A comedy fan on a musical trip to Chattanooga gets very, very, very cold

Samantha Hulme works with horses (they are not pictured)

This week, I got an email from comedy fan Samantha Hulme. She works with horses in Lancashire.

“I have got a two week job in Chattanooga,” she told me, “and, when I finish there, I am going to have a road trip for ten days.

“I am going to go to Nashville, Tuscon, Memphis and New Orleans. I am going to have a total and utter music fest…”

I suggested she might want to share her experiences for this blog.

On her arrival, she sent me a photo of the luggage belt at Chattanooga Airport.

Yesterday, I got a message saying that, on her first day in Chattanooga, she had been in a cryogenic chamber.

She told me:


The relevant cryogenic chamber on Day One in Chattanooga.

It was approximately minus 264 degrees in that chamber. Shall I repeat that? Minus 264 degrees.

At that temperature, there is no moisture in the air, so it does not penetrate the skin.

The correct clothing for this is not a huge North Face jacket or salopettes. It is sports wear: shorts, sports bra, special woollen socks and slippers and special mittens plus a nose mask and wool wraparound hat.

I felt slightly concerned when my very lovely teacher uttered the words: Don’t forget to breathe. 

An unrelated sign at a church with a very hot pastor in Chattanooga

The first chamber is the holding chamber to prepare you for the temperatures in the second chamber. This was not in any way, shape of form a warm-up.

The thought Holy crap! did go through my mind as I entered the first chamber… then I am an ex-postal worker. I can do this!

When I hit the second chamber, my trachea appeared to close.

I went from repeatedly saying in my head Breathe!… to thinking This is the weirdest cold feeling I have ever experienced… to laughter.

After I leapt out, I felt energised.

It was terror and fun mixed together


Exactly how this fits into the concept of “a total and utter music fest” for a comedy fan, I do not yet know. But further missives will, with luck, follow.

The last message I received from Samantha said: “Off to see a comedian now.”

I know no more than you, dear reader.

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Israeli comics: “It’s hard to be pissed-off with someone who makes you laugh.”

In a couple of weeks, on Wednesday 4th October, the annual Comedy International conference and showcase is back in London.

Representing Israel in the showcase are three comics: Yossi Tarablus, Yohay Sponder and Shahar Hason. The night before (Tuesday 3rd October), they are performing a one-off full-length show From Israel With Laughs at the Seven Dials in Covent Garden – “People can see us for an hour and a half rather than just 10 minutes each,” Yossi told me on Skype from Tel Aviv.

Yossi Tarablus

“Will I – a non-Jew – appreciate it?” I asked.

“Sure,” he told me. “Shahar and Yohay have just returned from their Edinburgh Fringe show and from the Asia Comedy Festival in Singapore. It’s not going to be Jewish/Israeli stuff. People who don’t know Israel and who aren’t Jewish can come and still have a blast.

“We will be doing international stuff that works that we have performed all over the world. My show is a lot about family and kids and marriage. A wife is a wife and a child is a child and dating is dating. We are doing adjustments, but we won’t be doing material that we would be testing on the crowd. We respect the crowd. We do our homework.”

“Are the three of you similar in style?” I asked.

“No, we’re very different in style. It’s a great mix of comedians because everyone is at a different stage in life. I am the only one who is married; the other two are single.”

“How,” I asked, “is the comedy scene in Israel?”

Yohay Sponder

“The English-language stand-up scene in Tel Aviv and in Israel has really taken off. In the last five years, when we started this endeavour, we didn’t know how it was going to pan out. We started with an open mic and then expanded to another more professional evening and then another evening in Jerusalem and another evening in Tel Aviv. There was was a time when you could go to see English-language comedy in Israel four times a week. Now you can see it three times a week, which is great.”

“You said,” I pointed out, “when we started this endeavour. What endeavour?”

“We wanted Israel to be a base,” explained Yossi, “a hub for international comedy like there is in Amsterdam and Berlin and, of course, I’m not even talking about Anglo places like London and New York. We want to go out and perform all over the world. And we want international comedians to visit Israel. We have a lot of people who speak English here, a lot of expats from the US and the UK. So we have enough of an audience for weekly shows.”

Shahar Hason

“I presume touring American Jewish comedians already include Israel?” I said.

