Category Archives: Comedy

Award-winning UK comic to write play about Twin Peaks director David Lynch

Mr Twonkey promotes his Christmas in the Jungle in Brighton

So I had a chat with Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers at King’s Cross station in London.

He was on his way back home to Edinburgh. Last year, he won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“How were your Christmas in the Jungle shows at the Brighton Fringe?” I asked.

“It was so hot,” he told me. “I don’t think people were feeling… They were… It occurred to me that maybe doing a Christmas show in the middle of the summer isn’t such a great idea.”

“But surely,” I said, “with your act, to do a Christmas show at Christmas would be a silly idea.”

“Well,” he replied, “I was pitching it as The only Christmas show on at Brighton in June. Unfortunately, there was another one called The Grotto. And, when I was flyering for it in the street, people were asking me: What’s wrong with you?”

“You are,” I checked, “still doing Christmas in the Jungle at the Edinburgh Fringe this August?”

“Yes.”

“Have you seen the new Twin Peaks TV series yet?”

“No. But I am trying to write a play about David Lynch.”

“Your previous play was Jennifer’s Robot Arm,” I said.

“Yes. That was more kitchen sink drama/science fiction. This would be about people who actually exist.”

“How are you getting the facts?” I asked. “From Wikipedia?”

“Various sources. There’s a few books about him. The trouble is none of them are any good apart from one which is not bad: Lynch On Lynch, which is a series of interviews with him.”

“Does he know anything about himself?” I asked.

“I would imagine there are a few gaps. But there’s also a good documentary online about someone following him around while he’s making Inland Empire.

“And there’s a book coming out in February 2018, published by Canongate Books which has his full support. I think it’s called Room To Dream.”

“So your play,” I asked, “is about… what?”

“I want to focus on is the time he spent in London. The early part of people’s careers is always the most interesting. He was living in a flat in Wimbledon, making a suit for The Elephant Man.

‘You know, in Eraserhead, there’s a little deformed baby. I think he kept it very damp. I think he used chicken and raw animal flesh, moulded it together and used maggots quite a lot – to eat away the face. And then he kept it damp. His daughter wanted to play with it and he told her: You can play with it as long as you don’t touch it.

“After Eraserhead, he was a cult figure – a young hotshot director – and he had a few films he was trying to pitch. One of them was called Gardenback, which was about a community of people who could only speak to each other by passing an insect between them, either through the ear or through the mouth.

“The studio kept pushing him to write dialogue for it and he couldn’t write any. He said: Well, that’s the whole point: that they don’t speak. They communicate by passing the insect. So that project was shelved.

“Then he had another project called Ronnie Rocket, which was for the actor of restricted height in the Black Lodge. It was like Rocket Man, but he was small and it was surreal and it had villains called The Donut Men. But no-one would pick it up.”

“Jam on the fingers?” I asked.

“Yeah. So then they just gave him a pile of scripts and he picked The Elephant Man without reading it. Mel Brooks was producing it.”

“Mel Brooks,” I said, “once told me that, whenever you get your photo taken, you should always open your mouth.”

“Did he? Anyway, Mel Books had had success with Young Frankenstein as a black & white film and I think he quite liked the idea of re-invigorating the genre and Eraserhead had been in black & white.

The Elephant Man was a big responsibility for David Lynch and apparently it was the closest he ever came to committing suicide. He almost put his head in the oven in Wimbledon during the development process. I was going to have a bit in my play where he puts his head in the oven and it turns round and Mel Brooks comes out from a theatre where he has been viewing Eraserhead.”

“This is live on stage?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Will the insects from Gardenback take part?”

“They could. But I was thinking focussing more around the fitting of the costume. They gave him six months to make a costume for The Elephant Man based on the fact he had done well with the baby in Eraserhead. And apparently what he created was horrendous. John Hurt came round for a fitting and he couldn’t hardly breathe or walk and certainly couldn’t act in the costume.

Mr Twonkey takes a train and a door north to Edinburgh

“So that process was unsuccessful and a lot of money had gone down the drain and I think that was when he thought about putting his head in the oven.”

“And the costume in the finished film?” I asked.

“I think, essentially, he got someone else to make it. There was a bit of controversy on the set because he was young but had experienced British thespians like Sir John Gielgud and Anthony Hopkins who had been round the block a few times. I think there was a friction with young David Lynch adapting to these older British actors.”

“Maybe they didn’t talk about it,” I suggested.

“What?”

“The elephant in the room.”

“That’s a good title.”

“You just have to make the play relevant to the title,” I suggested. “Would you perform in it?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re the wrong shape for David Lynch,” I suggested.

“I don’t think I could play him convincingly enough for more than 5 or 10 minutes; then I would run out of steam. It needs to be a proper actor.”

“The good news with a play about David Lynch,” I suggested, “is that there’s no limit to the possible surrealism.”

“It can be a BIT eccentric,” Paul agreed. “It can be a bit Lady in The Radiator in Eraserhead.”

“But it can’t all be that. What would give it real poignancy is revealing a bit of his history that people didn’t know about. The main scene would be the fitting, where it goes wrong.”

