Category Archives: Books

Amazon anarchy runs riot in long-lasting Malcolm Hardee mystery

Malcolm Hardee while researching his autobiography in 1995

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned British comedian Malcolm Hardee in passing. He was, to understate the truth, very anarchic. A comedian, club owner, agent and force of Nature, he has been called the father of (British) alternative comedy.

He drowned in 2005. At least, that is the story.

He wrote his autobiography in 1996. It was titled I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake which, indeed, he did. It has been out of print for quite a few years.

At the time of writing this blog, there are a couple of second hand copies available on amazon.co.uk – one at £49.98, the other at £109.95.

One second hand copy is also available on amazon.com at $49.98.

Full disclosure: I own 20% of the royalties from I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. But, as the book is out-of-print and these are second hand copies, there are no royalties. So I would get nothing if anyone forked out £49.98 or $49.98 or £109.95.

On amazon.com, the book’s description correctly reads:

“The humorous memoirs of criminal-turned-comedy agent Malcolm Hardee, who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours before finding fame and fortune in the comedy boom of the 1980s. He also recalls how he did in fact, as the title suggests, steal Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.”

On amazon.co.uk, the description reads:

“For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students. This book contains 220 positive, practical teaching ideas that are relevant to both new and experienced classroom teachers. With reference to reflective practice, best practice and Continuing Professional Development (CPD), this book provides essential support for trainee teachers, new teachers and experienced teachers looking to extend their repertoire.”

Yup. It is the description of a totally different book. Amazon’s computers have somehow got their techno-knickers in a twist. Originally I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake had the correct listing on amazon.co.uk but somehow, between 1996 and 2021, it got surreally mistaken for this other academic book.

It has been listed like that for years, certainly since 2015. But, as I get nothing out of any sales, it doesn’t particularly bother me and I have a sneaking feeling that Malcolm Hardee would have somehow enjoyed the mix-up.

I mentioned most of this in a blog way back in November 2015.

Over the six intervening years, I have more-or-less halfheartedly but officially notified Amazon.co.uk of the error I think four times – helpfully pointing out that the listing was correct on amazon.com, so they only had to copy their own listing from amazon.com.

The last time was a couple of months ago.

But nothing has been been changed.

Not about comedy and criminal activities

The bizarre incorrect description of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake actually comes from Warren Kidd and Gerry Czerniawski’s niftily-titled book Teaching Teenagers: A Toolbox for Engaging and Motivating Learners.

Sadly, the blurb for Teaching Teenagers: A Toolbox for Engaging and Motivating Learners on amazon.co.uk does not describe it as “The humorous memoirs of a criminal-turned-comedy agent who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours”.

A couple of nights ago, I was talking to multi-talented performer Matt Roper aka Wilfredo in New York.

Full disclosure: he was in New York; I was in London…

…and I mentioned all the above jolly shenanigans to him. I explained to him that the amazon.com listing for I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was correct.

But, yesterday, he contacted me to tell me he had just looked up the amazon.com listing and although it was, indeed, mostly correct… it did say that I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake had been published on January 1, 1600… He attached a screen shot of the page. 

He told me: “Amazon.com seems to think the book was published in 1600, just as Giordano Bruno was being burned at the stake by the Inquisition and when the first Queen Elizabeth was on the throne. Perhaps that’s why it costs so much here.”

The price advertised at the time was $164.66.

I have just looked it up myself and the amazon.com page now says I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was published on 5 Aug 1996 and it now has a $49.98 price tag.

Full disclosure: My head is swirling a bit – I seem to be getting bouts of vertigo – and I am beginning to think that Malcolm Hardee faked his own death by drowning in 2005 and is playing anarchic games from beyond the non-grave. 

I would not put it past him.

Incidentally, I have some pristine copies of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake available at a mere £675.99 plus postage… They are collectors’ items for marketing surrealists and increasingly prestigious.

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Humor, Humour

Janey Godley’s Handstands in the Dark

The 2005 hardback bestseller…

Today is International Women’s Day.

In 2005, Ebury Press in London published Scottish comedienne and unique Force of Nature Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Dark in hardback.

It became  an immediate No 3 Bestseller in Scotland.

In 2006, it was published in paperback and became a Top Ten Bestseller in the UK. 

That same year, it was the WH Smith Book of The Month and was voted Favourite Read of 2005 by listeners of BBC Radio 4’s Open Book series.

It has never been out of print since then.

The 2006 paperback bestseller…

But last week, on World Book Day, Penguin Books re-issued it with a new cover and with a new Introduction by Janey.

Penguin are soon to release an audiobook of Handstands in the Dark, read by Janey herself.

Personally, I think her autobiography is up there at the apex of horror writing with Edgar Allan Poe – except that Janey’s terrifying tales are real.

Just when you think the horrors of her life can get no worse, you turn over a page and they do.

Below are excerpts from some of the reviews her book received when it was first published…


The new 2021 Penguin reprint…

“The utterly compelling autobiography Handstands in the Dark has become a word-of-mouth phenomenon… un-putdownable… the writing is sensationally good”
(Daily Telegraph)

“Against all odds, she has turned her life story into an inspirational book”
(Daily Mail)

“From the first page… Janey Godley, a natural storyteller, has you in her grip… Hair-raising… mesmerising.”
(Glasgow Evening Times)

“A remarkably engaging and fluently written memoir of a life that makes the McCourt family look like the Von Trapps”
(Observer)

“Makes Frank McCourt’s story look like a walk in the park. This is a harrowing but really readable book.”
(‘Good Morning’ – TV New Zealand)

“A natural storyteller… For someone so refreshingly gobby, it’s hard to imagine how she ever kept the secret that she did.”
(Daily Record)

“Her enthusiasm and sheer optimism have helped her survive life’s cruellest blows where others might have crumbled.”
(The Sun)

“A life that would try the patience of a saint… it’s doubtful you’ll be able to choke back the tears.”
(Metro)

“I found myself laughing… and crying.”
(Sunday Post)

“A fantastic book. You will keep turning those pages. You do cry and you laugh and it’s raw. No punches are pulled… but it’s absolutely not a ‘poor me’ book.”
(Janice Forsyth, BBC Radio Scotland)

“Rather than a bleak cautionary tale, her story is exhilarating, uplifting and often extremely funny. Ultimately it’s a testament to the extraordinary endurance of the human spirit…. She’s brave and honest enough to reveal her innermost emotions and it’s this raw sincerity that gives her streetwise revelations such savage bite… It’s a distressing yet life-affirming read.”
(Guardian)

“Gothic biography… Amid such dark subjects it’s easy to forget that Godley is very much a limelight sort of woman. Not just courageous but mouthy and irrepressibly funny… Harrowing but life-enhancing.”
(The Scotsman)

“A disturbing but ultimately uplifting true account of overcoming a traumatic childhood in Glasgow.”
(‘Open Book’ – BBC Radio 4)

“Vividly evoked… no punches-pulled… relieved by innate good humour and unflagging optimism.”
(Choice magazine)

“She is making waves with her hard-hitting autobiography.”
(Mail on Sunday)

“Genuinely compelling… she deserves the sales.”
(Glasgow Herald)

“I just couldn’t put it down. I don’t think I’ve read many books that quickly. Her story followed me around the whole time – it was as if I was living it..”
(Nicholas Parsons – Sunday Times)

“The word ‘unique’ has been repeatedly used about her and was only strengthened by the publication of her astoundingly honest, blood-spattered autobiography.”
(Mensa New Zealand magazine ‘Menzed’)

“Written with… an astonishing generosity towards so many, this is a disturbing, moving and authentic book, which can demand to be read in one sitting.”
(The Skinny)

“This is Janey’s life story and it’s gripping stuff!”
(OK magazine – Hot Stars)

The new Penguin edition of Handstands in the Dark, 2021 – back cover

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

ECCENTRIVIA – Political correctness, Facebook hoes, midgets and the NHS

Yesterday, my Yorkshire-born friend Lynn stumbled on this story in The Week from last month, which both of us had missed. She says: “I had to read it three times and I’m still not sure I get it. Whoever the morons are, they surely can’t be Yorkshire folk.