“The production company that is bringing us to the UK is the one which brought Louis CK and Eddie Izzard and Jim Jefferies to Israel and they’re producing Chris Rock’s upcoming tour in Israel in January. So they bring a lot of A-listers to Israel. And Abi Lieberman brings three comedians with him every six months to do charity shows in Israel. Seinfeld was here a year and a half ago.”

“So how,” I asked, “is Israeli comedy different from New York Jewish comedy?”

“I think,” said Yossi, “that a lot of New York Jewish comics are Woody Allen-esque. Very smart, very sophisticated, very funny and more like Eastern European Jews. They are maybe a little bit more self-deprecating: classic Shtetl Jews.

“Israeli Jews, in their comedy, are a little bit more – as Israelis are – more direct. We appreciate political correctness, but not in comedy. We don’t have a problem laughing at anyone. Laughing at our wars; criticising the other side; criticising ourselves.

“I think being in a country that is constantly in a state of… alarm… makes you less vulnerable to… eh… I mean, what can happen? We are here. We have survived everything. So we don’t care about… I mean, subtleties are fine, but we just want to have people laughing, bursting out laughing, forgetting the news, any tension in the streets or even any economic crisis. People come to comedy clubs to forget. People come to comedy clubs to laugh and have a great hour-and-a-half, to forget all their troubles.

“So we are there to punch you in the stomach and to make you laugh and we want to do that in a way that will make you disconnect from the news. We don’t do a lot of stuff about politics or about current events which might trigger you to something a little bit more traumatic. We don’t want that. We just want you to laugh because your life is pretty-much like ours. Finding a common denominator with the audience is something we look for as much as possible.”

“New York Jewish humour IS self-deprecating,” I said, “whereas I think maybe the superficial image of Israelis is that they are very self-confident.”

“Self confident and less politically correct,” agreed Yossi. “Looking at stuff without any buffers. So – Boom! – in your face. That is the Israeli mentality. Straight talking. If we don’t like this guy, we say we don’t like him. In Israel, we are really afraid to be a hypocrite. If we say we are afraid of Arabs, it’s straight. We are afraid of Arabs because we have a problem with the Arabs. You know? What can you do? It’s not an evening of poetry. It’s an evening of comedy.

“People have asked me about anti-Semitism or anti-Israeli feeling— if we have encountered anything – but, when you do comedy, it’s hard to be pissed-off with someone who makes you laugh. We just want people to have fun.”

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The Australian pop artists, a Canadian A&E and tripping over steaks for dogs

This week, my blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, Anna Smith, has been in the Accident & Emergency Department of St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

She sent me an email headed:

An unusually quiet night at St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver

THE POLICEMAN AND HELEN OF TASMANIA

The e-mail read:

Happy Aortic Dissection Awareness Day.

Today is a good day.

and then there was a description of what had happened.

Sort of.

Well, not really.

Well, not at all.

She preceded her description with the comment: “It’s pretty disconnected. I am too sleepy to make sense. It is about a man in uniform with Helen of Tasmania – the doctor and the cop.”

This is what Anna wrote:


It was an unusually quiet night at St. Paul’s A&E. A weird Sunday night. I was the only patient in the ward where I was and most of the doctors were dealing with a patient in the trauma ward. The nurse said it had been more interesting the night before… “Lots of drunk people with facial injuries,” she said.

It was very cold and a young newly graduated nurse was pacing back and forth wearing a flannel sheet like a shawl to keep warm, which obscured her identification, so I wasn’t quite sure whether she was staff or perhaps a mentally distressed patient.

Policeman & Helen of Tasmania, seen from Anna’s bed

And there was a lady in a yellow gown.

When I asked her name, she said “Helen”… though it appeared to me that she was my doctor. I asked if she was English because I didn’t catch her accent. She said she was from Tasmania. 

So I said: ”Oh, the Franklin River…”

She said: “You have got a good memory.”

I didn’t correct her but, actually, it wasn’t a matter of memory. My friend Harold The Kangaroo painted hundreds of banners for the environmentalists (including himself) who prevented a dam from being built on the Franklin River, which was being maligned at the time as a “leech ridden ditch”. So it was not something I am likely to forget. I am not against all development, but calling the Franklin River a leech ridden ditch was too much.