“Hold on,” I said, “If you are going to do a show about David Lynch making a costume he can’t make, you have to make the costume, don’t you?”

“That’s true.”

“Is that a problem?”

“It will have to be a good costume.”

“The one that isn’t successful…”

“Yes. But it can be really horrendously bad. That will be good.”

Mr Twonkey and Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Northern Railway (1911-1923) and the London & North Eastern Railway 1923-1941). He designed The Flying Scotsman train.

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“Frenzied tit grabbing in Wetherspoons” after throat-slitting at the Grouchy Club

Yesterday, performer Samantha Pressdee posted in Facebook: “Frenzied tit grabbing in Wetherspoons, all in the name of feminism, is where last night’s Grouchy Club wound up.”

Critic Kate Copstick and I run The Grouchy Club. This was originally conceived by me as a one-hour chat show for the Edinburgh Fringe where I would not have to do any advance work – boring things like booking guests and thinking up subjects – and would not have to do anything on the day because the guests would be the audience and the audience would be comedy industry people self-obsessed enough to witter on for at least 55 minutes while I sat back and listened to the audience gossip and self-promote and Copstick got irate about something and ranted and raved.

It is the reverse of a normal show.

At the Grouchy Club, the audience performs and I do nothing.

Job done.

Copstick and I are back at the Edinburgh Fringe this year 14th-27th August with a daily 2.15pm Grouchy Club show. It is not listed in the main Fringe Programme because heaven forfend that I should have to fork out money or that ‘real people’ should turn up. It IS listed in the Laughing Horse Free Festival programme because that does not cost me money. Our shows are genuinely free – No collection bucket. Free to enter. Free to leave. Free to say what you like. May contain nuts.

It does not get vast audiences but does OK by Fringe standards and, as I said in a recent blog, at the Edinburgh Fringe, what is important is not the number of bums-on-seats you get but whose buttocks they are.

This original Fringe idea turned into a monthly Grouchy Club in London and a weekly podcast which I stopped in February this year after 100 editions but which may re-start around Fringe time, as Copstick likes to hear the sound of her own voice.

The latest monthly live London Grouchy Club was two days ago. It is always the second Tuesday of the month. Why? I have forgotten. I am old, bald and my grip on reality is loosening.

Anyway, semi-regular (in attendance, not in bowel movements) Siân Doughty observed yesterday on Facebook: “It was an eventful evening and the most fun I’ve had on a Tuesday in years”.

I billed it in advance as being about “the General Election; the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe; advice on writing, structure, performance and how to get publicity and reviews… Plus an insider’s description of the London Bridge terror attack… a 10 min excerpt from an upcoming Fringe show… and slanderous gossip.

Copstick – Her bark is worse than her bites

“Kate Copstick will be on painkillers,” I continued, “and have jet lag from Kenya. I will probably have had a tooth extracted a few brief hours before. Copstick will almost certainly be bad-tempered. I will gibber and dribble. Usually, we end up talking about dubious sexual practices and who the cunts are in comedy. And there are free biscuits.”

When it came to it, almost none of this happened except that Joe Palermo did describe being in the middle of the London Bridge terrorist attack (with a description of slit throats and all) Edinburgh Fringe/Eurovision Song Contest podcaster Ewan Spence had some unprintable gossip and there were free biscuits. Copstick was the healthiest I have seen her in about two years (but then, inevitably, she went in to hospital yesterday) and I still retain my tooth, at least for the moment.

At around 9.00pm, as often happens, everyone decamped to the nearby Wetherspoons pub and I went home, thus missing the bit Samantha Pressdee mentioned: “Frenzied tit grabbing in Wetherspoons, all in the name of feminism.”

Samantha is one of the studio psychics on and an occasional presenter for Psychic TV. Last night, she did a TED style talk on Maslow’s Pyramid and the Law of Attraction. But that is too up-market for this blog. I asked her to expand on the tit-grabbing. And she has:

“The tit-grabbing was a great relief to me,” she says, “as, earlier in the evening, I had found myself sandwiched between Noel Faulkner, former owner of the recently gazumped Comedy Cafe and David Gersch, new promoter of what was the Comedy Cafe. Noel (in effect) threatened he would set the comedy Illuminati onto Gersch.

“This time I had remembered to bring a bottle to the Grouchy Club. I was glad of a drink, having lugged my fat bin bags around London in the heat that day. The bin bags  contained some clothes and bedding that will shortly be off to Aleppo in Syria via the Mama Biashara collection point.

Samantha reads Gersch’s uncertain future in the cards

“With the threat of Illuminati forces in the air, I thought I should channel some positive energy so brought out my tarot cards. I began reading for Gersch who was wearing a a baseball cap backwards embroidered with his catchphrase CLASSIC GERSCH. Noel wished the death card on the 25 year old. And it was the first card to come up.

Are the Illuminati real? I wondered. Noel, as if psychic himself, nodded and explained they have a secret way of winking.

“He calmed down a bit after a beer and the angel cards brought some laughter to the room. The angels suggest Noel and Gersch take it outside when they both pulled the ‘fresh air’ card. They left the party early (but separately).

