Kate Copstick and the sexually-abused girl being held in a Nairobi hospital

British journalist and occasional TV producer Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working with her Mama Biashara charity. 

In the last couple of extracts from her diaries (HERE and HERE) mention was made of a penniless 14-year-old girl called Faith who was raped by her father, recently gave birth to his child and was being held in an overcrowded ward (2 to a bed) at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi.

This is in clear contravention of last year’s Kenyan High Court ruling on detention of patients which states that it is illegal for a Kenyan hospital to detain a patient for non-payment of fees.

Now read on in these extracts from Copstick’s diaries this week…


MONDAY

Kenyatta National Hospital.

I am there the entire day. I am not one of life’s gifted ‘waiters’.

This is a place Kafka himself would struggle to create.

It is a big monster full of little monsters.

I go from little social worker to Head of Department, to Bill Management to Finance to Administration, back to Finance then back to Social Work. 

We are in “just following orders” territory here. 

But, in Kenyatta National Hospital, we get: “We are waiting for feedback”. 

The buck is thrown around like a rugby ball in a grudge match and it is blindingly obvious that none of these people gives even the tiniest, the most transient, the least fuckity of fucks about a 14-year-old girl, raped and impregnated by her father who has now been held like a prisoner for over one month. 

They see a bit of paper. And they see their nice quiet office. Some see nothing because they are simply too incompetent. Some worry because they see a mistake that they have made. All rush to point fingers in the direction of anyone else. None is bothered by the law of Kenya.

I am there six hours. Everyone is going home. I give up. Even David, who has been waiting outside, is practically catatonic with boredom and no one does nothing better than David.

I go and meet Mary of the Mary Faith Home. We have been in touch during the day. 

She has just had a 12-year-old girl left with her who is so badly infected and damaged she cannot sit down. So far, they think, she has both syphilis and gonorrhea. Makes sense as she was being abused by both father and uncle over several years. Since she was five. 

Mary leans forward and says, “She told me her uncle said to her: I know here at the front is for your father. But here at the back, this is mine.”

THURSDAY

Latest update on 14-year-old Faith, currently going into her fifth week of incarceration at Kenyatta National Hospital. I have spent days in the place trying to get anywhere near an answer, let alone an explanation, much less a result. But today the CEO has sent a minion down from on high to take her file. 

The excellent Standard newspaper printed a full page piece on illegal detention of patients in Kenya and hospitals yesterday.

Coincidence ?? 

Hopefully the continuing abuse of this poor girl will be ended sooner rather than later. I have never experienced anything like the working – and non-workings – of this place.

TODAY – FRIDAY

Faith is still detained illegally in Kenyatta National Hospital.

Now, apparently, it is because the Director of Corporate Services has failed to sign a bit of paper.

Apparently he is in a meeting.

… TO BE CONTINUED …


Copstick takes no money of any kind for herself from the Mama Biashara charity and covers none of her own costs in running the charity nor for travelling to and from and living in Kenya.

Mama Biashara itself relies solely on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

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What it is like for Kate Copstick living, working and running a charity in Kenya

Journalist Kate Copstick’s work with her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya has been covered in this blog over the last few years. 

Mama Biashara helps poor people (especially women) set up their own small self-supporting businesses which may give them a lift to a better life – a hand up, not a hand out. It also gets involved in educational and health care projects.

In the last blog here, rather than cover the charity’s work directly, I posted extracts from Copstick’s diary which give an impression of the things she encounters more generally in Kenya.

Here are some more brief, edited extracts starting more than a week ago. Fuller versions appear on the Mama Biashara Facebook page


THURSDAY

Faith (14-year-old, raped and impregnated by her father; mentioned in the last blog) is STILL being held by Kenyatta Hospital in Nairobi. The psychological and emotional toll of being imprisoned like this is unimaginable. I suspect the monsters of Kenyatta Hospital are responsible for destroying this girl’s ability to trust another human being forever.

FRIDAY

Arriving in Mombasa is like walking in front of an industrial hairdryer and it is fabulous. The Shiloh (our accommodation of choice) is full of Somalis who are here to unload cars at the docks, so we have to go upstairs where there are four more rooms. However they cost 7.50 a night instead of 4.00. And mine has no water. But there is no choice. 

Mombasa has got rid of the massive rubbish dump at the bridge that used to make the trip into town such a nightmare. The acres of mountains of rotting shit and unrotting plastic have gone. So has the smell. They have even put down some top soil and there are small palms and sunflowers growing. The water on the other side has lost its slick of disgustingness. It is a transformation. One has to wonder quite where it has all gone… but the ride to town no longer requires a facemask and a strong stomach.

I bloody love Mombasa.

“We end up having our little funding workshop on the beach…”

TUESDAY

Vicky is trying to find a safe place to meet the first groups who want funding.

Since the bombings came back, especially here on the coast, every meeting of people is suspected of being Al-Shabaab planning something nasty.

And stick a white woman in the mix and it is imagined nothing good could possibly be happening. The last time we were here we were arrested, if you remember, and spent six hours in Ukunda Police Station. Vicky was seriously traumatised by that and she is terrified of it happening again. 

Which is how we end up having our little funding workshop on the beach. 

We are on the beach till the sun goes down and then go to our usual place for pilau. Chef must be having an off day as mine tastes like grit and Doris ends up puking violently at the side of the road.

