Does John Ward have THE No 6 badge from cult TV series “The Prisoner”…??

Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award designer John Ward has got in touch with me about the cult TV series The Prisoner, which starred Patrick McGoohan

John Ward wrote:


Patrick McGoohan made The Prisoner down the road from you at MGM Borehamwood in 1966-1967.

Patrick McGoohan, the Prisoner badge, the MGM envelope

I wrote to him when it was screened to say I thought the series was a cracker and a few weeks later a signed photo plus a Number 6 penny farthing badge came in the post…

Could this be THE badge that was used in the show? – Or just one of them? 

I suspect that a few were made in case of cock-ups during filming – or to send out to fans. But, on the back of the badge I was sent – in the pin attachment – are visible grains of sand.

Some of the location stuff was filmed along the beach area at Portmeirion in Wales.

Years ago I did try to find out how many badges were made, but no joy.

In the 1980s, I ‘loaned’ my badge to the Six of One fan club for a Channel 4 programme Six Into One – The Prisoner File. I saw an article in the TV Times asking for anybody with any memories relating the original showing – 1967-1968.

So I wrote in.

Next thing I knew I had a ‘highly educated’ man calling me on the phone to say how wonderful it was that I had this ‘memento’ from the show.

The more he asked, the more he seemed to be drooling over it.

Could I send it, together with the envelope with the MGM logo, by recorded delivery, to him?

I duly did his bidding and got back a pile of their Six of One promo stuff about membership etc… and then… nothing, really.

I was never told when the programme was going out. By chance, I spotted it in the telly listings. 

And then it took so much hassle getting it back from them! 

I got the impression they thought I was going to give it them. 

They eventually succumbed to sending the badge back to me in a registered envelope after loads of phone calls from me to them. 

However…

MGM envelope franked

…the MGM envelope they had requested “to prove its authenticity” that I had sent together with the badge was not there – So back to the phone I went and told him in no uncertain terms I was not best pleased.

The MGM envelope appeared about a week later in a Royal Mail Registered envelope, with no apology or anything else, hence I have no time for the Six of One clique in any shape or form.

And, despite all this aggro the badge was not actually used in any context in the programme.

What is interesting is I cannot find any reference to the badge I have. 

Okay, there are loads of shit copies on eBay, yes – But no mention of anybody saying they have the original badge at all.

Years ago our local newspaper – the Northants Evening Telegraph – ran an article on it but no joy. One idiot said he had bought ‘the badge’ while on holiday and he paid 50p for it in… well… in Margate..

He came round to see me, but it was a simple button type badge with a pin about the size of a 50 pence piece.

I may well take my badge along to an Antiques Roadshow at some point as I think, with the original MGM logo envelope, it has provenance, as they say.


The entire 50-minute opening episode of The Prisoner is currently available to view on YouTube… speeded-up so it lasts just 2 mins 33 secs…

…and there is 8mm film footage of the first episode being shot at Portmeirion

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The death of cult German variety act The Short Man with Long Socks…

From Channel 46 News today:

 

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Things to eat in Brussels, Belgium…

News reaches me in London from far-off Europe that, if you are ever hungry in Brussels, there are multiple options…

The official Brussels travel website has one suggestion… and that option is available in a variety of outlets…

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MEUNF watches ‘Christmas’ TV movies

My eternally-un-named friend has a secret addiction

In the run-up to Christmas, my eternally un-named friend has been endlessly watching ‘Christmas movies’.

Not the big-budget Hollywood ones.

The low-budget, no-star, never-meant-for-cinema ones.

The TV-fodder that ends up on seasonal ‘Christmas movie’ channels and only screens for a few weeks in the lead-up to Christmas.

She has been doing this for a few years. 

I decided I had to have a talk with my eternally un-named friend about her worrying addiction…


JOHN: Why did you first decide on this downward path?

MEUNF: It was a few years ago when I started watching them – on Channel 5. It does rot your brain cells slowly, though.

JOHN: What’s the appeal if you don’t admire them?

MEUNF: I watch them for… well, no, sometimes it’s really, really irritating and you wish you handn’t bothered – like eating something you really didn’t want to eat. 

JOHN: You were telling me there is a point in every Christmas movie where the woman wears red…

MEUNF: Or green. It’s usually a coat, but it’s often a jumper.

