Category Archives: Cabaret

Martin Besserman brings Alternative Variety to the London comedy circuit

It’s Camden Cabaret and the man behind it…

Martin Besserman, host of the long-established London comedy club Monkey Business is starting another night on Friday this week at his regular venue – the Pembroke Castle in Primrose Hill/Chalk Farm… It is not altogether comedy, though there will be some.

So we had a chat about it in his car, because it was raining. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? It was bloody wet.


JOHN: So, your new Camden Cabaret night. It involves burlesque. Will you be getting your kit off?

MARTIN: (LAUGHS) The most I’m likely to do is show a nipple. Those days of me showing a bit of my body – which I used to do at Speaker’s Corner – are long gone.

JOHN: You’re a long-time comedy venue runner. So why are you starting it? Bottom fallen out of comedy?

MARTIN: Well, all businesses are challenging. I was once a market trader. Before that, I was in a band and this is part of my journey in life. I’ve always been attracted to providing entertainment.

JOHN: So from band to street market to comedy to stripping.

MARTIN: I think stripping is an exaggeration. These days, stripping completely naked is rare. The emphasis is more on the creative aspect. I have gone through something like 150 different clips to identify the more creative and funny burlesque performers.

JOHN: How you suffer for your art…

MARTIN: (LAUGHS) But the shows are not just burlesque. It’s a real variety show.

“I was in a band” – Martin was performing in the mid-1980s…

JOHN: You know I have this obsession that, when Alternative Comedy first started in the mid-1980s, you would see a magician, a juggler, a comedian, all sorts of bizarre acts on the bill. Now you go to a comedy club and it’s six 24-year-old white blokes talking about wanking and how they watch porn.

MARTIN: And variety was on the bill before the 1980s as well. Bruce Forsyth and Ken Dodd and all those people. Our shows will have burlesque and drag artists and comedians and magicians. The character of the night will be one of unpredictability.

JOHN: Ironically, a lot of those old-school comics learnt their trade dying terrible on-stage deaths to apathetic audiences in between strippers at The Windmill.

MARTIN: Well, the new type of burlesque has really taken off in a big way. It is huge. Once there was an awareness that I was going to host this kind of night, a lot of performers – more than I had ever envisaged – were sending me their clips and wanting to get on the night. Perhaps in recognition that Monkey Business has been hugely successful over many, many years.

JOHN: Will you be having comics like (I NAMED A SPECIFIC COMIC) on the Camden Cabaret bill?

MARTIN: Well, we are living in a completely different political environment and it’s a dilemma for me to allow people to be a little bit rebellious on stage without offending customers who you want to return.

JOHN: So the punters won’t be offended by tits and bums, but they might be offended by (THE SPECIFIC COMIC I NAMED).

MARTIN: And you know why also? Because the burlesque performers are primarily feminists.

JOHN: Really?

Martin starts to prepare for the big night on Friday

MARTIN: Well, you gotta understand there would certainly be feminists opposed to the idea of women taking their clothes off and potentially turning men on. But – again – I have to say this is not about women taking their clothes off. This is about Art and we have some really, really creative performers. There’s a marvellous hula-hoop girl. Not all of the burlesque performers take their clothes off. 

On the night that Stephen Bailey is hosting – because I’m taking a back seat on some of these – he has an act on called Soul Illusion, a wonderful magic dance act.

What I’m trying to bring to this night is unpredictability. And it’s all about costumes as well. I’m trying to create a combination of old fashioned AND new entertainment. By doing that, we will hopefully cater for all.

It’s a cabaret night that happens to have a bit of burlesque in it. And comedy. And drag. But not always drag and not necessarily always burlesque.

It will cater for the straight AND the gay community. I should point out that The Black Cap in Camden closed about five years ago. It was a gay pub before homosexuality was even legal. (Homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1967) It did temporarily relocate to another venue in Camden, but it was very very short-lived.

I am not saying that Camden Cabaret will be a replacement for The Black Cap, but I hope Camden Cabaret will cater for that community as well.

JOHN: A bit like the late lamented Madame Jojo’s in Soho, then…?

MARTIN: Yes.

JOHN: And Camden Cabaret is not replacing Monkey Business but is running in tandem…

“I’m trying to create a combination of old fashioned AND new entertainment…”

MARTIN: Yes. Monkey Business is at the Pembroke Castle on Thursdays and Saturdays… and Camden Cabaret is on Fridays.

JOHN: You have President Obonjo appearing on your second Camden Cabaret show – presumably not stripping – and the wonderful Malcolm Hardee Award winning Candy Gigi compering your third and fourth nights.

MARTIN: Yes. For what I want to achieve with this kind of night – unpredictability – she will be fantastic. I want it to be a crazy kinda night.

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Filed under Burlesque, Cabaret, Comedy, Drag, Gay, London

Lynn Ruth Miller, 84-year-old, on her striptease act at the Edinburgh Fringe

“Audiences screamed, cheered”

In the past few months, globe-trotting American comic Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, has blogged here about her recent gigs in PragueDublinBerlin and Paris.