And while she is puking I find myself in the middle of a to-do. 

As Vicky and I are sitting, a scrawny boy comes up to the table and extends a hopeful hand. As he does so, an elderly man stomps past and absolutely whacks him with a rolled up newspaper. 

I can barely believe what I see but, as soon as I realise what has happened, I chase the man into the restaurant. He has disappeared.

As I come out, I see the same boy being manhandled by an extremely disagreeable type dressed in raggedy brown and looking like he is not entirely sober. I stomp across, get between him and the boy and demand that he leave him alone. He grabs, I grab and push the boy behind me. We then have what is best described as a stare-and-twitch-off. He has obviously never been confronted by a crazy old Scottish lady at full throttle and is at least 50% weirded-out. 

I give him the Copstickian Death Stare. He is not that impressed; he stays where he is and just glares back at me. Then he twitches as if to come forward and I twitch sideways, keeping the boy behind me. I shout at him to go away (sorry, not very Kill Bill but the best I could do at the time). He growls back. 

Then a bloke from the restaurant arrives. The dodgy raggedy bloke leaves and I release the boy who runs off in the opposite direction. The restaurant man says the boy is a thief. Raggedy bloke is there as a look out. He comes almost every night. 

I suggest that:

(a) getting some foul layabout from a nearby gutter to beat him up is not going to help the boy and

(b) if this is the case, then he is obviously being run by someone of whom he is more afraid than he is of getting beaten at the restaurant. Restaurant man shrugs and says: “He is just chokora” (a street child).

What with the gritty pilau, the food poisoning and the on-street fighting, I have enjoyed myself more.

WEDNESDAY

Sadly, no beach today. Vicky’s groups are coming from the other end of Mombasa. Two groups have become four but, again, I know how hard it is to triage people’s misery and need.

We meet in a little space at the end of the row of upstairs rooms at our place. It is really quiet and safe. As I sort out chairs, I am joined – no more than four feet away – by an incredibly handsome monkey. Grey fur and a black face.

I have nothing for him, but we sort of chat and tilt heads at each other. 

He then, as he crouches, opens his legs and I see he has: 

(a) the most beautiful cobalt blue testicles and

(b) a full-on monkey erection, which is sweetie pink.

Relatively speaking, this boy is most impressive. Every so often, he passes a little money paw over his tiny pink policeman’s helmet. The only people I have ever seen do this are male porn stars on set – just to ‘keep the engine running’. 

I am thrilled with my new friend. However, sensing no food in the offing, he goes and we start work. 

We see a group who are being abused and frequently drugged then gang-raped – a group whom Vicky describes as “funky Moslems” (non-strict Moslems living in a very conservative area). Again, like yesterday, the wives of the strict Moslem men hire thugs to sexually abuse the children to force the mothers out. Plus women from the Kokoto mines where sexual abuse is constant. And a group of reformed female prisoners who are being seriously abused in their community. A good variety of businesses, and everyone is relocated to somewhere safe. 48 adults and 176 children.

SUNDAY

Back in Nairobi.

Tonight we have electricity.

Today, I looked in a mirror for the first time in ten days because my cheeks felt sort-of scaley. Bloody forgot about my lupus not liking the sun and I have now got two crusty red cheeks. Slathering on the cortisone and hoping it will go away.

For some reason my right hip is giving me the most appalling gyp. Slathering on the diclofenac.

I took my methotrexate this morning and just met Felista but had to cut and run to the nearest space and puke and retch for ten minutes.

… CONTINUED HERE


The view from Copstick’s far from luxurious home window… She used to live in a metal container…

Copstick takes no money of any kind for herself from the Mama Biashara charity and covers none of her own costs in running the charity nor for travelling to and from and living in Kenya.

Mama Biashara itself relies solely on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

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What Kate Copstick and her charity has to deal with on a daily basis in Kenya

Feared comedy critic,  outspoken journalist and former on-screen sidekick of the Chuckle Brothers, Kate Copstick has been in Kenya for the last two-and-a-half weeks. It is where her Mama Biashara charity works.  

She keeps a diary while she is there. Here are a few recent, brief, very, very highly edited excerpts which give a slight hint at some of what she has to face on a daily basis.


Sunday 27th January

I sleep in. I took my methotrexate injection yesterday evening and am beset by mild nausea and dizzy headachiness.

Tuesday 29th January

It promises to be a packed day. I have to go back to Kenyatta Hospital, this time to help the Mary Faith Home get a girl – Faith – who is being detained there (ILLEGALLY) because her bill has not been paid. She is 14 years old. 

She was raped by her father. She gave birth two weeks ago, since when she has been held there – in a ward where expectant or postpartum mothers sleep two to a single bed (or on the floor) with their newborns. A victim of incestuous rape, she is now sharing a bed with a stranger. 

I meet the matron of the maternity ward. 

The matron (if, indeed, this stone-faced, acrylic-haired person IS the matron) is completely disinterested in the fact that what they are doing is illegal. The girl, she intones, should have got medical insurance. 

The first thought, of course, of any 14 year old raped by her father, would be: Note To Self, get medical insurance just in case I am pregnant by my rapist father.

I can feel an unhelpful outburst bubbling and I stomp out. 