Harold The Kangaroo also made a very interesting painting – a portrait of Dr Bob Brown combined with a documentation of the protest. 

The painting is fantastic. It is called Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz and it now hangs in The National Portrait Gallery of Australia.

Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz – the 1983 paining by Harold (The Kangaroo) Thornton

I met Harold (The Kangaroo) Thornton and his fiancée Ms. Bean the first time I visited the artist Martin Sharp’s grand home, Wirian, in Sydney. When he was a kid, Martin’s route to school was to walk across his own garden, which would have taken about ten minutes.

Martin Sharp, who was described as “Australia’s greatest pop artist” by the Sydney Morning Herald

Martin let Harold The Kangaroo and Ms. Bean stay at Wirian whenever they wanted. 

When I was staying at Wirian, I could always tell when Harold and Ms. Bean were there because they bought huge steaks for Martin’s dogs and I would trip over the steaks in the dark when I came home from working in Kings Cross (in Sydney) at five in the morning. They used to just throw the steaks out on the doormat outside the kitchen entrance. It was a little weird, tripping over steaks, but I didn’t mind because it was a signal that my friends Ms. Bean and Harold had arrived.

Harold (The Kangaroo) Thornton in front of The Bulldog coffee shop in Amsterdam. He painted the facade of the building,

I loved Martin Sharp (we all did, because he was so kind and generous) but I thought it was kind of funny, the way his former school and neighbour, the elite Cranbook School, was inching towards his Wirian mansion. He was determined that they would not get their hands on the rambling house and grounds in one of Australia’s most affluent postcodes. I am not certain but, as I recall, when Martin had to pay property tax, he would sell a couple of inches of land to the school. 

When I dislocated my shoulder and broke my humerus, I was in St Vincent’s Hospital (in Sydney) for a month. About three weeks into my recovery, Ms. Bean and Harold liberated me from the hospital for an afternoon and brought me to some apartment to watch the Mae West/W.C.Fields film My Little Chickadee.

After I got out of St Vincent’s I went back to stripping in Kings Cross, with my arm in a sling. I dressed as a friendly sexy clown and wore hats by Mr Individual when I stripped.

I had three hats which were by far the finest hats I have ever owned. 

Anna Smith on her release from hospital in Vancouver this week

Ms. Bean was a visual and performance artist. She also designed clothing sometimes: one-off pieces for herself and her friends.

She told me that, if I was going to be seen in Sydney, I needed to be seen in something sexy. So she made me a cute little punky miniskirt out of artist’s canvas with a matching top and I wore it everywhere, on stage and off. 

I would ride home from Kings Cross on my bicycle in it.

The top had no sides, just a front and a back and it tied at the waist with stringy shreds of pink Lycra. The top and the skirt had splattered paint patterns – orange, pink, black and droplets of neon green on the unfinished canvas. 

It looked like maybe someone had thrown a birthday cake against a wall. 

It was very beautiful.

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Thomasses got 10 million hits & 18-year old Brit girl played the Hollywood Bowl

Sarah and Nick – We Are Thomasse – 8.00am in Los Angeles

Time differences are a bitch.

I got an email from Nick Afka Thomas of Anglo-American comedy sketch duo We Are Thomasse.

“We will be at the Leicester Square Theatre on Wednesday Sept 27th at 9.30pm,” it said. “A lot has happened since your last blog on us! We now have 10 million views on our videos, have worked with Jason Mraz extensively, and have monthly shows in Hollywood at Second City, plus regular shows in New York.”

So I Skyped Nick and his wife Sarah Ann Masse at 4.00pm London time. But they live in Los Angeles. It was 8.00am there and they were still in bed.

“You have a new beard,” I said to Nick. “Is that permanent?”

We Are still Thomasse in the Batman caves

“No,” he told me.

“We just,” Sarah explained, “filmed a caveman sketch, so he grew it for that. In the Bronson Caves in the middle of Los Angeles, where the Batman TV show was filmed.”

“Your online videos are getting very successful on Facebook and elsewhere,” I said.

“The last 18 months,” said Nick, “we have had 10 million views.”

“How do you do that?” I asked. “I can’t do that.”

“I think something that is current helps,” Nick explained.

