Category Archives: Books

Ross Smith on his book about the reality of working in the creative industries…

Amazon.co.uk divides its books into various categories. At the weekend, I got an email from writer Ross Smith telling me that, just four days after publication, his new book See You at the Premiere: Life at the Arse End of Showbiz was in the Number 1 position in the ‘Hot New Releases’ of two of those categories – Playwriting and Screenwriting. It is now on sale on every Amazon site in 190 countries worldwide. I obviously chatted to Ross in – not-so-obviously – St James’s Park in London. We chatted in early November. I have only just pulled my finger out. Look, I’ve had plumbing problems…


“The first interview I’ve done in 25 years”

ROSS: This is the first interview I’ve done in 25 years. The last one was with Time Out. I used to write a BBC Radio 2 show called Steve Wright at the Movies. My producer Barry Littlechild was very forceful; you didn’t argue with Barry and he forced me into doing that interview.

JOHN: Why the 25-year gap?

ROSS: I stopped doing interviews after the movie Revenge of BillyThe Kid because I had a couple of bad experiences.

JOHN: But you have interviewed people yourself.

ROSS: I did nearly 300 interviews back in the day.

JOHN: At college, I studied radio, TV, journalism and advertising. The one that was most satisfying was radio, because you have total control over the result. But I went into television  because there’s no money in radio.

ROSS: Radio is notoriously badly-paid. I used to write for Radio 4’s Week Ending; for a while as a staff writer.

JOHN: You’ve done it all.

ROSS: (LAUGHS) Everyone’s written for Week Ending. This is what the book is about. I could make myself sound like Steven Spielberg but to do that I’d have to cut out all the heartache and all the projects that didn’t happen and all the debt I got into. All the awful experiences I had just to get to the next one.

There were gazillions of things that didn’t happen and I had to pay my bills at the end of the month. A couple of times I failed and I had to get kicked out of my home.

An exposé of life in the Arts end of showbiz

JOHN: The book originally had a different sub-title.

ROSS: Yes. The original sub-title was Memoirs From the Fag End of Showbiz…

We know what ‘Fag End’ means in Britain, but our American friends have got a different meaning. So I thought: OK, how about Life at the Arse End of Showbiz? And now I prefer Life at the Arse End of Showbiz. It sounds more funny, more resigned, whereas Memoirs From the Fag End sounds more like I’m really bitter, which I’m not.

I didn’t want to write a book about me per se, because I’m a nobody, although I’ve got a few credits. 

JOHN: More than a few!

ROSS: Yeah, but I’ve never been able to monetise my career… Indeed, that’s one of the key things about the book. I am in the area where 95-99% freelance creative people are.

You can be creative and go work for the BBC and have a job for life, going from project to project. But 95-99% of us are in this area where we’re not necessarily hugely successful and earning loads of money but we’re not complete arseholes. We’re stuck in the middle and that voice never gets heard. 

The only people who get interviewed by the broadsheets and the Graham Nortons of this world are people who are ‘successful’. And that gives a one-dimensional view of the Arts – acting, writing, whatever. As a result, the punters – the public – think Oh! Everyone in showbiz is earning a fortune! And it’s just not true.

My book is about the sort of guy who plays the waiter in one scene in a film. Looking at his career. 

That is the career, frankly, that most young creative people are going to have. They are not going to be the next Benedict Cumberbatch. They are going to be that waiter and try to make a living.

It is not a How To book per se; it’s more. It’s basically about all the shite that young people who have aspirations to be creative do not want to hear but need to hear if they want to monetise their talent and – far more important than that – maintain the monetisation of their talent.

It is all about the importance of agents, the importance of hustling, the importance of just keeping the fuck going.

This is a spade (Photograph via Pixabay)

There’s no bullshit in my book. I call a spade a spade. If you really wanna know how difficult it is – and all the pitfalls – read this book, because that’s what it’s about. It’s about how difficult it is to establish and maintain a freelance career. It goes a long way to explaining why so many freelance creative people haven’t got a pot to piss in.

JOHN: You wrote the movie Revenge of Billy The Kid under the pen name Richard Mathews. It has built a big cult following over the years.