We go and see another lady who is Kenyatta’s One Good Person. She is not happy. She phones around. She speaks to the right people. And NHIF (Kenya’s fairly new National Insurance scheme) will pay the bill. And she will ‘have a word’ with the supposed matron of the maternity ward.

“I am very much like you,” she says to me. “Perhaps we are sisters.”

I am very flattered.

We go and deliver a pair of crutches (thank you Age UK (Hammersmith & Fulham)) to Kibe, who is delighted to be home from Kenyatta.

We hear more horror stories from inside Kenyatta. The number of people who go there and simply rot away is terrifying. And, once they have you in your 1,500 Kenyan Shillings per day bed, they will put every obstacle in the way of a transfer out. 

“It is hell,” says Kibe. “Hell”. 

I get back to Corner and get a call. The girl Faith is still in “hell”. 

I did not get the details but, when push came to shove, the hospital refused to let her go.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Thursday 31 January

We had another bomb in Nairobi earlier in the week. But it was hardly in the news at all. I think a couple of people were killed and about twenty injured. 

However, it was in quite a skanky part of town: Odeon Roundabout. The people around there are mainly hawkers and other people who are: 

  1. not rich 
  2. not involved in international politics 
  3. not white.

And so the rather big explosion was not reported. 

It worries me much more than the big internationally covered bomb at Westlands.

I spend quite a bit of time near the Odeon Roundabout and loads of people I know/have funded have workshops there. No idea what might be in it for Al-Shabaab to attack.

I have been feeling a bit odd – utterly exhausted (for no reason) to the point of not being able to get up stairs and bad headaches – and this morning is not a great morning.

We make for Jamibora. It is the weirdest of places. A sort of gated community of stone houses which was apparently funded by a white bloke so people from the slums could get a better life and a new home. 

People started saving with Jamibora Bank, very little by very little, to buy their new home. And then the houses were sold over their heads to people with ready cash. 

It took, says my friend Mwangi, years for them to get any money back. Oddly, most of the houses are empty but one is owned by another Mama Biashara lady who made the most of her grant and is yet another of our network of ‘safe houses’. 

Today’s groups looking for funding from Mama Biashara have come from Loitoktok and elsewhere in Kajiado County. Far away, basically. They did not feel safe meeting in Kitenhela or Sultan Hamud (our original plan) so we are out here in a safe house. 

The people’s problems are the same. These are all groups of other tribes living in Maasai communities. Now the Maasai want them out. They are physically and sexually assaulted. I get a list of attacks with spears, knives, rungus (big heavy stick with a knuckle on the end) and pangas (machetes). 

It is very hard for them to use the word rape. They will say “They hold the children” or “They take the children” or describe it as “bad behaviour” or “unsuitable behaviour” and I have to push and push to find out what any of this means. It means rape. 

I apologise to them and explain that it is important to know. And to use the words that tell the truth. I tell them (last resort) that Jesus said, “The truth will set you free”. They are very impressed and mutter “Amen”. I feel slightly dirty. However we do get some more details. 

In one group the main problem is that the Maasai men want to marry the daughters of the group. And this means enforcing female genital mutilation. They are becoming quite insistent and the mothers are terrified.

A call to the Mary Faith Home confirms that Faith is still being illegally detained by Kenyatta Hospital. With her newborn child. Mary herself was so stressed today that she had a bit of a moment and fainted. Her blood pressure is, she says, worryingly high. Mine is generally low but if anything could turn me hypertensive, the goings on in Kenyatta Hospital can.

Friday 1st February

I go to Milimani Law Courts. This is where Lady Justice Wilfreda Okwany sits. She is the judge who made the game changing ruling in October last year. That ruling states that it is illegal for a Kenyan hospital to detain a patient for non-payment of fees. Illegal. But the law of Kenya “does not apply here” according to the staff at Kenyatta. 

I am thinking the good Lady Justice might be able to help me help them see the error of their ways. A tailored jacket and an authoritative manner go a long way. As does a document file under the arm and a grasp of legalese. But people are very helpful and very quickly I get to meet her clerk. The Lady Justice is on holiday (confirmed by a couple of people and a quick look at the register) but I have her clerk’s email and I am putting together a document which I hope she might read. Fingers crossed, anyway.

On the way back, Facebook tells me the British comedian Jeremy Hardy is dead. This is just another example of the world being too unfair to be the project of any kind of thinking deity. Jeremy was a wholly, honestly, hilariously brilliant political comedian. And a totally decent human being. 

Just in case he is listening from The Place Where The Good Guys Go, he might be amused by the conversation I had with David as we reach Corner. 

“You are very silent,” says David. 

“I am sad,” I say. “A very good man has died.” 

There is a pause. 

“Cancer,” I say. 

David nods. 

“Which cancer was it ?” he asks. “Was it the prostitute cancer?”

I smile all the way the Mary Faith home to drop off the beads for more Happy Bags. 

Faith is still not out of Kenyatta Hospital. Still illegally detained. But now she has locked herself in a toilet because the court (The hearing was today but she could not go to identify her father as the man who raped her because Kenyatta will not release her) told her father she was in Kenyatta Hospital and he sent one of his goons (who have already tried to get rid of her once) round to the hospital. Luckily, Faith saw him before he saw her and locked herself in the loo. A 14 year old rape victim. 

