Category Archives: Australia

Comic Nathan Lang: “Self-loathing is not normal unless you are a comedian”

Nathan Lang is from Melbourne. He used to appear in the Australian TV soap Neighbours. But I know him from the London stand-up comedy circuit.

I got an email from him:

“For better or worse, I’m back in the UK. Yes I managed to have a baby in Perth and survive the existential breakdown that comes with living in the most isolated city in the world and now I’m back. 

“I’m running a Comedy Cabaret in aid of Hackney Winter Night Shelter again this year on Tuesday 3rd December. The line up is fantastic. Last year we sold out and raised much more money than expected, it’s a really wonderful night deep in the heart of artsy Hackney Wick.

“It’s not stand-up. The line-up a beautiful, colourful, lighthearted, crazy, unique acts that don’t do stand-up.”

So we had a chat. About two weeks ago.

And I have only just transcribed it.

I got severely side-tracked.

The charity cabaret is tomorrow. Mea Culpa. But, as with many of my blogs, we went way-off subject anyway…


Nathan, baby Chilli and Shelley Lang in Australia

NATHAN: My wife Shelley and I went to Perth on 25th November 2018 to have a baby. Shelley’s family live there. They emigrated from Scotland.

JOHN: I remember I was terribly impressed by your wife when I met her ages ago. Perhaps because she’s Scottish.

NATHAN: Because she’s Scottish, she is a radiant beauty and just the most exhilarating person. That’s definitely what impresses me about her.

JOHN: How long were you back in Australia?

NATHAN: Eight months. We came back on the 9th September 2019. Our daughter is ten months old now.

JOHN: Shelley must have been well-progressed in pregnancy when you got there.

NATHAN: We just scraped in. We really needed the family support and the health care in Australia is really amazing. 

JOHN: And the comedy?

NATHAN: The comedy scene in Perth is stand-up. A very small scene, but the standard is really high. The quality really pushed me to improve quite a lot. It’s similar to a Brighton crowd. They go out; they want to have a really good evening of laughs. Great audiences and one pro comedy club. Just stand-up. It’s stand-up or cabaret there and their version of cabaret is really highly-skilled circus acts who take their clothes off.

JOHN: I want to go there.

NATHAN: Then it’s probably worth that 30-hour journey. 

JOHN: Australia is a faraway place.

NATHAN: And Perth is the most isolated city in the world and it feels like it too.

JOHN: So what are you doing on 4th December, the day after your Hackney charity gig?

NATHAN: That’s my day with chilli.

JOHN: With what?

NATHAN: That’s my day with Chilli – my daughter – Her name is Chilli Bobcat.

JOHN: She’s going to get hell in school with those names.

NATHAN: I was going to call her Strawberry until a friend said: “Remember she’ll go to school one day.”

JOHN: So Bobcat is better?

NATHAN: My middle name is Luke.

JOHN: Biblical?

NATHAN: No, my father used to work for a company that distributed cutlery and our cutlery drawer was full of knives and forks that had ‘Luke’ printed on them… I am named after kitchen cutlery.

JOHN: But, basically, you think Bobcat is a more feminine name than Strawberry?

NATHAN: No, Strawberry was going to be her first name but Shelley came up with the brilliant idea of calling her Chilli – after the pepper – which is a cool name.

JOHN: So why Bobcat…?

NATHAN: On Christmas Day, Shelley and I were sober. She was heavily pregnant. Her Scottish family, obviously, were steaming and we said they could choose a middle name. We had not told them whether it was going to be a boy or girl, so they chose a unisex middle name – Bobbie. But then, knowing her first name, we obviously couldn’t call her Chilli Bobbie.

JOHN: Why?

NATHAN: The rhythm of that and the two double consonants…

JOHN: So Chilli Bobcat is better than Chilli Bobbie?

NATHAN: We squeezed Cat in because my grandmother’s name was Kathleen.

JOHN: Just to recap… You had thought Strawberry was a good name…

NATHAN: Just for a while… Do you know it’s illegal to call your kid ‘Strawberry’ – ‘Fraise’ – in France?

This would be illegal in France if a child (Photo: Irene Kredenets via UnSplash)

JOHN: Why?

NATHAN: Bullying. There is a list of names you cannot call your kid in France – ‘Hitler’ is one of them.

JOHN: Strawberry is on a level with Hitler in France?

NATHAN: It’s child protection. Social Services. For the welfare of the child. They care about their children’s future in France.

JOHN: They don’t want a future generation of fruits?

NATHAN: Who knows. But Chilli Bobcat Lang: it has a nice ring to it.

JOHN: I think the surname lets it down. It’s a bit ordinary after Chilli Bobcat.

NATHAN: She might just call herself CB. Or she might go by a symbol like Prince did for a while. It might be her first squiggle on a piece of paper. Or she might change her name from Bobcat. She might prefer Caracal.

