I was tricked on my birthday by a comic’s Cunning Stunt on Facebook

So I currently have comedy performer Matt Roper staying with me. Last night, he went off to see some Edinburgh Fringe previews at comedy critic Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara emporium in Shepherd’s Bush.

There is a video on YouTube of Copstick plugging the Mama Biashara emporium in 2010. Things have only changed for the better.

While Matt Roper was at Mama Biashara last night, I was off elsewhere. It was my birthday.

During the evening, Kate Copstick posted this on her Facebook page:

We’ve got wonderful character comic Matt Roper visiting the emporium to see a show tonight. For those who don’t know him, he’s the man behind the vile but utterly loveable powerhouse creation of Wilfredo, of whom I had the good fortune to witness last year at the Fringe. Due to an error at The Scotsman, my review of his show only gave three stars when in fact it ought to have been a full five. He’s up at the Fringe once again this year in Routines, a new immersive comedy experience which I predict will smash the Festival this year (3.45pm at the Three Sisters). Those who haven’t seen Matt at work are highly recommended to do so. A huge comic talent.

Facebook posting that set it all off, sent from Mama Biashara

Facebook posting that set it all off, sent from Mama Biashara

I re-posted it on my Facebook accounts and thought no more about it until I got a Facebook message a little later from Matt. It said simply:

Just fraped Copstick.

I had to look this up. The online Wiktionary’s first definition of ‘frape’ was:

A crowd, a rabble.

This seemed unlikely.

The Wiktionary’s second definition was:

(Internet slang) To hijack, and meddle with, someone’s Facebook account while it is unattended.

Uh-oh, I thought.

And, sure enough, Matt had written the glowing review of himself (with the fake Scotsman stars) on Copstick’s computer while she had been off dealing with the Fringe preview in the Mama Biashara performance space.

I was not the only one who was taken in; there was widespread re-posting and Tweeting.

This morning, the real Copstick posted on her Facebook page:

So here’s a thing: Matt Roper popped by the Mama Biashara Emporium last night to pick up his typewriter. I leave him alone with my desktop for FIVE MINUTES and I wake up this morning to find FB wet with excitement over something I had apparently posted on the subject of how fabulous and talented he is and how the Scotsman stars were a misprint and should have been five. Yes I think he is pretty good and yes, to be fair, he did give me two slices of his pizza… but even John Bloody Fleming reposted the thing! Are my posts usually so fulsome in their praise? Well, I will be going along to see Routines (see place and times on ‘my’ previous posting) and it had better be FUCKING BRILLIANT, Roper!

A few hours later, Copstick posted:

They are still sharing Matt Roper’s fucking fake fucking fabulous fucking posting on my page about him and fucking WilfuckingFredo and RouFuckingTines. WTF.

Copstick is mellowing with age.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wilfredo-Unchained-Live-California-Explicit/dp/B0100E56JA

Matt strangely forgot to plug that his alter ego has a new album out – Wilfredo Unchained: Live in California

Matt just did this publicity stunt on a whim; there was no advance planning. But it is a thing of beauty. A contender (I would think) for this year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

It did not just publicise Matt and his show but did so by making people not only fall for a con (as I did) but setting it up so that other people did the real work – all the people who were taken in and re-posted and re-Tweeted the initial frape.

It also, in this year – the tenth anniversary of Malcolm Hardee’s death – managed to doff a hat to one of Malcolm’s own legendary Edinburgh stunts. The one in which he and Arthur Smith wrote a glowing review of Malcolm’s Fringe show and submitted it to The Scotsman under the name of William Cook, the newspaper’s own highly-esteemed comedy reviewer – and it was, indeed published.

Matt’s stunt was almost better than this, in that he did not even have to write a fake review of his own show – he merely referred to an existing review and twisted perception of reality.

Desperate pose with Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

A desperate pose with Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

Only a few days ago, I had been lamenting to myself that no cunning stunts had, as yet, appeared publicising a Fringe show or performer this year.

Ellis & Rose (as I mentioned in an April blog) had pretended they had appeared at Soho Theatre by hanging their own carefully-designed photo on the wall of the theatre’s bar. But they have no show in Edinburgh this year.

And, a few days ago, there was a brilliant publicity stunt by magicians Young & Strange who, while a Sky TV reporter talked to camera about government NHS reforms, staged a variation of the sawing-a-man-in-half trick behind him, on the green in front of Parliament.

This stunt got even better when it transpired that the whole thing was fake – it was not a real Sky reporter, nor a real Sky transmission, just a beautifully-crafted fake and one of a series of Young & Strange self publicity stunts aimed at getting broadcasters’ attention.

I would think this wonderful stunt would have been a sure cert for a Cunning Stunt nomination – if it were not for the fact Young and Strange are not plugging any Edinburgh Fringe show.

Still…

At least Matt Roper has now set a high benchmark to which others can aspire.

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Spencer Jones: only a bit of a Herbert

Spencer Jones - not a toilet act, despite the signs

Spencer Jones, The Herbert – not a toilet act, despite the signs

“Your comedy character is called The Herbert,” I said to Spencer Jones.

“Well,” he told me, “I wanted to call him The Dickhead. Dickhead to me is quite a nice term: He’s a dickhead – I like him. It feels like a warm character to me. But Northerners told me it was too strong.

“So then I messed-around with all sorts of names – The Idiot… The Herbert.