ROSS: It’s un-fucking-blievable that film. We had never made a film before and no-one in the British film industry would give us a break and, in those days…

JOHN: When?

ROSS: 1988. It’s all in the book. The only wannabe movies that got made then would be like Privileged which was produced by students, but it was executive produced by John Schlesinger – an icon of British cinema – he godfathered the project and made sure ‘the kids’ did a good job. We had nothing like that.

Director Jim Groom, his business partner Tim Tennison and I wrote four scripts together. One was turned into a movie; the rest just didn’t happen. In the book, I talk about the ones that did NOT happen as much as the one that did. The one that did was Revenge of BillyThe Kid.

“Old MacDonald had a farm… and on that farm he HAD a goat…” – Ooh, missus!

Jim had lots of experience in editing commercials and trailers. Tim had been a First Assistant Director on many films – Little Shop of Horrors, Wetherby, Dance With a Stranger. I had written comedy sketches for TV and stuff like that. But no-one would give us a break.

It was a very anarchic production every step of the way. About 20 of us worked on the film and our average age was about 24. We went away for four weeks to Wales and Cornwall to shoot.

It’s something people love or hate. If you go to IMDB and scroll down the headlines of the reviews, it will go from ‘The Greatest Film I’ve Ever Seen’ to ‘Utter Dogshit’. There is nothing in the middle. Which is what we wanted.

The News of the World gave it its first ever No Stars review.

I suppose I turned my back on the film industry in the mid-Noughties. I gave up because of all the shit, although I had a very good production rate. I wrote 30 scripts and got 4 movies made out of it. My fourth film came out – The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby – in 2006. It took sixteen years to get made. (Ross again used the pen name Richard Mathews.)

Invasion of the Cathode Rays, in which Ross played a robot

JOHN: Talent has to meet luck…

ROSS: Yes. In 1995, my friends and I took a midnight show to the Edinburgh Fringe Invasion of the Cathode Rays. It was set in the 1950s and was a parody of public health warnings, TV commercials. We were getting about 20 people a night in the audience. It was great fun, a great show, but we didn’t find our audiences. Fair enough. Classic Fringe story.

My second Fringe show – a two-person sort-of family show called One Small Step (written under the pen name David Hastings) – was the story of two people in an attic who discover all this ephemera from the 1960s and they start telling the story of the space race.

They hold a beach ball up and say: “Sputnik!” It’s that sort of play. The on-stage budget – costumes, sets, props – was £136.

One Small Step – 2 actors, 60 characters and 35,000 people.

The two actors played about 60 characters, including Laika the dog.

We were on at the Assembly Rooms at 5.00pm in the afternoon and got about 20-40 people daily for the first week. We had websites and fanzines writing wonderful things, but the mainstream press didn’t give a shit about us. Unless a show has ‘someone off the telly’, they’re not interested. That’s not a reflection on journalists; it’s a reflection on their readers.

But one day a guy called Malcolm Jack, a critic for The Scotsman, came to see it. There were 8 people in the audience that day. He wrote a 5-star review. The review was published on a Saturday morning. By 3.00pm in the afternoon, even the actors’ friends couldn’t get tickets. On the Sunday, it sold out again.

His review ended with the line: ”It’s hard to imagine a play fuelled by a more profound and spellbinding sense of sheer wonder”… Remember this is a play with two guys walking around on a stage with buckets on their head pretending they’re spacemen! It’s just two actors sitting around with junk on a stage; they play Also Spruce Zarathustra, the 2001 theme, on a stylophone!

Next thing we know…

The Sunday Times – 5-star review. 

Daily Telegraph: “One of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.”

The whole run sells out.

It gets a 10-week UK tour the next year. 

At the next year’s Fringe, the Assembly Rooms puts it in a bigger venue. The whole run sells out.

The British Council come on board: “We want to take you on a world tour starting in Sydney, Australia, for three weeks. It’ll take 11 months and end up in China.”

It was the world’s most-toured British play of 2010 – 22 countries in 11 months.

And all that started from that one review.

JOHN: Talent has to meet luck…

ROSS: Yup. It has been seen now by around 35,000 people worldwide – it toured America in 2019.

JOHN: So you made pots of money…

ROSS: Over-all, over the whole journey of all those shows over about two-and-a-half years, I only made £5,500. But the point is – as William Goldman famously wrote -“Nobody knows anything”.

