John Robertson is a comedian and originator of the extraordinary stage show The Dark Room.
Jo Marsh worked as Programming Director at the Wild West Comedy Festival in Australia for two years, then got head-hunted by a businessman who owned the title Perth International Comedy Festival. She started that from scratch and built it into a multi-million dollar business in two years.
Last August, they were at the Edinburgh Fringe. Then they moved to Britain. First Brighton. Now London.
“The opportunities here are so vast,” Jo told me at St Pancras station (don’t ask – I just like it). “When you get an Arts job in Australia,” she explained, “you literally sit in your chair at your job and you make a little bum-crease in it and you never leave. In Western Australia, the only way people get Arts jobs is if other people die, because there are so few in Australia. The opportunities are greater here in Britain. The pubs are nicer. And real culture is being made in London.”
“So you moved to Britain to…” I prompted.
“To mess up your culture,” suggested John.
“Perth is lovely,” said Jo. “It’s a great place if you want to retire or make babies and it’s well-lit.”
“It’s incredible what the sun can do,” agreed John.
“In Perth,” explained Jo, “I learned as much as I possibly could but, if I stayed there, I would just be doing the same thing over and over again and I wanted to come here and learn more and do more and experience more than I would in Perth, which is the most isolated city in the world.”
“You managed, though.” John said, “in that isolation to create a beautiful boutique festival that was a huge commercial success.”
“But, having done that,” explained Jo, “I would just be…”
At that point, a man with no legs glided past us on a skateboard.
“Hello,” he said as he passed our table and then he was gone. It somewhat threw the conversation.
“I’ve got a follower on Twitter,” I said rather distractedly to Jo, “who claims he has had five Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominations. I’ve never heard of him. I think he’s a fake person. But Malcolm would have approved.”
“In Australia,” Jo told me, “people just say they’ve won an award because no-one’s going to check up. They’ll win the Least Most Annoying Song award and suddenly they say they’ve won the Best Comedy Song in Western Australia award. There was a Best Local Act award which got put on posters as Best Comedian, Western Australia. There are quotes like Amazing… Entertaining and the original quote was actually It’s amazing how un-entertaining this show is.”
“Just like the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said. “Do you know the Jason Wood story? He got a one-star review from Kate Copstick in The Scotsman and the next day Copstick is walking round Edinburgh and, on all his posters, Jason has put A STAR! (The Scotsman).”
“Someone we know,” said John, “uses the press quote A natural comedian… which is actually from a slightly longer quote which said Not a natural comedian. That’s a work of publicity genius.”
“There’s a story about Alan Carr,” I said, “which I think is true but might be apocryphal. In his early days, he is supposed to have put on his Edinburgh Fringe posters: Carr is the future of British comedy – which was an absolutely correct quote. It was not mis-quoting anything in any way. Except the quote was from a review of a show by Jimmy Carr not Alan Carr. Even if it’s not true, it’s an admirable example of lateral publicity thinking.”
“I was on BBC Radio Scotland,” said John. “I rocked up to do their Comedy Cafe. It was me, a little American woman ventriloquist and a really grumpy huge Irish guy who hated both of us. It began with the presenter saying: So, John, you’ve been named as one of Australia’s top comics and I think I’m not going to correct him. – The quote was actually One of Austrialia’s Top Ten young comedians and it’s from Zoo magazine and I’m on the list because the guy who wrote the list is a friend of mine and it came after an article – which he also wrote – that say’s he is the best comedian in Australia.”
“Should I plug The Dark Room?” I asked.
“Probably,” said John.
“You could say it’s won a Tony Award,” I suggested.
“Perhaps an Antonio Antonioni Award as best non-Spanish Spanish play by a non-Spaniard?” suggested John.
So?” I asked.
“It looks like we’re going to do The Dark Room weekly in a pub in London,” John told me, “and there’s a place in the Netherlands – Harlingen where we might do it sometime between this year and 2016.”
“At any point between those two dates?” I asked.
“Why such a wide window of possibility?”
“No idea. I’m also doing The Dark Room at the Edinburgh Fringe again this year and possibly at a London theatre after that.”
“And probably,” I checked, “in Holland, but it could be any time between 2014 and 2016?”
“But the exact date or dates is or are unknown.”
“I feel I am in a dark room,” I said.
The Dark Room is also on YouTube:
On the subject of fakery, the bit about the legless man on a skateboard did not actually happen at St Pancras while I was talking to Jo and John.
It actually DID happen when I was talking to Gareth Morinan outside Bar Italia in Soho last week. It did not fit comfortably into that blog, but I felt it deserved to appear somewhere and it seemed to fit here. I needed a ‘bridge’ between unconnected quotes and the legless man seemed to fit. So it is true and yet untrue simultaneously.
Which seems apt here.