To be clear, the concept of the three wise monkeys became popular in 17th century Japan, before spreading to the West. It is associated with the Tendai school of Buddhism where monkeys are considered sacred and perceived as helpers for divine figures. They are “vehicles of delight”.

I always think people who censor monkeys for being racist should look at themselves in the mirror. Far be it from me to say “political correctness gone mad”… but I will.

That was yesterday.

Today, Lynn spotted this piece in Computer Active magazine about Facebook’s algorithm getting similarly censorious.

I told her: “Eat your heart out for any publican trying to make a living by running the Cock Inn, Scunthorpe.”

Afterwards, I Googled to see if there actually IS a Cock Inn, Scunthorpe.

Sadly there is not, but Google told me there is a Blythe Black Cock Inn. Arguably worse in Facebook terms, but un-censored by them.

I feel the good people of Plymouth Hoe have cause to be aggrieved about being picked-on by a US algorithm.

********

Meanwhile, in other perhaps equally dodgy news, I got an email telling me that the admirable Vaudevisuals Press, whose slogan is “Celebrating the Eccentric Performing Arts”, have published a book on Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville.

“…both the Dark and the Dazzling sides”

It covers the period from 1890 when Ike Rose “started living the legendary life of a top vaudeville & burlesque producer” to 1957, when Billy Barty founded his “advocacy group” the Little People of America.

Ike Rose, apparently, was “one of show biz history’s great impresarios, now forgotten but once in a league with names like Barnum and Ziegfeld as men who delivered full value for the price of a ticket.”

He seems to have rivalled Barnum is hype.

The book admits: “each component of the troupe’s name crumbles into dust by light of day.

“‘Rose’ was a pseudonym; the company held no Royal seal of approval; and the word ‘midget’ has passed out of use in polite society.”

The selling line for the book claims: ”Without pandering nor passing judgment, this book documents in detail the performers, producers, the stage routines themselves and the various venues from those straight up and upscale to others shameful and shady. This book probes both the Dark and the Dazzling sides of the American Imagination. Only rare books like this seriously confront our more bizarre past and allow the new generations of show folk to revise, to re-invent, to reform American Theater.”

Rare indeed – apparently only 50 copies of the book are being published.

Tomorrow – well, tonight at 8.00pm in New York; tomorrow 1.00am in London – there is a free online Zoom conversation between author Trav S.D. (Donald Travis Stewart) and Vaudevisuals’ own Jim R.Moore.

As I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since May last year (medical conditions) and am currently sleeping on the floor at night because my back is buggered, the possibility of my listening in on this Zoom call is iffy. But it sounds interesting.

********

I have also, this morning, just received a letter from the NHS saying that I should ignore the other letter they enclose in the same envelope cancelling  my appointment with the Respiratory Team on 11th May.

Obviously, in this main letter, they don’t mention when or with whom the appointment is because that is mentioned in the letter which they are telling me to ignore.
 
They say, in the first letter telling me to ignore the second letter, that they will send me a third letter rescheduling the appointment.
 
Regular readers of this blog will know we have been here before (see my blog of a fortnight ag0).
 
The third letter, dated the same day as the other two letters, will inevitably say they are rescheduling my appointment which was at 1345 on Tuesday 11th May and, instead, I will have a telephone appointment at 1345 on Tuesday 11th May.
 
Life is but a surreal dream, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing….

1 Comment

Filed under Books, circus, Eccentrics, political correctness, Uncategorized

Christmas in Cambodia with former comic and addict Chris Dangerfield

The always-controversial businessman and former comedian Chris Dangerfield has not cropped up in this blog for a while.

He now lives in Cambodia. Things have turned out OK for him.

When the weather is suitable, he wears $2,000 suits and $600 shoes. We spoke via Skype.

As always, blogs involving Chris are not for the faint-hearted reader.


JOHN: Here we are in the middle of a world-wide economic calamity. Are you still running your lock-picking business?

CHRIS: Yeah. Internet businesses are doing very well.

JOHN: When did you move to Cambodia?

CHRIS: Three or four years ago this March, I think. But I really don’t know. I’ve lost count.

JOHN: Why did you move to Cambodia?

CHRIS: I used to come out here to get clean. To Thailand. To get off the heroin. I used to come out here, cold turkey and stay clean while I was here but, every time I went back to London, I wouldn’t last long. I started associating my life in England with drug use and a sort of melancholy. It’s cold and grey and England’s changing in dramatic ways that I don’t support in any way.

JOHN: So why did you not move to Thailand?

CHRIS: That was the initial plan. But the visa there is not so simple. With me owning a business in Britain. You’re right. Patong, Thailand, is in many ways my spiritual home… but the phrase I’ve used before is I didn’t want to marry my mistress. Wherever you live is your life and I want Patong to be a holiday for me. I didn’t want to live there.

JOHN: It always struck me as a tad odd you went to Thailand and lived in a brothel to get off heroin.

Chris chose Cambodia instead of Thailand

CHRIS: It was very difficult to get heroin in that part of Thailand. Really. Compared to ice and weed and all the other stuff. So I didn’t have a hook-up for heroin in Patong. Also, I had an affair with a Thai madam who, when I met her, was a street-walking prostitute but, as our relationship developed over the years, she ended up running two of her own massage shops.

JOHN: Your business acumen helped her?

CHRIS: Not at all. She’s an incredible woman. But part of going out to Thailand to get clean was knowing that she would be there and she loved me and she would help me. I knew she would. I had never met a woman like her before. All the women in my life had been psychotic and awful… Well… I had a part to play in that. The common denominator was me…

…though also they WERE all mental.

Anyway, about five or six years ago, after about five weeks of the acute period phase of withdrawal, I just started writing this novel for the lack of anything better to do because I didn’t have the strength to go out. I was shuffling about like a zombie.

So I just started writing down what I’d gone through during that very intense withdrawal. I didn’t have any methadone or Subutex or anything. A couple of Xanax here and there, but…

Anyway, after that I kept doing bits and bobs and bits and bobs of writing and I was talking to Will Self about the novel and, when I finally got it near finished last year – about 110,000-120,000 words – I asked Will: “Look, what do I need? A copy editor? A proof reader?” 

He introduced me to a friend of his called Nick Papadimitriou, who wrote a very successful novel called Scarp.

And me and him got on like a house on fire. We were chatting about it for the year leading up to a couple of months ago and I gave him the manuscript and there’s a lot of work needs doing on it but I’m kinda hopeful it will be out in around March 2021. It just keeps taking longer because Nick wants it to be as good as it can be and, because I want people to read it, he wins… I’m very, very proud of it. 

The working title was Thai Style Cold Turkey, but I think maybe it’s going to be called Pharmakon Patong.

JOHN: It’s a bad time to be publishing books, isn’t it?

CHRIS: I think there’s not been a better time to be a writer.

“There’s not been a better time to be a writer.”