Nobody KNOWS what is going to work and what isn’t.

You might think: Oh, come on, Ross! It’s been seen by 35,000 people! You’re getting your royalties and being flown all over the world!

No. This is the REAL reality. I went to see it in Washington, but I had to pay £600 for my flight and my own accommodation.

This is the world where most of us are. And that’s what this book is about. Readers who want to get into the Arts may not want to hear this, but it’s going to be the world they may (if they are lucky) enter.

They are NOT going to be the next Michael Caine. They might be the next Ross Smith. (LAUGHS) And, if so, good luck to you!

(CONTINUED HERE…)

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Filed under Books, Fame, Movies, Talent, Writing

A sixth book and multiple film(s) from the indefatigable Jason Cook’s mind…

You need grit and determination – and nowadays, ideally, the potential for sequels – to get movies made.

The indefatigable Jason Cook turns up occasionally in this blog.

His new novel Euphoria – Pirates of the South – was published yesterday.

Jason Cook and his four gangster books…

So, obviously, we had a chat.

Jason, who is dyslexic, has previously written four linked semi-autobiographical gangster novels:

– There’s No Room for Jugglers in my Circus
– The Gangster’s Runner
– A Nice Little Earner
– Cocaine: The Devil’s Dandruff

…plus a children’s book Rats in Space.

His latest book is not for children…


The 1980s and 1990s – the Rave scene

JASON: Euphoria – Pirates of the South is a book I wrote during the Covid lockdown last year.

JOHN: There’s semi-autobiographical stuff in it?

JASON: Well, there’s bits of autobiographical things I experienced in Borehamwood and South London…

JOHN: South London?

JASON: …thus the title Pirates of the South.

It’s about a young Indonesian girl who gets involved in an abusive relationship within a family environment but finds solace in the male-dominated music industry of the time. It’s set in the 1980s and 1990s – the Rave scene, the pirate radio scene – people finding a platform in their bedroom to catapault them within the music industry. Urban music wasn’t played on mainstream radio at the time. So people took risks to put the pirate stations together to create a platform for the music.

JOHN: It was originally conceived as a film?

JASON: Yes. Pirates of the South. It was planned about ten years ago with Mark Straker who has since, sadly, passed away. I continued to work on it as a book. The script had already been written by Lisa Strobl.

JOHN: You still plan to make it as a film?

JASON: Yes. Next year. Made by Djonny Chen’s Silent D Pictures. The idea is to have a well-known Indonesian actress in the central role.

JOHN: So the Pirates of the South film would get a release in Indonesia?

“People took risks… to create a platform for the music…”

JASON: Yes, under the title Waiting For Sunrise.

JOHN: Why change the title over there?

JASON: If you call it Pirates of the South in Indonesia, people might expect some Johnny Depp type pirates to be in it.

JOHN: And you also have another film waiting on the blocks…

JASON: Yes. Silent D Pictures are interested in making Pirates of the South AND a film called Cookster, which is going to be the back story of my four gangster books.

"The Cookster is based on myself when I was young"

“It is based on myself when I was young…”

JOHN: So the Cookster back story chronologically happens before the first of the four gangster books?

JASON: Yes. We got everyone together to talk about doing a film of the first book, directed by Peter Field. But he said there was something missing from the books – the story of how the Cookster became who he is in the first book. The Cookster film explains the back story.

JOHN: And The Cookster is…?

JASON: The Cookster is based on myself when I was young – a dyslexic teen misunderstood by his family, abandoned by the system and desperate for respect. Then he becomes a drug dealer and struggles to balance his addiction and his debt to local gangsters, driving him apart from the woman he loves and the boyhood he’s never known.

JOHN: And, of course, you’ve left that world now.

JASON: Yes. Yeah. I’ve left it all behind and moved on to better things now.

JOHN: So The Cookster movie would be a prequel to the four semi-autobiographical gangster novels…

JASON: Yes, with two unknown actors playing earlier versions of me. It starts with me aged about six, moves up to me at 17 and then There’s No Room For Jugglers in my Circus takes it from there.

JOHN: You’re going to do the film Cookster and simultaneously write the book of the movie?

