic.

JOHN: What would be a good step for you?

DRAGOS: A three minute song on a morning TV show. Three minute songs on radio shows. Three minutes here and there.

JOHN: You are more of an hour-long solo show performer but you can also do 5 and 10 minute spots…

DRAGOS: Yes. If you have 5 minutes of material, it is very difficult to extend it to 10 or 20 minutes; but, when you have 60 minutes, it is easier to extract 5, 10 and 20 minute routines. But they are different styles.

JOHN: (I NAME ANOTHER PERFORMER) does great one-hour shows and, in fact, I’ve seen (THE OTHER PERFORMER) do brilliant two-hour solo shows, but they are never going to be on BBC TV on Live at the Apollo, because The Apollo wants gag-gag-gag, punchline-punchline-punchline.

Five-minute acts tend to be full of quick gag punchlines.

DRAGOS: Exactly. It is very difficult to catch the audience within five minutes and keep them. You need to use one-liners and I respect that and salute it. But, when you are doing a 60-minute show, you cannot have the audience punched every minute. You have to bring people into the story… A beginning, a punchline or two or three and sections and an end and maybe you draw a conclusion from the story. The pace has to be different.

The trend is for stand-ups which I am not… entirely.

What I want now is not even money. I want people to be aware I can bring an hour of ‘light’ entertainment and people will go home more content, more relaxed and re-charged like a battery for work the next day.

JOHN: You must have had to learn what sense of humour British audiences want. 

DRAGOS: When I came here, I didn’t use any of my Romanian routines. When I first started in Britain, one routine I had was about people lacking money and being in a shopping mall where money was flying around but it didn’t work with the audiences. People were laughing reluctantly. They didn’t relate. 

Someone told me: “Everybody in the world needs more money but it is not an issue for us. We are not that poor. Not comedy audiences. They can put food on their tables. They can travel around the country or even the world. So people do not personally relate to being poor in comedy routines.”

But the rent in London is not low and audiences can personally identify with that. So I have a song about it and, at the end, I have sometimes had standing ovations. Especially if there are a lot of young people in the audience. They identify – Shared house, high rent, poor living conditions.

Dragoş created, wrote, produced and starred in Romania’s first television sitcom after the Revolution – La Bloc

JOHN: What is the sense of humour in Romania?

DRAGOS:
We still tend to laugh about what British people used to laugh about 20 or 30 years ago – the disabled, drunken people, less-minded guys…

JOHN: Punching down.

DRAGOS: Exactly.

JOHN: And now, in Britain, we punch up not down.

DRAGOS: Yes. But, on the internet, I have seen shows from 20 or 30 years ago and it was the same here in Britain. People laughed at different things then.

JOHN: Did Romanian TV charge after Ceausescu was overthrown?

DRAGOS: Under Ceausescu, there were only three hours of television per night.

JOHN: And that was mostly about what Ceausescu had done that day.

DRAGOS: Yes. And occasional Romanian movies. And, once a week we had an international – specifically American – film. That is why Romanians speak English with an American accent. The only foreign languages we heard were French, a bit of Russian and a lot of American.

JOHN: And television after Ceausescu…?

DRAGOS:
He fled with his helicopter and his entourage on 22nd December 1989 and landed at a cabin in the mountains. But he was captured and he and his wife were shot on Christmas Day.

JOHN: And, after that, television changed…?

DRAGOS: The revolution caught them unprepared. They had no regulations about what you could show on TV. They transmitted an uncensored Romanian film with nudity at 8 o’clock at night and…

(…AT THIS POINT, PERFORMER NARIN OZ ARRIVED IN THE SOHO THEATRE BAR…)

JOHN: (TO NARIN) Do you know Dragos? You should go and see his show at the Hen & Chickens on Sunday.

NARIN: I can’t. I’m filming in a horror movie. I play Death. I’m the villain.

JOHN: That’s typecasting. It’s the evil eyes. Dragos is the David Jason of Romania. Ask him something.

Narin Oz unexpectedly arrived during my chat with Dragos at the Soho Theatre Bar in London

NARIN: What’s your background?

DRAGOS: I graduated in engineering from the University of Timișoara, where the Romanian revolution started. in 1989.

JOHN: You were there?

DRAGOS: Yes. I was there in the beginning. Things expanded dramatically. Within four days, there was blood on the streets. We didn’t have weapons. We had the mentality at that time to go out bare-handed and, as they say, bare-chested. But I wasn’t that crazy. When things changed and became quite serious, I ran. I ran and I was kind of a prisoner in the students’ area.

Nothing was working. Not the public transportation, not the trains, not nothing. I was blocked up to about the 24th December. The spark was on 18th December and rolled over and smashed all the country, but it ended up in Bucharest within two or three days on 21st of December and, on 22nd, Ceausescu fled, then was killed on 25th. They call us religious people, but we killed our leader on Christmas Day: come on!

NARIN: So your show is about Romania…

DRAGOS: No. Not at all. I just put all that in brackets – what I just said.

NARIN: Those are very big brackets. Is it a tragedy or a comedy?

JOHN: It’s not a comedy show as such. It has comedy but with lots of music. It’s like an old-time variety show but solo.

DRAGOS: Though I think, when you walk away, you have some ideas and a conclusion maybe?

NARIN: Are you singing?

DRAGOS: Yes. Singing and playing the piano and comedy.

JOHN: Songs you have written yourself.

DRAGOS: Ten songs written especially for the show.

JOHN: And a bit of Elton John.

“A serious piece of music… an impersonation of Elton John.”