“I settled on The Herbert – He’s a Herbert He’s really clever at one thing. But also Check out this Herbert: quite a London phrase for He’s a bit of a prat. And Herbert Spencer wrote theories on comedy. The name just seemed to fit well.”

“How did the character start?”

“About three years ago, I did a Doctor Brown course for five days and I was awful for the whole week. I loved it but I was awful. I was the worst. But I found it really interesting.”

“Why do a clown course?”

“I don’t know.”

“Because it was trendy?”

“It wasn’t trendy to me.”

“You were no good at it, but you loved it.”

“What I loved about it was realising the magic that goes on in the audience’s head. When you do a clown class with 30 people and they’ve each got to walk on stage within the group three times, you see 90 entrances. It’s a crucial moment when you walk out on stage. Every person in the audience makes up their mind about you in different ways.

Audiences make assumptions about acts

Audiences make assumptions about acts

“Someone walks on stage and you can think: Ooh. He looks like a builder. Or Ooh. He looks like he’s got issues. Or Ooh. He looks like he thinks he’s a dancer… All these little things. When you are doing stand-up in little clubs, it’s about how you walk on stage and your opening gag: the audience make their mind up about you.”

“So,” I suggested, “like most ‘silly’ acts, you are analytical.”

“I try to be. Maybe. A little bit.”

“What is the elevator pitch for your act?”

“Oh God. I don’t know.”

“When you decided to be a comedian, were you the Herbert immediately?”

“No. Before that, I was a stand-up for a little while. I’m a kind of private person, so I found it kind-of difficult to do good stand-up. Then I did sketch comedy: I put together a little troupe called Broken Biscuits. Then I did characters – builders, Foley artists…”

“Foley artists?”

“Foley Phil. I had seen Chris Luby at the Glastonbury Festival, doing marching sounds. My Phil Foley was a bit like him.”

“The cliché is that performers hide behind characters.”

“Definitely. Though there’s a little part of myself in there. The kid in me.”

“So, getting back to the elevator pitch again…”

“The Herbert is basically physical comedy and props. And some weird music. You know what, John? I really don’t know yet.”

“How long have you been doing it?”

“Three-and-a-bit years. I just take stuff on stage that I think will make people laugh. I never thought of myself as a physical comedian or wanted to be a prop comic, but I found something to take on stage and then something else and suddenly I had props. The key thing is to go on, smile, be nice and make sure I am the biggest prat in the room.”

“Did you study drama at university?”

“I didn’t go to university. My mum always used to encourage me when I sang and when I acted and, when bullies used to bully me, I fought back and she used to say: You’re doing the right thing. But the rest of it – school – she wasn’t bothered about that. I kind of fannied around until I was 30 and then I thought: I’ve got to stop being a dick. And now I’m a professional dickhead.”

“What had you been before you were 30?”

Spencer Jones, a man of many occupations & props

Spencer Jones, a man of many occupations & props

“All sorts, I’d worked in a pastie factory. I was a teaboy and then a producer for TV commercials. I worked for the council in West Ham and Plaistow.”

“As what?”

“It was called New Deal for Communities: I used to teach kids things like radio presenting. I’ve done lots of things. Bar manager. Wedding DJ. Wedding singer.”

“So why choose to go into comedy at 30?”

“I’d done a double act when I was 16 or 17 – three gigs and we got booed off stage on the third gig by all my friends. I wanted to entertain. When I was 18 or 19, I went to Malcolm Hardee’s club Up The Creek and saw some acts get absolutely annihilated and I didn’t have the balls to touch comedy again until I was 24.

“I used to play in a junk band – gas pipes, shopping trollies, kitchen sinks and we used to open the cabaret stage at the Glastonbury Festival for a few years.”

So there you have it.

Spencer Jones is the Herbert.

A surreal, absurdist physical comedy act with lots of props.

“The act is all mumbling,” he told me. “I’m trying to get it down to just mumbling and noises. The occasional well-chosen word.”

Spencer’s preparations for the Edinburgh Fringe

Spencer’s preparations for Edinburgh Fringe are going well

“Has your Edinburgh Fringe show next month got a theme?” I asked.

“It’s about my daughter being in hospital,” Spencer told me. “About having no money. Being skint.”

“Autobiograpical?” I asked.

“Absolutely. If you spend five days in hospital with a kid, as a clown, you’ve gotta start messing around with the equipment.”

“What was wrong with her?”

“Meningitis.”

“How old?”

“She’s four months old now. It was full-on for a month. You’ve got to perform what you know and what’s honest to you. I try to do silly stuff, but it always gets informed by what’s going on around me.”

“What’s next?”

“I dunno. I just want to carry on trying to make people laugh. Just pay the bills. I’ve go a roof that needs fixing. There’s a short film coming out called Showtime, directed by Anthony Dickenson who is a commercials director looking into longer narrative stuff. I play a bit of a cocky stand-up comedian who’s in a bit of a pickle. In the film, I am the Daily Mail Comedian of the Year.

“I’m an actor, really. One of the main reason I started doing comedy was I figured it was a good way to get acting jobs, because I saw it as a meritocracy where, if you’re a good comedian, you get work.”

I told Spencer: “You didn’t say: I ALSO act. You said: I’m an actor. Which implies you see yourself as an actor first.”