“Comedian Siân Doughty was given confirmation from the angels that her decision to opt out of our Prosecco drinking was the right one. Her calm energy had a taming affect on our debauchery but, still, she did not escape a tit grab later.

“Copstick is a well of a wisdom – we learned the most wonderful cure for a hangover. Which, like most of the best things in life, involves nudity.

Joe’s story, reported in the Evening Standard

“I made a new feminist friend called Sarah – on her arrival she lobbed a bag of bras across the room that are bound for Kenya, via Mama Biashara.

“She and I bonded over our mutual hatred of another feminist and found we both support The English Collective of Prostitutes in their bid to decriminalise sex work.

“When we went to Wetherspoons, we discussed the virtues of Chris Dangerfield and the problems with third-wave feminism before the conversation moved on to the wonders of tea tree oil. We shared our experience of using this magic potion as a natural cure for vaginal thrush.

“Socially conscious Sarah interjected: What if a woman is not privileged enough to own a douching kit?

“Copstick immediately swung in her seat, both legs erected up in the air, and jiggled. The Wetherspoon community, of course, did not bat an eyelid but it may have been too much for sweet Simba, a street musician I had befriended on my fag break. He was considering entertaining us at the next Grouchy Club on July 11th but, after the demonstration of how to achieve a healthy vagina using the upside-down method, he made his excuses and vanished into the night.

“What an adventure!

“Earlier, the angel cards had verified that John gives trustworthy guidance and Copstick is loved by many, bringing joy to those whose tits she touches.”

Samantha added to me:

“If the blog goes up, could you link to my Edinburgh Fringe crowdfunder at the end? I am offering my Tarot readings as a perk! Perhaps at the bottom it could say: Would you like a psychic reading from Sammie? As a mystic she regularly appears on Psychic TV, has featured in It’s Fate and has over 200 5 star ratings. For a £25 donation to her Edinburgh fund, you can get a 20-30 minute reading in person or on the phone.

The appealing Samantha’s Edinburgh crowdfunding video

I told her No – it is too blatantly commercial for this blog, because the whole point is to plug me and the Grouchy Club.

If she is psychic, I wouldn’t need to tell her this and she wouldn’t need to tell anyone anything.

I asked if she had any pictures of the tit-grabbing.

She said No.

Life is a never-ending frustration.

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How to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award…

Comic legend Malcolm Hardee knew a little bit about Africa. (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe are all about originality. This blog is a lazy re-hash of a piece I wrote last year.

But, as Malcolm would have said – indeed, often did say – “Fuck it! It don’t matter. There are people starving in Africa. Not all over. Round the edge… fish.”

The best way to win an Award and to honour Malcolm’s memory would be to either steal one or to  ‘lend’ me £500 and not expect to get it back but, whatever your angle, the first thing is to know is what the awards actually are.

The three Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards await collection

There are three and they are given in memory of the late Malcolm Hardee.

Obviously.

Who he?

He was, according to The Guardian, the “patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts”.

The Daily Telegraph called him “godfather to a generation of comic talent” and, in their 2005 obituary, the Independent said he was “the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years”.

The last quote must be totally true because I wrote the obituary myself and included that phrase on the basis that future lazy journalists would simply blindly copy it.

Several have.

But it is arguably entirely true.

The current three annual, increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are:

THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award with Edinburgh Castle behind

Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality

Basically, the judges have no idea what we are looking for. If we did know what we were looking for, we would be able to define it and it would not be original. The award is for a performer not for a show and anyone who approaches me touting a “family friendly” children’s show is way wide-of-the-mark. Malcolm was known for having the biggest bollocks in show business and for showing them to everyone. On stage, his habit of getting his knob out at the drop of a testicle was not ideal BBC1 primetime material.

If you are family friendly and mainstream, don’t even think of trying for the award.

If your act is literally incomparable – i.e. it is impossible to compare it with anyone else’s – then you could be onto a winner.

This automatically means that someone standing at a microphone telling brilliant gags has no chance unless there is something odd in the characterisation or delivery – simultaneously juggling a mixture of babies, kittens and blancmange might give you a chance. But it’s still basically stand-up comedy. I have seen it before. Likewise most sketch comedy (which also has the disadvantage of multiple performers).

Past winners of the award have been Reggie Watts, Doktor Cocacolamcdonalds, Edward Aczel, Otto Kuhnle, Robert White, Johnny Sorrow, The Rubberbandits, Adrienne Truscott, Candy Gigi, Michael Brunström and, last year, Mr Twonkey.

THE ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD

The Act Most Likely Award awaits its fate in Edinburgh this morning

For Act Most Likely To Make A Million Quid

The title says it all, really.

The judges have to take a wild punt on who may survive the vagaries of – and triumph over the good and bad luck inherent in – a comedy career to attain seldom-attained financial success.

There is no point anyone approaching us to suggest themselves. If we think you are likely to fulfil the future requirement and win it, that’s our call, not yours.

Past winners have been Bo Burnham, Benet Brandreth, Trevor Noah, Luisa Omielan, Laurence Owen and ’The Baby’.