JOHN: Caracal?

NATHAN: It’s a type of cat that lives in the savannah desert. They jump really high and catch birds in mid-air.

JOHN: Anyway, so what ARE you doing after the Hackney charity gig?

NATHAN: I’m always pursuing my acting career.

JOHN: You seem happy.

NATHAN: It’s the anti-depressants.

JOHN: You’re on them?

Nathan Lang at St Pancras station, London

NATHAN: Yeah. You have obviously never lived in Perth.

After my daughter was born, I had a psychological breakdown and was put on very strong anti-depressants immediately and entered into depth psychotherapy analytic psychotherapy – which was well overdue.

JOHN: Because of Perth?

NATHAN: Well, I can’t blame Perth any more than I can blame my parents, really.

JOHN: Why was it long overdue?

NATHAN: It’s not like I had a psychosis or anything. I had a very sudden intensification of what turned out to be a pre-existing condition of depression and anxiety that I had been living with for so many years I just thought it was normal.

But, after speaking to a GP and a therapist, I was led quite quickly to realise it’s not normal to wake up every day under a huge weight, a huge pressure of knowing that everything you do all day is never going to be good enough and you are going to punish yourself for everything at the end of the day as you run through every single thing you’ve said and done in your mind or just drink yourself to sleep.

It’s not normal to exist in every waking – and sleeping – moment in a state of constant self-loathing and believing you’re a worthless piece of shit… unless you are a comedian, in which case of course (LAUGHS) it IS normal.

So… yes… anti-depressants are wonderful… I feel like I got myself back… and I got my joy back.

JOHN: And you are OK now?

NATHAN: I’m able to be an engaged and joyful father. I was really, really worried about what Chilli would absorb. And it was so hard on Shelley. The first few months of being a new mother AND having me falling apart was… I tried my best to hold together but your most intimates see what’s happening.

JOHN: Men are not supposed to get post-natal depression.

NATHAN: Well, they do, though I have never met one who will admit he has. But I don’t think that’s what I had. It was not a sudden, acute affliction. It was just the exacerbation of a feeling that I was already quite familiar with.

JOHN: I guess women get post-natal depression because they suddenly realise the full enormity of what they’ve let themselves in for.

NATHAN: I heard some interviews with British women who suffered postpartum psychosis and they were sectioned immediately after their children were born and those stories were horrendous.

JOHN: Why did you come back to the UK?

NATHAN: Our careers.

JOHN: What is Shelley?

NATHAN: A trainee psychotherapist.

JOHN: That’s useful.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology, UK

The Australian pop artists, a Canadian A&E and tripping over steaks for dogs

This week, my blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, Anna Smith, has been in the Accident & Emergency Department of St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

She sent me an email headed:

An unusually quiet night at St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver

THE POLICEMAN AND HELEN OF TASMANIA

The e-mail read:

Happy Aortic Dissection Awareness Day.

Today is a good day.

and then there was a description of what had happened.

Sort of.

Well, not really.

Well, not at all.

She preceded her description with the comment: “It’s pretty disconnected. I am too sleepy to make sense. It is about a man in uniform with Helen of Tasmania – the doctor and the cop.”

This is what Anna wrote:


It was an unusually quiet night at St. Paul’s A&E. A weird Sunday night. I was the only patient in the ward where I was and most of the doctors were dealing with a patient in the trauma ward. The nurse said it had been more interesting the night before… “Lots of drunk people with facial injuries,” she said.

It was very cold and a young newly graduated nurse was pacing back and forth wearing a flannel sheet like a shawl to keep warm, which obscured her identification, so I wasn’t quite sure whether she was staff or perhaps a mentally distressed patient.

Policeman & Helen of Tasmania, seen from Anna’s bed

And there was a lady in a yellow gown.

When I asked her name, she said “Helen”… though it appeared to me that she was my doctor. I asked if she was English because I didn’t catch her accent. She said she was from Tasmania. 

So I said: ”Oh, the Franklin River…”

She said: “You have got a good memory.”

I didn’t correct her but, actually, it wasn’t a matter of memory. My friend Harold The Kangaroo painted hundreds of banners for the environmentalists (including himself) who prevented a dam from being built on the Franklin River, which was being maligned at the time as a “leech ridden ditch”. So it was not something I am likely to forget. I am not against all development, but calling the Franklin River a leech ridden ditch was too much.

Harold The Kangaroo also made a very interesting painting – a portrait of Dr Bob Brown combined with a documentation of the protest. 

The painting is fantastic. It is called Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz and it now hangs in The National Portrait Gallery of Australia.

Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz – the 1983 paining by Harold (The Kangaroo) Thornton

I met Harold (The Kangaroo) Thornton and his fiancée Ms. Bean the first time I visited the artist Martin Sharp’s grand home, Wirian, in Sydney. When he was a kid, Martin’s route to school was to walk across his own garden, which would have taken about ten minutes.