Amazon Direct Publishing is the way to go at the moment. It’s unlikely you’re gonna sell hundreds and thousands of novels and get rich. It does happen, but not often. When you self-publish through Amazon, your novel is available 48 hours after uploading it and it’s available as a paperback or a Kindle. And you get 70% of the cover price – not 7½% which you get with traditional publishing. 

So you publish the novel, do as much marketing as you can, do podcasts, build up a social media presence which I’ve kinda got – I’ve got 20,000 YouTube followers, 6,000 Twitter followers and ten years of stand-up gave me a little bit of a reputation out there – and you might sell 50 copies a month… which isn’t gonna make you rich…

But, on YouTube, I have told 400+ hours of stories. At the moment, I do two streams daily on my YouTube channel.

So, after this novel, I’m going to transcribe all those and I’ve probably got about five books of short stories. So I can put all them out there. And they might all sell 50 a month.

So I might be selling 300 copies of different books a month.

300 x £7 is not bad coming in monthly.

Then I do another novel. And another novel. And, if you can get two novels or two books of shorts out a year and create a little bit of interest in you then, in five years, it wouldn’t be unreasonable, to be earning a few grand a month from writing.

JOHN: Where did you get this business brain? Your parents?

CHRIS: (LAUGHS) No. Unless you include a failed Amway period by my old man. He was buying loads of really stupid cleaning products and pyramid selling them.

“… because it turned out quite nice…”

JOHN: But you ARE quite entrepreneurial.

CHRIS: It was noticed very early at school sports day – I used to go down the old cash & carry and sell sherbet dib-dabs and make a few quid. My grandad once gave me a sheep’s skull. Not covered in meat. Just bone. But I set a little stall up in my front garden and people could touch it for 2 pence. I mean, like, I’m Thatcher’s Child. I was like 10 years old in 1982.

JOHN: So you have this upcoming book to promote…What’s the elevator pitch?

CHRIS: At the start, a man is at Heathrow Airport. He’s decided to get clean and go to Thailand. And the end of the novel he is on an aeroplane going back to England. So it’s seven odd weeks. True story. There’s very little creativity there. It’s just what happened.

JOHN: So the moral is you should never leave your own home country?

CHRIS: No, the moral is you SHOULD because it turned out quite nice. BUT there’s two stories running simultaneously. There’s one in Thailand – which is written in the first person present. There’s also one about my childhood, which is written in the first person past. And they kind of interlink.

One of the problems I’ve had with the editor is he keeps talking about the architectonic of the story.

JOHN: Architectonic?

CHRIS: Architectonic.

JOHN: May the Lord protect us.

CHRIS: Yes, I’ve had to Google it regularly, too… But here’s the point… Much like my stand-up, I tend to start telling my story, then remind myself of something else, then go into that story then, while I’m telling that story, I’ll go into something else… so it’s kind of like fractular. 

JOHN: Fractular?

CHRIS: Fractular. Now, that’s OK so long as, at some point, you come back to the first story and second story and round it all up. That’s fine.

But what he’s been saying is sometimes it’s just confusing. He says he knows there’s an element of it reflecting what I’m going through in the novel, which is kind of cool… If the form of the novel reflects the content, then you’re on to something. But he says sometimes it just gets in the way of the storytelling. So that needs looking at.

JOHN: So back to the elevator pitch. What’s the novel about?

CHRIS: I set out to write a novel about addiction and withdrawal but I think it’s a story about love.

JOHN: Love of whom or what?

CHRIS: Just love as an idea and what happens when there’s not a lot about.

JOHN: You’ve got to love something. It’s a verb that needs an object.

CHRIS: Right. So when you don’t have a lot of love in your life, you end up doing what goes on in this novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Cambodia, Drugs, Thailand, Writing

Lynn Ruth Miller, 87, says: “STOP COMPLAINING! Just go out and do it!”

Indefatigable, inspirational, genuinely unique

The indefatigable and genuinely unique American writer, comedian, raconteur and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller (she first stripped at the age of 73) is 87 today.

She has two Master’s Degrees with honours: one in Creative Arts for Children from the University of Toledo and the other a Master of Arts degree in Communications from Stanford University. She has done post-graduate work at Indiana, Harvard, Oxford, Stanford and San Francisco State Universities.

When she was 27 and her ambitions turned theatrical, she starred in her own CBS television show.

She has been dubbed “the new Joan Rivers” and “the world’s oldest performing stand-up comedian”. For the last 15 years, she has been travelling the world “telling inappropriate jokes and shattering stereotypes”.

I wanted to ask about her latest book Getting The Last Laugh. We had a meal together. She insisted on paying because, she said, she wanted to have some sort of hold over me.


JOHN: So what do you want to bring up?

LYNN RUTH: Asparagus.

JOHN: You have written another book.

LYNN RUTH: Yes. It’s the fifth that’s been published. We edited it four times and I wrote an addendum which brings it up-to-date with COVID. I have another book coming out soon called Growing Old Outrageously and Loving It – it’s just about done – to be published by my friend Nader Shabahangi. That one has pictures and more of my philosophy.

JOHN: What is your philosophy?

LYNN RUTH: Just Fuck it… So it’s a short book. (LAUGHS)

“I thought it would be a book about comedy”

JOHN: This one has pictures too.

LYNN RUTH: And everybody who was nice to me – their names are in it. Everyone who wasn’t, I just refer to them. You can figure out who they are, but I don’t name them. And there were a lot.

JOHN: And you wrote Getting The Last Laugh because…?

LYNN RUTH: I think the message of the book was not what I intended. I thought it would be a book about my doing comedy and there IS a lot about it in there…

JOHN: …but…?

LYNN RUTH: …But it’s got a lot about the walls I faced. The point of this book is Anyone can do what I’ve done. Really and truly it’s not that I am special, not that I’m talented, but I made all this happen and an awful lot of people would not have. A lot of people would have started and then said: “Ah! Too much work!”

JOHN: So why did you have the determination?

LYNN RUTH: Because I really love doing this.

JOHN: Comedy or eating?

LYNN RUTH: I love eating too and I’ve been doing it a lot longer than comedy.

JOHN: There’s a lot in the book about your early life.

Young Lynn Ruth: “I was the dreamer in the family… Hoping my mother would love me…”

LYNN RUTH: But also a lot about my philosophy of believing in yourself… This COVID pandemic has really disturbed me: because we are all so afraid of what other people think, so afraid of each other and that is wrong. The hardest thing for anyone is to believe in yourself.

People ask me “Why didn’t you just give up?” and, honest to God, I don’t know. In general, I wasn’t doing too well in Life. I had the two divorces. I have a Masters Degree in Journalism, but I couldn’t get a job in journalism. I had a TV show in the States, but I was never doing anything, really. I just kept going and then, all of a sudden, things came together. I think the story of this book is: KEEP GOING! So the message of the book is STOP COMPLAINING! Just go out there and do it!

I believe anything is possible if you’re willing to put in the work. You have to take responsibility for the things in your life.

I had a very negative upbringing. All my life, I blamed my mother, blamed my sister, blamed Toledo where I grew up.

But, when I was about 50 years old, it hit me – Oh, my God! I am the one who let those things happen. It’s MY fault! 

Until you take responsibility for your own happiness, you don’t stand a chance.

Young Lynn Ruth pictured with her parents. She had her own CBS TV show at the time.

JOHN: What were your parents like?

LYNN RUTH: My mother looked absolutely gorgeous and she smelled SO good, which is amazing as she hardly ever bathed. Daddy I thought was the most wonderful… I thought he was a great big man but actually he was quite little.

