In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that comedians often have another ‘day job’.
Around seven years ago, Bob Slayer was managing Japanese rock group Electric Eel Shock when they made a Christmas video in which he appeared as Father Christmas. It was posted on YouTube.
Now Bob has become a real Santa Claus. He started the job yesterday in a grotto under a giant Christmas tree at Whiteley’s department store in London’s Queensway and he will be donning his red-and-white robes there throughout December.
I talked to him last night after he finished his Ho Ho Ho duties. He told me he was going to have to think up some more Christmas stories, because some children had come back a second time on this his first day in the role.
“I’d been telling them how reindeer fly and how they have to go to Tromsø in Norway,” said Bob, “and I could see some of the parents looking at me thinking I don’t know this story; this isn’t a real Santa, so I told the children You see, mummies and daddies don’t know about reindeer.”
And that’s not all.
Tonight, at the Chortle Comedy Book Festival, Bob launches a children’s book he wrote, with illustrations by Rich Rose of comedy duo Ellis & Rose (last referred-to in this blog yesterday a propos their Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show).
“Rich is a brilliant illustrator,” said Bob.
“Remind me what the book is called?” I asked.
“The Happy Drunk,” confirmed Bob.
He financed it by crowdfunding and reached 169% of his target. The title was originally Calpol Is Evil but he changed it – allegedly after he received an alleged letter from solicitors representing the manufacturers of Calpol. Never forget that Bob Slayer won a much-coveted Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2011 for his ‘Cockgate’ stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe.
“What’s the premise of The Happy Drunk?” I asked.
“It’s a children’s book for adults. It’s for Big Kids.”
“Would 14-year-olds enjoy it?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Bob. “I think they would, although whether their parents would want them to read it… I’d say it should have a PG rating.
“Actually, I should have put that on the cover!” he laughed. “I’ve only printed 50 so far – as a proof to check they’re OK – so I think I might put PG Rated on future covers.”
“Are drunks happy?” I asked.
“Drunks in comedy clubs,” explained Bob, “get a bad name due to the alcopop drunks that the Jongleurs and Highlight comedy chains get in, whereas the sort of people I like doing gigs to are genuinely happy drunks: people who know what they’re drinking.
“When I do gigs in breweries, they’re drinking nice drink. They’re lively, but they don’t get out of hand; they’re good audiences. They’re people who are in for their drink but also in for their comedy. In the comedy club chains, you get big groups of people and some of them do want to see comedy, but others had wanted to go to the cinema or go bowling; they’re not all committed to watching comedy.
“I’m going to print 1,000 copies of The Happy Drunk initially. Rich Rose is having 300, I’ll put some online and sell the rest at gigs. Writing it was a stopgap, because it’s taking me longer to write my How To Out-Drink Australia book than I thought it would. It’s taking longer to edit.”
“You have a problem with people’s perception of you,” I said. “People think you’re always going to be the OTT Edinburgh Fringe Bob Slayer character.”
“Well,” said Bob, “you have to respond to the audience that’s in front of you. I like to think that I can mirror whatever audience is there. If you put me in a golf club, then I’m not going to end up naked – well, unless that’s what they want. There have been occasions when it’s gone out of control and perhaps I have gone the wrong way, but they’re one-off incidents like in Norway, where I got banned from that theatre.
“But, look, the fact was that they had five members of The Cumshots band there. So I’m going to perform to my mates The Cumshots, aren’t I? And they’re a band that invite you to come onstage and ‘fuck for forests’ – I HAD to come off the balcony on a rope. Though the reason I was actually banned was because I opened a bottle of Jägermeister on stage and had a drink and I was unaware how strict the licensing laws are there.”
“Ironically,” I said, “you got a Scottish licence to run your own bar at Bob’s Bookshop during the Edinburgh Fringe. Are you going to do other comedy club bars?”
“Well,” explained Bob, “The reason I could be Father Christmas here was because I had a mostly-free December. And that was because I was going to do a pop-up comedy venue and bar in London – like Bob’s Bookshop in Edinburgh. I looked at a couple of places in Hackney and round East London, but I just ran out of time to get the licensing sorted. So I had kept December free and, when the pop-up club didn’t happen, I put a few club gigs into my diary then this Father Christmas offer came along.”
“So you will be doing other pop-up comedy venues and bars?” I asked.
“I’m doing one at the Leicester Comedy Festival in February,” said Bob. “The programme’s out tomorrow and I’m doing three long weekends, putting on about 30 shows – people like Tom Binns, Devvo, Brian Gittins, Stuart Goldsmith, Phil Kay, Adam Larter, Doug Segal, Ben Target. We’ve got an old chapel in Leicester – Hansom Hall, named after the guy who invented the hansom cab. He designed the building.
“I’m working with a new brewery – BrewDog who are Aberdeen-based. They’re the fastest-growing food and drink company in the UK in the last three years. A really interesting independent brewer. They’re funding themselves by crowdfunding: you can invest in BrewDog. The moment they heard about Cockgate at the Edinburgh Fringe, they said We want to work with you.”
“And then?” I asked.
“I’m trying to be quiet in January to finish writing my Australian book. I’ve got to get the book done for the next Edinburgh Fringe.”
Bob Slayer “trying to be quiet”?
This does not compute.