I am lazy. Comedy club crowdfunding continues. Comic will change his name.

(L-R) Barry Ferns, Dec Munro, Rachel Warnes and Sarah Pearce

(L-R) The founding four for Angel Comedy 2.0  – Barry Ferns (horizontal), Dec Munro, Rachel Warnes and Sarah Pearce

Oh Jesus.

Mea culpa.

Today is 21st July.

On 3rd June, I had a chat with Barry Ferns and Dec Munro about the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign they had just started to help finance the new Angel Comedy 2.0 comedy club in London’s Islington. The idea was that I could give their campaign a boost with a blog. What could go wrong?

Well, my laziness and tortuous Things I Am Doing for a start.

I mean, if I am going to bullshit, they didn’t really need me anyway.

Their target was to raise a whopping £20,000.

They did this within a week.

At the time of writing, they have now raised over £45,000 and there are only a five hours left.

But – hey! – at least I will have posted a blog of some kind at some point. The Kickstarter page is at:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/angel-comedy/angel-comedy-club
and Angel Comedy supremo Barry Ferns (an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner) has posted a very fine video on YouTube about the Angel 2.0 project.

As an incentive to pledge money, donors will be given various limited-edition Angel Comedy goodies. If you donate more than £30, you can name a random object in the building. So there might be a John Fleming knob (on a door). If you pledge £75 or more, there will be a tankard with your engraved name on it above the bar. For £200, you can name the glitter ball. For £500 you can name a toilet. And – recently added to the incentives – you can also re-name Barry Ferns.

“All of our backers get a vote,” Barry told me last week. “Even just a £1 pledge gets a vote. We will be having a proper naming ceremony as part of the official club opening in September – where I will sign the deed poll form and one of our winning backers will get to counter-sign and witness the name change.”

“Why?” I asked. “Just simply, why?”

“To show how grateful we are,” said Barry. “Anyone can suggest a name for me – even a vengeful ex-girlfriend or a maniac like Adam Larter – who is trying to create a name that will get me into as much trouble at passport control as possible. Suggestions so far include: Mr Terrorist, VOID NAME, 000000000 and First Name, Surname. The stakes are quite high…

The new Angel Comedy 2.0 - the whole building

The new Angel Comedy 2.0 – Yes, it’s the whole building

Way back on 3rd June, when I originally talked to Barry and Dec and they only had around £21,000, Barry told me: “The money so far has mostly just come from people who have been to our shows and know we are good people and are not gonna spunk their money on things. We want to do something good and they’ve seen us do something good over the last six years.”

“Why,” I asked, “did you decide to start the second club in Islington when you already have the 7-days-a-week  original Angel Comedy club still running?”

“Most clubs,” explained Barry, “are run out of upstairs rooms in pubs – like Angel Comedy. Malcolm Hardee started Up The Creek, but he bought the building. So the four of us put money in to buy this building but with the realisation that, once we owned the building, it would take more money to make it right.”

“You have the building on a seven-year lease?” I asked.

“Seven to eight,” said Barry. “Between the two.”

“That gives you great security,” I said.

“Security is one word,” said Dec Munro. “Millstone is also a word.”

“What do you need the Kickstarter money for?” I asked.

“When it rained two days ago,” said Barry, “we had buckets and things.”

“So,” I said, “you are doing a ‘soft’ opening with various things happening in July and August, but a ‘hard’ opening in September, after the Edinburgh Fringe is done and dusted. What does a ‘hard opening’ mean?”

Dec said: “Consistent opening hours, some resident acts, regular format nights like improv, mixed variety, musical comedy, different weird stuff.”

“There are so many comedians out there,” added Barry, “who are not really supported, because there’s nowhere they can get free preview space or a place that will let them perform absolutely bat-shit crazy stuff or if they are going to take a risk. The reason Angel Comedy has worked is because the new comedians are brilliant. That’s why it works. Not because it’s free; but because the shows are good.”