JOHN: So they don’t start off wearing red clothing but there comes a point in the movie when they start wearing a red dress or a coat or jumper?

MEUNF: A coat. It’s usually a coat. A red coat or a green coat. Because it’s a Christmas movie.

JOHN: So there’s an emotional change and it suddenly bursts into…

MEUNF: No, no. No emotional change. A woman goes to a town and she’s supposed to only be there for the afternoon and she is wearing a grey coat but – Oh dear! Something’s gone wrong! – They’re snowed-in sometimes or a train isn’t running. So she has to stay overnight. 

Next thing you know, she’s in another colour coat the next day which is green. Then the next day it’s another colour coat which is red. So she has three coats with her when she had gone away expecting to stay for only one day.

JOHN: The first coat is always grey?

MEUNF: Yeah.

JOHN: These are American movies.

MEUNF: Yeah.

JOHN: This chat came about because we accidentally stumbled on three Christmas movies and you were able to tell me what would happen in the plot development of each movie.

MEUNF: Well, there was the one on a train this afternoon. That was a much more complicated story than usual. It actually had a plot. 

JOHN: There was a plot twist at the end.

MUUNF: Yes. The whole thing had been set up by the director for his secretary.

JOHN: What age are the women in these movies?

MEUNF: In their twenties. Mostly twenty-something going on for thirty-odd.

JOHN: But the one we saw this afternoon, in the train, unusually…

MEUNF: …had an older man, yes.

JOHN: And he unusually had a relationship with an age-appropriate woman.

A generality of Christmas movies NOT mentioned in this piece. Please do not sue me…

MEUNF: Sometimes someone has a child or they become a widow or widower and that’s fortunate for the next door neighbour who happens to come along and ‘help out’ at some point.

JOHN: Have you ever watched any of these Christmas TV movies that had a sad ending?

MEUNF: (PAUSE) No… Well… (THINKS) Erm erm… Erm… No.

JOHN: They’re all American. So they have to have happy endings. Does anything awful even happen in the middle? In a British movie, at least something appallingly awful would happen in the middle.

MEUNF: Oh! There was one that WAS a British version of a Christmas movie. It was set in Britain and was a bit ‘reality’, so you had different family set-ups. Someone had their stepson not come along and one of the children was going to be ‘sectioned’ – sent into a mental home. But it ended up very boring. It didn’t work. It tried too hard. it included all the aggros of Christmas.

JOHN: Isn’t that good? Because it showed real emotions?

MEUNF: There was something wrong about it, though. It was too… too… There WAS a moment where you thought Well, maybe this will be good… 

…and then it wasn’t.

JOHN: Did it have any humour in? Because American Christmas movies made to fill TV slots don’t seem to have any real humour in them.

MEUNF: (LAUGHS) Well, it amuses ME when they’re cocking it all up and seem to have forgotten that someone was related to someone else. Either the editing has failed to pull it together or they’ve forgotten what the storyline was.

JOHN: Have you seen any of these movies that actually worked?

MEUNF: Well, there were a couple that were quite good – but, then, I have seen a lot! There were days when I’ve sat through two in a row. Over the last couple of weeks this year, I’ve seen at least fourteen. 

JOHN: Only fourteen?

MEUNF: (LAUGHS) At least. I’ve been watching Dress to Impress in between… 

JOHN: Because?

MEUNF: Because they’re shorter! And funnier.

(The pitch for Dress to Impress is: “Three fashion savvy competitors take part in a shopping showdown to win a blind date with a style conscious singleton.”)

JOHN: What made the two ‘good’ Christmas movies you saw ‘good’?

MEUNF: You cared about the main characters. It does matter. If the guy is reasonable-looking and the girl is… 

JOHN: …is…?

MEUNF: The trouble with actresses is that sometimes their personality is a wee bit errghh. You don’t warm to them and then you don’t care about what happens.

You want to like the main female character because you want to identify. When you don’t really like her, you sort-of think: Oh, poor guy!

JOHN: When you say you don’t really like an actress, you don’t mean you DISlike her, but she’s a bit bland?

MEUNF: No, you do slightly dislike her, actually, because her personality is a bit caustic, a bit harsh.

JOHN: This doesn’t sound like my idea of an American schmaltzy movie.

MEUNF: When you think: Oh they’re REALLY spoilt! Or They’re REALLY expecting drivel. And it IS drivel.

