The black cat in my dream this morning

I have mentioned in blogs before that, unfortunately, I do not remember my dreams. Perhaps once every nine months or so, if I am woken up while having the dream itself.

John Ward with an Onion Wanging trophy

This morning was such an occasion.

During the week, mad inventor John Ward told me that he was going to be on a Saturday morning BBC Radio 4 cookery show called Kitchen Cabinet, talking about the annual competitive event he runs in which cabbages are hurled along a field by newly-built Roman siege engine catapults. The BBC show had been recorded in Lincolnshire at Burghley House, built by Elizabeth I’s Lord High Treasurer, William Cecil, in in the 16th century.

All that is true.

In my dream this morning, I was somehow involved in the live radio transmission of a comedy variety show.

There was a man inside a tent on the right of the room where the show was taking place. He was attaching bells to his costume but he was not going to be ready in time for the broadcast. So I had to push him on stage, as he was, only half-dressed for his radio performance.

Drinkers shouldn’t mess with sleeping black cats in dreams

The man’s act seemed to mostly involve drinking or not drinking some coffee but, because he was unprepared, he went over to a black cat which was curled up sleeping on a soft leather stool by the stage.

Unceremoniously woken up, the cat bit its teeth into the performer’s right shoulder, so the man pulled the cat up by its tail and bit into the tail with his own teeth.

After this, there were quite a few long silences on the recording, but I kept reassuring people: “Oh! It’s OK, we can edit it out. We can edit it out.”

When I woke up, briefly, I thought…

This may not be a surreal dream…

This may be a flash forward…

…to something real that is…

actually going to happen…

in the future.

On reflection, though…

it seems unlikely.

On the other hand, cabbage hurling, onion wanging and Donald Trump as US President at one time seemed equally unlikely events and they actually came to pass.

Life is but a dream and reality sometimes a nightmare.

 

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How do people get into storytelling comedy? Here is how one man did.

Akin Omobitan has been performing comedy for less than two years. He performed his first gig in April 2016. It is now January 2018. He has been a finalist in the Leicester Square Theatre New Comedian of the Year contest, a semi-finalist in the prestigious So You Think You’re Funny contest and been a Comedy Virgins’ Max Turner Prize winner. So I had a chat with him.


JOHN: Did your first gig go well in 2016?

AKIN: Pretty good. After that first gig, I knew it would not be my last.

JOHN: You got the taste for applause?

AKIN: Yes. It fuels me; it’s definitely quite the drug.

JOHN: How old are you?

AKIN: 33.

JOHN: Is it OK to mention that? Some people don’t like their age printed.

AKIN: I’m OK with that. I think my age allows my comedy to make more sense.

JOHN: More sense?

AKIN: As to why someone would hold so much resentment and anger… and not just be doing jokes about dating and partying.

JOHN: So you are a bitter and twisted man?

AKIN: Yeah.

JOHN: But you’ve had a relatively easy life.

AKIN: Well, I have. I feel that’s part of the problem. I feel like I’ve had a life good enough for me to have become a better person than I am. There’s a lot of self-resentment – I should have made more of a lot of opportunities that I had. So I’m not really angry at Society, not angry at other people. It’s more a case of being angry with me – with jobs that I stayed at too long, relationships I was in too long.

JOHN: When this is in cold print, it might come over as I don’t hate Society; I hate myself.

AKIN: Yeah… That’s fair. But I’m learning to love myself and I hope that doesn’t have a detrimental effect on my comedy.

JOHN: You seem an amiable, well-adjusted person. That is not good if you want to be a comedian. Comedians are all barking mad.

AKIN: There is stuff. There is stuff wrong. But, yeah, the self-loathing is… Having had so many opportunities and having so much available… I think about my dad and how much he has achieved. My parents came to the UK in the late-1980s in their early-twenties for a better life and got a much harder one. It took them quite a while to get established. But now my dad owns a house and a flat. He’s married. He’s got three kids. He’s been in his job for two decades or something and this is someone who came here from Nigeria with just a suitcase. Then I look at myself and think, realistically: I should have far exceeded him in so many different areas.