DRAGOS: Yes. That is a more serious piece of music. I do an impersonation of Elton John. (HE SHOWS A VIDEO ON HIS PHONE)

NARIN: You’re a bit of a legend.

JOHN: He is. Twenty years daily on television. Multiple series. And he wrote and produced and starred in this sitcom which…

DRAGOS: That was the first sitcom ever in Romania because, before 1989 and the overthrow of Ceausescu, we didn’t have such entertainment there. Then, after ten years of importing Seinfeld and Married With Children, we started our own sitcom on Pro TV – a private one, like ITV here. It lasted for ten years and 524 episodes.

JOHN: Produced and written by you…

DRAGOS: Well, there was a whole team of writers…

JOHN: But mainly you…

DRAGOS: Yes, because I created the idea; so I was like the head writer; I would re-touch and revise a little bit and I also acted in it.

NARIN: So, why did you come here? You were known there. You had everything.

DRAGOS: Yes, but I felt I needed somewhere to go and something to do NEXT. When you become very comfortable within your situation, that can lead to lack of inspirational creativity.

I have built up this new stage show and now I am struggling to get it going because I am in-between worlds.

Romanians in Britain would come to see me but, when they find out the show is in English… Not many have perfect English, especially the guys who just come here to work, to get some money to build something back in Romania. In London, there are doctors, lawyers and others who have been here about ten years and speak good English, but…

NARIN: Why don’t you do a Romanian language show?

DRAGOS: I have. But it’s not what I came here for. When I address things in English, I have to have a British audience. And the non-Romanian, English-speaking audience do not know me at the moment. I’m not complaining.  This is the normal way to do it. To build a new audience. 

NARIN: You could do, say, a 4-day run with two shows in Romanian and two in English.

DRAGOS: I could, but doing the same show in English and in Romanian doesn’t work. The topics are slightly different. With the Romanian shows I have to be very specific with Romanian references and culture. Every other month, we have a 2-hour Romanian show with various acts.

But I want to move on, move up.

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Filed under Comedy, Music, Romania

Comic Nathan Lang: “Self-loathing is not normal unless you are a comedian”

Nathan Lang is from Melbourne. He used to appear in the Australian TV soap Neighbours. But I know him from the London stand-up comedy circuit.

I got an email from him:

“For better or worse, I’m back in the UK. Yes I managed to have a baby in Perth and survive the existential breakdown that comes with living in the most isolated city in the world and now I’m back. 

“I’m running a Comedy Cabaret in aid of Hackney Winter Night Shelter again this year on Tuesday 3rd December. The line up is fantastic. Last year we sold out and raised much more money than expected, it’s a really wonderful night deep in the heart of artsy Hackney Wick.

“It’s not stand-up. The line-up a beautiful, colourful, lighthearted, crazy, unique acts that don’t do stand-up.”

So we had a chat. About two weeks ago.

And I have only just transcribed it.

I got severely side-tracked.

The charity cabaret is tomorrow. Mea Culpa. But, as with many of my blogs, we went way-off subject anyway…


Nathan, baby Chilli and Shelley Lang in Australia

NATHAN: My wife Shelley and I went to Perth on 25th November 2018 to have a baby. Shelley’s family live there. They emigrated from Scotland.

JOHN: I remember I was terribly impressed by your wife when I met her ages ago. Perhaps because she’s Scottish.

NATHAN: Because she’s Scottish, she is a radiant beauty and just the most exhilarating person. That’s definitely what impresses me about her.

JOHN: How long were you back in Australia?

NATHAN: Eight months. We came back on the 9th September 2019. Our daughter is ten months old now.

JOHN: Shelley must have been well-progressed in pregnancy when you got there.

NATHAN: We just scraped in. We really needed the family support and the health care in Australia is really amazing. 

JOHN: And the comedy?

NATHAN: The comedy scene in Perth is stand-up. A very small scene, but the standard is really high. The quality really pushed me to improve quite a lot. It’s similar to a Brighton crowd. They go out; they want to have a really good evening of laughs. Great audiences and one pro comedy club. Just stand-up. It’s stand-up or cabaret there and their version of cabaret is really highly-skilled circus acts who take their clothes off.

JOHN: I want to go there.

NATHAN: Then it’s probably worth that 30-hour journey. 

JOHN: Australia is a faraway place.

NATHAN: And Perth is the most isolated city in the world and it feels like it too.

JOHN: So what are you doing on 4th December, the day after your Hackney charity gig?

NATHAN: That’s my day with chilli.

JOHN: With what?

NATHAN: That’s my day with Chilli – my daughter – Her name is Chilli Bobcat.

JOHN: She’s going to get hell in school with those names.

NATHAN: I was going to call her Strawberry until a friend said: “Remember she’ll go to school one day.”

JOHN: So Bobcat is better?

NATHAN: My middle name is Luke.

JOHN: Biblical?

NATHAN: No, my father used to work for a company that distributed cutlery and our cutlery drawer was full of knives and forks that had ‘Luke’ printed on them… I am named after kitchen cutlery.

JOHN: But, basically, you think Bobcat is a more feminine name than Strawberry?

NATHAN: No, Strawberry was going to be her first name but Shelley came up with the brilliant idea of calling her Chilli – after the pepper – which is a cool name.

JOHN: So why Bobcat…?

NATHAN: On Christmas Day, Shelley and I were sober. She was heavily pregnant. Her Scottish family, obviously, were steaming and we said they could choose a middle name. We had not told them whether it was going to be a boy or girl, so they chose a unisex middle name – Bobbie. But then, knowing her first name, we obviously couldn’t call her Chilli Bobbie.

JOHN: Why?