JOHN: This book is about your life AND your comedy career…

LYNN RUTH: It’s valuable for comedians, I think. In it I have a complete comedy set and, in it, I tell you what I do to make the joke work, why I put it in the order it’s in and what I do if it’s not working. Also in there I have two tours with all the names of the contacts.

JOHN: What’s the difference between this book and your next book?

LYNN RUTH: The next book is stories of people who achieved what looked like the impossible but they just got on with it. People think they can’t have the dream that they want but they can.

First wedding, aged 22, in September 1956…

I have a friend called Glenn. He didn’t go to college; he was just educated up to 18 and he got a job with the Recreation Dept in San Francisco – a low-level, shit job. But he loves theatre. He loves classical theatre. He was absolutely sure he could direct a Shakespeare play. No education. And he talked the Recreation Dept into letting him do three shows.

JOHN: Were they good?

LYNN RUTH: They were really shitty productions. And then the Recreation Dept fired him. But now he has founded his own company and it’s very successful. Or it was until COVID happened.

JOHN: So what now?

LYNN RUTH: (SHRUGS) We keep going…

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Philosophy

Books, films, songs, big toes and Trump – John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 37

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 36

SUNDAY 27th SEPTEMBER

Until my illness in May, I never really remembered my dreams. Maybe once every six or nine months, I might wake up and remember what I was dreaming.

But now, because I wake up maybe six to twelve times during the night, dehydrated, I remember – or, at least, I am aware of – some dreams and I am amazed by the detail, though reality can be more surreal.

Today, Kunt AKA Kunt and The Gang said he was about to release two new limited edition Bumface Poohands books: Bumface Poohands – A Day At The Park and Bumface Poohands and the Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdown.

With reality like this, who needs dreams?

MONDAY 28th SEPTEMBER

I have a low heart rate. Adults normally have a resting heart rate of 60-100. Mine is usually around the low 50s, sometimes the high 40s.

As I write this, it is 53. But my cousin Muriel also has a low heart-rate, so it must be a hereditary thing.

My medical problems in May (still continuing) were caused by a still-unexplained high calcium level resulting in a sudden drop in kidney function from 62 to 19.

My cousin Muriel says that, years ago, she was told she would get kidney problems as she got older because of very poor circulation in the base of her spine, bottom and back thighs. This has not happened.

My sticking-up big toes are not at all sock-friendly

And, fortunately, the circulation of my nether regions is, as far as I know, fine.

But, if memory serves me correctly (which it seldom does), Muriel and I both have a funny quick in our middle fingers, where it goes higher in the middle making it less easy/more sensitive to cut the nails.

We can both be easily and literally cut to the quick.

And we both have big toes that stick up.

Yes, I think it’s a bit odd too.

She tells me: “Finding comfy walking boots has been a problem through all my walking years.”

TUESDAY 29th SEPTEMBER

Ariane Sherine‘s latest serious-but-with-a-lot-of-humour-added-in book How to Live to 100 is published on Thursday and she has found that she is already selling well in unexpected quarters. The book is already, two days before publication, at No 174 in the Cheese & Dairy section of Amazon UK.

Mind you, for several years, Amazon UK listed comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake as an academic textbook and could not be persuaded otherwise. Amazon UK is currently listing it as being published on 1st January 1638 and as being available at the bargain price of £45.60 (used) or ‘new’ at £995.36.

In other shocking news, my eternally-un-named friend lost her silver ring in the street in Borehamwood tonight. A search by iPhone torch and proper torch failed to find it.

WEDNESDAY 30th SEPTEMBER

Always be wary of what you say to plumbers. A good one is hard to find.

This afternoon, a plumber told me he had been doing the job for over 20 years. I told him:

“Wow! You know your shit, then.”

He heard it as: “You know you’re shit, then.”

Who knew the power of a single apostrophe?

I also got a handwritten postcard shoved through my letterbox today from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a bit worrying when they do not put their trust in the Lord enough to knock on doors and try their sales pitch face-to-face.

This follows the incident earlier in the year when the healing waters of Lourdes were closed because of the risk of visitors catching coronavirus.

It is all somewhat counterproductive for the sales pitch.

THURSDAY 1st OCTOBER

I’m honoured to be mentioned disparagingly…

I got a copy of Ariane Sherine’s much-anticipated book How to Live to 100.

It turns out I am mentioned in it halfway through, somewhat disparagingly – I had been asked before publication if the reference was OK and had, of course, forgotten.

Fortunately, I am not in the index, so you will have to buy it and read it to find where my image is wantonly crushed. Which you should do anyway.

I mean you should read it, not wantonly crush me.

Charlie Brooker says: “This book will probably save your life… Unfortunately“ and it includes interviews with Clive Anderson, Derren Brown, Bec Hill, Konnie Huq, Robin Ince, Stewart Lee, Josie Long, Richard Osman, Lou Sanders, Arthur Smith, Jeremy Vine sans Uncle Tom Cobley et al.

FRIDAY 2nd OCTOBER

I slept from 7.15pm last night to 7.30am this morning and woke to the unsurprising news that Donald Trump has developed coronavirus: but he should be OK as he has long said it either doesn’t exist – it’s a hoax – or it is simply like a mild flu.

More interestingly, I got an email from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, who lives in Vancouver. She had seen a Facebook post of mine: showing the Academic Song and Dance Ensemble of the National Guard of the Russian Federation singing “Sex Bomb”.

Anna wrote:


I REALLY enjoyed the Russian military police choir video (If only all the military could concentrate on music).

I have been having a somewhat difficult time here with the combo of COVID measures and inhaling wildfire smoke from the California forest fires (it was really bad here in Vancouver – worst air quality in the world for a bit – for ten days mid-September), then an enormous local pier caught fire… They couldn’t put that out for ten days. I was inhaling burning creosote… lovely…

Burnt California tastes way worse, though possibly we are also inhaling dead bodies too… it tastes metallic… maybe its all their cars and appliances.

The smoke has returned but it’s not as bad as it was…


SATURDAY 3rd OCTOBER

This afternoon, in a near miracle, my eternally-un-named friend was walking along the pavement in Borehamwood and saw, lying on the ground, the silver ring she had lost on Tuesday. It was about 15 or 20 feet away from the spot where she thinks she must have dropped it.

Spot the ring…

Let’s hope the luck of the British continues…

Tonight, a fascinating documentary about musical comic Robert White is being screened (and is up for an Audience Award) at the Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles – It’s an online virtual event this year because of COVID-19.

I think I am pretty safe in saying that Robert is the only Aspergic, dyslexic, web-toed, cross-lateral, gay, quarter-Welsh, gluten-intolerant professional musical comedian in the world who made it to the final of Britain’s Got Talent and came runner-up AND won the highly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The Autistic Comedian gives an extraordinary insight – warts and all – into what it’s like for a hyper-sensitive performer to grow up, undiagnosed, in the 1980s and 1990s, then feel his life spiralling out of control but then learn to deal with the challenges totally on his own.

It gains from the fact that director Joe Bor is also a comedy performer and Robert’s friend – so there is a unique access and insight. It reminded me of the 1997 Elton John documentary Tantrums and Tiaras, directed by David Furnish.

Both films manage to be an emotional rollercoaster with unique psychological insights.

 

… CONTINUED HERE

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Movies

John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 25 – COVID in Glasgow, Indians in Moscow

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 24

My natural rhythm was Go to sleep quickly, Wake up slowly…

SUNDAY 5th JULY

All the way through my life I have only very very rarely been able to remember any dreams I had at night – maybe once every six or eight months if I got woken in mid-dream. My natural rhythm was to go to sleep quickly and wake up slowly, so I guess I rarely woke up during the dreamy bit.