Now, as this year’s Edinburgh Fringe enters its final week, she tells us about her most recent gig in Scotland’s capital…


Lynn Ruth in the Best of Burlesque show (Photograph by Carole Railton)

I spent three exhilarating evenings in Edinburgh as part of Chaz Royal’s Best of Burlesque production. My audiences screamed, cheered, whistled and yelled… but I could not hear them.  

I had left my hearing aid at home.

Women often say that doing burlesque empowers you and I have always questioned that until those three stellar nights when I rocked the house in the beautiful Palais du Variété tent at George Square Gardens.  

As I removed one layer after another singing my song about women and courage, I listened to the kind of adulation I never got when I removed my nightie for either of my husbands.  

No-one ever cheers for me when I manage to climb the stairs and emerge from the tube station.

I don’t get people stamping their feet when I pay for my groceries and use my own bag to carry them home.  

But, when I take off a pair of overalls at a burlesque show, the crowd goes mad.

That, my friends, is POWER.

By the time I had completed my run for Best of Burlesque I was certain I could march into Parliament and clean up that Brexit mess or hurry over to the White House to put Donald Trump in a corner until he came to whatever senses he has left. 

I had the balls to do ANYTHING.

I went to North Berwick to do an hour’s cabaret at The Fringe by the Sea Festival the Sunday after my Edinburgh triumph and was so super-charged and confident that I managed to sing ten songs almost in tune and only forget half the words. I was a success.

The bravado, the hubris, the sense of self-importance I got from prancing around in silk and tulle during that North Berwick hour to 28 sympathetic senior citizens carried me through as if I were a shooting star illuminating the universe instead of talking about all my failed attempts at love.

I was empowered. The audience clustered around me afterwards and one lovely woman said: ”It was so refreshing to hear someone your age talk about sex.”

I told her: “Darling I was talking about THE ABSENCE of sex… Didn’t you get it?”

But, of course, she didn’t and I haven’t either… not for years.

All those failures to impress, to make a mark, to show my mettle… all those empty moments when I hoped my charm would be noticed…  are now in the past.  

I have become a burlesque sensation. I have stripped and emerged triumphant. 

Eat your heart out Mae West 

I know a hard man is good to find, but I don’t need one.

I have balls…

Oh, and…

The trick to stripping is to come on with so many clothes that no matter how many things you take off, you still are fully covered when the music stops.

I proved that you don’t have to be naked to make people think you are taking your clothes off. 

Surprise!

(Photograph by Paul Adsett)

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Filed under Age, Burlesque, Cabaret, Comedy, Humor, Humour, Sex

Award-winning Becky Fury WON’T tell me things but WILL give you a discount

The self-effacing Becky Fury (right) with Claire Lenahan has multiple advisors on self promotion

Someone said to me the other week: “Becky Fury seems to know everybody.”

I had to agree.

Becky with her Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2016

The last time I went to see the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner’s Democratik Republik of Kabaret evening, her audience included The Establishment Club’s Mike O’Brien, acclaimed international graffiti artist Stik and British Alternative Comedy godfather/legend Tony Allen

“And now you are putting on The Alternative Christmas Party in Shoreditch,” I said to her yesterday.

“I’m doing two shows, John,” she told me. “One is The Alternative Christmas Party on 20th December. It’s a nice room, a really big room, a nice space for cabaret. At the Bridge Bar.”

“In Shoreditch,” I said, “So that will attract trendy IT people?”

“Hopefully,” said Becky, “spending money for their Christmas parties.”

“How much for the tickets?” I asked.

£20 via Eventbrite and on the door… But I will do a discount on the door for readers of your blog – It will only cost them £15 with the code words Becky Fury is Brilliant.

“They will be flying in from Guatemala in droves for it,” I enthused.

“And I’m also doing shows at the Cockpit Theatre,” Becky added.

“Near the Edgware Road in London,” I clarified, ever-thoughtful of my Guatemalan readers or reader. “So at the Cockpit you are doing what?”

“I don’t really want to go into what I’m doing.”

“I’m trying to create some interesting theatre. Anyway, I don’t really want to go into what I’m doing, otherwise people will just rip it off like they have in the past. I am just doing my thing.”

“That’s it, then,” I said. “Chat finished.”

“That’s it,” said Becky. “People will nick the idea.”

“Tell me the bits you can tell me,” I suggested. “When is the Cockpit Theatre thing?”

“February – the 12th.”

“What do you want to say about it? Heaven forfend that you would say anything to promote it.”

“I’ve been commissioned by the theatre to do a hybrid theatre cabaret gig.”

“What is a hybrid gig?” I asked. “Partly electric, partly petrol-driven?”

“I’ve been given a budget to create some cabaret around a theme.”

“And the theme is…?”