NATHAN: The rhythm of that and the two double consonants…

JOHN: So Chilli Bobcat is better than Chilli Bobbie?

NATHAN: We squeezed Cat in because my grandmother’s name was Kathleen.

JOHN: Just to recap… You had thought Strawberry was a good name…

NATHAN: Just for a while… Do you know it’s illegal to call your kid ‘Strawberry’ – ‘Fraise’ – in France?

This would be illegal in France if a child (Photo: Irene Kredenets via UnSplash)

JOHN: Why?

NATHAN: Bullying. There is a list of names you cannot call your kid in France – ‘Hitler’ is one of them.

JOHN: Strawberry is on a level with Hitler in France?

NATHAN: It’s child protection. Social Services. For the welfare of the child. They care about their children’s future in France.

JOHN: They don’t want a future generation of fruits?

NATHAN: Who knows. But Chilli Bobcat Lang: it has a nice ring to it.

JOHN: I think the surname lets it down. It’s a bit ordinary after Chilli Bobcat.

NATHAN: She might just call herself CB. Or she might go by a symbol like Prince did for a while. It might be her first squiggle on a piece of paper. Or she might change her name from Bobcat. She might prefer Caracal.

JOHN: Caracal?

NATHAN: It’s a type of cat that lives in the savannah desert. They jump really high and catch birds in mid-air.

JOHN: Anyway, so what ARE you doing after the Hackney charity gig?

NATHAN: I’m always pursuing my acting career.

JOHN: You seem happy.

NATHAN: It’s the anti-depressants.

JOHN: You’re on them?

Nathan Lang at St Pancras station, London

NATHAN: Yeah. You have obviously never lived in Perth.

After my daughter was born, I had a psychological breakdown and was put on very strong anti-depressants immediately and entered into depth psychotherapy analytic psychotherapy – which was well overdue.

JOHN: Because of Perth?

NATHAN: Well, I can’t blame Perth any more than I can blame my parents, really.

JOHN: Why was it long overdue?

NATHAN: It’s not like I had a psychosis or anything. I had a very sudden intensification of what turned out to be a pre-existing condition of depression and anxiety that I had been living with for so many years I just thought it was normal.

But, after speaking to a GP and a therapist, I was led quite quickly to realise it’s not normal to wake up every day under a huge weight, a huge pressure of knowing that everything you do all day is never going to be good enough and you are going to punish yourself for everything at the end of the day as you run through every single thing you’ve said and done in your mind or just drink yourself to sleep.

It’s not normal to exist in every waking – and sleeping – moment in a state of constant self-loathing and believing you’re a worthless piece of shit… unless you are a comedian, in which case of course (LAUGHS) it IS normal.

So… yes… anti-depressants are wonderful… I feel like I got myself back… and I got my joy back.

JOHN: And you are OK now?

NATHAN: I’m able to be an engaged and joyful father. I was really, really worried about what Chilli would absorb. And it was so hard on Shelley. The first few months of being a new mother AND having me falling apart was… I tried my best to hold together but your most intimates see what’s happening.

JOHN: Men are not supposed to get post-natal depression.

NATHAN: Well, they do, though I have never met one who will admit he has. But I don’t think that’s what I had. It was not a sudden, acute affliction. It was just the exacerbation of a feeling that I was already quite familiar with.

JOHN: I guess women get post-natal depression because they suddenly realise the full enormity of what they’ve let themselves in for.

NATHAN: I heard some interviews with British women who suffered postpartum psychosis and they were sectioned immediately after their children were born and those stories were horrendous.

JOHN: Why did you come back to the UK?

NATHAN: Our careers.

JOHN: What is Shelley?

NATHAN: A trainee psychotherapist.

JOHN: That’s useful.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology, UK

Ria Lina on Comedy Unleashed, non-PC audiences and the Edinburgh Fringe

Comedian Ria Lina has been about a bit. Her German father was an oil painter; her Filipino mother trained as a physicist then moved into computer programming in the 1960s.

Ria was born in England.

Aged 1, she moved to California. Aged 9, she came back to England. Aged 14, she moved to the Netherlands, where she studied at The American School of The Hague.

At 17 (note that early age), she attended St Andrews University in Scotland, where she obtained a BSc in Experimental Pathology, then got a PhD in Viral Bioinformatics at University College, London.

Oh! And then she became an IT Forensic Investigator for the Serious Fraud Office in London.

And now she’s a comedian.

She is a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows in East London which some see as Right Wing although it bills itself as ‘The Home of Free-Thinking Comedy’ and says the real divide is no longer between Left Wing/Right Wing but between Authoritarian and Libertarian with itself in the Libertarian camp.

Now read on…


JOHN: I think you’re probably a Left Wing liberal…

RIA: I don’t know what that means any more.

JOHN: … yet you’re a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows.

RIA: I MC Comedy Unleashed because I fundamentally believe what it’s trying to achieve. I believe in giving everyone a platform.

It has ended up that the audience has skewed in a particular political direction. There have been some shows where they have been so skewed towards one political direction that I have actively said on stage: “Actually, I disagree with you all.” But when it isn’t an issue – when I don’t think that politics is the over-riding feel of the room – then it’s just a comedy show for people who want to see comedy.

JOHN: I have been to about four and they are very very good shows. The last one was a cracker. They are potentially difficult to MC but you make it look easy.

RIA: I suppose part of it is selfish. At this month’s show, I got to MC 250 people and that’s not easy. It’s like surfing or driving a chariot with horses. Surfing an 80 ft high wave takes practice. It takes skill. It’s hard enough to control one horse, but if you are trying to control 250… 

JOHN: The Comedy Unleashed slogan is NO SELF-CENSORSHIP… IF IT’S FUNNY, IT’S FUNNY. Comedy elsewhere at the moment can be very PC.

