A dog’s dinner in our very Fortean times

We live in Fortean Times

We improbably live in weird Fortean Times

What do you do if you get home late, don’t get enough sleep, then have to get up and leave home early, have a busy day ahead, no time to transcribe the two interesting chats you have had with people and have to write a blog before you leave?

You grasp at straws.

I had a quick look at some old e-diaries.

On 7th March 2004, I was in the Anglia TV region and their local news reported that a former Essex Chief Inspector had written a book about his career in the police force called Catching Monsters. He was signing copies of the book in a local shopping centre when he was attacked by a man who hit him about the head with a block of wood.  The man escaped. According to Anglia News, “Essex Police said the attacker could have had a grudge against the officer.”

The lateral thinking of the police constantly impresses me.

Professor Hand’s book on the probability of improbable things happening

Professor Hand’s book on improbability

Last night, I went to a meeting of the London Fortean Society at which Professor David J. Hand, the emeritus professor of mathematics and a senior research investigator at Imperial College, London, explained his Improbability Principle which, basically, explains why the most improbable things are statistically liable to happen.

He said that statistically, in order for it to be likely to have two people in a room with the same birthday (day and month) you only need 23 people. He showed a video in which a man walking along a street was struck by lightning. The man fell down, lay still for a few moments, got up, carried on walking and, around 5 seconds later, was struck by lightning a second time.

The London Fortean Society’s next meeting is called Fucking Strange: The Weird and Wonderful World of Animal Sex in which Dutch ecologist and evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen, based at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden and who also holds a chair in evolution at Leiden University will, the billing says, “invite the audience to join him as he uncovers the ways the shapes and functions of genitalia have been molded by complex Darwinian struggles” and “we learn why spiders masturbate into miniature webs”.

I remember, years ago, reading in the Fortean Times, about a road accident in which three cars collided. One of the drivers was a Mr Butcher, another was a Mr Baker and the third was a candlestick maker. Strange and so improbable as to be unbelievable, but entirely true.

I remember another article in Fortean Times years ago which pointed out the false logic of statistics often quoted in newspapers. If there is a 60-million-to-one chance of something happening, it is highly unlikely it will happen to you… But there are over 60 million people in the UK, so it is likely to happen to someone.

Yesterday afternoon, I met a woman behind me in a queue at Marks & Spencer. We got chatting. She was 38 and told me she had only been on an underground train three times in her life. She had never ever bought a newspaper until this week and does not watch TV news. Then I got to the cashier and could ask no more. I will never know how this woman had lived her life.

Last night, at the London Fortean Society, I got chatting to someone who had met Elton John. She told me he looked “like an ageing American housewife”.

This seemed a little harsh.

Life is a dog’s dinner of random events.

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Comic in Kray Twins’ territory tells of being kicked in the street cos of his act

Ellis & Rose in Kray territory

Ellis & Rose in the old Kray Twins’ heartland

Yesterday, I went to Malcolm Hardee Award winning Ellis & Rose’s irregular Brainwash Club show at the Backyard Comedy Club in London’s Bethnal Green. The full house saw a knee-face-painting contest and the hosting duo accidentally knock over and almost terminally smash punster Darren Walsh’s MacBook computer… twice.

The audience also saw Harry Hill, Jody Kamali, Harriet Kemsley, Darren Walsh, John Henry Falle as The Story Beast and Matt Tedford as a singing Margaret Thatcher.

Matt Tedford at the Backyard Bar last night

Matt Tedford at the Backyard Bar last night

I talked to Matt before the show.

“How was your Edinburgh Fringe last year?” I asked.

To publicise his Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho show, he had walked round town dressed as Margaret Thatcher.

“I got kicked in the street,” he told me.

“Why?” I asked innocently.

“Because they didn’t like the poll tax. I got heckled nearly every day about the poll tax and Scottish independence – it was about a month before the vote. I’ve been a gay man for about ten years and it’s the only time I’ve ever had any abuse.”

“Did they not,” I asked, “realise that Margaret Thatcher was very dead and you were not actually her?”

Matt as Margaret last night at the Brainwash

Matt as Margaret last night at the Brainwash in Bethnal Green

“Well,” Matt told me, “they went for it anyway. I got things thrown at me – you name it. One woman threw-up in her handbag and that nearly came at me and a lot of people launched themselves onto the stage. Pulling the wig was popular.”

