Category Archives: Christmas

Increasingly confusing times for Christmas but not for Paul Kerensa

I was in Oxford Street in London last week. The Christmas street lights are already up and shops have special Christmas sections already open.

It is early October.

A couple of weeks ago, my TV went up the spout and I am thinking I might wait until the January sales to buy a new one. The January sales now start in mid or early December.

I blame Christians for this. They started it.

This mucking-around with dates.

I was saying to comic-and-now-author Paul Kerensa that I have never understood the Christian festivals. I know, obviously, that the reason Christmas and Easter were positioned where they are was to smother the pre-existing pagan end-of-year and Spring festivals. But what on earth were the early Christians thinking about?

Father Christmas before the Coca Cola marketing colours finally took over

The end of the year is all about endings and the death of the old.

Spring is all about re-birth and new starts.

So what’s with this ridiculous back-to-front symbolism of Jesus being born at the end of Nature’s annual life-cycle and dying in the Springtime?

It’s not as if it even makes any Biblical sense.

According to the Bible, Jesus was born in the Spring – the shepherds were tending their new-born lambs in the fields; and there is no hint of what time of year he was crucified.

So that would have been perfect. The lamb of God was born in the Spring with the real lambs at the symbolic re-birth of the natural annual cycle of life. And it would make perfect sense and have no Biblical complications to have him die at the same time as the death of the old year and the end of Nature’s annual life/death cycle.

So celebrate Jesus’ birth at Easter and his death at Christmas.

And you could still smother the pagan festivals.

What were they thinking of?

The ever-interested & interesting Paul Kerensa

I was droning on about this to Paul Kerensa – who managed to retain a mask of interest – because he was having his book launch. He has just written Hark! The Biography of Christmas.

I think the Christmas book-buying season starts in October and runs to the middle of December. Obviously, people don’t actually buy books as Christmas presents AT Christmas. That would be silly.

Paul tells me that “the original print run has already completely sold out, and the book is on its 2nd reprint already” – It was published in September – so October is the perfect time to launch it.

For all that the British comedy club business is said to be in decline, the British appetite for comedy and comedians seems to continue unabated.

At the time of writing, Sarah Millican’s book How To Be Champion tops the Sunday Times bestseller list and all four top places are books written by comics – the others are Russell Brand’s Recovery, Adam Kay’s This Is Going To Hurt and David Jason’s Only Fools and Stories.

Paul Kerensa’s new book is, as the title suggests – Hark! The Biography of Christmas – all about Yuletide facts and fictions – answers to all the festive questions you might ask and some you would never have thought to ask, like…

Paul Kerensa – the man with all the answers

– Was St Nicholas the first to use an automatic door?

– Which classic Christmas crooners were inspired by a Hollywood heatwave?

– Did King Herod really have a wife called Doris?

Jeremy Vine says: “I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about Christmas until I read this brilliant book”.

Me too. And Paul was able to set my mind at rest. He told me it is unlikely I will get arrested for celebrating Christmas.

When I last heard, there was still a Cromwellian law on the statute books banning the celebration of Christmas.

Although he was less reassuring about the legality of eating mince pies.

And, as if hedging his bets, half the mince pies supplied for the book launch were actually apple pies.

Intentionally.

DJ/presenter Chris Evans says Paul is: “A brilliant writer, fantastic communicator, deep thinker and extremely decent bloke”. I agree.

And, with plugs on the back cover from Miranda Hart and Noddy Holder of Slade, no wonder the book was on its 2nd reprint before it was launched.

Here’s Noddy…

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A Canadian Christmas in London, 1979

I asked Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, if she had any memories of Christmases past. She sent me this about a time when she was an exotic dancer and comedy performer.


Anna Smith in 1979

Anna Smith in London in 1979

The second time I went to England, on the QE2 liner, was in mid-November 1979. Traveling on the QE2 was cheaper than the plane fare. Ian McKellen was on the ship and he gave a little lecture about acting. He had a Q&A afterwards, but I didn’t ask him anything.