JOHN: Do you have a suitcase?

AKIN: I don’t even have a suitcase.

JOHN: It sounds to me less like self-loathing than a drive to succeed.

AKIN: Maybe it IS ambition. Maybe. I do want to do a lot of things.

JOHN: Do you have one big, central ambition? Or do you just want to be generally famous?

AKIN: Fame isn’t even the goal. No. What I would love to do is make a living out of something that I enjoy. That’s the main goal. To wake up with a purpose that excites me.

JOHN: A moral purpose? You want to make the world a better place?

AKIN: Not really. My comedy is very self-indulgent, very autobiographical. It’s about me. I’m not trying to convince people about anything. I’m not trying to change minds. I’m trying to show them the world through my lens. It’s not Get on board! It’s just This is what I think.

JOHN: So it’s autobiographical, observational storytelling.

AKIN: Not even observational, really. At university, I got interested in psychology and philosophy, I like to ‘guise’ a lot of that in my comedy where it is about bigger questions and how do you have a joke about bigger questions?

JOHN: What did you study at university?

AKIN: Media Studies at the University of East London – film, TV, radio… and then you could add other areas which I found I was more interested in, like psychology. What I’m massively interested in now is psychology, philosophy and literature. I never really knew, back then, what I wanted to do.

JOHN: At school you were some sort of arty bastard?

AKIN: I went to three different secondary schools – in Camden, Finchley and Dagenham – I never went to an arty school. Everything was very bog standard.

JOHN: Did you have an urge to be in school plays?

AKIN: My parents talked me out of performing. When I was in secondary school, they came to a parents’ evening and the drama teacher tried to persuade them to further nudge me in the direction of acting but they talked me out of it.

JOHN: So they didn’t encourage you to be creative but they could stomach you doing Media Studies?

AKIN: I think by then I was doing well enough in school for them to think I had a bit more figured out than I did. At the time, I was very interested in film analysis and the construction and deconstruction of media.

JOHN: So what were you doing between the ages of 22 and 32?

AKIN: Making lots of mistakes. I think I grew up thinking Life just happens as opposed to You make Life happen. I had a strong influence from my parents in terms of being responsible and going to university. But there was no encouragement for anything creative. It was more practical.

JOHN: After university, you just bummed around?

AKIN: I worked in media.

JOHN: For example?

AKIN: In the advertising production department of a company – Media 10. They do magazines and live events like Grand Designs and the Ideal Home Show. They do Icon magazine about architecture and interior design… and onOffice magazine, which is all about work space interior design. My job was to check copy. It wasn’t that interesting. I did chip-in writing some copy and helping the studio team, but that was more just for my own interest. It was quite low-paying and, after a couple of years…

JOHN: Anything more personally creative?

AKIN: I used to blog.

JOHN: The last refuge of a scoundrel. What was it called?

AKIN: A Darker Shade of Black. It was quite successful in terms of views and interactions. I had had an idea for a book and I was two chapters into writing it when I re-read it and realised: This is horrible! The writing is terrible! So I started a blog to exercise my writing and it turned into its own thing.

JOHN: You wrote for the sake of writing, so it would just become natural?

AKIN: Yeah. It varied from current affairs to autobiographical to creative stuff like poems, short stories, opinion pieces. Just unfiltered – what I felt like, as the urge struck me.

JOHN: Why did you stop?”

AKIN: I had a job.

JOHN: Another job?

AKIN: Yes. Back then, I could stomach 9-to-5. Now, a 9-to-5 would be the death of me. But the job I had was 9-to-6 and it just crushed me. That extra hour just seemed to stamp out my entire day. I was a Project Assistant. It was very vague. I reported to about three different people. There was no real job description.

JOHN: Did you have a ‘Road To Damascus’ moment when you decided to be a comedian?

AKIN: When I turned 29, I just started freaking out about Life. I didn’t like where any of it was going – relationships, my career.

JOHN: Why turn to comedy? Why not acting?