“They’re doing a Samuel Becket season at the Cockpit, so I have written Waiting for Guido. Which is the character in my play.”

“Guido Fawkes?” I asked.

“Yes. Precisely. It’s about waiting for a revolution that never happens.”

“Are you going to wear masks with beards?” I asked.

“No. There’s a couple of really good performers. Some of them are going to take on the theme more than others.”

“I suppose,” I said, “at this point in the blog, I should add in …she says intriguingly…

“The thing I don’t want to talk too much about…” said Becky

“If you like,” said Becky. “What I’m trying to do… Well, the thing I don’t want to talk too much about… is I’ve got three characters and they’re all gonna do monologues. I’ve got Geoff Steel, who is in The Alternative Christmas Party, and Jonathan Richardson, the guy who runs House of Idiot. There’s going to be people doing some circus stuff. And Trevor Lock is headlining.”

“As himself?” I asked.

“Well, he is playing the Sun,” Becky replied. “That’s what he’s been told to do.”

“How?” I asked.

“However he wants to interpret that.”

“This Cockpit Theatre thing and The Alternative Christmas Party,” I asked, “are they under the banner of The Democratik Republik of Kabaret?”

“No. I have been told it should be Becky Fury or Fury Productions.”

“Or just Becky Fury Presents,” I suggested. “You have to have a brand.”

“That is what I have been told by my friend who has managed to make his brand out of drawing stickmen.”

“Has The Democratik Republik of Kabaret disappeared?” I asked.

“It is on hold.”

“Until?” I asked.

“Until I find a better venue. But The Alternative Christmas Party is essentially an extension of what’s going on in The Democratik Republik of Kabaret.”

“What IS going on in The Democratik Republik of Kabaret?” I asked.

“It is a sort of Maoist state,” Becky replied. “No. It’s not a Maoist state,” she corrected herself. “It’s a bit like North Korea. So we will never really know. Journalists obviously are not allowed to investigate it.”

“My head hurts,” I said. “This Alternative Christmas Party in Shoreditch on 20th December… erm…”

Who is in the show?” Becky suggested.

“Comedians want to talk about themselves but”

“I never asked,” I told her. “By the sound of it, you are keeping schtum. It’s that odd thing about comedians – They want to talk about themselves but are perversely shy.”

“Well,” said Becky, “Lewis Schaffer is playing Santa Claus.”

“Will he win?” I asked.

“It depends which game they’re playing,” Becky replied.

“So Lewis Schaffer,” I said, “Jewish comedian, plays Santa Claus, Christian saint and symbol of pagan midwinter…”

“It is an Alternative Christmas Party,” Becky reminded me. “A Jewish Santa. With Lewis Schaffer as a sleazy Santa Claus… In the publicity, I wanted there to be a little imp with a strap-on and, in the show, I wanted to sexually assault boys, but I couldn’t find any boys who would let me sexually assault them.”

“That is hardly credible,” I said. “Anyone else in this sophisticated soirée?”

“There’s a Virgin Mary striptease…”

“By whom?” I asked.

“I believe Claire Lenahan, who is also doing some amazing comedy magic. And there is Geoff Steel, who is also doing my Cockpit show. He is a very interesting up-and-coming act.”

“When you say up-and-coming,” I asked, “into what is he rising and coming?”

“Are you trying to be sleazy?” Becky asked.

“I try,” I said. “Anything else happening after the show that evening?”

“A disco.”

“And who else is performing?”

“Oh – I am…. I am going to compere.”

“That is not mentioned on the flyer,” I said.

“According to my friend who has made his celebrity from drawing stickmen, I need to promote myself better. Am I allowed to say that?”

“I dunno. Are you?”

“I think so.”

Becky’s 2016 Edinburgh Fringe publicity flyer aided by Stik

“Stik did your Edinburgh Fringe poster last year.”

“Two years ago. The year I won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award. He did do that poster, so I think maybe we are going to have a collaboration next year.”

“At the Edinburgh Fringe next year?”

“Yes.”

“And the show will be…?”

Apocoloptimist.”

“Which you are trying out in…?”

Leicester in February and Brighton in May.”

“You tried out one bit in Edinburgh this year,” I said. “The bit about being in Calais.”

“Yes. Going to the Calais Jungle and, when you try to do the right thing, it goes horribly wrong…”

“Except for the lucky boy on the beach,” I said.

“You know too much,” Becky told me.

“You will have to do the full autobiographical show at some point,” I told her. “That’s what makes an impact at the Edinburgh Fringe. Laughter and tears. You were telling me some hair-raising tales from your past a few weeks ago and I was thinking: That’s a cracker of an Edinburgh show!

Becky Fury raised an eyebrow like Roger Moore.

It is an admirable skill, though difficult to divine its exact meaning.

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Filed under Cabaret, Comedy, PR

The surreal show at the Scala last night

The Scala at King’s Cross in London

Purveyor of oddities – the Scala at King’s Cross

Sometimes it is better to see shows blind.