“Yes. I’m an actor, yeah. I do quite a few commercials. I’m the current face of Barclaycard. I like an easy life. I would love it if someone just gave me a script and I learn the lines, do the thing, go home and hang out with the missus and kids. That would be the easy life… But…”

There is a clip of The Herbert’s 2014 Edinburgh Fringe show on YouTube.

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Geezer job: Dapper Laughs, Oscar Wilde and a bit of ‘buzz word’ offensiveness

Dapper Laughs - “dead in the water"

Dapper Laughs – perhaps laughing all the way to the bank…

Daniel O’Reilly in his character (Is it a character?) of Dapper Laughs is the comedian who just keeps giving to journalists. He needs better PR advice. Or does he?

His ITV2 show was cancelled after phone footage emerged of him telling a woman in a live comedy show audience that she was “gagging for a rape”. Then he went on BBC2’s Newsnight show to apologise and say he was dropping the Dapper Laughs persona. Then he revived the ‘character’.

And now, yesterday, in a Sunday Times Magazine interview, he appeared to be saying that the controversy had all been because he was not actually taught that rape was wrong: “Not once was I invited to learn more about sexual violence, rape and sexism and the problem is the attitude toward men… Instead of attacking me, why not educate me? I would happily accept it and then help and educate the millions of men who watch my stuff. I haven’t been. Instead I’m told to fuck off and stop my comedy.”

Who knows if that is what he meant to say or did say or not.

The interview might or might not be a miscalculation and might or might not be unconnected with his upcoming tour Theory of Nothing and an upcoming DVD release.

We’re Not Racist and We Love Gays

Ben Adams and Lenny Sherman are successful podcasters

I talked to comedians Lenny Sherman and Ben Adams about him.

They record a regular podcast together: We’re Not Racist and We Love Gays. And Ben runs Broken Toaster TV which produces “dark comedy sketches and shorts” for online viewers.

“We used to run gigs for Dapper Laughs,” Ben told me, “and we got friendly with him that way.”

“Ben was the one who introduced all of us lot to Vine,” Lenny explained. “He got Dapper Laughs on Vine. I used to MC a weekly gig for Dapper Laughs – he’s very good at promotion and marketing and that sort of thing.

“You get exposure from Vine and our podcast has sort-of built-up from that: a cult following. We’ve got over 20,000 followers on Vine and about 3,000 listeners for our podcast. We’ve done over 40. It’s on iTunes. We’ve got the Twitter page, got the Facebook. We done a live show at the Lost Theatre last October. It all links up. It’s all publicity. We’re doing the Camden Fringe this year – two 25-minute sets of stand-up.”

Ben and Lenny live at the Camden Fringe

Ben and Lenny live at the Camden Fringe

“Why the Camden Fringe and not the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

Ben told me: “I went to the Edinburgh Fringe once and, unless you’ve got money and the proper marketing behind you, it’s almost worthless. you go up there and almost every single poster has got 4 Stars, 5 Stars. It becomes meaningless.”

“And,” explained Lenny, “I just can’t afford it, to be honest. I would love to go. to be at a comedy festival – probably the best one in the world – I would love to. But I just can’t afford it, John. I’ve been going four years.  The first year, I didn’t go up to Edinburgh because I was in prison.”

“For what?” I asked.

“Fighting at football. Millwall. I got attacked. I was defending myself. It’s not something I’ve ever hidden. I’m not really that sort of comedian. I’m more sort-of one-liners. I’m not really a storyteller, not personal – though there’s a lot of layers to my stuff. I play on the stereotype. People stereotype me. And it’s about switching the stereotype.”

“That,” said Ben, “is what I’m trying to do at the moment. I’m trying to become more of a storyteller. I started six years ago and it was joke-joke-joke and a lot of it was edgy, shocking stuff. But now I’ve got to a point where I don’t want to do that any more. I’ve got all this material that really works, but I want to move more into storytelling.”

“Someone,” said Lenny, “described my comedy as vulgar intelligence. But it’s not vulgar. Vulgar’s the wrong word, though it’s adult. It’s not mainstream; let’s put it that way. I mix it up as well. I done a lot of improv – I mix a lot in and try to be original and different. I am what I am. I can’t go on stage and talk about lentils.”

“I have found,” said Ben,” that, since doing the podcast, I enjoy telling stories a lot more. I think that’s where my niche is.”

“People say to me,” said Lenny, “You should talk about when you was in prison and, if you done that, you would get a Perrier Award.”

“Your podcast is very successful,” I said.

Lenny Sherman

Lenny Sherman knows a bit about merchandising and tattoos

“We do merchandise,” explained Lenny. “and, on the podcast, I done this story about some geezer I was banged-up with who had a Born Evil tattoo. The feedback we got from that was great. We even had merchandise with Born Evil written on it.”

“So,” I asked, “you have managed to make money out of Vine and the podcast.”

“I,” said Ben, “have made quite a bit of money out of Vine. Adverts and things. We got a free watch as well. You get e-mailed by companies. We were going to do something for Domino’s Pizza but that fell through.”

“Dominoes are always falling down,” I said.

“Dapper Laughs,” said Lenny, “will get: Will you wear our jacket? We’ll give you five grand. Or McDonalds: We’ll give you three grand. The more followers you’ve got…”

“… the more money you get,” Ben completed.

“What about Dapper Laughs losing his TV show?” I asked.

“I don’t want to pass judgment on that,” said Lenny.

“I think his show got taken out of context,” said Ben. “A lot of people never even saw it.”