RIA: If you go on stage now and you say ‘rape’ there are people who will be triggered by your use of that word regardless of the context.

If you say: “Fracking is raping the Earth,” that is a very Left/liberal thing to say and you can go on to do a routine about it, but just the word itself can set an emotional trigger that means some people in the audience are not in a position to be comfortable laughing at what you are actually saying because, in their heads, they are thinking: She didn’t have to use that word!

JOHN: Are audiences different about that in different parts of the country? A North/South divide?

RIA: I find the differences are not so much geography as density of population. The biggest difference is what you find inside cities and outside cities. You can do jokes in a central London comedy club that you can do in a central Glasgow comedy club. But, even if you go outside Glasgow (or other big cities) just 10-20 minutes in the train, THAT is where you see the different sensitivities. 

I see it in smaller communities where there is less exposure to diversity of thought and diversity of humanity. If you’re not exposed to diversity, you are not as acclimatised to it and not as open to the idea of it. 

JOHN: So you have to change your set accordingly?

Ria Lina, BSc, PhD, MC and comedian

RIA: You are going to them. Your job is to make them laugh. You want them to have a good time so, if that means rolling back your jokes five years, then that’s what it is. 

I don’t mean you should undermine your own principles but I don’t personally agree with travelling somewhere and behaving like: Well, this is what I do and if you don’t like what I do…

JOHN: So are they less PC and more racist?

RIA: I am not saying they are more racist. They are more insecure about what is acceptable. They have heard that ‘things are changing’ but they are not seeing it or feeling it themselves where they live. So, if I walk in with my Asian face and my American accent… there are times when I have told jokes and their reaction is: Ooh! We don’t know how to process this!

It is not even That’s wrong! She shouldn’t have said it! – It’s just We have no idea how to process what you have just said… You are saying it’s OK. But we only have your word to go on and you are one woman who we are never going to see again in 20 minutes.

JOHN: How do audiences react to your American accent?

RIA: Most of my set, they don’t really need to know I’m British. They don’t need to know my back story to accept my point of view and my sense of humour.

JOHN: Does it not slightly distance the audience from you if they think you are American?

RIA: The best way to over-ride that is to be funny. Bottom line. Any barrier can be overcome in a comedy setting if you’re funny. What I enjoy is making people laugh and people enjoying their evening. I’m happy to adapt to them in that instance.

JOHN: Say in a village hall in the middle of nowhere…

RIA: Yes. 

JOHN: And the audience there is different to a London audience…

RIA: Humour evolves and places like London are at the forefront of the evolution of comedy. When I first started doing comedy, the place to find the most evolved joke range was The Comedy Store. You would go there and see people with no boundaries pushing their art form to the limit. But that doesn’t mean you can go somewhere else and do the same stuff if they are not AS comedy literate, 

The evolution of comedy goes hand-in-hand with audiences who are comedy literate – comedy savvy. They have seen more of it; they understand the rules; you can experiment more with them. That is not necessarily the case for the village hall that only has comedy ten times a year.

Ria Lina’s show at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe

JOHN: The Edinburgh Fringe audiences are particularly comedy literate…

RIA: Mmmm… I dunno. I find the Fringe audiences are more theatre crowds. You DO get your avid stand-up comedy fan. But there is going to a comedy club with various acts on the bill once or twice a month and then there’s going to see a single performer who has developed an hour’s worth of thought… And those are two different art forms. Your brain can’t focus for more than 40 minutes at a time at best. That’s why they tell you to have that 40-minute pathos moment in Edinburgh shows.

JOHN: The ‘dead dad’ bit…

RIA: Yes. In Edinburgh, it’s a different skillset. You’re driving a different vehicle. Similar animals but different vehicles and you are traversing different courses. Audiences at the Fringe are so often theatre audiences because the shows are more like theatre shows and they are done in theatre settings not comedy club settings – except the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where you have more comedy club-like set-ups.

The bigger pay venues are giving you a theatre experience. Theatre-style seating, ushers, lighting. Theatre-style audiences listen differently, think differently, laugh differently.

JOHN: So are you doing the Fringe next year?

RIA: I haven’t been since 2016. I am thinking of doing a show and touring it in the UK; just skipping the Edinburgh Fringe… and I’m booked in Dubai next August.

JOHN: Dubai? How horrible! The weather! All that sun and heat!

RIA: (LAUGHING) Well, you know, the last time I went to Dubai, it rained. It hadn’t rained for two years. I show up – Suddenly it rains! The cars weren’t working. Their engines got wet. It was too cold for me to go to the beach. So Dubai owes me!

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Filed under Comedy, political correctness, Politics

Everyday life goes brutally on in Kenya

British comedy critic and African diarist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity.

Mama Biashara (which translates as ’Business Mother’) tries to give a helping hand, small amounts of money and lots of advice to people who have nothing so they can start self-sustaining small businesses.

Its ability to fund relies solely on donations and Copstick receives no money of any kind for her work. She herself covers the cost of her own flights and her own accommodation/living expenses while in Kenya.

Her accommodation tends to be in the slums of Nairobi, which has its side effects…

Here are two edited extracts from her diary during the last week.


WEDNESDAY

SO here’s a thing. The laxative properties of aloe vera MUST NOT be underestimated. The litre or so that I drank yesterday has had the same effect on my innards as Barnes Wallis had on a Nazi dam.