JOHN: And they all live in big houses…

MEUNF: Yeah and everything is just too, too much… But if you care about the female character because she’s got a pleasant persona…  if she’s a trier, someone who makes an effort to do things rather than someone who’s just passive and expecting good things to happen…

But sometimes it’s actually the actual female actor who, you think, you wouldn’t really like in real life. You know what it’s like? I mean, you’re beginning to warm to Keanu Reeves…

I’m beginning to warm a bit to Keanu…

JOHN: Erm… yes… 

MEUNF: Can we stop talking for a bit so I can find something interesting on television?

JOHN: Tell me how you can watch bland films when…

MEUNF: …It’s when you’re doing something else and you don’t want to concentrate too much on what the storyline is.

After watching a few, you usually know what’s been going on when you’ve left the room. You don’t need to think about it. It’s just something going on that’s totally unimportant.

You don’t have to concentrate. It’s obvious what’s going on and you just know what’s going to happen – usually from the very beginning!

It’s like paint-by-numbers or one of those things where you just add water and the colours appear. Simple. No effort.

But if you go to a movie in the cinema and see some of the films you… the John Wick movies… You think: Who’s that? What happened there? Why did that happen?

JOHN: Now you are talking movie-movies, though.

Maybe the John Wick movies are like wild Christmas TV movies. Best not to think too deeply about the details. The plots are on another planet. No hint of any known reality. I just sit back, ignore the plot and let the visuals flow over me. It’s like bathing in ultra-violent ballet.

Well, on second thoughts, maybe they’re NOT like Christmas TV movies…

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Mad inventor John Ward, a very stupid copper and the search for hidden guns

A week ago, I posted a blog was about mad inventor and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards designer John Ward’s interest in guns. 

(John Ward would like it pointed out he is not actually mad, but I cling to it as an attractive clickbait adjective.)

In last week’s blog, John W mentioned he used to keep guns and ammunition in his home. He had an FAC (a Fire Arms Certificate) and occasionally a policeman would come round to check the guns were being securely locked-up. 

But there is more to this story, as John Ward explains here:


As part of the renewal process for an FAC, you had a visit from a member of the local police force, our own local ‘beat constable’, who checked the security boxes – one for the weapons and one for the ammunition.

In over twenty plus years in my case, the system worked well and each time I passed the requirements with ‘flying colours’ and no untoward comments.

Then it was decided that the local Crime Prevention Officer (CPO) should undertake this task.

However our CPO left a lot to be desired.

A police inspector friend whispered in my ear that, if you were a clueless copper and capable of just about screwing anything up, you were ‘promoted’ to the rank of CPO to keep you out the way – You just did basic stuff like going round and telling shopkeepers how to lock their front doors etc.

It seems our CPO was a bumbling idiot but not far off his pension so, out of kindness, he had been ‘promoted’ to end his days in this most prestigious position for, as my inspector chum pointed out, “There is no way he would ever get up to the rank sergeant – no way….no way…”

Anyway, PC Bumbling rang our doorbell one teatime. I answered it to find him on the doorstep, with his clipboard.

I asked him if he had got a bus ticket inspector’s job – like Blakey, the character in ITV’s sitcom On The Buses.

I could tell he was not amused.

He told me he had come to check my security as my FAC was soon coming up for renewal.

I pointed out that the normal, recognised procedure was a phone call first to arrange an appointment to visit.

I also pointed out that I was just going to sit down to have my din-dins that the lady of the house had cooked, so he could lick the end of his pencil and put a date down agreeable to us both to come back to do his visit.

He hummed. He aahed. And then the call came: “Dinner on the table!”

So I shut the door on him.

He did come back on a designated, agreed date and, being the complete prat he was, then asked me for my name and address and asked had it changed since my last FAC was issued.

Bearing in mind he knew my name and that he was standing in the very address as printed on the said FAC, I asked him: “What do you think?”

Next was: “Where do you keep these listed firearms? They must be in a prescribed steel box… blah..blah” and so on.

I replied that they were in a box but well hidden.

He asked where and I opened the door to our under stairs.

I told him: “In there, in the steel box.”

He looked inside, shone a torch and said he could not see anything that looked like a steel box.

I said: “Just think… If you were a burglar and looked in and thought the same, you would look elsewhere… Yes?”