JASON: Yes.

JOHN: Who is going to play you in your prime in the movie?

JASON: An actor who’s just come off The Batman Craige Middleburg. He’s very good.

Craige Middleburg and Jason Cook

 

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Ariane Sherine wants to live to 100 and write 100 books, starting with this one

Ariane Sherine has had a busy week. It’s her birthday.

And she released the first episode of her weekly podcast Love Sex Intelligence.

And she has published her first novel, Shitcom, about two male TV sitcom writers.

She knows that about which she writes. She has been a writer on BBC TV’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and on My Family.

She claims Shitcom is her first book, although she has previously published The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, Talk Yourself Better and How To Live To 100.


A TV sitcom, a shitstorm and a switch…

JOHN: Why’s the new book called Shitcom?

ARIANE: It’s a novel about two comedy writers on a sitcom. One’s extremely successful and an arsehole. The other one is extremely unsuccessful but very nice… And they swap bodies.

JOHN: So it’s a cosy little comic romp…

ARIANE: No. It’s got racism, misogyny, homophobia, extreme swearing, graphic descriptions of violence and a short rape scene. The villain calls his mother a jizz-lapping old whore and calls his step-father a fisting spaffmonkey. He is obsessed with his penis because it’s only 2 inches long.

JOHN: You wrote it in 2004, when you were…

ARIANE: …a sitcom writer for BBC TV.

JOHN: So it’s all semi-autobiographical?

ARIANE: It’s ‘loosely based’ on my experiences. But all the characters are fictional.

JOHN: The plot is a body/identity swap story.

ARIANE: There IS a body swap and Neil – the nice guy – inhabits Andrew’s body and is able to get his sitcom idea commissioned, but he then realises fame and success are not all they’re cracked up to be.

Andrew is trapped in Neil’s body and there’s a hilarious/outrageous and disturbing turn of events which sees him end up homeless and having to have sex with a guy for money so that he can buy a gun.

JOHN: Why are fame and success not what they’re cracked up to be?

ARIANE: Because nobody treats you normally. It’s a very hyper-real/surreal type of existence. Most of the famous people I’ve met have been very nice, professional and reliable. They treat people really well. But I would not personally want to be famous. I don’t think it makes you any happier and you never know if people like you for you or just because you’re successful.

Ariane created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign, seen here at its launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

JOHN: You famously created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign and got shedloads of publicity.

ARIANE: I experienced the slightest distant glimmer of fame in 2009/2010 and it was quite disorientating. You don’t feel like yourself because people have this impression of you which doesn’t tally with your own impression of yourself. It’s confusing and I personally wouldn’t really want to be wildly famous.

JOHN: You wouldn’t want to be successful?

ARIANE: I think there’s a difference between having recognition for what you do and being a megastar where it’s so out-of-proportion that it’s ridiculous.

You really wouldn’t want Fred Bloggs accosting you when you’re trying to take the bins out – thrusting a camera in your face, demanding a selfie or an autograph.

JOHN: Alas poor Chris Whitty. You don’t want to be famous at all?

Ariane keeps her fingers in many pies, including podcasts

ARIANE: I wouldn’t mind a bit of recognition, but not being followed around by paparazzi wherever I go.

JOHN: Why did you not publish the novel in 2004 when you wrote it?

ARIANE: I had always wanted to write novels and I was putting the finishing touches to it in 2005 when I was violently assaulted by my then-boyfriend when I was pregnant with his baby. I had to have an abortion which I didn’t want to have. I cried every day for a year and I shelved the novel because I thought: I don’t want to focus on comedy! I’ve just been through hell! I don’t want to be focusing on jokes when my baby is dead.

JOHN: Wouldn’t focusing on comedy be cathartic in that situation?

ARIANE: I just didn’t feel I could write it successfully and, instead, I wrote a memoir of what had happened. That didn’t get published and I’m very glad it didn’t get published because it was so raw. It had a lot of scenes from my childhood and my dad was still alive and I think it would have got me into a massive mess.

So I sort-of lost interest in Shitcom. I shelved it and then a little later I started writing for the Guardian (until 2018) and I think I made some tweaks to Shitcom in 2008, but, as a Guardian columnist, I didn’t want to put out a book with an incredibly racist, sexist, homophobic male character and a ton of racial slurs in it. That felt like it might be a bit of a faux pas.