Around three in the morning, all hell is unleashed. By noon I am emitting clear liquid. But I am a plucky old bint and with the aid of a soda (sugar) loperamide and 1000mg of paracetamol (pounding headache and turbo-charged bowels) plus more soda, David and I head off to Kangeme, one of Nairobi’s stinkier areas, to do a funding. 

There are 70 women in the group. All have the same problem. Husbands who beat them and/or rape them. These women have run away, mainly from the same area.

First a couple go, try to get work, maybe get a place to stay and then others come. Before you know it you have a community of beaten and abused women trying to make a new life.

However, they have no money, no wherewithal to start anything up. Generally, they will bring their youngest children with them and leave the others. But all they plan is to go back and get them. When they have a safe life to bring them to. A Mama Biashara lady has given some of them a room with some bunk beds in it. At least this is somewhere safe to sleep.

Currently, these women are on the street – because the set-up costs for prostitution are, let’s face it, low. 

But street prostitution in a slum area is precarious, going-on dangerous – and that’s on a good day. All the women have been assaulted by ‘clients’. 

As far as I can make out, around ten have been stabbed, one had her arm broken in three places with a metal bar and, currently, three are in hospital. Doris has been helping them for a few months, getting the younger ones little jobs as “dummies” for a hair and make-up college. I think “models” is the preferred term. They get 2.50, a day relaxing, getting something to eat and a lovely new hairdo. Others, Doris has found casual jobs when she can. One, in fact, has to leave the meeting as she has to go and cook chapati for a posh lady with a meeting. 

They are lovely women. And their business plans are pretty good. Sweet potato and arrowroot, fruit and carrier bags, eggs and sausages… all solid businesses. Each group is ten women – seven groups, so 70 women in all – with an average of 26 children in each group of ten, so 182. The bill is about 600 pounds. In the charity VFM stakes, that is pretty impressive. Even though I say so myself. Groups are deffo the way.

There is security, self-policing, mutual support and buying power there.

THURSDAY

Doris is off organising the buying with the ladies we funded yesterday. Some will leave for their new lives today and some tomorrow. Doris is very impressed with their knowledge and attitude with the buying. This is an important point in the process – Doris (or Vicky or Purity) watch the women to see how they are in a business situation – product knowledge, ability to strike a bargain and hold their own in a negotiation – because that will tell us a lot about any weaknesses the business might have. 

Felista sends me a slew of pictures of walls and piles of bricks. And a list of building materials which seems to feature mainly doors. And a photo of a bill for 120 quid with Not Paid written across the top. 

Mary from the Mary Faith Home calls to say their electricity has been cut off. The bill has not been paid. And the girls have still not been for their ultrasound. 

Maybe the CEO of Save the Children could hand over just a little of her £245,000 salary (plus perks) and help save these children.


Mama Biashara accepts donations HERE and runs a charity shop in Shepherds Bush, London, staffed by volunteers and (when she is in the UK) Copstick. 100% of the money earned in the shop goes directly to Mama Biashara’s work in Kenya, without any deductions.

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Kenya, Poverty, prostitution

Kunt: Why did the internet’s filthiest British singing sensation chuck it all in?

On 31st October this year, now retired Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning tunesmith Kunt and The Gang released some of his most entertaining and potentially offensive songs translated into French in an album Bite ô Ma Bite: Les Plus Grandes Teubs de Kunt and The Gang.

We agreed to have a blog chat about this.

That was over a month ago.

We eventually met up this week.

It is now late November and we had both forgotten why we were meeting up.


JOHN: Why are we meeting up? I have totally forgotten.

KUNT: I dunno. On the train in from Essex I was thinking: Why am I meeting John? I couldn’t remember.

JOHN: What are those tattoos on your fists? LOVE and HATE?

KUNT: No. SOUP DU JOUR. I wanted something that wouldn’t date.

JOHN: When did you get them done?

KUNT: The week after I’d finished doing Kunt and The Gang.

JOHN: Remind me when you retired from the show business?

KUNT: I packed it in in November 2016. I started in 2003, then gave my job up with the Council in 2008, then did it full-time till 2016. So I packed it in three years ago, but you can’t make a comeback within five, because…

JOHN: That means you’ll be back in two years time?

KUNT: No, though maybe in two years time my dwindling pot of cash will have fully dwindled.

JOHN: Why did you retire?

KUNT: Seemed like the right thing to do. I’d done everything I wanted to do. You keep painting the same picture over and over again; eventually, it drives you mental.

I did ten years or so of touring and, in that time, I was still playing some of the same venues, but for bigger crowds. It could only go so far, but that’s not why I packed it up. I was under no illusions – it was called Kunt and The Gang – it was never going to get on TV or radio; it was never going to get in the papers.

JOHN: It was a niche market.

Kunt looked up a goat in the City of London

KUNT: Yes, but what surprised me in my time doing it was the crossover appeal it had. Not like Shaggy or The Spice Girls, but a fairly diverse group of people came to see my shows. People in Heavy Metal T-shirts that you wouldn’t see at any other gig than a Metal gig. There would be metalheads, punks, old people, teenagers. You couldn’t second guess who was going to like it – in Edinburgh especially. The old couple in the front row you think Oh God! They’re gonna hate it! end up laughing like drains and the young couple next to them end up having an argument with one of them storming out.

JOHN: Well, if you give ‘em quality, it will cross all divides. And your stuff IS quality. You know what my view is: if you wrote mainstream, clean lyrics, you’d make a fortune. The tunes are wonderful and you are a very good lyricist.

KUNT: I never have any mainstream clean ideas, though. And, if you try and force it, it just doesn’t work. If you start to water it down, it just doesn’t work.