I pointed out that the steel box was hidden behind a large box of Lego toy bricks that the kids played with.

I said there had been no reported cases, as far as I was aware, of anybody locally housebreaking and stealing boxes of kids’ Lego bricks but he could correct me on that.

He didn’t… I pulled the ‘decoy’ box away.

He asked me to unlock the steel box so he could see my weapons, to check their serial numbers.

He then asked what the thickness of the steel box was as he – looking at his crib sheet – said it must be 10-gauge (a metal thickness measurement) to which I said it was 6-gauge.

His eyes lit up and he said: “This is illegal!!!!! – It’s got to be 10-gauge!’

I then explained to him that the gauging of metal is on a sliding scale; the higher the number, the thinner the metal. So my 6-gauge was thicker – much like a CPO – than actually required by law… Plus others before him were more than happy about it.

I pointed out that, by having the 6-gauge, it would take a ne’er-do-well longer to break into… plus it was screwed to the floor AND bolted to the wall as well.

“Where is the ammunition?”

“Upstairs in the attic, away away from the weapons.”

He followed me upstairs and the first thing he said was: “Aha! – There’s no lock on the attic door!”

To which I explained as best I could that, until I told him there was ammunition up there, in a steel box, safely hidden from view… putting a lock on the said attic door would infer that there was something in there of value.

The previous three inspections, with different personnel doing them, had all thought it a brilliant idea.

He then went for Gold: “Some burglars would straight away go to look in the attic (!?)”

I explained that the only way I could get up there myself was by using a ladder that I kept in the shed outside the house… Maybe there were ten foot tall housebreakers I was not aware of. But, unless he had a list of approved burglars that carried their own ladder with them on their ‘jobs’, I was less than convinced.

I said, short of having a flashing neon sign over the front door saying GUNS AND AMMO KEPT HERE to take the guesswork out of the situation, did he have any bright ideas – excluding the flashing sign that is – to add to the ‘security’ I already had?

Answer there came not.

He cleared off.

I got my FAC renewed.

I brought the matter up a while later with my inspector chum. He replied with a sigh: “He is a twat. It’s a safe bet there are trees in forests still standing that are not as thick as him.”

I agreed with him… not wishing to cause trouble you understand…


NOTE TO BURGLARS AND POLICEMEN: John Ward no longer keeps guns or ammunition in his house, loft or shed.

A John Ward designed toilet accessory with gun, silencer and loo roll

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Defective sex toys made into plastic soles for quirky ‘soul’ footwear in the US

I get sent PR releases.

What can I say?

Yesterday, I received this one, which I print without comment. I have no words and I am not entirely sure if the final word is a typo or not…


“The world’s leading and most influential American sex toy company Doc Johnson is excited to announce the release of the third colorway of their viral shoe and innovative collaboration with celebrity favorite label Rose in Good Faith, dubbed the ‘Plastic Sole’ that is made from recycled sex toys (!!). The ‘Crème Brûleé’ colorway is limited to only 400 pairs.

“Not only fashionable, the ‘Plastic Sole’ is infused with a purpose to promote sex positivity as part of Doc Johnson’s global movement to destigmatize sexual health and wellness. With a focus on inclusion and diversity, Doc Johnson has helped pave the way for advances in sexual health and sex positivity.

“Working on this project for almost 2 years, they developed a unique recycling system that grinds down the factory’s defective adult toys into millimeter-sized cubes of TPE (thermoplastic elastomer). The cubes are then mixed with non-bleach EVA (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate) foam and injection molded into the shape of the Plastic Soul.”

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Mad John Ward and the UK gun laws…

John Ward interviewed by a Russian TV reporter (don’t ask)

Mad inventor and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award designer John Ward used to be a member of a local shooting club. It was local – thank the Lord – to him, not to me.

He used to keep guns in his house.

“Normal people,” (I use the term ‘normal’ loosely when talking of John Ward) “are not allowed to keep guns in their house now?” I asked him. “What was the deal back then? I think you had to have a securely lockable safe in your house and a policeman came round to check on you every year?”

He told me:


It was every five years in ‘my day’ – but it may have changed by now…

It’s not strictly true you can’t keep guns in your home – rifles and shotguns can be kept at home but, once again, in a steel, approved, gun box or safe.