Lenny Sherman & Ben Adams

Lenny Sherman & Ben Adams: maybe better PR than Dapper

Lenny added: “I felt he should not have gone on Newsnight. I thought: What the fuck you doing? Not only that, but that fucked it up for everyone else. I notice now, when I do jokes, if they hear buzz words… I’ve got a joke. This joke pretty much sums me up:

“A geezer says: What are your views on Muslims?

“I say: Pretty good. I’ve got a penthouse overlooking a mosque.

“When the audience hear the word Muslims from a geezer like me – working class Cockney – they think Ooh-ooh-ooh. But then I switch it to a harmless joke. I switch it.

“When Dapper Laughs did Newsnight, I thought: What the fuck are you doing? I don’t agree with everything he done – don’t get me wrong – but… I’ve got very strong opinions on edgy comedy. My comedy is what’s natural to me. I sort-of get both sides. I like all sorts of different comedy. But I don’t like this edgy comedy when they’re just talking about rude stuff for the sake of it. Come on, you’re a grown man or woman! Why are you acting like a schoolkid?

“What we do is natural. Everything we do is natural to us. There’s no false anything. We tell it like it is. Then you get people on the other side who react to buzz words too much. There’s this culture of Oh no, you can’t talk about that! Why not? You can talk about whatever you like, provided you’re not being an arsehole about it.”

Ben Adams - occasionally offensive

Ben Adams – slightly offensive?

“If I do a joke that might be slightly offensive,” said Ben, “people never look past the offensiveness or that one buzz word. Because they don’t appreciate what kind of joke it is. They stop at the first hurdle and think: Hang on! I don’t like this!

“Someone described my comedy as Treading the line between offensiveness and playfulness expertly – which I thought was perfect. Frankie Boyle might say a joke and be a bit harsh., whereas I will be a cheeky little boy about it.

“I lost a lot of my love for stand-up recently. I wanted to change direction and it took a while to get the balls to do that. If you go one way, you might end up on TV on 8 Out of 10 Cats, then you might go on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, then you might get your DVD Ben Adams Live! But I don’t want any of that. It all seems unappealing. It sounds awful. I want to make my own way, which is why I film comedy sketches and we have the podcast and do our own shows. I like the idea of finding and playing to your own audience.”

“This is what we’re all about, really, really.,” said Lenny. “I’m not saying I don’t want to be on those TV programmes. I’ll do anything. If it’s right, I’ll do it. But I think the way forward is getting your own audience. With Dapper Laughs, I thought there was a lot of irony in that. People said: Oh! He shouldn’t do that! He’s going backwards! but a lot of what he done was very progressive and he’s shown people: Look! You can do it! You don’t need ‘them’. You can just do it yourself. That was really groundbreaking, if you take away the sexism and the other stuff. What he done was like really monumental.”

“You contacted me for a chat,” I said.

“The reason we asked to see you,” said Lenny, “is we wanna try and make a bit of noise now. We’ve been under the radar a little bit.”

“Well,” I said,  “Oscar did say: There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

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Laurence Owen, comedy songsmith with a marriage made in Disney World

Laurence Owen

Laurence Owen – not a deceased female skater

“You’re doing quite well,” I said to composer/performer Laurence Owen when we met for a chat.

“I suppose so, “he agreed.  “There are now two Wikipedia pages on Laurence Owen – one is me and the other is a deceased female figure skater.”

“That’s good,” I said. “Your own Wikipedia page.”

“It is absurdly detailed,” said Laurence, “but I didn’t write it and I don’t know who did. There is information on there that I feel only my mum would know and I have asked her and it’s not her. It’s maybe a little frightening.”

“You’ll be writing a hit Christmas song next,” I said.

“I did write one two years ago,” laughed Laurence. “It was a fairly cynical experiment – to see if you could write ANY Christmas song and then release it on all the channels at Christmas and get it picked up.”

“And the answer is?” I asked.

Lawrence’s album: Lullabies of Pervland

Mr Lawrence’s highly original album: Lullabies of Pervland

“No. Not really,” said Laurence. “But I quite like it. It’s a cross between Bing Crosby and Paul McCartney. Christmas songs are all that jingle bells, sleigh bells rhythm aren’t they? My song was called called Kith and Kin and I shoved it onto the end of my Lullabies of Pervland album.”

“What was it about?” I asked.

“A Quasimodo-esque hideous evil twin who lives in an attic, watching the family from the rafters, looking down, wishing one day he might be invited to sit at the Christmas table. It’s very sad.”

“Are you sure,” I asked, “that you had your finger on the genre here?”

“Maybe that’s why it never took off,” agreed Laurence.

“Although,” I said, “on the other hand, the Pogues’ A Fairytale of New York is the most-played Christmas song of the 21st Century.”

“And that’s not a cheery subject,” mused Laurence.

“But your new Edinburgh Fringe show is…?” I asked.

It might be a Silly Musical but is not a Cinnamon one

Might be a Silly Musical but not Cinnamon

Cinemusical,” said Laurence, “which everyone keeps mis-hearing as Silly Musical, which I don’t mind. But it got introduced the other day as Cinnamon Musical, which I’m not so keen on. It makes it sound even camper than it actually is.

“It’s essentially a one-man musical… a sort of adventure story that consists of music from lots of different genres and is performed by me in the guise of various stock characters.”

“So there’s not one Laurence Owen presenting it?”