I am going to try and find someone in the media who will help. And talk (if I can get a contact) to the BBC who have a MASSIVE place here. 

The monsters are among us. 

I think it is time we got among the monsters.

I can feel my old documentary making roots tingling.

… CONTINUED HERE


Mama Biashara exists totally on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

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Comic Lynn Ruth Miller on Amsterdam, Harrogate, Utrecht and cross-dressing

“Monroe would have been just a few years older…”

Yesterday in this blog, London-based American comic and occasional 85-year-old burlesque stripper Lynn Ruth Miller wrote about her trip to Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Bangkok.

This is what she did when she got back to the UK…


Last August, when I performed in North Berwick, I met a lovely woman, Paula Stott, who told me that she was absolutely sure Harrogate would love my work. She ran events for the film society there and said she was going to find a way to get me to perform before one of their events. Did I know Marilyn Monroe would have been just a few years older than I, had she lived?

I did not know that.

Several months passed before I got a note from Paula asking if I would do a comedy performance before a screening of Marilyn Monroe’s comedy Some Like It Hot. I said of course and so the trip to Harrogate became a reality.  

The timing was a bit tight, because I came home from Bangkok two days before and Paula wanted me to go to Harrogate one day early to have a reunion of all the women who had seen me that evening in North Berwick.

So I got home to London, unpacked, did laundry, ran to see Funny Turns, a play the wonderful David Forest was in and, the next morning, packed a smaller case for Harrogate – and Holland – and off I went to see one of the most charming towns in the North of England.  

Harrogate is a lovely place: a far cry from the land of ornate temples, beautiful men dressed as women, loose cotton clothing and face masks to keep out pollution.

One of its highlights is Betty’s, a 100 year old café that features lovely afternoon teas and beautiful pastries. Everyone in Harrogate loves Betty’s but no one knows who Betty actually was.

In Some Like It Hot, Marilyn Monroe typifies the kind of sexiness that all we girls tried to emulate: sweet, kind and innocent but hot as a firecracker, out to marry money for our security and hope that love comes along with it.  

Joe E Brown (left) and Jack Lemmon – together at last – both perfectly legendary in the final scene of Some Like It Hot

For me, the interesting part of the movie is that Joe E Brown, the secondary lead, is from Toledo, Ohio, where I was born.

His favorite restaurant was my family’s favorite one as well: Naftalin’s 

Joe E Brown is a local hero in Toledo and they even have a park named after him there. I remember him in person on stage when he played the lead in Harvey, a play about a man with an imaginary 6 foot tall rabbit.

In Some Like It Hot, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis cross-dress and, at the time the film was made, it was very common for men to dress as women for comic effect. My own uncle danced in a show called The Matzo Ball Revue in a flimsy skirt with a bangle glittering in his belly button and no-one thought twice about his sexuality. Nor did either of his wives or any of his children doubt his testosterone levels. They thought he was very funny. 

Times change and now cross-dressing can often be a statement of gender identity. In those days it was a comic gesture.

At the Harrogate screening, I was preceded by The Ukulele Ladies, a group of women of a certain age singing ukulele favorites of yesteryear.  

Then I performed my comedy about what it feels like to be 85… to a lot of people who were 85 and all I could think was: Why don’t THEY tell ME how THEY feel.

Then I flew from Manchester Airport to Amsterdam and was driven to my gig in Utrecht at Comedyhuis.

“…a lovely city filled with bright lights and no parking…”

Utrecht is a lovely city filled with bright lights and no parking.

The comedy gig was run by comedians and they present very low cost shows for students to enjoy since Utrecht is a university town. The set-up reminds me very much of Angel Comedy in Islington, London. The audience was similar as well: young, eager to laugh and very welcoming.  

The most interesting thing about the gig was that the line up was all women except for one man. 

One of the girls was from Detroit, Michigan, which is 30 miles from my hometown of Toledo.

Detroit is the only place I can think of that is worse to live in than Toleldo.

She, like I, had got the hell out.

The next night was Mezrab comedy in Amsterdam. It is always well attended. The last two months it has been sold out.

When I do another comedy club in Amsterdam. I have trouble getting laughs because English is the second language of most of the audience. At Mezrab, there is no problem and although the audience is hugely diverse – Romanians, Russians, Bulgarians, many Dutch people – they are eager to laugh and very supportive.  

The evening was a huge success.

Once again I headlined because one of the other comedians backed out.

And, once again, I was up at 7.30am, dashed to the airport and the plane was an hour late.  

As soon as I got home to London, my body rebelled and I now have the cold to end all colds.  

However, the show must go on.

At least I think it must.

There is a video on YouTube of Lynn Ruth Miller in her other creative hat, performing at Burlesque Baubles in Cardiff in 2017

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Lynn Ruth in Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Bangkok… and on Israel

Lynn Ruth now has a taste for the Far East

Lynn Ruth Miller, the irrepressible 85-year-old American comic and occasional burlesque stripper based in London, has been off on her professional travels again.

Here is an edited version of her whistle-stop diary of the trip.


SINGAPORE

This is the first time I have flown directly to Singapore from London. It is a very long flight: about 17 hours. I could have paid twice as much and gotten there two hours earlier but I am Jewish.

I do not waste money.