Martin Sharp, who was described as “Australia’s greatest pop artist” by the Sydney Morning Herald

Martin let Harold The Kangaroo and Ms. Bean stay at Wirian whenever they wanted. 

When I was staying at Wirian, I could always tell when Harold and Ms. Bean were there because they bought huge steaks for Martin’s dogs and I would trip over the steaks in the dark when I came home from working in Kings Cross (in Sydney) at five in the morning. They used to just throw the steaks out on the doormat outside the kitchen entrance. It was a little weird, tripping over steaks, but I didn’t mind because it was a signal that my friends Ms. Bean and Harold had arrived.

Harold (The Kangaroo) Thornton in front of The Bulldog coffee shop in Amsterdam. He painted the facade of the building,

I loved Martin Sharp (we all did, because he was so kind and generous) but I thought it was kind of funny, the way his former school and neighbour, the elite Cranbook School, was inching towards his Wirian mansion. He was determined that they would not get their hands on the rambling house and grounds in one of Australia’s most affluent postcodes. I am not certain but, as I recall, when Martin had to pay property tax, he would sell a couple of inches of land to the school. 

When I dislocated my shoulder and broke my humerus, I was in St Vincent’s Hospital (in Sydney) for a month. About three weeks into my recovery, Ms. Bean and Harold liberated me from the hospital for an afternoon and brought me to some apartment to watch the Mae West/W.C.Fields film My Little Chickadee.

After I got out of St Vincent’s I went back to stripping in Kings Cross, with my arm in a sling. I dressed as a friendly sexy clown and wore hats by Mr Individual when I stripped.

I had three hats which were by far the finest hats I have ever owned. 

Anna Smith on her release from hospital in Vancouver this week

Ms. Bean was a visual and performance artist. She also designed clothing sometimes: one-off pieces for herself and her friends.

She told me that, if I was going to be seen in Sydney, I needed to be seen in something sexy. So she made me a cute little punky miniskirt out of artist’s canvas with a matching top and I wore it everywhere, on stage and off. 

I would ride home from Kings Cross on my bicycle in it.

The top had no sides, just a front and a back and it tied at the waist with stringy shreds of pink Lycra. The top and the skirt had splattered paint patterns – orange, pink, black and droplets of neon green on the unfinished canvas. 

It looked like maybe someone had thrown a birthday cake against a wall. 

It was very beautiful.

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Filed under Art, Australia, Canada

Scott Capurro is going back to Australia despite what happened last time…

Publicity for Scott Capurro’s show Yuletide Queer

Publicity for Scott Capurro’s stage show Yuletide Queer

I have been getting a flurry of automated emails about comedian Scott Capurro’s shows in California.

So, because I think of him as being London-based, I FaceTimed him a couple of days ago in San Francisco.

“I produced a show here,” he told me, “so I’m on this thing called Eventbrite and they send out a reminder every day of the show.”

“Where are you staying?”

“I’ve had this apartment here for 25 years,” he told me. “My husband, Edson, likes it here; my family’s here; and I’m trying to decide where we should live. London is easier for me in a lot of ways. I own a home there whereas, a renter in San Francisco has fewer rights. Also, there’s so much work in London and I can work all the time. Here, I’m on a local radio show in San Francisco. I’ve been on it for 17 years; I come on once a week.”

“What sort of show is it?” I asked.

“It’s morning radio in America. So it’s Hey! Puppies! Kitties! Let’s talk about celebrities! It’s like Italian girls in the 1950s: all we talk about is celebrities and our pets. Seriously. I love these people, but we are penned-in on what we can talk about, especially me.”

“It must be difficult for you to be squeaky-clean?” I asked.

“No.” Scott told me, “I do morning TV in Britain all the time. I do The Wright Stuff a lot. I love it and I really like Matthew because he likes comics. I’ve been doing that for eight years and I know I sometimes push it, but I’ve never been in trouble, really.

Scott Capurro - a regular on The Wright stuff on UK TV

Scott Capurro – a regular on UK Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff

“Also, I started on radio in college. I kind of understand the limits of it and I can be clean if necessary. When performers perform live, the expectations are different. I was really into stand-up as a kid and I would hear rumours that these comics I saw on TV were – Oh! If you see them live! Oh my God! It’s so shocking and different! My mother would say: Oh my God! Red Foxx! The things he says about women, live! He seems so nice! and that really intrigued me. The idea that, when you perform live, it’s like Jekyll & Hyde: you are someone else.”

“So,” I said, “at the moment, you are doing radio and live stage shows in California.”

“I do my own stage show,” said Scott. “An hour or an hour-and-a-half in different venues. And I make more money per show doing that here, but the production stuff is a lot of work. I work less often and make more money here but it’s harder work than in Britain.