Any supposedly ‘normal person’ who goes hunting, target shooting etc. can apply for an FAC – a Fire Arms Certificate – but it’s down to if you fit the criteria of the local PC Plod in your area as it is ‘open to interpretation’ by each individual force – The fact you are the local hit man or drive-by shootist for the Borehamwood Massive might not go down too well and could provide assorted “Tut-tut, oh what have we got ‘ere then, petal?” sessions in the local Nick.

When I was pistol shooting years ago – before we all had to hand in our weapons following the Dunblane massacre – we honest, law-abiding, licence-owning target shooters said that, once you outlaw guns, it will be only the outlaws that will have them and, as things have turned out, it has happened.

However, I always wanted a Luger pistol because I liked the sheer mechanical side of it – the complex toggle-loading action appealed. Typical German engineering at its finest.

I did actually handle, but not fire, one as a visitor to our (licensed) gun club brought one along to show us. 

The temptation to fire it at our targets was there, but I declined.

My reasoning was that it was of the WW11 era and, as such, it may well have been used to take a human life – or lives.

In those days, before legal target pistol shooting was prohibited, it was possible to buy a second-hand Luger legally from bona fide licensed firearms dealers – for about £400 or so upwards.

In much the same way, I would have liked to have owned a Walther P38 – German engineering again – but the above same reservations I had about a second hand Luger applied.

My ownership of a real Luger was never to be realised.

I stopped with post war American and Italian made firearms in my collection because, that way, I knew each round I fired down at the club range was less likely to have caused anybody’s abrupt demise in the past.

Call me old fashioned.

(…CONTINUED HERE…)

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Mad inventor John Ward discovers the many perils of having a famous face

I received this recent anecdote from John Ward, designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.


It was a much normal day as such – weather atrocious outside – so I made myself busy indoors.

The doorbell rang.

I went to find a courier there holding a parcel.

On seeing me at my door, he asked for my address.

Then he asked for my name but he spoke in broken English as it was not his native tongue.

He looked at the parcel, then at me, then at his handheld wotever with an LCD screen. He checked to see if the details tallied and handed the parcel over to me.

It was  my ‘dead cat’ microphone for my Sony camcorder to use alongside in lieu of the maker’s own mic when conditions are not too clever when filming outside etc.

I thanked him and closed the door and went back inside.

Before I had a chance to open the box up to see if it really was the item as ordered, the doorbell rang again.

It was the same courier.

He said he was sorry to disturb me and then said: “I know who you am!” in an excited tone.

Now armed with a big, beaming grin, he asked for my autograph.

Ever happy to oblige, I picked up a yellow coloured plain display card, A4 size, that was lying about and did the doodle/cartoon I normally do and signed it with: ‘Best wishes to Pieter’.

He seemed overjoyed, shook my arm out of  its socket near enough and off he went.

A moment or two later, the doorbell rang yet again.

It was Pieter.

He stood there, pointing at the card: “Who dis?” he asked

“Me,” I said.

“No, no I want your real name!” he replied.

“That is my real name,” I told him. “I had this arrangement with my mother and father soon after I was born, so can’t really say too much about it with regard to my input on the matter as I was not consulted about it at the time.”

“Who dissa John Ward?”

“It’s me, the same as on the parcel you just delivered to me… John Ward.”

He looked slightly bewildered. He was not alone on that one. 

“Is it you stage name thing you do when not doing you real work?”

“No, my stage name is Wells Fargo but I never really use it much, unless I am travelling overland.”

“I want you real name – Christopher Biggins!”

Christopher Biggins (not John Ward)

“I am not him.”

“Why you not him?”

“I never said I was him.” 

I could see he was even more confused as he slowly looked me over and said: “I now go.” 

Off he went.

Back I went to my parcel and, as I was finally unwrapping it, yet another ding-dong on the doorbell.

Yes, once again, I beheld Pieter standing there with a lady who I assumed was in the lorry cab with him.

“I want excusing as this is Sandra, my vera good friend.”

He wanted her to meet me, whoever I was or might be. 

By this point, I was feeling quite unsure myself to be honest.

Ken Morley (Pic: Allstar/GlobePhotos Inc)

They looked at me, then at each other, then they mumbled to each other – I was not included at this point – and Sandra then spoke in perfect English:

“He is not Christopher Biggins!”

On hearing that, I was most relieved. But that was short-lived. 