“We always,” Sarah added, “say there is no formula. But we have been able to replicate the success we had on 4th July now twice. We are British and American and a couple and we have put out these 4th July videos about Britain and America being awkward exes and people seem to respond. We are obviously well set-up to write those and maybe not a lot of people put out comedy videos for 4th July.”

“And you went viral on Facebook,” I said, “and all over the place.”

“This year,” Sarah replied, “a fan told us: They showed your videos at our town on a huge big screen before the fireworks display!” We were amazed. And we just did a comedy festival in Austin and a lot of people there told us: Oh! We watched your videos on 4th July at the party we were at! We seem to have tapped into something.

“But you really can’t predict what is going to be super-well-shared. One of the biggest hits we had besides the Britain-&-America one is the series called Feminist Fairy Tales. I think that just taps into something that matters to a lot of people. It only got about a million views, but it got a lot of press coverage.”

“The latest viral video,” Nick explained, “doubled our Likes on Facebook, but it has probably tripled our viewing figures. There is definitely some exponential curve where bit-by-slow-bit you can reach a broader audience and then I guess it starts to break out.”

Sarah added: “We got offered an audition the other day, straight to our email, from someone who  seemingly had just seen our stuff online. We can see it IS having an effect on our career and moving us in the direction we want to go in.”

“Which is eastwards,” I said. “You are playing London and Paris.”

“And Madrid,” Nick added.

“And a secret show,” Sarah added, “just north of Amsterdam.”

“Why is it a secret?” I asked.

“Because,” said Sarah, “the location is undisclosed until you purchase tickets.”

“Ah!” I said.

Anglo American comedy – Nick & Sarah sticking together

“And, as well as our shows,” Nick said, “we are doing workshops for the Oxford Revue and also in London and in the Netherlands.”

“And in Madrid,” Sarah added. “We have three workshops that we teach and we create custom ones as well.”

“The three are?” I asked Nick.

“Producing Digital Comedy, Sketch Writing in The We Are Thomasse Style and Acting For Sketch. We also have an E-mail List now – subscribe.wearethomasse.com

“One thing that will be interesting at Leicester Square,” said Sarah, “is that we met this 18-year-old beatboxer from London – Shamime Ibrahim.”

“Where?” I asked.

“At Jason Mraz’s big birthday concert at the Hollywood Bowl. She came out on stage in front of 15,000 people and beatboxed and we were completely blown away.

“We became fast friends and she is going to open for us at our show in Leicester Square and do the beatbox music between each of our sketches.”

“As you know,” said Nick, “our sketches are very, very fast-paced.”

“That’s for sure,” I said.

“We do about 30 sketches in an hour,” said Sarah. “A good mix of British and American comedy and, in Leicester Square, we will be doing some of our viral videos live – some other things which have had millions of views.”

“You are also doing regular monthly shows at Second City in Hollywood,” I said.

“The third Thursday of every month,” said Nick. “They have three bases – Chicago, Montreal and LA.”

“What do you do at the Second City gigs?” I asked.

“A 45-minute show of 25 sketches,” explained Sarah. “We have been there for over a year now.”

“And you also do regular shows in New York?”

“We perform there,” she said, “4-6 times a year – at the People’s Improv Theater.”

“You used to live in New York,” I said.

“Yes,” said Sarah, “but our audiences there are now packed with strangers.”

Nick laughed: “As soon as we left New York, we were huge there!”

“Talking of being big,” I said. “How come this 18-year-old from London was performing at the Hollywood Bowl when you met her?”

“She had,” said Nick, “just finished her A-levels in London on the Wednesday morning, was on a plane to Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon and was performing to the crowd of 15,000 in Los Angeles on the Saturday.”

“That doesn’t quite explain how,” I said.

“We had,” he explained, “been making, producing and co-writing sketches with Jason Mraz to promote the Hollywood Bowl show.”

“Jason,” explained Sarah, “was recording and was talking to his producer and they decided they’d like some beatboxing and his producer said: Oh, you know, there’s a girl at school with my daughter. Let me see if I can find her. So she was at home doing her homework and, within hours, she was beatboxing with this Grammy Award winner at The Rhythm Studio in London.”

“The Rhythm Studio,” said Nick, “is also where we are going to be doing one of our London workshops.”

“Well plugged,” I said.