“No, no. I appear at the beginning to explain what I’m going to do because, at the first preview, I didn’t do that – just launched straight into it – and no-one knew what was going on. They sort-of enjoyed it but looked quite confused for the first half.”

“What’s not to understand?” I said. “It’s a man singing songs.”

“Yes,” said Laurence, “but I play five different characters in total, plus myself at the beginning. The first is the Disney character – the only thing I’ve kept from last year..”

“That’s the song,” I checked, “where you analyse the limited career potential for females in Disney movies?”

The wrong Laurence Owen - Women's Figure Skating February 13, 1961 X 7205 (Photo: Jerry Cooke)

A photograph of the wrong Laurence Owen (Photo: Jerry Cooke)

“Yes. So she begrudgingly resigns herself to being an evil queen on the grounds that it’s the only appealing option. But there is also the bird character she talks to in that song who is now also a character in his own right. The five characters each have a problem, basically, with the limitations of their genre. That’s the framework of the show.

“The characters have a main song each and, in each of those songs, they establish they’re not happy within the rules of their genre.

“The Disney princess character just wants a normal working business life because she’s ambitious and is fed up because she’s got to either become an amicable fairy godmother or die or become evil. The bird is annoyed because he’s only ever allowed to play novelty sidekicks. So, in his song, he’s campaigning for more lead roles for avian Americans. And so on with each character…

“It all ended up, rather by accident, a bit more issues-based than I had intended. But I quite like that. It’s sort-of got a serious point… ish. And they end up quoting Gandhi…”

“Gandhi?” I asked.

“Yeah. Well, it’s actually a fake Gandhi quote: Be the change you want to see. It’s a quote often attributed to Gandhi, but I think it’s like Elementary, my dear Watson – it was never actually said.”

“Except possibly by Russell Brand,” I suggested.

“Possibly,” said Laurence.

“What is married life like for you?”

“Great.”

Laurence recently married comedy performer Lindsay Sharman at Disney World in Florida.

Laurence & Lindsay - a marriage made in disney world

Laurence and Lindsay have a marriage made in Disney World

“I managed to go through our entire Disney wedding,” said Laurence, “without telling anybody I had written a Disney parody. I think I told our wedding planner that I was a composer, but never mentioned Disney. My dad kept trying to tell people and I was quite embarrassed. Maybe I should have let him.”

“You also wrote the music for The Golem,” I said.

The Golem was at the Young Vic, “ said Laurence, “then went to the Trafalgar Studios in London and has been to China and Russia. I don’t know where they are now – maybe Taiwan. They’re touring it all over the place.”

“And after Edinburgh…?” I asked.

Krazy Kat

Krazy Kat – coming back to a screen with re-scored music

“Well, last year Paul Barritt, the animator, made a load of short films loosely inspired by Krazy Kat – a pre-Tom and Jerry American comic strip about a cat and a mouse. He showed these films in Germany last year accompanied by a very very serious German new music, high Art, experimental orchestra.

“It worked well, but that orchestra are very expensive. When Paul was approached by David Byrne this summer for the Meltdown Festival on the South Bank, Krazy Kat was just too expensive. But then he thought – slightly too late for Meltdown – Why don’t I just get Laurence to do a new score for four players?”

I suggested: “Laurence should have thought of Laurence doing that.”

“I wouldn’t have presumed to ask,” said Laurence. “But we are now going to do that – 90 minutes of film with a live score – after the Fringe.”


A very well-produced video of Laurence’s showstopping Disney parody Empowered is on YouTube:

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Homosexuality and how Cilla Black almost did not present “Blind Date”

this week’s increasingly prestigious podcast

This week’s increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast…

This week’s Grouchy Club Podcast mainly involves some recommendations of shows to see at next month’s Edinburgh Fringe. But it also includes Kate Copstick talking about Irish entertainer Patrick Kielty, why Copstick – the doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers – does not like preview shows… and this little exchange:


John
Can you imagine what it would be like to be married to Lewis Schaffer?

Copstick
No.

John
I don’t know why you keep bringing up Lewis Schaffer in these podcasts.

(LONG SILENCE)

Copstick
For those who are listening, my jaw has just hit my knees – because I’m very flat-chested and there was nothing to stop it on the way down.

John
Hey. Hey.

Copstick
Right. So.

John
Why has your jaw hit your knees?

Copstick
You’re the one who’s obsessed with a comedian who will now be nameless.

John
Who’s that?

Copstick
A comedian who will now be nameless. You’ll have to re-wind this podcast and find out.

John
That would be the man with no voice, surely, who would be nameless. Or is that tasteless?

Copstick
I didn’t know Lost Voice Guy… He…

John
… is worth seeing.

Copstick
…It was a birth thing, wasn’t it.

John
Yup. Yeah.

Copstick
He says he keeps getting asked. Well, he doesn’t say – he communicates – He keeps getting asked if he can actually speak.

John (laughing)
What? They think it’s a…  a… That would be a somewhat bizarre angle…

Copstick
I know! It’s slightly… If you’re going to go for the sympathy vote, that would be quite an odd one to go for… Very few people know that Tanyalee Davis is actually 6ft 1in. She just squashes herself into a corset and flat shoes for every show.

John
It’s all done with mirrors, is it?

Copstick
Absolutely.