A few months ago, I was invited to go see a show which happened last week.

By the time the day came round, I had completely forgotten who had invited me or what the show was. So I went along not knowing what to expect.

It was very good.

Much the same thing happened last night.

I went along to the Scala in London to see the Greatest Show on Legs perform during a show which I thought was probably a music event of some kind. I had not really bothered to ask.

In fact, it turned out to be a mega-variety show staged by promoters White Mischief. It was called The Haunted Halloween Ball.

Stage crew watch as The Greatest Show on Legs perform their naked balloon dance to startled Halloween-themed audience

Stage crew watch as The Greatest Show on Legs perform their naked balloon dance to a startled Halloween-themed audience

The audience dressed in Halloween costumes and the performers were of a top-notch quality which I can only compare to the level of the old Paul Daniels Show on BBC TV or ITV’s old Sunday Night at The London Palladium in its heyday (not to be confused with ITV’s misbegotten recent dog’s dinner called Sunday Night at The Palladium).

It is still relatively rare to see a wildly energetic exotic dancer with a flaming hula hoop (I mean the hoop was in flames) followed by a near-naked werewolf trapeze act.

I was talking to one of the acts in the backstage corridor later.

They told me that the buzz of performing had been amazing – like the first and only time he or she had ever taken heroin.

Showman Adam Taffler last night, as the Greatest Show on Legs prepare to perform Michael Jackson’s Thriller with rubber bands

Showman Adam Taffler last night, as the Greatest Show on Legs prepared to perform Michael Jackson’s Thriller with rubber bands

I am not sure this kind of simile should be encouraged, but there was certainly a buzz in the auditorium from a very good audience who wanted to see new things.

Showman Adam Taffler – one of the more extravagantly-dressed people backstage despite the fact he was not performing – told me he thought London audiences had now developed a taste for large-scale one-off events with strong formats. He recently staged Soirée in a Cemetery with Stewart Lee, the British Humanist Association Choir and much more.

Last night, The Haunted Halloween Ball show started at 9,30pm. It finished at 4.00am. I left at 12.30am when the show was still going strong. In the train home to Elstree, three middle-aged women were dressed as nuns. I think they were in fancy dress costume. But they might have been real.

By that time, reality and surreality had started to blur.

One of the UK’s more sensible political parties - The Monster Raving Loony Party

One of Great Britain’s more sensible political parties.

This morning, I woke up to an e-mail from mad inventor John Ward. It simply said:

“I have just had an e-mail from the Monster Raving Loony Party with a request to build something for one of their candidates in the forthcoming General Election next May.”

Like I said, reality and surreality have started to blur.

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Filed under Cabaret, Performance, Surreal

Cabaret performer Lili La Scala gets emotional over Nick Cave & a dead cat

Lilli with Rafferty Basil Danger Wills

Lili La Scala + Rafferty Basil Danger Wills

I talked to cabaret performer Lili La Scala at a famous members club in London this week. It seemed suitably suave and sophisticated. (She is a member. They not unreasonably rejected me several years ago.)

Lili is married to performer Sam Wills aka The Boy With Tape On His Face. They had a son last year They named him Rafferty Basil Danger Wills.

“Why those names?” I asked.

“Rafferty because we just liked it,” explained Lili. “And Basil was my grandfather’s name.”

“And Danger?” I asked.

“Because I just love the idea he can truthfully say: Danger is my middle name.

“And you named yourself after the Italian word for staircase?” I asked.

“I trained as an opera singer,” explained Lili, “so I named myself after La Scala opera house in Milan – or the picture house in Glasgow, whichever you prefer.”

“Why are you not an opera singer now?” I asked.

“Because I fell into the dark, dirty world of burlesque and cabaret. Well, actually, I fell into street performing first.”

“As what?” I asked.

“As an opera singer on the street. They called me The Songbird of Trafalgar Square.

“Who did?”

The Songbird of Trafalgar Square on Flickr

Songbird of Trafalgar Square attracted a following on Flickr

“One day on Flickr, I stumbled on a group dedicated to me… it was a compliment but also slightly freaky. There were about 200 pictures of me – I looked a bit unusual, with dark hair and a Fifties dress singing opera. They didn’t know what my name was, so they just put Songbird of Trafalgar Square.”

“Didn’t your voice get lost in the vast open space of Trafalgar Square?” I asked.

“The low notes did,” said Lili, “but the high notes carried because they were a higher frequency than the traffic: it was when Trafalgar Square was still a roundabout. I sang with my back to the National Gallery. I was a Swing dancer for a long time, too. My mother trained as a ballet dancer but now she’s a physio who works with performers.”

“Did you dance in Trafalgar Square?”

“No,” replied Lili. “You get sent home for dancing in Trafalgar Square.”

“And singing?” I asked.