When I arrived, I had £30 pounds in cash and the address of the Nell Gwyn club in Soho, where I stayed for seven years. I worked at the Nell Gwyn/Gargoyle Club and ended up living in a house on Royal College Street in Camden full of actors and strippers and comics and an ape expert (Peter Elliott) but they all went to their parents’ houses for Christmas so I was left alone for my first Christmas in London.

It was unusually snowy that year and I got very ill from running around Soho taking my clothes off in different clubs.

So I relaxed in bed. I don’t recall quite which bed, but likely it was the ape man’s, since he probably was the only one who could afford a television.

He used to lie in bed and get woken up by calls from his agent for auditions or odd jobs like teaching Romanian child acrobats to imitate chimpanzees. One time his agent called and asked if he wanted to go to Canada, to work on a film called Quest for Fire. He was an actor and ape expert… Still is. Any British movie about apes for the last forty years, he’s been in or consulted on it.

The first time I met him, he had just returned from Birmingham with a huge white bandage on one of his fingers. A female chimpanzee had tried to rape him.

Ian Hinchliffe in the 1980s

Comedy legend Ian Hinchliffe ate glass but was not an acrobat

I think he was from an acrobat family…. Do they have many of those in Yorkshire?  Who knows?

But Yorkshire produced Ian Hinchliffe who was no acrobat, though he did perform tricks with broken glass.

Anyway, Peter Elliott, the ape expert, was a Desmond Morris fanatic; he advised me to read The Naked Ape and was not mean to me about being an ignorant Canadian.

One lady who lived in that house was very aloof about me and she was always pointing out how inferior people from the Colonies were. One time we were both heading into central London at the same time. I don’t know where she was off to but I was on my way to work and a bit late. It was very snowy and when I saw our bus rushing towards us I flagged it as if it was a taxi, even though we were not at a bus stop. She looked appalled and said sternly: “This is London – We don’t flag the bus here!”

But the bus stopped right in front of us and we both got onto it.

Really, I never have had any problems flagging a bus. One time I did it during a sandstorm in Sydney. Because of the storm I was the only passenger, so the driver took me all the way home. I think he had just finished his shift.

As for that lady who was so mean and had not appreciated that I had flagged the bus for her so, when she went out of town, I slept with her boyfriend who did not seem to think I was inferior at all.

Anyhow, I had an interesting Christmas alone in that tall four story townhouse. in Royal College Street.

I did not have much food, but I enjoyed watching television because there were so many talk shows, though I did not know who any of the guests were or have any idea what they were talking about. It was all very interesting because I was trying to figure out stuff like Why is Esther Rantzen so important to British people?

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein, c 1983/1884

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein, in a London graveyard c1984

I phoned my mother in Vancouver to tell her I was fine in London making friends with lots of fantastic strippers and nice men who were ape impersonators or who wrote poetry about their glasses (John Hegley) with friends who pretended they were dead (Tony Green) and who wrote songs about stomping on their cats (Tony De Meur). Also there was a very nice gay actor who had sex with a woman once because he was very professional and said he wanted to know what it felt like in case it ever came up at an audition.

We were all very responsible and only one of the men had ever got a woman pregnant (a comedian who is now a big Name).

I did not mention to my mother the man from British Telecom who somehow had ended up at our parties, because he was a bit older and I did not want her to worry.

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984. She borrowed the cat

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984… She had to borrow the cat

“Thank God you’re alright,” my mother had told me. “I was so worried when I didn’t hear from you for a month.”

Then she told me she had phoned Scotland Yard to ask them to look for me. Scotland Yard told my mother that hundreds of girls disappear in London every day so not to call them for another six months.

I stayed for seven years in London.

I had to keep leaving to go dance in Belgium because of UK visa restrictions.

I was constantly in trouble over my work permit in Belgium and eventually I had up go to a Belgian doctor in London’s Harley Street to get my vaccines updated and a certificate saying I was mentally fit to strip in Belgium.

Once in Brussels, we had to sign elaborate contracts in quadruplicate in French and Flemish which had hundreds of items including that if we were performing trapeze or with wild animals we were responsible for obtaining our own insurance.