Then, I guess, they went back to sleep.

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How to perform a comedy show to an audience with dementia in a care home

Ben Targét (left) & Pope Lonergan are working on a project

So I chatted to comedy performers Pope Lonergan and Ben Targét…

“The two of you have this joint project,” I said. “Does it have a name?”

“At the moment,” Pope told me, “it just has the banner title of The Care Home Tour. One thing we are doing is a three-hour Alzheimer’s benefit Forgetting But Not Forgotten, organised with Angel Comedy at the Bill Murray in London on 2nd October. Lots of different comedians.”

“It’s a great line-up,” said Ben. “Richard Gadd, Lou Sanders, Robin Ince, Candy Gigi, lots more.”

“And,” said Pope, “we are doing two Work In Progress shows in the lead-up to that. We are doing those with Fight in the Dog, which is Liam Williams’ production company. The whole thing is being supported by NextUp and they’re partially funding it.”

“And these shows lead to?” I asked.

“A performance that is specifically tailored for an audience with dementia in a care home. I mean, anyone can enjoy it, but the feed line/punch line of a conventional joke is too complicated. They can’t follow the logic of it. Instead, they respond with a visceral, limbic response to visual comedy and physical comedy – the slapstick stuff.”

“What is limbic?” I asked.

Cross section of the human brain showing parts of the limbic system from below. (Illustration from Traité d’Anatomie et de Physiologie, 1786)

“The limbic system,” Pope explained. “When we process music. It’s an emotional response, a visceral response; it’s like our primitive brain. It’s what develops early in children. There’s a correlation between child development and mental deterioration.”

“So the humour,” I said, “must not be too sophisticated.”

“A perfectly-structured joke is not gonna land,” said Pope.

“It’s got to be driven,” Ben added, “by the visual rather than by words. How the residents are stimulated is no longer through wordplay or story.”

“But they can,” I checked, “be stimulated through sound and music and audio effects?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Pope. “100%. Even when they have really advanced dementia, if you start singing something like Knees Up, Mother Brown, they all know the words.”

“Is there,” I asked, “a difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Pope explained: “Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. Dementia is the umbrella term. There’s Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s… My nan and David Baddiel’s dad both had Pick’s Disease – frontal lobe dementia – and that made my nan very libidinous. She was having sex with a lot of the men in the care home.”

“At what age?” I asked.

“About 85. She done well. Every time we went in, one of the carers would come over to my dad and say: Mark… A word? And my dad would come out pale, saying: Yer nan’s been at it again.”

“Is anyone going to be offended if I print that?” I asked.

Ben Targét & Pope Lonergan take afternoon tea

“No, no,” said Pope. “Good on her, you know? People with dementia obviously have diminished responsibility. They don’t really know what they’re consenting to etc, so there’s a line. But we have a husband and wife in the home who have been married 60 years. We have caught them in flagrante having sex and some people have said: We need to stop them. But that was not policy. It was just some people projecting their own discomfort. They are a married couple. They are adults. They are married. Why on earth would you stop them?”

“At a certain age,” said Ben, “we stop seeing people as adults and they become infantilised in our eyes. I don’t know if we are trained to or whether it is innate.”

“And that’s where it’s tricky,” Ben added. “Infantilised means dehumanised. The efficacy of their brain is not what it used to be but they are still adult, complex human beings.”

“I can say,” I checked with Pope, “that you work in the care industry?”

“Of course you can,” he told me.

“I am always wary,” I explained, “about saying comedians have a ‘proper’ daytime job because punters want to think of them as full-time professional comics.”

“Most of us have proper jobs,” said Ben.

“But sometimes don’t want to admit to it,” I suggested.

“We should, though,” said Ben. “I think it makes us way cooler. You get far more respect from people if you are grounded in reality.”

“Yeah,” said Pope. “Some comics think they are de-legitimised by it – Oh, my God, I’m actually part of the real world! I actually have a real job!”

“So you work in a care home,” I said to Pope, “but Ben, how did you get involved in this?”

“I used to work in care homes as well,” he told me, “as a teenager – when I was about 16 or 17. And recently Josie Long introduced me to Pope because he was looking to work with people who do physical and visual comedy. So I am trying to assemble a troupe who are willing to embrace the project.