“In a way, if you’re a comic in London, you can be lazy and make a decent living. You just show up and do your 20 minutes. You are not expected to do anything other than hit a home run when you’re on stage.

“I have been playing the (London) Comedy Store more the last two years and it’s so hard to fail at the Store. I mean, you’re only on stage really for 18-20 minutes and people walk in there assuming they are seeing the best. So they’re on your side although, if you fuck up and lose them, it’s impossible to get them back because you’re only on stage for 18-20 minutes. It’s a bit tenuous if you mess up, but messing up there is almost impossible on a weekend.”

“It’s maybe easy for you,” I suggested, “because you are so professional.”

“It’s not easy,” said Scott. “But it’s hard to fail. If they hire you, it’s usually because you’ve been doing it for a while and can do 20 minutes without failing. And I also play a lot at The Top Secret Comedy Club on Drury Lane, where my husband runs the bar – it’s like an Edinburgh venue but well-run and clean. The guy who runs it – Mark Rothman – is a performer so he can get big names at the weekends.”

“Is Edson with you in San Francisco?” I asked.

Scott Capurro (left) in London with his husband Edson

Scott Capurro (left) in London with his husband Edson

“He’s in Brazil, with his family, but I’m going there in January, then we come back here and then I go to Australia from February 22nd to March 5th.

“Then I’m doing a solo show on March 25th at Blackfriars in Glasgow and hosting and appearing in other Glasgow Comedy Festival shows over that weekend. After that, I’m going to Berlin for a week. I did one show there two months ago and they’re bringing me back for a week. April 18th to the 23rd.”

“So you’re all over the world,” I said. “Do you go to Australia a lot?”

“I was banned from there 14 years ago.”

“You can probably see the excitement on my face,” I said. “Why were you banned?”

“In the 1990s, I had been going to Australia for a while and really liked it. then my management made me stop, because the trip is really long and they didn’t want me there that long.

“But I was invited back in 2001, so I went, and I was really excited because, at that time, Ross Noble was going over a lot and Stephen K Amos. I thought: Oh this will be fun because I’ll see my friends and maybe I can start spending time in Australia, because it’s pretty and it’s nice during the winter and it might be a good outlet for me writing good stuff. I could get established in Australia.

Scott Capurro: "Are you sure you don’t want to see the stand-up in rehearsal?"

“Are you sure you don’t want to see the stand-up in rehearsal?” Scott asked them.

“So I arrive in Melbourne and they say: Oh, we want you to do a live TV spot right away! OK, fine. It was a live programme called Rove, which is like their Tonight show or Jonathan Ross. There was going to be an interview, which they cut but there was also stand-up too and I said: Are you sure you don’t want to see the stand-up in rehearsal? – They said: No, we don’t want to see it. We’re fine.

“Oh dear,” I said.

“Yeah,” replied Scott. “So I sent them the script. I was just going to do the first seven minutes from my Holocaust, Schmolocaust show…”

“Oh dear,” I said.

“So,” said Scott, “I objectified Jesus and jacked-off to Jesus a bit, but I didn’t get my cock out. I just did the hand motion.”

“Were you jet-lagged from the journey?” I asked.

“I was terribly jet-lagged because I had come from England, but also I had been to a party with the TV executives right before the taping of the show. I showed one of the execs this joke and he said: You’ll be fine. It’s after the watershed.”

“And what happened?” I asked.

“They got 300 calls, which was a lot for them and they freaked out and they went to the press and it became this huge thing where they tried to pull my stage show from the Melbourne Comedy Festival and the Cardinal of Melbourne had me banned… Yeah… It became this thing where, apparently, I had made jokes about raping the Virgin Mary – which I didn’t… I mean, if I’d had them, I might have, but I didn’t have those jokes, so… It became a myth is what I mean.

“Now there is a word over there – Don’t pull a ‘Capurro’ on us on TV – Don’t go out there and do something you didn’t say you were going to do. Don’t fuck us. Apparently some people got fired. Anyway, I never got invited back.”

“It all seems a bit unfair,” I said, “if they saw your stuff on paper before the show was transmitted.”

“But did they even read it?” Scott asked. “Did they even look at it? Who the fuck knows?

Scott capurro: "“I think once the shit hit the fan, the network decided to run with it"

“I think once the shit hit the fan, the network decided…”

“I think once the shit hit the fan, the network decided to run with it to get press for the show and didn’t care about me. And, I think, because my management wasn’t in Australia and wasn’t there to help me, I was left to my own devices. I tried to fix it myself and I think I might have fucked it up even more.

“Soon after that, Australia went through the roof economically and everyone wanted to play there and I’m like: I fucked it up! I fucked it up!

“Then a couple of writers from Australia contacted me and said: You should come back. But I couldn’t find anyone who would produce me. Then the Comedy Store said they would, but it took three years to get a date. Now I’m going over to Sydney for two weeks to play the Store and we will see. They might hate me.”