Now – I guess because of the kidney/calcium problems which landed me in hospital a few weeks ago – I wake up at least once an hour during the night; sometimes I wake 11 times, my throat parched dry, having to drink water.

And I am aware of my dreams.

I never realised dreams were so visually detailed and, certainly in my case, have an ongoing narrative. Sometimes I have a detailed scenario which picks up one night where it left off the previous night. I know that because I am aware of it happening during the night and realise it is happening.

What the dream/dreams is/was/are about, on the other hand, I can’t remember when I wake up… because I have a shit memory. I am just – now – aware I have them.

Now the boring bit… You may want to skip on to Tuesday, which is more interesting…

MONDAY 6th JULY

I had a telephone appointment with the Kidney Man from my local hospital at 1240. He eventually rang at 1437.

“Sorry,” he said. “IT problems earlier.”

My calcium level when I went into hospital was 3.2 instead of 2.6 which it had been last October. And 2.6 is the high end of ‘normal’ – Normal is 2.2-2.6. It is now 2.4 (as of 22nd June).

My kidney function, which had been an OK 62 last October and a very-much-not-OK 19 when I went into hospital, was 34 when I left hospital.

It is now (as at 22 June when I had a blood test) 44.

Which doesn’t worry the Kidney Man: “The calcium level can affect the kidney function, but the kidney function can’t affect the calcium level.”

The calcium level is now fine and the kidney function should return to normal. Last time, I was told a kidney function of over 60 was OK for a man of my age. So 19… 34… 44 is going in the right direction.

The blood test on 22nd June, like the Petscan before it, was OK.

The parathyroid glands (which create calcium and are tested via the blood test) are normal.

The Kidney Man does not know why I am waking up 8 or 10 or 11 times a night with a dry mouth. But he is not worrying. When I asked him, he said: “I don’t know”.

This genuinely reassured me. No bullshit waffle.

“You are,” he added, “a mystery.”

If only I were a performer, I could use that as a strapline on a poster.

He is going to arrange a face-to-face with me at the start of August which will include another blood test. Doctors love blood tests.

Beautifully-written, word-perfect vignette of current reality

TUESDAY 7th JULY

The UK is slowly, tentatively, opening-up bit-by-bit after the coronavirus lockdown.

Scottish comedian Scott Agnew is, like all other stand-ups in the UK, unable to perform because no venues are open. This morning, on Facebook, he posted a beautifully-written – I think word-perfect – vignette of current reality – in Glasgow, anyway.

With his permission, here it is:


Popped out to pick up a spot of breakfast at the wee roll shop at the end of my street – first time since March…

Wee roll shop wummin: “Oh a fucking stranger returns I see! Where the fuck have you been?”

Me: “Eh, I’ve been in lockdown like everyone else.”

RSW: “I’ve been here four fucking weeks. No’ fucking hide nor hare aff you?”

Me: “Well when I looked along you never looked open.”

RSW: “Well I wouldnae have looked open if I was shut cause you never move yer fat arse oot the hoose in the mornings anyway unless you’re coming tae me. Was it Tesco ye were getting yer sausages? Aye. So where the fuck have you been? First week I was open I’m thinking I’ll see that big fella – nothing – I’m just thinking he’s an ignorant basturt.

“Second week I’m thinking, this cunt must be deid cause I minded you’d been on that flight back fae Australia – and that was the last I seen ye. There’d be all sorts fae all parts with fuck knows whit oan that flight. And I thought, that’s him had that virus and now he’s deid. Then I thought ye cannae be deid cause yer a comedian – ye’d have heard about that in the papers. Then I thought, well he’s no’ a famous comedian so the papers probably wouldn’t bother their fucking arse about ye.

“So I says to my daughter cause she’s got you oan that internet to check if you were deid. So I says – see if that big fat comedian fella is deid. And here ye wurnae deid.

“Do you know I stood in here wan Friday and had wan customer! Six pounds I took – it cost me more to turn the fucking lights oan.

“So here we are four weeks later and ye turn up noo, turns oot ye ur nothing but an ignorant basturt.

“Two roll and square son?”

© copyright Scott Agnew 2020


Keith Martin being very itinerant…

WEDNESDAY 8th JULY

I mentioned to itinerant TV voice-over artist and one-time choirboy Keith Martin that the post-lockdown openings are (understandably) slightly eccentric.

As I understand it, Christian churches can open for private prayer provided you maintain social distancing but synagogues and mosques cannot open yet because they are more sociable in their celebrations. And, although Christian churches can open, there can be no singing for fear of spreading the coronavirus.

“You can’t sing,” Keith told me, “but you can hum the hymns, provided you keep social distancing.”

“You are joking,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “That’s true.”

And, while I haven’t been able to find out definitively, I think he might be right.

THURSDAY 9th JULY

Continuing the musical theme, today I stumbled on a video of the great and much-lamented (certainly by me) 1980s band Indians in Moscow.

I posted this on my Facebook page and the highly-esteemed Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation but a man with wide-ranging knowledge well beyond the aerodynamic properties of farmyard products, pointed out to me that Adele Nozedar – the vocally talented lead singer of Indians in Moscow – was now an author, food writer and forager, whose books include The Hedgerow Handbook, The Garden Forager and her most recent book Foraging with Kids.

She has come a long way since singing about Jack Pelter and His Sex-Change Chicken, a classic track in my vinyl collection.

Readers of previous blogs may recognise Andy Dunlop not just as the esteemed World Egg-Throwing supremo but as the man who has a friend with a dog called Rigby whose calcium problems mirrored my own. I feel my own fate is intertwined with Rigby’s.

“How is the dog?” I asked Andy today.

“He is fine,” Andy replied. “Doing well. Very happy.”

I am reassured, if only temporarily.

A US man unfairly maligned by a UK woman?

FRIDAY 10th JULY

My historic certainties are being undermined week-by-week.

First, there was the fact that Chou En Lai, did NOT say in 1989 that it was too soon to know if the French Revolution of 1789 had been a success. (See a previous blog).

And, today, I discovered that George W Bush did NOT tell Tony Blair that “the trouble with the French is they have no word for entrepreneur”.

It seems that Blair’s spin-doctor Alastair Campbell denies it ever happened and suggests that MP Shirley Williams might have put it in a speech as a joke and the idea snowballed.

“This book will probably save your life. Unfortunately,” says Charlie Brooker

SATURDAY 11th JULY.

My multi-talented chum Ariane Sherine chose today to mention she has not one but two projects coming out soon.

Her new book How to Live to 100 is published on 1st October this year…

And – under the name Ariane X – her first solo music album is being released on 12th February 2021. Why that date? Because it’s a palindrome date:

12.02.2021

… unless you are an American and get your dates back-to-front for no sensible reason – For you it is February 12, 2021.

Duran Duran were an early musical influence

Ariane describes the new album as “pop/electric/dance” with influences “including Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, St Etienne, Massive Attack and loads more.”

There are five early, rough instrumental demo tracks on her new ArianeX website. “Vocals, harmonies, guitar, hooks and fills to be added…”

The songs, she says, “are all about my violent childhood, mental illness, suicidal ideation, but also happiness that my life is so beautiful now…”

An extract from the lyrics show they ain’t gonna be no normal trite Moon-in-June songs:

I believe in Russell’s teapot, I believe in Occam’s Razor
And I believe that vaccines are humanity’s saviour
I always look to science to provide me with my answers
And I don’t believe that prayers can ever cure any cancers

As far as I know, there will be no horns on Ariane’s upcoming album…

… CONTINUED HERE

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Humor, Humour, Medical, Music, Politics

What sort of creative creature is comic Dominic Holland, father of Spider-man?