October 2nd Benefit before the gig on 9th

“We are building to this first gig on October 9th in the care home and we do think of it as like the first exploration vessel that’s been sent out. We are hoping to reassess afterwards and then, in the New Year, do more gigs across the country in care homes.”

“There are,” Pope said, “loads of comedians who have expressed an interest. Sara Pascoe used to do theatre productions for people with dementia in care homes.”

“And there’s David Baddiel,” Ben added. “And Adam Riches – who has a lot of experience in his family of dementia and caring for people. And Phil Nichol. I’m interested to see Phil because, every time I have seen him, he’s got naked on stage and yelled at the audience!”

“Then,” said Pope, “there’s John Kearns. And Deborah Frances-White has been very supportive: she was the one who got David Baddiel interested. And Josie Long has been vital in putting it all together.

“I had done some of Josie’s gigs at the Black Heart. I was trying to figure out a way to incorporate my experiences in the care home into my stand-up act.

“Josie said: I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience of working in the home to your act. I told her: The problem is there’s a bit of dualism there. The way they act is not like the normal way ‘we’ behave. So you love the residents, you’re compassionate, you really care for them, but there is also a day-to-day blackly comic streak that you can’t put on stage because it would just sound horrible: that you are laughing at vulnerable people.

“The first time I done it, it was a bit too nasty, really. I didn’t intend it to be like that, but I hadn’t honed the material and it just came across as a bit mean-spirited. Afterwards, this woman who was apparently a High Court judge was shouting at me about it. It’s sort-of a tight-rope walk.”

“Even more so,” I suggested, “when performing to people with dementia?”

Josie Long said: “I’d love to see you bring your authentic experience to your act.”

“There are so many different types of dementia,” said Pope. “With some, the language centre (in the brain) has really diminished. Some have still got linguistic capacity – really good – they can process it. But still the normal, conventional joke is a bit too convoluted for them. So I always do things like shit gymnastics or shit karate. Anything that’s a minor spectacle they really respond to and laugh at.”

“Surreal,” I said, “rather than verbal.”

“Oh, absolutely,” said Pope. “Anything that is a minor spectacle and visual and silly. If you do wry observational comedy about Donald Trump, it won’t work.”

“Will seeing comedy,” I asked, “actually help them or is it just passing the time?”

“It is definitely better for their welfare,” said Pope, “in that there is a deficit in certain types of stimulation. When it comes to interaction, they don’t want to get up and be physically active, but they do want to be engrossed in something. They do want to sit there and watch something.

“We have told the comedians who are involved that they will have to re-calibrate their idea of what a successful gig is. There ain’t gonna be uproarious laughter. There ain’t gonna be the energy of a comedy club. But, even if the audience are not outwardly laughing, it doesn’t mean they are not stimulated and enjoying what they are watching. They always feel better after they have experienced some kind of entertainment.”

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Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology

How to build a career in comedy (and other industries)… maybe or maybe not

Part of Tabula Peutingeriana, a Roman road map

Someone once said to me that he thought most criminals were doomed to fail and jail because they had no plan.

He was a criminal himself.

Had been.

He had stopped.

“If you gamble and flounder around and you have no plan,” he said, “you’re a mug.”

I paraphrase the words. But the thoughts are his.

“Most criminals,” he told me, “don’t have an aim. They don’t have a specific number they want to reach. If you want to make a million quid or half a million, you can very possibly do that. It’s like gambling. If you are determined and you take enough risks, you may well do it. But, once you get there, you should stop.

“There’s the risk of getting caught, the risk of going to prison, the risk of losing the gamble. And the longer you go on, the more the odds are against you. Most criminals don’t put a number on what they want, so they can never reach it.

“If you have no aim – if you just keep doing the same thing over and over again and don’t have no exit strategy, you’re a mug. You are treading water and you will run out of luck. It will all come crashing down on your head.”

I think you probably stand a greater chance of making a million from crime than from gambling with the odds in Las Vegas but, that aside, he has a point.

Without an aim, you go off in all directions and get nowhere.

And, of course, once you have achieved your aim, you need to know what your next aim is.

What brought this to mind was someone at The Grouchy Club this week who asked for tips about getting on in the comedy business.