JOHN: I still think you could be big mainstream success…

KUNT: But you have to know people to get the ins and that’s always been my problem. I remember my Wikipedia entry saying: This is an orphaned article… which meant it had no links to anything else. Everyone networks on social media. But I was a social network orphan, really, because I didn’t collaborate or reach out to other people. I just did me own thing. That’s the way I like doing it, but also I stopped sending out promo copies of the CDs and didn’t send out press releases or promote things. It just went along by word-of-mouth.

JOHN: Are you still getting the same number of online hits as before?

KUNT: It’s ticking over. I truly never really look at the stats. It’s more interesting doing stuff than looking at stats, but I notice the Jimmy Savile and The Sexy Kids video has gone over half a million, which surprised me. The trouble with doing topical things is they normally tend to have a very short shelf-life… but not Jimmy Savile. 

JOHN: So what are you doing at the moment for work?

KUNT: Painting and decorating and tiling.

JOHN: Is that satisfying?

KUNT: D’you know what? It is. But it’s not that financially rewarding and it makes you realise that mincing around on stage singing electro-cock songs is probably the best career option even if the songs you’ve sung 2,000 times become a bit soul-destroying. It seems like not a bad idea when you’re up at 7 o’clock in the morning on the North Circular road.

JOHN: Did you say Electro-Cock?

KUNT: Yes.

JOHN: Just checking… So are you frustrated? Though painting and decorating is creative. You create something.

KUNT: Well, it’s the most creative mundane thing you can do. Before I was Kunt, I had a job at Calor Gas. You did a different job every quarter of the day. You’d be loading bottles on and off, then you’d be on the production line. The most tedious job was sitting there watching the bottles go underwater to see if any bubbles came out.

You’d been out at a gig the night before, you’d had three hours sleep and you were watching these bottles go round and round. The most interesting thing that could happen was if a spider was on one of the bottles and it would go under the water, then pop up to the top, scrabbling for life.

Them mundane times are the times you have more ideas, because your brain goes into like a state of trance. I always got lots of ideas when I was doing really mundane things. I used to drive a mini-bus for the County Council and I remember pulling over in a lay-by and writing Wanking Over a Pornographic Polaroid of an Ex-Girlfriend Who Died from start to finish.

JOHN: What happens when you’re painting and decorating? Do you still get ideas for songs while doing that?

KUNT: Recently… Greta Thunberg’s Fanny…

JOHN: Don’t you miss performing? I’m not a performer, but you must have got a kick out of performing.

KUNT: Yeah. But it wasn’t my favourite thing. My favourite thing is the creative process: sitting there at a computer writing a song. I would do that every day if I could and some days I do.

JOHN: You must have a backlog of new songs on your computer.

KUNT: Yeah. 

JOHN: The tunes are great. If you removed the lyrics, you could sell the tunes mainstream.

KUNT: Yeah, I’ve got 125 catchy, early-80s-sounding instrumentals from songs I’ve done but, if you get commissioned to do the theme tune for a kids’ TV show, sooner-or-later someone finds out it was previously a song about raping a paper boy!

JOHN: Is it enough just to create new songs or do they need to be let loose into the world for total satisfaction?

KUNT: You have to let them loose into the world because otherwise you just keep fiddling with them. They’re like your children. You let them out into the world cos otherwise you would just keep fiddling with them at home.

JOHN: Was that prepared?

KUNT: No.

JOHN: I’m impressed. Excellent structure.

KUNT: I do a lot of off-the-cuff stuff.

The children’s book, credited as “by Mr Gels and Kay Mann”

JOHN: You are a tragic loss to showbiz. How much stuff have you produced since you ‘retired’ in 2016? You wrote a children’s book, of all things… Bumface Poohands.

KUNT: And I wrote that book about my time…

JOHN: i, Kunt.

KUNT: Yes.

JOHN: You should have tried to get sponsorship from Apple.

KUNT: I don’t think they’re that keen on people appropriating their brand, not generally. I had an album in 2014 called Jap’s iTunes (ie Jap’s Eye Tunes) and I had to change the name of it on iTunes – I mean, putting it up on iTunes then taking it down then changing the title and putting it back up would just not have been worth all the aggro.

JOHN: Any new albums on the horizon?

KUNT: I’ve just released a French album.

JOHN: Called?

Kunt came clean in his autobiography

KUNT: Bite ô Ma Bite: Les Plus Grandes Teubs de Kunt and The Gang.

JOHN: Which means?

KUNT: Cock. Oh My Cock: The Great Big Cocks of Kunt and The Gang.

JOHN: So it’s a Best of… album?

KUNT: Yeah. I had a very keen fan who translated a load of my songs into French for me. 

JOHN: A genuine translation?

KUNT: Yeah, down to the reference points and everything. I looked all his references up on Wikipedia. In one of the songs, I mention the English murderer Ian Huntley and he translated that into the name of a real French caretaker wrong un.

JOHN: When was the album released?

KUNT: Last month.

JOHN: We should have arranged to meet up to talk about that.

KUNT: Yeah. Pity we didn’t.

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Lynn Ruth Miller says Amsterdam is not all about marijuana and prostitution…

Lynn Ruth Miller arrives at Schiphol Airport

Lynn Ruth Miller (86 years old physically; in her twenties mentally and creatively) is an American comic and burlesque performer living very happily in London. But she has been off on her travels again, performing in Amsterdam. 