I voted against the last one. The others argued that, by the time he was grown up and died, due to inflation, £1 million would be equivalent to £10 today.

THE CUNNING STUNT AWARD

Desperate pose with Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

I pose with the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

This is the one the press like. It is for the best CUNNING stunt promoting a Fringe performer or act or show.

Pay close attention to the inclusion of the word ‘cunning’.

Riding an elephant painted pink down Princes Street and inviting the press to see it is a stunt but it is not a cunning stunt.

This award was started when comic Gill Smith sent me an email saying she was nominating herself for the Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that her email to me allowed her to legitimately put on her posters and flyers MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE. She said she thought Malcolm would have approved. I thought he would too and started the award.

The winners have been:

GILL SMITH – for that initial piece of chutzpah.

LEWIS SCHAFFER – for convincing several publications that he was the new sponsor of the (formerly Perrier) Edinburgh Comedy Awards for £99 and that his mother and agent would be on the judging panel.

STEWART LEE – for successfully encouraging people to vote for little-known Japanese act Frank Chickens in a poll for Best Fringe Performer despite the fact they were not performing at the Fringe. (As a result of the publicity, ironically, they did end up performing at that year’s Fringe.)

KUNT & THE GANG/BOB SLAYER – for getting fans to put stickers depicting penises on the posters of rival acts to promote Kunt & The Gang’s show. Personally, I never liked the original stunt but Bob Slayer, Kunt’s promoter, kept the publicity stoked-up and refreshed for so long in so many ways it became a work of PR art.

STUART GOLDSMITH – for a series of YouTube videos about Fringe censorship of the title of his show Prick.

BARRY FERNS – for printing and distributing around Edinburgh fake copies of Broadway Baby which gave his show 6-out-of-5 star reviews and reported that his show had been nominated for the Fosters Comedy Awards, in both the main category and the newcomer category.

CHRISTIAN TALBOT – for using his 12-year-old daughter Kate to go up to strangers in the street, looking sad, ask them “Have you seen my daddy?” and, when they said “No”, handing out flyers to them.

MATT ROPER – for hacking into the Facebook account of Malcolm Hardee judge & Scotsman reviewer Kate Copstick and posting fake messages – purportedly from her – “bigging himself up”.

BECKY FURY –  for putting on Tinder her Fringe flyer in an attempt to lure lustful males to her show… and claiming on her publicity that she was a ‘Last Minute Comedy finalist’ – implying it was for the Lastminute.com Comedy Awards (the former Perrier Awards) when, in fact, it was for a little-known Hertfordshire comedy club contest


John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

John Ward, designer and manufacturer of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards

The judges for this year’s Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are:

MARISSA BURGESS
Freelance arts journalist/comedy critic for The List, Fest, Chortle etc.

KATE COPSTICK
Chief Comedy Critic of The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday.

BRUCE DESSAU
Comedy Critic of London Evening Standard; editor of beyondthejoke.co.uk.

JOHN FLEMING
Co-host (with Kate Copstick) of the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club.

JAY RICHARDSON
Freelance journalist for Scotsman, Guardian, Sunday Times, Channel 4 etc.

CLAIRE SMITH
Freelance journalist, reviewer and feature writer for The Scotsman.


Malcolm Hardee – a new meaning to stand-up

The Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show takes place in the ballroom of The Counting House in Edinburgh on Friday 25th August as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival.

The two-hour bizarre variety show will include the announcement and presentation of this year’s awards and the annual Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette contest.

The show is free. You cannot buy tickets in advance. You have to queue. Life is a bitch. Live with it.

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How to mess up an Edinburgh Fringe comedy script and lose one review star

The Edinburgh Fringe Programme is published tomorrow – almost two months before the world’s biggest arts festival actually starts.

So here is my two happence on why some comedy shows will fail or will lose at least one star in reviews.

Performers have to think up their show title in around February, usually well before they have written the show and often before they have developed any ideas they have.

During the much-later writing process, they then discover what their show is actually about. This is often barely relevant to the show title.

And, even if they think they know what their show is about when they start writing, it may turn into something totally different by the time they are finished – and even further-removed from the title which they are now (because of unnecessarily-early Fringe Office deadlines) stuck with.

If they are sensible, they will preview the show a good few times in front of genuine audiences (ie NOT their friends) to see where the laughs really are. These laughter-points may be totally different to what they assumed. And the audience may be uninterested or extremely interested in parts of the show unforeseen by the performer.

This is good. Dry runs of the show are good. But there is a danger.

The comedy performer will often, perhaps usually, have written the show themselves. This is good.

If they are wonderfully creative, they will have had hundreds of ideas and sidetracks swirling through their brain as they constructed the show. This is good.

They test-run the show in front of audiences to see where the laughs are so that they can adjust the structure. This is good.

But they are comedy performers. They crave laughs. They feel in their heart, mind, body and soul that, if the audience is not laughing, they are failing as performers.

Or, more to the point, they are not having their egos boosted as they constantly require.