“Why are you keeping the original Angel Comedy club open?” I asked again.

“Because that is not this,” replied Barry. “That is an open mic club. It is the top of the open mic circuit. Angel Comedy 2.0 is not the open mic circuit.”

“How will the charging here work?” I asked.

“It’s whatever the performers want to do,” explained Barry. “If they want to put on a free night, they can collect in a bucket at the end. If they want to run Bob Slayer’s model, they can do that. If they want to charge £15 for a ticket, they can do that. Our cuts will be cost-only cuts. We won’t take a 60/40 split.”

“So how can you calculate covering costs?” I asked.

Angel Comedy club 2.0

“A permanent home for London’s loveliest comedy night.”

“What we can say,” replied Dec, “is we hope from September not to charge more than a 20% split of any tickets. And that money would go into a magazine or similar to be distributed in the local area to let them know about us.”

“And there is no rental fee for the room?” I asked.

“We,” said Barry, “will not charge a fee that we will make any profit on from renting it out. If we charge any money, it will just go to the publicity costs.

“Here at Angel Comedy 2.0 it’s not always going to be free, but we want it to be a place where people can take risks. We also have space where people can come in at low cost or no cost and record a podcast. And we can teach people how to make films or sketches.

“If you’re an art or theatre student, you can go to university and get access to a lot of other things but, in comedy, there is not that. I have gone bankrupt. I have done the craziest things just to be able to perform. And there is no support unless you have wealthy parents who own a house in London. You have to work at least five days a week to make your rent and then you have two hours to perform comedy when you’re exhausted and you have no resources.”

Thus said Barry Ferns.

But he may not be Barry Ferns for much longer. He explains more about his re-naming in a video on YouTube:

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This week in Vancouver, the thief and the man with over-boiled eggs for eyes

Another day, another missive from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. She writes:


Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna Smith had a half hour appointment with her pharmacist

I had a half hour appointment with my pharmacist today. She writes articles and wins awards and has me speak one-on-one to her foreign students, to get them grounded in reality.

I will walk in there and she will herd a student into her office, saying: “Monica, this is Anna. Go into the office and talk to her.”

Then the student will practise on me, asking if I know the side effects of the drugs and I tell them wild stories about my life in a friendly way so that, in future, they are not too shocked when they have to deal with comedians or mentally ill people or strippers…


Anna also told me about two encounters in Vancouver this week.


On the Main Street bus. I got in through the back door and, towards the front of the bus, I found a seat. A scavenger man and I silently fought for space.

I moved my new shopping buggy to make room for him. He had a larger wire cart, with filthy orange coloured paint peeling off in chips and odd dirty bits of stuff attached to it. He glared at me a bit and settled in. Then he gave a growl of recognition.

“Hey, Mike!”

Another grimy old man, seemingly assembled from globs of grey fabric, lifted his skinny head. His eyes looked like shiny, over-boiled eggs.

“Wher ‘ev ya been? In jail again?”

“Hospital.”

“Did you find a place to stay yet?”

“Percy House, down Cordova.”

“That’s a good place. Lucky you got in there. You heading there now,then?”

“Rrrrrgh…”

“Well, if they kick you out, you can always go stay with your wife. She would have to take you! Hahahahaha…”

“Rrrrghargh… Hah!”

“Well, I’m off to buy my dope now. Two hundred dollars a week.”

I got off the bus at Main and Hastings and slipped through the usual crowds. A big  woman was hawking cigarettes right at the corner.

After my music class, I waited for the bus downtown. A native guy with a gleaming face, his hair in a long ponytail, stopped his bicycle right in front of me. He had a small turquoise teardrop tattoo under one eye.

“Hello,” he said to me.

“Hello.”

“I’m a thief.”

“Really? What do you steal?”

“Cheese.”

“Good,” I told him. “When I can, I buy stolen Parmesan Reggio outside the Pennsylvania Hotel.”