“But,” I checked, “you were actually being attacked outside in the street for being a famous dead politician…”

“Oh yes. And what could I do? Report it to the police? - I’ve just been attacked – Why? – I was dressed as Margaret Thatcher.”

“And then,” I suggested, “the police might have kicked you.”

“Exactly,” said Matt. “Margaret Thatcher’s ex-bodyguard came to the show and told me afterwards: You’ve not changed a bit, ma’am.

“And these two little old dears came and sat in the front row – very pearls, twin-set and blue-rinse – and they came up to me afterwards and said: We were her nurses towards the end of her life. One told me: I saw her tits… Oh, I said. How were they… Very good for an old bird, she said.”

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A newspaper mystery & Britain in 1950

The mysterious smudged Guardian

The mysterious smudged copy of he Guardian

I was passing through Kings Cross St Pancras tube station a couple of days ago when I saw. in the Evening Standard bins, some newspapers which were not Evening Standards.

Several were an odd, blurred-print, 40-page edition of, apparently, The Guardian. Except everything was artistically smudged and it was some edition covering the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.

Maybe it was some bit of agitprop, but there seemed to be no message.

Maybe it was some offbeat advert for some product, but there was no visible plug anywhere.

The other paper in the Evening Standard bin was a copy of the long-deceased Daily Graphic newspaper dated Friday March 24, 1950. The headline was:


and that story ran beside a photograph of Queen Mary doing needlework in the garden of Marlborough House. The caption inexplicably said: Picture released, yesterday, as New York hailed her million-stitch carpet.

The Crime Wave story said, in part:

The viewpoint on crime in 1950

A viewpoint on law and a crime wave in 1950

Lord Goddard, Lord Chief Justice, warned the Government in the House of Lords last night that the wave of violence must be stopped. A way of ending it had got to be found.

“If the crime wave goes on,” he said gravely, “the demand that it be stopped will be overwhelming.

“Strength must be applied. I hope to goodness it will not be applied too late.”

But Lord Goddard, who was speaking in the second day’s debate on a motion calling attention to the crime wave, made it clear that he was not asking for corporal punishment to be brought back.

“It is one thing,” he explained, “to deplore – as I do – abolition of all forms of corporal punishment, and another to demand their reimposition.

“My reluctance to do so is because I think there is nothing worse than continually altering penalties….

“It is true I suggested the abolition of the ‘cat’ and the retaining of other forms – not merely the birch, but the cane, so that boys could have been caned…

“When a prisoner comes out after having the ‘cat’,” he said, “he is treated as a martyr or hero.

“But when he gets the birch he knows he will come out the object of ridicule – and nothing kills so quickly as ridicule.”

A double-page Guardian spread

Double-page Guardian spread in a 40-page enigmatic paper

The 1950 copy of the Daily Graphic was maybe an insight into another world 65 years ago.

But why it was in a modern-day Evening Standard bin and what the purpose was/is of the multiple smudged copies of The Guardian remains an utterly unexplained mystery.

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Filed under Crime, Legal system, Newspapers, Nostalgia

Why comedian Lewis Schaffer may have been sacked from so many ‘real’ jobs

Lewis Schaffer before the 'interview'

An effervescent Lewis Schaffer before the Bruce Dessau chat

I was at the Jewish Comedy Day in London at the weekend. I mentioned it in yesterday’s blog.

Starting off the day off was a session – doomed to failure – in which comedian Lewis Schaffer was supposed to interview comedy critic Bruce Dessau.

Inevitably, Lewis Schaffer talked about himself and Bruce Dessau interviewed him.

Lewis Schaffer had been introduced to the audience by the event’s organiser, Arlene Gorodensky-Greenhouse.

“Thankyou, Arlene,” were Lewis Schaffer’s first words. “So beautiful. Mmmm… I would do her. She says I’m not allowed to say Rock-hard cock.” He raised his arm and a clenched fist to laughter. I can’t say Rock-hard cock. Are you kidding? Mmmm… Rock-hard…

His first joke was about missing child Madeleine McCann, which offended at least one lady in the front row.

Later, during the hour in which Bruce Dessau interviewed Lewis Schaffer, Bruce asked him: “Did you ever hold down a normal job?”

“No,” said Lewis.

“Oh yes you did!” I heckled.

“I had many jobs,” explained Lewis. “Right before I started in comedy, I had seven jobs in eight years and I was fired from every single one of them – twice police were called.