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Filed under Christmas, London, Nostalgia

Something to do together on Thursdays

A 19th century Christmas card by Louis Prang, showing a group of anthropmorphized frogs parading with banner and band

19th century Christmas card by Louis Prang, showing some anthropomorphised frogs celebrating

With one of the Christmas cards I received from the US this year was one of those A4 printed “update” sheets on “what we did this year”.

I seldom care.

But I thought I would share this brief extract as a useful tip for what to do on Thursdays:


Every Thursday, we rise early in the morning, check the newspaper for estate sales and head out.

In the middle of the day, we get home and congratulate ourselves for buying nothing.

We have checked out every room of a stranger’s house, as well as a lifetime of their quirky collections.


With equal irrelevance, here is a 92-second song from Oh What a Lovely War! – arguably a simile for life in general.

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Tis the season to be jolly – now comic Lewis Schaffer converts to Christianity?

Steve Frost caught in flagrante delicto with capitalist caviar

Frost caught in flagrante delicious with capitalist caviar

Yesterday, I went to the annual Christmas party thrown by comic Charmian Hughes and husband David Don’t. On reflection, ‘annual Christmas party’ might be tautology. Anyway, a good time was, as always, had by all the tight-packed throng including writer and troublemaker Mark Kelly who insisted I take a photo of esteemed thespian Stephen Frost eating caviar and thus demonstrating he had given up his youthful ambitions to change the world and abolish elitism.

I should point out that the caviar was from Lidl, apparently retails for less than the cost of a Big Mac and comes not from sturgeon but from capelin, a small forage fish found in the Arctic.

I have no idea what a forage fish is, but its slimy bits can apparently legitimately be classed as caviar.

Charmian Hughes offers me her bras

Charmian Hughes shows me her bras last night

As I left the party, Charmian Hughes gave me a plastic bag filled with bras which, I was told, I had to give to comedy critic Kate Copstick for her Mama Biashara charity. I asked no questions, but I can only assume they are destined for some bemused and heavily bosomed Kenyan women.

Tomorrow, with Kate Copstick chairing, the last live Grouchy Club meeting of this year (all welcome) involves comedy industry chat + some OTTness from Ada Campe + mulled cider + nibbles provided by the aforementioned Copstick. Usually, she bites.

There is an oft-used but admittedly here irrelevant Scots saying: “Many a mickle maks a muckle”.

“Many people make mulled wine,” Copstick tells me, “but I’m Scottish, therefore I’m cheap, therefore I make mulled cider, but it’s lovely and it’s still alcoholic and it is absolutely delicious. There will be nibbles and chocolate in almost every conceivable form, plus crispy things, possibly dippy things and cakey things.”

Lewis Schaffer’s flyer image for his Leicester Square shows

Lewis Schaffer in erstwhile  youth. Once seen, never forgotten

Tonight, I am off to see Lewis Schaffer’s final 2015 performance of a show at the Museum of Comedy – a show that was billed as Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous, £10… until about five hours before the first performance when, with cavalier disregard for any rules of publicity – like what name is actually on the posters, flyers and listings – he changed it to Lewis Schaffer: You Are Beautiful… a title which could arguably see him in court charged with breach of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968.

Lewis Schaffer says there will be an after-show party and, as he does not care what is written about him provided the words ‘Lewis Schaffer’ are inserted at regular intervals, I can exclusively reveal that Lewis Schaffer will be at the party naked, draped in nothing but a Stars & Stripes flag and he will be singing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, having last week converted to Christianity.

LewisSchaffer_PinkHair

A Goy or a Doll? – Which is worse?

To consolidate this, in the New Year, Lewis Schaffer will be appearing in a stage production at the National Theatre of Goys and Dolls. He may be playing one of the female leads, judging by a photo of him in publicity for Martin Besserman’s Jewish Xmas Eve Matzo Ball Special in which he (Lewis Schaffer) sports pink hair.

We live in a time of flux and this morning I got a Christmas e-card from Arthur Smith comprising a giant picture of himself either as Scrooge or a mullah. If the latter, he – like Lewis Schaffer with his conversion to Christianity – may be hedging his New Year bets.

ArthurSmithChristmasCard

Arthur Smith – the ghost of Christmas Bahs?