AKIN: I think, having wasted three years in Media Studies, I was really put off the idea of going back and studying anything. I guess in terms of Why?… When I was 31, I was working on a list of 32 things to do before I turned 32 and, in a conversation with a friend, I joked about trying stand-up and his reaction was: That’s actually a really good idea. You should do it!

JOHN: Did you do all 32 things on the list?

AKIN: It ended up being only 26 on the list and I did 19 of them.

JOHN: What were the 7 you didn’t do?

AKIN: One was to give a random person £100.

JOHN: I am happy to help you with that.

AKIN: It was going to be in cash and I don’t have that amount on me.

JOHN: I can wait… You have not yet done two years of stand-up comedy. Do you want to be like Ken Dodd: still performing for the applause when you are 133 years old? Or be a film director? Or a novelist?

AKIN: I’m very open. I am still interested in acting.

JOHN: You should write a sitcom for yourself.

AKIN: I have. Myself and a friend have written two episodes.

JOHN: And you would perform in it?

AKIN: Very much so.

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My surprising top ten blogs of last year

(Photograph by Ariane Sherine)

I started this blog in 2010 and it is usually referred-to as a “comedy blog” but, just out of quirky interest, here is a list of what were my Top Ten blogs in terms of hits last year.

This list is obviously more a reflection of who my readers are than anything else…

1) Where the Kray Twins gangster film “Legend” got it all so very badly wrong

2) The practicalities of putting your head in a gas oven: my 2nd suicide attempt

3) Krayzy Days – Why London gangster Ronnie Kray really shot George Cornell inside the Blind Beggar pub in 1966

4) What the REAL Swinging Sixties were like – gangsters and police corruption

5) Hello to the Bye Bye Girls – Ruby Wax’s offspring – two Siblings on the Fringe

6) Creating a Legend – The Krays and the killing of ‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell

7) What it is like to be on the jury of a murder case at the Old Bailey in London

8) Why Chris Tarrant’s TV show OTT was taken off air – a naked Malcolm Hardee

9) Edinburgh Fringe, Day 12: How to destroy a comedy career & other news

10) The death of an Italian archaeologist who knew so many 20th century secrets

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How do you categorise a series of uncategorisable YouTube videos?

When the US chain Borders opened up its own-branded bookshops in the UK a few years ago, I found browsing there a frustrating experience because they had no category for BIOGRAPHY (or autobiography). Someone told me this was fairly standard in the US but certainly not in the UK, which seems to have an unquenchable appetite for biographies.

In the case of Borders UK (which collapsed in 2009), they bookshelved biographies according to subject. Which meant you had to sometimes guess what they thought the subject was. How do you categorise Brian Blessed? Eccentric? Actor? Mountaineer? Does the biography of Lawrence of Arabia go under Military, Middle East or Gay?

In the case of my chum Janey Godley, her autobiography Handstands in the Dark runs the gamut from child abuse to British gangsters to Scottish social history to drug culture, psychology and more. Sometimes Borders categorised it as ‘Comedy’ because she is best known as a comedian.

This week, my chum – journalist, songwriter, comedian Ariane Sherine – she too is difficult to categorise – started a series of YouTube videos called Ariane Sherine Eats Clean and Gets Lean. It is about losing weight.

Ariane talks about her eating and other problems on YouTube

It has some chance of being successful because it is the sort of thing that might appeal to housewives in mid-America, which I understand is where the viral hits come from – as well as from spotty teenagers in the US and elsewhere, who will appreciate the underwear sequences.

The first introductory ‘episode’ was rather different to what you might expect from a series of videos about losing weight. In Ariane’s own words: “It features my #MeToo story of being sexually assaulted hundreds of times and my struggles with depression, anxiety, OCD and weight gain.”

You could also throw in jaw-droppingly honest psychological insights.

The odd thing about this introductory video to her series is the YouTube category she put it under.

She categorised it as ‘Comedy’.

You can use multiple tags on a YouTube video, but can only define it as being in one Category.