I think one thing is to have a very specific three-year or five-year aim. And, indeed, ten and twenty year aim. Have a specific aim. You do not want to start by thinking about what your first Edinburgh Fringe show is going to be next year. You want to think where you want to be in three or five years time. And then in ten. And then in twenty. Then work backwards and figure out a roadmap for getting there, starting with wherever you are now.

Today is ground zero.

Whatever happened in the past has been passed. You can’t change the past.

Today is ground zero.

You do not just take a first step without knowing exactly where you want to end up.

If you want to get from London to Aberdeen, you should not just go into the first railway station you find and get onto the first train that leaves and focus your entire mind on which chocolate bar you are going to buy for the journey. You should be thinking about how to get to Aberdeen; not taking a random step and focusing on the detail without knowing where you are going.

If you don’t know the longer-term aims of your short-term actions, you risk just floundering around from random pillar to random post.

You have to be able to take advantage of accident and happenstance and side-turnings along the way of course but, again, without knowing the ultimate destination you want to reach in three, five, ten and twenty years, you risk not going or getting anywhere.

It is like writing a comedy show. If you don’t know what your show is about, you will be adrift in a sea of good ideas, unable to decide which ones to choose, unable to fit them all into an ever-changing shape that doesn’t exist. You should – in my easily-ignored opinion – not start with 1,001 amorphous good ideas and then try to figure out how to fit them all into some unknown shape illustrating nothing. You should start with the shape, then work back to the details you need to complete the shape.

You may have lots of colourful, differently-shaped pieces which individually look interesting but, if they don’t fit together, you ain’t got a jigsaw. You need to know the picture on the jigsaw you are making, then find the pieces that will fit together to create it.

With a show, in your own mind, you should have an elevator pitch. Decide what you want to create the show about. Then describe it in 10 or 12 words. Then, when writing the show, use only anecdotes, gags and thoughts that illustrate or illuminate those 10 or 12 words. Throw out anything else.

If you have some startlingly original, stunningly funny story – the most brilliant story or thought in the entire history of the world – which does not fit into that 10 or 12 word description, DO NOT use it. It will distract the audience, screw-up the flow and fuck-up your show. You can use this item of sheer genius on another occasion. The number of waffly, amorphous, don’t-hold-together hours of meandering shows I have sat through at the Edinburgh Fringe doesn’t bear thinking about.

If you cannot think of a 10 or 12 word description of the show you are obsessed by and keen to do, then you don’t have a show. You just want to be acclaimed for being yourself, not for creating something. DO NOT imagine you have a show. DO NOT throw your money away waffling at the Edinburgh Fringe. The funniest 3 or 6 minute story in the world, if irrelevant, will screw-up a show not make it better. Ten stories are not a show. Not ten random 6-minute unconnected shows with no flow. If it don’t flow, it ain’t a show. Ten stories all illustrating a single elevator pitch point ARE a show.

Of course – of course – of course – the irony is that I never had a plan in my career(s) or in my life. But that is because I am and always have been a nihilist. All of the above is just filling in time. It all ends when the Sun expands and explodes and takes everything with it – our long-forgotten skeletons or ashes or worm-excreta and everything else. It all becomes space dust floating in infinity.

So it goes.

When, at last, you are unable to close your eyes and all you hear is the sound of your own death rattle… all that matters is memories of love and/or genuine friendship.

But – hey! – if you are a performer, ego and acclaim are what really matter.

So have a plan for success. A very well-worked-out plan. Work out what you want in the long term, then work backwards to what you should be doing in the short and medium term to achieve that.

Have an elevator pitch of 10 or 12 words about what you want to achieve in life as well as what your show will be about. Don’t flounder. Follow the plan. Though allow for advantageous side roads.

Have a 10 or 12 word outline for your show.

Have a 10 or 12 word outline for your life.

And don’t blame me when it all goes arse-over-tits.

I know nothing.

I have never claimed I did.

I am just filling in time.

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The Comedy Cafe re-opens in London and Oslo but not yet on a Greek yacht

Yesterday, I talked to comedy club owner Noel Faulkner via FaceTime. It was raining heavily. He couldn’t be bothered to go out. I did not blame him. I was getting drenched coming back from Iceland. The supermarket, not the country.