“Yes. That too. They sent two policemen and a police car. But they just told me to go away. It would have looked ridiculous for them to arrest a girl who was much smaller than them and wearing a 1950s-looking dress.”

“Why do you dress in 1950s costumes?” I asked.

“When I was about 21,” explained Lili, “I decided if I wanted to dress like a 1950s film star I should because you only have one life and it’s important to dress like you want to.”

if I wanted to dress like a 1950s film star I should because you only have one life and it’s important to dress like you want to.

“I decided if I wanted to dress like a 1950s film star I should.”

“But then,” I said, “you went into burlesque. Why?”

“A friend of mine said one day: Have you ever thought of putting together opera and burlesque? Don’t you think it would go really well? And I thought Ooh! So I tried it and it was really good. I have a huge soft spot for the burlesque world anyway.”

“You are saying Burlesque not Cabaret,” I pointed out. “Isn’t cabaret more respectable?”

“I think burlesque is pretty respectable at the moment,” said Lili.

“I would have said you were cabaret,” I told her. “You’re Monte Carlo 1963. What’s the difference between burlesque and cabaret anyway?”

“Burlesque has more tits,” said Lili. “There was more stripping originally. American burlesque evolved into what is now big sparkly showgirl stuff whereas the English Music Hall style was much more of a send-up, making it funny, taking the piss out of stuff. Don’t get me wrong. I adore the showgirl stuff, but I just couldn’t do it. I’m too kookie and too clumsy.”

“The last couple of years at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said, “a lot of the funniest stuff has not been in the Comedy section but the Cabaret section. I loved your show last year Another Fucking Variety Show. You’re a very good compere.”

There are, inevitably, clips on YouTube.

“It’s really funny,” said Lili. “Everyone thinks I’m this cool, in-command person.”

“Well,” I said, “Lili La Scala couldn’t do a really emotional show, could she?”

Lilli La Scala created emotional War Notes

Lili La Scala created emotional War Notes

“Rubbish!” said Lili. “When I decided I wanted to stop doing street performing, the first solo show I created was about my first love: vintage songs, because I grew up watching movie musicals. So I created a show called War Notes – songs from World War One and Two, but I wanted to make them more relevant. So I found letters from servicemen in current conflicts. This was 2010, so the wars were Afghanistan and Iraq. The letters were the ones that said: If you are reading this, I’ve been killed.

“I found them on Google and wrote to a member of the family of the service personnel. It was fairly gut-wrenching researching them but I found a lot of the sentiment in the letters was really similar to the sentiment in the songs, even though they were sometimes separated by almost a full century in time.

“I had friends and knew boyfriends of friends who were serving in Afghanistan. I performed the whole month of Edinburgh and it was a really emotional show – to listen to those letters every night.”

“What did you do immediately after the show?” I asked.

“I went out and got very drunk.”

“And the next show after that?” I asked.

“After that, I created Songs To Make You Smile which was just an hour of comedy songs from 1920-1950, real British variety. That has toured ever since – Sweden, New Zealand, Australia and all over the place.”

Lilli’s new show - not in Edinburgh until 2015

The new show – not in Edinburgh until 2015

“My new solo show Siren is on 21st June at the London Wonderground – the closest thing London has to a cabaret festival. I just did it in Adelaide and it was very well-received there. I attempt to sing stuff I’ve never sung before, which is wonderfully challenging for me.”

“But you’ve sung 1930s standards and opera and music hall songs,” I said. “there’s nothing much left.”

“Well, there’s some Tom Waits,” said Lili. “All the songs in the show are about the sea and journeys and travelling and some are really emotional for me.

“There’s one – Nick Cave’s Ship Song…

“I got very emotional when I sang it, because it reminded me a lot about a love affair I had when I was very young which went horrifically wrong and it had left me utterly broken-hearted. He said I could be his girl in London but he wanted to have an open relationship and I’m not really an open relationship kind of girl. I attempted it because I really, really loved him, but I ended up giving him an ultimatum saying: Look, we have heaps of fun together, but I can’t do this. We can either be together – just us – or not… And he chose Not.

“I thought I’d dealt with it back then but it turned out I’d just buried it under the patio. To find out it was still festering was an emotional shock for me.

“Then he turned up in town and we bumped into each other because – of course – we have the same circle of friends. We hadn’t spoken for eight years, so it was awkward. He said he was having an open relationship with his girlfriend. He said: If I could have been with just one someone, it would have been you… or maybe the girl I dated the year after you… He said he couldn’t even own a refrigerator. Too much commitment.”

“It’s alright for a spoken word performer to well-up emotionally,” I said, “but, if you’re singing and genuinely well-up, your voice won’t recover from that for – what? – 10 seconds?”

“Really,” explained Lili, “what you’re aiming for is several glistening tears rolling down your cheek. I was genuinely very tearful when I sang it. Then he came to the show and it gave me that moment to say all the stuff I wanted to say to him without him having any way of going But… but… but… By the end of it, I was Oh. I’m done now. It’s over. That’s fine. we’re done.”