These are the possible categories:

Autos & Vehicles
Comedy
Education
Film & Animation
Gaming
How to & Style
Music
News & Politics
Nonprofits & Activism
People & Blogs
Pets & Animals
Science & Technology
Sports
Travel & Events

Which is the correct category for a dark, autobiographical, psychological piece covering sexual assault, mental problems, eating disorders and suicide?

Ariane has tagged her Introduction video in multiple ways, but she has put it under the category ‘Comedy’ because she is currently primarily known for her humorous musical numbers.

Which I guess is right.

But unavoidably unsatisfying and confusing.

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Filed under Food, Internet, Psychology

BBC re-writes TV history in its favour by faking the Morecambe and Wise story

I just sat through the BBC TV drama Eric, Ernie & Me which re-wrote showbiz history by pretending the BBC made Morecambe & Wise famous on TV and writing-out their giant success on ITV before they joined the BBC.

Or, rather, re-joined the BBC…

The BBC had completely buggered Morecambe & Wise’s potential TV career with their first disastrous TV show Running Wild in 1954. One famous newspaper review read: “Definition of the week: TV set—the box in which they buried Morecambe and Wise.”

That quote was used in Eric, Ernie & Me as if it immediately preceded their 1968 TV series with the BBC – rather than being from 14 years before and a review of another BBC show.

ATV/ITV made them mega TV successes and household names with Two of a Kind (1961-1968, written by Sid Green & Dick Hills) and that TV success was ‘bought’ by the BBC who offered them much more money and then made their shows 1968-1977 (written by Eddie Braben). The BBC bought them because they were already ratings successes and they built on that.

Personally, I always thought M&W were funnier when written for by Sid & Dick at ATV/ITV.

Pretending the BBC started their TV success from ground zero is disgraceful bullshit bollocks.

Here they are in Sid & Dick’s classic Boom-Oo-Yata-Ta-Ta sketch on ATV/ITV in 1962, six years before they moved to the BBC.

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Christmas eccentricities in Canada

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, Anna Smith, lives in Vancouver. I have never been there, but it seems commendably eccentric. In the past, she has mentioned a rather disconcertingly high incidence of disembodied human feet being found locally.

Yesterday, I received a Christmas Day message from Anna. It read:


Another human foot was found a couple of weeks ago. I don’t want to bore your readers by reporting every single foot that is found locally but, in this case, the police issued advice that – if people find human remains – they should not take them home and then call the police but, rather, call the police first and leave the feet where they found them.


Anna continued:


Anna is fine; the weather is not

On Christmas Eve, I was at a bus stop in downtown Victoria (across from Vancouver).

I had just missed the No 7 bus and found a spot on the bench beside a nicely dressed older lady who had two canes. I chatted with her about the bus timetable but the conversation suddenly veered to the subject of the voices she hears in her room and she held forth for the next 20 minutes about radios, answering machines and overhearing her neighbours.

I realised she was probably schizophrenic, so I listened to her patiently.

A heavy snow had been falling. Now there was a snowstorm. Some of the buses were having difficulty steering and were sliding into the kerb.

As the lady continued talking I noticed an outlandishly dressed older man in conversation with a couple of his friends. The man had his white hair pulled into a ponytail and he was wearing a white cowboy hat adorned with a shiny red glass Christmas ornament in front and a plume of white ostrich feather sticking out the back like a rooster tail. Combined with his own ponytail, it looked as if he had two tails sticking out of his head.

A tall man with a white moustache and wearing an anorak joined us on the bench.

The lady with the voices dropped one of her canes in the snow and the man with the white moustache picked it up and asked me to hold it while he helped her organise her shopping bags.

He said: “I am headed home to Campbell House. If you are considering moving to Victoria, you should move into Campbell House – the rent is subsidised for disabled people and it is only a ten minute walk from the library.”

A stout lady wearing sweat pants and her coat unbuttoned despite the snowstorm looked admiringly at the guy.

He asked her loudly: “I wonder what Ambrose Bierce would have to say about all THIS… Ambrose Bierce,” he repeated. “He wrote The Devil’s Dictionary. What a great book! If only I had not loaned it to somebody. It is an incredible book and I can’t even remember who I loaned it to… probably it was the devil himself.”