JOHN: And the Covid lockdown happened last year… That had an effect?

ARIANE: Yes. I was going to do a 100-date book tour for my last book How To Live To 100 but then the Covid lockdown came in, so the tour got shelved.

Shitcom was published after servicing Patreon subscribers

But I have a Patreon account and one of the subscriber tiers is my Writing Tier. 

Subscribers to that tier get a sample of my writing every week.

I came across Shitcom again and I thought I would send them that chapter by chapter. As I was reading it again, I realised it was hilarious and I loved it. So I thought Why don’t I just put it out rather have it languish on my hard drive?

I didn’t even try to get it traditionally published. Nobody in the publishing industry has seen it and, in this age of ‘cancellation culture’ I don’t think any publisher is going to be too keen on it.

JOHN: Have you thought about also publishing your ‘too raw’ memoir which you could now look back on objectively?

ARIANE: If I ever did write a memoir, it would probably be at the end of my career. I have so much left to do; and also my mum and brother are still alive and I wouldn’t want to hurt them with what’s in it. It might be something I do in 40 or 50 years.

I am aiming to write 100 books in my lifetime and I see Shitcom as the first book.

My next book – traditionally published by my publisher Hachette – is called Happier and will be my fourth traditionally-published book. 

Ariane also wants to write 100 books…

JOHN: You’ve said you consider Shitcom your first book but you have published three books already.

ARIANE: Well, they are all either co-writes or they contain a ton of contributions from other people. I think they are very enjoyable and I love my publishers, but I also want to put novels out – and, by self-publishing them, people can read them for just £1.99 each.

JOHN: So what’s your next solo book?

ARIANE: I’m Not In Love, another novel.

JOHN: Autobiograhical?

ARIANE: Partly. It’s about a girl who’s not in love with her boyfriend. He smells of banana. He does not eat or like bananas, but he has a strange banana smell.

JOHN: This bit is autobiographical?

ARIANE: Yes. It’s based on a boyfriend I had who is a comedian and writer and actually quite successful now. I don’t know if he still smells of banana, but I do feel sorry for his wife if he does. Also (in the book) he wears these terrible slogan T-shirts like While You Are Reading This, I Am Staring at Your Tits… And she falls in love with another man, but he’s engaged to be married and one of her unscrupulous, amoral friends says to her: Why don’t you just keep this guy that you’re engaged to around as insurance and date other guys behind his back?

So that’s what she does. But she is in her 30s and is aware that time is not on her side if she wants to have kids. So it’s a rom-com. 

It’s already written, the main character is really acerbic and funny and it will be out before the end of the year.

Shitcom is out now, though, for just £1.99. Buy it!

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Good Godley! – It’s the seemingly irresistible rise and rise of Janey Godley

The indomitable, unstoppable Janey Godley

Some people are just unstoppable.

Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Dark (a bestseller in 2005 and 2006) is published for the first time as an audio book today and she appears yet again as a panellist on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You tomorrow night.

Penguin Books recently reprinted Handstands in the Dark with a new cover and new introduction. Frank Get the Door!, a book transcribing some of her viral video voiceovers, made the Sunday Times bestseller list last year. Her first novel is coming out next year. The Last Mermaid, a 2019 short film she co-wrote and starred in, won a couple of awards at Berlin and in Scotland; and she starred in a series of lockdown monologues for the National Theatre of Scotland.

In other words, she is on a roll.

Handstands in the Dark – Janey’s bestselling autobiography – still selling well after 16 years

Her nationwide UK comedy tour, which was interrupted by the Covid pandemic last year, re-starts this autumn. Her political voice-over videos have made her a worldwide viral YouTube hit complemented by animal voice-over videos and more family-friendly videos featuring her dog Honey.

Over the last few years, she has also built-up a massive following for her weekly podcasts, online pandemic chats with her daughter Ashley Storrie, random appearances on UK radio and TV, a weekly column in The Herald newspaper (she used to have a weekly column in The Scotsman) and what seem like daily news items in Scotland’s Daily Record about her Tweets.