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Festive greetings from Farter Christmas

In yesterday’s blog about Mr Methane, I mentioned the Lancashire town of Poulton-le-Fylde and eccentrics.

Mick (right) on Mr Methane’s Let It Rip DVD

Mick Cookson (extreme right) in Mr Methane’s Let It Rip

Mr M has now told me that esteemed ventriloquist Keith Harris and his best friends Orville & Chuckles live in Poulton-le-Fylde – “Or,” says Mr Methane, “at least they were still living there in 2006 when we did BBC TV show The Slammer together.

“Keith had a nightclub which he sold to a guy called Elliot. Elliot was a DJ who had made a load of money by building up a nightclub in Workington and then selling it for a tidy profit. He then came south and worked for Mick Cookson at Panama Joes/Meancat Daddies in Burnley as a DJ. Mick is the guy who interviews people in the Butt Pipe Shocker segments on my Let’s Rip DVD

“Elliot once booked me for a gig at Keith’s club which he had re-named Elliot’s – I did not go down well as it wasn’t my crowd. You could say I died on my arse.

The outstanding Mr Methane with some of his fans

Even Mr Methane strikes low notes amid glamour

“It was a lowpoint in my career. But then I’ve had many low points. Live entertainers tend to have more low points than high points or at least an equal amount – it’s just part of the game. If they’re not your crowd, they’re not your crowd.

“I can remember working with ‘Sir Bernard Cholmondeley’ (Matt Lucas) at Southampton Guild Hall – New Year 1996, I think it was – The crowd just threw things at him and shouted him off. All they wanted was tit-and-arse jokes with a bit of farting thrown in.

“But, as history shows, a bad gig for Sir Bernard and a good gig for Mr Methane are not a good indicator of future commercial success, so you just draw a line and move on. Good gigs happen. Bad gigs happen. And occasionally people throw dangerous objects like Brown Ale bottles and pint glasses at you. Merry Christmas.”

I have also received Christmas greetings and news from the Colonies.

Last week, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith sent me a piece which I posted about ‘Ben from Glasgow’. Last night, she found Ben at his usual workplace on the pavement. Or, depending on your use of English, on the sidewalk.

In Vancouver, Ben from Glasgow.(Photograph by Anna Smith)

Ben from Glasgow in his Vancouver workplace. (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“As it was Christmas Eve,” Anna says, “people were lining up outside the liquor store. I told Ben:

“You’re in a blog in London. Let me show you. Your grandad is in it too.

My grandad’s in it?

“Yes,” I told him. “You’re both in it – together on the same page.

“Ben was overjoyed to see the pictures. In the meantime, people were throwing money into his cap – loonies ($1 coins), toonies ($2 coins) and bills.

“I stood out of the way, leaning against the wall beside him, reading bits of the blog to him. A lot of the people on the sidewalk knew him by his first name and were happy to have an excuse to give him a bit more money than usual. A man darted past and dropped a toonie into Ben ‘s cap and held another toonie up for me. I grabbed it

I can make money just by standing beside you! I told Ben and slid the toonie into his cap. We both laughed.

An LED umbrella and a painting in a Denman Street window display

An LED umbrella and a painting in a Denman Street window display

“A bus driver jumped off his bus, ran towards us and handed Ben a new LED umbrella.

A passenger gave it to me, Benny, he said breathlessly. I thought you could use it.

“Ben got a couple of young men to stop and give him a beer. Then a drunken rodeo clown came up.

I’m on the internet! cried Ben. Look! My grandad was a world champion!

Yeah, right, said the drunken clown.

It’s true! I told him. Ben and his grandad look exactly the same! 

“Then the drunken clown started talking about all his own accomplishments, which were very boring. Then he tried to start a fight with Benny who grabbed his bag and disappeared down an alley.

Merry Christmas, I said to the clown and then walked quickly away.”

This morning, Anna also sent me a photo of a lady.

“This is Janey from Alberta,” the message said.

Janey from Alberta (Photograph by Anna Smith)

Janey from the Alberta tar sands (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“Janey always drops by the shop when she visits Vancouver. She works cleaning trailers in the tar sands (oil patch) in Northern British Columbia and Alberta.