“So what happened the next time you sang the song?” I asked.

“I then had to find some other way of creating that emotion in me that affects the audience because, obviously, I like the way it emotionally affects the audience.”

This bemused creature has a dog’s life

This beloved bemused creature has a dog’s life

“So how did you find that?”

“I thought about my dead cat.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes.”

“How many cats do you have?”

“Five cats and two dogs. The dogs are utterly cowed, though the dachshund is like a little dictator, perhaps because he’s German.”

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Filed under Cabaret, Comedy, Music

Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma on clowns, feminists, being a schizophrenic Fascist singer and living in a cave in Canada

nellyscott_24sept2013_cut

Nelly aka Zuma Puma talked to me in London this week

I have blogged three times before about the charismatic Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma – about her schizophrenic Fascist singing Nancy Sanazi character at the Edinburgh Fringe in Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II and at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show… as part of the Fringe show Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret… and last week as host of the weekly Lost Cabaret club shows in London.

But I have never been sure how to categorise her. Actress, comedian, clown, puppeteer, singer/songwriter? She seems to do ’em all. I also made the initial mistake of thinking she was from the US. Never a good thing.

“I’m Canadian,” she reminded me this week. “Originally from St Catherines, Ontario near Toronto. Well, actually, I’m from everywhere. We moved around a lot.”

Zuma Puma grabbed two audience members last night

Nelly as Zuma Puma at the weekly Lost Cabaret club shows

“So what did you want to be as a kid?” I asked. “An actress?”

“My mother is a theatre director and my father’s a set designer,” Nelly/Zuma told me, “So I was just like doing theatre forever.”

In fact, aged 12, she was also dancing with Canada’s Opera Atelier. When she was 17, she had an award-winning role at one of Canada’s most prestigious theatres – the Shaw Festival Theatre.

“I was one of the witches in The Crucible in a 6-month run in the main stage,” she told me (without mentioning the award she got).

“That was when it all started,” she told me. “The woman who played Abigail in The Crucible became a great mentor for me and she had studied at Canada’s National Theatre School, which is where I wanted to go. But she said: Don’t go to the National Theatre School. I spent four years there and then I went to L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Paris and re-did it all and now I’m getting all the work… Gaulier’s a genius. If you can, just go straight to him.

Philippe Gaulier, memorable mime muse and more of Paris

Philippe Gaulier, memorable mime muse and more of Paris

“So, when I finished high school in Canada, I went to study with Philippe Gaulier in Paris. I showed up there thinking I was this very serious actress and just flopped every day for about six months. Every day I’d come on and Philippe Gaulier would say Oh you are this boring Canadian little rabbit lost in the forest taking a poo poo. Oh she is so beautiful. Wow. You love her. You want to fuck her every night of your life. That’s what he’d say every day and then he’d ask someone I had had a crush on in the class and they would say No, she’s a boring rabbit poo poo in the Canadian forest.”

“This sounds like some cult breaking down your personality,” I said.

“But I WAS shit,” insisted Nelly/Zuma. “He was training us to find the magic, to know how to identify it when we were on our own. And so, after six months of flopping every day trying to be this serious actress, we started the character section – character/clown/comedy – and I came out the first day and I stayed on stage for 15 minutes and everyone was laughing and I’d never… It was the best moment of my life… For some reason, all this time I’d thought I was a serious actress and it turned out that I was a lot funnier than I thought I was.”

“And after that you went back to Canada?” I asked.

Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at Edinburgh Fringe 2013

Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at Edinburgh Fringe 2013

“I went from Paris back to Victoria, British Columbia,” said Nelly/Zuma, “where I lived in a cave with a man named Caveman Dan and then I hitchhiked to California and around California. I was singing at this time – R&B, Blues, jazz and a little bit hip-hop.”

“With bands?” I asked.

“Yeah, doing stuff with producers and musicians and all sorts of people for years. I ended up teaching at a circus school in Costa Rica, met a band there and toured with them to Peru for ten months. Kind of just being an idiot on the road.

“After that, I decided I wanted to finish my clown school in Montreal because I’d sort of started it and done little bits here and there.”

In fact, she studied puppetry at the Banff Arts Centre, completing L’Ecole Clown et Comedie with Gaulier’s Protege and Cirque du Soleil’s first clowns Francine Côté and James Keylon in Montreal.

“I had just finished the clown school,” Nelly/Zuma told me, “when my grandfather passed away in 2012 – he was British. We all came here for the funeral and, afterwards, my parents asked me When do you want to leave? and I said Give me an open flight and I’ll figure it out. Then I went to Buddhafield and met Adam Oliver (her cohort in Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at the Edinburgh Fringe) at a hippie festival and came to London to visit Annie Bashford who I’d gone to Gaulier with.