“Well,” I told him, “the good news is you are bound to get interviewed again after that back story.”

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Filed under Australia, Censorship, Comedy, Radio, Television, US

Impoverished comedians grasp at floating food skydropped in Australia

Juliette promoting her When I Grow Up show

Juliette has always taken an interest in aerial transportation

Juliette Burton ended her run at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival last night.

This morning – early evening to her – we talked via Skype

“We have an end-of-Festival party this evening,” she told me. “It’s a Tarantino-themed fancy dress party. I have two costumes and I can’t decide, so I’m going to go in a yellow jumpsuit in Kill Bill style AND as Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction with the black bob haircut.

Not Juliette Burton

Not to be confused with Juliette Burton

“I’m planning to make a fool of myself in one outfit, then make a quick getaway, change, then come back and make a fool of myself in the other outfit.

“Sounds like a fully-formed Edinburgh Fringe show,” I said.

“A few days ago, you blogged about the lovely Lili La Scala in London,” Juliette said. “And the other day in Melbourne Sam Wills (Lili’s husband) phoned me up and asked Do you want to take part in a Jaffle-shoot contest – Do you know what that is?

“Shooting Jaffa Cakes?” I guessed.

A jaffle - as parachuted-in to comedians in Melbourne.

A jaffle – as parachuted-in to comedians in Melbourne.

“Well,” explained Juliette, “jaffles are toasties – toasted sandwiches. Two slices of bread with cheese in the middle and you press them in a sandwich toaster. Over here they call them jaffles and it’s not a jaffle-shoot as in shooting jaffles with a gun…  it’s like in parachutes – jafflechutes. They come down from the sky with little parachutes attached.

“So, basically, Sam Wills aka The Boy With Tape On His Face arranged for a group of comics to get together at a certain place at a certain time and we had to follow some arrows on the ground to X-Marks-The-Spot and that’s where the jafflechute was going to happen.

“When we got there, we looked up at every plane or helicopter that went over because we thought there might be some Third World country sending jaffles down by parachute to us poor impoverished comics. But, suddenly, this mysterious figure appeared on the top of a building and started dropping toasted sandwiches attached to small parachutes.”

“Was he dressed as Spiderman?” I asked.

“No. In fact, everyone was dressed very casually.”

“Strange for such a formal occasion,” I suggested.

“Well,” said Juliette, “Frankie Lowe, my musical director, and I are currently editing together a video of what happened which we’re going to put on YouTube. As soon as I finish talking to you, I’m going to go and record a voice-over. It was really awesome fun.”

“Did you just say the word awesone?” I asked.

Juliette (left) with Felicity Ward and (behind) Squid Boy

Juliette (left) in Oz with Felicity Ward and (behind) Squid Boy

“Yes,” said Juliette, “and, while we keep talking, I’ll send you a photo of me with Felicity Ward… Oh, Celia Pacquola was there too and Trygve – who does Squid Boy and Kraken – and, of course, Sam who is The Boy With Tape On His Face and Alexis who performs as Marcel Lucont…”

“It sounds like an upcoming Marvel superhero movie,” I said.

“…and we were all leaping about,” Juliette continued, “trying to catch melted cheese that was airborne… We were grabbing at floating food… So we’re going to post that video on YouTube soon. But now I have to go do the voice-over and then dress up as Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction for the party.”

Juliette is flying back to Britain tomorrow with stopovers in Bali and Dubai.

Tomorrow I might go to Watford with a green-eyed monster.

In the meantime, there is timelapse video on YouTube which shows Juliette being prepared for a photoshoot promoting her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Look At Me which is about the relationship between people’s external appearances and what they really are. She is co-writing it with comedienne Janey Godley.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Food

Juliette Burton on how to perform an emotionally raw show to children in Oz

Performer Juliette Burton is in Australia. She should be arriving in Melbourne tomorrow for her When I Grow Up shows which run at the International Comedy Festival.

Juliette Burton & Frankie Lowe rehearse yesterday for her February-May tour of Australia

Juliette Burton and musical director Frankie Lowe set off for their tour of Oz last month

I talked to her when she was in Auburn, about 2 hours drive from Adelaide. She had been performing both her own solo show When I Grow Up and, with Lizzy Mace, their Rom Com Con show at the Adelaide Fringe.

“I’m going to drive the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne.,” she told me rather enthusiastically.

“How was Adelaide?” I asked.

“I live in Edinburgh,” said Juliette, and I’m missing it desperately, but Adelaide has been trying very hard to make me feel at home. It’s been raining non-stop the last few days. When we left, it was pissing down with rain and it was freezing.”

“And professionally?” I asked.

“It was a very big learning curve,” Juliette said. “It was very random. Loads of random experiences. I met Randy again.”

In Juliette’s When I Grow Up show at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, Juliette (a great fan of the Muppet Show) had a puppet called Juliuppet who talked via Skype with Randy in Australia.