“They are isolated camps in the bush and she says it’s hell up there. It is dangerous and violent. She hires a taxi if she has to cross the street at night. But the cost of a house is as high as it is in Vancouver.

“The work is lucrative but, as the price of oil slumps, people can’t afford to live. Crack cocaine and methamphetamine are rampant.

“There are miles of tunnels and sludge-filled lakes, leaching into the rivers. There are gigantic mechanical bats on poles creaking away in the darkness to frighten away the birds.

“She said no-one gives a shit about anyone there. She showed me lines of scars on her stomach from being run over by a truck.”

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Merry Christmas greetings from the late Malcolm Hardee, Mr Methane and me…

Malcolm Hardee (left) at Christmas

The late Malcolm Hardee (left) at Christmas

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee legendarily had about six jokes which lasted him around 25 years. But occasionally, perhaps especially at Christmas, he would throw in a new one.

His friend Alexandra Mendel tells me of a couple she heard him tell at Christmas.

She says:

“I remember he came on stage just before Christmas to warm his audience up at the Tunnel club and asked: What did the little deaf, dumb and blind boy get for Christmas?…. Answer… Cancer!

“There was another one to go with it too: What’s red and slimy and slides across the chip shop floor?… Answer… Abortion of chips…

Here is Malcolm Hardee’s Christmas card to his friends in December 2001, three months after the 9/11 attack on New York. It features the view from his floating pub The Wibbley Wobbley of the Canary Wharf towers in London’s Docklands.

Happy 25/12 Christmas card 2001

Malcolm Hardee’s 2001 Christmas card

Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally performing flatulist, has also drawn my attention to a festive 2001 E! video of his (Mr Methane’s) 22-minute appearance on Howard Stern’s US radio show in which he farts Christmas Songs.

For those who are too busy eating, drinking and toasting the Queen to spend that amount of time watching a video, Mr Methane has also thoughtfully provided a festive 2min 25sec audio version of Rocking Around The Christmas Tree.

And finally, from me, for anyone I have forgotten, here is a limited edition Christmas card from last century which never got the distribution I felt it deserved…

.

A Merry Christmas to you

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Can comedian Bob Slayer – infamously Edinburgh Fringey – turn into a cuddly grey-bearded children’s entertainer?

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that comedians often have another ‘day job’.

Around seven years ago, Bob Slayer was managing Japanese rock group Electric Eel Shock when they made a Christmas video in which he appeared as Father Christmas. It was posted on YouTube.

Now Bob has become a real Santa Claus. He started the job yesterday in a grotto under a giant Christmas tree at Whiteley’s department store in London’s Queensway and he will be donning his red-and-white robes there throughout December.

BEFORE...

BEFORE…

AFTER...

AFTER…

“You have to respond to the audience that’s in front of you,” says Bob

‘Santa’ Bob with helper elves ‘Ruthy Boothy’ Sarah (left) and ‘Wilma Words’ Christine

I talked to him last night after he finished his Ho Ho Ho duties. He told me he was going to have to think up some more Christmas stories, because some children had come back a second time on this his first day in the role.

“I’d been telling them how reindeer fly and how they have to go to Tromsø in Norway,” said Bob, “and I could see some of the parents looking at me thinking I don’t know this story; this isn’t a real Santa, so I told the children You see, mummies and daddies don’t know about reindeer.”

Happy Drunk illustration by comedian Rich Rose

One Happy Drunk illustration by Rich Rose

And that’s not all.

Tonight, at the Chortle Comedy Book Festival, Bob launches a children’s book he wrote, with illustrations by Rich Rose of comedy duo Ellis & Rose (last referred-to in this blog yesterday a propos their Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show).

“Rich is a brilliant illustrator,” said Bob.

“Remind me what the book is called?” I asked.

The Happy Drunk,” confirmed Bob.

He financed it by crowdfunding and reached 169% of his target. The title was originally Calpol Is Evil but he changed it – allegedly after he received an alleged letter from solicitors representing the manufacturers of Calpol. Never forget that Bob Slayer won a much-coveted Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2011 for his ‘Cockgate’ stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“What’s the premise of The Happy Drunk?” I asked.