So, after each dry-run performance, they will tweak the structure of the show so they keep in the laughy bits and cut out the non-laughy bits. In theory this is good.

But there is that fine cliché saying: You can’t see the wood for the trees.

At the Edinburgh Fringe, people choose to go to a live stage show.

The live stage show has a title. If it is a literally attractive and very specific title, it will have drawn the audience in.

If the title bears little or no relation to the content of the show, there is a high risk of confusing or alienating the audience during the performance or, at least, distracting them.

They are sitting there thinking (even if only subconsciously):

This show is called FISHING IN GUATEMALA and there has been no mention of fishing or Guatemala so far. When is he/she going to mention it? Is all this stuff I am sitting through heading towards a story about a fish-based tourist trip which will pull all these funny but unconnected jokes/stories together?

The other danger is that, during the writing process, the performer has bunged-in and kept-in everything funny they can think of to get laughs. And, during the previews, he/she has kept in everything that gets laughs while removing everything that doesn’t get laughs. Including the linear narrative that holds the bleedin’ show together.

So, even if there was originally a single unifying idea to the show, it is now a mishmash of funny but unconnected and disconnecting 2-or-3 minute items swirling around uncontrolled within a 55 minute show.

If it is a pure ‘gag’ show a la Jimmy Carr or Tim Vine or Milton Jones, that works. Especially with those three, because they are brilliant, highly-experienced performers with total control of their content, linking and pacing.

But, if it is a show that supposedly has a subject and/or a show with a title that implies a subject but the subject is not constantly holding the show together or propelling it forward, then, dear performer, you are fucked with a very sharp stick indeed.

You will lose the audience’s concentration and you will lose – at the very least – one star in reviews.

Even at a late stage, though – like tomorrow, when the Fringe Programme is published – not all may be lost.

In 2005, the Scots comic Janey Godley wrote her autobiography, which I edited. She wrote every word. It was a single flowing narrative which could happily have had no division into chapters but, for ease of reading, it was broken into chapters.

I gave Janey advice and wrote the chapter titles. She wrote 100% of the text of the book.

We had both suggested titles for the book to the publishers. Some were random thoughts which might lead to other thoughts.

One of these was Handstands in the Dark because, during her very very dark childhood, Janey would do handstands, sometimes without the room light on.

The publisher liked the counterpoint of the happy handstands and the darkness of her life and insisted on Handstands in the Dark as the title. I personally think the publisher also liked it because it sounded classy and publishers are partly in business to boost their egos when they talk about their books to wanker friends at Islington dinner parties.

When, while writing the book,  Janey prepared her next Edinburgh Fringe show – which would be used partly to publicise the book and covered the same autobiographical subjects – she chose the much more commercial Good Godley! as her show title. The publisher could have used this title but had brain-freeze on Handstands in the Dark.

So, when structuring the book – which was not fully written when Handstands in the Dark was decided-on as the inevitable title – we had to bear in mind what the tenuously-relevant title of the book was.

One of my contributions as alleged editor was to get a reference to Janey doing handstands on the first page with a brief mention of why. She wrote:

“I liked doing handstands. I loved the world upside-down. It made me dizzy but I liked that feeling…  Sometimes I would only talk upside-down. Sometimes I would talk in a code only I knew. Sometimes out in the street I would kneel down and scoop water from puddles with my hands coz I was thirsty but too scared to go home and face what was there…”

The book has 27 chapters.

The first chapter is titled THE WORLD UPSIDE-DOWN.

The penultimate chapter is titled THE HANDSTAND, implying that the book builds towards a particular handstand and there is a relevant handstand theme important to the structure and (that terrible publishers’ term) ‘story-arc’ of the book.

But the importance of the concept of handstands in a dark world is something added on top of the book. It is not what the book is about.

The book has its own terrifically strong structure of throat-gripping hook-after-hook-after-hook (all Janey’s doing, not mine), leading up to an unforeseen end.

When published, Handstands in the Dark was a top-five hardback bestseller in Scotland and a top-ten paperback bestseller in the UK. It is still in print and selling 12 years later because it is an extraordinarily well-written book (and I did not write a word of the text).

My point is that the content of the book itself is actually not defined by the title. It grew organically and brilliantly as Janey wrote it. The addition of the penultimate chapter title and the inclusion of the first-page reference were to make the irrelevant title seem relevant.

So my advice to anyone with an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show stuck with an irrelevant title is this…

Bung in a reference to the title of the show at least three, ideally five times, scattered throughout the show. This will make it seem like the title defines the show.

If your comedy stage show meanders all over the bloody place, then you are probably dead in the water, but…

In your own mind, define in one single short sentence exactly what the show actually IS supposed to be about (which may well have changed since you first thought you knew what you were going to write). And make sure that everything – EVERYTHING – in the show relates to that short single sentence concept.

It does not matter if one 2-minute section gets big laughs. If it is irrelevant, cut it. You can use it in another show.

An audience can be carried along on laughs and an idea.

But, if you have laughs and no single central idea which is developed through the show and builds to a logical, relevant climax, then (unless you really are as technically brilliant as Jimmy Carr) you are going to have a show with laughs but no actual audience involvement – you will lose the audience’s attention and emotional involvement and you will probably lose at least one less star in any review.