Nelly as Nancy Sanazi at the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show

Nelly: Nancy Sanazi at the Edinburgh Fringe

“She was playing Anne Stank (a singing Anne Frank) in Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night gigs with Agent Lynch playing Nancy Sanazi. Then Agent Lynch got picked up to perform with La Clique and Annie suggested me to Pete (Frank Sanazi) as his new Nancy Sanazi; I was only staying with her for a week.

“After doing Nancy Sanazi at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, we had a few gigs lined up and Pete said Stay a couple of months so I said I’d stay until Christmas and I was also doing a double act with Annie back then – we were called Grumpy Lettuce.

“At the end of October, we did a show at Lost Theatre in London and the artistic director wanted to start up a cabaret night called Lost Cabaret at the Priory Arms in Stockwell and was looking for a compere, so I did that.”

“You’re certainly busy,” I said. “Do you have an agent?”

“No, I’d like one. Actually, I don’t know what’s happening with the Adam Lost Cabaret at the moment. He’s so busy producing a million and one things… Maybe we’ll do some double acty stuff in various places.”

“And then you’ve got these London Play Group workshops for adults that start next Wednesday,” I asked, trying to be helpful. “What are they about?”

Nelly (left) & Annie - Grumpy Lettuce

Nelly (left) & Annie – Grumpy Lettuce

“Well, replied Nelly/Zuma, “a bunch of adults will come and we’ll get absolutely ridiculous, have loads of fun, play ridiculous games together – just like playful children’s games – improvisation, clown games – like how to find your ridiculous self, how to become free in your self-expression on stage and how to bring that play into life. That’s what we’re exploring. Finding pleasure in life, connecting to people in a playful community and making friends with this hub of people who feel they don’t have enough play or laughter in their life because we’re forced to live this adult lifestyle. Finding a way to be ridiculous.

“I’m also starting a feminist theatre show as part of a group of four people. We’re just starting to talk about it. We feel there’s loads of feminist festivals all over the country that we’d love to tour with our bizarre show. We feel there’s a lot of angry feminists who have made it all about angry women who hate men and we want to bring it back to equality and involve men in feminist theatre and say a man can be a feminist too.”

“So there are men involved?”

“Dan Lees,” said Nelly, “who was in Moonfish Rhumba.”

“And so the bizarreness continues,” I said.

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9 things I did not blog about this week

There are always stories and incidents which do not fit comfortably in my normal daily blogs and get lost like tears in rain, as Rutger Hauer might say.

This week, amongst other things:

Mat Ricardo - the gentleman juggler of comedy

Mat Ricardo – the man with a potential TV show

ONE

I went to the last ever Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties show at the Leicester Square Theatre which started with the unbilled Heather Holliday walking on stage with a stick and a plate. She used the stick to spin the plate.

Fair enough.

Then an assistant came on stage with a sword and a hula hoop.

Heather replaced the stick with the sword, spinning the plate on the sword’s hilt, then dropped the sword’s blade down her upturned throat – while still spinning the plate – and started hula hooping.

And THAT was just the start of an extraordinary show.

It should be a TV series.

The Dark Room - could be bound to please

John Robertson & wife Jo wake in a dark garage

TWO

On the same night at Leicester Square Theatre, I saw John Robertson’s The Dark Room again – a preview for his upcoming Edinburgh Fringe run. An amazing show based on his 2012 YouTube hit.

John recently got married in a chicken shed in Australia – I blogged about it – and he and his lovely wife Jo have now re-located from Perth in Australia to Brighton in England. Until they go up to the Fringe, they are living in Jo’s sister’s garage in Brighton.

When they return from Edinburgh, more conventional accommodation has been arranged.

Escaped kangaroo’s Bohemian rhapsody

Escaped kangaroo’s Bohemian rhapsody

THREE

Meanwhile, in surprise news from the Czech Republic, Scots ex-pat Alexander Frackleton, who currently lives there, sent me an e-mail:

“A kangaroo is on the loose in northern Bohemia,” he told me. “It escaped from the backyard of its owner on Tuesday night near the north Bohemian town of Lovosice. The owner found a hole in the fence and realised his pet kangaroo was missing on Wednesday morning after being alerted by the police that a kangaroo had been spotted in nearby villages. Although a number of people are reported to have seen the kangaroo (named Joey), no-one has yet re-captured him and the owner has recruited a friend with a private helicopter to help him look for the marsupial.”

“Keep me up-to-date on this,” I begged him.

“The kangaroo is still on the loose,” he told me the next day, “But two weeks ago, there was a wild boar running around the 10th, 11th & 12th districts of Prague… It took police three hours to catch him and eight policemen to pin him down. There is never a dull moment in the Czech Republic.”

Alex tells me he is looking forward to meeting comedian and So it Goes blog regular Matt Roper in mid August, when he passes through Prague.

“I’m going to take him on an alternative sight-seeing trip,” Alex tells me, “by visiting places and things connected to the old regime – including The Tunnel of Intelligence, which was constructed by political prisoners of the communists during the 1950s. Stuff like that. There is also a museum of Totalitarianism which will probably be the first port of call.”