Here she tells all…


Everyone thinks Amsterdam is all about marijuana and prostitution, but that isn’t the way it is for me these days. It could be because my estrogen has flown the coop or I am so small they don’t notice me but my Amsterdam experience is like a warm, fluffy blanket. I always feel like I have just flown into a cozy cloud of senior love even before I land in Schiphol.

While I was waiting for my plane, I met Fred, a man from the south of the Netherlands who does publicity for theatres. He offered to charge my phone but I am a very proper lady and I do not plug into strangers until I am confident I won’t get a shock.  

However, we did have a spirited conversation about Dutch theatre and love. Fred told me why he married his second wife. I asked him why they couldn’t just live together until one or the other of them got bored and he said: “When you love a beautiful woman, (I realized immediately that I was out of the running… but I was still curious) you are so proud that she loves you back that you want to show her off to all your friends and say You see? This gorgeous creature wants only me!

I have to say that was how it was with my father and mother.  

My daddy was a very homely man – short, and stocky with a bad complexion and horn-rimmed glasses. My mama was exquisite. She was a tiny redhead with sparkling blue eyes and she was built like a brick shit-house.  

When my father took her out to a movie or to someone’s home for dinner, he wore my mother like a jewel.

Listening to Fred’s defence of marriage clarified why my two husbands left me so quickly. Obviously, if you are stuck with a dreamy idealist who is flat chested and clomps around the place in sensible shoes, you want to hide her under the carpet as soon as possible.

But I digress.

On the plane, I chatted with Emma who is from Paris, studying economics at UCL in London. She and I bonded over our cream cheese and spinach (that is what the label SAID was in that little sandwich; although it tasted like nothing at all to me) because Emma has a dog named Balthus, a beautiful Jack Russell mix. I am confident that I will be occupying her Parisian guest room in the spring. Oui, in effet.

I understand her bathroom is equipped with a luxury bidet and a hot tub big enough for two. I am thinking Balthus and me, of course… not that I would refuse her father. French men are quite an experience, so I hear.

Amsterdam: “I felt like a miniature Lilliputian among a horde of blonde giants.” (Photograph by Sávio Félix via Unsplash)

As soon as I disembarked from the plane, I felt like a miniature Lilliputian among a horde of blond giants. The average height of a Dutch gentleman is well over 6 feet and the women are all about 5’7”.  

I am now 4’10” and I spend all my time in Amsterdam staring at belt buckles while I make scintillating conversation (in English of course).  

If I am particularly witty (which is all the time) I am often aware of a visible male reaction… and THAT is surprisingly rewarding for me.

I got a cab to take me to my lodging. And that was when I met Mustafa.  

Mustafa’s father escaped from Afghanistan when he was a little tyke of eight years old. His daddy hid out in another country, but he sent Mustafa, his sister and his mother to Amsterdam and followed a couple years later.

Everyone always thinks people who are granted asylum are hysterically grateful for being granted a safe haven in a benevolent foreign land, but we are wrong. Mustafa told he how terrified he was moving to a city filled with tall, blond people he couldn’t understand, who made fun of little brown boys. His mother couldn’t find the foods that comforted him because she had no way of communicating what they were to the local grocer.  

And the weather was abysmal.  

In January, the weather in Holland is a wet, rainy 36 degrees Fahrenheit while in Mustafa’s hometown in Afghanistan it was always a sunny 44.

I was staying in Edo Berger’s guest house this trip.

Nina, Edo’s beautiful wife, met me at the door with Doris, their 14-month-old daughter. The two decided to name their daughter Doris because they wanted her to be able to spell her name. They wanted to keep it simple – only 5 letters. After all, one never knows how intelligent one’s offspring will be.   

They need not have worried about Doris, however. At 14 months, she carries on an only slightly unintelligible conversation, expresses her opinions vociferously and crawls with great energy into toilets, cupboards and under tables.

Nina is an abortion doctor and we discussed the strict limiting laws against abortion in some of the American states.

She explained abortion is not an issue in Holland because anyone can have one whenever they please. However, she recalled when her clinic had to close for a couple months and she read about a woman who had hanged herself.  

“I am pretty sure she was one of my patients,” Nina said.

It was Anna Quinlan who said: “When men legislate for women’s bodies, the coat hangers come out.”  

So do the ropes.  

Take heed all you men who think you know best about a woman’s right to give birth.

That night I was booked to headline at Mezrab, a wonderfully vibrant club in Amsterdam and Mustafa drove me there. He even walked me to the door and, as we made our way together, I thought: Here we two are, a Muslim and a Jew, who just love to be together sharing stories. 

Listen up, Israel and Palestine.

International comedy line-up at the Mezrab club, Amsterdam

Mezrab is a crowded, exciting place to perform comedy.

Their line up is always diverse.  

This time, they had Aidan Killian from Dublin, Henrik Elmer from Sweden, Raul Kohli from Manchester (a foreign country to me) and Jia Yuan from China, now living in Amsterdam.   

On Sunday afternoon, I met Mikaelia a comedian who is originally from Detroit. I was born a mere 40 miles away in Toledo, Ohio, a town that borders a dead great lake, Lake Erie. The town fathers there were so upset to have this polluted dead body of water on their shore that in 2018 they passed a law creating a Bill of Rights for the lake. They agreed that their residents were deliberately dumping garbage into the dead lake and letting objectionable creatures pollute it.

Would that they would pass a similar law for their politics.

Ohio was one of the states that gave the world Donald Trump, a man one of my friends refers to as That Orange Turd.

Mikaelia and I went to the Amsterdam Affordable Art Fair and I was shocked at how different the art was there from the same fair in London.  

Although the London Affordable Art Fair is always very original and interesting, the one in Amsterdam had a completely different definition of what visual art can be.