John
I was shocked when… If lawyers are listening, I don’t want anything to do with this, but I was very shocked when I was told Duncan Norvelle was heterosexual – Ooh! Chase me! Chase me! – That’s a very strange… Well, he lost Blind Date because of that, if it is an act. I think he did two pilots for Blind Date and the IBA decided they didn’t want a gay guy presenting a dating show.

Copstick
What the fuck?

John
I have no explanation for this. Apparently that’s the case. And therefore they had good old Auntie Cilla (Black) do it instead. But he was the first choice before Cilla.

Copstick
Oh my God!

John
I would have thought a gay guy was ideal for a heterosexual dating show.

Copstick
Totally.

John
Because he’s totally safe.

Copstick
Oh absolutely.

John
That’s the truth as I know it.


The full 39-minute Grouchy Club Podcast can be listened-to at Podomatic and downloaded from iTunes.

The Grouchy Club with Kate Copstick and John Fleming will be live daily at the Edinburgh Fringe 14th-29th August.

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Edinburgh Freestival organiser faced 2 murder attempts and got neck broken

Al Cowie drinks his own Laughing Juice brerw

Al Cowie – a man who has several stories to tell

The venue chaos at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe got even more complicated yesterday when venue organisers Freestival announced they had a new venue which will host up to 40 free shows on four stages every day. I had hinted about this venue in a blog earlier this month, which also mentioned another rumour which has not yet happened and one particular jaw-dropping fact which may eventually emerge, I suspect, next year.

“So I hear Freestival have a new venue,” were my opening words when I talked to Al Cowie. He was involved in organising the original Freestival last year but this year (entirely amicably) he is not involved with Freestival.

“Mmmmm….” said Al. And that was that subject over with.

Al last appeared in this blog last month when he was organising a laugh-in in a brewery. And, in February 2014, I blogged about his ancestor Horace Cole who was a massive practical joker.

“So,” I said when we met this time, “titter-making runs in your blood?”

“I do quite like a practical joke,” Al agreed, “Horace’s idea of a practical joke was a friend of his waking up with a carving knife embedded in his pillow. OK, that might seem a little bit mean, but I can see the funny side of it.”

“What’s a good example of a practical joke?” I asked.

“I was,” replied Al, “growing chilli plants in my house and so, one evening, we decided to squeeze the chilli onto one of the flatmate’s toothbrushes, which I thought was very funny, though he didn’t think it was so funny the following morning when he brushed his teeth.”

“Schadenfreude?” I suggested. “Did he get his own back on you?”

“He squeezed chilli onto my toothbrush. But I knew he was likely to do it, so I checked. And he was driving to Newcastle the following day and when he put his contact lenses in… Oh yes! With chilli! Really strong chilli!

“Is that not dangerous?” I asked.

“Well,” Al said, possibly avoiding an answer, “there’s the tequila suicide where you snort a lemon and put tabasco in your eye.”

“And you die?” I asked.

“Oh no, it’s just a horrible way to drink tequila.”

“It surely can’t be good for your eyes,” I suggested.

“I don’t think it is. It is too dangerous to do practical jokes now: you would get arrested. We’ve become too serious. I really do enjoy popping brown paper bags behind people. I have a 120 decibel air horn on my bicycle.”

“You have aristocracy in your blood, don’t you?” I asked.

“A little bit.”

“That means a lot?”

“Not at all. I come from a military family. Winston Churchill’s 2IC was a guy called Alanbrooke and he was my great-grand-uncle.”

“What’s a 2IC?”

“Second in Command. He oversaw the retreat from Dunkirk and was generally credited with saving 300,000 there. And the Germans reckoned if they had had Alanbrooke to advise Hitler, they would have won.”

“Difficult for anyone to advise Hitler,” I suggested.

“True enough, but I think Churchill was equally difficult. He needed someone like Alanbrooke to temper his worst tendencies… and keep up with his drinking… I grew up very much in the countryside in Gloucestershire and Northern Ireland.”

“Your family were…” I prompted.

“We were sent over after the (Irish) Clearances. We were sent over to land that had already been cleared, rather than…”

“Where was this?”

“Donegal and Fermanagh.”

“There’s no reason I can’t print this, is there?”

“No. One of my cousins was Roger Casement, who was hanged by the British government. So I have family on both sides.”

“Cousin?” I asked. “Not a direct cousin.”

“Well, in Ireland, if you’re related, then you’re cousins. I was reading the history of Ulster recently and it’s quite clear that most people changed sides many many times. But I don’t really know my history. My great-grandfather was Prime Minister.”

“What was his name?”

“Brookeborough.”

Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough was third Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. 1943-1963.

“So,” I said. “Military family. Why weren’t you in the military?”

“I was in the Territorial Army for ten years. I joined in 2000 and the general feeling then was that there was going to be no more war. I joined the TA as a fun thing: keep me fit and a nice group of guys. And then 9/11 happened and suddenly everything gets a little bit serious.”

“When did you leave?”

“2011. I stopped really going after I broke my neck.”

“When was that?”

“Six months before I got into comedy, about seven years ago. I was riding one of the Household Cavalry horses out in Hyde Park first thing in the morning while I was working with the City of London Police and, of course, the Commissioner of the City of London Police would sometimes ride out with me…”

“Of course,” I said.

“…and he would then give me a lift into work. So I was galloping down Rotten Row and the horse tripped up and pitched into the ground on its head and so did I and I got compression fracture in my spine and, yeah, it was really annoying.