“I make $180 by noon every day,” said the man. “I sell mild, medium and extra strong. Can I meet you sometime? Where do you hang out?”

“I take a music class at the Carnegie Centre,” I told him. “For women,” I added. “You should come see one of our shows. It’s called Women Rock.”

“I’m just on my way to buy some now,” said the man.

“Women?”

“Rock,” he said. “I’m a bit drunk.”

“That’s OK,” I said. “Here comes my bus.”

And he was gone.

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Mr Twonkey’s Buxton Fringe Diary

Mr Twonkey was front-page news in Buxton

Mr Twonkey was big front-page news in Buxton

Performers often preview their Edinburgh Fringe shows at the Buxton Fringe.

This year, the Buxton Fringe runs 6th-24th July and the Edinburgh Fringe officially 5th (but, in fact, 3rd) to 29th August

Paul Vickers  is a songwriter, comic and puppeteer who performs as Mr Twonkey

Last year in Edinburgh, he was nominated for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

He will be performing his new show Twonkey’s Mumbo Jumbo Hotel in Edinburgh next month and has just returned from performing it for three nights in Buxton. This is his diary of what happened over the weekend…


DAY ONE

Mr Twonkey performed late night in Buxton

Mr Twonkey performed late night underground in Buxton

As soon as I arrived, I headed for a vegetable shepherd’s pie. The table I choose to sit at was about three foot taller than all the other tables. I had set myself up to be the freak straight away. Old ladies gazed at me gloomily as Old Blue Eyes provided the swinging soundtrack. I felt so vulnerable.

Afterwards, I walked along the high street and spotted some teenagers dressed in World War 2 clobber. They had just performed their first show and all seemed to think the audience was a little nervous and quiet as they hammered their show into them like a night raid on Coventry.

The evening came round fast.

First I did Barrel of Laughs which was a mixed bill show. I tried out new songs and it all went down very well. People started singing along automatically which was unusual. It was almost as if they knew the songs better then me, which was a little creepy.

My late solo show was more sparsely attended. However I had a reviewer in and he loved it, saying I was as mad as a trumpet made from ear wax but enjoyable all the same.

My Air BnB was incredibly minimal. When I opened the door to my room, the handle came right off. I went straight to bed.

DAY TWO

Mr Twonkey stared at the viaduct and the grass near Buxton

Mr Twonkey stared at the viaduct and the grass

The morning began with a fright as I heard a penguin flapping about in the loft above my head. Luckily, I managed to secure the door to the hatch with an old broom. I would be horrified having to deal with a bird flapping around my small room hungry for berries and seeds. Or fish.

I decided not to start my day with a punishing schedule of Fringe shows but to immerse myself in the sanctuary of nature and stone temples.

First I went off to stare down a viaduct and, just up the road from that humped wonder, I found a lovely farm shop. They served cherry Bakewell ice cream, which was pretty much the best thing ever.

Afterwards, I tried talking to a horse and a farmer caught me at it. He said he once had a bull that rolled it eyes when it was hungry.

Then I walked back into town refueled and ready to give Buxton a show to remember.

I picked up a new cast member in a junk shop called Maggie Mae – a fine coconut frog belly monster with a devilish grin.

I played to a busy house. The show fell straight off the bone, which is the way I like it: loose but tasty.

After my success, I read an old copy of the Buxton Advertiser and fell asleep.

DAY THREE

Mary Queen of Scots used to rub herself against the stalagmites in Poole’s Cavern

Mary Queen of Scots used to rub herself against the stalagmites in Poole’s Cavern (Photograph by Stephen Elwyn Roddick)

The morning began with a hop, skip and a jump down a cave – Poole’s Cavern. This comprises a network of tunnels that Mary Queen of Scots used to visit via candlelight as she feverishly rubbed her body up and down the stalagmites in a desperate effort to try and cure her rampant arthritis.