If your show is called FISHING IN GUATEMALA then, for fucksake, at least mention fish and Guatemala.

(My apologies to anyone who actually HAS written a comedy show titled and fascinatingly about fishing in Guatemala.)

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Behind the scenes of Ariane Sherine’s “Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn” video

Yesterday’s blog was about Ariane Sherine’s comic music video of her Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn. I play the UK Labour Party leader. In just over a day, the YouTube video had been seen by over 2,000 people.

There has been feedback.

Ian Dunt, editor of the politics.co.uk website Tweeted: @ArianeSherine‘s deeply disturbing sexual obsession with Jeremy Corbyn continues. Profoundly NSFW.

After Ariane Tweeted: “Joking aside, I am going to vote Labour on June 8th, and I urge you to do the same,” one annoyed woman Tweeted: “I am wondering quite genuinely what would move you to compose such a vituperative piece of video.”

When I pointed out that ‘humour’ was involved, the lady replied sic in three Tweets (too many letters for one): “Assuming your epreiteration affirms your claim that this was purely ‘humour’ rather than malice emitting flatus or being urinated on by dogs it seems to be pitched at those who would laugh as easily at people falling over.”

So I think this shows both that the video has hit a wide audience and proved that a little linguistic learning is no guarantee of coherence.

Kate Copstick, doyenne of UK comedy critics and never one to overstate the case, commented from Kenya: “John Fleming is a revelation. Part sex god and part tragic hero. A vastly untapped dramatic potential.”

She has a point.

The top reviews are in: “Part sex god and part tragic hero”

On Facebook, Mervyn Stutter, the talent-spotting equivalent of Simon Cowell at the Edinburgh Fringe for over a quarter of a century, appeared to want to book me on his Fringe show this year but, on further probing, backtracked, saying: “We only want the bed scene. Can you do 5 minutes?”

I find that both sexist and ageist.

A more heartwarming response was from Mysterious Mark who runs the British Comedy Guide website. He is nicknamed ‘Mysterious Mark’ because he does not like photos being taken of him and, a couple of people have told me, he seems not to cast reflections in mirrors.

He e-mailed me:

“I’m not sure if this is flattering or not to say John, but I honestly didn’t recognise you until about half way through watching the video. Then I remembered you mentioning, the last time we met, that you were about to play the Labour leader and it all came together in my mind and I went “WOAH! WOAH! WOAH! IS IT? YES, IT IS JOHN!”. It wasn’t until the credits rolled I was 100% sure though. It really is a fantastic video… well, apart from the bit where we get to see your thrusting behind,”

Ariane preparing for a sad part of the video

I told him that Ariane has great attention to detail.

She downloaded four headshots of Jeremy Corbyn from the internet (different angles) and then had them blown up and combined onto what I guess was an A2 photograph.

She then booked me into a top hair stylist and they cut my beard to the correct shape with those photos as reference. My eyebrows are bushier than Corbyn’s, so they lessened the depth (front to back) of my eyebrows and re-shaped them. He also has a pointier chin than me but the shaping of the beard helped change my apparent jaw shape.

We were going to add hair on top (Corbyn is not bald on top; I am) but this didn’t work properly, so she bought a Lenin hat and a Panama hat – both of the exact type and colour Corbyn has worn – (the Panama hat band is of a colour type he has worn). So the top of my head is covered at all times. Interesting aside – a Lenin cap and a Lennon cap are the same thing, which I had not consciously twigged.

The suit colours are as per Corbyn and the spectacles were replicas of the type Corbyn has appeared in (The bastard now seems to not wear specs!!!)

It is the beard and me looking over the top of the specs (which Corbyn does) which confuse the look of my face. If I looked over the top of the specs and kept my chin down, it looked more Corbyny.

Morning Star front-page; the back is even better

There are two jokey fake Morning Star covers and back pages in correct type style. And much more.

The props, hair and beard trims and extras appearing in crowd scenes cost Ariane over £1,000 combined.

The video was shot and edited by the unnecessarily tall Graham Nunn, Ariane’s best friend of 20 years whom she married for real last month.

He gave Ariane £50 worth of ASOS vouchers for Christmas and she spent them on a wedding dress for the Corbyn video – not knowing that she and Graham would fall back in love and she would end up marrying him for real in the Corbyn dress in Las Vegas.

Love Song for Jeremy Corbyn is only the second script she has done since leaving television writing in 2008. The last television series she worked on was the BBC1 primetime sitcom My Family.

Ariane has been involved in various videos since then, including one for her Hitler Moustache song in which Charlie Brooker (creator of Black Mirror) and her now-husband Graham Nunn both appeared.

Love Song for Jeremy Corbyn is the first video she has ever directed.

“At times,” she says, “I got frustrated with the process, but I think I got the best out of John Fleming and he’s actually a really decent actor, given that I cast him for his looks rather than his acting!”