The same day, back in London:

John Park 3

This man knows too much about Hellfire Club

FOUR

I had tea with former Fringe Report editor John Park. We had an interesting discussion about the Bible, theology and Roman Catholicism and he told me about a gay whipping club just off Trafalgar Square, merely a short blood-stained crawl from Whitehall.

John has no interest in such things himself but he did know an unhealthy amount about Sir Francis Dashwood’s 18th century Hellfire Club which was held in the caves near High Wycombe.

I was able to tell him about the defence bunker at High Wycombe and the fact that the adorably wonderful but sadly being fast forgotten entertainer Marti Caine used to live there.

In High Wycombe, not in the bunker.

She once told me – truthfully – that she was perfectly happy just being a housewife and Hoovering the living room, but people kept phoning her up offering ludicrous amounts of money to do showbiz things. She was one of the sanest entertainers I ever met. And was dying from cancer. She died in 1995. So it goes.

Which brings us inevitably to:

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Malcolm Hardee with prized sock

FIVE

Malcolm Hardee, who drowned in 2005. So it goes.

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Malcolm and fellow comedian Ricky Grover breaking into a zoo and encountering a silverback gorilla. Comedian John Moloney has now told me a story from many years ago when he was up at the Edinburgh Fringe with Malcolm.

“I was lying in my bed one afternoon with a lovely lady,” John told me, “when Malcolm knocks on the bedroom door and comes in – naked of course, apart from his socks.

“He’s got a tenner in his hand and says to my lady friend, as he waves the tenner in the air: Oy Oy – Show us your tits.

“She says (as she flashes her tits): You can have this one for free.

“Malcolm turns on his heels and says: Oy Oy I’m off for a wank. Sublime.”

“It’s the wearing of the socks that makes that story,” I told John.

“There were wooden floors,” he explained, “so Malcolm didn’t want to get cold – He was always very practical about his masturbation.”

Candy Gigi at last night’s Pull The Other One

Cereal offender Candy Gigi – last night’s Pull The Other One

SIX

At last night’s Pull The Other One comedy club show in South East London, Martin Soan said to me: “I must tell you the story about Malcolm and the kangaroo.”

“Not another one,” I said.

“You haven’t heard this one,” said Martin.

“I meant Not another kangaroo,” I said.

Martin looked at me, ignored the comment, then told me The Greatest Show On Legs will be performing in Switzerland in December.

“Have you been there before?” I asked, as I know Martin hates flying.

“Yes,” he told me. “I drove there and, at the border, we were stopped and questioned by a very serious-looking Swiss Border Guard. I thought Oh Jesus, we’re in for trouble here! But what he told us was: You will have to wash the car before you can come into the country. They are very clean, the Swiss.

SEVEN

Clean but with an occasional taste for filthy things, Kate Copstick, legendary comedy reviewer for The Scotsman newspaper and a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge since they started, this week got an e-mail from comedy group Late Night Gimp Fight, drawing her attention to their scantily-clad video attempt on YouTube to curry favour with her. See it HERE

I can only dream of such honey traps and not involving other men.

Jon on the final Friday of the Emporium, Greenwich

Jon on final Friday at the Emporium, Greenwich

EIGHT

Yesterday was a sad day in South East London. The Emporium vintage clothes shop in Greenwich – which supplied Malcolm Hardee with many of his clothes – is closing tomorrow, though it will continue online.

Co-owner Jonathan Hale was arranging everything – the shop has been there for 27 years.

But Greenwich’s loss may be Hollywood’s gain, as Jon and partner Jacki Cook can now turn their attention more to their successful movie costume business.

Ricky Grover amid the glamour of South Mimms service station

Ricky Grover was originally to be on BBC TV’s Secret Killers

NINE

Good news, though, came in the form of a section of that chat I had with Ricky Grover a couple of days ago. It was in a section which I did not include in my previous blog.

I had read that he had been diagnosed with diabetes.

“There’s a two-hour BBC TV show coming on called Long Live Britain,” he told me. “It was originally called Secret Killers but they changed the title.

“They had three of us so-called celebrities.

“We done a couple of tests and it showed up that I had Type 2 diabetes and I had a bit of scarring (fibrosis) on me liver. But they’re reversible things. I’m not on any medication.”

“You don’t need injections for the diabetes?” I asked.

“No, that’s more Type One,” Ricky told me. “If you get anyone who’s middle-aged and overweight like me and you do tests… I’m only a little borderline over.”

“I had a BUPA test two years ago,” I told Ricky, “and they found I had the lungs of a 38-year-old. I had another BUPA test a couple of months ago and they said I had the lungs of a 39-year-old. The bad news is he wants them back. But enough about me.”

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Filed under Australia, Cabaret, Comedy, Czech Republic, Edinburgh, Switzerland, UK