Ashley has appeared in various BBC TV comedy series, has her own weekly BBC Scotland radio show and today BBC iPlayer (UK only) has posted online the new BBC3 comedy drama pilot Dinosaur in which she has the lead part as an undiagnosed autistic woman. It will be screened on BBC1 on 7th June and was made by Two Brothers Pictures, producers of Fleabag.

BBC TV have also just announced a new documentary series next year: Ashley & Janey Get a Real Job following the duo round the country doing things like working on a fishing boat (!)

So, obviously, I had to have a chat with Janey.

But what I was really interested in was the extraordinary range of her online commercial merchandise – everything from the normal and to-be-expected mugs and T-shirts to – extraordinarily – greetings cards, her artwork and bottles of Janey’s own Frank Get The Door! and Aw The Sandras branded gin at £32 a bottle…


JANEY: I’m sooooo fucking tired, John!

JOHN: I’m not surprised. You’ve been running round like a blue-arsed fly.

JANEY: I think it’s just… Well, I got shingles, which I’ve never had. 

JOHN: Jesus! That’s really painful.

JANEY: It really wasn’t that bad. I kept on thinking: Have I got sunburn? Then I got these sharp pains and a rash. It went away pretty fast; it wasn’t that bad. But then I got this dizzy thing.

JOHN: Vertigo?

JANEY: It was connected to the shingles and it started the morning I was filming with Joanna Lumley. I woke up, the whole world went sideways and I thought I was having a stroke. And we were filming on an old, bumpy bus.

JOHN: Your merchandise is everything from pens and mugs, T-shirts and face masks to bottles of gin. So how did that start? You were maybe a third of the way through a national UK tour, Covid hit and you had no live comedy income at all…

JANEY: And then Frank Get The Door! (the catchphrase from her viral Nicola Sturgeon voice-over videos) became really famous so we decided to make Frank Get The Door! T-shirts. My husband Sean got on LinkedIn and somebody recommended this guy lan Adie of Promotional Warehouse in Glasgow… I called him and he said: “You came to the right place at last, because I don’t need a deposit off you. We’ll make it and we’ll share it.”

The very first wave was T-shirts, clicky pens and cups. 

I told him: “It’s not going to do very much but, even if it does, I’m going to donate 100% of my profit to the STV Children’s Appeal.”

He said: “That’s weird, but OK.”

So they went on sale that first weekend, back in June/July last year… and he phoned me on the Monday and said: “Oh my God! We have sold 7,000 units!”

The first wave brought in £25,000 for the STV Children’s Appeal, which I don’t regret. I’m still happy that happened, despite HMRC (the UK government’s tax authority)… We had to pay tax on it… If you’re selling goods for a charity – not donations but selling goods for a charity – you still have to pay VAT because it’s sale through goods. Because people could say they have passed it on to charity but not done it.

JOHN: Even if you get a receipt from the charity?

JANEY: It doesn’t matter. What happens is £25,000 goes into my bank account. But I can’t just give that £25,000 to STV and say to HMRC: “Oh, I gave it all away to charity.” I have to pay VAT on the income, because they don’t see it as charity money; they see it as you making £25,000. I still have to pay VAT on it. So about £4,000 or £5,000 went to HMRC.

JOHN: And are you still donating your profit on those items to STV?

JANEY: No. The STV Children’s Appeal stopped. But now 100% of my profit on my Emotional Lifejacket merchandise goes to the Scottish Carers’ Trust. I don’t get a penny of that myself. If you buy anything from my website that’s got Emotional Lifejacket on it, 100% of my profit goes to the Carers’ Trust. We also did a 12-hour telethon for the Carers’ Trust and so far, all-in-all, we have raised about £50,000 for charity during lockdown.

JOHN: You branched into other merchandise…

JANEY: Well Ian Adie and I just clicked. He said: “We’ll do gin; we’ll do candles”… Then my daughter Ashley came up with this beautiful range – Neural Funky – because she was diagnosed with autism during lockdown… which was quite hard for her because we had always just thought that she was (LAUGHS) a bit weird… But, y’know…

JOHN: So now you have Janey Godley merchandise, Ashley Storrie merchandise and even Honey your dachshund has merchandise.