I also learned about the beaker people. Their bodies were discovered when the area near Solomon’s Temple (a Victorian viewing booth on the moor) was excavated. Apparently they were buried with beakers between their legs so that when they arrived in heaven they would not go thirsty.

In the afternoon, Buxton was simply throbbing with brass bands, vintage sports cars, cream teas and jollity. People in blazers tiptoed around the opera house gorging themselves on fancy cakes and antiques. The sun was so hot you could hear the huge laminated portraits in front of the Milton’s Head sizzle: a bizarre tribute to the fallen Prince, John Lennon, Whitney Houston and Cilla Black.

As the day drew on, posh people left the park and were soon replaced by local yobs kicking bottles of Buxton spring water around in a hateful manner. I started to feel a little nervous about my final Buxton show.

I gave them my most physical show yet.

I was burnt-out but satisfied by the end of it.

I did it!

I blasted the Buxton Fringe.

I gave them a bit of Twonkey and – you know what? – I think they liked him.

As for me, I don’t care for the guy.

Paul Vickers on Skype yesterday

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How to fail at the Edinburgh Fringe

How NOT to succeed at the Edinburgh Fringe

At around this time each year, a lot of performers preview their upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows in London.

‘Preview’ in this case is a word with many meanings. It can mean the full, finished Edinburgh show; or a jerky show with the performer reading some or all of it off notes; or some thrown-together mishmash of ideas which do not yet gel but which may yet end up as a smooth Edinburgh show in August.

I have been seeing a lot of previews recently and, earlier this week, I saw one which was fully written, rehearsed and well-performed. Unusually, the show was in a packed-to-overflowing venue and went down a storm. The audience LOVED it, as well they might, because it was skilfully crafted to appeal to them.

And, as I watched it, I saw – minute by minute, second by second – an almost 100% Edinburgh Fringe disaster unfolding before me.

The show comprised observational comedy and was tailor-made for a wide audience who could identify through their own experience with all the observations in the show. To make it even more enjoyable, there were a large number of audience participation sections – dividing the audience down the middle; that sort of stuff.

The audience loved it.

We now have a flashback to my erstwhile youth when, on big TV shows like Sunday Night at The London Palladium, major US comedy stars would be flown over to the UK and would smoothly perform their slick, tried-and-tested material… material about living in New York; material about eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day; material about mom’s apple pie.

You can see where I am going with this.

The comedian I saw this week had a very-well-put-together themed show with the linking device narrative of a trip on the Underground, visits to ‘West End’ clubs etc etc. It was not just very very English; it was utterly London-centric and almost certainly could not easily have the London elements removed and replaced with other references.

One bit was: “You know what it’s like at 12 o’clock on a Saturday on the Central Line…”

The act performing this has never, as far as I know, performed at the Edinburgh Fringe before and this is his certainly his first show there.

The first hurdle he has fallen at is Know your audience.

The last time I heard any figures, the Fringe Society reckoned that around 60% of audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe come from EH postcodes. That means that they come from Edinburgh. Not even Glasgow or Fife. Specifically Edinburgh.

Sometimes ‘newbie’ performers assume that, at the Edinburgh Fringe, they are playing to the same audiences they play to in London. They are not. They are often not even playing to English audiences. They are playing to Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Australian, American, wherever audiences. And to English audiences.

It is reasonable for the performer to assume they are British audiences because foreigners will make allowance for the fact they have come to see UK comedy.

But it is not reasonable to assume they are audiences from South East England. The show I saw would likely get right up the proverbial noses of audiences in Manchester, Liverpool, Plymouth and Newcastle let alone Edinburgh or Glasgow.

It will come across in Scotland as “yon fuckin’ wee English cunt” showing disrespect for where he is.

I have seen South London audiences turn on comedians who talk too much about life in North London.

Move that to the Scottish/English divide and magnify it 100 times. Especially at the moment.