“I just didn’t want to be told what to do. I’m mental. But we all are mental in our own way. If you decide you want to be mental, tomorrow you can call yourself a comedian and you can get away with it. Anybody in the world can say: I’m a comedian.

“The thing about comedians,” suggested Bruce, “is that some of the things you might do or say… If you said some of those same things in an office…”

“I got fired once,” said Lewis Schaffer, “because I was in the bathroom and I said to one of my co-workers: Would you like to see how small my penis is? 

I was trying to do normal jobs. I was trying to sell advertising space. I was constantly trying to get jobs selling advertising space in Vogue magazine and Vanity Fair. I was trying to be like a normal person. I used to shop at Brooks Brothers. That’s why I wear a suit: to look like a normal person. I was always trying to be like normal. It didn’t work. I’ve given up.

“That’s why I let an audience know at the start of a show: OK, this is the worst that’s going to happen and then we can go from here, as opposed to trying to pretend… That’s one thing I’ve learned in comedy. It’s like in life. If you do the worst, then there’s nothing more to be afraid of.”

The lady in the front row who had been offended by the Madeleine McCann joke started to say: “Break it to us gently, instead of…”

Lewis Schaffer interrupted: “No. Break it full on the head,” and then told the audience, “I’m winning her over. Can you feel it? Can you see it? I’m winning her over.”

The lady in the front row said: “You didn’t lose me. It’s just there’s a difference between something that makes me want to hit you because it’s out of order and…”

“Maybe that’s something that I want,” Lewis Schaffer told her.

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Critic Kate Copstick on what makes a good Edinburgh Fringe comedy show and how to get reviewed by her (maybe)

Yesterday’s Jewish Comedy Day

Yesterday’s very full Jewish Comedy Day

The second (25 minute) Grouchy Club weekly podcast went online last night. Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I recorded it immediately after a live Grouchy Club show at Arlene Gorodensky-Greenhouse‘s  Jewish Comedy Day in the London Jewish Cultural Centre.

It was edge-of-the-seat stuff for Copstick and me, as we both had diarrhoea and had been told not to mention the Holocaust.

There was a high percentage of comedians in the audience at yesterday’s live show and one asked: “What makes a good Edinburgh Fringe show?”

“Honesty and passion,” Copstick told her, “both of which are in increasingly short supply, because now too many people just want to be on telly. They don’t really want to be stand-up comics. They want to be presenters, so they’re just looking for the shortest possible route through all the nastiness, which is stand-up.

“The most wonderful shows I’ve seen are all about passion, about honesty. I saw shows in tents, halfway up The Mound; I saw shows that only lasted 15 minutes. They’re the special ones. What the Fringe is for, especially now we’ve got the Free Fringe, is passion and honesty and doing what you want to say your way.

Giada Garofalo and Janet Bettesworth after yesterday’s show

Giada Garofalo and Janet Bettesworth after yesterday’s show

“If it’s your first time, then it’s finding out what sticks to the wall. NOT thinking: Ooh! I’ll do an hour by numbers because it’s just what the Fosters judges are looking for. There are hundreds of those shows at the Fringe. It’s about finding out what your USP is. A comic should have a real, burning personality and a voice that should not be like anybody else’s – otherwise, what the fuck are you doing as a stand-up?”

I added: “What’s going to be interesting, by definition, is something the audience has never seen before. If you’ve seen it before, it’s not going to be as interesting. If a comic is doing something vaguely similar to someone else, they should dump it.”

“Unless,” Copstick argued, “you’re doing it much better than them.”

“Even so,” I said, “it wouldn’t be THAT interesting. If you’re doing it better, you’re probably doing it in a slightly different way.”

The Grouchy Club will be back at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, running daily 14th-30th August at 3.45-4.45pm.

Copstick makes a point in the second Grouchy Club podcast

Copstick makes a point in the second Grouchy Club podcast

Later yesterday, in the Grouchy Club podcast, Copstick made an appeal to stand-up comics:

“If anyone has a comedy show that is on between 3.00pm and 5.00pm, then do feel free to get in touch with me (copstick@grouchyclub.co.uk) and try to get me to come and see your show before 14th August. If you are one of these highfalutin comics with some expensive PR who is going to turn round and say something to me like: Ummm… (insert name)’s show is not quite ready yet; we’d like you to come after the 19th, then fuck you!