I have been thinking about why comedians travel as far as we all do to stand in front of a lot of strangers for as little as ten minutes or as long as an hour talking about ourselves. For me, living alone as I do, it is worth the travel and the personal inconvenience to have those few moments when I am in the spotlight making a lot of people love me – because, in that moment, they do.

But it is more than that.  

We are, after all, social animals and interaction feeds our souls. As I get older (and I sure hope I keep doing it) I realize that the impetus to keep doing this is far more than those moments on stage. It is that amazing connection with different people from different backgrounds and the jolt of surprise when I realize how similar our values are and how alike our mutual vision of what makes the good life.

This is the third time I have been to Singapore.

This time, Naomi from Jakarta alerted the Jewish population of Singapore (which is far larger than I thought) to come to the show, so the place was packed. When I do comedy here, the audiences want to laugh and want to support us. They make us all feel like stars.

After the shows in Singapore, we all stay to have a drink and get to know one another as people. This is in contrast to the London experience, where the headliner usually comes in just before it is time to do his set and the rest of the comedians leave the show when they are done performing.  

Lynn Ruth has found she has many fans in the Far East

Here in Singapore, you realize you are all working together to create a good experience for the audience and it reduces that sense of competition that I always get in London. No one person is better than another because each performance presents a unique viewpoint.

And that is what makes stand up comedy so satisfying. The audience gets a glimpse of another perspective on the life we are all trying to live.

HO CHI MINH CITY (formerly Saigon)

Compared to Singapore, which is spacious. modern and richly beautiful, the streets in Ho Chi Minh City are narrow and the buildings retain the flavor of  the pre-war city. It has preserved some of its original character and yet it is filled with bright lights and glittering signs that give it a Las Vegas feel.

I featured for Jojo Smith who is an established comedian who has been doing this kind of thing for about 25 years or more. It is always an honor for me to be on the bill with women who have broken down barriers I still have yet to smash.  

We both did very well but the interesting thing was that I thought the evening was a huge success and I do not think Jojo agreed. The audience was smaller than she expected and the ambience of the room was not what she had hoped. I have decided that my expectations must be very low because I thought it was a gem of an evening.

Jojo and I were on the same plane to Hanoi the next morning.

HANOI

When we got here, Dan Dockery picked us up and, like the reliable rock that he is, he got us back to the very lavish Intercontinental Hotel that sponsors his events.

Jojo was not feeling well so she went up to her room which was the size of a three storey mansion and I toddled over to one of the several cafes each one fit to serve tea to Queen Elizabeth.  

When I returned to my room – so spacious I am amazed I managed to find the bed without a divining rod – I napped until show time. Poor Jojo had digestive problems and, like the understudies in West End shows, she gave me my big moment. She stayed in bed and I headlined.  

“Every joke worked. I was walking on air when I left the stage”

I did fifty minutes of comedy and every joke worked. I was walking on air when I left the stage then, after I drank the bottle of wine one of the audience members bought for me, I was floating on a cloud so high my feet didn’t touch the ground.

I think that is what keeps me in this business. The thrill of a successful gig has not worn off for me. It is never just another night.  

I vaguely remember the night I lost my virginity on plastic sheets in a grim motel in Indiana and I have to say that supposedly cosmic moment did not compare to standing on stage in Hanoi talking dirty to a bunch of expats in a hot little room overlooking the river.

It was my kind of magic.

The next morning, Dan’s driver took me to the airport and he was telling me how life has changed since the war. He said the entire place has been rebuilt and now there are more motor bikes than there are people on the roads and also a huge gap between rich and poor. Hanoi though – even more than Ho Chi Minh City – has retained its rustic flavor while always sparkling with colorful lights.

In Bangkok, “Everyone loves funny old ladies.”

BANGKOK

Chris Wegoda runs Comedy Club Bangkok, the most successful English-speaking comedy club in Bangkok. I headlined there.   

Chris, who is unbelievably reliable, sent a man named Sheldon – a swimmer, former surfer and LA guy – to pick me up and off we went to the show. 

The show was fast-paced and the audience anxious to laugh. I did my set and I did well.

Then we all went down to the bar to drink and Liam and Kordelia, whom I had met at the airport, said I must come to Mojacar Playa to do a show. I said I would.

They said: “Everyone there loves funny old ladies.”

I said: “I hope so.”

The next morning, my darling buddy Jonathan Samson sent a Thai guy to fetch me to his club in another neighborhood of the city. Jonathan does comedy in a youth hostel and keeps the prices low, which I support.

After our show that night, Jonathan bought a pan, a hot plate and a lot of ingredients for me to make my signature dish: blintzes (Jewish crepes.) Six members of the audience stayed after to help with the mixing, the beating and the frying and, by God, we made blintzes so authentic that Moses descended for a taste.

The next day I met Matthew Wharf for lunch. He is originally from Melbourne and runs a club in Bangkok but, this time around, he could not fit me into his line-up. He took me and a wonderful American man he called Wine for lunch. It turned out the man was from New Jersey and his name is Wayne. We talked shop for a couple of hours because ‘Wine’ wants to do stand up and I have the sense he is going to be great at it.  

Lynn Ruth heard about Tel Aviv at Bangkok’s Comedy Den

Then I played a club on the outskirts of the city called Comedy Den Pakkret. The line up was excellent.  