That is one of the crosses I have to bear. Women just want me for my body, not for my mind. In fact, Ariane had tried to hire a professional Jeremy Corbyn lookalike to cavort in bed with her. There were plenty available, but the going rate – for example at the Susan Scott Lookalikes agency – was “£600 for up to three hours plus expenses plus VAT” which, Ariane says, “made me think it might be cheaper to hire the man himself.”

She settled for me because although I would nor work for peanuts (I don’t like them) I would work for green tea and Tesco baked beans.

Ariane plied me with Tesco baked beans

She also brought in various extras for crowd scenes, including comics Kayleigh Cassidy, Siân Doughty, Henrik Elmer, Angelo Marcos, and Tommy West.

“The extras,” says Ariane, “were all brilliant and I couldn’t have asked for more professional, easy-to-work-with, punctual supporting actors. It could have been stressful, but I totally loved the day of the ensemble shoot.

“It was hard to simultaneously act and direct. The scene where John is singing to me (the singing voice is actually her husband Graham’s) and taking the engagement ring out of his pocket was the hardest to get right. In contrast, the sex scenes were surprisingly easy!”

It has been often said that I am surprisingly easy, bordering on the desperate.

Ariane’s favourite scene is the one in which Jeremy Corbyn looks at a framed photo of Diane Abbott during sex and has an immediate orgasm. I suggested I should twitch my toes at this point, which Ariane thought worked well.

I am available for roles in any upcoming porno foot fetish films.

Ariane has said in print: “John’s house, used for the shoot, is still cluttered with Jeremy Corbyn video props. At some stage, he will get his house back.”

I am not so sure. As with my house, so with my sanity.

There is a clause in my contract with Ariane saying that I will have my house back but, as all Marx Brothers fans will atest, everybody knows there ain’t no Sanity Clause.

And yes, obviously, my threshold of shame is high.

Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn is one of 13 tracks on Ariane’s album Beautiful Filth, which is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify etc.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s lover Ariane Sherine is not eating dog food & wants your money

In recent months, I have married Ariane Sherine twice.

The first was in the recording of a music video of her sophisticated Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn.

I ‘marry’ the unfeasibly tall Graham Nunn and Ariane Sherine (Photograph by Michael Ashley)

The second was a couple of weekends ago, when I played the part of a vicar/priest at her second wedding or (it depends on your viewpoint) wedding party in the London borough of Neasden.

She had actually been married for real to the unnecessarily tall Graham Nunn a few weeks before in the suitably glamorous world of Las Vegas.

The Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn music video has been released today, exactly one week before the UK’s General Election. 

I prepare to give my all in ‘Property of Ariane Sherine’ red underpants. (Photo by Arlene Greenhouse)

In the video, I play Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

The video was shot at my home. I do not know why Ariane chose to shoot it there but, towards the beginning of the shooting script, these descriptions appear:

SCREEN 2: JEREMY CORBYN IS STILL LABOUR LEADER, HAVING SURVIVED 14 LEADERSHIP ELECTIONS.

SCREEN 3: HE IS NEWLY DIVORCED FROM WIFE NUMBER 3, AND IS LIVING ALONE IN SQUALOR.

I have already said on social media that I only agreed to strip off for the video because Ariane claimed it was artistically necessary… and because she assured me I could expect big things once casting directors saw my handiwork… and I do mean handiwork.

Beef curtains are prominently mentioned in Love Song.

Creativity is a world of smoke and mirrors where success is in the eye and ear of the beholder.

Ariane has started a Patreon page to finance future comedy videos.

Why? 

Below is Ariane’s explanation.


“Why are you eating dog food?” my friend John asks.

“It’s cake,” I say, “newly-defrosted cake, so it’s still very cold, and I’m not so much eating it as smooshing it into my face.”

I thought long and hard before setting up a Patreon. The thing is, when you have a public profile, things look good on paper and people think you’re doing well. You have a Wikipedia, you’re verified on Twitter and Facebook, you get articles published in national publications…

But you earn zero, zilch, nada. And you can’t feed your kid your Wikipedia page.

For ages, I’ve lived this sort of lie. When people ask how I make my living, I say airily, ‘Oh, I’m a comedy writer and comedian and journalist.’ Which I am, of course. But I’ve actually stayed above the breadline by renting out space in my home and sleeping in the same bed as my daughter. I share a wardrobe with her, her toys are jumbled up with my make-up, and she asks why she has her own bedroom at Daddy’s house but not at mine.

Now she’s six years old and needs her own room, my new husband’s leaving his job of 20 years to move in with me, and we’re trying for a kid (I’m nearly 37, he’s 40). And suddenly we need space, so I can’t rent out my place any more. There’s virtually nothing coming in each month, and it’s scary, and I’m like: “Don’t look down, I’ll make a crazy video and maybe we can hold hands and inch our way across this bridge over the Grand Canyon of Bankruptcy!”

People might say: “But you live in London. Why not sell your place and move out?” The thing is, Mr Hypothetical Person, I already have. I had a tiny flat (under 500 square feet) in North London in 2013, and I moved out to dilapidated almost-Essex in the wilds of the Central Line in 2015 for more space.