What is Dominic Holland? 

A writer of books? A stand-up comedian? The father of Spider-man?

Yes to all three.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, an anthology of original writing by comedians which I compiled and edited with Malcolm Hardee. That’s the self-promotion over.

I thought I would talk to Dominic about his latest novel without ever mentioning his son Tom Holland – the current Marvel (soon to be Sony) movies’ Spider-man.

I failed.



“You encounter a homeless person and…”

JOHN: So, you have written five novels… and the latest, I, Gabriel, published a month ago, is about what?

DOMINIC: I have always been very exercised by homelessness. I have lived in London all my life. I used to do the Comedy Store and walk down Charing Cross Road and down The Strand and see homeless people and would give them money.

But I have a thing about hygiene. If I shake a homeless person’s hand, I start to panic. I would rather not touch them. I’m not ashamed of that. That’s just how I am. If you have no washing facilities, you’ve probably got excrement and all sorts of detritus all over your hands.

I thought: What happens if you encounter a homeless person, you shake their hand and they insist on sharing a meal with you. You don’t want to eat their sandwich, but you have to and you contract a food poisoning and it keeps you off a doomed air flight. Wouldn’t that be a great starting point for a drama? That idea has been in my head for 20 years and that’s the kernel of the story. Then I designed a character who had everything and I wanted him to have an epiphany.

The epiphany for Gabriel is that he is a man of vast success and vast wealth but actually has nothing.

It’s a 3-act book. The First Act is fleshing out his character. He is an unpleasant man. He is a very highly-paid, successful surgeon. A very rarified man, very bright. But he is lost to greed. Then he has this epiphany. He realises his life has been a sham, really. And then something rather extraordinary happens in the Third Act.

Where I am most happy abiout is that nobody – but nobody – has seen the ending coming.

JOHN: You are a Christian.

DOMINIC: Habitually. All my life I’ve been a Catholic. Big Catholic family. I have four aunts who are nuns, two uncles who are priests. My whole tradition growing up was going to mass. My boys were brought up Catholic and I like belonging to a Church. I like a feeling of belonging. I belong to the comedy circuit; I belong to the Catholic Church. But my faith, I’m afraid, is not terribly… erm… vivid. I like the punctuation of mass. I go to mass two Sundays in four. I use it as a chance to just sit there and reflect on my good fortune and what I hope to do for the rest of my little time on this mortal coil.

JOHN: Your boys were brought up Catholic…

DOMINIC: Yes. Four boys.

JOHN: What does your wife do?

DOMINIC: She’s a photographer, but she’s now giving that up to run a charity we started: The Brothers Trust. 

It has been going about 18 months/two years. We didn’t want to call it The Tom Holland Foundation. He has the platform to attract money, but we thought it might seem a little bit narcissistic and narrow because Tom’s brothers are involved.

The Brothers Trust family – The brothers Holland (left-right) Sam, Tom, Paddy and Harry with parents Dominic & Nikki

Using Tom’s cachet, we put events on and all the money we get in – less the transactional costs and the charitable costs in America – you have to employ American firms to administer them – all the money WE get, we then distribute to various charities. Our own remit is to give money to charities that struggle to be heard. Not to the big charities. To small charities and charities without the big administrative costs. We don’t personally want to support charities that have got vast numbers of people flying all over the world.

For example, we have built a hostel in India through The John Foundation, who basically take off the streets girls who have been trafficked and this very virtuous doctor and his wife house the girls and train them to become beauticians or overlockers. They get security and a skill and they’re also now making our Brothers Trust T-shirts which we are planning to sell and money from that will go to other causes we want to support.

We also support a charity in Kibera, Kenya, called Lunchbowl – they feed kids every day; we have bought them two 40-seater buses to take kids from the slums to-and-from school.

We support a charity in Britain called Debra which looks after kids with EB (Epidermolysis Bullosa), a pernicious disease where your skin is effectively like tissue paper – there’s 5,000 people in the UK with it. It’s the same number of people with cystic fibrosis, but no-one’s ever heard of it

JOHN: You have also written a book about Tom: EclipsedWhat’s the elevator pitch for that?

“For me, the story was perfectly-formed…”

DOMINIC: It’s the story of how a young boy is spotted inadvertently, finds himself dancing on the West End stage whilst his dad is doing comedy gigs in village halls… That kid goes on to become a movie star and his old man is still playing the same clubs he was 20 years ago.

JOHN: “Spotted inadvertently”? 

DOMINIC: Tom was spotted at a local YMCA disco dancing class and he ended up playing the lead in Billy Eliot in the West End… As I say in Eclipsed, it’s a fluke. The whole thing has been a fluke. A happy fluke.

JOHN: You say ‘village halls’, but you did play places like the Comedy Store in London.

DOMINIC: Yes but, John, you know and I know that, back in the day, I was mooted as one of the ‘Next Big Things’ – and it didn’t happen. And there’s no rancour on my part. I performed at the Comedy Store last weekend and I’m proud to be on that stage because a lot of my mates from my generation aren’t doing it any more. The fact that I’m still being booked to go on last at The Comedy Store means you’ve got chops. I would love to have made it. I didn’t. But, for the book, it’s a perfect juxtaposition. For me, the story was perfectly-formed.

My first novel Only in America was spawned from selling a screenplay. I did a gig in 1995 in Cleethorpes. Didn’t get paid. Long way. I was on the train coming home to London, cold. I had already won the Perrier Award as Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1993, I had been on television, I was becoming well-known. So I thought: This is rubbish! I can’t keep going to Cleethorpes for no money. I’m going to write a film.

So I wrote a film and sold it to Norma Heyman, who is the mother of David Heyman – He produced all the Harry Potter films. Norma Heyman’s husband John was a big-shot producer. 

Norma Hayman said to me: “You are the new Frank Capra.”

JOHN: Wow!

DOMINIC: I didn’t even know who Frank Capra was. I had to look him up. But I had these very exciting meetings in Soho and, over the next two or two-and-a-half years, I sold that script two or three times and then it fell over. But that story inspired my first novel Only in America.

Dominic Holland in Soho, London, last week

I then sold Only in America to the BBC and to Hollywood film producers. I went to Los Angeles and had meetings with Big Time agents who said: “This is great! We’re gonna make your movie! Frank Oz was going to direct; Bette Midler was going to be in it… And then it fell over.

So, when Tom started on his journey in the West End, it was a funny story in my head… When he was cast in his first movie (The Impossible, 2012) and was long-listed for an Oscar… THAT for me was a perfect story, because I had tried and failed and Tom was succeeding.

So I end the story on a Los Angeles red carpet with Tom being long-listed for an Oscar and I thought: Well, that’s a hilarious story. I had been spending all this energy trying to make it as a writer and become a new Richard Curtis and, with no problem at all, my boy was going: Dad! Watch! Over here! and making it…!

I finished the book when he was 16 and, since then, he has become a proper movie star.

I didn’t get films made. It’s a small nut to crack and most people don’t crack it and I am one of that ‘most’. But, being one of the ‘most’ and having failed, I was then presented with a beautiful piece of storytelling. Here’s my failed efforts to make it in Hollywood and then here’s my bloody son, with no efforts, BOOM!… and I’m thrilled.