Tristan, one of the comedians there, had married an Israeli. He was telling me how modern and exciting Tel Aviv has become. He also talked a great deal about how biased the foreign press is against Israel, partly because of Netanyahu‘s belligerent policies and partly because so much of the press is anti-Zionist.  

It was a revealing discussion because, even though I personally do not like Israel’s practices toward the people in Gaza, I had never realized that there are so many extenuating circumstances.  

The one observation I made to justify what goes on there is that, after the Holocaust, the Jewish people never want to be in a situation where they are not the majority.  One can hardly blame them for that.

The next day, I met Aidan Killian and Trevor Lock for lunch. Aidan has managed to put on large shows once a month in Bangkok that feature major names like Shazia Mirza. Trevor has lived in Bangkok for several years doing comedy throughout Southeast Asia. He only returns to Britain for short periods of time to do shows in Edinburgh and London.  

It was an interesting lunch because again we talked shop.

It turns out that Bangkok has a very small audience base so it is almost impossible to earn a living doing comedy there. And yet we all agreed stand up comedy is the last place left where you can say what you really think without fear of being banned… though I have to say that is not as true as it once was.  

I still hold to the theory that any topic works if you can make it funny. The idea is to make people laugh.

Isn’t it?

Home to London now, to freeze and get ready for trips to Harrogate and Amsterdam.  

It is a good life.

… LYNN RUTH’s TRIPS CONTINUE HERE

Online, there is a clip of Lynn Ruth on Britain’s Got Talent in 2014.

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The very interesting Thom Tuck sings The Mountain Goats and I’m convinced.

On Friday this week, there is a show at the Vault Festival in London titled THOM TUCK SINGS THE MOUNTAIN GOATS.

The billing for the show reads:

“A barely known comedian (“increasingly melancholy” The Guardian) sings the songs of a band you probably don’t listen to. A phenomenally stupid idea. Total sellout Edinburgh Fringe 2017.”

Thom Tuck is a very interesting man so, obviously I had to ask him several questions. As is my wont, I tended to meander a bit. Well, OK, a lot.


JOHN: So why are you doing this show?

THOM: I fell into a hole by getting into The Mountain Goats – the best band you’ve never listened to. They are so good.

JOHN: Do they sing jolly, feel good songs?

THOM: They’ve got two styles of songs: sad and very sad. Well, three types: sad, weird and angry. New Chevrolet in Flames is about a couple who take a car for a test drive, park it behind a school and set it alight.

JOHN: So the attraction of The Mountain Goats is…?

THOM: John Darnielle is just a brilliant storyteller. The first few albums are just him with a guitar and a Panasonic boombox and they’re all first or second takes. Phenomenal stories. And then, when he decided to write about his own life it got even better. There was a concept album about loads of druggies living together in a house… then an album about his abusive stepfather.

They released a single last week. It is sort-of about a dragon.

The last record was about Goths getting old and it includes a song about The Sisters of Mercy and their lead singer – It’s called Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds.

JOHN: And you yourself were born in…

THOM: Leeds.

JOHN: And you feel Yorkshire…

THOM: Yes. There’s a Bill Bryson quote: You never feel so much a part of your own culture as when you’re surrounded by people who aren’t.

JOHN: You were brought up in…

THOM: Egypt, Sri Lanka, Denmark, Malawi, Zimbabwe, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

JOHN: How did Denmark get in there?

THOM: My (English) dad worked for Danish firms – Krüger, an engineering firm, and DANIDA, the Danish international development agency.

“Well, it had an effect. I don’t know about ‘screwed-up your brain’”

JOHN: Did being brought up in all those countries screw-up your brain about who you are and where you’re from?

THOM: Well, it had an effect. I don’t know about ‘screwed-up your brain’… That was just the way it was. I wasn’t anywhere longer than 18 months before Bangladesh. I was in Bangladesh for six years – aged 10-16.

JOHN: The formative years.

THOM: Yes. I made friends pretty quickly, because I had to. I’m quite good at that first bit,

JOHN: Do The Mountain Goats know you are doing this show?

THOM: Well, I did it before, at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, for Mark Watson’s Festival of Bad Ideas and John Darnielle knew about that one.

JOHN: Are you taking it back up to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?

THOM: Probably. I did it sort-of unofficially last year – about 17 shows. I just put on Instagram: I’M GOING TO DO IT NOW! and went to Bob’s Blundabus and started playing in the shed.

JOHN: And you have formed a band to do this show.

THOM: Yes. The Hospital Bombers – named after a line in the Mountain Goats’ song The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton:

The best ever death metal band out of Denton
Never settled on a name
But the top three contenders after weeks of debate
Were Satan’s Fingers and The Killers and The Hospital Bombers 

And all the band except one are obsessives about The Mountain Goats as well.

Thom and The Hospital Bombers’ possible set list for the show

JOHN: So this could be the start of a new career for you: singing.

THOM: Possibly.

JOHN: But you’re a serious actor, really.

THOM: Well, the last big job I did was in the play Brexit.

JOHN: And you did Death of a Salesman.

THOM: Yes, two years ago. That was a torrid time. The lead actor died in tech rehearsal (three days before the play was due to open). Tim Pigott-Smith. So the first three weeks were cancelled.

JOHN: Had you wanted to be an actor originally?