“If your show is on between those two times – 3.00pm and 5.00pm – I can only really come before the 14th, because I would not want to leave John on his own, because he might not be on form. At the moment, his creativity is leaping out in diarrhoea-coloured fluid from his little clenched bottom as we speak.”

And that is why Copstick is the doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers. Honesty, passion and a vivid turn of phrase.

I had an edge-of-the-seat ride home on the train.

You can hear the 25-minute Grouchy Club audio podcast HERE and see a 3-minute video clip HERE.

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Two comedy performers to have fairytale marriage in Disneyland

Laurence Owen & Lindsay Sharman

Laurence Owen and Lindsay Sharman at last night’s party…

Last night, I went to the engagement party for performers Lindsay Sharman and Laurence Owen. They are getting married at Disneyland.

“Yes,” said Laurence. “We’re taking ourselves off to Florida as a… erm… sort of… a…”

“Marriage?” I suggested.

“Yes,” said Laurence. “We’re getting married. That’s the main gist of it. For ten days in May.”

“That,” I said, “is a long marriage by American standards.”

“Well,” he replied, “if we get through ten days, we know it’s going to be alright.”

“Why get married at Disneyland?” I asked. “Have they heard your song?” (Laurence has a wonderful humdinger of a Disney pastiche song.)

“That’s the thing,” he explained. “Disney looms very large in our lives. As a kid, I used to go to Paris Disneyland with my dad. And, about this time last year, Lindsay and I had a week with no gigs in and I was temporarily homeless – between flats – so we went to the Paris Disneyland and we had a really amazing time there. Then we went again in September, immediately after last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

“I had this idea that, in January this year, I would pop the question to Lindsay. Then she sort-of beat me to it. Cos we were chatting by text late on Christmas Eve – Christmas Day early morning – and we just got talking about Disney weddings and decided to go on from there, pretty much. So that was it.”

“Proposal by text?” I asked.

“Proposal by text. We’re thoroughly modern.”

“I didn’t realise,” I told him, “that Disney do marriage packages.”

“Oh yes,” said Laurence. “For your basic package, you get a location for a ceremony. We have a gazebo next to a big lake and there’s a pirate ship by the lake and it’s themed like a 1920s boardwalk-type thing; it’s all very nice.”

“And it’s more expensive to have the castle?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Laurence. “And, if you pay $3,000, you can arrive in the Cinderella pumpkin coach and you have two footmen.”

“Frogs?…” I started.

“For that price,” said Laurence, “you would hope so.”

“… or English?” I concluded.

“Maybe,” said Laurence. “And, as well as those guys, you get two buglers who will announce your arrival on long trumpets with flags hanging off them. You have to pay through the nose for that, though. And, if you want to have Mickey Mouse present, you have to pay another $900.”

“Are Mickey, Donald and Goofy all the same price?” I asked.

“Any costume characters,” explained Laurence, “you have to pay $900 each. So, if you want Mickey and Minnie together, that’s $1,800.”

“I wondered if maybe Goofy was relatively cheap.,” I said. “Who wants Goofy officiating at their marriage?”

“Possibly,” said Laurence. “On a sliding scale of Disney characters, maybe if you only want Pluto, you could get him for fifty quid.”

“You’re getting married on May 6th…” I said.

“Yes. We tried to get May the Fourth because that’s Star Wars Day, but they were full up on that day.”

“Of course!” I said. “Disney now own Star Wars. So you could have Stormtroopers in attendance. The ultimate white wedding.”

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3 tips for podcasting and broadcasting

At The Grouchy Club yesterday: a bad selfie of Coptick and me

Hosting The Grouchy Club at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Tomorrow, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I are co-hosting a live Grouchy Club chat show at the Jewish Comedy Day in North West London.

Immediately afterwards, we are recording our second Grouchy Club podcast.

Yesterday, someone gave me three tips for podcasting.

The third one, I think, holds true for doing anything creative in general.

1) Making a mistake doesn’t matter because you will learn from it. The only crime is to leave a silent gap (except for  comic effect!).

2) If people love or hate something you do, it means they treat you seriously. Either is good. If people don’t care one way or the other, they have no respect for you.

3) You don’t have to listen to your successes, but you should always listen to your failures… You can learn to be better  from your mistakes. You can’t learn anything from your successes except complacency.

There is a 10-minute video clip on YouTube taken from last weekend’s 43-minute Grouchy Club audio podcast.

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