“In Adelaide,” Juliette told me, “Juiliuppet and I were in the front row to see Randy’s show.”

(from left) Randy, Juliette and Juliuppet in Adelaide

(From left) Randy, Juliette and her Juliuppet

“So you and your hand puppet were watching Sammy J and his hand puppet?”

“Absolutely,” said Juliette. “I’ve seen some great shows. There were some amazing burlesque performers like Rusty Trombone.”

“Did he play a trombone?” I asked.

“No,” replied Juliette, “but he did do a lot of things with a sparkly g-string which I loved. And I got to ride a motorcycle for the first time ever.

“We’ve also been doing a lot of schools performances here, which have been real challenges. I hadn’t realised how much I enjoy performing for adults. Performing for kids is so much harder. When I Grow Up was never written for kids but, for some reason, as well as my main show, I was booked to take this show around schools. I did two shows today, one to primary school children, 8-13. I went into that thinking They’re not going to understand it at all. It will go over their heads. It will be horrible. But, actually, they were laughing along; they were loving it. They especially loved the swear words. And they were asking really intelligent questions afterwards.”

“I remember seeing you do the show in Edinburgh last year and there were three kids in the front row,” I said. “They did seem to enjoy the references to ‘shit’ in the working-on-a-farm sequence.”

“Yes,” said Juliette. “I’ve realised this is the key to having an awesome show for children. Saying swear words and having a puppet. Those two things are massive hits for kids. The ‘shit’ word goes down a storm and ‘dickhead’ goes down a storm and maybe surprisingly the ‘twist’ near the end of my show actually seems to have a massive impact on them. No matter what age they are, they all seem to shut up and listen at that point, even if they weren’t paying attention before.”

Juliette is torn between Gonzo and Jimmy Carr

Juliette’s childhood show: usually for grown-ups

“It must be difficult,” I said, “to perform that part of the show to kids – the emotional twist.”

“Well,” explained Juliette, “I am learning to put myself in a protective bubble a bit when I do it, because sometimes it’s too raw for me.”

“What do you do?” I asked. “Do you say to yourself: I am being a performer – I am not being me?”

“No, I tried that and it didn’t work,” said Juliette. “Now, even if it is a group of 100 kids and 50 of them couldn’t care less, I try to find the kids in the audience who ARE making eye-contact with me and who ARE clearly invested in what I’m saying and I look at them and say the words to them.

“If I can’t find them in the crowd, then I end up looking at Frankie – who’s doing my technical stuff – and the adults in the room as well. I look at the people who understand exactly what I’m saying and that helps me get through it a lot more. Especially looking at Frankie, because he has seen this show so many times and he has seen the shows where the kids couldn’t care less and the shows where the kids come up to me afterwards.

“With the primary school kids today, we had one girl in the front row who quietly, at the end of the Q&A, said: My mummy doesn’t like herself. She just said it. I asked her Have you spoken to anyone else about this? She said No and I asked Have you got a teacher you can talk to? and she said I think so. The fact that, having seen the show, she felt able to share that with me, let alone the rest of her class… that was amazing.

Juliette defeats Richard Herring in Russian Egg Roulette at last year’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show (Photo by Keir O’Donnell)

In Edinburgh, Juliette beat Richard Herring in Russian Egg Roulette at last year’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show (Photo by Keir O’Donnell)

“So it is worth it; it’s just the hardest work I’ve ever done. And, whilst Theatre In Education is not what I want to do, I think it is making me better at performing for adults as well. I’m looking forward to the Edinburgh Fringe so much now, having done this.”

“Doesn’t making eye contact with the kids make it more difficult to get through performing the emotional bit?” I asked. “I would have thought you’d have to distance yourself, but you’re implying it’s better if you, in a way, shorten the distance.”

“But then it would not be real,” explained Juliette. “It would not be me. If I say the same words I’ve said hundreds of times before, I don’t want what I’m feeling to be fake. It is really difficult, but I’m finding ways to cope. In one of the Q&As today, they asked me How do you keep it fresh? and I said The fact I’m looking in new people’s eyes means it’s always fresh because it’s a new story I’m telling to each new person. It’s a lot of emotionally hard work. But I did get to see some kangaroos yesterday and got to touch a koala.”

“Aren’t they supposed to be vicious little brats?” I asked.

A koala or a Fringe performer? The choice is yours

A koala bear or a Fringe performer? –  The decision is yours.

“No,” said Juliette. “They reminded me a lot of Fringe performers, because they sat there taking their drugs – their eucalyptus leaves – scratching themselves and looking uninterested in the people who were standing in a queue waiting to have their photograph taken with them. Then they had to do a turnaround between keepers and koalas which took about the same amount of time it takes between Fringe shows and they were just like little divas waiting for the next batch of koala lovers to come in and see them with their fur coats on.”