People say to me: “Are you jealous?” and I think: Well, if you think that, you don’t know who I am.”

JOHN: Fuck me, well I’m jealous but, then, he’s not my son…

(BELOW, TOM HOLLAND, PROMOTING SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME IN BALI, AS VIDEOED BY HIS BROTHER HARRY HOLLAND)

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Movies, Writing

Salvador Dali’s Marx Brothers movie and an unmade Charlie Chaplin film

In 1937, surrealist Salvador Dali planned to make a movie with the Marx BrothersGiraffes on Horseback Salad (aka The Surrealist Woman) starring Groucho, Harpo and Chico Marx with Susan Fleming (Harpo’s wife) plus “new music by Cole Porter”.

The plot involved a Spanish aristocrat named Jimmy (Harpo) in love with a beautiful woman whose face the audience never sees. Scenes included a horde of giraffes wearing burning gas masks, an exploding chicken and Harpo catching “the eighteen smallest dwarfs in the city” with a butterfly net. Groucho was rumoured to have said: “It won’t play,” 

Now flash forward to March 2019 when a graphic novel version of the planned Dali/Marx Brothers movie Giraffes on Horseback Salad was published.

On Thursday, I chatted to its jet-lagged American creator Josh Frank.

He had just flown in to London from Austin, Texas, was plugging the book at an event in the Barbican that night, going to Paris the next day for another event publicising the book and, tomorrow (Sunday), he is talking about it at JW3 in NW London.

Obviously, we chatted in a pub in Trafalgar Square with naval white ensign flags in the background.


JOHN: You’re almost the ultimate hyphenate. You’re a writer-producer-director-composer-playwright.

JOSH: I do a little bit of everything. What I’ve done in the last twenty years has led to me being able to do what I can do now. When I used to write and direct plays right out of college, that added to my toolbox of things that helped me be able to do what I just did with this Marx Brothers graphic novel.

JOHN: It sounds to me as if you are attracted to quirkiness. I mean: “I think I will do a stage play based on Werner Herzog’s 1977 movie Stroszek”… What the fuck?

“Try to think outside the box”

JOSH: I like to try to think outside the box, you know? If you want to accomplish anything in this day and age, you kinda have to come up with something that people are intrigued by but maybe they also don’t quite understand. Because then they can’t cancel it out.

I grew up a big Marx Brothers fan, but this was something I had not heard of. I came across it because, six or seven years ago, I had taken an interest in movie ideas by famous auteurs that never got made.

Movies are the one form where you will create a story and idea but, unless you can get it made as a movie, it might just disappear. 

What other art forms are there where an artist has an idea but it it not taken to completion because of outside elements? Painting, music, books, even plays: these are all things that, despite the odds, you can finish if you really want to and if it’s important to you.

I find it fascinating that someone like Coppola or Herzog can come up with an idea and write it and then, because there’s not $100 million to make it, it just ends up in a drawer. A movie script might be half-finished or fully-finished but, if it’s not made into a movie, no-one can ever see it.

JOHN: Salvador Dali wanted to write a Marx Brothers movie because he was a friend of Harpo Marx. 

Surrealist Salvador Dali (not pictured on the right) and silent Harpo Marx (not pictured on the left)

JOSH: Yes.

JOHN: Harpo is the most interesting of the Marx Brothers.

JOSH: I think so, in a lot of ways. And the most human and the most…

JOHN: …intelligent?

JOSH: Possibly…

JOHN: I mean, there’s the Algonquin Round Table.

(From top to bottom) The four Marx Brothers – Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Zeppo

JOSH:…It would probably be a tie between Harpo and Zeppo, because Zeppo was an inventor.

JOHN: Really??

JOSH: He invented… in a sense, invented the first Apple Watch. In the 1930s or 1940s, he invented a watch that could take your heart-rate. He invented one of the first heating blankets. Look it up. He had like all these patents.

JOHN: I think there were points in Salvador Dali’s screenplay for Giraffes on Horseback Salad where he just wrote: “insert Marx Brothers routine”

JOSH: Yes. So, for those bits, I went to comedian Tim Heidecker and we sat in a writers’ room at Burbank and filled-in those moments in the script.

JOHN: How unfinished was Dali’s script?

JOSH: Very unfinished. There were basically two hefty. useful things. One was the actual 12-page pitch proposal typed in English that I’m assuming was created from Dali’s original notes by a friend of Harpo’s in Hollywood for them to turn in to MGM.

JOHN: Giraffes on Horseback Salad was Dali’s original idea.

JOSH: Yes. The other thing was the 70 or 80 pages of handwritten notes from his papers that I found at the Pompidou in Paris. It was part of an archive they owned, which they had bought at auction about 30 years ago.

JOHN: So not a script as such.

JOSH: No. It was all handwritten ideas and notes. Each page had different paragraphs and I had to actually put them in order. Basically, the actual movie was technically written by Salvador Dali and me.

JOHN: If you have a not-totally assembled script idea from a surrealist, there’s surely no real certainty what order things would happen in. It could be like Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction putting things in the wrong order.

JOSH: Well, I had to use my toolbox of understanding of screenwriting. I tackled it like you tackle any adaptation of a work into a movie. What is the through-line of the narrative? What is the character’s journey? What does each character want?

JOHN: Would there necessarily be a through-line in a Salvador Dali movie?

Irving Thalberg – boy wonder at MGM studios

JOSH: Yes. I was looking at this like it was going to be made in 1937 at MGM by Irving Thalberg. This is a Marx Brothers movie that would have been greenlit by Irving Thalberg – thus it needed to have a very clear storyline with a beginning, a middle and an end; it needed to have the lovers; it needed to have the songs. So that was how I made my decisions for what it would be.

JOHN: And Thalberg was strangely conservative. 

JOSH: Yes.

JOHN: He was not an experimentalist.

JOSH: No. But what he was was a friend to the Marx Brothers and to their antics. I think he would have appreciated the challenge.

JOHN: Presumably you would like to see the thing actually filmed. Is there an elevator pitch for turning your Giraffes graphic novel into a movie?

JOSH: Well, I finished it as much as I could so it would be sort of a no-brainer to the right film-maker. My idea was to present something that Marx Brothers and Dali fans and the world could enjoy now but that a film-maker – the right one with the right resources – could see was basically ready to cast. I hope that happens. 

JOHN: Maybe directed by David Lynch?

JOSH: Or I could see Tim Burton doing it. I could see Terry Gilliam.

JOHN: Luc Besson?… Or you could direct it yourself.

JOSH: No, because I think it would be quite expensive – $40 million or $50 million. There are the rights and you’re gonna want huge names. It just depends how mainstream it’s gonna be. The idea was to make it a sort of a mainstream movie.

JOHN: But currently you’re plugging the graphic novel.

Giraffes on Horseback Salad is illustrated by Manuela Pertega

JOSH: Well, my book tour for Giraffes on Horseback Salad goes on until the middle of June and also we’re finishing the soundtrack, which was a part of my vision and it’s turned into a whole other process which is almost done. An entire soundtrack to the un-made movie – and that’s gonna be released June 21st by a major record label, at first just digitally but, if it gets some attention, there will be a vinyl release too. 

That is almost like its own secondary project. Even though it’s very much a companion to the book, it’s also its own piece of art. It’s a full separate thing. So, really, I’m still very much in the middle of the Giraffe stuff, at least through this summer. 

After that, I’m not sure. I’ve got four or five ideas for maybe a next book. I think I want to do another graphic novel in the vein of Giraffes. I really loved how this was one-third illustrated biography and then two-thirds graphic novel of a lost movie. I really enjoyed that.