I have ‘shared residency’ (the jazzy new term for joint custody) with my daughter’s dad, who lives in North London, and my daughter’s at school there, so when I have to take her to school she has to wake up at 7am. (You try waking my daughter up at that hour. “But WHY do I have to go to school?!?!?!” – ‘To learn things, sweetie.” – “I ALREADY KNOW ENOUGH!!!!!!”) Moving to Scotland or Devon isn’t a practical option, and nor is downsizing – because with (hopefully) four of us, it’s already going to be a squeeze.

I am not a very successful journalist. I’m a decent writer and have written for pretty much everyone, but not consistently. I’m easy to work with and tenacious, and have lobbied editors with pitches until I feel like a mad stalker, and a few of them have capitulated, but it’s a bit soul-destroying battering down doors every day and being perpetually stonewalled. And, with an average payment of £75 per online article, one piece published per month doesn’t add up to much.

My kind, gentle and patient husband has worked for the same building firm for the past 20 years. He’s had to get up at 5.55am and work from 7.30am until 6pm every day. He’s now leaving sleepy Suffolk for a better life in sexy London. He’ll get work in the building trade if he has to, but he’d rather be a video editor or graphic designer, because he’s extremely talented and genuinely loves creating videos. So he’s going to give it a try and apply for jobs, which may be a long shot as he’s 40 with no experience of full-time work in the media.

But fuck it, you live only once for a very short time, and what’s the point of being a human being if you don’t follow your heart and at least TRY to live out your dreams? To live a big, brave, beautiful life and end it with no regrets, because at least you’ve tried your best to make things work?

So this is why I am smooshing my face into what is apparently dog food, and pretending to make a sex tape and do a poo on camera. Because, if this crazy stupid Patreon page is successful, for the first time in my life I won’t need commissioning editors to say they love me. Because I will have friends and supporters who do – and that will be enough.


The Beautiful Filth album by Ariane Sherine

Ariane’s album Beautiful Filth, on which Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn appears is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify etc etc.

The 13 track album also includes such self-penned singalong classics as Hitler Moustache, Cum Face, Don’t Have Sex With a Goat, Thankyou For Not Smelling of Fish and I Think His Penis Died.

Reviews for her music include: Wonderfully clever lyrics and very funny” (The Scotsman), “Articulate, imaginative and very funny. If you enjoy clever, knuckle-shredding, ribald humour, you’ll wallow in this” **** (music-news.com) and “Quite brilliant… funny in anyone’s book” (The Erotic Review).

The Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn music video can be viewed on YouTube:

More information – behind the scenes on the video shoot – HERE.

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How comic Malcolm Hardee’s pissing on a penguin saved The Iceman’s life

Art lover Maddie Coombe invests in another great artwork

Almost a week ago, this blog reported the shock news that, measured by sales of his paintings during his lifetime, The Artist formerly known as the IceMan (AIM) had sold three times as many paintings as Vincent van Gogh.

Further startling news reached my Inbox today – The Iceman/AIM has now sold another painting (numbered RFH 28) based on the block of ice he melted in the foyer of London’s Royal Festival Hall during Stewart Lee’s Austerity Binge: At Last! The 1981 Show which was held there in (yes it was) 2011.

The purchaser of the new painting, once again, is discerning art appreciator Maddie Coombe. AIM tells me the picture shows “the Iceman using superhuman strength to lift the Big Block.”

He tells me that “Mia Ritchie still thinks it could have been painted by a three-year-old.”

Mia Ritchie is a top netball player who, AIM tells me, “plays for England and has a robust and see-through attitude to art.”

Perhaps even more newsworthy is The Iceman/AIM’s revelation of his painting of the increasingly prestigious but sadly dead comedy legend Malcolm Hardee.

Late comedy legend Malcolm Hardee pisses on a penguin while The Iceman bravely performs at The Tunnel Palladium

“It is a picture of me,” says AIM, “at Malcolm’s famous Tunnel Palladium venue. Malcolm is pissing on The Iceman’s penguin…

“I think it was to distract the audience and save The Iceman’s life when things got riotously confrontational. He was aiming for my stuffed and sweet small penguin – my iceistant – who had innocently exacerbated hostility in some sections of the audience.

“The Iceman’s performance art seemed to unintentionally provoke the well-known hackles of the Greenwich audience. A minority in the famous Tunnel audience, though, did appreciate The Iceman’s art and even understood it and were even entertained by more than one ice block

“Do not be fooled by the irate standing spectators in the painting – nor by the flying beer glass – The Iceman had much fear but put his art first – even before his personal well-being.

“Another famous Iceman block at the Tunnel Palladium was a LIQUID one – the block melted on a summer evening in a traffic jam in Blackwall Tunnel. The bus driver was neither amused by The Iceman’s icequipment nor by the puddles ensuing from the melting block. He did not realise the privilege of seeing the warm-up process. The passengers were slightly more appreciative – in fact, they were a more empathetic crowd than the actual Tunnel fraternity.”

There is a video on YouTube of The Iceman almost – but not quite – performing at the Hackney Empire in London during a Malcolm Hardee tribute show in January 2007.

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