“So,” I said. “Drugged-up but vicious underneath? That’s a pretty good description of some Fringe performers.”

“Not my words,” said Juliette.

“No,” I agreed. “So you’re having a lazy time…”

“I arrive in Melbourne on Friday,” she said, “I perform When I Grow Up there on 27th March until 20th April – just one show a day which will be bliss. So I’ve got a few days before then to start writing my new Edinburgh Fringe show Look At Me, which Janey Godley is co-writing with me.

“I’ve recorded all of the video interviews I need. The prosthetic stuff I can’t do until I get back to the UK in May. I’m doing When I Grow Up at the Brighton Fringe in May. Then I’m doing previews of Look At Me in Cambridge and Stowmarket in June – and Brighton and London in July – for the Edinburgh Fringe in August. I’m desperate to create something new. I have to create something new to move on from what I’ve learnt. I’m a different person now to who I was a year ago, so I have to write something new now.”

Juliette has a series of six shows planned-out. When I Grow Up Was the first; Look At Me is the second and, in 2015, Dreamcatcher will be the third.

Juliette Burton

A publicity shot for Juliette’s Look At Me (Photo by Helena G Anderson)

“I’m already planning Dreamcatcher with Frankie,” she said.

Frankie Lowe is her musical collaborator as well as her techie.

“Frankie,” She told me, “wants to do some live music instead of recorded music in Dreamcatcher and I think that would work well. In fact, I might end up doing two shows in 2015.

“I’ve had some exciting interest from other Fringe festivals around the world who saw me in Adelaide. I’ve had a couple of offers for this year which I can’t accept because I’m too busy, but next year maybe I’ll see a bit more of the world.”

“So you’re not being lazy,” I said.

There is a video for Juliette’s pop song Dreamers (When I Grow Up) on YouTube.

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Faking publicity quotes and why you don’t want to sit in a chair in Perth, Oz

In June last year, John Robertson and Jo Marsh got married in a chicken shed in Australia. I blogged about it at the time and there is a video on YouTube:

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.

Why?

John and Jo join Sir John Betjamin in London

John & Jo join Sir John Betjeman in 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.”

Jo and John remembered publicity scams

Jo and John – Would you trust this man in a Dark Room?

“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.

The Dark Room - could be bound to please

The Dark Room – some time in time in Holland

“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.

“Yes?”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“But the exact date or dates is or are unknown.”

“Yes.”

“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.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Theatre

Greek comedian Katerina Vrana – she’s not cheesy, just getting feta and better

The show

Scotland, England, Australia, Greece and America?

I missed Katerina Vrana’s show Feta With The Queen at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, but I caught up with it a couple of weeks ago in London.

Katerina is a British-based Greek actress/comedian with a pure English accent who has a lot of hair and a lot of potential. Feta With The Queen is about her experiences as a Greek living in the UK and was a flawless comedy show with a flawless performance by a comedian who had a good script and total audience control.

Shortly after that London show, she flew to Greece to perform Feta With The Queen there and, last week, she flew to Melbourne for Australian shows until 17th December.

I talked to her yesterday, after her jet lag had abated. It was lunchtime in London and half past midnight in Melbourne, where she had just returned to her flat after her show.

“How long did it take to write the show?” I asked.

“About a year,” she told me. “It actually started in Greek, not English. I did it in Athens in Greek, though it was a slightly different show. And then I wanted to see if bits would work in the UK, so I started working on it in English in Spring 2012.”

“And it changed from the first Greek version?” I asked.

“It’s complicated,” said Katerina, “because stand-up is such a new form in Greece that they sometimes don’t know the conventions and how it works. So the simplest way was a very simple format of We do this… But, in the UK, they do this… And that would make them laugh. I obviously developed it for Edinburgh.”

“I somehow imagined,” I said, “that the Greeks invented stand-up comedy. They invented everything else in performance.”

“You would think so,” agreed Katerina, “But, like everything else, they probably invented it 3,000 years ago and haven’t touched it since.”

“Was Aristotle not doing knob gags?” I asked.

“Ooh loads,” laughed Katerina. “It was political satire with loads of knob gags. And a lot of sexism, which we do very well as a culture.”

“The British do that very well too,” I said.

“You’d be surprised how much behind us you are.”

“That’s not a phrase I want to hear…” I said.

Kateina Angel 7

Would you refuse to give feta sponsorship to this performer?

“Last year,” said Katerina, putting me back on track, “I tried to get sponsorship from feta companies in Greece and one of them was extremely positive but, after they’d said Yes, a week later, they got back in touch and said: We’ve just had a meeting and we’re not sure what stand-up comedy is, so we’re saying No.

“A friend of mine brought the CEO of that company to see my show last week in Greece and he said Well, we clearly need to sponsor this girl. So hopefully, next year, I’ll be able to get some sponsorship, because I’d like to go to New Zealand and possibly Montreal, though I’m not totally sure.”