THOM: I think so. But I always got cast as the comedy part in plays at school.

JOHN: I always think you went to university at Oxbridge, but you didn’t.

THOM: No. I went to Edinburgh University.

JOHN: Why?

THOM: Because, when I was 17, I went to the Edinburgh Festival and thought: Oh! I’ll come to university here, please!

JOHN: You studied…

THOM: Philosophy. I’m very glad I did it: I think I’m a better thinker because of it.

JOHN: But that’s no help in comedy, is it?

“Philosophical about things over which you have no control”

THOM: Well, just in life. Being able to remain philosophical about things over which you have no control and seeing logical flaws in things and fallacies in arguments.

JOHN: Seeing through bullshit.

THOM: Yes. I started doing Philosophy and Economics and that’s a bad pairing because, if you do them together, you realise Economics is false. It’s based on myriad assumptions and, time after time, these assumptions are not held up. Economists think they’re scientists and they’re fucking not.

JOHN: What are they?

THOM: They’re social scientists. They consider themselves on a par with mathematicians and they’re just not.

JOHN: You are very literate. You should be writing novels.

THOM: I’ve started a couple, but I’m not good enough yet. Jess Fortescue and I are trying to write a TV sitcom at the moment.

JOHN: So you’re busy. The Penny Dreadfuls have been commissioned to do another BBC Radio show and you run the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society live shows. 

THOM: Yes, it has been going about 7 or 8 years now. We have one next week – Tuesday 12th February – at The Albany in Central London.

One of Thom’s individually hand-drawn flyers for the show

JOHN: Your publicity for Thom Tuck Sings The Mountain Goats says you can’t sing.

THOM: I’m not a singer. That’s what I said.

JOHN: What’s the difference?

THOM: I have a nice voice, but I’m not very good at hitting the notes.

JOHN: So you sing all the right notes, but…

THOM: …not necessarily in the right order. Yes. If I was to sing in a cappella without any backing, it would sound great but, unfortunately, this is with a band.

JOHN: The Hospital Bombers.

THOM: Yes.

JOHN: And, when you did it in Edinburgh in 2017, it sold out.

THOM: Yes. When we did it for Mark Watson’s shows, it sold out because it was Mark Watson.

JOHN: It still sounds good to me. Do you see the show going further?

THOM: Possibly.

JOHN: Any more singing ahead?

THOM: Long-term, I want to do a particular musical, but I don’t know how good I am. It’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the story of an East German transsexual rock singer. The film is exceptional and the stage version is just a rock concert with a monologue in-between.

JOHN: More singing for you, though… I’m convinced.

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Mr Twonkey tries to plug his show but gets sidetracked by cheese and fast food

I had a very fuzzy talk with Mr Twonkey

I had a video chat with comedy performer Mr Twonkey (Paul Vickers) on FaceTime but I could only see him as a frozen, fuzzy presence.


PAUL: That’s just the way I look.

JOHN: Where are you? Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes, on the shore at Leith in my windmill.

JOHN: Your windmill in Edinburgh.

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: You wanted to talk to me to wantonly plug your show at the Bill Murray comedy club in Islington next Thursday (7th February).

PAUL: And I’m at the Leicester Comedy Festival the weekend after that – Saturday 9th.

JOHN: The same show?

PAUL: Yes. Well, the same show with a different title.

JOHN: The last time I talked to you, there seemed to be a planned, linear progression to your shows. I was quite shocked.

PAUL: Well, to me there’s a plan, but people just think they’re… well, just… well… mental… But to me there’s a plan.

JOHN: So what’s this new show about?

PAUL: A conspiracy theory. The idea that all the weather we currently experience is generated in one small factory in the Dordogne in France. And the ‘front’ for it is a cake decorating shop. Behind the scenes, they are making weather, but it is mal-functioning. So I go to investigate. That’s the central crux… There are connections with Leonardo da Vinci.

JOHN: Which are?

PAUL: Apparently he had plans to re-invent the weather.

JOHN: Title of the show?

Mr Twonkey’s new show is coming to Islington

PAUL: My original title was Twonkey Turns The Umbrella of History, Meets Leonardo da Vinci and Explains Climate Change but, when I told my PR, the phone went silent. Now it’s called Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. She didn’t like Whizz, Weathercock, Whizz! either. Next Thursday will be the first time I’ve performed it. The other night, we wrote a new song for it because we were watching Neil Diamond videos and became inspired. So now there’s a new bit in the show about a temporary exhibition of Neil Diamond stage costumes at Luton Airport.

JOHN: Separate from this show, you have a new music album coming out…

PAUL: Yes. There’s a new Paul Vickers and The Leg album called Jump! There have been some problems on that with label changes, but I think what is going to happen is… Well, I don’t know what is going to happen at all. The main thing we’re focussed on is getting it finished. We’re mixing it at the moment. It takes a long time to finish a record because, when you get five grumpy men in a room, it takes a while.

JOHN: Are you going to tour with the band?

PAUL: Hopefully. But it’s a case of time and money. There’s a lot of things I would like to do. My play about David Lynch is ready, but it’s too expensive for me to do at the moment.

JOHN: Why expensive?