One idea that’s very intriguing to me is that I discovered a lost Charlie Chaplin movie. Unmade, but he wrote like 90 pages of it.

JOHN: That’s 90 minutes, then.

JOSH: Yeah. It would have been a feature film and it would have been his first talkie movie – before The Great Dictator. And it’s an interesting story. It was a time when he really thought his career was over because talking pictures were coming. So he took a sabbatical to Bali. He was going to stay a week and he ended up staying six months. This is Bali in the 1920s. I think it would make a really interesting graphic novel.

My agent and others tell me Charlie Chaplin is not as big a deal as the Marx Brothers and Salvador Dali. But… I dunno.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Movies, Surreal

Peculiar – Comic Jo Burke disappeared for 3 years, found true love and a show

The last time performer/writer Jo Burke appeared in this blog was in September 2015. There is a reason for that gap of over three years.


Three years absent and three books published

JOHN: So you have three children’s books here which you wrote. There is Standing on Custard

JO: That’s the first one. It’s a book of funny verse – for up to 10 year olds – and it’s really good for small ones because it’s rhyming. Then A Squirrel’s Tail is a whole story rather than verse. A really lovely story about inclusivity and diversity about a squirrel born without his tail. And then Molly, Chip and The Chair is for slightly older children: when they’re moving on to reading adult-style books.

JOHN: Why’s it called Standing on Custard?

JO: The book has lots of useful facts. So one interesting fact is that you can actually stand on custard.

JOHN: Eh?

JO: You get two tins of Ambrosia, you put them on the floor and you stand on them. (LAUGHS) No… It’s called a non-Newtonian fluid. You have to make it with cornflour and lots of it. What a non-Newtonian fluid does is, instead of like most fluids and liquids, it becomes harder the more pressure, the more weight you put on it.

JOHN: The books are beautifully illustrated.

JO: My talented husband Philip Price.

JOHN: You gave up comedy for three years.

JO: I didn’t intend to. My last show – the last time we had a chat – was 2015 and that was my I Scream show and I’d written a book about that as well. It was about online dating. 

“Most successful show… I was quite annoyed”

That was my most successful show so far and it was me as me. Before that, I had been doing character-based comedy. I was delighted that the one with me as me was the most successful. But also quite annoyed, because I had trained for many many years to be an actress. And the show I did as me was the most successful. 

I think I just felt like I’d plateaued a bit: that I didn’t have much else to say. I had sort of fallen… not out of love with it because it was fantastic… but I felt that, if I were to come back with something else, it would have to be as good and I didn’t want to rush into the next thing. I had kind of had enough of the whole Edinburgh Fringe thing. I had done about six Edinburghs in a row by that point. Six shows up to 2015 and, in two of those years, I did two shows each year, which was ridiculous.

Initially, I thought I might take a year off. But, I got back to London from Edinburgh in the September and, in the October I met the man who is now my husband. It was ironic that whole I Scream book and show had been about my disastrous love life. Then, lo and behold…!

JOHN: So you were only doing comedy to cover gaps in your acting.

JO: I had always done acting and ads and whatever and, up until that point as well, I also had a  mortgage-paying job which most performers have – a horrible office job three days a week which was not playing to any of my strengths and just to pay the bills. I had started to feel quite unhappy there and I thought: You know what? It’s time to move on. So I did. 

What I needed then was a revenue stream. So I thought: Actually, now I’ve met Phil, who is an artist… I had already written this book years and years ago for a friend’s daughter. And I said to Phil: “Do you think you’d be interested in doing the artwork for this book?” 

So that was our first project. We have released a book a year, basically; we are just finishing off a new one.

JOHN: You said you needed a revenue stream – to make money – so you started writing books… That is not a way to make money!

JO: The books are really popular in Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, America. I sell them online and at a stall in Greenwich Market and I sell hundreds of them a month and we sell prints and artwork as well. I do a maximum of about three days there and it’s great because I can work it round castings – I just shot a commercial for IKEA in Italy for four days.

JOHN: And next Saturday (6th April), you are back on stage at the Museum of Comedy in London with a new show called Peculiar. Is it you as yourself or is it character comedy?

JO: It’s me again.

Jo Burke no longer screaming; just as creative

JOHN: A follow-up to I Scream?

JO: No, that’s why to have the space of three years between the two shows was good. I don’t really feel like that person I was any more. Straight after I Scream, I met Phil. I feel so far removed from that (previous) person and all of that angst and heartache and stuff. Everything changed. It was like a cathartic thing. I released the I Scream book and did that show then, all-of-a-sudden, the love of my life walked in the door.

JOHN: Is happiness good creatively, though? I heard Charles Aznavour interviewed and he was asked why he sang sad songs. He said they were more interesting because, when people are happy, there’s not a lot you can say. People are happy in the same way but, when people are sad, they are sad for all sorts of different. specific reasons.

JO: Yeah. Also happy people can be a bit annoying to be around sometimes. I spent a huge chunk of my life being single and being around happy couples and I know the annoyance of it. (LAUGHS) Nobody’s interested in you if you’re happy and I don’t really write when I’m happy. I have always written when I’m annoyed. When you are happy, it’s quite dull creatively, I think.

JOHN: So when you got happy it must have screwed-up your creativity for the last three years?

JO: No. I never stopped writing. I made notes all the time in those three years and I did the children’s books. The children’s books are a gentler… they’re still funny, but it’s a gentler humour and a different audience. But I still always had dark, evil thoughts that I would set aside for future shows.

So when I decided to do this new show, Peculiar, I started looking back through all my notes and maybe I had written the equivalent of a show a year anyway, so Peculiar is really the best of all of that.

“It’s a whole diatribe of things I find absurd and odd”

JOHN: What’s the elevator pitch for Peculiar? Is it angry?

JO: No, but it’s a whole diatribe of things I find absurd and odd from nail varnishes to medication to marriage to eBay.

JOHN: So observational comedy.

JO: Yes, but not really. It’s… Jo Burke calls out the absurdity surrounding our every day life. She shoots down the lazy marketing we are perpetually bombarded with, ridiculous products and Amazon reviews plus a fair few things in between.

JOHN: Last time we talked, you wanted to do a show about working class life.

JO: Well, that’s always a bugbear of mine. I’m always slightly peeved at the fact there are fewer and fewer working class voices. There are sketches I’ve written just for bizarre funny’s sake, but a good 90% of what I do is with a reason, a message behind it. 

JOHN: To get your message out? But you’re not going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

JO: Part of the reason I’m doing Peculiar at the Brighton Fringe in May but I am not doing Edinburgh is that I priced it all out and I would love to go to Edinburgh – I absolutely love it – but, you know, I am still paying for the seven years I did before!

Why would I go to the Edinburgh Fringe? Because I love it. But that is not a good enough reason. It has not been a stepping stone for me so far and I can’t really afford to keep trying. I’m taking another tack now. I’m not really doing stand-up spots on other people’s gigs. It’s time-consuming and means travelling all around and I prefer doing my own shows. 

I did consider doing a children’s show in Edinburgh. Standing on Custard would make an amazing children’s show but… Well, it’s all very well signing books and making children laugh but it’s a whole different ball game when you can make a whole room of adults laugh.

JOHN: The lure of the applause?

JO: I was missing the feel-good. Also, because everything is so politically dark and horrible at the moment, I think if you have a skill – to make kids or adults laugh – now is definitely the time to be doing it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Performance, Writing