“But, anyway,” I said, “after trying the planned Edinburgh show out in Greece in January, you also previewed it in Melbourne in Spring this year.”

“Yes, I thought the best way to preview it for the Edinburgh Fringe was to take it to another festival where I could work on it and perform the whole show as often as possible instead of doing one preview a month in London – and also to see if it had any resonance to people who aren’t Greek and aren’t British. Can it stand on its own if the people don’t live in the UK but have an understanding of the UK? If you are not Greek or British, does the show work? And it did.”

“And now,” I said, “having performed an early version in Greece and previewed it in Melbourne, then run it successfully through the Edinburgh Fringe, you have just played the finished Edinburgh version in Greece again…”

“People had sent me messages from Greece,” explained Katerina, “saying We want to see the show that got all the 5-star reviews in Edinburgh. So it’s the same Edinburgh show you saw in London with a couple of Greek swear words thrown in.”

“How did it go down?”

“It went really well,” said Katerina. “I had to add an extra show because they sold out. Greeks take forever to book. There was a very slow trickle of advance booking then, the day before I performed, all three shows booked out. So, on Sunday, I did two shows back-to-back.”

“And it being in English was not a problem for the audience?”

“No. But it’s not enough to be able to simply understand English. I tend to speak fast sometimes and I didn’t want to compromise by slowing down, though I did slow down some things in the end… Greeks tell you immediately if they don’t like something and someone did shout out: Speak slower! and I said (in a posh English accent) I’m terribly sorry.”

“Did you have to change the actual content for a non-British audience?”

“No, I did add a couple of Greek swear words instead of English because they were more natural in that context. But only tiny little tweaks like that. No massive changes. I wanted to take the show I did at the Edinburgh Fringe to Greece.”

“Did you revert to a Greek accent?” I asked.

“No. If I’m talking to people in Greece in everyday situations, I do revert to a Greek accent but, when I’m talking to myself on stage, it’s easy to keep my British accent.”

“So, in a sense,” I said, “when you’re on stage, you’re not talking to the audience, you are monologuing in your head.”

“More or less,” agreed Katerina. “I’m basically opening the door so you can look inside my head.”

“And you might take this same Feta With The Queen show back to the Edinburgh Fringe again next year?”

“Yes – Maybe… Well, in whatever form it might have taken by then, because I’m going to keep working at it. I want to include more nationalities and I lived in India for a year and a half and I’d like to bring that in a bit.”

“In India,” I said, “with your English accent, they presumably thought you were British?”

An Indian guru - not a Greek comedy performer

Same hair; different approach: Indian guru, not Greek comic

“No,” said Katerina, “they didn’t know what to do with me because, to them, I didn’t look white enough to be British and my hair confused everyone. They kept saying Haha. Your hair is like Sai Baba.

“Who?”

“A guru in south India who died in 2011 with a lot of hair. I actually tried to see if I could get little parts in Bollywood films when I was in India, but they said I didn’t look foreign enough. That’s plagued me a lot in my acting career: I never look ‘enough’ of the thing I want to go for. I routinely get turned down for Greek parts because I don’t look Greek enough.”

“What does a Greek woman look like in theory?” I asked.

Penelope Cruz.

“She’s Spanish.”

“Yes. That’s what they think we look like… Like Salma Hayek.”

“She’s Mexican.”

“Yes. I get that a lot, especially in the US. Not so much in the UK, because so many Brits go on holiday to Greece that they know what Greeks look like.”

“So where do Americans think you come from?”

“They can’t even hazard a guess.”

“I suppose,” I said, “to seem Greek in America, you would have to be bald and suck a lollipop like Kojak. But ‘bald’ would maybe not be a good look for you.”

“I would lose half of my material,” said Katerina.

“Your show would presumably play well to Americans?” I asked. “You’re talking about British and Greek culture, but that can be understood even by people who have not actually lived in either country.”

“Yes,” replied Katerina. “But, at the moment, I’m concentrating on one continent at a time!”

“So what else in happening in Australia?” I asked.

Katerina performs her show in Thessaloniki  (Photograph by Sofia Camplioni)

Katerina performs first version of Feta show in Thessaloniki (Photograph by Sofia Camplioni)

“I’ve got some meetings with a couple of producers – I’m talking about bringing over some Greek acts and touring them in Australia, because there’s such a massive Greek population here.

“In Greece in the summer, as soon as May hits and the heat goes up in June/July, everything stops. Theatres close down; everything closes down unless you’re doing something outdoors – and stand-up does not work well outdoors because there are too many distractions.

“So comedians don’t work in Greece from May to October and therefore June/July would be a good time to take Greek comedians over to Australia because it’s autumn there. There’s such a demand in Australia for new comedy and new voices.”

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Greece, UK, US