PAUL: I need actors and actors cost money. The last time I did a play – Jennifer’s Robot Arm – it cost me a fortune. The trouble with plays is the cost escalates. It’s like digging a hole and just throwing loads of money into it. Whereas, with a Twonkey show, there’s a limit to how much the cost can escalate because it’s basically just me and what I buy in junk shops.

JOHN: How is your good lady? Is she still making props for you?

“Somebody had a go at it with a screwdriver. Sounds strange”

PAUL: Yes. And buying me things. The other day, she bought me a xylophone that plays by itself, but I think it’s broken. It sounds wrong and wobbles a lot.

JOHN: But, then, so do I… Is it having creative differences with itself?

PAUL: It appears so. It’s quite rusty as well. Somebody had a go at it with a screwdriver but it sounds very strange now.

JOHN: It plays itself?

PAUL: Because it’s from the early 1970s, the way you program it is with a coil. It’s kinda like an auto-piano that you would get in a Wild West saloon. It’s very old and broken.

JOHN: But, then, so am I and, if you tweaked me with a screwdriver…. What else have you been doing?

PAUL: I made a little video in the western town in Morningside

JOHN: Western town? Morningside??? The very posh part of Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes. Behind the library, there’s a street that’s like the Wild West.

JOHN: What?

PAUL: It was built for some advertising thing. There’s a saloon and a canteen. It’s like a proper little Wild West street. It used to be a dance hall; now it’s a street.

JOHN: What is the video about?

Mr Twonkey inside his windmill, holding quite a large cheese

PAUL: Cheese. How America lacks high quality cheese… American cheese is kinda plastic cheese. Was there ever a point where they tried to introduce European or exotic cheeses into America? I had the idea there was a time in the Wild West where cheese was more valuable than gold. So I’m trying to smuggle cheese and I steal the sheriff’s cheese and he tries to win it back. It’s very simple.

JOHN: What triggered you into thinking about the low quality of cheese in the USA?

PAUL: I just couldn’t think of any high-quality American cheese. In this country, every different region has its own cheese. And I thought: That surely must be the case in America; they must be making some kind of local cheese… but they’re not. Why not? But they love cheese. 

JOHN: Their showbiz can be quite cheesy. There’s Brie Larson.

PAUL: But does she generate genuine cheese?

JOHN: I don’t know her that well.

PAUL: There is no great American cheese. It is such poor quality that it can’t officially be classed as cheese.

JOHN: Who says?

Mr Twonkey – a man, a myth, a large sombrero

PAUL: The cheesemongers of the world. The Cheese Police. (LAUGHS)

JOHN: Is there some official supervisory cheese body?

PAUL: There must be. You can’t get away with just knocking out anything and calling it cheese. There must be someone who says: “Hang on a minute… That’s not proper cheese!”

JOHN: Is all this because American cows are below par?

PAUL: The thing about America is it’s massive. They’ve got snake farms. There are places out in the woods where they’re making things in a DIY homemade manner. You would think somewhere out there someone would be making high quality cheese…

You would think maybe someone with French ancestry would be thinking: I want to make a really smelly, runny cheese. But I don’t think there’s anyone in America doing that. I have Googled extensively online and the best I could come up with was Vermont Cheddar which, if you put it on a plate in France, they would say: “Well, that is… average.”

I have never been to Vermont. All I know is the Captain Beefheart song Moonlight on Vermont.

JOHN: Does Moonlight on Vermont include any reference to cheese?

PAUL: I don’t think he mentions cheese.

JOHN: I seem to remember cheese being a motif in previous shows of yours.

PAUL: It is. It’s one of the things I focus on. Certain things keep coming back: cheese, World War Two, escapology, engineering and witchcraft. But you Google American cheese. You’d be amazed.

JOHN: I don’t doubt it.

PAUL: The country that invented the cheeseburger doesn’t have decent cheese.

JOHN: Did they invent the cheeseburger?

PAUL: Well, they invented fast food. Have you seen that film The Founder?

JOHN: About Colonel Sanders?

PAUL: No, about the guy who started McDonald’s. Except he didn’t start McDonald’s. He went into business with the McDonald brothers and their original intention was high-quality fast food.

Michael Keaton’s movie as The Founder

The way they did it was they didn’t open a restaurant first; they booked a tennis court, got a piece of chalk and divided the tennis court into different areas for preparing different types of food, then employed staff who came to the tennis court and they mapped-out a kitchen and they were directing people round this tennis court to see who could make the quickest high-quality cheeseburger. Then they built a restaurant to the exact specifications of the tennis court.

JOHN: Didn’t the net get in the way?”

PAUL: I think they maybe took down the net. We have gone off-track…

JOHN: I feel there is a rock opera to be written about cheese and you are the man to do it.

PAUL: The Americans invented jazz and fast food… And that’s it… We are going off-track.

JOHN: So you are performing at the Bill Murray in London on Thursday.

PAUL: Yes. Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch.

Twonkey… Another gig. The same show. Another title… A fez

JOHN: And then at the Leicester Comedy Festival on Saturday 9th February..

PAUL: Yes. Twonkey Turns The Umbrella of History, Meets Leonardo da Vinci and Explains Climate Change.

JOHN: Which is the same show, but with a different title.

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: And, at the Edinburgh Fringe, it will be called Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: That seems reasonable.

… Mr TWONKEY’s MORNINGSIDE VIDEO IS ON YOUTUBE …

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