Hen milk is a Canadian delicacy

It seemed like everybody waiting for the No 7 bus was a bit crazy. But that made sense.

Most people were home with their families on Christmas Eve, but odd people – possibly alienated from their families – were more likely to be out and about.

I am wrapping presents at the moment, doing my laundry (it’s a Christmas tradition) and, later on, I will dress as an elf and go for dinner at my sister’s place. We may drink hen milk.

Hen milk is a favourite Canadian delicacy at this time of year.

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Bloggers are really just desperate self-publicists… including me in this blog

You know you have lived too long when students think you know what you are talking about.

Yesterday, I was approached by a student who was writing an essay on “blogging as a means of journalism”. I told him I did not think of myself as a journalist. He did not agree. This is an edited version of the exchange.


– Do you consider yourself a journalist or any bloggers for that matter? If not, what do you think makes a journalist?

The fact you can ask the question implies the words ‘journalist’ and ‘blogger’ have different meanings. I don’t consider myself a journalist. Bloggers are certainly not news journalists – if they ‘break’ stories and report instantly on current news stories, it is not really a blog; it’s a news site. You could argue they are neo-magazine journalists providing comment and background.

Most bloggers are amateur dabblers and/or wannabe writers who want a voice in a world where they have none.

I started my blog to publicise a movie. Then to publicise stuff I was staging at the Edinburgh Fringe. It continued as self-publicity. If I were up my own arse, I might also say it preserves details of people in sub-cultures that might not otherwise be preserved. But it’s basically lightly-disguised self-publicity.

A good journalist is concerned with objective facts (whether reporting on them or commenting on them). A good blogger is usually more personal and ego-centric in style.

Some bloggers, of course, are frustrated wannabe journalists so the dividing line is muddy.

Personally, whether it’s a correct dictionary definition or not, I make a distinction between a newspaper report and reportage. I think a journalist/reporter’s piece has immediacy – you have to read it today or tomorrow for it to have any impact. Reportage (like George Orwell’s factual books and essays) can be read just as effectively years later. I would say Orwell’s Homage To Catalonia or Down The Mine are pieces of reportage by a writer, not journalism. Today, they could be written in the form of blogs.

– Do you feel any external constraints as a blogger? Do you ever feel under pressure to say specific things (or not say specific things) to protect people or yourself?

I do not generally write anything which, in my opinion, could legally, physically, professionally or personally damage people. I do not feel any pressure to say specific things and I do not give the subjects of my blogs copy approval in advance. My blogs are mostly interview-based and I record everything so I cannot mis-quote.

If – rarely – I want to disguise a person or a fact (eg if an unprosecuted or unknown crime or something ‘immoral’ or ‘embarrassing’ is involved) I will sometimes – very very VERY rarely – alter the name, geographical location or, if possible, the sex of the person involved. It means I can still tell the truth about the event itself but the person cannot be identified.

I have only done this less than a handful of times over eight years.

Altering the person’s sex totally throws people off any recognition.

– Has your blog ever been censored?

Only by me for reasons above.

I used to re-post a few of my blogs in the Huffington Post. I did once write a blog about rude words and discussed the use of the word “nigger” which is interesting because it is mostly completely unacceptable but IS acceptable from some people (eg Eddie Murphy, Quentin Tarantino) – and, in The Dam Busters movie, a dog vital to the plot is called Nigger, which was inoffensive at the time but is now worrisome to TV stations.

The Huffington Post would not publish the piece, although the word was solely being discussed as an abstract word.

– Do you ever have any issues in terms of libel or slander when writing your blog? Does it worry you sometimes that someone will ever take legal action against your opinions?

No. I worked for BBC Ceefax (part of BBC TV News) and briefly in the newsrooms at Anglia TV, Granada TV and ITN. So I am careful.

If anyone threatened me with a libel action, I would go to court, defend myself (because, in England, lawyers have no incentive to win minor cases – they get paid anyway – and the legal system has nothing to do with justice) and publicise the shit out of it to get more awareness of my blog.

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