Noel ran the Comedy Cafe club in London’s Shoreditch for 27 years. It closed in January this year but, next Saturday (16th September) it re-opens in Shoreditch in a different location.

“We talked to a lot of venues,” Noel told me, “but most of them didn’t understand what the fuck it was we wanted to do. Most of them wanted hundreds of pounds in rent every night. They just didn’t understand that comedy is not the big money it used to be.”

“But now you have,” I said, “found somewhere.”

The new Comedy Cafe – at the Miranda Room in Shoreditch

“Yes. The Ace Hotel in Shoreditch High Street – in the Miranda Room, a nightclub basement room with a nice atmosphere for comedy – it’s a lovely room. Holds 100 people. Lovely restaurant upstairs; great food.”

“Are you going to make money on it?” I asked.

“We’re not going to make any money,” said Noel. “We just want to keep it going because we enjoy what we do. And I have a really good promoter working with me. His name is Steve McCann. Us Irish have to stick together.”

“What have you been doing in your time off?” I asked. “Writing your book?”

Shake, Rattle n Noel? The famous book I’ve been writing for twenty years? I’ve done 40,000 words so far.”

Noel Faulkner’s 2016 Christmas present brought consolation

“So what were you doing?” I persisted.

“I’ve been sailing on a chartered yacht in the Greek islands.”

“You could be the L.Ron Hubbard of your era.”

“More like the Howard Hughes of comedy. I spend all my time on my yacht and in my penthouse with the curtains drawn. That’s the image I want.”

“So did you miss comedy?” I asked.

Noel laughed.

“I can’t tell you the truth coz you’d fuckin’ print it!”

The bar at the new Comedy Cafe in Ace Hotel, Shoreditch

“Can I print that?”

“You can print that.”

“Did you miss comedians?” I asked.

“Yeah. Like the time I had fuckin’ herpes.”

“Do you want to re-phrase that?”

“I missed comedians like I miss haemorrhoids”

“I will,” I told him, “add in that you were laughing when you say that.”

And he was.

“But I can tell you,” he continued, “and you can put this in too – that I WAS very impressed by the amount of serious and good comics who called me up or came up and talked to me and asked me if everything was OK and how I was doing.

Posters at the old Comedy Cafe, including one for Noel Faulkner’s autobiographical show

“The opposite side of that is, since we said we were opening again, I’ve been getting hundreds of Facebook requests. To me, Facebook is for friends. Becoming my ‘Friend’ on Facebook will certainly not guarantee you a gig at the Comedy Cafe. There’s a lot of shallow people in the business, like all businesses.

“But a lot of people have been very good and kind to me and very concerned, like Alan Davies and Ed Byrne. Alan Davies is kicking off the new Comedy Cafe on opening night. With Jimmy James Jones and Lauren Pattison – and Greg Faulkner is MCing.

“Is Ed Byrne playing the Cafe soon too?” I asked.

“He wants to, but he’s a bit busy at the moment. He asked me before I asked him.”

“Are the shows going to be monthly or weekly?”

“Weekly. Saturdays and Tuesdays, at first… Tuesday is the ‘new act’ night. We used to have the best new act night in the country.”

“Why was that?”

“Because we always had 100 people in the room. You didn’t have to bring a friend and you didn’t have to buy two drinks if you were a comic. We really had the best new act night in the country and nobody ever gave us that recognition.”

“So,” I said, “a new start in Shoreditch.”

Comedy Cafè opening night in Oslo – (L-R) Greg Faulkner, John Fothergill, Bjørn Daniel Tørum, Jimmy James Jones

“We have also opened a Comedy Cafè in Oslo,” Noel told me.,“in Norway. Same logo and everything.”

“Really?”

“Yes, Last week was the first one. We were approached by Bjorn-Daniel Torum. It’s once a month right now, so we can see how it goes.”

The Facebook announcement of the new club read: “One of London’s most iconic standupklubber through 27 years is coming to Oslo.”

Noel is clearly the unsinkable King of Standupklubbers, which made me think…

“You should,” I suggested, “open a comedy club on a yacht sailing the Greek islands. You would have the best of both worlds.”

“I thought about that when I was out there,” said Noel. “There was fuck all to do in the evenings.”

“I’m going to send you a decent picture,” Noel said. “You always take shit pictures of me.” This is his.

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