JANEY: Yes, Honey is now an earner. She cost us £8,000 when she nearly died the year before last, so…

JOHN: You’re on a roll. You survived having zero live comedy income for the last year and…

JANEY: My agent is very good. Every single day now we have to have a morning meeting where we go through the various offers that have come through. This morning (NAME BRAND) wanted me to do an advert for (A NOT INCONSIDERABLE SUM) and he said: “No, it’s not enough.”

I go back on tour in the Autumn, have one day off and then go straight into rehearsals for (A NOT-YET ANNOUNCED PROJECT).

JOHN: Penguin have just re-issued your 2005 autobiography Handstands in the Dark with a new cover, you have the new audiobook of Handstands in the Dark out now and your first novel is published by Hodder & Stoughton next year. Penguin must have suddenly realised how good you are if they’re bringing out an audio book after all this time.

The new unabridged audio version now on sale, read by Janey

JANEY: No! The audio book is published by Hodder & Stoughton. Penguin didn’t want to do the audio version, so Hodder said We want to do it! and bought the audio rights from Penguin.

JOHN: Penguin are mad. You are on a roll not just in the UK but in the US because of your Trump sign.

JANEY: And Hodder want me to write another book.

JOHN: Fiction or non-fiction?

JANEY: Fiction.

JOHN: You should do a sequel to your Handstands in the Dark autobiography. It ends on a cliffhanger. You could go from the end of the first book to some new climactic point – the Trump Is a Cunt sign maybe.

Janey’s iconic comment went viral and is now available as a greetings card from her online shop.

JANEY: I don’t think I want to, John.

ASHLEY (IN THE BACKGROUND, FROM THE KITCHEN): Mum! We keep getting people saying: When’s the next book in that series coming out!

JANEY: (BIG THEATRICAL SIGH)

ASHLEY: You have the distinct privilege that you can talk about the changing fucking dynamics of women in stand-up comedy from the 1990s to now. You have the excessive privilege that you can explain that to people who don’t understand it. You can explain what the fuck you had to go through so they can now get upset about an ‘inappropriate’ man brushing their arse!

(PAUSE)

JOHN: Anyway… The novel you’ve written which is coming out next year – Was it easy to write?

JANEY: It was so hard to write it in lockdown. For one thing I had just had shingles. Plus my confidence was shot-to-fuck and I was really, really busy doing all the other stuff. I couldn’t focus on being creative because I kept on panicking that We’re all gonna die! So I was writing bits but kept on fixing bits and kept on fixing bits and…

Then Ashley and I were stood in the kitchen one night and she said to me: “Just fucking write it! If it’s shite, just write all the shite out of your system. It’s a vomit draft. Get it all out!” So I did.

Janey Godley and Ashley Storrie – the dynamic duo of Scottish comedy (Photo: Andrew Laing)

I sent the ‘vomit draft’ off to Hodder and they got back to me after a week and said it was one of the best first drafts they’d ever had. They said it was publishable as it was, but the editing process since then has been really good.

Epilepsy Scotland gave me their offices to write it in and I got a researcher, Caitlin, who was fucking great.

Another Janey Sunday Times bestseller

JOHN: And, in the meantime, you published Frank Get The Door!

JANEY: I didn’t think it would sell but, fuck, did it sell! It was in the Sunday Times bestseller list. 

JOHN: Your videos go viral, so presumably there are sales of Frank Get The Door! worldwide because you are now known worldwide.

JANEY: And I’m about to write a Honey book – a family-friendly book.

JOHN: You will make Honey immortal.

JANEY: (LAUGHS) How are you now, John?

JOHN: Same as before.

JANEY: Can I be the headline act at your funeral when you die?

JOHN: Sure.

ASHLEY (FROM THE KITCHEN): Would you not rather have me? I’ve got TV credits. I’m just saying I’m in three upcoming television series.

JANEY: Yeah. You might be better with her headlining your funeral.

JOHN: How about you both as joint headliners?

ASHLEY: I don’t share my billing, but thankyou for the offer.

JANEY & ASHLEY: (LAUGHTER)


Janey’s main website is at http://www.janeygodley.com

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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.

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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

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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  a future appointment.

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).
 
Life is but a surreal dream, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing….

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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.

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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…

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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

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