“I got an X-ray where it didn’t show up. I was in so much pain. It was like someone taking a sledgehammer and smacking it into my back every time I took a breath or took a step. I went to my GP, who was called Dr Savage, and she said: Well, you don’t know pain. You’ve never been through childbirth.

“She didn’t want me to have a second opinion, but I went and saw a neurologist and he said: Don’t do anything. You’re going straight in to have a CT and MRI scan. By that stage, I had already been on a military unarmed combat course for a week. Someone had grabbed my arm in that and I had lost feeling in my legs. I also rode a green horse who threw me off…”

“A green horse?” I asked.

“A very young horse. Then I went and saw a chiropractor who successfully cracked my back because I just couldn’t breath. Then I went to the South of Ireland and bonnet-surfed on a speedboat in a storm on a lake in Galway. That would not be sensible even if I hadn’t broken my neck. I do consider myself very lucky.”

“I think you should reconsider the facts,” I said.

“Someone has tried to murder me a few times.”

“You mean different people have tried?” I asked.

“Yes. Different people. Someone tried to stab me in the head because he thought I was posh and should therefore die.”

“In Ireland?”

“On Battersea Bridge in London. He heard my accent and tried to stab me in the head with a Stanley knife but missed. He swung at me seven times, but I kicked him onto the ground.

“Someone tried to murder me in Argentina. I was hitch-hiking in the desert and this guy gave a lift to me, my friend and a random Argentine bloke. Then we set up camp in the desert and the Argentine bloke came up to us and said: Look, I think you guys should probably get out of here, because the other guy has just suggested to me that we murder you and take your kit. So we left that situation.”

“Has your neck mended?” I asked.

“I have an ache, but it’s nothing important. I don’t believe in pain. I think it’s your body complaining. Pain is not real. the damage is real, but the pain is not real.”

I must have looked bemused.

“Does that not make sense?” Al asked.

“Not remotely,” I said.

“Pain is not real,” Al repeated. I was not convinced.

“Isn’t it,” I asked, “something like electricity travelling down your nerves?”

“Exactly,” said Al. “The pain is just a signal. I once tried to take the blade off a circular saw. I put a spanner onto the central lug and pulled the trigger. The spanner flew out the window and the circular saw went straight through the side of my palm; I’ve still got the scar. I am so lucky; really very lucky. It’s enough to make you believe…

“…that God hates you?” I suggested.

“No,” said Al, “believe in multiple universes: that there are many other universes in which I’ve died.”

“Apart from running comedy gigs in breweries,” I said, “what are your plans?”

“Well, I do a drivetime radio show on Wandsworth Radio, 7.00-9.00 in the morning on Fridays. It’s only online – great for people who live in Hong Kong. And I’m setting up three technology businesses at the moment, which I can’t really talk about. And I’m moving more into clowning now. Clowning and cabaret and burlesque. I really enjoy doing different things. I had an awful lot more fun when I first started doing comedy. I once ate a girl’s sock on stage. Now I am enjoying myself again and having fun.”

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Lovely Laura Lexx and pig-faced Joz Norris: comics who won’t tell me things

Laura Lexx

“Why is this going to be your first Edinburgh Fringe show?” I asked comedian Laura Lexx yesterday.

“Because I’ve never wanted to do one before.”

“What’s it called?”

Lovely.”

“What’s it about?’

“It’s about not really having any problems to write an Edinburgh show about, because my dad’s not dead and I don’t come from a shit-hole with a high pregnancy rate. So I can’t write the usual Edinburgh Fringe debut show jokes about being from a chavvy area.”

“No heroin, rape or other traumatic personal stories at all?” I asked.

Laura Lexx. Is the cup half full or empty?

Laura his week – Do you see the cup half full or half empty?

“Never happened to me,” lamented Laura. “My parents are still together; they don’t have a regional accent that’s hilarious; and I don’t look like the love child of anybody and anybody else. So, in Fringe terms, I don’t have anything to write about. My show is really about being quite happy and being quite fortunate. I feel like I’m breaking all the Fringe rules.”

“So instead?” I asked.

“It’s about comparing my life either to other people in the world or to animals and realising that whatever is kind of difficult for me is really not much to complain about if you put it into context.”

Laura and I then talked at length about some of the content of her show.

“But,” she then said, “you can’t talk about that bit in your blog. Because the whole show hinges on that, although you can mention me shitting myself at Disneyland in Paris. Then I meet a tiny bird that has an even harder love life than me. You can talk about the tiny bird. Do you want to see the poster?”

“Can I mention the poster in the blog?”

“Yes”.

Laura Lexx poster with the flying whale cut off

Laura Lexx poster with the flying whale cut off for no reason

“Can I say what your name is?”

“Yes.”

“Look,” said Laura. “The poster has penguins, owls and a killer whale.”

“A killer whale?” I asked. “Where?”

“There.”

“Oh yes,” I said. “It is a very small killer whale and it is flying. Lovely.”

“Yes,” said Laura.

“Why is there an airborne killer whale on the poster?” I asked.

“Because sometimes I talk about killer whales.”

“In the show?”

“No.”

“The poster says you are sponsored by Imodium, the relief for diarrhoea.”

“Yes. Because of my story about pooping myself at Disneyland. And because I talk about irritable bowel syndrome.”

“Is that,” I asked, “not going against the general flow of happiness in the show?”