There were many three dimensional pieces, many that used unusual optical illusions, a great deal of photography combined with paint and collage. It was a spectacular exhibition.

Comedy Cafe, Amsterdam: “always filled with tourists…”

But, in Amsterdam, the frosting on the cake for me is always my gigs at The Comedy Café run by Tim van’t Hul, a very capable comedian in his own right. He will be coming to London to make everyone here laugh at the beginning of January.  

His shows are always filled with tourists, which means I can do the same set over and over without boring anyone but myself. Sunday was especially good with a packed house and a lot of funny men on stage. Sadly no women in the line up except me and, at my age, I think I am more neutral.

My plane left on Monday and Mustafa drove me to the airport for my good-bye gift.  It was both beautiful and touching to share life experiences with this very young man who had endured far more trauma in his life that I have yet to see, yet is so generous with his time and so kind to old ladies.  

In many ways, our friendship should be an example of what can happen in this angry turbulent world of ours to make it a more comfortable place to live. Recycling isn’t the only way to make our lives better.

The plane was an hour late. Evidently, KLM has a problem with timetables. I am guessing their schedule is Jewish.

I did arrive home in London in time to have two very lovely men cook me a vegetarian dinner.

I now have two blissful weeks in London basking in the autumn downpours and debilitating winds, until I hurry off to sunshine and political unrest in Southeast Asia.  

The bug spray has been purchased and I am so ready to sweat.

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Romina – Il Puma Londinese – with English variety and multilingual comedy

Romina – Il Puma Londinese – is back with a vengeance

Romina Puma used to run a fortnightly Italian language comedy night in London – Il Puma Londinese. I blogged about it in 2014.

She stopped in 2016.

But now she is back with more than one show.

This week, on Monday (tonight) there is The Puma Goes Wild at the Craft Beer Co in Islington. (It’s really more like in Angel).

On the next four Wednesdays, there is filming at the same Islington venue of an Italian-language show for the internet.

And, on 28th November, there is another Il Puma Londinese show at The Colonel Fawcett in Camden.

So I chatted to Romina…


JOHN: Il Puma Londinese ran until October 2016 then stopped. Why?

ROMINA: Giada Garofalo had been helping me with the night and she went back to Italy. I was too tired. I needed a break. And when I came back from the Edinburgh Fringe last year, I said: I’m not going to do comedy any more! 

JOHN: But now you’re back again. What made you start again in September this year?

ROMINA: Well, it’s what you like to do and you miss it after a while and you need to carry on. It was a show I did in December 2018 for Radu Isac, the Romanian comic. He had a free slot in one of his shows and asked me to perform all in Italian. It went really well.

JOHN: So Il Puma Londinese is back again in Camden on 28th November with stand-up acts in Italian and in English. 

ROMINA: Yes.

JOHN: But The Puma Goes Wild – The shows in Islington/Angel. They’re not straight stand-up comedy shows…

ROMINA: I wanted to do something different. So I am the only stand-up. The others are all surreal, weird, character, impro, sketch – all other styles. I’m trying to create an English/British following because, before, my audience were mostly Italian.

JOHN: And the Puma Goes Wild nights are in English.

ROMINA: Well, they can perform in any language they like. French, English, Italian, Spanish – any language. If it’s that type of comedy – surreal, impro – people will more-or-less understand in any language. Whereas, with stand-up, you need to know the language.

So far, I’ve always had an improv group who perform in Italian. All the others have been in English, including me.

JOHN: Would mime groups perform in English?

ROMINA: I still haven’t had a mime.

JOHN: What were you doing when you were having a break from comedy?

ROMINA: Recipe videos… Italian recipes online. There are lots of recipe/cookery groups on Facebook.

JOHN: And getting a following?

ROMINA: Yeah.

JOHN: Italian?

ROMINA: From America mainly. I was doing it in English. An Italian recipe, Italian cuisine, but in English.

JOHN: Any chance of a TV version in Italy?

ROMINA: Well, as you’ve mentioned it, there is an Italian online TV service based in London – Tele Londra – and this Wednesday in the Puma Goes Wild venue in Angel – we are recording a competition show – Il Puma Londinese Approda su Tele Londra – four episodes with me as MC, all in Italian.

JOHN: A competition show?

ROMINA: Two acts will compete against each other. The audience decides who wins. The final will be recorded on 4th December.

JOHN: Recorded. Not live.

ROMINA: At first, they wanted to stream it all live, but then they were too worried about the signal.

JOHN: Will there be further ones after the initial four?

ROMINA: We will show it to people and see if we can find a sponsor for next year.

JOHN: Other plans?

ROMINA: I am preparing a new stage show.

JOHN: About?

ROMINA: Well, the title is Freewheeling. It’s mainstream, light, fun. I’ve been asked to do the show in Italy next year, in Turin. 

JOHN: Where are you from?

ROMINA: Near Milan.

JOHN: Oh, just round the corner from Turin. That would be your first time performing in Italy?

ROMINA: With a full hour show, yes.

JOHN: Why Turin?

ROMINA: I know a girl who runs a comedy night there and she asked me. I would also do it in London. 

JOHN: And at the Edinburgh Fringe next August?

ROMINA: I’m not sure I’m keen on Edinburgh any more. After my last one – It’s All My Mother’s Fault – I… Well, you spend a lot of money just to be in the brochure and it doesn’t really help to get audiences in, so what’s the point? My plan is to go round the UK on my own – various cities – without festivals, getting people in via Facebook and so on.

JOHN: And it’s called Freewheeling?

ROMINA: Yes.

JOHN: Appropriate.

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