Of course, that figure of 60% of Fringe audiences coming from EH postcodes can only be from research taken from people buying tickets for pay shows. Who knows the make-up of audiences going to free comedy shows? But it may not be much different.

And the other thing to consider is word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth is HUGE at the Edinburgh Fringe. Totally unheard-of acts in obscure venues can suddenly take-off and become the hottest shows in town. Or in both towns (in Edinburgh). And, if any would-be Fringe performer reading this does not know why I wrote “both towns”, then he or she has not researched the city they are playing enough.

Again, the last figures I heard from the Fringe Society were that the average Fringe visitor stays for three days.

But those are visitors to the city and the word-of-mouth between genuine visitors is highly unlikely to be vastly significant. The real word-of-mouth is what happens between the locals (remember that EH postcode) and between the media. A single 5-star review of an obscure show from Kate Copstick in The Scotsman will likely fill a venue for the whole run and ensure the rest of the media pay attention.

When those American comedians used to play sets of American-themed observational comedy on Sunday Night at The London Palladium, UK audiences felt they were being shown contempt. The Scots have never taken kindly to English comedians per se (see endless horror stories of the dangers of playing the Glasgow Empire in its heyday).

My advice to any London comedian playing the Edinburgh Fringe is:

1) Remember Edinburgh is not in England

2) The audiences you are playing to are not entirely and possibly not even predominately from England.

3) The audiences you are playing to are almost certainly not predominately from London.

4) Showing what may be perceived as contempt for your audience is never going to end well.

5) The word ‘England’ is not the same as ‘the UK’ or ‘Britain’ or ‘here’.

6) Edinburgh is north of Watford.

7) If you do not know what a ‘Weegie’ is, you may end up ‘brown bread’ on stage.

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Plot structure in movies and novels

cropped-pencil2.jpgI was talking to someone about plot structure this morning.

You are right. What do I know?

But that has never stopped me before.

Years ago, I read an excellent description of that awful phrase ‘the story arc’ for a movie. Which was that, at the start, there is an unresolved problem. The climax of the film is the resolution of that problem. And the core of the film is the unravelling or further complication of the problem.

Novels which sell well would, obviously share that basic structure though, with what is called ‘literary fiction’, it can be replaced by an immense amount of waffling around with polysyllabic words not getting anywhere except possibly a Booker Prize nomination.

DieHard_posterThe other thing I have heard which is, I think, valuable is that the best movies set up the central characters and the main plot elements within the first two minutes.

The best example I have ever seen of that is the original Die Hard movie where, under the opening credits, all the main characters and their back stories are set up as well as the unresolved marital problem and the elements for the main action plot.

But, as I say, what do I know?

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You want to be a comic? You do what?

Smiley face with moustache

.

Occasionally, people ask me for advice.

Proof, if proof were needed, that people are not always sensible.

This morning, I got a message from someone I know who has been engaged in various big projects for a while.

He told me:

Now I finally have the time to work on my own comedy material. Do you think this is worth doing? I don’t mind spending money to invest in my career. Do you think this comedy course is worth doing?

He named a particular course. I am dubious about the effectiveness of all comedy courses, especially this one, but suggested another which I had heard good things about.

The late Malcolm Hardee always said he thought mime was a tragic waste of time and juggling was a skill not a talent. I tend to agree with him.

Mime is almost always a tragic waste of time.

And juggling is a skill.

Almost anyone with normal abilities could practise five hours a day every day for five years and become a competent or good juggler.

But someone who practised being a comedian five hours a day every day for five years would not necessarily become a competent or good comedian.

Because performing comedy is not a skill; it is a talent. You do need skill and you can learn that but you also vitally need a certain almost indefinable something to become good at it. Hard work is not enough (though it can help if you have the basic talent).

But, even if you become a good comedian, you may not succeed. My advice this morning was:

The truth is that there are hundreds of perfectly good, competent comedians playing the circuit – all equally good, all equally effective at their job. But standing out amid this throng is another matter.