“There is,” said Laura, “no ‘against the flow’ when you have irritable bowel syndrome. I do have IBS but, when you put that up against something like leukaemia or brittle bone disease…

“… or being French…” I suggested.

“I like France,” said Laura.

“Are there songs in the show?” I asked.

“No.”

“How am I going to write a blog about this?” I asked. “Are you absolutely sure you have never been addicted to heroin or run off to Syria to be a member of ISIS?”

“Sorry, no… I even like my mother,” lamented Laura.

There was a long pause, then Laura brightened up.

Laura Lexx at the Comedians’ Cricket Match in 2011

Laura at the Comedians’ Cricket Match in 2011

“l tell you,” she said. “Here you go… Here’s something… I’ve finished writing my novel – it’s taken four or five years and, as soon as I get back home from the Fringe, we’re filming a taster scene of it, so I’ve got a cast together to do a 5-minute preview and I’m working on the pilot for a sitcom pitch and then I’m gonna do a radio equivalent for it. That’s probably going to take up my main focus after the Fringe.”

“Why didn’t you mention this before?” I asked.

“I forgot.”

“You forgot?”

“I forgot.”

“What is the novel about?”

“It’s about the end of the world, but nobody has died.”

“Surely,” I said, “the end of the world, by definition, involves a certain amount of collateral damage?”

“You would think so,” said Laura. “Except it turns out not to be the end of the world. It is just that Jesus has paused things in this particular village, because it needs work.”

“But,” I said, “I am guessing I can’t mention this because that’s the end of the novel?”

“It’s the beginning of the novel,” said Laura. “It’s about a hapless group of West Country villagers who are dealing with the end of the world… And then Jesus turns up and has to try and fix things before the Devil wins.”

“Is the Prophet Mohammed involved?” I asked.

“No.”

“There could be publicity value in it,” I suggested.

Laura Lexx insisted on the teapot shot - nothing to do with me

Laura Lexx suggested this teapot shot – nothing to do with me

“He might be in the illustrations,” Laura mused.

“There are illustrations?” I asked.

“No. But if you want to do any… I am looking for a publisher.”

That conversation took place yesterday at the Soho Theatre Bar in London.

Today in the Soho Theatre, I talked to comedian Joz Norris.

Joz Norris (left) in Shambles

Joz Norris (left) shows acting talent in Shambles, Series 2

“The reason I got in touch with you,” he explained, “was to mention the Shambles web series that I’m in. “Harry Deansway made it. He told me: Plug it, Joz. Get people to see it.” And I thought I would talk to you about it, because you are increasingly prestigious. So I told Harry: Good news, Harry, I’m going to talk to the increasingly prestigious John Fleming about it. And Harry immediately banned me from saying anything about it. He says he doesn’t want any discussion of it at all.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Harry says he doesn’t want any spoilers. He says he thinks there is too little mystery in comedy these days. He says everyone’s so busy trying to plug everything and reveal all the secrets going on in it, it spoils the product. He says I can mention it and ask people to watch it, but you are not allowed to say anything about it.”

“About what?” I asked.

“You can’t trick me into talking about it,” said Joz. I think I am allowed to tell you the title Shambles and then hopefully people will just Google that. But Harry insists there should be no actual discussion of it at all. So the main thing you and I were going to chat about I am not allowed to.

Jox Norris trying to please everyone all of the time

Jox Norris tries to please everyone all the time

“Harry also said he was sad I had not recommended a show of his in a Q&A I did with the British Comedy Guide, so I thought maybe we could just talk about Harry’s show instead. That way, I’m still helping him out and giving him some good buzz, but I am not spoiling the secrets of his web series that he doesn’t want spoiled.”

“So what are you doing at the Edinburgh Fringe in two weeks?” I asked.

“I’m doing a show called Hey Guys!”

“If,” I said, “we are not going to talk about your web series and we’re not going to talk about your Edinburgh show…”

“Why can’t we talk about my Edinburgh show?”

“We have already, haven’t we?”

“Not really.”

“OK,” I said. “What are the forty words that sell it in the Fringe Programme?”

“I think it says something about being a pig-rat. The children I work with call me Pig-Rat.”

“Why?”

Joz displays his nostrils

Joz proudly displays allegedly porcine nostrils

“I have the nose of a pig – I have quite flared nostrils – and I have quite a weird, ratty mouth. But what I don’t like about my face is the combination of my mouth and my eyes. I think it’s jarring.”

“If,” I asked, “you have the nose of a pig and the mouth of a rat, where are your eyes from?”

“I have my dad’s eyes.”

“Which one of us is going to say it?” I asked.

“What?”

When does your dad want them back?

“Oh,” said Joz, “that will be one of the witty quips you throw into your blogs.”

There was a pause.

“It’s a very good show,” said Joz.

“What is?” I asked.

Joz’s Edinburgh poster image

Joz apparently has cheeks which are over-sensitive to lights

Hey Guys!,” said Joz.

“Have you seen it?” I asked.

“I filmed a preview and then I watched that… I admit I have not seen it live.”

“Are you going to see it live?”.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to because, every time I’m performing it, I’m always tied-up working and can’t get time off to be in the audience.”

“It is one of the eternal crosses a performer has to bear,” I said.

“I suppose so,” said Joz.

“Do you want another tea?” I asked.

“Not really,” said Joz. “Shall we just have a chat, as I can’t talk about anything?”

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