“It is,” she added, “that Ken Morley bloke who used to be in Coronation Street on the telly… But I thought he was dead!”

I said I had things to do as they turned and left to wander back to the lorry.

But, just as I shut the door, I heard Sandra suggest: “He could be that Brian Blessed bloke, though… He’s got the ears for him I think….”


Below: the irrepressible Brian Blessed and the inimitable John Ward as himself (almost)

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George Orwell made me want to write + the real origin of Big Brother’s 2+2=5 ?

As a teenager, one of the reasons I was interested in writing was George Orwell.

I think I read Nineteen Eighty-Four when I was around 12 years old and later I read his essays and books like Animal Farm and his highly-under-rated Homage to Catalonia.

I wanted to be able to write as clearly as Orwell did. 

He is not a great novelist (he can’t really do fictional characters very well) but he is a great writer, as his wonderful short essays show. I am particularly thinking of A Hanging and Down The Mine, details of which have stayed in my mind a lifetime later. There is one description in A Hanging (about the puddle) which I don’t think anyone who has read it can ever possibly forget.

Likewise, I think the most terrifying thing in Nineteen Eighty-Four is not the torture scene in Room 101 but the explanation by O’Brien to Winston of WHY he is being tortured.

Nineteen Eighty-Four also has possibly the bleakest final line – the bleakest final four words – of any book I ever read. No point looking it up – the emotional effect only comes after you have read the whole novel.

Orwell also explained why he wrote in – no surprise – his essay Why I Write and, in Politics and the English Language, he suggests six rules for good writing:

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

A 1931 Soviet poster: The “Arithmetic of an Alternative Plan: 2 + 2 plus the Enthusiasm of the Workers = 5” exhorts the workers of the Soviet Union to realise 5 years of production in 4 years’ time.

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An English and Japanese comedy show by an Italian and a Canadian in London 

I first met Katsura Sunshine back in 2017. He lives in Japan, the US and Canada and currently performs an ongoing monthly rakugo (Japanese storytelling) show  at the Leicester Square Theatre in London AND a regular monthly rakugo show at the New World Stages in New York.

A couple of months ago, I saw Sunshine’s London show, not for the first time. On that occasion he had, as his special guest, London-based Italian comic Luca Cupani.

They are together again at London’s Leicester Square Theatre this Sunday.

We talked on a Zoom call this week. Somewhat appropriately, given the multi-cultural and multi-national mix, Luca was in a hotel room in Milan, Sunshine was in a living room in Toronto and I was at the Soho Theatre Bar in London.

Luca (top left) with me (top right) and (bottom) Sunshine


JOHN (TO SUNSHINE): How long are your monthly London and New York shows continuing?

SUNSHINE: They’re both indefinite runs at least for the next year. I’ve just been talking to the Leicester Square Theatre about next year’s dates and the New York show has also been confirmed to the end of 2023.

JOHN: Two months ago, Luca appeared in your London show. He did rakugo (for the first time) and his stand-up; and you did stand-up (for the first time) and your rakugo.

SUNSHINE: It was a lot of fun, just like ‘appreniticing’ each other. Luca is teaching me stand-up and I’m sort-of teaching him rakugo.

JOHN: So how did Luca – an Italian – get involved in performing at London’s Leicester Square Theatre with a Canadian who does traditional Japanese storytelling in New York?

LUCA: Sunshine offered me the chance to be on stage and it felt like a crazy idea so I couldn’t say No. I am enjoying being out of my comfort zone. I’m already an Italian doing comedy in English in London, so I’m all for cultural cross-over.

SUNSHINE: I met Luca eight years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe and we’ve been friends for all this time. We’ve gone to see each other’s shows. When he told me he was going back to the Edinburgh Fringe this year for the seventh time – I’ve performed there four times… Well, I know how much it costs and the producer side of me said:

“Luca, to save money, just rent a West End or Broadway theatre and add that to your resume. Or, instead of that, just join me!  I’ve already got the theatre. I’ll put a kimono on you and we’ll turn it into a thing. It would be fun to do it together!”

LUCA: And it IS fun. I quite like the rules of rakugo. Okay, I cannot yet follow all of the rules but it’s fun to try to follow some of the basic rules. It’s very different from what I normally do and that’s why I like it a lot. You show yourself as being vulnerable and, even if you fail, it is still funny for the audience… I think!