“It’s a children’s book for adults. It’s for Big Kids.”

“Would 14-year-olds enjoy it?” I asked.

HappyDrunk

Bob’s new book is for Big Babies everywhere – but not lawyers

“I don’t know,” replied Bob. “I think they would, although whether their parents would want them to read it… I’d say it should have a PG rating.

“Actually, I should have put that on the cover!” he laughed. “I’ve only printed 50 so far – as a proof to check they’re OK – so I think I might put PG Rated on future covers.”

“Are drunks happy?” I asked.

“Drunks in comedy clubs,” explained Bob, “get a bad name due to the alcopop drunks that the Jongleurs and Highlight comedy chains get in, whereas the sort of people I like doing gigs to are genuinely happy drunks: people who know what they’re drinking.

“When I do gigs in breweries, they’re drinking nice drink. They’re lively, but they don’t get out of hand; they’re good audiences. They’re people who are in for their drink but also in for their comedy. In the comedy club chains, you get big groups of people and some of them do want to see comedy, but others had wanted to go to the cinema or go bowling; they’re not all committed to watching comedy.

“I’m going to print 1,000 copies of The Happy Drunk initially. Rich Rose is having 300, I’ll put some online and sell the rest at gigs. Writing it was a stopgap, because it’s taking me longer to write my How To Out-Drink Australia book than I thought it would. It’s taking longer to edit.”

Bob Slayer - too hot to handle in Australia

Turning a tour into a book is complicated

“You have a problem with people’s perception of you,” I said. “People think you’re always going to be the OTT Edinburgh Fringe Bob Slayer character.”

“Well,” said Bob, “you have to respond to the audience that’s in front of you. I like to think that I can mirror whatever audience is there. If you put me in a golf club, then I’m not going to end up naked – well, unless that’s what they want. There have been occasions when it’s gone out of control and perhaps I have gone the wrong way, but they’re one-off incidents like in Norway, where I got banned from that theatre.

“But, look, the fact was that they had five members of The Cumshots band there. So I’m going to perform to my mates The Cumshots, aren’t I? And they’re a band that invite you to come onstage and ‘fuck for forests’ – I HAD to come off the balcony on a rope. Though the reason I was actually banned was because I opened a bottle of Jägermeister on stage and had a drink and I was unaware how strict the licensing laws are there.”

“Ironically,” I said, “you got a Scottish licence to run your own bar at Bob’s Bookshop during the Edinburgh Fringe. Are you going to do other comedy club bars?”

Bob Slayer: no entry for the easily offended

Comedian; promoter; licensed venue manager; looney?

“Well,” explained Bob, “The reason I could be Father Christmas here was because I had a mostly-free December. And that was because I was going to do a pop-up comedy venue and bar in London – like Bob’s Bookshop in Edinburgh. I looked at a couple of places in Hackney and round East London, but I just ran out of time to get the licensing sorted. So I had kept December free and, when the pop-up club didn’t happen, I put a few club gigs into my diary then this Father Christmas offer came along.”

“So you will be doing other pop-up comedy venues and bars?” I asked.

“I’m doing one at the Leicester Comedy Festival in February,” said Bob. “The programme’s out tomorrow and I’m doing three long weekends, putting on about 30 shows – people like Tom Binns, Devvo, Brian Gittins, Stuart Goldsmith, Phil Kay, Adam Larter, Doug Segal, Ben Target. We’ve got an old chapel in Leicester – Hansom Hall, named after the guy who invented the hansom cab. He designed the building.

“I’m working with a new brewery – BrewDog who are Aberdeen-based. They’re the fastest-growing food and drink company in the UK in the last three years. A really interesting independent brewer. They’re funding themselves by crowdfunding: you can invest in BrewDog. The moment they heard about Cockgate at the Edinburgh Fringe, they said We want to work with you.”

“And then?” I asked.

“I’m trying to be quiet in January to finish writing my Australian book. I’ve got to get the book done for the next Edinburgh Fringe.”

What???

Bob Slayer “trying to be quiet”?

This does not compute.

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Filed under Books, Children, Christmas, Comedy, Drink