Find a USP, a Unique Selling Proposition. It will perk up audiences and bookers.

I cannot begin to tell you how much my soul has been sapped by the endless shows I have sat through with a bill of five competent 20-something white men talking about wanking and/or watching pornography.

Even if they were talking about something else and one was a West Indian Swede with a beard and a tattoo on his left elbow, it is just the same thing visually over and over again with an entirely competent performer delivering an entirely competent act while standing at a microphone.

Pacing backwards and forwards can make it worse.

Also, never create an act that involves having to carry a heavy prop or instrument around. A comic tuba player would get booked but would die from exhaustion carrying it to and from gigs. How Jim Tavaré ever succeeded with his double bass without having a heart attack is beyond me.

The reaction to my advice this morning was:

I cannot contain my desire to improvise and do voices so it would always be different. I’m gonna try to suss out where best to make my first tentative and anonymous steps into the world. My not very original idea being to see what works and what doesn’t in a live context. I also wanna see as much live comedy by unknowns such as me to size up the scene. It’s a new world for me but now I can throw myself into it fully.

He is charismatic and talented and has some savings in the bank. I just hope that is enough.

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Death of comedy critic Kate Copstick

Earlier this evening, I was chatting with comedy critic Kate Copstick at her Mama Biashara charity shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush. This is what she said:


Kate Copstick in London earlier this evening

Copstick in London earlier this evening

All the way through my teens and 20s, maybe into my 30s, I knew I wanted to be pretty much in charge of when I die. And I still do. When I die, I reckon it will be when I decide I’m going to die. So I had this plan.

I always thought the icky stuff is being found a bloated, ghastly mess after the deed.

So my plan was that I would build, or have built for me, a bomb – small but powerful.

They’re probably available now. I could probably get Chris Dangerfield to get me something on the Dark Web.

I would take a train to Rannoch Moor in Perthshire in Scotland. It is very, very, very remote and there’s miles and miles of bleak… Well, it’s just a great place to die.

So I would go to Rannoch Moor and it would be winter. I would die in winter. It’s all part of the plan.

When I was a teenager, I always had this big jar of pills – painkillers and Valium and Librium and all that sort of stuff. It was my safety thing. Every time I got crazy – which I did quite a lot – I would look at the jar and think: Nothing ever needs to get too bad. Because, if it gets too bad, I take these pills. It made me feel very In Control.

So, I would have my big jar of pills and I would buy a litre of vodka.

I would get the train to Rannoch and I would get a taxi out as far as a taxi could take me and say: “Bye! It’s alright, I’m meeting somebody here” – unlikely as that would be – and then I would make my way to some place high but not too obvious.

The Black Mount seen from Ranch Moor in winter (Photo by Pip Rolls)

The Black Mount seen from Rannoch Moor in winter (Photograph by Pip Rolls)

Then I would take off any jacket I was wearing, would take the pills and wash them down – just slowly, slowly, so I didn’t throw up – with the vodka and I would lie on top of the bomb, which would be attached by wires not to a timing device but to a rectal thermometer.

I would insert the rectal thermometer and then what would happen would be that, obviously, the pills and the vodka would take effect and I would die and that would be helped by the exposure because it’s bloody freezing on Rannoch Moor in winter.

I would die of hypothermia, drug overdose, whatever.

When my core body temperature sank low enough for the rectal thermometer to register the fact I was dead, that would trigger the bomb and my body would be blown to smithereens and the little bits that landed here, there and everywhere could be eaten by birds, rats, whatever is around there… and there would be nothing left. I would just literally disappear from the face of the earth.

That is still how I would like to go.

I want it to be a little bit like Logan’s Run, where you just walk in and disappear. None of this icky nonsense with bodies and funerals and people pretending that they liked you.

I’ll go when I feel it’s time.

In control.

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