JOHN: As I understand rakugo, there are set, pre-existing stories, so you are not able to script your own performance like in stand-up comedy?

SUNSHINE: Technically, you make up the first part and then you lead the theme of your made-up material into the scripted story which has been passed-down from master to apprentice through the ages. So the first part is a little bit like stand-up comedy and the big laugh is at the end. I think Luca’s perfectly comfortable with that except he has to kneel in a kimono.

JOHN: What was the most difficult thing about doing it?

LUCA: For me, kneeling down on the stage in a position which is not very comfortable, using the props in the correct way and remembering the basic rule that you look in two different directions to portray two different characters.

In stand-up, you usually talk about yourself and you are being yourself. In rakugo you have to create a story and sketch two characters very quickly and in a different style. That’s the most difficult. And the most fun.

JOHN: Sunshine, I think in the show two months ago that was the first time you had performed Western-style stand-up. What was that like for you?

SUNSHINE: At first glance, it seems like the same as the first part of a ragugo show, but the rhythm of stand-up is different: the laughs are coming much more quickly. When I was standing in front of the audience and talking in my usual Rakugo way, I sort-of felt the audience’s slight impatience more than I would have in storyteller mode.

But that sharpened me up a bit. 

I cut the material down; I cut words down. I got to more of a stand-up comedy rhythm. It was a great feeling and quite different to performing rakugo.

JOHN: And in the show this coming Sunday… ?

SUNSHINE: We will both do some (solo) stand-up comedy and both do some (solo) rakugo. Exactly the same format as before.

It was SO much fun last time. To have someone in the dressing room with me and exchange ideas about comedy and the different types of both stand-up comedy and rakugo. It was brilliant.

For me, presenting rakugo alone in New York and London… There’s a formality to rakugo. You’re in the kimono, you bow – there’s a lot of formality – and people don’t want to insult the culture. I always have to get the audience on board… This is comedy! You can laugh! Relax!

But when Luca and I walked out at the beginning of our dual show at the Leicester Square Theatre and the first half was each of us doing (solo) stand-up comedy, we had the audience going: WOOAAAHHHH!!

They knew the routine for stand-up comedy. You cheer or laugh your head off and the performers will give you all the better performance.

So leading into rakugo in the second half from a base of stand-up comedy which the audience already understood and could enjoy and relax with was a completely different experience. It was just so much more fun and easy to perform.

JOHN: Luca: did you learn anything from performing Japanese rakugo that you could use in your Western stand-up?

LUCA: The story I had was short but fun and it involved a lot of physical stuff. In rakugo, you use your face more often than I usually do when I talk. So I think it helped me to be more expressive. Also, if you know where you want to go, you can play a bit more in-between.

In stand-up, you need laughter all the way though. You ride on the energy of laughter, otherwise it doesn’t work. In a stand-up routine, you don’t always know where you’re going because you wait for the reaction from the audience. But, in rakugo, the set-up is way-way longer and you can prepare the audience, warm them up, play with pauses.

Last time what happened – and it wasn’t planned – was that, at the very beginning, when we introduced the show, we inadvertantly almost did some manzai which is another Japanese comedy form with two artists – one plays the smart guy, the other the foolish guy. Sunshine was smart; I was foolish. When we were talking to the audience and tried to warm them up, it became a sort-of improvised manzai that we hadn’t planned.

JOHN: And you will be performing together again?

SUNSHINE: I hope so. This is the last show of this year, then we’ll be starting up again next February, dates to be confirmed.

JOHN: Sunshine: how long has it taken you to get to this stage as a rakugo performer?

SUNSHINE: I’m in my 15th year. I started my apprenticeship in 2008 and it’s three-year apprenticeship – so 2008-2011. It’s basically indentured servitude.

I was with my master (Katsura Bunshi VI), no day off, for three years – cleaning his house, doing the laundry. You’re just with the master every waking hour for three years and you just watch and learn.

In 2011, I finished my apprenticeship so I’m in my 14th/15th year as a professional storyteller, which qualifies me as a master. I could take apprentices now, if I chose or if someone wanted to be my apprentice. So far, nobody’s come out of the woodwork!

JOHN: So, Luca, do you want to wash Sunshine’s laundry?

LUCA: I’m not comfortable with hair. I got rid of mine because I was tired of washing it.

SUNSHINE: (LAUGHING) He’s changing the subject!

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